Face Time with Cathys Eels

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Face Time with Cathy’s Eels

By Don Silcock

PNG_12_Feb_NI_D16_Land_110-1024x681Possibly not everybody’s idea of fun, but for me it was a most unusual and entertaining way to spend an afternoon – upfront and personal with a significant number of large and hungry fresh water eels.

“Cathy” is Cathy Hiob, a former Air Nuigini air hostess who has retired back to her village of Laraibina, some 90 km from Kavieng, down the east coast of New Ireland in Papua New Guinea.

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22 years of flying with the national airline has provide Cathy with a seemingly endless string of one-liners, which she really seems to relish using with the many visitors who come to see her flock of fresh-water eels.

In fact, you get the distinct feeling that you are part of a very well-rehearsed routine, as you sit chatting with her in the shade of one of the many trees in the village. But, as amusing as the banter is with this feisty lady with the shock of white hair, the one-liners are just the warm-up act for the star attraction.

For in the village stream are some 10-12 large fresh-water eels and Cathy, together with her trusty assistant, has trained them on a diet of Besta tinned mackerel to appear on demand when they hear the feeding pot being rattled.

 

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The training has worked extremely well – too well in fact, as I subsequently learned when the last tin of Besta had gone and the eels disappeared as quickly as they had appeared.

Unfortunately this occurred just as I was getting the hang of being surrounded by large slivering eels, each equipped with an impressive set of teeth.

The usual routine is to stand in the stream and let the eels swim around your feet as Cathy’s assistant doles out the Besta, but I really wanted to get a close-up underwater shot of the eels feeding, so total immersion therapy seemed to be the be the way to go.

I carefully positioned myself at the feet of Cathy’s assistant, shivering slightly in the cold fresh water and feeling strangely vulnerable…

The first tin of Besta was opened and the feeding pot suitably rattled and within seconds I was surrounded by what appeared to be a seething mass of eel flesh!

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Clearly caught up in the overall excitement of the moment, Cathy’s assistant opened tin after tin in rapid succession, as the eels gorged on the mackerel. Then, just as I felt I was getting the hang of this veritable feeding frenzy the last tin was gone and the eels disappeared as quickly as they had appeared!

We tried all sorts to bring them back, even offering our lunch of fresh tuna to tempt them to the camera dome, but all to no avail as the Besta appears to be the only thing that will do it for them!

So… on my next trip to New Ireland and thanks to the usual superb support of Dietmar and Angie Amon of Lissenung Island Resort, we embarked from Kavieng with a case and a half of Besta’s very best – enough for at least two eel banquets!

Cathy was at the exuberant best when we arrived and we sat with her under the tree for the obligatory chat and one-liners – no repeats I noticed…

Then after detailed instructions regarding the timing and rate of dispersal of the Besta were carefully explained to Cathy’s assistant, I positioned myself amongst the eager eels and the feeding began.

The phrase “herding cats” came to mind as I tried very hard to get a good image as the eels slithered in and out of the viewfinder and lumps of mackerel were dispersed and consumed at an alarming rate!

All in all, quite an usual and very interesting way to spend the last day of your trip to Kavieng and let that nitrogen return to where it came from.

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About Don

Don is a Bali based photojournalist and underwater photographer who travels extensively in South-East Asia and China.

You can read more about Papua New Guinea, and many other places, on his website http://www.indopacificimages.com

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2014 Bucket List

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2014 Bucket List

By Rowena Mynott

 

I go through this every year. I sit down, I make a list of resolutions but when end of the year rolls around and it’s time to sit down to write the next years list, inevitably I find that I haven’t fulfilled many of the resolutions on the previous list. Although it is an ancient tradition, it seems I am not alone in my failure to adhere to ‘the list’. That’s probably not a bad thing. We punish ourselves enough for putting on weight over christmas, for not being good enough at our jobs, for not having the big house or earning enough money. So how about this. How about we set positive goals for the next year? There are plenty of people online that I come across who are doing just that. Similarly to a resolution list they write a list of things that they want to achieve that year, the difference being that they are bucket list items. Items that the author is excited about achieving be it taking a skydive or tasting 6 different types of chocolate. And if you don’t manage to tick every item off? It really doesn’t matter! So here we go. Here is my list for 2014:

