Lynn (swimmer), Gail (mom & feed timer), Julie (kayaker), Me (pace swimmer), Roni (feed mixer & cheer captain)
This weekend I went along on my first Santa Barbara Channel swim as a crew person/swimmer for my friend Lynn Kubasek. We traveled a 12+ mile course from Anacapa Island to Silver Strand Beach in Oxnard. It was such a great experience full of fun people, sea life, and extraordinary views of parts of California you’d never see from dry land.
The whole thing started Saturday afternoon in Ventura. I was set to meet Lynn and the rest of the crew at 6pm at a restaurant down by the harbor. I decided to come down a couple hours early and test my luck with the local surf conditions. Outside the mouth of the harbor there are some spots to surf and although the wind was kicking there were some ok waves rolling through. I grabbed my bodyboard and fins then walked across the sand towards the water. I sat down for a while to observe the people already out and the waves coming in before picking my spot. There were a lot of surfers out but no good ones. Apparently this wasn’t the hot spot to be at for the good guys. I grabbed a spot outside of them a bit (mainly because most of them were bad at controlling their boards and I didn’t want to get hit), and picked off some waves. Totally fun pre dinner session :)
After getting out of the water I went and explored the touristy area by the harbor and found the restaurant we’d be eating at. Right around 6 I ran into Lynn and her mom and we went inside for a beer while we waited for the rest of our party. Lynn was a little concerned with the wind and water temperature. I could personally attest to the “warm” water after my quick trip in just 30 minutes earlier which I think relieved her a bit. The wind however concerned me a bit too. It’s always windy down in this area in the late afternoon, but this felt pretty strong, we all hoped Sunday morning would be way mellower. After a little bit Julie and Roni showed up and we had dinner and talked about this swim, other swims, and all the usual stuff swimmer folk talk about. Post dinner we dropped our stuff off at the hotel and sent Lynn to bed while the rest of us stayed up a while with a couple bottles of wine, some candy, and more conversation :)
We all got up at 3am to make sure we could get to the boat by 4. We packed all of our stuff together and caravaned over to where the Tuna Thumper is docked inside the harbor. We got the kayak off my rack and loaded everything onto the boat and met the crew. The Captain gave a quick safety talk and then Jane (our observer and event host for the Semana Nautica 6 mile swim) gave her Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association spiel. Afterwards Lynn went to lay down for a little bit while the rest of us stayed up and talked about our impending adventure. It took a while to get out to Anacapa and I was feeling just ok with the motion in the ocean. I took some Dramamine the night before and that morning, and also got some of those goofy pressure point wrist bands… figured why not, I’ll try anything to keep from getting sick. I eventually lost that fight and threw up a little bit right before we got to the island. The good news is once I got that out of my system I was golden for the rest of the day and could even eat on the boat which is a point I don’t get to often.
The island itself is a very dramatic and beautiful landmass that juts straight up out of the ocean. Sharply angled rocks and an arch all waited to greet us as the boat shifted into neutral to float as we prepped our swimmer. Lynn was inside in her signature blue bikini and white cap getting herself put together while Roni got to work lubing up any possible rub spots.
Once we had Lynn all set we launched Julie in the kayak then gave Lynn the target start spot on the island. Since this side of the island is just a sheer wall of rock the start consists of placing your hands on the island as opposed to clearing the water completely by foot. With her target set we tossed Lynn off the boat and she swam to the island with Julie. Jane gave her the go ahead to start and she began stroking for the mainland!
What Lynn luckily missed completely however was Julie taking a dive right at the start. It looks like she was so focused on watching Lynn right there against the rocks that she missed an incoming swell that tipped her out. She recovered quickly and was right back at Lynn’s side really quickly. I’m telling you, this whole kayaking thing looks easy at a distance but there’s a little more too it when open ocean is involved!
As we started the swim I was a little concerned about the conditions. It felt like the wind could whip up at any moment and there was a pretty healthy roll to the water. We all just kept hoping that we’d hit shore before things deteriorated. Lynn was her normal cheery self out there. Smiling while breathing and shouting a “woooo!” back at us whenever she saw us cheering for her :) Lynn was swimming on the starboard (right) side of the boat, but early on the captain wanted to move her to port because the breeze was going to blow diesel fumes across her all day over there. That would have been a total break from her plan though and we didn’t want to rattle her focus that early on. It was decided to let it ride and see if it bothered her or not. She never complained about it so we never switched her sides. Later on when I got in I totally noticed it though, I guess she was just really in the zone out there.
