Recently I was invited to support swim for Chris Dahowski, relay anchor of the Swim22 endurance event. I would be getting on the boat at the beginning of leg number 3 and then acting as a support swimmer through leg number 4. I was really excited to be involved, I’ve never been out in the Catalina Channel and if you’re going to do it you might as well go out for 2 crossings in a row right? :) I drove down to Long Beach Monday night so I’d be ready to meet everybody Tuesday morning at our originally planned time of about 9:30 to get ready for our boat transfer to the Bottom Scratcher. Well that turned into 10:30, and then eventually 3pm. The ocean spent most of Monday evening in a pretty bad mood which pushed everything off schedule. Swimmer # 2, Mike, was bombarded with 7 foot swells and just totally ugly conditions. He fought it for over 8 hours but eventually they had to pull him and finish off that leg of the swim with a relay of people on the boat.
Since I ended up with bonus free time in Long Beach I called my Distance Swim Challenge kayaker, Beth Barnes, and we grabbed some coffee in Long Beach and chatted a little bit. It actually worked out perfectly that we were both on the same road when I called so we parked and met up right there! Around 1:45 I got an email letting me know it was go time and the team needed to get down to the dock to wait for our ride. I said my goodbyes to Beth and ran off to my truck to get back to the dock. Once I got down there I started collecting team members. 1 was already there, our observer showed up soon after and we had 2 more guys drive in from a little further away in the next half an hour. Chris, our swimmer, had already made his way to the boat earlier in the day when he heard Mike was having trouble.
The LA Sheriff’s Department helped with transporting teams to and from the main ship. They brought people from team’s 1 & 2 back to the dock and then took teams 3 & 4 back to the ship. I got to see my friend Lynn from Laguna Beach in passing which was cool! She was an observer on the boat for the first couple legs and said the ride was really rough. Not her worst trip ever, but the gnarliest of the year by far. The ride out with the Sheriffs was nice and bumpy… I wasn’t feeling so good but I figured I’d do better on the big boat, plus I had a seasickness patch behind my ear. Once we caught up to the Bottom Scratcher we had to hop from one boat to the other, that was a little tricky, but no one took a tumble or hurt themselves so that was good. At this point Jen was already in water swimming towards Catalina. Probably 10 minutes after getting on the main boat I puked over the side of it… fun :/ Good news is once I got that out of my system I didn’t feel like I was going to hurl again. Also post-hurl the boat captain broke out the bag pipes to get this party started… I’ll go ahead and add that to my list of things I would have never anticipated happening…
Early on in Jen’s swim a whole gang of dolphins showed up and swam circles around her and her pace swimmer. They were jumping and twisting and having all kinds of fun out there! Someone also said they spotted a whale off the other side of the boat but I never saw it. We had a documentary crew on board and they were especially stoked for this. I think they got some really good footage of the dolphins swimming with our swimmers. The whole film crew thing was pretty interesting, for more on that check out this post from Steve Munatones who was also on the boat with us covering the event.
Once on the Bottom Scratcher I finally got to meet Chris who I was swimming for. It was sort of funny, I was asked a whole bunch of times by a whole bunch of different people “how do you know Chris?” and I had to answer “well I just met him today.” And then explain that I was recruited via the internet and that they found me via the blog. Later on Chris and I talked about plans for that night and his swimmer background. Turns out the dude is super fast which made me a little more worried about hanging with him in the water! We also talked about the Distance Swim Challenge coming up soon. He did the course as a training swim and gave me some pointers on what to expect out there. Since we didn’t have any official duties until Chris got in the water we were free to pretty much hang out, talk, nap, or whatever. I tried to sleep a little bit outside on a couch type thing upstairs on the boat, that didn’t workout so hot. Then I decided to try napping in one of the bunks down below despite being worried about motion sickness from spending too much time inside. As luck would have it, taking a nap down there solved the remainder of any seasick feelings I might have had. I was pretty much perfect from there on out in that department. Between attempts at sleep I spent a lot of time watching Jen swim and how her support swimmers got in and out of the boat and how they positioned themselves against her. Most of her leg was really smooth sailing. The ocean took on the characteristics of small lake during the evening, smooth with very light ripples at the surface.
Jen made it to shore around 2:30am and Chris swam into the beach with her to make the relay hand off. This was my first time to Catalina and all I saw was part of a little beach and a couple swimmers in a circular spotlight from the boat. Everything else was pitch black. From this point the kayakers turned over from Jen’s crew to ours. Miguel and Christian kept Chris company the whole swim and did a great job. After about 2 feeds (approx. every 30 minutes) Chris C. hopped in to swim with Chris. Chris C. was doing a really good job of staying on top of Chris even though he took this swim out really hard. I sat outside on the boat watching them swim waiting for my call to get ready. Early on Chris’s goggles broke! No one knew if or where he had an extra pair, but luckily I had an extra set of Blueseventy Element goggles with amber lenses fresh in the case and never worn. I tossed them to one of the kayakers and Chris swam with those the rest of the way to the mainland. While sitting on deck I kept close watch over our swimmers. At one point my vigilance was rewarded… a pod of dolphins cruised by in the dark. They were very much in stealth mode and I’m not sure if anyone but me saw it happen. Definitely one of the cooler things I’ve seen in my life.
