This past Sunday I completed my second Semana Nautica 6 miler and what a difference a year makes… it was a very different swim from 2011. Last year was unseasonably warm for this patch of water (65-66) and the swells/currents were very unfavorable. Many regular swimmers of this event added considerable amounts of time to previous best times. This year the water was hanging right around 60 flat and the ocean was far more cooperative, I dropped around 40 minutes off of last year’s outing! I’d like to go ahead right now and say that was all on account of my athletic greatness and direct your attention away from all that stuff I just said about ocean conditions :)
My day started at home in the dark. Around 5:45am Allison and I hopped in the truck to make the trek down the coast to Santa Barbara. She’s had a bit of a crash course in ocean kayaking the last month or so and was going to be my escort for the swim. Her longest paddle prior to this race was 3.5 miles, and it was about 3 days beforehand (and in the last week she has accidentally procured a kayak of her own, score!). On the ride down we talked about where I like my paddler, how feeds work and how the race would work. She was stoked to help out and I was very stoked to have her along.
We got to Goleta Beach right around 7:30 as check in was opening up. We ran into paddlers Beth and Tom right away and then a bunch of other swim friends from all over southern California. First order of business was to get the kayak off the truck rack and onto the beach. I got everything unstrapped and walked it down to the sand. I spent a little time watching the water and it looked like there was a little current running left to right (not good if you want to swim towards Santa Barbara) but it was hard to tell if that was going to be a real player during the swim.
Since this is a point to point race I wanted to get a car to the finish like I did last year so the kayak and I would have a ride out of there. I sorta pre planned with Dave VM and his paddler but our timing sucked, we started way too late. Some speed limits may have been taken more as suggestions than real “limits.” We left their Sequoia at Arroyo Burro and drove my truck back to Goleta. The fun part about that is I drive a Ford Ranger… we squished 3 grown ass men into the front seat… it was cozy :) We made it back to Goleta Beach on time but it was pulling it a little close. I may have gotten one or two where-the-hell-are-you text messages from Allison in the middle of all that, heh… whoops.
While the safety talk was going on I towel changed into my suit and started to sunscreen and lube up. I had Allison sunscreen my head real well because I was going to swim without a cap and didn’t want to burn my dome. I kinda hate swim caps and anytime I have an individualized escort on a long swim I usually end up taking my cap off and giving it to the paddler so I figured let’s just skip that step. The only downer to not wearing a cap was that I also wasn’t going to wear GPS and I kinda wish I would have just to see what kind of line I ended up swimming.
When Jane was finished giving her talk it was time to launch all the kayakers. There was some teeny tiny surf, but we still managed to get a bunch in the kayak on the way out. Allison made a small pause on the way out and ended up getting a little wave breaking right on the top of the boat. Fun reminder that you don’t get to hesitate and settle yourself when there’s surf involved! She paddled out to the end of the pier with the rest of the paddlers and they waited for the swimmers to start.
Before the swim Jane draws a big line in the sand up on the beach for us to start from. I cruised the line a bit to say hi to people and take part in that nervous pre-long-race chatter that’s always present until we make the short run into the water. Eventually Jane cut us loose and I sauntered (as close as I get to running) into the water behind Evan, my main (only) competition in my age group. This would be the last time I’d see him until Arroyo Burro… he ended out just barely out touching me by 38ish minutes… blink of an eye really :)
I started the swim at cruising speed, no need to be a hero in the first 400m when there’s 9600 more to go. I had a few friendly faces swim up the side of me on the way to the pier but once we rounded it I think I largely stayed in the same position, no passing or getting passed.
At the tip of the pier I spotted Allison, thanks to her bright pink jacket, and she worked on pulling up alongside me as I started my turn towards Santa Barbara. In the meantime I just sighted off of some SUPers while I waited for her to catch me. The water was feeling pretty good, no real current to speak of. We did have a swell pumping in diagonally across our line moving towards our finishing beach. The swell was a lot smaller and less of an issue than last year. In 2011 it was steep and from a less favorable angle and managed to flip a good number of kayakers over.
