“I Swam The English Channel And You Should Do It Too”

On 25 August 2017, Chris Astill-Smith spent 11 hours, 43 minutes swimming—sans wetsuit—across the freezing English channel. Here’s what he has to say about taking a dip in the briny.

11 swim channel

What is it about swimming in the sea that you love so much?
For me, swimming in the sea is a million times better than in a pool. Most pools are filled with chlorine, which as you can imagine can’t be good for you if you’re in it 5-6 days a week. Like most people, I find that the chlorine doesn’t react well with my skin and eyes. Although training in the pool isn’t my favourite, it was my second home during the training. Swimming in the sea however is very different. Immersed in nature, the water feels like a living thing. The repetition of breathing and propelling myself through combined with the sound of the sea puts me in a near hypnotic state. It’s a beautiful experience—until you get hit with a jellyfish to the face!

When did you know you wanted to swim the channel? Isn’t it more fun to get the ferry?
Haha! I’m glad you find the ferry fun, although I can’t say the same! I’d always had the dream since I was 14 years old, when I saw David Walliams swim it in 2006. That said, I only started training for it 10 years later in March 2016. I actually found the whole day a lot of fun. I had so much support from friends, family and a bunch of people I didn’t know.

What three top tips do you recommend for making it across the channel? (What keeps you going on the day)
1. Don’t waste time during breaks across the Channel. You’re not allowed to touch the boat during the swim anyway so if you want to stop you have to tread water. Because you don’t have a wetsuit, you get cold quickly when you stop swimming and get taken by the tides up and down the Channel.

2. Don’t think about it being a 12-14 hour long swim. Give yourself small targets throughout the day. I stopped every 30 minutes for less than 30 seconds to feed and take a pee. Mentally, you know you can keep going for another 30 minutes.

3. Spend each 30 minutes thinking about someone you know. Think about your memories with this person, where you’ve been and what you’ve done together. This kept my brain occupied all the way across.

What’s the next challenge and why?
To be honest, I’ve been having a bit of a difficult time since I finished the challenge. Having such a huge goal to work towards, then completing it, has left me feeling somewhat empty. I know I will find my path in time, but it’s not as easy as seems finding something that excites me as much as that challenge.

What would you say to people who don’t like going swimming in the sea?
I used to hate swimming in the sea. Even now, I’m always thinking about jellyfish and sharks. You have to train your mind to think about other things.  Slowly work your way into it. Try going for short swims and don’t go far out. Even now, I swim in line with, and close to the shore.

On August 25th 2017 I swam the English Channel solo in 11 hours 43 minutes and raised £23,500 for the Dreams Come True charity. It was the best day of my life and I really recommend giving yourself a big goal like this at least once in your lifetime.

If you’d like to watch the video of my swim you can find it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=30tkpAOuDK0