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Fab four achieve season’s fastest Channel swim for PCRF

30 August 2016

After an “emotional rollercoaster” of preparations and postponements, an intrepid team of relay swimmers finally set off for the French coast at midnight on Thursday 18 August to raise over £7k for PCRF – and achieving the fastest crossing of 2016 so far.

The Channel swim was part of the phenomenal fundraising campaign undertaken by the Northwood Foundation – set up by Northwood estate agents  in honour of former Managing Director, Nick Cooper, who died of pancreatic cancer in 2013. Since setting up the Foundation, staff across Northwood’s 80+ UK offices have embarked on a huge calendar of events, and more than doubling their original fundraising target of £20,000.

The team was led by Northwood Operations Manager Greg Wood, who already has a solo Channel swim to his name and friends Jason Ransley, Paul Hancockand Stuart Parris (pictured below).  “I wanted to do something big and different as my contribution to the fundraising campaign, so I roped in three crazy but seriously strong swim buddies who I knew would be up to the task and it snowballed from there,” says Greg.

Fab Four record breakers!

After training hard at all hours for months, both indoors and in open water, the 4-strong team were thwarted by bad weather which postponed their initial scheduled attempt in July.

“You have to be mentally ready, but it’s so hard to plan,” says Greg. “There are 4 swim attempts allowed on each tide and we were 4th in our tide queue. The first three set off fine, but then the weather turned.  As there are people booked into slots from all over the world, if you’re postponed, you have to go to the back of the schedule or be ready to go if someone else cancels.

“Luckily for us, someone dropped out and we had a call from our boat pilot at 8pm on Wednesday 17th August asking if we could be ready swim at midnight the next day. This was fine for me, Stuart and Jason, but Paul was on holiday, and had to race over from Devon to join us.”

Swimming in 1 hour stints each, with Paul leading the charge from Samphire Hoe (in between Folkestone and Dover), they swam through the night, reaching the rocks at Cap Gris Nez near Calais just before 9.30am on 18 August. 

It wasn’t all plain sailing by any means, says Greg. “Jason doesn’t fare well in boats and was sick like you’ve never seen  when he wasn’t swimming, which I don’t think he found very funny at the time, plus we had to contend with shoals of jellyfish. Getting stung is like rolling around in nettles  - lots of them - which isn’t at all pleasant, and poor Stuart got stung all over his body and on his eye! Plus swimming at night really messes with your head and the shock in the pit of your stomach when a massive seal pops up right next to you in the dark is something else!”

Ferry for company

By chance, but fittingly, it was Greg who landed on the French coast, after  9hrs 27 minutes,  completing the fastest time of the 2016 season so far. Due to French immigration rules, his team-mates were not permitted to join him on French soil, but they celebrated in the boat before triumphantly returning to Blighty for food and sleep – and for Paul, the rest of his family holiday.

Greg reaches France!
“We’re really grateful to work, wives and girlfriends for being so Swim routeaccommodating while we were training and we’re also very proud of what we did,” says Greg. “More people have climbed Everest than have swum the Channel.  It was tough, but we’d do it again in a heartbeat – open water swimming is really addictive – plus we genuinely want to break the world record which stands at 8 hours 42 minutes .  As the crow flies the distance is around 21 miles, but with the tides and currents we ended up covering nearly 30. On another day with a bit of luck and a straighter crossing, we really think we can do it.”  

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