On Friday the 19th of September, the COSMIC Rays took on an incredible challenge – swimming the English Channel all the way to France…and back to England! It was a momentous event that has captured the imaginations, and gained the support of thousands of people, including Virgin CEO Richard Branson!
The challenge lasted an astonishing 24 hours and 45 minutes with each of the four swimmers in the water for six one-hour increments. They battled adverse weather conditions; chilling coastal winds, thunder, lightning, rain and thick fog throughout the entirety of the challenge as well as coping with lack of sleep and little space to sit and rest with thirteen members on board!
Each step of the swim was as impressive as the next, so here it is; the COSMIC Ray’s challenge:
6:30am – Meet at the Dover Marina:
The COSMIC Rays, their support team, crew and passengers met at the Dover Marina at a brisk 6:30am and after some brief introductions, started filling up the boat ‘Sea Satin’ with all of the equipment and extra food.
The team were comprised of the four swimmers; Dr Parviz Habibi (Eagle Ray), Lisa Williams (Manta Ray), Paul Tannahil (Kiwi Ray) and Robert Farrow (Sting Ray) Patrick Kane (Bionic Boy), who acted as the official social media director of the challenge, taking the reins of COSMIC’s Facebook and Twitter accounts to keep everyone updated. Rod and Jen were the support crew for the challenge, letting the swimmers know how long they had been in the water, making sure they didn’t stray from the course and supplying them with towels, hot drinks and plenty of Vaseline! There were also two Observers, Del and Mike, who made sure the team adhered to the rules of the swim and also that they were fit and healthy before taking on the challenge. The Pilots of the ‘Sea Satin’ were Lance and Paul, who have sailed many-a-challenge across the Channel; they made sure they made good time by carefully using the tides, whilst also ensuring the safety of the entire crew. Lastly, there was Amber and Jack, from Ricochet who were filming a BBC documentary about the Channel.
“Morning all! Today our #toughswimmers set of for France and back from Dover! Should be setting off at 7am” - Patrick Kane via COSMIC Twitter
7:00am – Shakespeare Beach, The COSMIC Rays are a-GO!
After everything was packed on board, Lance drove the team to Shakespeare Bay – the starting point for the swim. Lisa (Manta Ray) was the first to go, having to stand on the side of the boat and wait for one of the officials to sound the klaxon before jumping into the water, and starting the first rotation of the challenge.
“And were off! @Lisa_J_Williams aka Manta Ray is in the water! France here we come!”
It was very foggy throughout the swim, but Lisa made excellent time with her first rotation, paving the way for the second swimmer, Paul (Kiwi Ray).
“Impressive speed by our #toughswimmer @Lisa_J_Williams aka Manta Ray”
9:00am – Switch Over, Manta Ray out, Kiwi Ray in:
As per the regulations of the challenge, Paul Tannahil, otherwise known as Kiwi Ray dove in for his first rotation of the journey.
“One in, one out. @Lisa_J_Williams has done her first leg and now Kiwi Ray, @paultannahill, is heading to France!”
Once again, another impressive first swim from Paul who cut through the choppy water with ease! As well as training for the challenge, Paul came bearing gifts; he knitted the team some rather fetching woolly pink and grey COSMIC hats to keep them warm whilst they were on the boat – what a team player!
“@paultannahill (Kiwi Ray) is more than halfway through his first hour!”
10:00am – Kiwi Ray out, Sting Ray in:
“Rob, aka Sting ray is in the water after an impressive shift from Kiwi Ray @paultannahill”
With Kiwi Ray back on the safety, and relative warmth of the boat, it was time for Rob to step up to the proverbial plate and complete his rotation of the swim. Rob was the “saviour of the day” according to Parviz Habibi, stepping in at last minute after Hillary (Tiger Ray) unfortunately could not make the trip. It was incredibly foggy whilst he was swimming but Rob proved himself to be a real Tough Swimmer!
