This past week I got to crew my third channel swim in about 8 days, this time for my friend Evan of freshwaterswimmer.com. Evan and I met last year through the blog and then made friends by swimming races all over the country together. We met officially in person at the 2010 USMS 1 Mile OW National Champs in North Carolina and from there we swam together at races in Lake Del Valle, Colorado, Noblesville, Charlottesville, and Chicago. We even got a swim in together in Santa Barbara on New Years Eve in advance of my polar bear swim from Pismo to Avila. When he started making noises about maybe doing Catalina sometime last year I was pretty stoked because it’s something in my backyard that I’d be able to help out with. In fact I think I actually invited myself along to crew and blocked out days off at work before he even asked me… possibly before he even officially booked the boat :)
My journey started suspiciously like the Catalina swim the week before with a drive to Orange County, but this time it was to drop off a kayak as opposed to picking one up. I’d been carting Lynn’s kayak all over California on top of my truck for the last week in part of an elaborate scheme to make sure Cliff had a boat for his swim and that there’d be a kayak on site for Lynn’s swim. It was good to see Lynn again a few days after Anacapa. She’s still stoked and riding high on that swim. I was hoping to get in sometime on my bodyboard in SoCal while I was down there that day but the water was flat all the way down the coast… I can get 0-1 foot waves here at home thanks :) Instead I also got in a short visit with my friend Bekah for a light pre-boat ride snack.
From there I drove back up to San Pedro, but this time it was for a ride on the Bottom Scratcher. I ran into one of the guys from the Outrider that recognized me from Cliff’s swim and I asked him what kind of conditions we could expect. He said they’d been having some rough evenings but the mornings have been relatively nice. At this point I was really hoping I had my sea legs fully developed and that my scopalamine patch was going to cover me on this ride!
Evan’s Boat Crew left to right: Garrett M., Barb H., Gracie VDB, Evan M., Rob D., Mark W., Neil VDB, Anne C., and Amanda H.
Since I was an hour early I got all my gear sorted out into a swim bag and a carry on reusable grocery bag type thing, made a few phone calls, and tried to just shut my eyes a bit. As we neared 8:30 I wandered down towards the water and found most of the crew starting to assemble. Gracie, Niel, Anne, and Barb were all right there. Soon after we had a whole gang of Morrisons (Evan, his parents, and brother/pace swimmer Garret) along with Mark (who just so happens to be a 10k OWS Olympian from 2008). You can read up on everybody on the team here.
We loaded the boat up together and then sat out back while the Captain gave us a briefing on the fine art of not being chopped to death by a boat propeller. I’m pretty sure Evan’s mom wasn’t a fan of that part of the evening, haha. Our lead observer Anne Cleveland followed it up with the regular CCSF spiel. As we prepped to split the harbor Evan’s folks said their goodbyes and went back towards dryland. The rest of us went into the galley where Evan gave us the run down of his swim plan. He told us what the feed plan was, where he wanted paddlers, how he wanted pacers to help, etc. Once the boat got going I stayed in the galley for a little while and helped Neil and Gracie modify Evan’s feed bottles. He had pre-mixed feeds in regular water bottles with string tied to them for retrieval purposes. The kayakers didn’t think that would work so hot so they McGyvered together a new set up using some zip ties to make loops around the tops of the bottles to attach carabiners to… smart these Van Der Byls…
The ride out to Catalina was rough but I was feeling pretty decent. I decided to try and sleep a bit on the way there since I was pretty much exhausted from all the other channel crossing helper type stuff and driving I’d been doing the past week. If I was going to get in and swim with Evan at all I was going to need my strength, the dude is fast! I slept lightly while the bow of the boat bounced heavily through the ocean. This much motion last week would have ended in an all but certain yak attack off the back of the boat, but apparently today was my day to finally not get sick, phew!
I woke up when we stopped moving and wandered out into the galley. Evan was there with a big smile on his face getting ready to go. He was already greased up and was downing some pre mixed feeds in advance of hopping in. We got to work on glow sticking him up. I cracked a couple sticks and Barb safety pinned some to the tag of his suit and two more went in his goggle straps with the hopes that they’d hold right there from the tension and he’d be able to pull them out when day broke and he didn’t need them any more. Evan had initially planned on starting a little later than most swims do so that he’d have more time to swim in the light, but we were there and he didn’t want to wait for nothing so around midnight it was decided that would be go time.
Evan went out on deck, stretched a little bit, and waited for the boat to position itself. A crew member had a high powered spotlight out to help guide him to where he needed to be in the cove. Evan stepped down onto the step behind the boat and then dove out into the sea. His goggle glowsticks didn’t follow however and were floating at the surface where he entered. Evan swam back, grabbed his sticks and got back on the boat to reattach them with safety pins this time. I ran into the galley to get pins and somebody else attached them for him. With that, take two! Evan dove in again and followed the spotlight through the kelp, past the buoy line, and onto the beach. He cleared the water, put his arms up and then let them down to let us know he was going to start. He did a mini sprint to the water’s edge and then took off like a shot from the island! I can just imagine how much adrenalin was pumping through that guy in that moment. Standing in a spotlight on a pitch dark beach with a whole big black ocean between you and the goal you’ve been working towards for such a long time. I guess some day I’ll know, until then I just have to imagine what Evan and all my other friends that do this are feeling in that big moment before starting this kind of journey.