Chris C. hung with him through darkest of night and finally pulled out after about 2 1/2 or 3 hours of swimming. Now it was my turn. I got suited up and greased up on the boat and waited for the feed that we were going to make the transition on. I wore my Alpha Fins for this swim to try them out (I just bought them on Friday and this was the first time I was getting them wet). I was excited to finally get in the water after being on the boat for like 15 hours, but I was a little concerned about being fast enough. I hopped in and the water felt great, high 60′s, and even though it was still dark you could tell the sun was just about to start coming up. I swam up to Chris and we got going. Even though it was dark at the start and I was in like 3000 feet of water I wasn’t scared or nervous at all which I thought was interesting. I figured I’d be at least a little freaked out, but I think I was so focused on trying to be a good swimmer for Chris that my brain didn’t have enough time to wander off into what might be out there. For the first 15 or 20 minutes I managed to hang with Chris. We were side by side at first, but eventually he started to pull away. As it got lighter the ocean really started rolling again, the lake-like portion of our excursion was all over! By the first feeding he was 2-3 meters away and took super fast feeds which didn’t give me a chance to make up any ground. At the feed I ended up getting a leg cramp and only a quick sip of Gatorade before I had to jam back out and try to catch him. I drifted 5m back and eventually about 10m behind. Even though I felt I could have swam for a few more hours this pace wasn’t going to help him at all so I told the Kayakers I was going to go back in at the hour mark so that they could focus on him instead of worrying about the growing distance between the two of us. I felt sort of lame when I got back to the boat because I didn’t really get to do too much work out there. The pace was just too much for me.
Chris ended up going a couple hours solo and seemed to be doing pretty well with that. Eventually though you could tell he was either losing focus or getting a little frustrated with the distance. We could see land but from the water our path looked like it was largely parallel to shore as opposed to actually aiming for it. In the galley me and Chris C. started strategizing a bit on when who should get back in to swim with Chris. At the same time some of Jen’s pace swimmers were waking up and offered to take a few shifts. This was immensely helpful! As only 2 guys there was only so much we could do so the other team pitching into our effort was awesome and highly appreciated. Jen even got in for an hour despite having swam the whole channel just hours earlier!
At the end of Jen’s shift I hopped in and took her place. The water felt fantastic and it was great to have the sun on my back. I was joined by one of the guys on her team as well shortly thereafter. I got to Chris first and could tell he was hurting pretty bad. It sounded like his shoulders were all tightened up and grindy and he needed a push. I just made sure every time we stopped to put positive thoughts in his head. We’re getting closer, making progress, that point is getting bigger! We swam 3 across for about an hour at which point we traded out Jen’s swimmer for Chris C. So now we had the entirety of the aquatic portion of team 4 in the water… solo swimmer, pace swimmers and kayakers. Having all of the guys in there with him seemed to have a positive effect on Chris. On this swim I did a much better job of staying on top of where Chris was at. His pace went through cycles of slow and fast. I came out in my duck feet fins and those seemed to be a much better choice for this. At the 2 hour mark I had to go though. My feet were cramping up (I had lots of cramping issues, mainly fin related I think) and I needed to get the duck feet off.
I left the Chris-es in a pretty good spot though, they were pretty close to the point they were aiming for and despite being worn down and tired holding a really decent pace. I watched from the boat as they chugged along the coast line trying to get to the beach. They ended up touching down soon than we expected on a rocky looking beach. Chris and one of the kayakers both got handfuls of sea urchin spines for their trouble. I believe his time was right around 10 1/2 hours but I haven’t seen the official time from the Catalina Channel Association.
Eventually the kayakers came back to the boat but the swimmers stayed on the beach and talked to the media and friends that had come down to congratulate Chris on his crossing. I got to catch up with Chris back at the dock a while later and he was in really good spirits. I think he was riding pretty high on magnitude of his achievement along with the relief of being done!
I’m really excited to have been a part of this whole event. I learned so much and got fantastic open water experience that will do me well in the future. I want to give a big thank you to Chris C. for finding me and Chris D. for putting me on the team. More thank yous to Jen and her team for supporting our swim as well to fill in the holes we couldn’t. High five to Miguel and Christian for kayaking the whole way and the Captain and crew of the Bottom Scratcher for keeping us safe, on course and full of bagpipe music. Also thank you to Tesha for holding things together on the boat for our team, and Steve Munatones for manning my camera while I was out swimming and taking some great video!