“Very foggy conditions here but our #ToughSwimmers are powering through. Keep going #COSMICRays”
11:00am – Sting Ray out, Eagle Ray in:
“Eagle ray has entered the water! #ToughSwimmers”
Next in was the man himself, Eagle Ray, known to others as Dr Parviz Habibi, Chariman of COSMIC, completing a very impressive first swim. The rotation continued at a steady pace, each of the Ray’s fighting against the tide and the difficult weather conditions.
“Eagle ray out - manta ray, @Lisa_J_Williams, in. Round 2! Very #ToughSwimmers in choppy conditions”
2:00pm - Weathering the Storm:
However, as the day went on and the swimmers neared the separation zone of the Channel, it became much milder.
“The sun has been struggling to break through all day but not our swimmers, we are nearing France #ToughSwimmers” … “Daylight breaks! Brilliant conditions for our #ToughSwimmers as we head towards France. Remember to donate”
6:00pm: “Land ahoy! France in sight as Sting Ray begins his 3rd leg”
Eagle Ray waits for his turn while drinking up some energy;
The Pilot said to Parviz “you need to swim for England if you are to make it before the tide turns”. Parviz says “ I was determined to get to France before it got dark so I pushed with all I had …”.
7:00pm: The Eagle Landed!
Eagle Ray touched down on a small beach off Cap Griz Nez, France, in a time ‘England - France’ a swift 11 hours and 41 minutes! As he walked on to the beach he emerged to the cheers of the team and crew. A man outside the restaurant on the beach ran up to him, slapped him on the back saying ‘Braveau Englishman’! He apparently offered Parviz a beer and a cigarette! Eagle Ray politely declined and only had 10 minutes before he had to return to the sea.
“England we are coming for you! Parviz aka Eagle Ray has touched down in France and #COSMICRays are heading home!”
8:00pm – Manta Ray Heads Home:
The sun was setting when Lisa got into the water to start the returning rotations. Soon it was pitch black and Manta Ray was holding strong though her 4th swim of the day. The night swims proved incredibly difficult as there were lobster pots to manoeuvre, causing both swimmers and Pilot to swerve around them. The night swims were made much easier by the support of Rod and Jen, who provided a spotlight for the swimmers, to deter them from swimming into the boat.
9:00pm: Kiwi Ray Takes on the Night:
Paul was also a novice to night swimming, but absolutely powered through!
As Paul emerged Parviz asked how he was feeling and Paul replied “It’s all about the mind now”. How true that was! The air damp with cold, nothing to see but darkness, the sea inky black and very cold, their bodies barely warming up before it was time to go in the water again, and again!
5:00am – Morning Has Broken:
As the sun began to rise over the Channel, the swimmers were still going strong, and nobody could really believe the incredible effort being put in for COSMIC.
“Beginning to brighten up here as we near England. Unbelievable effort here by our #ToughSwimmers”
8:30am – “Less than 600m to go! Amazing swimming here by all of our #COSMICRays”
With just under 600 meters to go, the excitement was palpable as Manta Ray neared the Dover shores, the White Cliffs looming in the distance.
“Keep swimming! Nearly there Manta Ray, @Lisa_J_Williams.”
9:00am – Challenge Completed:
With one final push, Lisa landed the COSMIC Rays back on English soil (well…sand), having technically swam the longest out of the team, starting and finishing the challenge. It was incredibly misty when she started, and it had been a long stretch, having only had a precious few hours of sleep and a handful of jelly babies to keep her energy up!
“The #COSMICRays have landed!”
The Channel Swim was an amazing feat on the part of everyone involved, and we are incredibly proud that this challenge was taken in the name of COSMIC. Upon his return, Eagle Ray said that “I have not really come to terms with what happened in those 24 hours. We really did swim to France and then back to England! My stiff and aching body, resonating with the reality and enormity of our achievement, is a constant reminder and the truth is gradually sinking in.” This event has touched the lives and hearts of all who knew about it, and I’m sure will see much more support in the days to come.