WASHINGTON -- Captain James Campbell,
MSC, a microbiologist, joined a relatively small fraternity of swimmers August 16 when he
braved the cold water, fatigue and ships to swim the English Channel. The former high
school and college competitive swimmer completed the 21-mile swim in 17 hours and 41
Campbell, who is the Navy program manager for biotechnology and
environment at the Naval Research Laboratory, Washington, D.C., spent the last two years
accumulating about 3,000 miles swimming while preparing for the event. Each morning from 5
to 8 a.m., six days a week, he swam laps in the Naval Research Laboratory pool.
"I gradually started doing longer swims, about six or eight
miles across the Potomac and Hudson River," said the 49-year old Honolulu, Hawaii,
native. "It was small potatoes compared to the coming Mt Everest of
Campbell arrived in England two weeks before his Channel departure
date to acclimate himself to the cold water. He said that most people fail the swim
challenge not because they are out of shape, but because they experience hypothermia.
According to Campbell a swimmer can be in the water 12 to 20 hours, depending on how fast
he or she swims, and during this lengthy exposure the cold will have an affect. The water
was about 61 degrees Fahrenheit when Campbell made his swim.
The normally healthy-thinking and athletic Campbell made an abnormal
decision about three months before the swim to ensure success in his Channel-crossing.
"I tacked on about 15 or 20 extra pounds of fat for
insulation," he said."Channel swimming rules do not permit wearing a wet suit,
and I would just be in speedos. I became exhausted during the swim, but I did
not get cold."
On the day of his swim, Campbell arrived in Dover, England, to begin
the grueling effort to reach Cape Gris-nez, France, the shortest distance to land across
the Channel. A 4 a.m. effort to avoid the busiest shipping traffic was cancelled because
of 18 to 20 knot winds and 7-foot seas. As he began his 6 a.m. odyssey he stepped into the
chilly waters 3- to 5-foot seas.
"For the first four hours, I wasnt sure I was going to
make it," Campbell said. "It was not really swimming, it was like surviving the
Continuing with dogged determination, Campbell plowed on through the
water, taking infrequent interludes to suck down a high carbohydrate drink for energy.
During these "feedings" he adhered to the rules by not touching the hand that
was feeding him or holding onto the pace boat.
After about ten hours of being beat up by the Channel, Campbell said
he "hit the wall" of exhaustion. That was when he had to get mentally tough.
"It was just not possible I was going to quit," he said.
At about 11:45 that night he arrived at the Cape. Even with his planning, the current had
carried him another couple of miles past his projected exit point. With a new moon
providing very little light, the Channel inflicted its last pain as Campbell cut his
chest, legs and arms climbing over barnacle-incrusted rocks making his way to shore. As he
stood bloodied and exhausted on French soil, Campbell managed a smile -- he was victorious
over the Channel.