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Henley Standard No.3 March 2023

The beginning of this month I travelled to Cape Town for some open water training, and some distance swims, sadly the river is still only 7-9 degrees! One of these distance swims was my 6-hour qualifier, which you have to complete to swim the channel. 17,653m in 6 hours done! Let me tell you, it was epic. The swim began in Langabaan Lagoon, Western Cape at 05:30, pitch black, very windy & extremely rough conditions. The swim camp was run from a houseboat on the lagoon, which most of the time looks like Barbados, not this day! It was wet, windy, cold and fairly grim. The water temperature varied from 15 degrees down to 11. When I began, I can safely say I was terrified, I had to have a word with myself, and just keep going, things got marginally better once daytime came. One of my biggest fears of sea swimming is rough water, and one of the reasons I wanted to train in SA is so that I could get experience of it, and I can confirm, that if I can swim in that, I can swim in (almost) anything. The only downside to swimming in SA is the thought of what bitey things are lurking beneath, and although I love all wildlife, and sharks are now endangered, it is fairly tricky getting the Jaws theme tune out of your head, when you are in the water for so long!

One great thing about doing bonkers things like swimming channels, is that you get to meet some really interesting people, if you think you are slightly mad, there is always someone madder!

Last year, on the same swim camp I met Leigh de Necker, a marine biologist who works for the shark & Ray protection project (you may have seen her on Sky TV), I obviously questioned her thoroughly about the sharks and she told me a story of woe.

The tale begins with a husband & wife team of Orcas called Port & Starboard (their dorsal fins flop to the left and right) and how they’ve had to adapt their eating habits because of the devastation we have caused by over fishing. There is clearly something missing in their diet, so they have taken to eating shark livers – JUST the livers. Last week 15 shark carcasses were found on a beach with just a chunk taken out of them where their livers used to be. Where there used to be hundreds of sharks & particularly Great Whites there are now only very few. We have completely obliterated the apex predator from the area, this means that the seal population has blossomed, and there is now a fight for what fish are left between humans and the seals.

At Henley Music School we have a fantastic fundraiser this Saturday at Christ Church. A school from Philidelphia are visiting Henley, and giving a concert in aid of HMS. Please do pop along at 18:30 & mention on the door that you are with HMS, and the school will donate £5 per audience member. The concert will only last an hour or so, so you can then all go along to the Henley Choral Society Concert at St Mary’s afterwards – an evening of culture!

Anyway, now back to training in the pool, having at least conquered one fear.

This month’s question comes from Mo Gannon, a friend from Henley Open Water Swimming Club. Mo also plays the violin in Henley Symphony Orchestra!

“When you are on the stage in front of a big audience, or facing a huge expanse of water, have you ever been flooded with fear/adrenaline? What did you do to overcome it?”

I certainly have nerves for all those events, and it is really the same strategy for both. I have been performing from the age of 3, and so have, over the years learned to harness it, smile and get on with it, or as we say “tits & teeth”. Where swimming is concerned, my training as a performer has certainly helped. The first time I had “the fear” was when we, the Mermaids took on our first channel relay, and I was swimmer No 1, the boat left Dover harbour at 23:55, went round the corner & stopped, I was told I had to jump in and swim to shore. Having had very little sea training due to lockdown, we were naive, and hadn’t even thought about how it starts. I swam ashore, in the black of a cloudy night, turned around & could barely see the boat. I had to swim through the breakers towards the open sea & the boat. All that was going through my head was “They’ll never find my body, it’s all my fault, this blooming channel was my idea.” Anyway, I had to put by big boy pants on, pull myself together, and push on. This has happened 3 times, Robben Island, qualification swim & our channel relay. Long distance and endurance swimming is 10% swimming and 90% strength of mind. So now I try and set my head first, don’t over breathe, steady, strong stroke & power through with the end result always in sight. I suppose this can be applied to anything.

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