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Saturday, August 5, 2017

Blocking Out The Cold

Courtesy of Track.RS, North Channel between Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Epic is often used in channel swims and marathon swims.

Sometimes, the epicity is measured in how fast a swimmer crosses a channel (e.g., Trent Grimsey across the English Channel), how early a swimmer crosses a channel (e.g., Keo Nakama across the Molokai Channel in 1961), how many times a swimmer crosses a channel (e.g., Alison Streeter, MBE 43 times across the English Channel), or the extreme conditions that a swimmer can face across a channel.

Caroline Block, an anthropologist from Baltimore, Maryland, is an extreme example of the latter.

One year ago, she completed her first crossing of the North Channel from Northern Ireland to Scotland in 14 hours 31 minutes at the age of 32, escorted by Pádraig Mallon of Infinity Channel Swimming and Piloting Services.

Today, she swam 28 hours 55 minutes in an unprecedented two-way crossing attempt between Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Her two-way course of her attempt between Northern Ireland [landmass shown on left] and Scotland [landmass shown on right] is posted here, courtesy of Track.RS.

Pádraig Mallon reported, "Caroline planned a two-way crossing of the North Channel upon her completion of her one-way solo on August 6th 2016 Caroline arrived in Ireland in mid-July ready to go.

The current trend for weather on the North Irish Channel for the available 2017 tidal windows has been irregular. On August 3rd with the closing of the third window (between July 30th and August 8th), the conditions were looking far from favorable. Following team discussions, the swim date options to this year were limited by her busy schedule. So it was decided in Caroline's words 'Let's do this'. Making use of a forecasted lull in the whether between two low pressure fronts - one just leaving Ireland and one in its way - Caroline's start date was set.

At 8:04 pm on August 4th with a water temperature of 12.9°C (55.2°F) and an ambient temperature 12.3°C (54.1°F) and a wind chill of much less, Caroline set off from Robbie's Point taking choppy water in her stride and with the Donaghadee Lighthouse blinking to every second beat of her 58 strokes per minute. A positive mindset made swimming at night easy as she kept close to the boat and returned half hourly for her feeds.

With the sunrise at 4:40 am, the coastline of Scotland revealed a change of goggles that helped keep the sun's rays from her eyes bringing some welcomed heat to both Caroline and the Infinity crew. The choppy conditions arrived, departed, and returned. Eight hours in, the Killantringan Lighthouse was in view with a northwesterly wind of 6 knots.

Contending with the infamous Scottish tides at 11:36 am on Saturday, August 5th, Caroline completed the first leg in 15 hours 32 minutes 25 seconds over a swim distance of 49.5 km. Caroline arrived to a small stony beach in the garden of the beautiful Knockinaam Lodge at the Port of Spittal bay with the Scottish flag bellowing in the wind.

As per the rules of a two-way crossing, a swimmer is permitted a ten-minute break on completion of their first leg. The sun shone with a clear blue sky as Caroline was joined by Pádraig. She had a short stop to re-grease, eat and focus on her return leg. Her one-way crossing was done and dusted and she was ready to rock for the second leg. At 11:44:10 am, she was on the move leaving Scottish shores behind. The tide had turned and she headed northwest against wind and waves joined by Pádraig until her first feed.

We all knew that this is where the swim would really begin. Forecasts of predicted good weather failed to appear and Caroline continued relentlessly to swim through these conditions including several squalls.

Caroline's simple approach to the swim never altered. Her requests were for factual information of distance, time and sea state allowing her to calculate her performance. This mindset in a marathon open water swimmer is a golden ticket to success. Previous team planning regarding how the swim would progress and how each sections would go allowed the plan to unfurl. It was known that at this stage there would be wind against tide, but with the actual weather not matching the predicted (normal in this county), it meant that the seas were heavy slowing progress, preventing the much needed advances northwest.

After 63.4 km at 8:07 pm on August 5th, the swim course turned southeast at least 7 km short of the predicted target due to the wind and waves. Caroline's pace and energy levels were as on her first stroke all those miles ago stroke rate: steady 54 spm with a perfect attitude.

With the currents pushing Caroline southeast back towards Scotland, her progress advanced slowly west. Caroline was advised to work with the presenting sea state and conditions against this tide to stem the loss of valuable ground and with the same positive reply she said 'Let's go'. So, for the next four hours, Caroline swam against the tide. With 77 km swam, the tides released their grip, weather conditions improved with less chop and further westerly progress was made, much later than predicted.

At 10:45 pm as Caroline had her feed, she had a factual conversation with Pádraig laying out all the details. It was clear that Caroline was unlikely to make landfall. In amazing physical and mental condition, Caroline would swim a further one hour to assess progress and make sure that the agreed decision was the right one. Swimming at an increased pace of 58 spm to the light of the moon, Caroline and the cold North Irish Channel waters danced in tandem weaving through the complex currents with the lights of Belfast harbour and Donaghadee tantalisingly close.

At 11:59 pm having swam 88 km just before a new day, Caroline whilst ahead and making history happen, bowed gracefully to the North Irish Channel fully acknowledging the amplitude of the success.

Infinity channel swimming with Caroline had agreed on media silence to fully focus on this pioneering swim. The track was shared after the turnaround point and the swimming world was watching and commenting with their own ideas of what was happening, filling in from the tracker and imagining what it would be like to be in such an amazing place on earth and this valiant swim - every stroke a winner.

The team at Infinity are amazed at Caroline's stamina, mental and physical ability during this swim. Mother Nature did not allow Caroline's access to Irish shores. Our admiration and respect is unsurmountable - a pleasure to partner with you for you in a journey into the unknown.

Dr. Caroline Block now achieved two North Irish channel one-way crossings and is the second lady to swim from Ireland to Scotland [after Alison Streeter in 1988]
."

She consumed INFINIT nutrition and coffee labs roasters. Her observers included Ian Conroy and Gary Knox. Her escort pilots included Charles Stewart and Pádraig Mallon.

The start of her first leg was at Robbies Point on Ireland at 8:04 pm Friday, August 4th. She reached landfall in Scotland at 11:36:25 am on Saturday August 5th. The start of her second leg was at Port of Spittal Bay, Scotland at 11:44:10 am on Saturday August 5th. She completed her two-way attempt east of Belfast Lough, Ireland at 11:59:01 pm on August 5th, traversing a total distance of 88 km in 28 hours 55 minutes 1 second.

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