Bloomberg News Editor Sara Marley became one of fewer than 1,500 people to swim the English Channel, completing the crossing of the world’s busiest shipping lane early this morning in about 13 hours, 50 minutes.
“It was really a mental battle, my body just kept going as my brain said ‘stop, stop stop,’” Marley said by phone. By the end, she had “lost track of time” and thought she had been in the water for more than 15 hours.
Marley, 46, a London-based sports editor who had written an article about her preparation and anticipation, had hoped to start the swim no later than July 25, but weather conditions pushed the attempt back to yesterday.
Fewer people have completed the 21-mile (34 kilometer) swim than have climbed Mount Everest. Marley, a self-described “strong swimmer, not especially fast but not slow either,” said before the start that she made the attempt “because I think I can do it.”
Marley came ashore at the French town of Sangatte at about 5 a.m. local time, her coach Tim Denyer of London-based Red Top Swim, said via his Twitter account. Denyer, who swam the channel in 2005, traveled alongside Marley in a boat.
“I finished on a beautiful sandy beach,” said Marley, who estimated she completed the swim in about 50,000 strokes. She got stung twice by jellyfish, “which was kind of a nice distraction,” and saw the Dover to Calais passenger ferry and various container ships, all lit up at night. Denyer accompanied Marley in the water for the last 200 meters in full darkness, and picked up a rock from the French shore to keep as a souvenir.
After that, the pair got back on the boat, which returned them to England in three-and-a-half hours. Once she got back to London, Marley took a packed London Tube train home.
The native of South Bend, Indiana, who joined Bloomberg News in 1995, caught the sea swimming bug during a holiday to Croatia in 2007. She began training over longer distances, culminating in a 10.5-mile swim over the length of Windermere, England’s largest lake. Since March, she has covered more than 210 miles in training.
Marley’s progress was monitored by a four-person group aboard the support vessel Viking Princess, while an official observer from the Channel Swimming Association was present to ratify the swim and ensure the rules were adhered to. The Channel Swimming & Piloting Federation also ratifies Channel swims.
Marley swam front crawl in the warmest July sea in two years (17.4 degrees Celsius, 63 Fahrenheit) to become one of approximately 1,440 individuals to complete the crossing since Captain Matthew Webb did in 1875. By comparison, more than 4,000 people have climbed Mount Everest, including about 650 last year, when 104 swam the sea lane called La Manche in France.
Marley took about 40 minutes less to reach France than American Gertrude Ederle, the first woman to swim the channel in 1926, in 14 hours, 31 minutes.
Marley, wearing a blue swimsuit, red cap and goggles, set off under sunny skies from Samphire Hoe in the shadow of Dover’s iconic white cliffs around 1 p.m. U.K. time yesterday.
“Good swimming from @smarley1,” Denyer tweeted two hours after she hit the water. “Bit of a lumpy sea but wind due to drop & the flood tide is softening.”
Her swim had started in windy conditions, but the water became calm after about three hours, Marley said today.
Denyer posted photos of Marley swimming past ocean-going container ships and ferries, and reported that she was averaging 60 strokes per minute in a rolling sea after five hours, 15 minutes, when she made one of her regular food stops. About 30 minutes later, the sun set.
The only outside assistance Marley was allowed from her crew was plastic bottles of carbohydrate drinks thrown to her every 45 minutes or so along with food and painkillers.
Marley had been swimming southeast and she turned northeast, toward Sangatte, as the wind dropped and the sea became calm. She maintained her pace and reached French inshore waters about 2:30 a.m. local time, about 2 1/2 miles from the coast, before turning due east to land on the beach of the town about 9 kilometers from Calais.
“I’m really looking forward to a good sleep now,” Marley said. She added that apart from her left shoulder and left thumb hurting a bit, she was feeling “pretty good.”
(A previous version of this story corrected the spelling of South Bend.)