Catalina Channel: A history in numbers

Catalina Channel: A history in numbers

The first in a series of posts taking a statistical look at the history of Catalina Channel swimming. These analyses have not been validated or endorsed by the Catalina Channel Swimming Federation and should be considered “unofficial.” 2011 swims are included, but are unofficial until the ratification banquet on November 5. CCSF’s official list of successful swims is available here.

I should note that Penny Lee Dean did some similar statistical work in her authoritative History of the Catalina Channel Swims Since 1927. However, the book has not been updated in 1996, and in any case, the stats chapter seems to have been removed from the online version.

The Catalina Channel was first conquered in 1927 by George Young of Canada, in 15 hours, 44 minutes, 30 seconds. Since then (through September 2011) there have been 259 successful solo crossings by 220 individuals, including 7 double-crossings.

The short list of double-crossers includes some of the greatest marathon swimmers in history.

From the mainland (M-C-M):

  • John York – 16:42 in 1978
  • Dan Slosberg – 19:32 in 1978
  • Tina Neill – 22:02 in 2008
  • Cindy Cleveland – 24:30 in 1977

From Catalina (C-M-C):

  • Penny Lee Dean – 20:03 in 1977
  • Forrest Nelson – 23:01 in 2010
  • Greta Anderson – 26:53 in 1958

Of the 252 one-way crossings, only 19 went from the mainland to Catalina (M-C).…

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Race Report: Ederle Swim

Race Report: Ederle Swim

Janet Harris

I met Janet Harris at a CIBBOWS gathering after the Great Hudson River Swim in May. A few weeks later, we swam side-by-side for a few minutes during the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim. Janet is known in the NYC-area swimming community for her infectious smile and tasty baked goods. Recently, she’s been making a name for herself as a marathon swimmer – as part of a 1st-place MIMS relay duo with John Humenik, and then completing two solo stages of the 8 Bridges Hudson River swim.

This past weekend, Janet placed a strong 5th overall in the Ederle Swim. Here is her race report.

I wanted to highlight Janet’s report because her experience, as she tells it, was everything mine was not (or everything I wish it had been). She writes of a tension between swimming “at sightseeing pace, taking my time and taking in all the beauty along the way and savoring the privilege of being able to swim under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, by the Statue of Liberty,” on the one hand, and “giving it my very best effort, and pushing myself to see how I could stack up against a strong field of contenders,” on the other.…

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Ederle Swim tomorrow

Ederle Swim tomorrow

UPDATE: Swim has been postponed to Sunday, due to high winds and a small craft advisory.

Tomorrow morning, while most sane people are sleeping in, a few friends and I will swim 17.5 miles from Sandy Hook, New Jersey, under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, and into New York Harbor, finishing at South Cove in lower Manhattan. The swim was pioneered by Gertrude Ederle in 1925.

This is the final event of the NYC Swim series, and my final marathon swim of the year. There are five waves, the first starting at 7:00am EDT. My wave (the fifth) begins at 7:50. Estimated finish time for the winner is 12:15pm.

The swim is timed during an unusually swift flood tide, so the winner will likely set a new record for the NJ-NY direction of the swim. The current record of 6:06 was set earlier this year by Liz Fry as part of her double.

The GPS tracking site is not yet available, but will probably be here. NYC Swim’s Twitter feed is here. I can’t guarantee either will be operational, but I hope they will be.…

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MIMS with French subtitles

MIMS with French subtitles

Here’s a neat video by Paris-New York.TV (whatever that is) about the 2011 Manhattan Island Marathon Swim.


I make a brief appearance from 1:35-1:38.

I’m off to New York again this weekend for my final marathon of the season: the Ederle Swim. Check my Twitter feed for info on GPS tracking & other commentary.…

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Catalina, Part 3 – In deep water

Catalina, Part 3 – In deep water

San Pedro Channel - bathymetry by Scripps Institution of Oceanography

There’s no “going back” in a channel swim. No parallel shoreline to offer a mental security blanket and visual stimulation. No (predictable) current to artificially speed your progress. No intermediate landmarks for last-minute course adjustments; the stated distance is your best-case scenario. The only escape from a channel swim is getting on the boat – and even then it might be an hour’s ride to the closest shore.

So, starting a channel swim feels a bit like stepping into the abyss. That’s almost literally true in the case of Catalina, where the ocean bottom drops off to nearly 3,000 feet within 4 miles. Everything I said about the MIMS jump shots is true of a channel swim – but moreso.

Some people can swim through deep water without a second thought. I am not one of those people. No amount of rational thought can persuade my lizard brain that 20 feet of water is no different than 20,000 – I’m only swimming in the top 2-3 feet of it anyway.

This, for instance, is horrifying to me:

I know what you’re thinking: Marathon swimming’s a curious hobby for someone scared of deep water, right?…

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Swimming the Suck… plus 16

Swimming the Suck… plus 16

I quite enjoyed this video of Hallie H.M. swimming 26.2 miles down the Tennessee River near Chattanooga.

Hallie, who I Swam the Suck with last year, retraced the scenic 10-mile course but started further upriver, and then kept on going several miles further into the Gorge. The video, appropriately backed by Jackson Browne’s “Running on Empty” (ha, ha), is pure joy. Makes me regret I won’t be returning this year.

Here’s what Karah (Swim the Suck founder & race director) had to say:

She is a REAL trooper. No touching another human, no standing, no wetsuit. She did the real thing.

Indeed. Congrats, Hallie!…

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This guy really likes sharks

This guy really likes sharks

Remember Scott Cassell, the crazy person SCUBA diver who was going to swim from Catalina to San Pedro, underwater, while attempting to attract sharks?

Well, he did it. Here’s a video, and here’s the story, according to Shark Research Committee:

On September 17, 2011 Scott Cassell completed his dive from Catalina Island to the beach in front of the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium. California Diver Magazine reported the following;

“At 6:15 PM Saturday, September 17, 2011, Scott Cassell arrived safely at Cabrillo Aquarium Beach in San Pedro Harbor after covering 30 miles in a single day of diving. He maintained an average depth of 20 – 30 from the water’s surface.

Using a computer controlled mixed gas rebreather, a DUI drysuit with an argon inflation system, 4th Element Halo 3D thermal protection, and dual Luminox dive watches, he completed the distance in less than 12 hours, after some technical issues delayed the planned 4:00 AM start time by several hours.

Scott’s journey was filmed by Global Reef to help raise awareness regarding the alarming state of our oceans. One of his primary missions during the dive was to attract as many sharks as possible to obtain an accurate estimate of how many sharks are still present in the area today.



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