SEPTEMBER 9/10, 1985: "OPERATION WESTERN ENGLISH CHANNEL"
[CROSSING From CHERBOURG (France) To POOLE (England)]
Although swimmers stroke across the 21-mile wide Strait of Dover, principally in the Dover-Calais area, the route Yvon Le Caer had chosen to travel lies 180 miles west of said strait. Path, on June 6, 1944, of the gigantic Allies armada on its way to the Normandy beaches, the 75-mile wide body of water lying between CHERBOURG at the tip of the Cotentin Peninsula of Normandy and Poole on the Dorsetshire coast of England, meets with strong currents, busy shipping lanes, unpredictable weather and turbulent, cold and foggy waters. Extreme tidal ranges also create constant shift of more high velocity tidal currents. The 1985 summer bad weather over the region almost stopped Yvon from reaching his objective. He left Florida for Normandy in early May with crossing targeted for July, but, unfortunately, poor weather conditions and rough seas made any attempt prohibitive for several months.
FLASBACK TO THE SUCCESSFUL CROSSING
Finally, on September 9, 1985, despite conditions still hostile, Yvon left CHERBOURG at dusk, with his escort vessel, support personnel and a French TV crew onboard. He "pedalled" all night, across shipping lanes and through a sharp broadside chop. Currents and drift also had to be mastered. Indeed, due to constant shift of high velocity tidal currents/flows and required course corrections, the route followed was far from being a straight trajectory, as Yvon "navigated" a rather long 92-mile (148 km) "meandering" path. After a moonless and cold night (48 degrees Fahrenheit), dawn and morning, near the British coast, were engulfed in dense fog, thus hampering navigation during the final hours. Still, like clockwork, Yvon never let down and despite "losing" considerable time to adverse tidal currents when approaching the "Solent", he reached POOLE harbour entrance by late morning, September 10th, 16 hours 42 minutes after leaving CHERBOURG. In resolutely confronting the elements, he had, against all odds, gained the last word.
"But, it required a great deal of effort, coordination and planning", says Yvon; " in such adverse conditions, it is essential to have a good escort vessel. In this regard, my wife Andrea, and all navigators and technicians onboard as well, did a fine job; so did the French Marine Nationale (Cross-Jobourg) and the British Coast Guard who kept a vigilant watch all along, alerting continuously all passing ships of our position and movement at sea."
WESTERN ENGLISH CHANNEL CROSSING CHARACTERISTICS:
Point of Departure: CHERBOURG, France
Date/Time of Departure: September 9, 1985, 7:45 PM
Point of Arrival: P00LE, England
Date/Time of Arrival: September 10, 1985, 12:27 PM (noon)
Distance covered: 92 miles = 148 km (*)
Direct Course Distance (straight line): 75 miles (120 km)
Ride/Trip Duration: 16 hours 42 minutes
Note: (*): Distance covered due to constant shift of high
velocity tidal currents/flows & required course adjustments.
WANT to know more about Yvon and also about the many aspects and difficulties he dealt with in preparation of his successful crossing of the Western English Channel in 1985?... THEN READ the letter he wrote on November 7, 2002, to Mr Theo Schmidt, Editor of "Human Power" (IHPVA):
... "I certainly appreciated your email of October 24th, and somehow felt compelled to respond, as I believe that a certain understanding, if not bond, exists between people, like us two, who, as commoners would likely say, "do that sort of things"; referring to journeys like ours; journeys sometimes successful, sometimes not, but that is the name of the game, isn't it, particularly when dealing with Mother Nature's mood and whim.
You may have had unsuccessful attempts across the Strait of Dover, or Pas-de-Calais, with various contraptions, but I still very much admire your spirit, and if this is to make you feel better, I once failed too, across the Channel [between Cherbourg and Poole], losing not only to the weather and the seas, but also, unexpectedly, to... my escort vessel(!) which "sliced" 4 feet off the front-end of my seacraft, AquaCycle. All of this, in the middle of the Channel, middle of the night, and....on my 22nd wedding anniversary, October 23, 1983. Quite a night to remember, isn't it? I meant to bring this "diversion" to your attention, because you seem to believe that I found success on my first attempt there. I did not mention it before, as it was irrelevant in the context of the matter at issue.
Talking "fitness", and since you brought it up in your email, it goes without saying that unless you are a confirmed, trained and super-fit (physically and psychologically that is) cyclist, with essential seamanship skills though, you do not consider, let alone undertake, such a long endeavor, or should you prefer, ultra-marathon at sea.
In my case, one must bear in mind that I was for a long time a competitive cyclist with a respectable earlier career in the sport of cycling, riding then with the best professionals in Europe; with such credentials, I knew quite well what were my limits and how to manage my effort....and life as well.
In the early eighties, I was still riding an average of 15,000 miles a year, and during the few months preceding the 1985 crossing, while in Cherbourg, it was not unusual for me to ride 60 to 70 miles on the road in the morning, then ride AquaCycle for 2 or 3 hours in the afternoon, mainly in the "Grande Rade of Cherbourg" (artificial harbor), since the weather and sea conditions did not allow, unfortunately, many "excursions" in open waters.
Indeed, I knew that only work, fitness and clairvoyance, coupled with optimum performance of my watercraft and... Mother Nature's "cooperation", would allow me to succeed. In essence, and with the help of my wife Andrea, I just did, in each area of concern, what I knew best and hoped, if not prayed, for the best to happen! I read once that: "Doing what you want is achievable, if you set realistic goals and follow through". Saying so true, in my case.
