2012 Blogs

These blogs are written by George’s son, Charles Thornton, who was in Dover with him as support. He did a great job of keeping everyone updated on the status of his swim.  Dad Channel Swim Diary

July 10, 2012

Hello from Dover!We are all settled in and awaiting Dad’s (George’s) turn to swim.  He has been in the water every day, keeping sharp and acclimating.  And of course we have been meeting with the boat captain and organizing all of the logistics.

I am happy to stay in contact with all of you, and will do my best to keep you updated.

The main purpose of this message is to get everyone’s address into a single message so that it’s easier for me to update you all at the same time.  Essentially, this is a test message.

The quickest way to find out what Dad/George is up to would be to read my Twitter feed:  http://twitter.com/clthornton  I’ve already posted a few photos of Dad/George and the swim boat.

(Note:  You do not need a Twitter account, just go to that page and read the posts.  Periodically refresh the page.)

It’s nice to see many of you on Facebook.  Any of you are welcome to friend me:  http://facebook.com/clthornton  My Facebook and Twitter posts are identical.

Some of you will also receive a test text message from my on your mobile phones.  If you don’t receive one, and would like to receive text messages as well as emails/FB/Twitter, please send me your phone number(s).  However, unless it is urgent, I prefer responses to come through email/FB/Twitter.

Once we’re underway, I *should* be able to post frequently.  That, of course, will be dependent on connectivity.

At this point, given the weather and currents, it appears that his first real potential swim date will be this weekend … or possibly even early next week.  I’ll let you as planning evolves.


July 11, 2012

Hi again,We just received some amazing news.The first priority swimming on Dad’s boat has given up his slot in order to allow the three foreign swimmers to have a better chance at going.  Apparently he is local, a member of the British army, and has swam the Channel previously.  That is an incredibly selfless gift.I’m going to track him down and buy him a pint, or several.

We’ve met the #2 priority swimmer (now #1).  He is an Aussie and looks very fit.  At this point it appears possible for him to swim on Sunday.  You can find him on Facebook as “Spirited Away” and Twitter @giantsofthebay.

That means Dad/George coud go on Monday.  Obviously, all of this is fluid (pun intended).

The #4 priority swimmer (now #3) is Sarah Thomas, who many of you know.  You can find her on Facebook as “Sarah Thomas Open Water Marathon Swimmer” and Twitter @ssthomas04.

This news has lifted everyone’s spirits.  The weather over the Channel looked nasty today, with big swells and breaking waves, along with periodic rain squalls.  Dad, Mom, and I took a mental health break and left Dover for the day.  We hiked along the bluffs above the White Cliffs and down to the beach below the cliffs, then drove northeast along the coast, stopping in a little village for lunch at the local pub.  Photos are posted here:


Keep sending your good vibes, positive karma, and prayers.



July 13, 2012

Your daily update …First, the fun:  We went to Canterbury Cathedral today in search of Geoffrey Chaucer. Not sure we found him, but it was a nice day off the beach. Photos here:https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151038455413578.457926.826853577&type=1&l=8e0ad99798We then lunched at a Venetian restaurant in the shadow of the cathedral and ate some Italian-style pizza, after which Dad said he was “a Happy Camper.”

And now, the not-so-fun:  Our emotional roller coaster took another stomach-churning turn.  The most recent weather forecasts indicate rough seas for the next week.  All of the local boat pilots are telling their swimmers that crossings do not appear possible.  This, as you can imagine, was devastating news (which I chose to not break to Dad until after our Canterbury visit).  Essentially, a low pressure system currently in the north Atlantic is inbound early next week.

The seas will not have enough time to settle down before the new system arrives, and so the swells and breaking waves will be too rough to attempt a swim.  Ouch.  The fickle and unpredictable English Channel weather is part of the game, but we were expecting that a 10-day window would be adequate to find a good day for Dad to take his shot.

We are meeting with the boat pilot tomorrow to explore options.  And, we are still clinging to hope:  the weather forecasts seem to change about every 12 hours, so who knows what the next 2-3 days might hold.