Evan caught up to Niel who would be the first shift kayaker until the sun came up and they got down to business cutting quickly through big rolling water. I watched intently through Evan’s first two feeds (every 20 minutes) and then went back to the bunk room to snooze a little more. He didn’t want any pace swimmers in the dark and was breathing right which kept his face away from the boat and pointed towards the kayak so there wasn’t a whole lot I could do for him right then. I crashed out for a couple hours and came back out to watch him swim and cheer at feedings. It was beautiful outside, extremely starry. Catalina had already faded away into the dark of night and the lights of the city were already visible in front of us. Despite the conditions Evan was rapidly chewing up the ocean meter by meter.
After being up for a bit I slept a little bit more. I’ve never been so tired on a swim in my life… too much channel action in too small of a space I guess… The next time I woke up it was for good, I’m pretty sure it was the bag pipes that roused me… a Bottom Scratcher exclusive :) The sky was greying up and Evan was still swimming really strongly.
There wasn’t the usual thick marine layer on the coast during the morning so that meant we actually saw the sun rise. It came up like a big red ball and lit up the sea like it was made of liquid metal. It was gorgeous. As it rose it passed through some clouds and then poked back out above them and lit our way for the rest of the trip. Around this time is when we made the decision to send Gracie in to swim. Originally she was going to kayak but she’s also a hell of a swimmer and the only person on the boat besides Mark that was really in Evan’s league speed wise so it was decided to repurpose her into a pace swimmer. Mark replaced Neil as a paddler and stayed in a kayak all the way to the end of the swim.
We kept Gracie in for about an hour which really perked Evan up. After a long night in rough seas I think sharing the sunrise with another swimmer was a major boost to his morale. Since that went well Anne worked on scheduling out as much of the rest of his swim with pacers as she could. She wanted to toss in Evan’s brother Garrett first. He has a water polo background and isn’t an ocean swimmer so he was a little apprehensive about the whole deal, especially when you compound things with his being incredibly sick on the boat. I gave him my duckfeet fins to wear and we got him to refuel with some sports drink to get his energy up and assured him he’d feel a lot better in the water than on the boat. Evan also gave him some brotherly motivatory shit talking from the water while backstroking next to the boat, gotta love that :)
After one feed cycle solo we put Garrett in the water and then I got ready to go for a swim as well. I brought my laguna surf fins as well which is good because I can’t hang even with a tired Evan fin-less. At the next feed I jumped in and joined the Morrisons already in motion. In Evan’s swim plan he wanted the boat on his left, then him, then pace swimmer, then the kayak. Since there was no provision for a second pace swimmer I took his left side between him and the boat.
The three of us swam together for 20 minutes until the next feed. Evan was holding a great pace and I really had to do work to keep on him. You could tell we were getting close by the color of the water and the occasional stalk of kelp that looked to actually be attached to the bottom of the ocean as opposed to just free floating. At the next feed they pulled Garrett back to the boat and that left just Evan and I in the water. I put all my focus into staying out of his way and just keeping up best I could. He was pretty slow out of feeds, but that speed just kept building as we continued out of them. A few times he drifted left and cut across my line. Each time I either stroked way sideways or just stopped to let him cross me. At 8+ hours into his swim I didn’t want to bump into him and cause either a small injury or a big cramp!
I think the original idea was to put me in at such a time that I’d be around until the end so there’d be someone in the water to take pictures and help out once he cleared the water line if he needed it. Mathematically at the time I went in this would have made sense… unfortunately the current had other ideas and really slowed that last chunk down. They pulled me out at 40 minutes, and if I would have stayed a full 60 (the limit) we probably would have still been half a mile out so the plan was a no go.
Videography by Amanda H.
Back on the boat I watched anxiously as my friend ground out the last part of his person powered journey back to the mainland. Off in the distance whales were keeping an eye on us as well. Once we got to the thick kelp the boat had to park and wait. The Bottom Scratcher has a chase boat, Bubba, that was already out and waiting for Evan and Mark to approach the shore. Captain Greg and Anne C. were on Bubba having adventures of their own while Evan cut through the kelp.
At approximately 8 hours and 55 minutes Evan reached the California mainland and cleared the water. I watched from the bow of the boat with the rest of the crew and cheered as loud as we could in hopes that he would hear us way out there. His folks were there on the beach to greet him along with open water all star Forrest N.
original photo by R. Morrison, editing by Rob D.
Celebrations out of the way Evan reentered the water to swim to Bubba which chauffeured him back to the mothership. Mark paddled himself back and Neil, Gracie and I worked on getting him back on board. With everyone safely aboard and Evan reheating himself in the shower we started to motor back to the harbor. We had dolphin escorts putting on a show around the boat. They were jumping and diving all over the place. A great finish to a great swim. Back at the dock we unloaded, talked about the swim, and tried to let it all soak in. It was a great effort and a smoking fast time. I’m really happy that I got a chance to come along and support my friend in such a big swim and hopefully we can do something similar again sometime real soon!
original photo by R. Morrison, editing by Rob D.