Santa Cruz Island Swim, Part 2: Drop Dead Conditions

Santa Cruz Island Swim, Part 2: Drop Dead Conditions

In case you missed it…

Ventura Harbor. 9pm, September 14th.

ME: “How does the weather look?”
CAPT. FORREST: “Dogshit.”

He wondered whether perhaps I wanted to postpone the swim to another day. “What are your ‘drop dead’ conditions?” he asked. “It’s blowing 10 knots right here [i.e., in the harbor]. It’ll be worse out there.”

Here lay the dilemma: My crew and observer were here now. Dave and Rob drove down from SLO; Mark from SB (where he has two kids under the age of 3); Cathy from SF. We could, theoretically, delay for 24 hours – Cathy didn’t go home ’til Monday. But it would suck. I had already dragged these people out here in the middle of the night. Now I was going to send them all home (or to a hotel) and say we’ll try again tomorrow? Ugh.

Not to mention, the film guys were already on their way over to the island on a sail boat from Santa Barbara (a 4.5-hour trip). Would I call them and tell them to turn around?…

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Santa Cruz Island Swim, Part 1: Prologue

Santa Cruz Island Swim, Part 1: Prologue

Was it inevitable?

There the island sits, tauntingly, every time I wade into the ocean. It dominates the southern horizon - as prominent a feature of the Santa Barbara landscape as chaparral-covered mountains, tile roofs, and beach volleyball. On clear winter days it’s a textured, multi-hued shadow. On hazy summer days it’s just a faint, misty outline. In the depth of June Gloom it disappears from view entirely – but I know it’s there, somewhere.

The shadow is Santa Cruz Island – largest of the eight Channel Islands, 19 statute miles offshore from Oxnard, the closest part of mainland California.

Looking out at Santa Cruz Island from the mountains above Goleta. New Year’s Day 2012. Photo by Vanessa.

The Impetus

A few months ago two local filmmakers asked: Would I be interested in being filmed for a documentary about marathon swimming in the Channel Islands? Would I help shed some light on this odd global subculture of people who swim across 3,000-foot deep ocean channels in the dead of night wearing nothing but a speedo, cap, and goggles?…

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Two days and two nights on a boat: Observing Catalina and Santa Barbara Channel swims

Two days and two nights on a boat: Observing Catalina and Santa Barbara Channel swims

In the past couple weeks I’ve had the honor and pleasure of observing four swims between the Channel Islands and the California mainland: two 12.4-mile crossings from Anacapa Island to Oxnard (sanctioned by the SBCSA), and two 20.1-mile crossings from Catalina Island to Palos Verdes (sanctioned by the CCSF).

Two Channels: Anacapa Island to Oxnard; Catalina Island to Palos Verdes.

Each swim was a remarkable achievement in its own way. From Anacapa, there was a 4:58 crossing (a new record and the first ever under 5 hours) and an 8:58 crossing under conditions which thwarted two 6-person relays on the same day. From Catalina, there was a 13.5-hour crossing and a sub-9 hour crossing (the first ever by a 50+ year old).

Eyes on the swimmer. Photo by Phil White

I’m quite serious about it being an honor to observe these swims. Having swum across each of these channels myself, I know they’re experiences one doesn’t forget – experiences that change a person. I know what it feels like to stand on a beach in the middle of the night, look out across that black expanse of water and wonder, “How will I possibly get to the other side?” I know what it feels like to give oneself up to the Channel – and hope it looks upon you favorably.…

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A movie about marathon swimming: Fundraiser in Laguna Beach

A movie about marathon swimming: Fundraiser in Laguna Beach

This Thursday from 5:30-7:30pm Pacific time, Laguna Canyon Winery will host a wine tasting / fundraiser for an independent documentary film about marathon swimming. The Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association, on whose board of directors I serve, has been involved in the production of this film in several interesting ways. At the wine tasting, the filmmakers will give a brief presentation, answer questions, and show some preview clips.

If you think marathon swimming is cool, and you live in Southern California, please consider attending. It’s a great opportunity to support both the sport and independent filmmaking – not to mention, taste some great wines and hang out with other swimmers. Entry is $35 and can be purchased at the door.

Laguna Canyon Winery is located at 2133 Laguna Canyon Rd in Laguna Beach. 5:30pm this Thursday – be there!

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Virgin Waters: Distances between and around the Channel Islands and the U.S. Mainland

Virgin Waters: Distances between and around the Channel Islands and the U.S. Mainland

The biggest season in the history of the Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association officially began yesterday, with a previously “undisclosed” relay crossing from San Clemente Island to the mainland – a distance of 54 miles.