As we settled in I kept an eye on Allison to make sure she was doing ok and having a good time. At feeds I’m usually asking paddlers how their doing instead of worrying about me… I guess that’s a little backwards, but they’re doing a lot of work too! Early on in the swim a group of dolphins put on a show for the paddlers. I didn’t see them but I saw it unfold on Allison’s face… it looked like Christmas morning. I popped my head up to ask what was going on and she shouted “Dolphins!” I’d like to thank my cetacean homies for making my girlfriend’s day and convincing her that kayaking for swimmers is the coolest :)
There was a period of time that I tried to draft off of somebody for a little bit. Not sure who it was, she was definitely faster than me, but wasn’t swimming very straight. I think her and her paddler were still trying to figure each other out. I disengaged and we went off on our own lines. Her paddler cut her more towards shore and Allison took me a little further out. It felt maybe a touch too far to me, but it’s hard to tell with your face in the water. The good news was the swim felt fast. Landmarks I remembered from the year previous were skirting by much faster this time around.
Between the 1st and 3rd feeds I swam through a lot of jellies and salps. It’s always fun to swim through salps when you know they’re salps. I didn’t get stung by anything luckily. The jellies I saw were mainly comb jellies but I did pass one big purple and white one that was maybe 9-10 inches across the top.
As the swim went on I continued to feel really far outside, but moving fast so I didn’t care. I was starting to think maybe we stumbled into a fast patch of water since it’s entirely possible for the current to run one way along the shore and another a few hundred meters out. It wasn’t until the last 45 minutes or so until I started seeing rooted kelp. Last year I did miles of swimming through that stuff. Allison gave me a line that kept me from kelp krawling and we kept trucking along. Whenever I’d breath left at the coast I’d realize how close we were getting to the finish and get excited at the prospect of finishing under 3 hours this year. 3 hours is what I feel should be the top end of my time on a swim this long. Last year it was 3 hours and 19 minutes. I was really hoping things would hold. I was fighting off a tightness in my left hip and some discomfort in my left shoulder but I wasn’t giving up any speed.
Soon I was seeing what looked like the finishing beach and started looking around for the turn buoy to gauge how much I had left for the day. I couldn’t see it at all but Allison assured me it was close. She also let me know I was about to traverse a pretty serious kelp patch to get to it. I remembered this area having kelp so thick I could damn near stand on it last year so it was no surprise that I was about to do some serious kelp krawling. As we pushed deeper into it I grabbed and pulled best I could, just like a ladder. My beard and mustache kept it off the tender parts of my face (I hate the scratchy feel of kelp across my mouth… shudder). Things thinned out a bit right at the buoy. I did a sharp (and unnecessary) backstroke to freestyle turn around the buoy and cruised it the rest of the way into the beach. I swam a little too far in and found a little mound of sand with my chest near the shore… time to stand up apparently! Later on Dave VM said I looked like some sort of walrus man beast when I got up in the surf to hustle into the finish line. Between the flags I gave Jane a salty and bag balmy hug then got my official time. 2:42 this year! I’ll take it!
The social scene on the beach after this swim is a lot of fun. You get to talk with all the other swimmers about how their swim went, if they saw the same stuff or felt the same motion in the ocean. I dried off and changed then went to the food tent to get some cookies in me. Once the last swimmer hit the beach Jane started to do the awards. Since it’s a small event (34 entered, 33 started, 32 finished) she takes time to bring everyone up and say a little something about them. She’s cool like that :) Our overall winner was my buddy Evan in a super quick time of 2:04 and it even landed him in the local paper! Celebrity status! Keep an eye out on his site for more on that soon I’m sure.
After awards were doled out I caught up with Dave VM and we loaded up his vehicle with kayaks to go back to Goleta. His boat went on top and mine was small enough that it went into the SUV through the window on the back door. He dropped Allison and I off by my truck and we reloaded the kayak onto my truck. Mission complete! We wrapped up our afternoon with a long lunch in Goleta with Evan and Cathy before making the drive back up the coast to my house. All in all an excellent experience, I really like this race! Big thank yous go out to Jane and her crew for putting it on and Allison for paddling 6 miles down the coast with me! Hopefully next year will be swim number 3 for me on my way to 10 and getting on the Semana Nautica 6 miler plaque :)