Bad weather ends 75-year-old channel swimmer’s record bid

Alan Jackson, 75,  from Wells taking part in an attempt to swim across the Channel on August 23, 2014. Alan Jackson, 75, from Wells taking part in an attempt to swim across the Channel on August 23, 2014.

Monday, August 25, 2014
3:51 PM

A 75-year-old swimmer has fallen agonisingly short of completing an ambitious cross-channel record attempt after his team was beaten back by bad weather just four miles from the French coast.

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Alan Jackson, a grandfather-of-six from Wells, was hoping to make history by swimming the 21-mile stretch of water between England and France as part of a relay team.

The five men had a combined age of 370 and wanted to become the first team of swimmers aged over 70 to conquer the gruelling swim.

The record attempt was delayed several times because of bad weather, before the conditions seemed good enough to go ahead on Saturday.

The maximum wind strength considered safe for a channel swim is 15 knots, but as the team neared the French coast the winds had risen to 29 knots and it was getting dark.

By this time, Mr Jackson’s team had been in the water for 11 hours and the observer with them calculated it would take another four to five hours, swimming in the dark, to reach land.

Also, the tide had turned against them and the swimmers were in danger of been swept along the coast away from their destination.

After returning to his home in Wells, Mr Jackson said: “The waves were eight to ten feet high and the seas were breaking across the deck of the support vessel. Nearly everyone on board was seasick, including one of the team who is a solo round-the-world yachtsman who’d only been sick once in his lifetime.

“Actually swimming in those conditions wasn’t too bad but the boat and those on board suffered the most. Although it was disappointing, it was the right thing to do to turn back.”

One member of the team, Mike Read from Ipswich, who is known as the “King of the Channel” as he has completed 33 single crossings, slipped on the wet deck and broke his wrist as he was getting off the boat back in port.

Mr Jackson has won a number of masters swimming titles and still swims competitively. He used to run a swimming school with his wife Katrina in Bedford before they moved to Norfolk about seven years ago. He teaches swimming at Alderman Peel High School’s pool in Wells, where he leads a children’s swimming club, called the Seals, and coaches a group of adults.

The Channel relay team’s efforts have so far raised more than £650 for the RNLI’s Shannon Appeal to buy a new lifeboat for Wells station. The team is still happy to receive donations at www.justgiving.com.

Are you raising funds for the Wells Shannon Lifeboat Appeal? Contact chris.hill@archant.co.uk

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