The Triple Martini Swim is a 10k-ish triangular loop course in the ocean off of Avila Beach. Swimming in and out along the Avila pier makes the stem of the glass. and swimming to the tip of the Cal Poly Pier and Avila Rock then back make the martini glass. Only two Avila Dolphins (Duke and Niel) have swum the Triple Martini and I became number three on Sunday. The swim had been right there under my nose for years and I just never pulled my act together enough to get out there and do it.
Niel was really the catalyst in making me finally commit and pick a date. I very ineffectually helped out on his Triple Martini swim this summer. I borrowed my girlfriend’s kayak to paddle along and it turns out I’m way too big for her boat! I was very tippy and low in the water so before the end of the first lap I bailed out. Luckily Beth was also there to paddle and save the day! I paddled back to the beach, surfed a wave in, put the kayak back on my truck rack, drove to Port San Luis to rent a bigger kayak and then paddled my ass off to catch back up to the swim in progress. I missed a big chunk of Niel’s swim doing that, but I was awarded a fancy Triple Martini hat for my assistive efforts. Looking at the hat I didn’t quite feel like I had earned it and it became imperative that I swim the Triple and earn my hat! I decided to shoot for December, picked out a weekend, and started to recruit helpers.
Kris, Allison, Rob, Niel, Beth
As it turns out I hit the support crew lottery, I ended up with 4 kayakers for my swim! Niel, Beth, Kris, and Allison were all available for the day and brought their boats out to support me. It was pretty cool to see four kayaks lined up in a row on the beach just waiting for me to go swimming. I’m extremely appreciative of the big show of support. Having that many people looking out for you when you’re 1km off shore is a pretty good feeling.
At first glance we had a textbook perfect day for a swim, but as a general rule I never seem to swim on the good days so it didn’t seem quite right. The sun was already shining at 8am, no fog or clouds, small waves, and we had very lightly textured water that Niel measured at 56 degrees. The wind was blowing out 1 knot out of the southeast from Pismo when I walked into the water, but we were in for a some very dramatic mood swings from the wind. In the course of my swim we started with 1 knot winds from the southeast, not bad at all. That turned into a 2 knot wind from the west, no big deal. Then it swung south southwest for a short time and ultimately north (offshore for this beach) and wavered between northwest and northeast at anywhere from 4 to 14 knots with gusts pushing up to 20 knots… woah buddy! Admittedly most of that wind was worse for my floatilla than it was for me, but it did appear to have a big impact on some of my swim legs due to us being pushed off course.
Around 8:30am I was suited up and working on lubing up. Since this was a longer swim I broke out the bag balm to keep from chafing out in the water. I also put two coats of sunscreen on my bald head to make up for me not wearing a cap. Niel and Kris got in the water first and then I followed Allison and Beth down to the edge of the water. The water was cool but well within my comfort zone. I haven’t gotten much time in the cold stuff recently due to bad weather but I did make a point of bodysurfing on the Thursday prior just to cram for this swim. I took my time getting in since 1. that’s how I do things and 2. the girls were having a hard time finding a window to paddle out. The surf wasn’t big but it was grouped close together making for a tricky launch. Once they were past the breakers I dove under one popped up to let it soak in for a moment and then tossed myself into the swim.
I swam an easy steady pace down to the tip of the pier and paused to make sure all was good and everyone was on track. I planned to start by swimming counter clockwise with the thought that I’d probably change direction at some point just to make it more interesting. Niel had told me on the beach that I’d be the deciding vote on the “right way” to swim the Martini since Duke and himself had gone opposite directions. I figured a multidirectional martini wouldn’t solve anything and give us something fun to argue about in the future :) The swim to the Poly Pier wasn’t bad but the mile long leg over to Avila Rock didn’t seem like it was going too well for my crew. The rock was low in the water due to a plus tide, add a lot of sun glare and all kinds of wind and you’ve got a party. I think we did a bit of an arc and finished with a real sharp heading readjustment to finish the leg. With turns at Avila Rock we stop inside of it at the edge of its kelp patch. Swimming around it could go poorly because waves break up the back of it and there’s a lot of rock under the water on the ocean side of it that could tip a boat over if it caught an edge.
Based on the difficulty in spotting the rock at a great distance and my recollection of a southeastern wind I figured changing direction would be a good idea since it’d push me towards the Poly Pier once I turned at the rock for the second time. It was a good plan but shifting winds put the kibosh on that. Things had turned hard offshore and we were pushed a bit past the rock and then pushed off line again en route to the Poly Pier. At this point I was grinding a bit, I had a bad shoulder week on my left side, but I was hanging on.
Once we were half way to the Poly Pier I was also half way to done so I knew it was all downhill from here. Turns out there were some moguls on that downhill! The leg from the Poly Pier to the Avila Pier on lap number two was brutal. Headfirst into the wind, the chop was building into little whitecaps, and my kayakers were chattering across the top of the ocean as they fought to keep moving in a straight line. Niel and Beth flanked me on either side but Kris and Allison couldn’t keep up in these conditions. When we finally got back to the Avila Pier I decided to continue lap three in the clockwise direction in case the conditions didn’t change from here until I finished. That way the Poly to Avila pier leg, the shortest leg of the triangle, would be the worst one.
The beginning of the last lap wasn’t great but somewhere in the middle the winds and the ocean softened up allowing me to wrap this thing up with limited abuse. Towards the end of the swim from Avila Rock to Poly Pier Duke and Brad showed up in my peripheral vision. It was nice to have some company and they were right on time! I was hurting in my shoulder and my neck, a distraction was very welcome. We swam without stopping until we got to the Poly Pier, but at the turn we hung out for a few minutes so I could feed and we could shoot the breeze a little.
From the Poly Pier it was a 1200m shot back to the beach. Brad is too fast so he peeled off with Allison as his guide back to the beach while Beth and Niel shepherded us in. Duke fell in on my right side where I’d see him while breathing and we took it pretty much stroke for stroke home. As we neared the buoy line our paddlers departed in search of a good surf exit and Duke and I had our feet in the sand a few moments later. Triple Martini achieved, I was stoked.
Niel did some double duty as time keeper and stroke counter. He clocked my swim at 3 hours and 36 minutes. Quite a bit slower than I had hoped for, but I think the ocean decided to make us swim a little more than we had hoped for as well. I would have worn a GPS as verification but without a cap on I’d be real likely to lose it to the sea which is no fun. Niel took splits for each triangle and despite conditions and fatigue I was fairly consistent – 1:04, 1:07, 1:08. He said my stroke count ranged from 50 at the very beginning to 47-48 the rest of the swim. He said after a while he quit counting since the number never changed more than one stroke anyways.
Brad and Duke Chasing my aquatic convoy down
Back on the beach I went and grabbed my Triple Martini hat and affixed it to my sunkissed dome. It was looking pretty good :) It was pretty cool for me that the two other Triple Martini swimmers had been in/on the water with me. I’ve spent a lot of time in the water with these guys so it’s always really nice to share moments like this with the ones who helped me get here. After spending so much time in 56 degree water I anticipated some afterdrop or something but my body was completely unphased by the exposure to the water. No shakes or shivers. I toweled off, put shorts and tshirt on and my recovery process was done. This is a good sign for future outings I have in the bad idea queue. Speaking of… time to get back to work for the next adventure! :)
Niel, Rob, Duke - The Three Three Martinians