This weekend I ventured south to Oxnard to help my friend Cherie in her quest to complete her first channel swim, a 12+ mile swim from the sheer rock walls of Anacapa Island to the sandy shores of Silver Strand beach in Oxnard. Cherie invited me along on her swim back in May when we went to Jamie Patrick’s swim camp together. She’s part of the same crew of swimmers in Laguna Beach that my friend Lynn (an Anacapa veteran) is in and she was slated to be on the boat as well. Cherie and Lynn came up to Avila for a training visit in early July and we all keep pretty good tabs on each other via the magic of the internetz.
Friday was my travel day to get down to Oxnard. I bodysurfed in the morning at the Pismo Pier and then went home to pack my stuff for the swim. Amazingly I remembered everything except swimsuits. I’m a pretty smart guy sometimes. The good news is I have a bunch drying in the back of my truck at all times so I could wear whatever wet stuff I had back there. Since I’ve been surfing more than swimming recently it was predominately board shorts, but I was planning on wearing board shorts for the extra drag anyways since there’s a healthy speed differential between the two of us. I met the southern Californian delegation for Cherie’s swim at the hotel around 3:30. She was cool enough to put the crew up for the night since we all need to be awake and on a boat by 3am. We made a group trip to Silver Strand to check the beach out and then over to the harbor to see the boat and then finished up with some dinner over in the Ventura harbor.
At 2am Lynn and I woke up and got our stuff together. Within the hour we were on the road north towards Ventura with Cherie, her mom, and Drew. Since Cherie didn’t have a kayaker the boat loading process was pretty simple. We basically had our own bags and food for the ride. Capt Bob and Mike were getting set and doing their thing on the boat already. Our SBCSA observer Michelle was already aboard. Shortly after getting to the boat we were on our way to the island. I completely expected to hurl en route as I always do but I won this round! Take that ocean :p I think a mini nap I took in a chair on the ride out squashed my sea sickness before it could get started. I felt great the whole trip.
At the island I had to take the Captain’s word for it that we were actually next to a large island. It was so dark out I couldn’t see anything besides another boat in the water unloading a kayak. Cherie is one of three Santa Barbara Channel swimmers being profiled for a documentary and that other boat carried the film crew although we also had a guy on our boat filming as well. We hung out for a while waiting for a little more light to slide around the western edge of the world. Once you could barely make out the outline of arch rock the captain was cool with dropping Cherie in the water. It was later than she had planned but not by too too much.
At about 5:45 Cherie jumped into the blackness and swam towards the island. Captain Bob was lighting it up with a spot light and the film crew’s kayak was over there as well with a flash light to help guide her into the giant rock wall. Cherie put her hands on the wall then waved to let us know she was starting and started stroking for the mainland. The water was really smooth, the wind was non-existent, and we had just a light swell to contend with. As perfect as it gets for these swims.
Cherie swam solo for the first hour while the kayak paddled off in all different spots to get various shots. The cameraman was wetsuited with dive fins on and would disappear under the surface occasionally to shoot from below. Cherie’s mom was masterfeedermixer for this swim and we helped her get the hang of the feed process where you need to alert the captain as to what’s going on so he can plan for the feed and then ensure the boat’s in neutral before we call her in or throw anything overboard. She picked it up pretty quick and the feeds went off pretty well through the whole swim.
Cherie was swimming really well although she was making friends with lots of jellyfish. At the end of hour one we threw Lynn in to pace swim with her. SBCSA doesn’t have a pace swim time limit like Catalina so Lynn did a 90 minute swim with Cherie and it looked like they had a good time out there together. All smiles. At the end of Lynn’s shift we got her on the boat and then Gave Cherie a half hour of solo swim time before I got in.
During Cherie’s solo half hour I got myself ready… board shorts, body glide, and then some colored Zinka sunscreen for my face. I figured Cherie’s been looking at empty ocean for the last 3 1/2 hours, let’s give her something to laugh at :) I did a mix of pink across my cheeks and nose and then topped it off with some purple stripes below my eyes, we topped the look off with a ridiculous cap my friend Julie sent me via DMC Swim in Australia. The spikes on the cap really bring out my beard, haha.
When Cherie came in to feed I jumped off the back of the boat to meet her. The water was fantastic, about 68 degrees and a spectacular blue color. The water was however loaded with gelatinous excitement. Salps everywhere. Big chains and little free floaters. I felt them on basically every single stroke of my 90 minute shift. We’d get peppered with jellies intermittently through the swim as well. They seemed to come in patches. I tried to get some pictures of all these things but they don’t come out very well although you can see them clear as day with your face in the water. While swimming we had some vertebrates come by as well… dolphins! We could hear them but couldn’t see to much. I eventually saw one big fin arc past us and that was it. Lynn got video of it though (see the vid at the bottom of the post).