There are too many potential options to discuss here, and we really don’t know whether some of them are viable until we discuss them with the boat pilot.  For now, we’ll just ask that you all do your calm sea dances, call in your favors with Mother Nature, and pull any other strings you might have.

Not much else we, or you can do right now except continue to play the waiting game.  If any news breaks, I’ll let you know.

As always, thanks for your continuing support.



July 14, 2012

Let’s start with a bit of levity.  For the past few days we’ve walked past a Chinese buffet restaurant, and this evening we decided to try it for dinner.  Turns out it’s Dover’s Saturday night hot-spot.  On the first floor, there was some sort of bridal or bachellorette party happening.  On the second floor, a large group of 16ish girls were dressed like they had planned to go to a night club.  And for our entertainment, Mickey Rodgers (we know his name because we saw aposter) sang the most eclectic combination of songs you might imagine— including Louis Armstrong, John Denver, Jerry Lee Lewis, Neal Diamond, Willie Nelson, Elvis, and the Dire Straights — accompanied by a karaoke machine and complete with lights and lasers.  At one point, the pensioner crowed got up and started dancing, dancing like they had something to celebrate (maybe they were French descendants celebrating Bastille Day?).  And the food itself was what you’d expect to get in any Chinese buffet in middle America.  It was one of those wonderful experiences that you can’t plan, that you have to just stumble upon.  We had fun.I couldn’t resist shooting some video for you (You can see Dad and Mom standing at the railing above the singer.):


Dad swam for an hour this morning.  It was choppy, with big swells, even in the relatively protected harbor.  Those conditions belied a far nastier set of conditions out in the Channel.  We had a strong rain here on the coast, but it’s relatively calm this evening.

However, the buoys mid-Channel are recording 6-10′ swells and near gale-force winds.  We heard that three boats attempted to take swimmers across today: 2 relays and 1 solo.  One of the relays was pulled mid-Channel, and the solo swimmer was pulled nearer the French coast.  We haven’t heard about the third boat, but you can imagine how ugly it must be out there if relays are unable to cross (a fresh swimmer gets in the water every hour).

We met with the boat pilot today and spent several hours considering and re-considering Dad’s options.  No change in the weather forecast:

bad, bad, and then bad.  The bottom line is that we’re going to stay, wait out the weather until our scheduled departure date, and hope that the seas calm enough for Dad to take his shot.  The likelihood of that happening this week is slim, but at this point that’s all we can do.

In short, we’ve got a series of low pressure systems lined up and on their way in.  Near gale-force winds coming through the Channel are conflicting with the flow of the currents, causing 6-10′ swells and breaking waves.  The boat pilot likened it to a washing machine.

Despite all of the training he’s accomplished, and all of the resources he’s invested, it’s not worth pressing a bad situation with virtually no chance of a successful swim.  And while Dad may consider future opportunities, it’s too early to spend much time speculating on that.  It’s frustrating that Dad is stymied by forces beyond his control, but that’s the nature of this beast and one of the many reasons why accomplishing an English Channel swim is such an amazing feat.  I’m confident that he’ll do it, one day.

Finally, I found an organization that appears to be just right for Dad.  I’m going to register him tomorrow.  See the photo I uploaded today (also attached):




July 15, 2012

Day 9 of Dad’s and Mom’s time in England, and day 6 of Dad’s 10-day swim “tide” (his window of opportunity).Dad and Coach Joe put in their hour of swimming this morning, under blue skies and sunshine.The big news to report today was my sisters’ surprise showing in Dover.  Julia and Lara have been in London since Thursday, waiting for Dad’s swim to start.  The plan was for them to come to Dover once Dad started his swim, and to surprise him on the docks when he returned following his invasion of France to participate in the celebration.Since D-Day hasn’t arrived, and the girls are flying home on Tuesday, they decided to pop down this morning and spend a couple of days with Dad.  I met them at the train station, and we surprised Dad as he was walking back from the beach following his morning swim.  Dad was …

surprised!  I think it took him a full 3-4 minutes to process the notion that his daughters were standing in front of him.  He feigned anger at their arrival, proclaiming that he had instructed them to stay home and complaining that his children never listen to him.

