Since Captain Matthew Webb became the first person to swim the channel in 1875 fewer than 2000 people have completed the 20.7 miles. Far fewer than have climbed Mount Everest to the summit. The shortest distance is between Shakespeare Beach just west of Dover docks and Cap Gris Nez west of Calais but swimmers must cover far more than that as changing tides will sweep them first one way and then the other during their crossing resulting in an S shaped course. So although I will start at Shakespeare Beach, I have no idea where in France I will land!
Swimmers are accompanied by a pilot boat, mine skippered by Mike Oram, which watches out for the 600 freighters, tankers and 200 ferries which pass through the Straits of Dover each day making it one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. Other hazards are the strength of the tides, waves and weather.
Between July and September the sea temperature usually ranges from 14°C to 18°C but has been known to drop to 6°C. You must complete a 6 hour swim in similar conditions beforehand. I plan to do that 10 times from a hopefully improving sea temperature of 13°C on the 7th June!
For your swim to be recognised by the Cross Channel Swimming Association these are the rules.
You must start and finish on dry land; you must use no artificial aid; only wear goggles, a cap, nose clips, ear plugs and a sleeveless and armless costume. Additional insulation, traditionally goose fat, can be applied! You must not touch another human being or the boat. Food may be passed to you from the boat on a long pole. If you come straight home you do not need a passport! The record time is 7 hours. One poor chap was swept so far off course by the tide that he ended up swimming 65 miles, but he did get there!