Sacre Bleu! Channel crossing damned

The original blog by Laura Winter is posted on Rogue Thoughts since Thursday, 4 November 2010

The French coastguard are asking prospective Channel crossing conquerors to think twice, as they urge officials to ban further crossings, believing it is one of the most dangerous challenges one can undertake. Compared to crossing the M25 on foot, the 21 mile swim across one of the world's busiest shipping lanes is highly dangerous, as over 500 shipping vessels could potentially cross a swimmer's path a day. How utterly boring.

Swimmers undertaking the Channel swim will not go into the challenge lightly, be it an individual project or as part of a relay team. The risks and dangers to the swimmers will have been calculated and the costs for an experienced and highly-qualified pilot boat will have been raised. Let us count the number of deaths from undertaking the Channel crossing. 1,200 adrenaline junkies have completed the crossing and many more have failed, at the mercy of the turning of the tides. Yet there have only been four official deaths since 1875, and none at the hands of the a 100,000 ton ship. Michael Oram, secretary of the Channel Swimming and Piloting Federation, defended the challenge, claiming the total deaths in the history of Channel swimming can be seen at events such as the London marathon in one year. This number can be tripled or even increased fourfold a year when one studies the fatalities suffered in climbing the foreboding Mount Everest.

Yet the French coastguard seem to adopting the adage 'prevention is better than a cure' as they call for either tighter control, or at worst, a complete ban, believing it is only a matter of time before a severe accident between man and 100,000 ton ship, or worse, between ship and ship. Yet what has provoked such an outcry? The number of entries to swim the Channel, most attempts completed for charity rather than personal gain, has steadily increased since David Walliams made it fashionable in 2006 as he completed the swim for Children in Need, but as such, has plateaued at approximately 250 entries a year. What the French are asking for, and which perhaps does needs to be better controlled is the number of solo, un-monitored projects undertaken by, quite frankly, irresponsible individuals.

Is this health and safety gone mad, yet again? Oram claims the Channel crossings are already highly monitored, and indeed the emphasis on safety is even 'over-the-top'. Yet, in a challenge in which brave man, or indeed woman, battle against the elements, is man really going to surrender? I truly hope not.