July 30, 2014 - Karteek Clarke, member of the Sri Chinmoy Marathon and Swimming Team swam the slowest and toughest of his 11 Channel crossings on 30 July (19 hours and 1 minute). He is indeed a champion of champions. Looking at the map of his route, you’d think he really didn’t have a clue where France was, or else was getting awful advice from his crew. This drunken arc is all the work of the tides: his swim was made all the more challenging for falling on a Spring tide, the strongest and most wilful of ocean currents.
Imagine swimming in a pool on the roof of a building. While you are swimming, King Kong picks up the building, puts it onto a gigantic swing, and starts rocking the swing through an enormous arc in the sky. You think you’re swimming in a straight line which you sort of are but your position on a GPS goes all over the place. For the whole 19 hours, Karteek was swimming straight towards France, yet the tide ensured his predominant motion was always sideways. There were times when – even though Karteek was always swimming forwards and towards France due to the tide and the curvature of the coastline, he was actually moving further away from the shore.
Don’t even start to imagine what this can do to your mind and your will! Now imagine that the ‘pool’ you are swimming in is actually a huge washing machine or butter churner (oh yes, and it’s also very, very cold in there). No two strokes you take are the same—one moment you breathe to your left and a mammoth wave smacks your face; the next you stroke to the right and flail in thin air at the edge of a heaving precipice. Especially at night, your universe above, below and all around – is a constant unstable relentless surging disarray. Only the shore is certain: it can be seen, always apparently just ahead (at night you see the lights) — but where and when it will be reached is not worth guessing at.
To me, the most impressive and amazing thing about Karteek’s performance, is that he never once – not once – asked where he was or how far or how long he had to go. That seemed almost irrelevant. Yet how the mind – in the midst of constant sickness, disorientation and discomfort – must have been screaming to know “How far??” For hour after hour after hour, he could see the shore ahead. As the sun set, France was looming – and all through the night, the lights were just there before us – though day had dawned before the pilot finally declared the water too shallow for the boat to proceed and bid Karteek to swim ashore alone.