photo by Michael Peck

This past weekend in Monterey was quite the oceanic adventure! This was the Westend Wharf Wine and Swim Club’s second attempt at a Santa Cruz to Monterey relay crossing. The good news is we did 50% better than last time! Bad news is that equates to about half the distance of the bay. We ended up having to shut the show down in the morning when it became apparent that we were going to be out there forever (projected 5-7pm which would be up to 22 hours on the water) and the conditions were going to dramatically deteriorate as the day went on. Anyways now that I’ve given away the ending, here’s how the whole thing went down…

Since our last attempt the SoCal contingent grew by one more swimmer. Bekah & Michael came up to my place from Orange County on Friday to hang out and swim, then we drove up together early on Saturday to beat all the holiday traffic that never materialized. We were due to help James load the boat at the Breakwater Cove Marina in Monterey sometime after 1pm, but since we were early we rerouted to Britannia Arms and met James there for some bangers and mash. This has sort of turned into the official boat loading meal of choice for us.

After eating all the bangers and mash that any one person should eat right before getting on a boat, we went over to the marina to meet the boat captain and get things started. Turns out he was stuck in all the traffic we never found and we ended up just hanging out in the parking lot for a while shooting videos and goofing around. Eventually Raj made it through to the marina and we got down to loading up and organizing the boat for our trip. We had extra people to help this time (Michael and Julian who worked on the boat) which made it all way easier than the last time around.

photo by Michael Peck

Once the boat was loaded up we drove up to Ft. Ord to pick up some of our paddlers and our drivers. It was a funny little deja vu kind of reunion… like hey, didn’t we just do exactly this? :) From here we drove up to the Santa Cruz Harbor to meet the rest of the team and support staff for dinner. We needed to fuel ourselves up while we waited for the boat to get there from Monterey. We had fun talking and messing around at the restaurant but you could tell everybody just wanted to get this thing moving. Especially those of us from the south who had been traveling and loading boats all day. We were tired, running out of steam, and needing a little excitement… if I would have had a booth I probably would have covertly laid down for a restaurant nap.

We moved outside after eating and watched the water for our boat. We were joined by Santa Cruz Masters’ Joel and Marta for a little bit and I got to talk to them about Patti B’s recent solo attempt that was cut short by the jellies. We decided as a team to take the most direct route to Del Monte beach instead of trying to go longer and guess our way around where the jellyfish might be since we were probably going to hit them either way. Raj motored that route on the way up and said it was reasonably clean out there except for miles 3-6 from the Santa Cruz shore.

We got everyone else loaded up on the boat and had James and the Captain brief us on certain things about how the relay was going to go. Swimmer transitions, kayaker swaps, and how to pee off a boat… you know, important stuff :) There was a lot of excitement on the boat since this was already way further than we had gotten the last time we tried this. Back in May all we did was have dinner and go to the wine bar, no one ever even got in the water, so this was major progress! This was I believe the 4th time I’d been on this boat and this was going to be the first time I’d ever been on it while moving!

We motored out of the harbor and drove over to Cowell’s Beach where the locals on the team train and where the annual Santa Cruz Rough Water finishes. Our first swimmer, Carter, was on the boat and we had some debate as to what to do with her so that the swim started from the beach like any good large body of water crossing should. Eventually it was decided we drive in as far as we could, she’d swim in, hit the beach, then turn around and start the official swim. When Carter hit the water she was all smiles thanks to some surprisingly warm 62 degree water! It didn’t last through the swim, but it was nice while we had it!

photo by Michael Peck

I spent a lot of the first hours on the boat sitting outside enjoying the view of the lights of the wharf, boardwalk and rogue fireworks being shot off in town. The weather was nice and the water was rolling a bit but fairly smooth with no wind chop. It seemed like it was going to be pretty smooth sailing and the transition between Carter and Timi was nice and quick.

