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On October 15, Florence Chadwick, the best woman long-distance swimmer the world has ever known, tried to cross the treacherous north channel of the Irish Sea, from Donaghadee in Ireland to Portpatrick in Scotland, a distance of 21 miles. Here is her own story of what happened:
The Irish Sea undoubtedly presents the toughest problem of all to long-distance swimmers. The greatest enemy is the cold, at least for a person like myself, constructed without too much fatty tissue. Out in the center of the sea the depths measure 100 fathoms, and water temperatures have been known as low as 45�. The sea is rarely smooth either, and the distance itself is a fraction under 21 miles, slightly more than the English Channel. [ Miss Chadwick has swum the English Channel in both directions.] Last but not least, there are the tides to be taken into account.
The most essential thing to all channel swimmers is a good pilot. On my first Irish Sea attempt in 1957, when I was dragged from the water unconscious after 12 hours, 2� miles from the Scottish mainland, I arranged for an Irish pilot to take me halfway and a Scottish pilot to guide me into the finish. This time I decided to place the complete organization of the swim in the hands of one man, and I was lucky to obtain the services of Captain David Orr Ewing, a retired Royal Naval officer and the laird of Portpatrick.
I estimated that I could cover a mile approximately every half hour at the beginning of the swim, slowing down toward the end but completing the crossing in 12 to 13 hours. If I was in the water longer I felt sure the cold would defeat me.
To get across a channel one always aims to swim at right angles to the tides. Thus, one tide sweeps you a certain distance off course, but the next sweeps you just as far back. In other words, in crossing the Irish Sea, one should never have to swim more than 21 miles, although the tides carrying one either to the right or left of the intended track make the passage over the sea bottom more like 30 miles.
The swim was planned to take place during low neap tides unless conditions of absolute flat calm existed. In the Irish Sea the tide runs southward when it is rising and northward when it is falling. It was decided to start me about 2� hours before high water. This, it was estimated (and the swim verified), would take me slightly north for the first hour, with a slight push provided by an eddy stemming out of the large Belfast Lough up and around the coast from Donaghadee. There would then be half an hour of slack, half an hour of southgoing tide and then three-quarters of an hour of slack before the tide turned to the north. Then I would be taken northward for some five hours, but not too vigorously since the neap tide for the time of year only moves at about a knot. With luck, I would then have only a quarter of the swim left to do when the tide turned once more to the south. It was thought I would come in a little below Portpatrick.
Whatever happened, I knew the Irish Sea was going to give me one hell of a beating, and accordingly I trained harder for the attempt than for any other swim in my life.
After my last Irish Sea swim, in which the cold stopped me, I had virtually retired, but the failure kept gnawing away inside me, driving me almost crazy. What finally decided me to have one last try was reading one day on the same page of a newspaper stories about Archie Moore and Ted Williams. In comparison, at 41, I consider myself a baby.
By the time I arrived in Scotland at the beginning of September, more than six months of rigorous workouts were behind me. I had even had one swim of 10 hours in the lake at Grossinger's, where I work. This is the most I have ever swum prior to a channel attempt.
On arrival at Portpatrick, the next task was to become acclimated to the north channel's cold water, which is in fact warmer during September and October than at any other time of the year.