I alternated watching from the deck and getting tiny naps inside the boat to make up for that 3am wake up call. After about 2 1/2 hours they let me know that Julie would be coming out of the water and it was up to me whether I wanted to swim or paddle alongside Lynn. I opted for swim, I always like swimming with Lynn, and got suited up.
As Julie paddled back to the Tuna Thumper I jumped out into the water. It was brisk for a moment and then mellowed out almost immediately. I think we were running something like 67-68 degrees all day. I sprinted around to Lynn and set myself on her right side where Julie had previously been with the kayak and got to work finding her pace and holding steady with her best I could.
Once I got over the initial excitement of jumping in I notices that the ocean was full of invertebrate excitement. Tons of salps were everywhere at the surface, but little guys not the big ones I saw in the Catalina Channel last week. It was weird to feel these jelly balls bouncing off you in every stroke, but they don’t sting so it’s all good. The problem was fun little no-see-um style jellies were in the mix as well. I started to feel stings here and there as I swam. Nothing too strong, but enough to get my attention… I even caught one of the little bastards with my ear! Who knows how long Lynn had already been putting up with this?!
all the little red dots are stings… had them all over the place
We chugged along at a much better rate than I would have anticipated. Lynn was really moving above the pace she normally has in action when I swim with her in Laguna. I did my best to stay at least a meter to her side to not get in her way or interrupt her stroke. I’m typically a right side breather but I switched to left for my whole shift so that I could keep eyes on Lynn the whole way. She was really strong and smooth out there, I was impressed. I don’t know how far we went during that period but the progress we made felt like much more than I had expected. The oil platforms that mark 3 miles left to shore kept getting bigger and bigger at a rapid pace. I think the swell was pushing pretty perfectly behind us for a good amount of time and really helped move things along. I usually seem to catch the ocean going the wrong way so this was a nice change of pace :)
I stayed in for about 90 minutes and made it through 3 of her feedings without taking one of my own. During that time we were also joined by a pod of dolphins. I could see the crew on the boat pointing and smiling but never spotted the dolphins myself. I did hear a few squeaks underwater though so I know they were close! At feed number three Julie relaunched in the kayak and I swam back to the boat. I felt real good and knew that Lynn had this thing in the bag.
As we swam on there were whales 100m off in the distance which was really cool to see. They were too far out for pictures, but you could very clearly see them surface for air and dive back into the ocean. Super cool. We also had a pod of porpoises come galloping past us. One even swam right under Julie’s kayak and Lynn! I got a short video of them approaching us…
The other sight that was pretty cool to see up close were the oil platforms. I’ve done the drive along 101 on the coast about a quarter billion times and the oil platforms have been a fixed part of the view since I’ve lived out here, but I’ve never seen one in detail. They’re sort of cool looking although I’d rather they just weren’t there at all.
Once we passed the platform we were in the homestretch and everyone was feeling pretty good. I think at this point we lost the push from the ocean as things flattened out to be rather still. Lynn kept moving smoothly and at a great pace and Julie was doing and excellent job of watching her nonbreathing side from the kayak.
Lynn had been anticipating an 8 hour swim but it was looking like we’d be a lot closer to 7! As we neared Oxnard we started making plans to swim her in. We brought in Julie and the kayak and then tossed me out the back. I swam with her solo for a little while and then Julie and Roni came out to join us. We swam 4 across to the beach. It was great to watch the houses along the shore get bigger and bigger until you started to really feel the swell undulate below you as you neared the surf zone. We all held back a bit but then noticed a small group of people watching the finish. We didn’t want anyone to grab Lynn up out of the water as she exited per channel rules so I tried to surge forward a bit to be real close to make sure one of us could warn people away if they made the attempt.
Lynn hit the beach without incident, cleared the water and the boat fired off a horn to let us know she was done! 7 hours and 8 minutes, almost a full hour under her goal time! Awesome! We shared a round of hugs and high fives on the beach before wading back out and swimming the quarter mile or so back to the boat. Everyone was in a great mood, smiles all around, this swim had such a great vibe… I’m so stoked I managed to get on board at the last minute for this!
We got Lynn on the boat first then the rest of us followed. We got her dried off and resting inside and she recovered really quickly. She looked fresh and happy and was talking all kinds about how much fun she had out there. The Tuna Thumper motored us back to the harbor and we unloaded and then scattered off back to our homes in various directions. I have one more channel swim to crew for this month on Wednesday night into Thursday for my buddy and fellow swim blogger Evan. I’m excited to get that show on the road, and possibly even sleep again someday :) This channel stuff is fun but I need a nap!