Swanage woman faces water fear to swim Channel with the ‘buoys’

Four Dorset swimmers – two from Swanage – are gearing up to swim the English Channel in a gruelling relay to raise money for good causes.

The team which calls itself ‘Cathy and the Buoys’ is made up of Cathy Lewis and Mark Bauer from Swanage, Anthony Walton from Wareham and Neil Ingle from Bournemouth and they hope to tackle the challenge at the end of July 2023.

Full swimming team, left to right: Anthony Walton, Cathy Lewis, Mark Bauer, Neil Ingle.
Cathy Lewis

Cathy and the Buoys. Left to right: Anthony Walton, Cathy Lewis, Mark Bauer and Neil Ingle

No wetsuits allowed for the challenge

Together they are raising money for Project Planet Earth, which raises awareness of plastic pollution in our seas, and the Mental Health Foundation.

Swimming the Channel is a popular challenge but not for the faint-hearted. More people have climbed Mount Everest than have successfully swam the 21 miles between Dover and Cap Gris Nez in France. In fact, most swims are longer than that because of the tides.

There are strict rules, for example, no wetsuits are allowed as they give swimmers the advantage of buoyancy, as well as warmth.

The start is often in the middle of the night, and each team member swims for an hour. They have to stay in the same rotation – so if someone gets sick or injured during their turn, the whole swim is called off.

And just to be allowed to attempt the Channel, each team member has to complete a two-hour qualifying swim in water of 15 degrees centigrade or less, wearing just a standard swimming costume, cap and goggles.

The team’s start date depends on conditions but will be between Tuesday 18th to Sunday 23rd July 2023. If the tides and winds are in their favour, it will take approximately 13 to 15 hours.

Cathy after qualifier
Cathy Lewis

Cathy (right) after qualifying to take park in the cross Channel relay

“I lost my nerve as a child”

It’s a tough event for anyone, but perhaps most for Cathy Lewis. Unlike her teammates, she came late into swimming. Until she was in her mid 40s, she not only couldn’t swim, but was terrified of putting her head under the water!

Swanage resident Cathy Lewis said:

“I lost my nerve as a child after a boy ducked me and I inhaled lots of water. The trauma stayed with me, even after I’d had my own children. I would only go in the sea if it was flat calm – and no-one was ever allowed to splash me.”

swimmers Cathy and Neil
Cathy Lewis

Swimmers Cathy and Neil after a practice swim in Swanage Bay

“Fighting panic attacks”

The turning point was when Cathy saw an advert in a local leisure centre for free adult swimming lessons. She signed up, not knowing that it was going to change her life forever.

Cathy added:

“In my first lesson, I was fighting panic attacks as the coach told me to dip my head under the water. But he persevered with me. Six lessons later, I could swim 30 lengths front crawl without stopping! Then I moved to Purbeck, discovered sea swimming, and have been hooked ever since

“I’m keen to use my Channel swim, not only to raise money, but also to inspire others. I’ve spoken to many people who say they’d love to be able to swim but feel they’ve left it too late to learn. Yet here I am in my 60s, not only swimming, but taking on a huge challenge, physically and mentally!”

Mark swimming in Channel
Cathy Lewis

Mark swimming in the Channel – he’s done it twice before!

Seasoned pro

Teammate Mark Bauer is a seasoned pro when it comes to Channel swims. He has already done two successful relays, one on a team of four and one as a two-person relay with his brother.

He wasn’t originally part of this team but stepped in when another member dropped out. Mark Bauer said:

“Having done two previous relays, I really hadn’t planned on doing another – in fact, the next challenge I’d set myself was a Channel solo in 2025. But when Cathy asked, I agreed – I figured my experience might be useful. Plus, it’ll be a reminder for me of what it’s like being out in the Channel.

“This is one of the greatest swimming challenges and shouldn’t be underestimated. It’s the world’s busiest shipping lane, it’s cold, it has strong and unpredictable currents, big tides and you’ll probably have to swim through jellyfish – I picked up quite a few stings on my previous swims.”

Practising iswimming n Swanage Bay
Cathy Lewis

Coloured markers are used to ensure others can see the swimmers

Secret weapon

Anthony Walton has also swum with Cathy and Mark for a long time, and is by far the fastest on the team.

Cathy continued:

“He’s our secret weapon! He will be the first swimmer and will make good mileage as we leave the Dover coastline. There will be sections when the tide is so strong we’ll barely be moving anywhere, so we’ll need Anthony’s speed to make up some time.”

Mark swimming in English Channel
Cathy Lewis

Mark swimming as the sun sets across the English Channel

“We’ve all really bonded”

While three team members have been practising long and hard in Swanage Bay, Neil Ingle has been putting in his hours in Bournemouth.

Cathy added:

“There have been several changes in the team since our journey began, but Neil was an original member. We’ve had lots of meet-ups and endless virtual conversations, so we’ve all really bonded. It’s a really strong team and I’m looking forward to facing this challenge with my Buoys!”

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