Crumpet with butter prize for Channel feat
Conquering the ocean, and in particular the English Channel, is nothing new for Chloe McCardel. Five years ago, the Australian ultra-endurance swimmer completed a triple, non-stop crossing between these shores and France in 36 hours and 12 minutes.
On Sunday, the Sydney swimmer will attempt her 35th crossing and, in doing so, will surpass the men’s record for the number of Channel swims, set by Englishman Kevin Murphy in 2006.
Such is the significance of this swim that the Australian government granted McCardel an exemption to travel to the UK amid the pandemic so she could add three more Channel crossings to her name earlier this month, which she successfully completed over nine days at the start of August.
Remarkably, the 35-year-old is still some way off from being crowned the undisputed queen of the Channel. That accolade belongs to Alison Streeter, who holds the record with 43.
But McCardel’s 35th crossing – and fourth this month alone – is not simply about joining an elite tribe of female ultra-endurance athletes who have entered into territories alien to men (for example, Google Sarah Thomas, who became the first person to swim the Channel four times non-stop last year).
That McCardel had to postpone her swim until Sunday due to thunderstorms appears trivial compared to the scores of migrants who have risked their lives crossing her favourite stretch of water in recent days – more than 200 reached the Kent coast last weekend alone. She does, however, have her own story of hardship to tell. As a victim of an abusive relationship, she hopes her latest swim will raise awareness of domestic violence, a deeply personal experience she admits she has struggled to come to terms with publicly.
Her record-breaking swim could not have come at a more poignant time. More than 40,000 calls and contacts were made to the UK’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline during the first three months of lockdown. Most, the charity says, were by women.
McCardel’s experience was so horrific that she was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder and it is why she is using her latest 10-hour crossing to amplify an important message for survivors of domestic abuse.
“What I’m doing might seem like a superhuman feat, but I’m just a normal, everyday person who’s had huge challenges,” she says. “For those going through that recovery process, stay strong, and remember there are others out there who have been through the same thing. There is light at the end of the tunnel. France is still there on the other side.”
McCardel is eager to normalise her extraordinary endeavour, inasmuch as she hopes to inspire non-swimmers. When she was 11, she had no idea how to swim and remembers the trepidation of not being able to cross a 25-metre swimming pool.
Contrast that to when she set a world record for the longest ratified unassisted ocean swim of 124.4km (77.3 miles) in 41 hours, 30 minutes between two islands in the Bahamas in 2014. Or when, the year before, she swam from Cuba to Florida without the protection of a shark cage, only to be attacked by swathes of box jellyfish 11 hours into her challenge, forcing her to retire.
She is happy to view her gigantic exploits of crossing the world’s busiest shipping lane through a magical, childlike prism.
“Sometimes I look up and it’s like being in the bath when you’re a kid,” she says. “You’ve got all these cool toys, and you’re just bobbing around trying to dodge a ship. Or you can get the Russian navy cruising, sometimes a random submarine pops up, or the coastguard comes cruising by. It’s an amazing place, the English Channel, what happens out there on any one day.”
So, how will Sunday’s crossing work? Her crew manager, Jason, will lower a water bottle down to her every half an hour which contains an energy-boosting cocktail of carbohydrates and glucose. This, along with the occasional shot of caffeine and the thought of a buttery crumpet – will sustain her in water temperatures of 16C (61F).
“I literally salivate over the idea of having a crumpet with butter in the middle of the English Channel,” she says. “I go nuts on it, because it’s all yummy and soft. When you swim in salt water for hours on end, your tongue becomes quite raw and sensitive – the last thing you want to eat is anything rough or sharp, or chewy. The crumpet is a golden piece of bread from heaven.”
Australian? McCardel, it seems, is more like an adopted Brit.
Channel hopper: Chloe McCardel completed her 34th crossing and is going for No 35