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Tracking Mona’s Channel Crossing

by Oxfam | September 12, 2012

That morning, the 17-year-old Toronto long distance swimmer had clambered up the rocks of a beach in France. In thirteen hours and eight minutes Mona had crossed the English Channel, a distance of 42 kilometers through one of the world's busiest shipping lanes.

Mona's incredible effort, which is dedicated to raising money to help children in Africa through Oxfam Canada, began at 2am on an English beach near Dover. Every ten minutes through the night, Pathfinder, the guide boat lighting her way in the dark water, transmitted Mona's location to a website map. That’s how we tracked her progress here in Canada. 

At first the tracking icons appeared in a tiny cluster on the English coast. Ahead, the width of the channel yawned, filled with dozens of animated icons of huge ships rushing through the night.

An hour passed, and another. Throughout the night the icons marched, each one a little further from the shore. The icons lined up on a perfectly straight course. Mona was swimming strongly and steadily.

Watching the computer display as dawn broke over the English Channel we wondered what Mona could see as she pushed through the water. A few wave tops sparkling in the low sunshine, maybe iridescent with oil? A tangle of seaweed she would have to push aside? The gunnel of her escort boat, bobbing in the waves not too far away, not too close, just as it had been since she set off in the wee hours? Nobody guessed about the jellyfish.

Another icon appeared, showing Mona somewhere near the halfway mark. She was making this look easy.

But there was something odd about the most recent location. Zooming in, it was possible to see that her course had curved a little to the southwest. Mona was no longer heading straight for France.

Minutes passed and the next icon appeared, confirming a definite bend, as if Mona was heading towards the Atlantic Ocean. Could she have lost her way?

A supporter in Canada had tweeted as she set off: “May the tides be with you."

That must be it: a tide was beginning to run through the English Channel and Mona must be caught in it. Although it was carrying her southwest, away from her shortest course, Mona was still swimming powerfully through the tide. So long as she kept her strength, she could reach a shore in France.

Mona had been swimming for ten hours when a bit of the French coast came into view. What was this? A hurried check on Google maps identified it as Cap Gris Nez, jutting into the Channel. Mona had known about the tide and where it would carry her. There seemed no doubt she would make it.

However, there is this about tides: they turn. 

The icons began to show Mona’s track turned around in the opposite direction. A tide was now sweeping her along parallel to the coastline towards the North Sea, faster and faster, much faster than she could swim.  

Perhaps she could now see the French cliff tops over the waves, but would she be able to break through the tide and reach them?

A new icon appeared, almost straight towards land.  She was out of the tide.

Mona had seen the jellyfish and was sprinting home.

– This post was written by James Bremner, a software engineer and sailor.

To date, Mona has raised over $2,250. 
Support Mona by donating to her wishlist on Oxfam Canada's Unwrapped gift program.

Read Mona's story in her own words.