Last Friday, Delia Solomon, a 16-year-old Berkeley High School student, did something that few people will ever attempt: she tried to swim 21 miles across the English Channel from England to the shores of France.
She did not succeed. But she said she may try again.
“I was disappointed that I didn’t completely finish. But at least I made an attempt,” she wrote on her blog
“After I mull things over a bit, I’ll decide where I want to go next. I may swim it again, and I’ll definitely know what to do differently. I may try to swim across Lake Tahoe. But whatever I do I know that I will have my family and friends to support me, which I greatly appreciate. Thank you to everyone for your comments of support, it means a lot to me,” wrote Delia, who will be a junior.
Delia and a friend (above) go out for a practice swim.
Since 1875 when Matthew Webb first donned a 10-pound bathing suit and fueled himself with eggs, bacon and beer, 772 people from all over the world have succeeded in swimming from England to France, according to the Channel Swimming Association, which is the official body that monitors the swims.
Delia’s boat pilot was Reg Brickell, an experienced pilot with the association. She met Brickell at 9:30 a.m. Friday at the harbor and said getting on the boat “was an amazing feeling.”
“All this hard work completed, and now it was reality, I was going to swim the English Channel. The ride over to Shakespeare Beach was as smooth as glass. (An) observer commented how it was like a mill pond. Nearing Shakespeare Beach I saw two other boats with swimmers starting off. That excited me. I wasn’t going to be the only one out there trying to swim.”
With that, Brickell sounded a horn and Delia dove into the water. “It took a few strokes before it really sunk in. I was REALLY doing it, I was really swimming the English Channel. I began to get into the groove, putting one arm in front of another moving myself forwards towards France,” she wrote.
The calm didn’t last. The wind picked up, there were waves, two to three-feet high and the water was cold, about 62 degrees, according to her blog. She said she saw seaweed and jellyfish. “After four hours the wind had not subsided so the waves kept shoving me around.”
Delia was swimming with friend and Berkeley High school graduated Leore Geller, 18, and at that point the pacer got into pace. “It was kind of scary because they kept wanting me to move closer to the boat, but the boat was pitching around like it was a little toy.”
At around 7 hours I puked because I had ingested so much salt water,” she wrote. But then came a silver lining: “I saw the French shoreline. That made me perk up and keep moving forward.”
But the waves were “seriously huge” and made it difficult to swim. Sometimes the boat would tip so far it seemed as if it was going to capsize.
Her pacer had been getting in and out of the water pretty consistently since the 4-hour mark, but after a while Delia said she realized she hadn’t been in the water in again. “I figured she was taking some extra time out, which of course was fine. But apparently when she had wanted to get back in, the pilot said no.”
“I decided not to worry about it. It started to get dark and I switched on my lights. The waves were growing larger by the minute with no sign of slowing down. At ten and half hours my dad told me that the pilot wanted to pull me. Of course, I was like “WHAT?!!” and when he asked me if I wanted to keep going for a bit I said, “yes.”
Delia wrote that the last 30 mintues were the worst.
“I was crying in my goggles and trying to swim as fast as possible despite the waves. At this point it was completely dark, yet I still was not cold. I kept hoping that if I swam faster and kept going I would be able to make it. At my 11-hour feeding they (her folks) pulled me out. They wouldn’t let me keep going. I got onto the boat reluctantly. The ride back was horrible.”
What followed was seasickness and a nap in a very uncomfortable position and the stench of fish on the dock. Delia said she went to bed quite upset and feeling like she was still moving.
But I hope Delia is proud too. What she did took courage and stamina and guts. And if nothing else, she’ll definately have the best “what I did on my summer vacation story” to tell back in Berkeley High classroom. And I know the student journalists at `The Jacket’ are planning big story on her attempt.