Julia and Lara responded that (a) they deliberately chose to defy his instructions, and (b) that they chose instead to accede to their mother’s wishes, who had strongly encouraged (read: demand) them to come.  Dad slowly came around to accepting the reality of their presence, while Julia and Lara amused us with their stories of residing in a London youth hostel and various other travel adventures.

This afternoon our extended group, which included the family and Coach Joe, plus Sarah Thomas, another Channel swimmer from Colorado who is awaiting her shot, and her family and crew, hiked up to a citadel above Dover that had been constructed during the Napoleonic Wars and revitalized during World War I.  The preservation society only opens the grounds 2-3 times each year, and puts on English-French battle re-enactments, complete with period uniforms and weapons.  For the blood and guts, a field surgeon amputated a wounded soldiers leg.  Our group then explored the secret war-time tunnels and “grand shaft”

staircases that led from the bluffs down to the beach.

Today’s photos are posted along with the others:  http://ow.ly/cfFrZ

There is this fascinating sub-culture of marathon open-water swimmers here in Dover.  They gather each day on Dover Beach, and swim back and forth across the harbor — “wall to wall” as they say — preparing for, or waiting for their chance to cross the Channel.  A dozen or more swimmers are in the water each weekday morning, and that number swells (pun intended) to well over 100 on weekends.  Frida Streeter, mother of Queen of the English Channel Alison Streeter (43 crossings, more than any other person), holds court on Saturdays and Sundays as she “coaches” her army of swimmers, sells them energy drink powder and other paraphanalia, and creates a community of like-minded oddballs.

Everyone is immediately friends and colleagues, all are supportive and eager to comiserate, and everyone wants to hear each other’s stories.

If you’re a a prospective Channel swimmer or crew, you’re immediately accpeted into this community.  If you’ve already made a successful swim, you’re accorded a type of royalty and are admired.  I know that Dad really enjoys being a part of it, and thrives on the group’s energy.

Oh, and I’ve received a few questions wondering why there’s a Smurf in some of the photos.  Smurf has been my travel companion for over 30 years, since I lived in Germany with my family in 1980-81.  I collected several Smurfs during that year, and he (“he” being the amalgamation of my various figurines into a single personality) has since accompanied me on trips all over the world.  At this point, Smurf has a global following and many often wonder why he is *not* in some of my travel photos.  Eventually I’ll get around to creating his own Facebook fan page.  So, now you know.  Adorable, right?

And finally, the swim update:  nothing to report.



July 16, 2012

I’ve added a few close personal friends to my distribution list.  To you, if you’re interested I suggest reading from the end forward for chronological clarity.  Some of it will be familiar from Facebook.First, my apologies for all of the mis-spelled words in yesterday’s report.  I counted at least three.  I guess I need an editor, if I’m going to write prose.  Maybe I should write in verse.  Nah, you’ll just have to forgive the spelling and grammatical infractions.Today’s weather was the worst yet.  On shore here, the winds were strong enough to knock me off of my walking line.  Occasional, hard rains appeared to be falling laterally.  From the castle above town, the waters in the Channel were the roughest we’ve seen yet.  I elected to not read the weather reports because, really, what would have been the point?  I wore three layers today — how could this be July?  I know, I know: we’re (a) in England, and (b) on the English Channel.That doesn’t help.  One of the photos I took from atop the local castle shows just how unpleasant the mid-Channel seas looked.

Dad and Joe did swim this morning.  I’m now fully convinced that they’re brains are water-logged, as that just didn’t seem like a good idea.  They reported large swells and breaking waves even inside the protected harbor, and the irregular peaks and troughs generated by waves bouncing off of the seawalls.  The water temperature has dropped a degree or two, and the air temperature suffered from the chilling winds blowing in from the sea.  For all of you who were doing weather dances, sending karma, communing with Mother Nature, and praying …

you must have generated some cosmic confluence of energy that spun uncontrollably into a counterclockwise vortex that sucked all of the low pressure systems into this one small body of water.  While I’m impressed with your supernatural powers, perhaps next time you could organize a sequential rather than a simultaneous dance/commune/prayer.

