Breaking h2g2 News: Robbie Stamp Swims the Channel

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If you don't know we have a Channel Swimmer in our midst, you must have been off-planet. Let us catch you up.

Robbie Stamp Swims the Channel

Trying to stay warm while on a Channel swim.

The h2g2 Post: How are you feeling now? Drained, exhausted? Exhilarated?

Robbie Stamp: I feel tired and just very happy to have done something like this and even if not a solo, it does seem you get to call yourself a Channel Swimmer and write your name on the wall in the White Horse Pub along with all the others!

The h2g2 Post: What in the world possessed you to want to swim the English Channel in the first place?

Robbie Stamp: I have always had the challenge in the back of my mind. I've always loved swimming and always been comfortable in deep open water. Five years ago I was diagnosed with kidney cancer and had my left kidney taken out. It wasn't a lot of fun and for a couple of years after the operation, I was in quite a lot of pain and think, if I am honest that I was fighting depression too. Nothing as crippling as it can be for other people but nevertheless not always easy. My wife arranged a fabulous holiday in Turkey, knowing how much I loved swimming she just wanted to help me get back in the water. We went to Kalkan on the Lycian coast and I did indeed, reconnect with swimming and for the first time in the two years since the nephrectomy I didn't feel that me and my body weren't getting on!

When I got back to the UK, I googled Open Water swimming, and found a Lake near where I live in West London.

I went for a swim and the people who ran the swimming sessions early in the morning, were so warm and friendly and Tracey Baumann the Coach there suggested I came for a lesson as I could clearly swim but maybe I could swim more efficiently and maybe a little bit faster.

Robbie Stamp: it was the Summer of the London Olympics, a truly magical few weeks and I went for that lesson and had the experience over the next two years of having my technique taken to pieces and then rebuilt.

When I got to a certain standard, I was asked to join a 'Thursday Masters' session, and there are some very serious long distance swimmers there, including Wayne Soutter, the first man to swim the Irish Channel.

At drinks to celebrate after our final practice before Christmas I was asked if I would like to be part of a relay team they were putting together and there and then I just said – yes!

The h2g2 Post: Wow, that was quite an honour. What kind of organisation does it take to plan and carry out a Channel swim?

Robbie's route across the Channel.

Robbie Stamp: A surprising amount! The main thing is to book the boat and booking is done two and three years ahead. Swimming the Channel solo or in a relay is one of the world's great challenges and people come from all over the world. We were lucky to go with the Viking Princess and the legendary (in Channel swimming circles, that is!) Reg Brickall. You have to fill out various forms, photos etc, but the main thing you have to do is an 'authenticated' two hour swim in water that is less than 15.5 degrees. It makes sense as you will be swimming in cold Channel Water that rarely gets above 17 degrees. So we did ours in another Lake near London. Other than that, the real training is just putting the hours in and working away on technique and getting used to being in cold water for hours on end.

There is a set up down at Dover Harbour, where people go and train under the eye of Freda Streeter, who runs the beach down there with a rod of iron! She has seen hundreds of swimmers get across and her weekend sessions are quite something. There is a real community down there and people bring cake and chat and everybody is friendly, whatever you are going for.

The nice thing about swimming too is that it is all shapes and sizes, men and women and all ages too. So, 'red hats', the soloists in training, get in the water at 9.00 a.m sharp, having been given a wipe down by Barry the Grease! and at 10.00 a.m it is the yellow hats and the relay teams. Yyou tell the organisers how long you will be in and they count you in and out.

My first time down there I was asked if I'd done the two hour swim – when I said I had I was told, 'Right, get in for an hour and half, get out for an hour, and then back in for another hour a half.' It was a question of simply saying, 'Yes,Freda!' Reason for that is to acclimatise you to getting cold, getting warm and then getting cold again, which is what is going to happen on the relay itself.

Waiting to go in the water on a Channel swim.

The h2g2 Post: What was your most visceral impression when you were out there?

Robbie Stamp: That's a great question! It was far, far harder than I thought it would be. I think that the most visceral impression is swimming in cold water, in the middle of the Channel in the dark in rough water. Your limbic brain is asking, 'Are you really so sure about this?' As an animal we are not adapted to the water. If something goes wrong, we can't run, climb a tree. So there is a very primitive sense of being out of your element, BUT I love the sea and swimming so it was exhilarating and I just felt very alive.

The h2g2 Post: Will you look at the ocean differently now?

Robbie Stamp: Another good question. I'd love to swim in some more wild places! And it is so sad that we pollute them the way we do. You see the rubbish floating our there, we are such a messy animal!

The Channel at dawn.

The h2g2 Post: What did you do once you got to France? And do they make swimmers go through Customs?

Robbie Stamp: No, only one swimmer got to stand on the land at Wissant. I got us close on the penultimate leg but watched from afar! We had our passports with us in case we were boarded by Customs but that didn't happen!

The h2g2 Post: Did you raise a lot of money doing this? And can people still contribute?

Robbie Stamp: I have raised a fair amount so far – I've had a secret desire to raise 4,200 GBP for obvious reasons and yes, they could but I really don't expect anybody to so! To those who have already, a very big thank you. The page is here and it explains why I have chosen that particular Charity.

On the final stint I got bad cramp in my thigh but you have to keep going as if one of you has to get out before their stint is finished then the whole thing gets called off! I also had a muscle strain in my bicep.

The h2g2 Post: Short answer: What advice would you give to anybody planning to swim the Channel?

Robbie Stamp: Do it!

Holding a glowstick.
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