Tyne & Wear

English Channel swim for Tyneside charities

Swimmers walking out of the North Sea
Image caption The team have been acclimatising in the North Sea in temperatures as low as 6°C

At 3 o'clock one morning in early July six friends from Tyneside expect to embark upon a challenge that has been planned for more than a year.

One of them will walk into the English Channel at Dover and begin an attempt to cross the 21 miles to Calais in France by relay.

Weather permitting, they will swim in strict rotation and are hoping to complete the crossing in 15-18 hours, three one-hour sessions each.

Alan Phillipson, who has organised the attempt, said people were "quite shocked at first because I'm 60 next month".

A former triathlete he had harboured a dream of cycling from Newcastle to Dover, swimming the Channel and then running to Paris.

Two years ago his son Richard suggested he try, if not all three, then at least the swim.

Richard and his wife Kerry are now part of the team along with friends Bridget and Andy Lawson and Sarah Jobson.

Training in the sea since March - in water as cold as 6°C - they find time for two sessions in the sea and three in the pool each week.

They have recently been taken out into deep water where the hazards include jellyfish, diesel slicks, heavy shipping and raw sewage.

Mrs Lawson said the sea's temperature was a shock, especially since they are only allowed to wear normal swimsuits, goggles and hat.

The Channel Swimming Association, which is arranging the crossing and providing a pilot boat, requires swimmers to agree to a set of rules if the attempt is to be officially recognised.

No wet suits, covered limbs, floats or flippers are allowed.

Mrs Lawson: "They say it's more psychological than physical fitness. Getting your head around being out in the ocean with only a little boat and there's big ships going past.

"It's silly things, like in the swimming pool you follow the line but, when you're in the sea, there's nothing to follow on the bottom.

"You think you're going in a straight line and you look up and you're miles off where you're heading."

They are being sponsored for their efforts and are raising money for four north-east of England charities.

Mrs Lawson thinks this is more important than how quickly they swim - although she does want to finish.

The rules say they must swim in the same order and nobody can drop out or touch the boat while in the water.

She joked: "We'll not be letting them on the boat till the hour's up".

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