Fly to France is a six person Channel swimming relay team, taking on the world record breaking challenge of swimming Butterfly across the English Channel.
A Lotus Rises spoke to artist-adventurer Sam Mould to find out how and why!
Why are you doing this?
Well, why not. I wonder that the answer to this question begins with a curiosity about our boundaries and trying every day to do something that we thought ourselves incapable of.
I only just started open water swimming in April 2014 [ Sam undertook the challenge of completing 365 days of open water swimming] and in starting that project, and now having completed it, I remembered amongst other things the childish pleasure of swimming and began to wonder where else I could swim and could I begin to use swimming not only to keep my body and mind healthy but to promote that for other people too.
We understand you couldn’t swim butterfly until a few months ago. How did you learn. Is there a different technique for swimming butterfly over long distances?
Learning butterfly has been an undulating path. About six months ago, just after new year I went to a swimming pool to try and swim butterfly. The reason that I did this was that I knew that there was talk of a fly relay to france and I wondered if I could actually do the stroke at all. I’d been inspired by my now team mates who were happily swimming a mile or so regularly by this time.
The first effort was a total disaster in that I couldn’t manage 25m without practically drowning. That day I spent an hour and a half at London fields, pounding myself up and down the lanes and occasionally ringing my lungs out. I definitely learnt this stroke as a child; but didn’t ever swim it, not like crawl or backstroke.
Following this effort which left my abdominal muscles crying out in pain and arms to heavy to lift for several days, I started with my poor technique on swimming slightly longer distances of 50m not stopping.
I spoke to Kevin Blick; organiser and Butterfly chief, who invited me to swim fly with him which I did. At the end of the session he asked one question, and bearing in mind at this time I could swim less than 100m fly without stopping. He said ‘can you swim for an hour?’ This was his only question and I didn’t hesitate in saying yes, even though I couldn’t at that time.
To prove that I was serious I went on a butterfly swimming course, a one day series of pointers and technique. Then I went away for two months and practiced nothing but undulating exercises and occasional arm drills. I learnt through persistence and whilst I recognise that my technique is not perfect I focus on relaxed gliding in the water and relaxed arm for recovery for the long distance aspect.
Here’s a clip of Sam in the water, taken by fellow flyer Robert Fisher: A 3km training swim of grace, power and commitment in the pouring rain on a Sunday morning. AMAZING!
How does a Channel Relay work?
There is a team of six. We have a swim order that has to be kept the same for the duration of the swim. We swim for one hour, as far as that takes you and then wait for five hours until our turn comes around again. The stroke has a legality that must be adhered to if we want to succeed in setting world record. That is synchronised and bilateral movement. Elbows and wrists clear the water for each stroke.
How tough is the training. What are the highs and what have been the lows?
The training has been both physically and mentally challenging. Bonding as a team has been the strongest positive, just being around people whose attitude is one of ‘can do’ has an effect on every dynamic of your life, and whatever the out come of our attempt I am very lucky to be in that team of people as they have mentored me through the process of preparation.
Lows have been the drive to Dover, on occasions in weather that was so bad we could barely see the road ahead. Getting into the sea when the waves are lumpy, the rain is pouring and the wind up to boot is super scary, especially at Dover beach which pounds the pebbles to the floor on entry causing a hissing sound under water.
I think getting over the boundaries of swimming in these conditions has been super challenging, but on the plus side, you finish those swims all the stronger for the experience. I’m not that comfortable with not being able to put my feet down or see the land or in fact jellyfish infested waters or swimming at night for example, but all of these things I hope will melt into oblivion when the time comes.
The qualifier was another tough one. You have to swim for 2hours in sub-16 degrees C. We started to prepare for this by swimming a mile; then an hour; then an hour and a half. We did this qualifier at the start of May together, as almost a full team. I haven’t ever swum 2hours of any stroke my entire life and felt completely elated to have completed this, as butterfly with my team mates. We jumped out to get breakfast: tea and cake, a staple diet at the Serpentine and it was in fact all that kept me going, the thought of food.
When is the big swim?
Sam is raising money for Leukaemia and Lymphoma research. You can donate here.
You’ve swum all over the world, but where is your favourite swim spot?
My favourite swim spot; gosh, that’s a tricky one – I’ve swum in some very beautiful locations; Whale Bay sea swimming in New Zealand, Lake Wanaka in New Zealand, then the time of day or the conditions affect the experience; a midnight swim in Ullswater in the winter or an early morning swim at Windermere have their allure, river swimming in gorges in Torridon region, or scottish sea lochs in the heat of the day after a long hike or a swim in the Cairngorms in the highest loch in the UK or teaching my God-daughter to swim outdoors in a Llyn in Wales these all have their appeal and are full or special memories.
I am definitely a fan of fresh water swimming.
The Serpentine in London in the winter months really is a little bit of wild and sanity in the city, and I am always grateful to have swum there in the before work or getting to the studio. I say this partly because I have spent so much time there and partly because of the community of friends that I swim with there, therefore it is potentially my favourite. In fact sharing the swims with family and friend adds to the liking of a place and the swim.
What is your favourite swimming cossy and why?
Favourite swim togs are my funkita sports bikini. Why? Because it feels fantastic to don a bikini that is practical, that I can move around freely in and essentially feels like my own skin.
Thank you Sam Mould! We wish you and all the Fly to France team a wonderful swim!
At A Lotus Rises we’re celebrating women in open water, from your first splash, through to wild swims and marathon swimming.