Vaseline and cramp - a brother’s journey swimming the English Channel after sibling’s death
PUBLISHED: 06:30 30 August 2019 | UPDATED: 08:11 30 August 2019
It may have taken him more than 14 hours to swim from England to France, but Robin Fisher had the strongest reason to keep going during his daunting challenge - to raise money for charity in memory of his brother.
Reporter MARC BETTS met him at the family estate at Kilverstone Hall, near Thetford, to talk about the journey.
When John Carnegie Vavasseur Fisher died at the age of 35 on Sunday, August 2, 2015 after struggling with mental health and substance abuse issues it left his family devastated.
Now, his 23-year-old brother Robin, son of Lord Patrick Fisher, has completed the immense physical and mental challenge of swimming the English Channel to raise awareness of mental health and more than £8,000 for the charity Rethink Mental Illness.
Why swim the English Channel?
He set himself the goal of reaching the French coast when he left college, and after his friend at university also completed the swim, a training routine was put into action.
He said: "I do swim a lot and have always loved being in the water but I have never competitively swam.
"My friend at university, James Heslington, did it two years before me and I asked him for tips and he gave me a really structured training plan which I followed over the weeks and months."
Robin studied zoology at the University of Exeter, where he would train in the sea and go surfing. On Sunday, August 25 that training was put to the test as he prepared to enter the channel.
The start of the swim
"I was a little bit nervous but then everything gets in motion and you're at Dover Habour," he added.
"It was pitch black when I got a 15-minute warning and my friend started to lather me in Vaseline, sunscreen and butter, make sure my lights are working and my equipment is sorted.
"You get off the boat, swim to the beach and wait for the sound of a hooter, then you go."
Finding yourself in the middle of the Ocean
"You never know where you are, but you have to manage expectations and just try to swim until the next feed.
"It was the best conditions, better than I ever trained in, I've swam in a lot worse conditions so I came into my own.
"The first six hours were really enjoyable, it just felt like I was doing something epic, singing 'I feel Good' [by James Brown] in my head and in the night was cool, being able to see the sunrise come up, I was really positive and I got a bit a cramp in my bum and friend showed me how to get rid of it by stretching.
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"But at the tenth hour I was told to really push hard otherwise it would be another four hours.
"I didn't really know what was going on, just listening to what they told me to do and try to push."
Battling the tide
Just swimming the channel is a battle, but due to the tide, Robin was constantly being forced south west, away from the coast.
By keeping his pace up he would be able to catch the next tidal drift that would take him towards the French shore.
Fuelled by Jelly Babies and Jaffa Cakes, he pushed on.
He added: "I got really emotional at that hour, nearly crying in my goggles, but every half an hour I was told to push as hard as I could.
"The worst thing about the swim is the tides, everyone tells you that, but you don't know what it feels like until you experience it.
"You have to make enough forward progress to France for when the next tidal swipe happens you are taken into the coastline otherwise you will be too far out and it will be another six hours swimming."
The final push
"The last hour was when I really felt sick," Robin added, "my support swimmer Beth Nevin got in and in that hour it's crazy because you see the whole coastline of France, the beach is far but the coastline is moving really quickly towards you.
"There's a lighthouse which you aim for and it gets closer and closer but all that time the tide is trying to take you back out. I just got in the zone of I'm not stopping until I get there."
Arriving at the shore
"There's a bit that juts out and it's just rocks, I had to climb out, my legs are jelly, my arms are jelly, and abs are jelly.
"I was so relieved I made it but then I was told I had to get to clear water so I crawled back down to a rockpool and then climbed up again and he said I could climb in the boat.
"I didn't know whether to cry or lie down, and then the pilot pointed to some people at the top of a cliff who were watching swimmers come in.
"It was cool to finally see the seabed again, seeing the rocks and jellyfish. I'm used to the jellyfish as there are so many in Cornwall and I didn't want to move out of their way and just kept moving through them."
Robin completed the swim in 14 hours and seven minutes. So far he has raised more than £8,600 through online donations.
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