Early last week I ventured down to Southern California for my third Catalina trip this year. This time it was an adventure on the Bottom Scratcher with my friend Amanda from Chicago. Despite living half way across the country from me we manage to see each other fairly regularly through the magic of open water swimming. I swam Big Shoulders with her last year, she crewed Evan’s Catalina Swim with me and she’s the only person I’ve ever been stuck in a whirlpool under the Golden Gate Bridge with… so it’s fair to say we have some history :)
Since her swim was slated for a Monday night I took advantage of the timing and went south early to hang out with a friend that weekend. After a fun Sunday/half Monday of holding the couch down I made moves for San Pedro. I got there a couple hours early since Evan was already there. We hung out in the bar of the Doubletree for a bit and then the rest of the crew came and joined us. The crew consisted of myself, Evan, Michelle from Florida and Sue from SF. We talked shop a bit and had a little to eat before driving over to the boat at the 22nd street landing.
Over at the dock I ran into the rest of our party. We had Mallory and David on board as CCSF observers and my friend Beth was there as a last minute kayaker fill in. I was pretty stoked to be on a boat with such a good group of people. Even though I was meeting a few of them for the first time that evening it’s hard to not become fast friends while floating on the ocean.
Around 8:30 or 9:00 we started to go through all your standard briefings… Captain Greg’s safety talk, the Catalina Observer’s rules talk, and finally Amanda’s instructions on how she wanted us to run the boat. She had her feeds all metered out and would be taking them warmed up every 30 minutes. Although she’d have a kayaker in the water all her feeds would be coming from the boat. Once everyone knew what the deal was I made my way down to the bunk room and hopped in what’s turned into my regular bunk on this boat to try and sleep and let my body get used to the motion of the ocean while unconscious since that seems to work pretty well for me.
I woke up out at Catalina as everyone was starting to stir and get ready for the swim. I hung out in the galley as the whole light stick and lubrication process was getting taken care of. From there we moved out to the deck of the boat and the conditions were amazing, although it was a little brisk. Clear sky with a huge moon and glassy water. It’s the most I’ve ever seen of Catalina despite having been there quite a few times now. You could make out the outline of the island and even some of the vegetation on it, usually you just have a pitchblack sky with a spot light cutting through it to guide the swimmer into Doctors Cove.
Beth was launched into the black metallic water and Amanda followed soon after. She swam out through the kelp and up onto the beach with Beth at her side for as long as she could hang with her. I watched Amanda get up past the water line, put her hands up and then drop them to let us know it was go time. She got moving back into the water and we were off!
I heard a couple gasps on the way out and wasn’t sure if it was a cold gasp or surprise pieces of kelp in the dark gasp. When she cleared the kelp she put her head down and got moving while the rest of us stayed on deck watching. About 20 minutes in she asked for an early feed (the plan was every 30) because she was feeling cold and having a hard time warming up. Michelle got a feed mixed and heated and brought out the rope for the feed. We had the Captain put the boat in neutral and Evan tossed the feed out to her. She gulped it down and you could tell she was having a hard time. The water was getting to her and hopefully a warm feed would do the trick.
Amanda got back to swimming and everything seemed cool for a while. The next time she was asking for a feed it was almost the half hour mark anyways and it seemed like things were going better while she was taking it. It looked like her hands were working better and she sounded a little better while talking. I think it was around here she decided to move us to 20 minute feeds to try and keep warm on the inside. The prospect of 20 minute feeds wasn’t unexpected, it was brought up earlier during her swim plan talk, but it wasn’t expected this early. We all were keeping a close eye on her and Beth was relaying regular updates to us from out in her kayak. One of the observers, David, came down on deck to interview us a bit to see who knew her how and what we knew of her swimming. He wanted to know who would know best when we might have a problem and also who might be best to motivate her when things got tough. As a side note… he’s an excellent observer and was a real asset on the boat.
At one of the next feeds Amanda was still having a hard time and we asked her if she wanted some company. She didn’t plan for any in the dark but we thought it might help get her settled to have a friend out in the cold and the dark with her. She passed and kept on swimming.
Ultimately though she just couldn’t warm up and pulled herself from the swim. It was a bummer, but sometimes your body just isn’t on board for the adventure. I’m just glad she was with it enough to be able to assess the situation and make that decision for herself. It’s a whole lot scarier when other people have to do the pulling. As she came on the boat Michelle tossed me a towel and I wrapped Amanda up in it and gave her a big hug while she regained her balance on the deck. From there she went down below for Sue and Michelle to get her dried off and out of her suit while I stayed on deck to help David get Beth back on the boat.
Once Beth was situated and we were motoring back to the mainland I went down below where they were bundling up Amanda and working on warming her back up. She had a pretty healthy shiver going. I added my parka to the bundling since I only brought it as a sleeping bag anyways and then sat beside her and tossed an arm around her to hope to transfer some of my heat her way. I generate way too much body heat at pretty much all times so it’s nice to have a rare moment where it comes in handy for other people :) It took a while but the shakes wore down until she was back to normal. At that point we got her to lay down and sleep a bit wrapped up in my parka to keep that heat in there.
We were back in San Pedro around 3am and got the boat unloaded. Some stayed on the boat to sleep until morning before driving home, some were close to their home/hotel anyways and drove back there, and then Evan and I opted for tired middle of the night drives home to SB and Pismo respectively to avoid the impending LA morning traffic. Before everyone split we hung out in the parking lot to talk, say our goodbyes and share a couple hugs. It was a tough night but I’m very glad I got to be involved and support a friend. I’m proud of her efforts and I’m sure there’ll be a second round to this fight. I’ll gladly come along again to help whenever Amanda is ready to go for it.