On the morning of the 4th of July we took on a swim from Avila Beach over to Pirate’s Cove and back. Pirate’s Cove, for those of you not from around here, is the local nude beach. This is about a 3 mile round trip on paper but with actual deviations for enormous patches of kelp it came out closer to 3.4 miles according to Byron’s GPS watch. This is a swim that has been done by people in the group before but it’s been a lot of years since anyone has done it. High on the success of the Shell Beach swim Niel and I did a couple weeks ago, I decided to try and instigate this swim and got a really positive reception from the guys. A core group of Niel, Duke, Dave, Byron and myself negotiated out a date via email and then set out to pull in Beth as a kayaker and see if we could track down any others. I talked my girlfriend into paddling which gave us a bonus boat and her a chance to practice a bit before doing the 6 mile Semana Nautica race in Santa Barbara with me this coming weekend.
On Wednesday morning Allison and I loaded up the kayak and headed to the beach early. Our push off time was 8:30 but we got there around 7:45 to get set up and check out the scene. The water was calm and the skies gray and overcast. Beth was already there with her boat and we all headed to the sand. Soon Niel was on site and went to get the water temperature… 55… after Sunday’s nice warm and sunny 59 that was probably going to be rough for a few people. As we got closer to 8:30 more swimmers showed up. Byron, Duke, and Dave as expected but then we also got Sean, Ed and Brad. Sean and Ed brought extra paddlers with them as well. Ed brought his wife Ruta to paddle for him because he was only down for about half the distance and isn’t quite as fast as the rest of the group. Sean had 2 fellow lifeguards paddleboarding with him but we only had them for part of the swim because they all had to get to work. I was extremely stoked on how many people we managed to get out on the beach for a cold 3 mile swim! Since all these people were trickling in and a few were late we lingered on the beach a bit and then Niel gave a mini safety talk and showed the route on the map so people knew what the plan was. For the main group we’d had Beth leading the way in her kayak and Allison sweeping the rear of the group. We’d regroup near Avila Rock and on the beach at Pirate’s Cove for the turn around.
About 10 to 9 we made our way into the water and launched our paddlers. Allison had never paddled in through surf before so we were sweating that a little bit, luckily it was pretty small. My main advice to her was “don’t turn sideways.” As we waited for a brief lull between sets Ruta started paddling out and turned sideways into a wave proving my point that it’s no fun. She didn’t get dumped but I think she got a nice boatfull of water. When Dave and I felt we had a good window to get Allison out we gave her a shove and yelled at her to paddle, paddle, PADDLE! to get past the next wave. In the process she turned a little bit and I was waiting for the worst… luckily she had gotten just far enough out and was able to toss the boat around a bit with her hips (it’s a little surf kayak so very hip driven) and slide over the back of the wave.
With everyone in the water we swam to the first buoy and made sure everyone was still on board and then started to swim for Avila Rock, our first stop about 3/4 miles out. Our group was pretty quick that morning. Brad, Sean, Duke, Dave and Byron pulled away. I swam a little ways behind them and then Niel a ways behind me. Ed and Ruta we further back doing their own thing. I worked on settling into a rhythm and sighted off of the swimmer flag on the back of Beth’s kayak.
Out near the rock (we didn’t get too close because it’s surround in a big kelp patch) we grouped back up and some people fed, I passed on eating. Everyone was in a good mood and having fun although I was worried about Brad. He’s a fast swimmer but also very lean and had decided to try this swim out sans wetsuit. On the beach I talked with him a bit about that since 55 for 3+ miles is definitely an acquired taste. I talked with him again at the rock. He said he was doing ok but stopping for a couple minutes wasn’t going so well but he would be fine to keep swimming. Not too long after this our swimming lifeguard and 2 paddleboarders had to swing around and make their way back to the beach to get ready for work.
Once we had everyone who was going the full distance we started the second leg that would take us to Pirate’s Cove. Duke was trying to figure out what we should sight for on the cliffs but in reality we just needed to follow Beth to ensure safe passage through all the plant life out there. She took us on a course that went straight down the coast for a while and then made a 90 degree turn in towards the beach through a channel in the kelp. For this part of the swim I had Byron for company. We swam with maybe 2-3 meters between us the whole way down. Byron is generally too fast for me, I figured there had to be something slowing him down…it turns out he was having some pretty bad leg cramping.
