Peebles woman dodges oil tankers, ferries and giant stinging jellyfish in her channel crossing swim

Like many people, Caroline Connor’s trip to France was unavoidably delayed due to the pandemic, but unlike anyone else, she managed to get there in July, by swimming the channel.

By The Newsroom
Tuesday, 10th August 2021, 3:11 pm
Caroline with the boat pilot, Eddie Spelling, and coaches Kevin Murphy and Kathy Batts.
Caroline with the boat pilot, Eddie Spelling, and coaches Kevin Murphy and Kathy Batts.

Caroline, who works at Peebles High School, has long held a dream of undertaking one of the toughest swimming challenges going, in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

After several opportunites went begging, including one time where the attempt had to be stopped as her husband Grahame became ill on the support boat, Caroline finally made the crossing on July 21, posting an incredible time of 16 hours and 18 minutes.

Caroline, who used to live in Selkirk with parents Alison and Raymond Currie and younger siblings Claire and Steven, said she could never have done it without early years coaching from the Royal Burgh’s Billy Laidlaw, her first swimming teacher.

Caroline during her swim.

She said: “When I say he was the best, I genuinely mean that.

"I phoned Billy and his wife Muriel the day after my swim. Muriel was so emotional she just cried and couldn't talk to me.”

The swim to France is a challenge she has been desperate to complete for three and a half years.

She said: “My first attempt was abandoned after just two hours and 30 minutes in 2019 when Grahame became desperately unwell on the boat and we had to return to Dover.

"Obviously, his health was the most important thing, but I was disappointed after all the training I had put in. However, it made me even more determined to succeed.

“2020 brought Covid-19 and even though restrictions allowed Channel crossings the weather was against me and my swim was postponed until June of this year, but that brought more bad weather, strong winds and we left Dover again without getting into the water.

"A surprise call offered me another opportunity and on Wednesday, July 21 at 6.30am, I set off from Shakespeare beach in Dover along with my crew and headed to France.”

She said the crossing time was longer than she had hoped, but she had a shoulder injury she picked up just five hours in, but she kept quiet about it.She added: “If I had complained of pain I would have been pulled out so I kept quiet and just managed to keep the pain at bay."

On the swim, Caroline encountered oil tankers, ferries, Border Force boats, giant stinging jellyfish and endless strings of seaweed and seals.

She said: “No way was I getting out the water, I wanted to land at Wissant Beach, France, no matter what, and I did, and what an amazing feeling it was, especially feeling the sand on my feet.”

Caroline’s dad, who had suffered a mini stroke five days before the swim, also suffers from Parkinson’s Disease, one of the charities she has raised money for.

Calling him after the swim, she said: “I did it for you, dad!”

She added: “The first thing Mum asked was 'well, what's next?’

"I will keep my thoughts to myself for another few weeks.”​​​​​​​​​​​​​​