1 – Kayak with orcas

2 – See grizzly bears in the wild

3 – Train through the Rockies

4 – Pay off a strangers lay-away Christmas gift for their children

5 – 52 Project

6 – Cage dive with crocodiles in Darwin

7 – Read the top 10 novels of all time

8 – Write an e-book

9 – Learn to play the guitar

10 – Visit a new country

11 – Take a new class

12 – Exercise regularly

13 – Sail around Haida Gwaii

14 – Visit Jasper NP

15 – Visit Banff

16 – Dive Fiji

17 – Visit Tintagel Castle in Cornwall

18 – Take part in an archaeological dig

19 – Eat baguettes, cheese and drink wine in France

20 – Take a helicopter flight

21 – Visit Halden Forest Park with Ethan

22 – Celebrate the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival

23 – Take a narrow boat trip around the English canals

24 – Explore Lundy Island

25 – See how many whales we can spot in the Bay of Fundy

26 – Taste chocolate in Belgium

27 – See otters in the wild

28 – Tobermory, Isle of Mull

29 – Edinburgh Castle

30 – Ride on a steam train

31 – Shoot a quiver of arrows

32 – Introduce my son to a monkey

33 – Hold a bird of prey

I am super excited about this list and can’t wait to start achieving it and sharing with you.  What is on your list this year? I’d love to hear – perhaps pick up some inspiration.

 

 

 

 

For The Love Of The Ocean

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For the love of the ocean

By Auds at Our Journey To The Sea

The thing about loving the ocean is that you constantly feel the need to explore. Whether it is deeper and wider in the areas you already know, or travelling across the world to see what there is on offer. It is a constant need. There might be better surf there, better fish there, or just a whole new experience.

Ryan has travelled far and wide for a wave. Through Africa, Portugal, France, Indonesia, Australia and Samoa only to name a few. Together, we have explored a range of oceans diving, freediving and spearfishing. It is never enough. We always want more.

It’s extremely lucky that the universe brought us together. Just prior to meeting Ryan I was already planning on giving up my day job and finding a crewing job on a yacht, somewhere in the world. Fate brought us together. Our love for the ocean pushed us closer. We soon realised that we were both aching to explore the world by boat.

And so our planning was set forth. Buy a boat in Europe, sail it back to Australia.

At the moment we are still working towards our goal. Given our age, we have to ensure we are still set up for the future before going on this wonderfully exciting adventure.

Imagine the oceans we will see, the fish we will spear and the waves we will surf. It is simply the best goal we could ever have set for ourselves. We are determined to get there, even though it might not occur as soon as we would hope (like now!).

In the meantime, we are still exploring the wonderful oceans as often as we can. Here is a quick look at some of the beautiful experiences we have already had so far:

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A Nomadic Lifestyle: When will you grow up and settle down?

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When Will You Grow Up and Settle Down?

By Steven Moore

Me on pyramid Bayon

 

It’s taken almost two decades for some of my nearest and dearest to fully comprehend the lifestyle I have chosen. For so many years, I’d hear things like, “It’s just not realistic”, or “How can you afford to live like that? Aren’t you getting a little old for all this gallivanting?” My favourite: “When are you going grow up and settle down?” Perhaps now, nineteen years after my first backpacking adventure to Indonesia and Australia, I think they get it.

So what is the crazy lifestyle I lead that has caused so many concerns for my loved ones? Quite simply, it’s a life that involves me doing exactly what I want, when I want, for how long I want, and most importantly, where I want!

For almost twenty years I’ve spent my life travelling the world, living and working on four different continents and spending time in almost 50 countries. Of course, the two decades haven’t been spent totally on the road. There have been many years…too many…where I had to temporarily curb my wanderlust and return to my native England. I have worked regular jobs, but usually only to boost the travel funds for pending trips. I even spent a four year stretch at University, but that was a calculated sacrifice, enabling the last few years of fun and adventure in Korea.

Let me address some of the comments about my ‘lifestyle’ I’ve heard so frequently.

1.     It’s just not realistic.

Well, why ever not? I’ve managed to maintain a gloriously nomadic lifestyle. As a younger man, I worked hard, saved up, travelled, and supplemented it all by doing sporadic paid work on the road. When the money ran out…6 months, a year…I went home and started again. This worked for a long time, but I eventually got tired of the have-to-go-home part. Thus, I completed a Bachelor’s Degree in a few things that ended in ‘ology, and teaching ESL in Korea became an amazing and realistic option to continue the so-called unrealistic lifestyle.

Me at Wat arun

 2.     How can you afford to live like that?

Live like what? I like the same things as everyone else, but it definitely helps that I’m not a materialistic person. Belongings are for other people. I’ve never bought a new TV, and the few cars I’ve owned were cheaper than a train from London to Edinburgh. They didn’t last long, and they didn’t need to. I’ve never begged, and I never go hungry, and it’s just a case of knowing what’s important. Possessions I count as important are my passport and my backpack. My one luxury item? Kindle, absolutely!

Hawaii

3. Aren’t you getting a little old for all this gallivanting?

Excuse me? Certainly not! I assume what they mean is that they just thought it would be out of my system by now, being almost 40, and that I should consider getting a real job. Well, I’ve taught English for 3 of the last 5 years in South Korea, and now I’m a novelist on the verge of moving to Paris. Okay, aspiring novelist, but we have to follow our dreams, right? Age should be no determiner of whether or not we travel. If it’s fun and inspiring, any age is the perfect age.