At the beach we all swam ashore and regrouped on the sand. Pirate’s Cove doesn’t get much surf, just a surge-y little shore break that’s good for (naked) skimboarding. No one was really around yet since it was early and the sun hadn’t broken out. We traded a few high fives and talked about the swim so far as we prepared to reenter the water. Of the three skin swimmers Dave and I were doing ok but Brad was definitely en route to getting cold. We were hoping letting him swim it out would generate some heat because the other option was to leave him on the beach with a towel and promise to send a car for him later. I noticed Byron was looking a little cold too. I think swimming slower due to his cramps wasn’t helping his internal heating situation.
When we started back towards Avila Beach we divided into Brad, Duke, and Dave in front with Byron and I in the middle again and Niel in the back with Allison paddling behind. The lead group was pulling away and I knew Brad was cold so in an effort to cut down on wait times later on I cut a big corner off the turn around the kelp patch and went over the top. Byron had been sighting off of me a bit and followed my line. Judging by the series of words that came out of his mouth when we hit that wall of kelp I don’t think we was as enthused as I was to fight my way over the top of some really thick kelp :) We popped out of it a lot closer than we would have been than if we followed the original line. Beth was all concerned because she picked this nice route free of kelp and the two of us missed it, I explained later that I did it on purpose and she felt a lot better about that.
Up near the rock we caught up to the lead group and found them perching Brad onto the front of Beth’s kayak. Shit. The cold won apparently. At this point we were about 3/4 mile from our start point near the pier but probably less than 1/2 mile from the nearest corner of beach. It took a little doing but they got Brad settled on the front of the boat and Beth wrapped him in towels she had stowed in the hatch on her boat. Duke gave her a bit of a push to get her moving to the beach. This obviously broke up our original plan, the good news is everyone else left in the water was a regular and we were inside of Fossil Point which is part of our regular swim area. As Beth paddled Brad in, Dave swam with her to the beach. Byron needed to keep moving or else he’d freeze out too so he kept on the originally prescribed course and we sent Duke along with him. I waited for Niel and Allison to catch up and let him know what was going on. Niel and I swim out here all the time unescorted so we cut Allison loose to go check on the situation with Beth and Brad.
While Niel and I swam to the corner of the buoy line and then straight in towards the beach drama ensued. Allison, who happens to be an EMT, caught up to Beth and ran Brad through some questions to see what kind of shape he was in. From there she paddled as fast as she could back to the beach towards the lifeguard tower. She landed the kayak on the beach, borrowed a cell phone from a beach goer and called for assistance. She alerted the lifeguard at the tower (I think it was actually Sean who swam with us earlier) as to what was up and he ran down the beach to help as a Harbor Patrol truck was dispatched down to the beach. A Harbor Patrol boat was scrambled as well apparently and came out from around Fossil Point to see what was up but weren’t in a position to get involved in any way since Beth already had Brad on the beach and was working on warming him up. The Harbor Patrol drove him back up the beach to their offices at the tip of the pier and got him dried off and cranked their truck heater to get him warm. I walked up and checked in with him to see how it was going. He was definitely cold and shaking it off but was going to be fine. After a little while the guards let him shower off in their lockerroom and get changed into dry clothes. Eventually he made it back to the beach smiling and feeling better to join in our holiday potluck lunch.
Although we didn’t want all that excitement, I think it wasn’t all bad that this happened. It’s good to know that the Harbor Patrol and the Avila Lifeguards have their business together and can respond quickly and efficiently to an emergency on the water. It also gives us things to think about for future swims in terms of safety measures. We’re already very cautious and took everything we could think of plus a lot of extras thanks to Beth. She fired off an air horn and a flare even while we were out there to draw attention to where we were when things went sideways. She’s a champ, I’m really glad she moved to town and has been coming out to paddle along with our swim group. I’m not sure what our next out of the ordinary group swim is going to be, I have a six mile swim in Santa Barbara to contend with first, but I’m going to be poking around on Google Maps to see what we can come up with since we have a motivated core of swimmers open to new adventures :)