At the 2013 Global Open Water Swimming Conference in Cork, Ireland, old friends Harry Huffaker of Idaho and Michael Read MBE of England were able to catch up on old times and reminiscence about their open water swims of the previous century.
Read described a number of interesting experiences in the English Channel and other locations, from eating and hydrating to escorting and marine life.
Campbell Soup on the Channel
Read recalls fueling during his English Channel swims. “I was always trying to raise money for my swims so I wrote to Campbell Soup which had a factory not too far away from my home.
They said, ‘We won’t give you money, but we will give crates of Campbell Soup.’
The thing with me is that I never had a team with me. The observer on the boat would look after me. So on this particular crossing, I swam for an hour and the observer asked me at my first feeding, ‘What soup would you like?’
I said, ‘Tomato soup is fine. Tomato soup is my favorite.’ So I swam for another hour after drinking the first cup of tomato soup because I ate every hour. But when I stopped and asked for another feeding, the observer said, ‘Ahhh, we ate your tomato soup, what would you prefer?’
So it was celery and lettuce. Every feeding that came after, there was every excuse under the sun for giving me a different type of soup: they drank it, it tipped over, they burnt it on the stove, the boat hit something. So it was oxtail next and then mulligatawny. Well five hours and feedings after this and I happened to swallow some water. Then everything came back up: tomato, lettuce and celery, oxtail, and mulligatawny.
So what I say is, ‘Eat what you like and what likes you.'”
King of the Channel® Competition
There are few individuals with Read‘s experiences in the English Channel. His race with Des Renford to be the King of the Channel® during the 1979 season was classic. “Des told me that he was done with his crossings, but then he snuck in 2 crossings before he left for Australia. He did his last one on September 1st of that 1979 season.
So my season started on September 2nd.”
Incredibly, Read was able to get in six Channel attempts between September 2nd and October 28th. On his last crossing, there was frost on the peddles of Dover. “I was able to complete 3 crossings and I tied Des for the most [at that time]. At the beginning of the year, I was on number 11 and Des was on number 13. Des promised me that he would not do any more crossings. This was at the end of 1978. He said that he wouldn’t come back, but he did. In fact, he did 3 crossings in 1979 and I ended up chasing him every time. I was at 14 to his 16, but when he left on September 1st, I started back up again on September 2nd.”
But as the saying goes in the Channel, nothing great is easy.
“I had arranged for my pilot to be at the harbor at 2 am, but he did not show up on the 15th crossing. After Des had gone back home, I was desperate to get my crossings in. So that day, I was watching the boats go out on the high tide. But as I saw the boats go out, I saw this huge catamaran coming into. I told the captain that I would pay him since he was headed to France anyway. I had an BBC crew with me at the time and we convinced him to take us.
We told him that he had to travel at the speed of the swimmer which ended up to be 1 mph for 20 hours which surprised him He unfurled his sail just a wee bit. But he had to start using his engine when it got dark. He had to stop every 15 minutes to clean the sparky plugs. It ended up being my longest crossing ever in 20 hours 5 minutes on a catamaran Twinnie The Pooh.”
Pushing His Way Across The Channel
Around his tenth crossing, Read was using Eric Burton as his pilot. The pilot was based in Sandwich which is a ways away. “I met him a few hours before high water. When we set off not from Dover, but from the River Stour where he was located. The narrow channel was marked by triangle channel buoys. He ran straight up on the sandbar when the tide was pouring out.
I tried to push his boat off the sand bar. Try as I might, we ended up missing the tide and that window of opportunity. I probably did because he always said, ‘The wind will be better tomorrow.’”
Crewing With The Legendary Captain Hutchinson
Cross Bay Escorts
Read once did a 17-mile cross bay swim in England’s Lake District where everyone had a canoe to escort them across the bay. Read recalls, “Right from the start, everyone is taking off in a different direction than me. After an hour, I asked my kayaker, ‘Where are we going?’ He said, ‘I was following you.’ I told him, ‘I have news for you, I was following you!‘
Trouble In Toroneos
Read has competed in the International Swimming Marathon of Toroneos Gulf in northern Greece 20 times. “I breathe to the right and my boat captain boated to the left. I swam the entire 27 km distance looking at the boat in front of me. The boat was not there as far as I was concerned. So for 6 hours, I had no food or drink. By the sixth hour, I had caught up with another boat. Swimmers being what they are, the crew gave me water. They asked me, ‘Where’s your boat? What about that boat? I told them, ‘That boat has nothing to do with me.’
As we got towards the finish, a friend George Mathis came out and he got on the boat that was following me. George asks the pilot about me and the pilot says, ‘He is doing fine. He can see me.’ The problem was that the captain insisted on being on my blind side and never fed me. I only fed a few times during the race due to the help of the other swimmer.
Kalamata Marine Friend
During the Swimming Marathon of the Messinian Gulf in southern Greece between Kalamata and Koroni, Read remembers swimming with an unlikely friend, “The entire way, all 13 hours, I was accompanied by a little fish darting in and out around me. I was fascinated by the little fish.”
Swimming with Seals
In Scotland, he did a 23-mile river swim in 10 hours under the Two Tay Bridge. “The thing that I remember when I swam under the Central Arh of the Tay Bridge. It was only 3 feet deep, but I also got bashed by a seal that hit in on the stomach and completely knocked the wind out of me.”
Read is nothing if not persistent. He completed a total of 33 crossings and attempted another 12 more crossings during his career including five attempts at a two-way crossing. On his best effort, he was in the water for 29 hours and spent 5 hours doing the last mile. “When I stopped, I am not swimming another yard. But the crew put the ladder out for me at 29 hours. That is what I wanted, but didn’t need. Once the ladder was out, I touched it and the attempt was over.”
Copyright © 2013 by World Open Water Swimming Association