Are you ready for the Great Channel Swim?

Petar Stoychev
Petar Stoychev

Event management company Nova International, which organizes the Great North Run and last year the Great North Swim in Lake Windermere, is planning to out-do itself.

They will organize the Great Channel Swim on 19 August 2009. Many of the world’s top marathon swimmers may compete in a televised event, including Olympic 10K Marathon Swim bronze medallist Cassandra Patten and English Channel record holder Petar Stoychev (pictured).

Olympic bronze medal-winning long-distance athlete and Commonwealth Games gold medallist Brendan Foster, who is chairman and managing director of Nova International, will host the launch which is also being attended by Kevin Murphy who, with 34 Channel swims to his credit is King of the English Channel, and television commemtator Stuart Storey

Colin Hill is Nova International’s Project Manager for the event with a major press conference scheduled for Thursday in London.

The Great Channel Swim will be swum under the Channel Swimming & Piloting Federation rules with official Channel Swimming & Piloting Federation observers acting as judges. As such, no wetsuits are allowed and the swim suits must not float, must be porous and must not come off the shoulders or go below the knees. As is known in the English Channel community, swimming without suits is also allowed and has been done on numerous occasions.

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  1. Event Cancelled
    Because the French authorities concerns regarding the amount of potential additional traffic in the English Channel were raised, the French Coast Guard did not provide its support to stage the highly anticipated event. Colin Hill, the Great Channel Swim race director, said, “After many months of planning, we are disappointed at this late stage to have encountered objections from the French authorities, leaving us with no alternative but to reluctantly cancel the event.”

    Michael Oram of the Channel Swimming & Piloting Federation has been working diligently with Colin Hill of Nova International since November 2008 to organize the Great Channel Swim.

    Michael and Colin attended numerous meetings, written comprehensive risk assessments based on Michael’s experience of personally piloting over 500 English Channel attempts over 27 years, and spent countless hours consulting with the Coastguard authorities, various County and local Councils, police groups, the Dover Harbour Board and local officials to organize the Great Channel Swim.

    Groundwork and the planning with the authorities started in November 2008 and, based on a consensus developed by the end of January 2009, the Great Channel Swim was announced officially by Nova International at the beginning of February 2009.

    However as the media interest started to build up momentum and additional groups were briefed on the event, the issue of having unknown numbers of spectators in leisure vessels in the English Channel was brought to the attention of the French authorities. Faced with the possibility of safety issues related to hundreds of spectators in a wide variety of boats watching the athletes – going at a relatively slow 2 knots per hour across heavily trafficked international shipping lines – the French authorities reassessed the situation and informed Nova of their new concerns at the logistics meeting on the March 31st.

    Largely because of the unknown element of these spectators’ effects on safety, the French cooperation and consent was then formally withdrawn on 29 April 2009.

    Throughout April, Michael and Nova tried gallantly to salvage the situation, presenting various alternatives. Because no one could accurately predict how many spectator boats would be on the water on race day, or how they could be controlled, it was impossible to come to an agreement with the French authorities because there was no way to verify the parameters involved.

    With a 1 May 2009 deadline looming, the athletes were alerted to the situation and negotiations continued.

    Unfortunately, by 1 May, the concerns had still not been resolved and, as a result, the French authorities did not change their assessment.

    As Michael explained, “It would have been a great event if it had come to fruition. It might well happen in the future now that the parameters are set, but it will take time and effort to negotiate.”

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