In case you haven’t guessed it by now, the swim update remains unchanged.  The likelihood of an opportunity diminishes with each passing day.  Given that the seas typically need 24-48 hours to calm following any storm turbulence, we’re nearly resigned to writing this off as a non-opportunity.  Of course, we’d jump at a shot, and would consider altering our flights home if there was some real possibility of an open window, but the weather forecasts do not beget optimism.

So, we made the best of the day and played tourists while sisters Julia and Lara are still here.  We figured out that the last time just the 5 of us (pre-spouses; pre-kids/grandkids) were abroad together was

1990 in Israel.  This afternoon we drove up to the castle that has greeting visiting dignitaries and guarded the city since before the Roman conquests.  Dover Castle has been well maintained by English Heritage (http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/), with displays, history lessons, and the quarters decorated as it might have been during King Henry II’s time.  Then we were nearly blown off the tower, but I’ve already covered that …

Finally, Dad made his pilgrimage to visit Captain Webb this evening.

Matthew Webb was the first recorded person to swim the Channel, which he did in 1875.  See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matthew_Webb.  I’m thinking that maybe Dad should have visited the good Captain on his first day in Dover, just for the sake of the positive cosmic forces.

New photos posted as usual:  http://ow.ly/cfFrZ



July 17, 2012

A relatively short report today.A quick swim update:  nada.  The on-shore weather improved, with mostly sunny skies and warm air temps, but the seas remained quite rough.  We drove along the coast today, and even the near shore waters had huge swells and white caps.  Totally unswimable.Two news articles in the British press provided some insight into our predicament.  To cite this first one, “the weather has been persistently dull and wet since April – which was also the wettest in records dating back to 1910.”  Yuck.http://metofficenews.wordpress.com/2012/07/12/the-uks-wet-summer-the-jet-stream-and-climate-change/

The second article explained the meteorological conditions:  “The cause has been the unusually southerly location of the jet stream, a high-altitude belt of wind; but it is expected to move northwards soon.”  Great for the Olympics, but too late for us.


In other news, Julia and Lara caught an early morning train to London and then an afternoon flight home.  They’ve made it back to the US safely.  It was wonderful to have them here with Dad for a couple of days, which seemed to lift his spirits and provide some diversion from our dwelling on the uncontrollables.

Dad, Mom, and I then took a nice drive along the coast.  We stopped at Samphire Hoe, which is 75 acres of “new” coastal land created by the dirty extracted during the construction of the England-France Chunnel.

We then lunched in the quaint little village of Rye, which used to be an island of pirates and sea merchants before the seas receded.

Sorry, no new photos today.

Tomorrow we will participate in the Olympic Torch festivities as it makes its way through Dover.  The Torch has been traveling around England, including stops at several of the Olympic venues.  One that’s of personal interest to me is the canoe/kayak whitewater slalom course, which is about 30km north of the main Olympic Park.  Someone had the brilliant idea of floating the torch-bearer down the course in a raft.  What happened, of course, was imminently predictable.  Enjoy:



July 18, 2012

It’s not fair.  There, I wrote it.  Dad is a genuinely good person, and doesn’t deserve this.  This is one of those occasions when one searches, but will never find a satisfying answer.So, here we are.  The window, at least for this year, has closed.When you’re standing on its shores, or overlooking it from the bluffs above, it’s difficult to not perceive the English Channel as a living, breathing beast.  The Channel taunted us incessantly for two weeks, teased us with periodic calm and occasional glimpses of the French coast, and ultimately refused to permit Dad’s swim.  Nevertheless, our hopes were not completely extinguished.  I’m confident that Dad will return next year to defeat the beast.[OK, maybe that paragraph was a little over-the-top.  Couldn’t resist.

Enough poetry.]

This morning we made one last visit the Anastasia Channel Boat to see Eddie, the pilot.  Eddie is a character, but more than that he’s a great guy who has his swimmers’ best interests at heart.  As Sarah, a fellow Coloradoan who was also planning to swim the Channel in this tide, wrote, “I think he wants us to succeed as much as we do, and it’s just as hard on him when the weather sucks.”  Eddie will do everything in his power to get Dad across whenever Dad is ready.