Me at Angkor

4. And finally, the classic. When are you going to grow up and settle down?

Grow up? Settle down? What does that even mean? I guess traditionally that means finding the right guy or girl, getting married with a house and mortgage, couple of kids, car in the drive way etc, and a few dusty photo albums that come out occasionally to relive old memories. Let me just assure you now that creating new memories is much more fun than reliving old ones, though of course that’s fun too.

Well, I am settled. What I mean is, I have an amazing long term girlfriend, Leslie, who shares my dreams and ethics, we each know what we want from our futures, and we both know what we don’t want…sedate, sedentary, stagnant, stale, and suffocating lives spent doing something we don’t want to do in somewhere that we don’t want to do it. So we don’t!

Right now, Darwin is home, but over the next 12 months we’ll be spending time in Indonesia, France, England, the USA and Central America, while I continue with my novel and Leslie pursues her freelance journalism career. Settled? Yes, completely, thanks for asking.

 

So what does it take to live a nomadic lifestyle? Everybody has different needs and desires in terms of what they want from their lives. But the more you need, the more difficult it is to be nomadic. I say it just takes an open mind. A sense of adventure is a prerequisite. A thick skin is crucial for all the times when things don’t go to plan. Believe me, this can be often. Patience is vital, and appreciation and awareness of yourself and others is paramount.

Hemingway once said; “It’s great to have an end to journey toward; but it’s the journey that matters, in the end.” I agree wholeheartedly, and so most of all, what you need is a reason to do it. My reason? Travel defines me, makes me tick. To see the world is to learn not only about it, but about yourself and your place in it. And once you know yourself, you can be settled anywhere.

The Nomad with the Chic Adventurer

Steven Moore is the epitome of a 21st century nomad. He has traveled on five continents, and lived and worked on four. Steven writes a travel blog about his international adventures, and he is currently penning his first novel.

Check out his blog at www.twentyfirstcenturynomad.com and Facebook: @21enturyNomad

Channel Swimming: Mind Over Matter

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An English Channel Swim: The Everest of swimming

Part 3/4 Mind Over Matter …

By Zara Bullen

Zara’s Twitter: me_and_the_dog

6 Still quite Dark
Zara focused in the dark with a glow stick attached for her crew to see her

In a bossy fit I’d brought them each battery glow sticks in different colours, put these on lanyards (along with a tiny LED torch and a whistle) and insisted they wear them before we left dry land. Trying to find anything in the dark on an unfamiliar moving boat is tricky and once activated I could see who was who in the dark. Before long it was my first feed, all went to plan – the idea being that these are kept to an absolute minimum as the longer you’re not swimming forward the more you are being pushed sideways by the tide. You’re swimming far enough without swimming any of it twice!! The rules dictate that during the swim you’re not allowed to touch the boat (and the crew aren’t to touch you) so nutrition is passed into the sea. We used a system of warm energy drinks in pouch-like bottles as after many hours in a cold sea there’s a good chance your hands become considerably less agile so normal drinking bottles become too hard to squeeze. These pouches are attached with a carabiner to a masons line and then thrown to you, you drink and swim on whilst the crew wind it back in for the next use. Dad also made me a brilliant extendable pole with a colander attached to the end so solids could also be passed to me from the side of the boat with ease. Following a fellow channel swimmers advice I’d decided to swim without attempting any solid during the early hours to give my body the best chance to use it’s energy for what I needed it to do rather than to digest solid food, but the colander was really useful later on and really easy to take food from. The second hour flew past like lightening – I’d chosen to only stop on a whistle alert from my crew, on the relay I realised that I really liked hearing the people on the boat but that you have a lot of time to think and it’s very easy for your mind to suggest that what you heard wasn’t a laugh or the crew chattering amongst themselves but them wanting you to stop which becomes confusing – using the whistle eliminated this.

The first five or so hours were in the dark. During these hours I could see the beautifully lit boat when I breathed to my left, when I breathed to my right – nothing at all. I’d trained to mentally only think about swimming to the next feed but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t also swimming to the dawn. I was looking forward to the warmth of the sun on my skin but, alas, the dawn didn’t really come. As the sky started to lighten slightly I began to see the difference in colour between it and the sea, this became more distinguishable but still not ‘light’. During the massive amount of time I had to think…I thought I’d accidently got Vaseline on my right goggle when I’d applied the grease before the swim, I was so glad when it got light enough to dare to change my clear goggles for my polarised goggles however this made me realise that Vaseline wasn’t the reason I couldn’t see anything, I was still swimming in thick, thick fog!

