There is a Mecca for Channel swimmers, and it’s called Dover. Of course the main attraction is the harbor, but for the elite there is The White Horse Pub (white horse is a nickname for “white caps” or waves). You see, when someone successfully crosses the channel, they get to marker their name to pub’s interior (walls or ceiling) and whatever wisdom they would like impart on the pub’s clientele, which consists largely of channel swimmers and regulars who know all about the channel swimmers.
So the day started with a trip to Dover Castle Clara and her family left early in the morning, and my family and I left later in the day. The Castle trip started with a “20 minute steady walk” from the bus stop which is neither 20 minutes nor what I call steady. As my dad put it “20 minute steady walk, if you’re part mountain goat.” The castle is situated on the highest point in Dover, looking out over the channel and protecting it from invaders as it has done for 1000 or so years. It’s features vary in time period as it was constantly being adapted for the new warfare. There is a Roman lighthouse, a medieval tunnel system, a castle fit for a king, and another tunnel system originally built for the Napoleonic Wars and later converted into an underground military base for WWII on up to the cold wars. It was very interesting and I highly recommend it to anyone, especially history buffs. After we finished exploring the vast acreage of Dover Castle, we headed over to the White Horse to do the deed.
When I walked through the door of the White Horse, it was almost overwhelming. There were literally hundreds of names written on the walls and ceilings. I saw short entries with just a name, date, time, and place of origin, and I saw longer entries with multiple attempts, dedications, and observations (such as “Cold? My willy has never been so small!”) Some wrote big and took up more than their share. Some wrote small and were definitely the more interesting ones. As I stood there in awe, an American woman turned to me and said, “So, what was your time?” It felt really good to be in the company of someone just as crazy as I was. The woman, I learned, was Marcy MacDonald, a doctor from Connecticut that has 9 crossings to her credit, including 3 doubles. She was the first American woman to succeed at a double crossing. I immediately fell into conversation with her about all things channel swimming. As we were talking, I was scanning the walls and ceiling for “my spot.” I felt as though it were a very important decision and settled on a small part of paint lining a wooden ceiling beam. I figured there was plenty of room and it was somewhere between the horizontal and vertical surface. It would definitely be seen, as it was located just above the bar. Just as I was about to grab the marker and put my name in the spot, I reconsidered. It was such a small space and what if I wanted to come back? There would be no room to put my additional crossings. I think that this thought was the official end of my retirement from open water swimming (although Dave Bennett places it much earlier, when I was crewing on Clara’s boat). I found a new spot, larger, and close to the bar on the ceiling, and I wrote this:
Mallory Mead – Indiana
10 hrs 34 mins
When I swam the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim in 2004, I met another lady who had swam the English Channel. I also proclaimed after that swim that I would never do this ever again. I will never forget what she told me.
“Open water swimming is like having a baby. It hurts so bad you swear you’ll never do it again, but then you forget and you do anyway.”