Now for a bit of fun news.  On the beach this today, Dad met Roger Allsopp in a chance encounter.  Small world, except on Dover Beach where people like that hang out.  Dr. Allsopp is the current record holder as the oldest person (70.5 years) to swim the Channel.  He and Dad had a long chat.  Roger expressed his sorrow that Dad didn’t get a shot, and wished him luck on a future attempt.  Dad and Roger will swim together tomorrow morning.

This evening our Bed and Breakfast prepared a bar-b-que dinner to celebrate the Olympic Torch relay through town.  Turned out to be the best meal we’ve had in our two weeks here, and it was actually rather exciting to see the runners carry the torch past.  The town threw a big party, complete with longest fireworks show in the history of mankind.  Well, I don’t know about that, but it was a long show choreographed to live music and launched from a barge and several small boats that cruised around Dover Harbor.

Today’s photos posted in their usual place:  http://ow.ly/cfFrZ

So, this is likely my final report to you all … at least for this

year ;).  Dad (and Mom and I) will fly home on Friday.   Let’s give

him a month before we start speculating on future options.

THANK YOU all for your support.  Thanks to Mom for never wavering and always being by Dad’s side.  Thanks to Julia and Lara for their special surprise visit.  A huge thank you to Joe Bakel for coaching and advising Dad over the past two years and for selflessly spending these two weeks by his side, giving up time away from family and work, and just for being a good friend.  Thanks to Ann for organizing the swim-along and other immensely supportive activities.  Thanks to the many swimmers who have trained with Dad, pushed him, encouraged him, and motivated him.  Thanks to Dad’s nephew Patrick and the Strum family for their support during his 12-hour ocean training swim.

Thanks to Sarah and her entourage for their good cheer and commiseration throughout our time in Dover.  And thank you to all of you who have sent heartening messages, offered inspirations, and prayed over these past weeks, months, and years.  This was an enormous undertaking, and it took a village to get Dad here.

Dad was ready, and he showed up.  He will be back.  I love Dad, and am infinitely proud of him.



July 17, 2012:  Lara Thornton Tabola

I am traveling home today from England with a very heavy heart…but more proud of my Dad than ever. Most of you know that he has been training to swim the English Channel for the past two years. He and my Mom, along with my brother and Dad’s coach have been in Dover for the last two weeks waiting for the right day to go. While I can’t fully describe what the last two weeks have been like for him, I can say that it has been an emotional roller coaster. The first several days the weather was not good, but it appeared as though it would clear up and he would get his chance. This proved not to be the case, as day after day, the winds were high, it was cold and rainy, and there were 6 to 10 foot swells out in the Channel. During his time, we heard of one relay that did successfully complete the swim (keep in mind that they have a new swimmer in the water every hour), but also a relay that did NOT complete it. The conditions were simply not conducive to a successful crossing of ONE person, let alone someone who would, under normal conditions, take about 18 hours. The locals all said that they could not remember a summer as bad as this one.

Day after day, Dad would go down to the water and swim, back and forth across the Dover Harbor…and it was COLD! My Dad was very disappointed that he never got to go OUT of the harbor, toward France, but he remained positive and happy. At this point, his coach is saying he will start his training schedule in September for swimming the Channel in 2013 (I guess he thinks Dad deserves to take the month of August off), but my Dad has yet to commit to this. I think he needs a little time to let this experience sink in and decide.

My sister and I traveled to London about a week ago to hang out until we got the word that he was in the water. Our plan was to surprise him and be there at the end of the swim (even though he made it very clear he did not want us to come over). When it became evident that he would not get to swim, we headed to Dover and surprised him anyway…and he WAS surprised. We got to spend two days with him. What a fun time… the first time since 1990 that the five of us traveled together (no spouses, no kids, no grandkids). We all thoroughly enjoyed it, even in light of the disappointment Dad was dealing with.

I want you all to know that I appreciate all of your thoughts and prayers through this whole thing. I’m sorry I don’t have better news to report…perhaps next year??? My dad is an amazing man and I am proud of him. My guess is that he will try again someday.


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