The Elephant in the Room - TC, O7, $$
Hi all - I posted this on my blog and @MvG suggested I paste it here for further thoughts - so here it goes:
When you talk to triathletes they usually remind you of how cheap swimming is, when compared to running and especially cycling. The only tools you need are a swimsuit, a cap and some goggles, and you are all set. This is especially true for purist marathon swimmers, who don’t use wetsuits.
However, traveling around the world to do races in different bodies of water is far from inexpensive. Worse yet, tackling the world’s most famous Channel Swims has become a very lucrative business for some – and a reason to go broke for others. With green lights being weather-dependent, and so many swimmers asking for the opportunity to do these crossings and have their minute of fame within the OWS world, waitlists are growing to 2-3 years, and some organizers do not even bother to answer emails or calls. This has sparked some debate lately, about the need for having ratifying associations at all.
In most of the popular crossings, a single association manages the swim. In some others (EC, NC, potentially SG), there are conflicting associations but the price does not seem to get any cheaper. And apparently, there is sometimes a secondary market where a swimmer can sell his/her slot for a profit.
We cannot forget that this is an amateur sport. Securing funding or sponsorship is not easy (I’d know!), and the biggest challenge has become finding the money and the time off, rather than preparing for the physical and mental challenge itself. In fact, the money can also create additional tensions in your relationship / family, as you are not only spending most of your free time with your sport, but also some of your money. Or as WSJ brilliantly put it a few years ago, there is a risk that a workout may eat your marriage.
This is the elephant in the room nobody talks about, and in fact, you would not find a table with approx. costs for these swims. Until now:
Triple Crown: $20,000
Manhattan Swim (NYOW): The costs of registration plus boat and kayak escort has increased from $2,600 to $3,000 in two years. Add the flights for you and your “second” or “spouse”, and say 3 nights of hotel only, given the window is certain. Total $5,000.
English Channel (CSA / CSPF): Any of the 11 qualified pilots will charge you about GBP 3,000, and the CSA itself GBP 375. Add flights & car / train and 6 nights in Dover given the window slot. And add another trip for the 6-hour qualifying swim in waters under 15C. Total $8,000.
Catalina Channel (CCSF): Any of the 5 pilots will charge you $2,950 if you are lucky or fast enough to finish it within 9 hours – otherwise, add $275 per hour. Add a kayaker or two, flights and 3 nights of hotel in California. Total $7,000.
Oceans Seven: $52,000
Strait of Gibraltar (ACNEG): E 1,950 for registration and boat support, plus flights and hotel for 6 nights. Total: $4,700.
Kaiwi Channel (KCA): $2,400 for registration, $3,800 for the boat and kayaks if you are good enough to complete it within 17 hours. Flights, 6-night hotel. Total: $8,600.
Tsugaru Channel (TCSA): Y650,000 for registration and boat support. Add flights, hotel, and trains to the tip of Honshu Island. Total: $9,400
North Channel (ILDSA): GBP 3,000 for any of the 3 qualified pilots, GBP 387 for ILDSA/NCSA. Flights, car / train and 6 nights in Douneghadee. 6-hour qualifying swim under 13C. Total $7,900.
Cook Strait (CSS): NZD 7,000 for registration and boat support, plus flights and hotel for 6 nights. Total: $6,400.
Now, if you compare these costs with climbing the Everest, which can be up to $50,000, it does not seem too unreasonable. But if you would like to become an Ocean Sevener, you better prepare a fundraising plan - and make sure that your spouse is onboard!
A hell of a lot less expensive than even the least demanding offspring...... just sayin’
...anything worth doing is worth overdoing.
Traveling around the world to do anything is expensive, so I think it's important to focus on the swimming-specific issues, and what we can do to improve the experience of the sport for its participants.
It can be (but not always) problematic when one organization controls both piloting and sanctioning - conflicts of interest, poor service. It can be tricky to disentangle what exactly you're paying for. The situation in Japan strikes me as particularly egregious.
The O7 is a bucket list of cool swims, nothing more, nothing less. Plenty of other waters around the world to swim in.
I agree, it can be expensive, and I attach a holiday to any swim overseas. I sure as heck can't afford all those flights and then to go somewhere else for a holiday. (Attaching the holiday to the end means you make darned sure you finish the swim or it ruins the trip...... and there isn't the money to try things several times,anyway. ) I also do fewer swims, try to do more UK based ones, use the campervan to stay in, (converted from a second hand builder's van,) drive an old car etc. but it was a conscious decision to have less and do what I love.
I said to my OH, when I decided to do this stuff, "I don't want to reach the stage where I'm saying, I wish I'd tried. I've got a new car but I haven't done any of the stuff I wanted to try."
It can be done if you really, really want it. You just have to spread stuff out a lot more, timewise... but it's not a race.