We’d agreed before the start of the swim that I would only request things I wanted or needed when I stopped for a feed for these to be ready for my next feed so as to keep the stop time to an absolute minimum…however as I was swimming into the fifth hour that little monkey I’d first met during my 24 mile swim climbed on my back…his cold little monkey claws make you feel so low, make you start to question why on earth you are doing this, make you focus on any little issue or discomfort, make you start to think about how easily you could just stop. You start to think about things people have said to you; some had said how proud they were of me before I even got in, so proud that I dared to dream I could do it and that they’d be forever proud of me for that alone.  Your brain chips in with ‘it’s ok – you can stop anytime, they’re already proud of you’. I knew if I got out I’d get wrapped in a blanket, be cuddled, and allowed to sleep. I’d be warm and it would all be over. But, because I also knew from the training that the nasty little monkey-face was likely to loose his handhold on me if I had a huge intake of calories, I broke my own rule and stopped and called to my crew to stop me for a double feed as soon as they could. This didn’t especially surprise them as it was at this time that my stroke rate dropped dramatically from 60 strokes a minute to about 52. The crew regularly keep a check on your stroke rate, as this is a good indication of how you are fairing out there. They reacted with the speed of little gazelles and soon I was topped up, on my way again and as soon as the nutrition hit my system we’d drowned the pesky monkey.

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The crew keeping a watchful eye over Zara

I entered the separation zone in a good time of six hours, at about this time it started to feel like daytime and I started to really enjoy my swim. I felt strong and positive and my stroke rate had returned to normal. That’s not to say it wasn’t hard – you have a lot of time to think about pretty much everything. Obsessing over technique and ensuring every stroke is as powerful and useful as it possibly can be is fairly all encompassing but this level of concentration on something so rhythmic also zones you out for vast chunks of time. Lots of people have asked what did I think about so here goes: during the times when I felt bright and happy I thought about how privileged I was to be right where I was at that very moment, to have my life, to have my health, to have the ability to be able to even attempt such a thing. I thought about how cool it was to be so far out in the sea on my own, how far I was from another creature in the water, and how that creature probably wasn’t another human! I thought about all the sea below me and the things in it and how I (maybe strangely) consider both the sea and its inhabitants my friends and marvelled at how I felt no fear. During the times when I felt less bright and happy and was experiencing both mental and physical discomfort I thought about how I’d chosen to be here and how I could make the pain stop at any point if I decided to, I was only swimming after all. Cliché I realise but ‘the pain is temporary – the glory is forever’. I thought about people in my life that have battled real toughness with such bravery and an entire lack of fuss and told myself to just get on with it – I thought about my brave Mummy who so quietly and selflessly beat her cancer. I thought about my oldest friend in the world Hayley who also beat cancer as well as dealing with some of the worst things life can throw at you at about the same time. I thought about my lovely Jenny, just up there on the boat, being so strong. I thought a lot about Susan (Taylor, the lady who lost her life in the Channel in July). I thought about how having the choice to make the discomfort stop isn’t the case for so many; the children EACH care for as a perfect example. I thought about my friend Shannons little girl Maggie. And Maggies smile. Maggie has cerebral palsy and faces so many challenges yet she smiles so much. So yes, just get on with it Bullen, you came to swim today and you will swim all day if needs be.

At all times at least two, if not three of my crew were clearly visible to me. Sitting on the side of the boat, smiling at me, generally just being there with me. This gives a feeling of comradery, these people very quickly become even closer to your heart than they were when you all got on the boat. One of my favourite moments however was when JC critiqued my swimming – I was unsurprised when the others commented on my stroke rate or technique, swimming is after all how I met Jenny & Mark in the first instance. And Will and I had watched each others technique for so many hours in training but to hear a “You’re looking really strong and consistent” from Jonathan made me giggle quite a lot during the next hour of swimming. Though not as much as Will moonwalking down the side of the boat…

So another hour, another feed…my super amazing crew had begun to try to offer me solid foods at each feed after about 5/6 hours in along with the energy drink but it was a struggle and I often refused them. Tongues and salt water aren’t the best of bedfellows if I’m honest, resulting in ‘salt mouth’ during marathon length sea swims. Essentially the salt knackers the surface of your tongue and causes it to swell, sometimes your throat too and this can obviously, at it’s most serious, end a swim. It makes eating unpleasant and also means you can taste next to nothing. We tried banana (this was very unglamorously given to the fish), Milkyways (before this – my favourite long distance training treat – not a flippin’ chance and the chocolate then stuck in my teeth annoyed me for what felt like an age), a few Jelly Babies made it down (I usually HATE them but in this instance I loved them), and raspberries were great (mainly because I could taste them through the salt tongue). Other than cursing myself for only packing blackcurrant squash…the energy drinks were sliding down just fine. Well fine other than that they gave me the trumps (as my crew so kindly shared with the world via Facebook!). So onto another hour, swim to the next feed, another feed, another hour, swim to the next feed, another feed…I entered the N/E lane at 09:56hrs. Eddie lent out of the window and said “Welcome to French waters”, obviously I addressed my crew in my best French at the next feed – I was hoping for a breakfast croissant but none was forthcoming…the observer from the CS&PF noted how polite I was at feeds, mainly as I wanted them to continue to be so nice to me of course! And nice they were – lovely in fact. One of my splendiferous crew had even made me surprise strongly flavoured ginger, lemon and honey drink before we’d left home – I cannot begin to tell you how amazing this tasted after so long in the sea.