While waiting for my leg, I was 5th, I helped some folks in and out of kayaks and swimmers from the water. The kayaker exchanges were pretty hairy, that’s not an easy thing to do at sea! While getting ready to help Bekah out of the water James stepped up to the edge to jump in and then made a major tactical error… he stepped onto a metal grated platform behind the boat… right into a hole in it! His whole leg went in and it was pretty scary for a second there. It came out showing no signs of blood, but immediately dipping it in cold salt water will do that for you. Once we were sure he was ok we tossed him in the water to tag out Bekah.

photo by Michael Peck

I left the outside deck of the boat to start to get myself together. I already had suits on but had to bodyglide up, get my gps attached to my goggles, cap up, etc. It was a little bit of a blur, but eventually James was inbound for the boat again and it was my turn to jump in. When I hit the water it caught me off guard a bit as to how cold it was. They never really announced the temperature drops during the evening, just that initial 62… probably smart :) I’d imagine this leg was 58ish and I heard we got down to about 56. With a little cold laugh, a big WHOOOOOA BUDDY, and a quick tag of Mr. Nagamine I was off and swimming our relay from Saturday into Sunday!

photo by Michael Peck

I had Chris, my Kelp Krawler buddy who got me hooked into this swim, paddling on my left and Charlie on my right. It took a little bit to get situated and figure out how to stay between them correctly but I think I settled in pretty well in a short period of time. I asked the guys later and they said I was one of the best at not playing kayak pinball out there. Once I really relaxed I could soak in just how beautiful everything was. Everything was black and the only way you could tell the sky from the water was one had a very extensive carpet of stars and the other was full of phosphorescent bubbles. While swimming I started to play my new least favorite game: Sea Grass or Tentacle? Based on the various raised bumps and rashes I had on the boat later I’m going to say it skewed more towards team tentacle.

photo by Michael Peck

There was quite a bit of roll to the water towards the end of my shift. I was a little worried about getting back on the boat with it pitching and rolling in neutral. After watching other swimmers struggle on the boat I made sure to tell people before I got in the water to have a large guy at the ready to get me out since I’m not a small gentleman myself. I was greeted by Carter who is substantially smaller than me, but luckily I managed to get up and out pretty well. I just took it slow and made sure to plant my feet well between each rung of the ladder before moving to the next one. Carter gave me a quick vinegar spray down in the spots where I was stung by jellies and grabbed me a towel. She was a champ. Swam the most legs and was the total boat mom for everybody.

When I had dried myself off my first order of business was to check my GPS to see how far I had gone out there in the dark. According to my Garmin I crested just over a mile. Not great, but not bad for floating around in the dark with a healthy swell and jellyfish attackers. From there I retreated to the galley and changed under my towel back into some pants and a t shirt. At this point I really needed a nap. I’d been up since 6:30am and was fading fast. The bunks up in the front of the boat were all full so I went back to the galley and slept at the table. Bekah was going with the same approach. We passed in and out on top of boxes of cakes and bananas that no one was eating because they were too busy either sleeping or barfing. Sea sickness was hitting a lot of people pretty hard and the whole eating concept wasn’t real popular.

The time between my galley naps and my next swim leg is all a little fuzzy. I remember waking up intermittently to ask people about their swims or duct tape a glow stick on them… and eventually falling victim to the pitch and roll of the boat. Not too long before I was set to swim again I puked my guts out over the side of the boat… hooray :( I tried to fill it back in with some Gatorade since I hadn’t eaten since dinner but that was a no go. I was pretty legitimately worried about swimming my next leg on empty and wondered if I should hop in with something to drink and eat and feed in the water since I’m more comfortable there. While thinking this all out Bekah was regaling her stories of brutal jellyfish warfare. She said she caught upwards of 7 with her face! Yikes! While I was dozing everyone had been shifting over to wetsuits for their swims because the jellies were thickening up. Me being me I had no back up wetsuit… but I did have a face protecting beard and a rash guard and figured that would have to do.

photo by Michael Peck

As I got set to jump in the sky was just starting to grey up from the impending sunrise. It was still dark, but not black. I’d swam like this once before out in the Catalina Channel. It’s a really interesting time to be in the water. James approached the boat, I checked with Benoit that I was good to jump, and tossed myself in the water. Whooooaaaaaaa cold! I tagged James swam a few strokes and picked my head up to catch my breath. The mix of not really sleeping, never really warming up from my first shift, and all that puking put a major dent in my cold tolerance. I got over it, but man that first couple minutes was not a good time!