If there is one thing that makes me MAD about marathon swimming, it's boat fees. I don't typically get too bent out of shape about the fees for a sanctioning organization- those groups really do provide a service (trained observers, knowledge, resources, legitimacy, sense of safety, boat recommendations, etc) and those fees aren't typically too crazy. I see value in that. But when it comes to the boat fees... oh boy.
I've self-supported with my own team on a lot of swims and I know how much gas costs. I know how much boat rentals cost. I know how much insurance costs. And generally, I feel like we're getting ripped off 90% of the time when it comes to those big name swims. Sure- some of the fees you pay are the non-tangibles like boat captain knowledge. For example, Eddie Spelling was worth every single dollar I paid him for my EC swim. He and his team earned their fees on that one. He knows what he's doing and it would be stupid to consider an EC swim without someone like that at the helm. Same with 20 Bridges swims- you'd be an idiot to attempt that swim with just a kayaker with you.
And, it's still a choice to do those big swims or not. No one said I have to swim the Triple Crown. If there is a swim I really want to do and the fees are crazy, I'll save up to do it or I'll just simply cross it off the list. That's just simple, basic capitalism. Boat captains are getting paid what they're charging, so why should they stop if they're booking up? I don't see anyone racing to provide competition by asking $1000 less.
On the flip side, there are plenty of really reasonably priced marathon swims out there that are just as great. And if I can't find one I like, I can make my own. There are so many lakes and rivers in this big world to enjoy...
But, my choice does come from a position of privilege- I can actually afford to save up for a big swim. I know smart people who can help me plan a self-supported swim. It makes me sad to think of all the people out there who aren't able to save up for something big. How many kids aren't getting a chance to do some cool swims because their parents don't have finances to help them? What limitations are we putting on talent because not everyone can afford to spend $10,000 on a big swim? I know some organizations (like Catalina, I think) offer scholarships. I think that is AMAZING. I wish there were more options like that out there, but even still, it wouldn't cover all the swims and all the possibilities.
I don't know what the solution is, other than for me to buy a boat, study up on currents and just travel the world taking you all across oceans. :-)
You can save a lot of money in this sport with a little imagination and self-initiative. What's funny about the O7 is that for each swim, there's a pretty similar swim nearby.
Thank you all for the thoughtful responses! My aim with the post wasn’t to flag any personal problem or to find solutions to my particular swims but to state the obvious and to provide potential swimmers with accurate costs I couldn’t find myself when I tried to. As everything in life, this is a matter of supply and demand, and it’s up to you all to follow the most popular - and hence pricey - swims, or to go to your local beach, and just enjoy the freedom and beauty of the - free for all - open waters. In any case, happy swimming! :-)
Great idea for a blog post @GlobalSwimmer. I particularly like the angle you started with: Explaining to triathletes that (marathon) swimming is more expensive than they think. Whenever this comes up with my triathlete and non-triathlete friends, I also point out to them that they need to consider the cost of pool membership and when you consider that, running is actually cheaper as you can get by with a nice pair of kicks and use clothing that you already have...despite triathletes' (and runners') efforts to increase the cost of running with special fabric clothing, drink carriers, watches, fancy hats, etc.
I agree with some above: I attempted Manhattan because a) I thought it was the next logical step for me in distances/time, b) I could afford it due to free airfare, and c) it was a great excuse for a family reunion. If I had to pay for the airfare myself, I might not have done it. (Not that I did it...I obviously wasn't ready.) More importantly, and letter d) to add to a) through c) above: I wanted to be able to tell people I swam around Manhattan. I'm not embarrassed to admit that.
The point is it's my (crazy) choice to do these swims. I have familial support. I have the means to do the swims I want to do. No one in this sport needs to spend big money to do long swims. You have to spend some money, that is certain, but no one is forcing anyone to do O7 or the EC or any of those. Anyone who wants to do those big-name swims is making a conscious decision to do them, and to spend the money (go in debt?) to do those swims. I love giving triathletes sh!t for many things, but I can't fault them entirely when they see swimming as a cheap sport when compared to triathlon.
As a father of four, I will agree with your statement. However, I will add that at least with kids you have the potential for getting something back for all the time, energy, effort and, yes, money, you've put into parenting them.
We're all just carbon, water, starlight, oxygen and dreams
My dad always used to like to say that the reason he had seven kids was that when we were older, we would each send him $100 a month and that would be the payoff... didn't work out that way, but a guy can dream...
Great posts - the marathon swim can be done anywhere/anytime and most do them with little cost. How good does a long swim in the ocean or lake close by with a few fellow swimmers out for an adventure feel.
The named channel or the marathon swim just gives some adrenaline that you are ready on the day - thus at times forgetting all the memorable swims along the way
I love to hear about swims like this circumnav of Angel Island by Alex Kostich. Just for the fun of it!!!