At no point was I anywhere near stopping or getting out, way back at the start of my training when I started adding to the hours I was spending in the water, Mark had taught me to think in the mindset of ‘if I don’t do this today I have to go through all of this again to get to this point again before I can add to it’ (so if you stop after five hours when you’re attempting a seven hour swim you have to do those five hours again before you can try for seven hours). Because if I hadn’t not made it, there would of been an ‘again’, it gets under your skin, not finishing something I’d spent this much time, effort and money on just wasn’t going to be an option. I also knew that the sea conditions were good – another reason to make the absolute most of this chance. Midway N/E lane the stats were: stroke rate 60 per min, water temp 17 degrees centigrade (positively tropical!), air temperature 20.3 degrees, wind 2.8 N/W, sea state slight (with the odd lump). Oh and lots and lots of fog.

You have a whole lot of time with just your own thoughts, I think I went through every single thing anyone said to me in the run up to this, many of these made me smile, some made me feel powerful, some gave me an extra push. So many people had made reference to me ‘being ready’, that ‘I’d earned this’ and to ‘go and take it’, One friend was very insistent that I go and ‘take what’s mine’, I was really trying to. I thought about how I’d been referred to as ‘the Chuck Norris of Open Water swimming’ and this made me giggle more than once. I marvelled at my body – at how I felt a bit tired but just a bit tired, ‘not silly tired’. My shoulders ached a little but no real hurt, no injury. Time becomes very strange, in one way it flashes past – at others the time between feeds feels like an eternity. It becomes difficult to track, how long have you been swimming for? Is it five hours? Seven hours? You try to work out how long it’s been light, where the sun is in the sky – I guess you could just ask your crew but that doesn’t really occur to you because you don’t really want to know and you have trained and trained to JUST SWIM TO THE NEXT FEED.

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Hazards along the way

Look out for the final installation Part 4 on Saturday … ‘Reaching France’

Channel Swimming – The Big Swim Begins

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An English Channel Swim: The Everest of swimming

Part 2/4 The Big Swim Begins …

By Zara Bullen

Zara’s Twitter: me_and_the_dog

 

Through all of this training the need to sleep is huge, the need to eat well is plentiful (loosing weight while facing a long swim in a cold sea isn’t a good plan) … the need to look after all the main swimming parts of your body, critical. The amazing Becky Schofield kneaded and massaged and loosened (and acupunctured and ultrasounded when required) my overused shoulders and back every two weeks. Having your rotator cuffs loosened isn’t fun in any way, shape or form but Becky ensured that I sustained not a single injury during all the many crazy miles and multiple hours of training – a miracle itself.

With so much sea surrounding my home county I’d decided early on to train locally but eventually the call of Dover and the promise of the training there proved too much for my inquisitive nature … the promise did not disappoint! To take words of advice from Freda (the channel swimming legend), to hear tales and receive advice from those that have completed the challenge themselves, to swim with others that share your dream was fantastic. The team of volunteers that gave up their weekends to grease me, feed me so I could complete multiple hours in the water and generally look after me are totally and utterly amazing. The world of channel swimming is one of the friendliest and generous worlds I’ve encountered. I would have loved to go there every weekend but it’s a long way – the times I did go were invaluable.

One sweet day I received an email about a channel relay team that had found themselves short of people, I’d only expressed my desire for an opportunity like this a few days earlier to a friend so I jumped at the chance. It meant probably spending my birthday at sea but this felt an apt way to spend it this year. While the boat and pilot were different to those for my solo it was enormously useful when it came to ticking things off my list (yes, it was a long list and ticking things off it had become an obsession…); sea swimming is one thing, sea swimming 10 miles from shore something else, tick. Jumping in from the boat, tick. Swimming far out at sea in the dark, tick. Forcing myself to think about what might lurk beneath/how deep it is/anything else that might freak me out, tick, tick, tick. Sighting the boat, tick. Sighting the boat in the dark, less of a tick as the boat was poorly lit (lights mainly on it’s mast meaning you had to over rotate whilst breathing to be able to spot it in the dark, totally throwing any good technique) but a big mental note to pack a million glow sticks for my solo crossing. Trying to swim on both sides of the boat to see which I preferred, tick. Encountering plenty of jellyfish, tick. Why I even got to swim with a swordfish!! And I got to check out beach in France upon arrival so the terrain was a little familiar in case it was a dark landing for my solo. The trip back was a less positive experience – over two hours with nothing to do but look at the massive expanse of water enveloping the boat, to consider the distance, to think “Gosh, isn’t it a long way” … then 15 minutes later “My what a long way”. Another 15 minutes “Wow, what a long way it is…”. This made me knuckle down and train my ass off for the last month or two.