Compared to the most famous Channel Island – Catalina – the remaining seven Channel Islands are still relatively virgin waters for marathon swimmers. Here are the number of successful solo swims, by island:

  • Anacapa to mainland (12.6 miles) – 25 swims by 23 individuals
  • Santa Cruz to mainland (various distances) – 8 swims
  • Santa Rosa to Santa Cruz (6 miles) – 2 swims
  • Santa Barbara to mainland (37.7 miles) – 1 swim
  • Santa Rosa to mainland (27.5 miles) – 1 swim
  • San Miguel to mainland (25.9 miles) – 1 swim
  • Anacapa to Santa Cruz (5.6 miles) – 1 swim

There are 80 possible swims between and around the eight Channel Islands (including Catalina) and the U.S. mainland. Only 11 of those have been conquered by solo swimmers. The following table shows the distances (in statute miles) for each of the 80 swims:

Notes:

  • Abbreviations: ml = mainland; SM = San Miguel; SR = Santa Rosa; SCru = Santa Cruz; Ana = Anacapa; SN = San Nicolas; SB = Santa Barbara; Cat = Catalina; SCle = San Clemente
  • orange highlight = one or more successful swims
  • from [island] to [same island] = circumnavigation


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First-time channel swimmer? Consider Anacapa Island

First-time channel swimmer? Consider Anacapa Island

For the most up-to-date information about Anacapa Island swims, please see the new dedicated Anacapa Island page at the Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association website.

A channel crossing is a special kind of marathon swim. From one piece of land, you swim to another, non-contiguous piece of land, with nothing but water separating the two. Unlike a lake or bay crossing, there are no shortcuts – you can’t fudge the distance by adjusting where you start and finish. Unlike a river swim, there’s no consistent current to speed you along. Indeed, the only way out is getting on the boat.

For Americans, the most commonly attempted channel swim is the Catalina (a.k.a. San Pedro) Channel. The second most-attempted channel by Americans is, I would imagine, the English Channel. These are both substantial swims – over 20 miles each. So the question arises: How do you build up to them? One approach is to do a swim of similar distance, but in a more controlled setting – e.g., Tampa Bay or MIMS.

But there’s another, overlooked option for building up to a major channel swim: Do a real, full-fledged channel swim – but a shorter one.…

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The SoCal Eight

The SoCal Eight

An exciting announcement today from the Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association: the Southern California Eight.

Eight islands off the coast of Southern Califorina; eight world-class marathon swims. From gateway swims (12.4 miles from Anacapa) to greatest-ever swims (61.2 miles from San Nicolas). From well-trodden paths (275 swims to/from Catalina) to virgin waters (San Clemente and San Nicolas). A swim for every budget, ability, and ambition.

The Channel Islands of Southern California

The Ocean’s Seven will soon have its first conqueror, most likely later this year. What will be the next epic challenge? For U.S.-based marathon swimmers – especially those on the West Coast – the SoCal Eight would have to be enticing. Residents of Southern California could potentially do all eight without ever setting foot on an airplane or in a hotel.

Who wants to be the King and Queen of the Santa Barbara Channel? This is (quite literally) the “Wild West” of marathon swimming. It’s yours for the taking…

  • For more information about swimming to, from, around, or between the Channel Islands, please consult the SBCSA’s website, Openwaterpedia entry, Facebook page, or Twitter feed.


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Banquet day in San Pedro: Celebrating a big season of California channel swimming

Banquet day in San Pedro: Celebrating a big season of California channel swimming

And now, a few words about the CCSF and SBCSA annual banquets (before the memories are too far from mind). Rob already wrote a fairly authoritative recap - to which I don’t have much to add.

(L-R) Anne Cleveland, Marcia Cleveland, and Cindy Cleveland. Photo credit: Paula Selby

Despite the recent surge of interest and participation in open-water swimming, marathon swimmers are still a rare breed – and our efforts are distributed across the globe. It would be unusual for more than a few of them to be in a room at the same time. How often, for example, would you be able to get a picture of the three great Clevelands together? (No relation – see picture at left.)

November 5th at the San Pedro Doubletree (a place I’ve come to know rather well this year!), the CCSF filled a large conference room with marathon swimmers (past and present) and their families. In a classy, inspiring ceremony emceed by Forrest Nelson, the Federation celebrated the successes of 26 solo swimmers, several relays, as well as Forrest’s own epic circumnavigation of the island.…

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Swimming with the Ocean Ducks at Goleta Beach

Swimming with the Ocean Ducks at Goleta Beach

The blog has been rather text-heavy lately. This post should fix that.

The Santa Barbara Ocean Ducks gather Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at Goleta Beach County Park, and Sundays at Butterfly Beach in Montecito (plus Saturdays in the summer). It’s a diverse, friendly group of folks, and even this late in the year you can expect to see 8-10 of us in the water during the week; more on the weekends.

Goleta Beach

Typically we head out in groups of 2 or 3 according to speed. There are a variety of possible swim routes. Here’s one of my favorites (click to enlarge):

Goleta Beach to Campus Point

From our meeting place next to the shower head (west of the restaurant and pier, east of the restroom), we make our way beyond the surf line, 100-150m offshore. Then we turn right, towards UC Santa Barbara and Campus Point. On the outbound trip, we try to maintain a constant distance from shore as we bend around the cove. In the image above I’ve noted four intermediate landmarks, which offer convenient turning-back points if someone is in a hurry.…

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Sign up, you should…

Sign up, you should…


  • For the Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association’s Facebook page. It’s been around a while, but I have reason to believe it’ll be more active going forward. Why? Because now I’m the man behind the curtain.


 

Apologies for the recent radio silence. I’ve been working on the final installment of my Catalina Channel story. It’ll be worth the wait.…

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