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Swimming English Channel remains family affair

One finishes feat, but both ponder tackling 'Mount Everest' again

Hours into his 36-mile swim across the English Channel, Richard Barnes kept stroking only because he thought his brother Dave was close behind him.

Richard's euphoria at reaching French sand 16 hours and 43 minutes later was tempered only by learning that Dave had pulled out of the swim hours earlier because of seasickness and hypothermia.

The two brothers who trained for a year in Utah's mountain reservoirs warily admit they think about returning to that grueling channel swim — but not before a long break and a chance to recover from what Richard calls the Mount Everest of open-water swimming.

Richard, an attorney, and Dave, an emergency room doctor, trained for hours at a time in pools, reservoirs and gyms to prepare for the swim. They spent around $6,000 each on fees to certify their attempts to swim the Channel, boat rentals and captains, air fare, and lodging in England.

The brothers, both of whom live in the Salt Lake Valley, had family members on boats next to them through the duration of their swims, but they couldn't stay side-by-side — the way they trained — because choppy waters forced their boats to take separate paths. Their family fed them snacks, water, offered encouragement, and sometimes told lies.

"My younger brother on the boat who was giving me the food and water kept telling me, 'Dave's right behind you, Dave's still there,' " Richard Barnes said. "That, more than anything, kept me going. There were a couple of times that I thought I saw him swimming, even though he wasn't there."

The brothers started swimming from the English side near Dover about 3 a.m. Aug. 6. Rough conditions and nearby ferry boats forced the brothers to take diverging, meandering paths that increased the time and distance of the crossing. If they had been able to swim a straight line, the crossing would have been about 21 miles; as it was, Dave's 19-mile attempt only got him halfway across.

That attempt has lingered in Dave's mind for the last few weeks.

"It just feels like unfinished business," he said. Swimming the Channel was "something that I've been thinking about for literally over a decade. We just got serious about it for the last year, but it feels like unfinished business."

Richard is now on record as officially having finished the Channel swim — both he and Dave paid for an official observer from the Channel Swimming Association to be on their escort boats. Under the rules of the association, they were not permitted to touch the boat at any time; could wear only a small Speedo swimming suit, goggles and a swim cap; and could protect themselves from the 60-degree water temperatures and chafing only with Channel grease — a mixture of Vaseline and lanolin.


E-mail: kswinyard@desnews.com