The weeks before the swim wizzed by, swimming, finalising plans, swimming, briefing my support crew (the boat crew deal with the navigation and all the boat related jobs but you take your own crew with you during the swim so having the right crew is vital. These lovely, amazing people give their time to look after you, to help you achieve your dream. They feed you, they encourage you, they are ready to shout at you if they need to, and mine were perfect). Packing/unpacking/repacking the kit to ensure nothing is forgotten, swimming, going through the kit boxes with the crew so they know where everything is, and swimming. Then comes the constant checking of weather forecasts, driving yourself to distraction trying to work out wind and tide predictions that you don’t actually understand… Thankfully Eddie knew best (thank you Eddie!), the weather looked right and then the call comes. You are to be in Dover on Monday 23rd September ready to swim the following morning. Cripes.

Team Bullen consisted of: Will, Mark, Jonathan and Jenny. A perfect mix of swimming buddies, training support, endurance experts and comedians – each also a dear friend. Oh and me. TeamBullen was 60% vegetarian & 60% left-handed. How on earth would we manage?! We set off after work on Monday in two cars (don’t believe anyone that tells you that you only need a cossie, goggles and a hat to swim – I’ve never seen so much luggage in my life! Mark alone had enough kit for us all to continue on into France after the swim and trek for at least a month. Jenny & Mark beat myself Will and Jonathan to the B&B I’d booked us into (I was desperate for us all to be under the same roof which proved tricky last minute), the brilliant ‘B&B is great, landlord is “fun”!’ text from Jenny as we approached couldn’t possibly prepare us for Tom and his crazy house. We barely concealed our giggles (possibly as they were more bent over double guffaws than giggles…), books of erotic lesbian poetry laying about in Marks room, Jenny was treated to the delights of the ‘Purple Movie Room’ and Will had the names of the people whose bed he was sleeping in frames above said bed, as well naked pictures we could only assume were Toms wife, made complete with a half drunk can of vimto on a bedside cabinet! A trip to the pub followed. In a blue PJs in a very blue bed in a very blue room ‘where are you?’ moment JC & I (soberly) giggled ourselves to sleep. While entirely curious and totally weird (and not one of my best accommodation picks!), the laughter was the best tonic.

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Gear, gear and more gear. A little more than just a swimming costume, goggle and a hat!

I woke the next morning feeling strangely calm. Then looked at my phone to see that the swim had been delayed until the early hours of Wednesday morning. Suddenly we had a (sunny) day in Dover to kill. After Tom made us breakfast wearing his crocs & waistcoat,  we went to check out the marina and to see if we could see Anastasia (the boat that would escort me to France). Said hello to Eddie (the man that would guide my path) followed by a reccy to Samphire Hoe: my departure gate. Jobs done and it was still just 10am. While Jonathan was, of course, keen to take us on a trip to Dover castle AND around the Roman painted house I insisted that relaxing in the sun would be much better for the task ahead so we drove around the coast a little and found a little pub with a beer garden on the beach and here we made camp for the day. My lovely Mum & Dad and Aunt (AJ) & Uncle had travelled to Dover the night before also to support me so they too came to hang out with us for the day. My parents put brave faces on but I can only begin to imagine how hard that day was for them, at no point did they let me know they were terrified for me but I was later informed that they were. I think it was good for them all to spend time with my crew before we set off – each of them individually both competent and delightful, as a team they could only install the highest of confidence. The day was spent eating (I ate a whole two lunches!!!) and sitting in the glorious sun then a slow walk on the beach, a paddle and some huge ice creams – perfectly relaxing.

Unfortunately and tragically Toms B&B was full the following night so we decided to use my folks hotel as base. We travelled there, unpacked and re-packed my kit in the car park yet again, we ran through the brief yet again, unpacked and re-packed my kit yet again (not that I’m obsessive or anything you understand) then turned my ever patient parents and AJ & Uncle out of their rooms and out for dinner while we stole their beds for some attempted shut eye. What with it being a Tuesday night and The British Bake Off being on the TV, JC and I instead picnicked and ate cake while plotting awful ways to despatch of the annoying contestant. I had a few moments where my tummy felt a little butterflyish but – other than one larger moth doing a single circuit – really nothing much. I kept waiting for it, waiting for the sickening ‘what am I doing?!’ feeling but it never came. JC’s knowledge of how to ‘keep Zara distracted and calm’ was priceless – he delivered a calm and collected swimmer to the start without doubt. We’d arranged to all meet in reception at 11pm so suddenly it was time to get up and shower, before I knew it I was in my cossie and being covered in suncream.

