Derbyshire swimmer conquers Cross Channel dream

A Rainbows supporter braved jellyfish stings and experienced close encounters with supertankers to fulfil his ambition of swimming the English Channel.

Paul Robinson took 13 hours to complete the crossing. The triumph brought to a close a 10-year journey for Paul, who set his heart on a solo crossing of the Channel when he took part in a relay crossing with two other swimmers in 2010. 

An experienced triathlete, dad of two Paul, who works as a commercial manager at Lubrizol in Hazelwood, wanted to use his challenge to raise £5,000 for our hospice – with £500 coming from Lubrizol.

He has devoted countless hours to training and should have completed his attempt last year, only for the weather to intervene and force him to postpone his swim for a further 12 months. Fate nearly intervened again this year when the coronavirus lockdown meant that Paul couldn’t train at his local swimming pool – meaning he did not swim a stroke for seven weeks.

Paul embarked on his swim backed by a support crew including his dad, Dave, and his friend Sam. He encountered dark, choppy water, jellyfish and supertankers.

He said: “I’d already seen a few jellyfish and had avoided them, but there were loads in the separation zone and they were so small that you couldn’t see them.

“I got stung all over my body, including twice on my face and neck, which gave me a burning sensation that lasted for 10 minutes. It’s very uncomfortable but I found that by trying to spot them I wasn’t concentrating on my stroke, so the only way to deal with them is to get your head down and just keep going.”

In order to complete his swim Paul needed to take on food and water on a regular basis and it was on one of his refuelling stops that he came aware of a migrant boat that was travelling in the opposite direction, packed with 12 people seeking the safety of Britain just a few miles away across the sea.

“It was a tiny inflatable boat with an outboard motor and my first thought was how dangerous their journey was, going across one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world,” he said.

“Supertankers are massive, and the only reason why I wasn’t getting run over by one of them was because I had a qualified pilot, who was experienced and registered and was in radio contact with them to tell them that we were there.”

“The migrants had nothing like that.”

At that stage, with exhaustion kicking in and his hopes for a good time crushed, Paul started to fear that he wasn’t going to make it.

He kept going, and eventually landed at Wissant Bay. Exhausted and disorientated, he dragged himself out of the water. “I could see that some families on the beach were sitting up and watching me,” said Paul. “There they were, in their shorts and typical beach wear and here I was, a guy in Speedos, goggles and a swimming hat with flashing lights attached to it.

“As I walked up the beach, my legs were pretty unsteady. I had been horizontal in the water for 13 hours and I felt slightly drunk, but I’d done it.” 

Although Paul had undertaken his swim as a personal challenge and to raise money for our hospice, he also undertook his challenge in memory of a friend, Tim Ager, who he worked with in a sports shop while he was growing up in Leeds but who died last year.

He added: “I’m so happy to have achieved something I’ve waited 10 years to complete but I’m very well aware of everyone who has helped me and I remember at one point during the swim, when I could see France and I had started to relax, how much my family have missed out on seeing me because of my training over the past two years.

“They have put up a lot and so even while I had still some way to go, I thought about how I would be taking a break from swimming when it was all over, so that I could spend more time with them.”

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