Since I’m faster than Cherie in the water I really stretched out my stroke and glided a lot. That said, she was swimming a lot faster than I had expected. I told her that at a feed and she definitely didn’t mind hearing it :) My head was up a lot as I swam because I was watching her and the boat to make sure I didn’t mess up her line and make sure we stayed a safe distance from the boat. I think that spatial awareness is key when pace swimming. You’re basically there to provide company, motivation and not mess anything up. I think we swam well together and look forward to doing it again sometime soon on a longer swim yet to be named!
While we were swimming together we experienced something I’ve never swam through before. At one of the feeds I let the boat know we were sucking down a lot of exhaust (while Cherie had her head underwater swimming for her bottle, didn’t want to put that idea in her head if she hadn’t noticed much yet) so they positioned us up towards the front of the boat when we started swimming again. In the meantime we had a large container ship plow diagonally behind us. I could see the boat occasionally as it came our way. Then… the Tuna Thumper started to pull away from us in a hurry, I wasn’t really sure what that was about just yet. As I contemplated their departure it all became clear as the boat was tossed about by enormous boat wake. From my vantage point in the water I could see the Tuna Thumper basically tip sideways to 5 o’clock and then swing all the way over to 7 o’clock. I think they pulled away so as to not hit us with the boat… I think Capt Bob could have adjusted my goggles for me from the wheel if we’d stayed alongside! It was gnarly. Cherie and I rode the wake waves up and down for a bit. She was a little surprised at what just happened and my first reaction was to laugh and yell like I would out surfing. Lynn was running her camera through the whole thing and put a short video together for me for you guys to check out and get a better idea of how big this wave was.
While the girls were swimming together we had some sea life excitement. At one point Cherie swam over the top of a flock of rays, or a family of Freds as she called it (there’s a ray they call Fred down in Laguna). I had been talking with one of the filmmakers when she said that. Without a word our talk was done and he was off the boat with a camera to dive and try to get a video of the rays. I hope he got them on film! I really want to see what Cherie saw! Later on we saw wonky little fins following them. They turned out to belong to mola molas. It looked like we had about 6 trailing them and gobbling up jellies and salps. It would have been nice to have those guys up front but I don’t think sunfish take direction well :) The molas hung out about 5 minutes and scattered shortly after we stopped for a feed. I was super geeked out on our surprise visitors, mola molas are my favorites…. odd shaped fish that just swim around and eat garbage calories, I see a lot of myself in them haha
As we started to push into the last 2 miles of the swim the conditions started to get a little tougher. The wind was building although it wasn’t full tilt yet, and the current wasn’t really doing us any favors. Cherie could see the beach now and was getting a little discouraged because she didn’t feel like she was making progress on it. We assured her anytime she asked that all was good and we were almost done.
Once we hit what was looking to be the last feed I hopped in to swim her in to the finish. The water felt a little colder, maybe 64ish? It had gotten rougher as well. We had waves pushing across us from the north, nothing too crazy but more than you’d want to deal with after 8 hours of swimming. At a certain point the Tuna Thumper had to disengage due to shallow water and we swam with the filmmaker’s kayak as our escort. Near to shore I saw glimpses of a very familiar stroke… Evan! He came down from Santa Barbara to swim with us a bit to the beach. Cherie, Lynn, Evan, Frogman Ben and I swam into the breakers and started to ease up and figure out the surf situation. Cherie got tumbled a little bit by one but after that she got orientated and put feet down on the sand and jogged up the beach. Victory! Lisa and Brian from LA had driven up to surprise her at the finish. Fiona who just recently attempted Anacapa and trained with Lynn and Cherie also showed up to congratulate her. After a moment on dry sand Cherie went in search of her kids who were just a little further down the beach (it’s a pretty big beach).
While she had some family time the rest of us hung out on the sand and I caught up with Evan while we were in the same spot at the same time. Eventually he spotted Cherie reentering the surf so we rounded up Lynn and swam back to the Tuna Thumper as well. Evan swam with us to the boat to say goodbye and then took off for the beach again. Spirits were high on the boat. Cherie was all smiles, the swim was great, everyone had fun. It was a good time all the way around. Cherie finished in 8 hours and 20 minutes and put up a great effort. I hope I get to crew more big swims for her in the future!
Lynn put together a video of the swim that I recommend you take 15 minutes to check out. She always does a great job editing together swim stories. Speaking of Lynn, I’m crewing a swim for her in the next couple weeks so keep an eye out for that!