4 Dinner
‘Fast food’ for the swim

I’d measured out all my nutrition powder into dry bottles before leaving home so Jenny, Mark & Will made these up with water before we left the hotel. The measurements allowed for the nutrition to be double strength so they could mix half solution with half hot water and hey-presto, I’d have drinks at the right strength that were warm enough to be pleasant while in the sea but not so hot as to burn what would become a sore salt water mouth. All in the cars, all down to Dover Marina to meet the Eddie, Paul the observer (who’d be watching at all times to ensure rules were adhered to) and the crew then get our gear on board Anastasia (I did none of this … resting my arms you see). My folks came to the Marina with us, hugged us all and waved us off on our adventure. I can’t imagine what this must have been like for them. Mum had said that she couldn’t bear to actually see me in the water from the day I signed up but having them in Dover was great.

We then motored out of the harbour, I’d forgotten to tell the guys that the water suddenly turns to chop as you leave the safety of the harbour – this is a temporary sea state but – all of them had ‘jeeeeeeez, how many hours of this?’ written clearly on their faces (I, meanly, giggled). Luckily it soon subsided and we were taken around the corner on a little 20 minute trip to a very dark Samphire Hoe. The plus side of getting slightly delayed meant that I’d hopefully get to land in France in daylight rather than navigate the rocks in the dark. The flip side – I was now starting my swim in the dark. When you start the swim, due to the depth of the water, the boat can only get so close to the beach so they pop you in, you swim to the shore and get out. Once totally out of the water you turn and get back in. The time starts when you leave the beach and doesn’t stop until you clear the water on the other side. The idea of swimming away from the boat into the dark was the only thing I was a little unsettled about in case I swam off course in the dark but as soon as I saw Eddie searching out the beach with a massive spotlight I knew I’d be able to swim to that easily and all was well. During the short trip to the beach my wonderful crew stowed the kit safely, then sprung into superhero style action lighting the side of the boat. There are of course lights on the boat but the lesson learned on the relay meant I’d packed a million glowsticks which Will, JC and Jenny set about activating and dangling to ensure maximum visibility. Mark had also had the brilliant idea of packing some super cool balloons, each with a tiny LED light in that glowed really brightly – these too soon adorned the side I was going to be swimming on and my boat looked fit for a party. Even in the thick fog that had come along to keep us company, the boat was clearly glowing.

While they were decorating I undressed (to just my previously tried and tested cossie – as well as being vile to swim in, wetsuits aren’t allowed as part of the rules for an official swim), gloved and greased. To within an inch of my life! No, no – not duck fat or any of the other delightful things people ask you if you’ll be covered in, just a (very) large quantity of good old Vaseline. Applied (very) liberally to anywhere that I’d previously chaffed during training (sexy I know). Salt water is very unforgiving on your skin and can leave you so sore if you get this wrong. The main trouble areas are armpits, underarms and the area to the back of the neck so these were duly slathered. Gloves off, hat and goggles on. I was told we were in 16ft of water, shown the point I was to swim to on the beach, the gate to the back of the boat was unchained and I was told I could get in when ready. I pulled down my hat, straightened my goggles and dived in. This was met with amusement from the crew, ‘she’s keen, people usually use the steps’. Well, start as you mean to go on and all that…!

And so, on Wednesday 25th September 2013, my attempt to swim the English Channel started from Samphire Hoe at 02:23hrs. The sea temperature felt fine at this point and I was glad I’d done so much swimming in cold water previously. I could see the boat pretty clearly, I tried to settle into my first hour of swimming after which time I’d be fed before swimming on for another hour until my next feed and so on … and so on … and so on. Lost in the moment and surrounded by dark, dark sea, it came as something of a shock to encounter what can only be described as a huge jellyfish! As it was pitch black I didn’t get to see the little git so I only have the size of the sting to go on – it got me from the back of my neck, round the side of my neck, across my chest and right down my front stopping below my belly button. I didn’t feel the actual jellyfish, just the sting and it hurt like heck but it certainly woke me up! And it was the only one of the entire swim so guess I got off lightly…

5 Thats how dark
Starting the swim with the help of glow sticks

 

Look out for Part 3 on Thursday … ‘Mind Over Matter’

 

Animal Events: Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Park

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Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument and World Heritage Site, Hawaii

Papahaønaumokuaøkea Marine National Monument

By Rowena Mynott

Named from Hawaiian mythology where two honoured and highly respected ancestors of the Hawaiian people; Papahānaumokuākea who is symbolic of the Earth Mother, and Wakea; the sky father, joined in union.  The union of these two gave birth to the entire Hawaiian Archipelago and the Hawaiian race.  Broken down, the name means: ‘Papa’ (Earth Mother), ‘hanahu’ (birth), ‘Moku’ (small island), ‘akea’ (wide) which can be interpreted as ‘a fertile woman who gave birth to an expanse of islands’.

