DOVER, England, Aug. 12 – East Granby swimmer Doug Comstock wasn’t able to complete his quest to swim across the English Channel on Tuesday but he was deeply moved with the support he has received from friends across the state and the world.
Comstock, 60, was attempting to become one of the oldest swimmers to complete the 21½ mile swim from Dover, England to Cape Griz Nez in France. Beginning around 8 a.m., he swam 19 miles before getting out of the water around 9:15 p.m.
While the water temperature was about 62 degrees, the wind was around 11 knots (13 to 14 mph) in the evening. “I knew it was getting colder when I looked at my crew on the boat deck and they were all wearing winter clothing and (they were) still cold,” Comstock said in a Facebook post to his many friends and supporters.
Comstock, who graduated from Canton High in 1973, trained for nearly three years for this swim. His preparation included swimming through jelly fish in Long Island Sound and training in cold water at West Hill Lake in New Hartford and in Long Island Sound to prepare his body for the cold water found in the English Channel. Earlier this spring, he would emersed himself in a trash can of ice water in preparation for the swim.
Swimmers are not allowed to wear wetsuits. They are required to swim in a suit and are allowed to have a swim cap, goggles and nose plugs.
“It was a long beautiful day with only one jelly fish sting the entire day,” Comstock said. “I felt strong for the first eight hours and was covering distance as well as I could have hoped for.
“Thank goodness for cloudy days because I could see hundreds of jellies just below arm reach. On cloudy, choppy days, (jelly fish) move deep. The tradeoff for low jelly counts is that the sun is not out to help you keep your (body) core temp warm,” he said.
“At about hour 9 or 10, I could feel my core temp beginning to slip,” Comstock said. “To remedy that, as a swimmer you kick harder, turn your shoulders over faster and your core can maintain a perfect balance. The only problem was that my left shoulder (which I have had issues with on long swims) started to come out of the water like a 60-year-old and my (swim) stoke resembled the doggy paddle. I tried to change my stroke a few times and that helped a bit and allowed me to continue on.”
But Comstock lost speed and his body began to get cold.
“I could see Cape Gris Nez (the shortest distance between England and France is 21 miles).and knew if I could get my speed up for another hour I could make land fall. I couldn’t.
“The challenge of not making the Cape is the French coast falls off so fast (that) if I couldn’t make it the final two plus miles within one hour then the tidal current would (push) me north and within minutes I would now have 5 miles to cover rather than two.
“In a heartbeat, my time changed from one hour remaining to four,” he said. “I was prepared for that and knew going in. Had my shoulder and core (temperature) held out, I was mentally prepared to continue you on. My body simply said, “Not today Doug.”
“My boat pilot Pete Reed came out on the deck at my next feeding and asked, “Can you swim another four hours?” I knew I had nothing left and that my core temp now began to concern me. It was my decision to pull the plug and tap out. Seven boats abandoned their swim yesterday and two made it. Only one abandoned after me so I felt good that I stuck it out longer than most,” Comstock said. “I got out of the water not with huge disappointment but with a feeling of profound thanks. Thankful that each of you has been part of this journey. Thankful that donations kept pouring in yesterday to help feed people that you don’t even know.”
Comstock has already raised more than $12,500 to donate to Foodshare, which helps distribute food to the needy in Hartford and Tolland County and to the East Granby Friend to Friend food pantry.
He thanked his family and friends for their support. “I could feel your prayers, your thoughts, your love,” he said. “In fact, two times (Tuesday), I literally shed a few tears in my goggles. (On Wednesday), I (was) moved beyond measure to wake up to more than 500 Facebook messages, emails and texts supporting me. I felt you with me all day long.”
Comstock came to Europe in mid-July for his attempt to cross the English Channel. He had been waiting until Tuesday for favorable conditions to make his attempt.