ABU DHABI // After fighting currents and veering off-course, a Dubai businessman yesterday became the first UAE resident to swim across the English Channel. Scott Ragsdale, a 39-year-old American who has lived in Dubai since 2008, completed the gruelling swim from England to France accompanied by a boat carrying a medic, an official from the Channel Swimming & Piloting Federation (CS&PF) and his eldest daughter Marie, 15.
He finished in a time of 14 hours and one minute though he was forced to swim an additional seven miles after strong winds and currents pushed him off course, beyond the north western tip of France. Mr Ragsdale arrived near Cap Gris-Nez just before 8.38pm (UAE time), after swimming a total of 28 miles. Because of strict immigration laws he was allowed to spend only five minutes in France before boarding a boat back to the UK. Mr Ragsdale said his motivation was more "selfish" than anything else: to inspire his friends and family, particularly his daughters, to use their time wisely.
His wife Sophie and their other daughter Giovanna, six, had been waiting for him on French soil in Calais. "I see so many people wasting their lives on Facebook, staring at a computer screen rather than going out and experiencing the real world," he said. "It adds no real value to their lives. I want to show people, at least my girls, not to waste their lives. I'm not different from anyone else, I am just focused and I try to live life to its fullest."
Mr Ragsdale decided on the Channel after completing two Ironman Triathlons - one in New Zealand in March and another in France in June. Mr Ragsdale said he thought the Channel was the "ultimate challenge" because more people had reached the summit of Everest. According to CS&PF, the governing body for English Channel swimming, fewer than 900 people have completed the swim. The first was Captain Matthew Webb, an Englishman who managed it in 21 hours and 45 minutes back in 1875.
Before heading out, Mr Ragsdale said the biggest challenge was the cold. "I was sitting in my bed and breakfast earlier in the day and thinking I was cold," he said. "Then I thought 'if I am cold now, how cold am I going to be later?'" The temperature in the English Channel at this time of year is between 6 and 8°C, meaning a swim through it poses a severe risk of hypothermia. To keep insulated during the swim Mr Ragsdale coated himself in a mixture of lanolin and Vaseline that has been dubbed "Channel grease". Other than that, he wore only a pair of Speedos, a swim cap and goggles.
In the past 15 years Mr Ragsdale has run more than 20 marathons, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and completed the Marathon des Sables - a seven day race across the Sahara desert in Morocco. To train for the Channel swim Mr Ragsdale, who founded his own company called Naseba in 2002 to host professional training and business-to-business events, swam for around three hours a day over the past three months.
Although he works and lives in Dubai, he has an office in Monaco and a house in the south of France where he spent the summer swimming in the Mediterranean.