Isolated atolls and outcrops make up Papahānaumokuākea.  Covering 362,600 square kilometres, Papahānaumokuākea is one of the largest conservation areas in the world and the single largest conservation area in the U.S.  This area is extensively covered by ecologically important coral reefs.  These reefs are home to over 7,000 marine species 25% of which are endemic to Hawaii and many of which rely solely on Papahānaumokuākea for their survival, a fact which led to the area being awarded World Heritage Status in 2010.

Papahānaumokuākea not only became a World Heritage Site due to its ecological importance however.  It holds great significance for the local Hawaiian people. Hawaiian locals believe that it is a place where life originates and where spirits return after death.  On two of the islands, Nihoa and Makumanamana, there are pre-European archaeological remains.

In more recent history, the Battle of Midway took place on Midway Atoll during World War II and is claimed to be the most important naval battle of the Pacific Campaign during World War II.  Just six months after the Pearl Harbor bombings, the United States Navy successfully defeated an attack on Midway Atoll by the Japanese and in the process inflicted damage on the Japanese fleet.

Red pencil urchin – Heterocentrotus mammillatus

urchin drawing

Knowing how to make a statement, this bright red urchin is a gem to see on the reefs of Papahānaumokuākea.  The name ‘pencil urchin’ is derived from the days when slate chalkboards were the iPad of the times.  The spines of these specific sea urchins were broken off and used as writing utensils.

All members of the echinoderm phylum, which also includes sea stars, sea cucumbers and other urchins, are important for the health of reef systems worldwide as they keep the reef environment healthy either by filtering the sand or eating the algae.

A weird and wonderful creature, the sea urchin’s mouth is located underneath its body and its anus is found on top of its ‘head’.  They spend most of their day sheltered amongst rock crevices, however at night they emerge to scrape algae off the rocks or devour meaty detritus found on the ocean floor.

Hawaiian squirrelfish – Sargocentron xantherythrum

squirrelfish drawing

The Hawaiian squirrelfish is a nocturnal fish that aggregates in rocky crevasses during the day, returning to the open water at night to feed.  These colourful little critters that are, for obvious reasons, also known as striped squirrelfish, live in tropical and subtropical waters around 10-20 metres deep.

Large eyes allow the squirrelfish to see during the night and in these slightly deeper waters where the light does not penetrate quite so easily.  At only 17 centimetres long it is important they keep an eye open for larger predators.  Schooling together also assists in protection by making the group look a larger and more threatening opponent.

The Hawaiian squirrelfish is an important fish in Hawaii as it is endemic to the islands.  It has not been evaluated for its conservation status but it is becoming a popular fish in the aquarium industry due to its bright colour and placid, hardy nature.

 

Laysan albatross – Phoebastria immutabilis

albatross drawing

With a wingspan so wide (up to 2 metres) they look like a plane coming in to land, the Laysan albatross is a large seabird that can live for at least 40 years.

Named after one of their popular breeding colonies on a northwestern Hawaiian island, these small albatross are the second most common seabird to be seen in Hawaii.

The most famous individual of all albatross species just happens to also be a Laysan albatross: Wisdom.  Scientists believe that Wisdom is at least 60 years old and although she is a grandmother, she still continues to bear her own young.

The isolated nature of the Laysan nesting grounds means that they have to travel long distances to find food for their young.  Scientists believe that this is why the birds only lay one egg at a time, any more and they might be unable to bring home enough food to raise multiple chicks.  Sadly an island close by, Midway Atoll, is becoming infamous for the large number of dead albatross found on its shores.  These birds are dying from ingesting our debris.  Found in their stomachs are large quantities of various items, most of which is plastic in one form or another.  Unfortunately, as these birds feed their young through regurgitation, this debris is also being ingested by the future generation of albatross.

 

 

Hawaiian Monk Seal – Monachus schauinslandi

seal drawing

One of only two remaining monk seal species, this is the only species of seal endemic to the Hawaiian Islands.  This important status enabled them to  become Hawaiis official State Mammal in 2008.

Not unlike some monks, these private seals are solitary animals.  They were named, not for their solitude, but for the short hairs that are present on their heads making them look, to some eyes, like a monk.

Preferring to spend much of their time at sea foraging for their favourite prey of bony fish, cephalopods and crustaceans, scientists have shown through the use of satellite imagery and animal mounted cameras, that these seals actually spend a great deal of time at depths of around 300 metres looking for a meal.

With only 1,100 animals remaining, the species is listed as Critically Endangered.  As with so many other marine species, human interaction is the cause of their decline.  As far back as the 19th century these animals have been hunted for their produce – oil, skin and meat – and even as recently as World War II troops hunted these animals for food.  Increasing numbers of human visitors to the coast raises the stress levels of these shy creatures as they are unable to find a quiet beach to lounge on.  As much as these factors have negatively impacted upon the populations, the increase in population numbers from 150 in 2004 to over a thousand today shows promise for the future for these animals.