There will be six new names on the wall of Dover’s White Horse Inn tonight when the Mighty Mermaids add theirs to the list of successful English Channel swimmers, a tradition dating back decades. They have earned the honor, completing the grueling 21-mile Channel swim in a brisk 10 hours and 36 minutes. “We smoked it,” said Mermaid Christie Ciraulo of Los Angeles.
It was 2:07 a.m. on July 23rd and pitch black when Mermaid Karen Einsidler, with a glowstick tied to the back of her suit, slipped into the water. Nancy Steadman Martin, who swam next, also made her way in darkness. Ciraulo started her first leg in the dark and finished it at daybreak. Roni Hibben had the morning sunrise; Jenny Cook and Tracy Grilli swam in sunlight. The Mermaids, all champion masters swimmers over age 60, swam the one-hour legs in rotation. Four swimmers swam double legs.
“We were a little startled by the size of the freighters, and we did deal with the wake from many of them,” said Ciraulo of the waters. They also encountered four kinds of jellyfish; some swimmers were stung before they applied jellyfish repellant. The water was colder than they expected—about 60 degrees at times—but manageable.
Finding the Right Route
Navigating to the proper landing site, known as Cap Gris-Nez (Gray Nose) on the coast of northern France, is its own challenge because of tidal conditions. The Mermaids made their swim in one tide change, a remarkable feat requiring them to swim in nearly a straight line from Dover. Final swimmer Traci Grilli put the gas on over the last 28 minutes, making it to the Cap before the tide change. The team, which had been on a nearby pilot boat, swam to shore behind her. In accordance to Channel-swim rules, Grilli ran up the beach and raised her hand, with the rest of the team behind her.
The success was made sweeter by the fact that it almost hadn’t happened at all. Their pilot boat was named the Sea Satin, but the seas had been anything but smooth just a day earlier, when the Mermaids made their first attempt. Winds were blowing at 30 miles per hour and white-capped seas were seven feet high when the captain made the call: unsafe to swim. “We were heartbroken,” Ciraulo said but late that night they were back on the dock, gazing at calm seas with no wind. “We were so ready for this,” said Ciraulo. “We had this window of opportunity and we just went for it.” And conquered it—in a perfect example of Aging Boldly.
Images: David Grilli