I was not really better prepared in 1985 than I was in 1983, or for that matter in 1981 when I crossed the Florida Strait; However, looking back, I believe I was [because of the "83 disaster"] wiser and better equipped, technically speaking that is. Foremost, on the eve of my fiftieth birthday, I was determined and motivated like never before, yet knowing well that, with my body clock ticking, I would soon be running short of years [or time] for doing it the way I felt was best.
Before leaving Florida for Normandy, in May of 1985, I had just tested a brand new propulsion system, frame and rudder apparatus, achieving, at last, the level of seacraft efficiency I had been thriving for, all along. The particularity of the propulsion system, an all gear driven, totally independent propeller system/unit (with "pushing" and "pulling" mode options), complete with crank arms and pedals, was that it could be replaced at sea with very little loss of time, in the event of malfunction or breakdown. For crossing the Channel in 1985, I opted for the "pulling" mode -- propeller upstream of the flow on the forward side of the "outdrive."
While in Cherbourg, the prominent Chantiers Maritimes Amiot, now Chantiers Mecaniques de Normandie (CMN), not only kept an eye on the condition and maintenance of AquaCycle, but also provided the escort vessel and onboard router for the journey across the Channel. For his part, the Mayor of Cherbourg granted me shelter for AquaCycle and escort assistance for all my water training sessions. As to the French Marine Nationale, it was committed to tracking Operation coded "AQUACYCLE", therefore assuming, with the Brixham Coast Guard in England, safety coverage during the actual event. At this time, it must be said that we were going to "cut across" both busy shipping lanes at night.
Sundown Monday, September 9, 1985:
With the French coast still visible, and already facing hostile conditions at sea,
Yvon is heading towards a very long and difficult night.
With no sponsors covering the expense, I greatly appreciated, in 1983 and 1985 as well, the wonderful support of the entire local community; I was there best known as the "American". It was a rewarding human experience, particularly considering the fact that I had never set foot in Cherbourg prior to September of 1982 when we, Andrea and I, took the ferry from Portsmouth to Cherbourg to "discover" the Channel route I had already "chosen." Believe it or not, it was "glassy" that day! an occurrence never to happen again. It looked like Mother Nature was already taunting me!
Before closing on the technical aspect of the project, I must say that given the particular nature of the challenge, my philosophy regarding the pedal seacraft development, not only called for an "upright" sleek and streamlined design, but also required the highest engineering, craftsmanship and quality construction, as to maximize performance, SPEED and reliability as well.
In this regard, the expertise and craftsmanship of my long time Florida friends, John and Ted, were instrumental to the success of the operation. In helping me reach my technical goals, they allowed me to link Cherbourg to Poole in 16 hours and 42 minutes; again, traveling [because of compelling tidal/current(s) conditions and course corrections] 92 miles (148 km) for a straight-line distance of 75 miles (120 km). Foremost, in seeking and achieving performance and speed, I avoided a long ordeal at sea. "Do it well and do it quick" was indeed my motto; yet, with an ensuing reservation: "....Mother Nature willing!"
Well, until now, I have mainly spoken about the "physical" and "technical" aspects, but aside from referencing Mother Nature a couple of times, I have not said much on the subject of the weather over the region and the Channel in particular. Of course, how could anyone, when speaking of the Channel, not associate the weather, the winds, the extreme tidal ranges, the currents and fog as well; conditions which, altogether, cause that legendary roughness that you and I have personally experienced so well.
While aware of the unpredictability of the weather there [we did not have 20 years ago the technology, nor the satellite imagery that we do have now], I was unprepared, in 1983 particularly, for what the French call "un ete pourri" (a rotten summer); condition which, since not showing sufficient improvement to authorize any attempts, literally paralyzed me for weeks, months, and forced me to adopt a day-to-day "wait and see" attitude.
Thus explaining my last minute "desperate" attempt to get through on that fateful day of....October 23rd, 1983 (too late in the year). I had been assured by France Meteo, in Paris, of a short 15-hour "break" in the weather and I went for it. Unfortunately, in moving in faster than announced, the front caught up with me, in the middle of the Channel and at night. As aforesaid, I lost then my first battle with the Channel.
Since you went across the Strait of Dover in 1985, I am sure that you had to comply with some regulations too, but as far as I am concerned, the instructions I received from the Prefecture Maritime, Premiere Region, were rather strict: "No attempt is to be undertaken if visibility is under 3 miles and wind in excess of 20 knots". I vividly recall a "scratched" departure, in September of l983, when I was denied the "green light" by the Marine Nationale, because of the sudden arrival of heavy fog banks; although AquaCycle was already waiting in the water and the "crossing party" attending the last briefing.
In 1985, despite another "rotten" summer, I guess I was a bit luckier after all. After arriving in Normandy in May, with crossing targeted for early July, I finally got my break (not the best one though) on September 9th. Although the weather conditions were not the best, I came out of the starting gate like a bullet (sort of), leaving Cherbourg for Poole at dusk. The rest is HISTORY: AT LAST, I MADE IT THROUGH, in a time that will be most likely broken someday, but still stands today... more than two decades later."
September 10, 1985: Yvon is back to CHERBOURG after
his successful crossing of the Western English Channel