Interesting thread; indeed, it is much more strategic to plan a swim event that is coupled with holiday travel (I will write more about that in November).
At least with marathon swimming, typically it is just you and the deep blue sea, or a non-crowded environment; the same isn't always true for Everest as shown in these photos:
Global Swimmer and Iron Mike: We crossed paths last year and missed meeting you in person: End Wet 2018 & Swim the Suck 2018
Loch Awe Boat rental £80
Herne Bay Hostel £90
General Expenses £120
Three Friends to crew, observe and drive boat... PRICELESS!
One slight correction for Catalina boats' fees.
The three main boats currently (Pacific Star, Bottom Scratcher, Magician) hourly rate after a certain time is $175/hr.
Sometimes I feel like the US/Pacific costs (or let's say US/Pacific + Ocean7) are incomparable higher than the other countries.
In Ijillsselmeer the whole event is 50 eur, boats included - but I reckon there is a lot of voluntary activities.
In Lago D'Orta around 300-400 eur.
In Rottnest the boat was around 500 AUD, lets say 500 USD..
Ok, these are not the longest distances, but still double distance -> triple cost, but not double distance -> 10 times the cost.
When I look at some legendary events in the US areea, I ask myself how can I find a sponsor, because in the next 20 years I don't see having the resources to spend 3-5k USD for 1 day swim.
Ooops that's true Dan, apologies! I should have remembered, as I had to look for an ATM as soon as I finished to withdraw those extra $350! :-)
Isn't the Dal Riata Channel considered an alternative route for North Channel, i.e. part of O7?
No, not that I know of. I'm not sure it's any less expensive either.
is that USD?
I now have two questions:
The total cost of an English Channel crossing is listed as $8000 in the image but I'm estimating in the range between $5000 and $6000. Am I underestimating the amount?
I'm considering to do a certain swim (slightly longer than the English Channel) which will cost me about $9000 - $10000. If I only look at the numbers it may not be a good value of money (i.e. if a similar swim is available elsewhere at the same cost I won't do it, even it is part of O7), however it is one of my bucket list items, it has a special meaning for me which can't be replicated elsewhere in the world, and I am planning to do it for a certain charity which has special meaning to the society, and due to recent events it is now the perfect time to do it and I worry that it may be a "now or never" challenge (as I have some more important life goals than swimming, and also considering the situation in the society now). If I do it I can bring a huge impact to the society that I belong to, but it is the $$$ which concerns me. Did anyone here have the same dilemma in the past, thinking about to do a swim which does not have good value on the numbers but priceless on some other aspects, and did you finally do it?
There are many reasons I chose a specific swim; these are waters that speak to me, that make me happy, that are sentimental, that I’m curious to try, the swims that I share with friends, that people have recommended, etc. And yes there is also the financial consideration of what I can afford in a given year but this all goes to the question of why you swim.
It sounds like the non EC is the swim that speaks to your soul both from what it means to you and what it could mean to others and if it’s within your means then listen to your heart and not chase someone else’s list.
It’s not about $ per mile but Joy per mile.
I'm now wondering how the heck is it possible for a working-age person to afford multiple (3 or above) channel swims in a season year over year, or even multiple channel swims in different region of the globe in the same year, especially someone that lives half the globe away. I'll very uncomfortable if someone who lives outside the UK becomes the Queen of the Channel by swimming her 44th crossing in less than 44 years since she start her swimming career.
Let's use the UK as an example. Median household disposable income in the UK was £29,400 in the financial year ending 2019 according to government statistics. That's not much money. I can't see how people can afford even 3 channel swims per year. The only exception is that, a person lives in Kent can sign up all the waiting lists and picks up cheap second-hand slots which other people can no longer commit to them, and do them with short notice once the weather permits, and the company he works allows taking leave with short notice.
I'm now really offended by the cost in my previous post ($9000 to $10000 USD) that I have decided to skip it at all. I want to build and grow a "local" marathon swimming community before I leave the city next year. I'm now working to pioneer some swims. I'll observe a coastal swim which is possible with only kayak support soon as an "experimental" swim using only local resources.
I'm not happy of the fact that, despite having a population more than New Zealand with practically the whole population within one hour from the swimmable coast using public transport all year round, we have literally 0 Channel swimmers from my country in the whole history compared to dozens from New Zealand! However, we need to make the sport accessible for all rather than only those people who can throw away 4 months of the city's median income in a single day.
Don't sweat it mate - different people, different circumstances, different budgets...
An Aussie is on her way to become the Queen of the Channel, with 34 crossings in 12 summers already https://longswims.com/p/chloe-mccardel/
And Hong Kong may have its first Channel Swimmer in two weeks time https://makchunkong.com/
Use other people's successes to inspire you, not to bring you down - and follow your own path and goals!