photo by Michael Peck

I eventually settled down and started swimming what felt like pretty fast. Especially when I hit jellyfish… that speeds me right up! With the minimal amount of light I could see a little bit of what was going on below me… it was jelly city down there. Luckily most were deep enough that they wouldn’t hit me. Those looked like ghost jellies, grey scaled specters of tentacle-y badness. If one came up on me that had discernible colors on it I knew I was in for it… zap! The rash guard was pretty helpful and the beard kept me from getting stung in the face/neck like Bekah did, but my legs were fair game. I did my best to dodge the jellies I could see but that plan only works so well in the dark when they’re everywhere. I swam over one that was particularly big. I didn’t see it but it felt like a monster and a different type than the typical Pacific Sea Nettle I’m used to. It felt like a huge moon jelly or something like that… all globby but not stingy… and seriously like 3 feet across. I popped my head up in the middle of that spewing surprised obscenities that I’m sure entertained my kayak escorts :)

photo by Michael Peck

While we swam we were chasing the boat. I almost caught it twice before it pulled away again, the third time they let me get back on and swap out with Mark. I went a little further on this leg, 1.35 miles, and felt like we must be making really good progress. I went through the same spray down and towel off process assisted by the smiling and omnipresent Carter and then returned to the galley to find my pants which had turned into Timi’s pillow down in the galley.

I really needed to nap and warm up a bit so I went to check the bunk situation and found and open one all the way at the very tip of the boat, score! I went to grab my parka to use as a blanket but it had been commandeered by one of my friends for the same purpose. I’m generally very warm blooded anyways so I just let it be and hopped up in a bunk and worked on crashing out. The boat was really bouncing around up there, but laying on my back it didn’t seem to bother my stomach too much. I was cold though. I blame my feet. I didn’t have anything sufficiently warm for my feet and it all caught up with me right here. I even shivered a bit which isn’t a normal thing for me. Luckily I did sleep though, it was very overdue.

I awoke a little later to talks of team meetings and possibly pulling the plug on the swim. How’s that for a confusing wake up? I got filled in on the deets while working on climbing outside again to the back of the boat. Apparently in the last 10 hours we’d only gone like half way and the captain was guessing we’d hit land at 5-7pm which would be another 10-12 hours on the water. We were all thoroughly perplexed by our lack of forward progress, and nobody was prepared for that kind of time left to swim. We had a boat full of cold, sick swimmers and paddlers along with big ocean swells and conditions that were due to deteriorate in the not to distant future. We all talked it out on deck and shut down the swim. We agreed that we’d had one hell of an adventure but today was not the day. Timi had been in the water for a little bit and we reeled her back in then the captain motored us home to Monterey.

It was disappointing to not make it, but that’s part of the game when you do big open water adventure swims. I’d venture to say less teams make it than don’t in this particular body of water. On the upside we all gained valuable experience to help make the next attempt that much better and came together well as a team. I really like the Westend Wharf Wine & Swim Club and I am really happy to have been invited to come join their merry band of misfits :) Big thanks to everyone that swam, paddled and supported us! Extra big thank yous to James Nagamine who was really the heart of the whole operation. This dream had been burning in his head for a while and him and his friends went out and did something about it. I think that’s awesome and it motivates me to go out and make some of my crazier ideas come to fruition. A solo Monterey Bay crossing has been on my mind for years now, and this trip has really intensified my desire to get that done… I’m going to try to start saving now for a little excursion next year… in the meantime I wouldn’t be surprised if the W3SC didn’t ride again sometime soon and make it shore to shore… it’s gonna happen :)

5 Responses to “Monterey Bay Relay Crossing, Take Two”

  1. IronMike says:

    So sorry to hear about the failed attempt, Rob. Sounds brutal, but something I’d love to try my hand at someday. Not the solo, mind, the relay!

  2. Gords says:

    Good write up of your adventure. Sounded like a really rough ride. I am amazed at the infinite number of swims out there one can do. So many places to swim, and people to meet. It never ends.

    Your Monterey Bay solo crossing sounds awesome!

  3. Lynn K says:

    A relay would be a blast, but the jellies do freak me out a little. No. A lot. Jellies are scary

  4. Carol Moore says:

    Congratulations to you and your team on a brave and valiant effort, which, in my opinion, must be regarded not as a failure, but as a successful half-crossing! Good luck on your next attempt!

  5. Rob D says:

    Thanks guys :)

    Lynn – is it bad that I think a shark defying Farallon Bad Ass like your self being afraid of jellyfish is kinda funny :p (see you Sunday btw! whoo Semana Nautica!)

    Carol – agreed, definitely not a failure… we succeeded at something other than what we meant too :)