On Tuesday night I embarked on my 4th, and last, Catalina Swim trip of the year. This time I was crewing for Hendrik from Northern California who I hadn’t actually met before shaking hands with him out at 22nd Street Landing prior to boarding the Outrider. We were connected via Joel, coach of the Santa Cruz Masters, who would also be on the boat as part of the crew.
En route to the dock I stopped by my friend Beth’s house to chat, rest a bit and have some dinner. It was nice to have somewhere close to San Pedro to crash out for a bit before getting on the boat, coming down from Pismo makes for a looong day. I left Beth’s house around 6 to get to 22nd Street Landing early to walk around, make a few phone calls, and take my Dramamine. Beth showed up a little after me and I helped her unload 2 kayaks and get them on the boat before everyone else got there. She wasn’t coming along for this trip but she was renting our crew a couple of kayaks for Hendriks trip.
After getting the kayaks on board I went to go sort through my stuff that I’d be taking onto the boat. I typically bring a swim bag full of all kinds of crap and then a bonus cloth grocery bag for fins and extra towels. As I was finishing getting all my stuff set up my friend Bekah, who I recruited onto the boat, pulled up in full work attire. It’s a little funny to have someone show up for a boat ride in heels and a suit coat :) We walked back across the street to the boat to toss our bags into the bunk room and then went and met everyone else who was showing up for the trip. Besides Bekah and myself we had Hendrik our swimmer, Tawny and Elizabeth as kayakers, Joel as coach/feed prep, and then Carol Sing and John York as observers. I also ran into Anne Cleveland just hanging out in the galley with a swimmer who would be taking the Outrider out the next day for a very big swim, I haven’t heard anything about how that went just yet but it’s a very ambitious swim and will be pretty amazing if completed as prescribed.
On the boat Carol did the CCSF talk. The captain gave his talk about safety and toilets with a bonus rundown of possible conditions, winds and currents. He put it out there early that a diesel smell from the boat was going to be hard to avoid with the way the wind was blowing tonight. After that we talked briefly a bit about the plan for the swim. Tawny and Elizabeth would be our initial paddlers with one navigating and the other shuttling feeds, Bekah would rotate in as needed. I had to pass on paddling because of my back… the mix of my lack of balance and inability to sit still for a long time don’t jive well with kayaking. Just about all of us could support swim so we’d do that as appropriate. Based on the amount of people planned to be in the water it seemed best to hold off on other swimmers until the sun came up to make things easier on the captain and the kayakers.
The boat crew was working on something below the deck for a while before we pushed off so everyone socialized on the back deck as they made some mechanical adjustments. Once work was done myself and a few others went down into the bunk room to rack out. It took a long time for me to fall asleep but once I did I was gone. I was out so hard I didn’t notice us stop at Catalina and nobody woke me up so I slept straight through the start to the swim. I like the start, it’s one of the few real exciting parts of a marathon swim, oh well. Luckily I got a little video from Bekah so you can get an idea of just how absurd the beginning of a Catalina swim is. The upside to sleeping in is that I was totally fresh in the middle of the night when everyone else starts fading. From about 2am to sunrise is pretty rough on the boat, everyone is running out of steam at that point so having at least one very awake person besides the swimmer is a pretty good deal.
the start courtesy of Bekah’s iphone
When the first kayaker came out (we were running two at a time), it was Bekah’s turn to paddle. Unfortunately the sea was a little angry and it was pitch black out. Despite all the surf reports I had been watching talking about a minimal swell and not much surf along the coast we had a healthy roll to the ocean, it caught me off guard. She went down to the swim step with two of the Outriders’ crew members. They pulled Elizabeth up onto the boat and then worked on transferring Bekah into the kayak. The water was occasionally dropping probably 3-4 feet out from below it as the sea rolled. That in itself was a problem… add the dark and it made this whole thing borderline impossible. She took two tumbles and on attempt number three she managed to get away upright… temporarily. A swell came at her from the side and rolled her back over. At this point the captain was done with this and we were going to one paddler until the sun came up. Bekah was pretty bummed that she couldn’t get launched off the boat but I told her to not feel bad about it since I wen’t through the exact same thing on Cliff’s swim earlier in the season. Multiple rolls with no success and then the Captain called off the attempt and we just had to feed him off the boat for a while. Luckily for Hendrik we still had one paddler in the water and she was down to do her own feed shuttling. Tawny was most definitely the crew all star for the evening.
As the evening wore on Hendrik was having major difficulties holding feeds down and was being bothered by the diesel smell from the boat. Although you couldn’t really see him too much you could hear the yakking in the darkness. Often multiples in a row. There was probably a lot of dry heaving mixed in there too which is a really painful, uncomfortable thing to endure while floating in the ocean. Joel worked on trying different feeds that might stay down, and ultimately we had the boat switch sides to see if that would cut down on the fumes.
and this is what a channel swim looks like at 3am
Hendrik was obviously pretty disappointed that he had to cut the swim short. He did his part by coming trained and ready with previous major channel experience (English Channel a few years back), but conditions didn’t go his way this time. Nothing is guaranteed in the sea no matter how ready you are. I’m sure he’ll come back and conquer this stretch of water in the near future. He’s a good swimmer and based on the amount of emails and text messages I got during the ride home to port he’s got a great support network of friends out there to get him ready for round two.
After the boat got back to the dock we unloaded and Bekah and I both worked on getting out of town since we were the only ones not staying local during the day. Unfortunately it was about 7:45am and I needed to take the 405 northbound to the 101… it was pretty brutal. Once I escaped LA I took a break in Agoura Hills and took a major truck nap behind a McDonalds. I might of slept there all day if I hadn’t gotten a phone call from my buddy Dave Barra in New York. That was an unexpected pleasant surprise. After our chat I got back on the freeway and started to consider where else I could stop on the way home. I contemplated whether I could make it to Santa Maria in time for lap swim but that really didn’t sound so appealing. As I neared Santa Barbara I realized, duh, call Evan. I let him know I was on my way through town if he wanted to grab lunch. He called me back and one upped my plan with a trip to Goleta Beach to swim with the Aqua Ducks! Sweet! We swam about a mile and a quarter in the 60ish degree water. It was a pretty fantastic way to wake myself up more before completing the drive home.
I’m done with boat rides for the year, as far as I know, but I have one last Channel related event coming up. In early November I’ll be at the CCSF and SBCSA banquets in San Pedro, I’m excited to see everybody there!