Clearly paddle boarding The Channel was never going to be easy, but then Kate and I aren’t ones to shy away from a challenge. Our determination, or should that be stubbornness, is well known among our friends and they are also only too willing to attest to a soupçon of lunacy.
Training had gone well, plenty of time out on the River Thames to get the miles under our belts, hours out on the open waters of The Channel itself and one blissful though maddeningly windy week paddling on the considerably warmer waters of The Med. As it turned out, that windy week was a fairly hideous prophecy for the big day itself.
Weather forecasting is, I realise neither an exact science nor easy to predict. Our week long window for when we had the support boat on standby was fast dwindling away when a late afternoon call came in from ‘Captain Will’ (chief in charge of said support rib) announcing our moment had arrived and we sped, with more kit than required to defeat the Spanish Armada, to the south coast. Spending an evening bathed in glorious sunshine with not a breath of wind, checking and re-checking our boards, paddles, buoyancy aids, wet suits, booties, felt like a glorious omen. Kate clearly thought we were taking on The Atlantic with the extraordinary extent of food provisions.
Our 4.45am wake up felt early but not horrific, I knew we were well prepared and felt quietly confident. We raced down to Rye Harbour with a group of divine and loyal friends who came to wish us ‘bon voyage’. There was a light blanket of cloud but little wind….that was until we left the harbour…Taking the rib to Dungeness Beach- our official launch – my stomach flipped just a little registering quickly the green waters of The Channel seemed more than a little choppy. ‘The winds will drop’ we were reassured. Suited and booted, Kate and I gamely leapt aboard our respective 14ft inflatable paddle boards.
The Channel is renowned for being choppy, in fact for those ‘in the know’, fishermen, ferrymen, south coast inhabitants, speak in hushed tones of the ‘channel chop’ and today it was living up to its reputation.
Kate and I were always going to be a good team, we’ve known each other for well over ten years and have had many adventures together in that time. Her strength and fitness inspired me and with my knowledge of the sea and the extensive number of miles I have under my belt on a paddle board, she looked to me for reassurance and encouragement. We didn’t have the start we wanted, Kate took to her knees and seemed happy enough to paddle like that to begin with, I wobbled and bounced my way towards her feeling very unstable but determined to stand, feeling it was my duty to show her and the boys in the boat we’d be fine. If I could stand now it would only get easier as the wind dropped.
It didn’t. After narrowly escaping yet another dunking I too took to my knees, we were barely out of the shadow of the nuclear power station at Dungeness. It was disheartening but I figured we’d got this far, we’d better press on and await the calming waters we’d been promised. 21 miles of open water and we were being tossed around like corks in a thunderstorm. It didn’t take long for our knees to begin to protest and they never stopped. For the entire duration, except for a brief respite when I hopped aboard our support boat to cross the French shipping lane, I remained on my knees and paddled only on my right hand side to combat the cross wind coming in strongly from the north east. It was a pretty miserable experience in that respect. We weren’t standing, we were paddling with paddles far too long to be used when on our knees. To say it was uncomfortable is a monumental understatement.
Food and drink supplies were frequently made available by our loyal, encouraging and ever patient support crew. Kate’s admirable strength and determination waned from time to time. This really wasn’t fun and with no let-up in sight the crew occasionally circled back to scoop her up, bolster her waning spirits and pop her back in to paddle with me once again.
Not for one single solitary second did the wind let up, not only did it not let up it grew in strength steadily throughout the near 8 hours it took to accomplish this feat, topping off at a mere 25 knots. And for those of you who don’t know…Only an idiot paddles in 25 knot winds out in the middle of the sea.
We were tipped in even from our kneeling positions, ever grateful for our wet suits, the dips cooled and revitalised us in some ways, but wow, when in the water you could seriously appreciate just how big these blasted waves really were – there were definitely moments of hysterical laughter and others of ‘what the hell are we doing, this is madness, we should stop’… But I don’t go in for giving up, if I had to do it on my knees then I’d bloody well do it on my knees!
Highlights… Awesome close ups of container ships under full steam, being visited by a dolphin who was curious as to what the hell we were doing bobbing around on his waves, catching a glimpse of the hills of France and realising we would indeed make it.
The worst bits… Poor Kate finally succumbing to hypothermia and giving us all a scare (she rallied quickly and brilliantly, thank God for foil blankets)! The unspeakable pain in my knees, the bruising was out of this world but churlish as it may be I’m still most vexed about not standing the whole way.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m cock-a-hoop about our accomplishment and so proud to have been able to raise a little more awareness for a foundation and cause I care so very much about. There is no way I could have done it without the fabulous friend and smiley face of the extraordinary Kate, the love, support and generosity of so many friends and even strangers and of course our epic support crew, on the day and through training. No one can take away the mantle of being the first woman to cross the channel on a paddle board… and that’s pretty cool isn’t it!
Extra love and thanks go to Bray Lake, Active360, Full Throttle Charters, Active in Style, Aquativity, Eco for Life and Will Gordon-Harris.
To make a donation, please visit Amber and Kate’s fundraising page: www.justgiving.com/fundraising/AmberandKate4Blue