SWIMMING the Channel was a “euphoric” and “spiritual” experience, the vicar believed to be the first priest to complete the challenge has said.
The Revd Graham Buckle, Vicar of St Stephen’s, Rochester Row, in Westminster, completed the epic journey on Saturday with four other keen swimmers as part of a relay effort in a time of 14 hours and 47 minutes.
Each of the team was swimming to raise money for charity. Mr Buckle raised nearly £5000 towards his church’s floor and heating repair fund.
He explained that he had long been addicted to open-water swimming, taking regular dips in the Serpentine Lake in Hyde Park even when it begins to freeze over in the depths of winter.
“It’s quite euphoric, and there’s truly a spiritual element to it as well,” he said on Monday. “It’s a bit difficult to explain to those who haven’t done it. There’s a feel-good factor after going into cold water and it really does set you up for the rest of the day.”
After proving his credentials with an observed two-hour Serpentine swim and a medical examination, and many months of training, Mr Buckle and his team-mates hit the Channel waters at 2.30 a.m. in the pitch-black of night to begin the swim on Saturday morning.
Their team was called In The Duck Poo, a reference both to conditions in their regular swimming haunt of the Serpentine and the name of the lake’s song, sung to the tune of Oh My Darling, Clementine.
Each swimmer did three one-hour-shifts, with the final contender staggering ashore on a French beach in mid-afternoon amidst windsurfers and bathers.
“At first I was a bit shocked at the swell and was taken by surprise,” Mr Buckle said. “But it was quite euphoric and an amazing thing to have achieved. There’s something really powerful about swimming in the sea, magical and biblical.”
Seeing how the calm sea could transform itself over the hours into a raging storm had impressed upon him how one “cannot take God’s creation for granted”. “It is something you have got to respect and love.”
Completing the feat required navigating “three plagues”, he said: a shoal of jellyfish, a swarm of seagulls, and, at the end, a Force Seven gale. The weather was so bad by the final few miles that normally he would have given up, Mr Buckle said, if the team had not been within sight of the French coast.
The monumental challenge would not have been completed without the support of his wife and his congregation in central London, Mr Buckle said. “It really captured their imagination and they have been incredibly supportive.”
Raising nearly £5000 for the church repair fund also exceeded his expectations. “We have only just started [fundraising] but this has really kicked us off,” he said.