Sometime between 2 and 3 in the morning, I had decided to spare everyone another (potentially) 10 hours of needless unpleasantness, and end my swim. I was just waiting for the right time; a convenient excuse. If Mark or Cathy or Rob or Dave had said at some point that night, “Evan, it’s pretty rough out here. Maybe you want to get on the boat and go home?”, I can’t say I’d have insisted on continuing.
It’s a testament to the loyalty and intestinal fortitude of my crew and observer that I never got that chance. Three hours later, I was still swimming.
The shortest-line distance from Santa Cruz Island to the mainland is 16.4 nautical miles (18.9 statute) – starting at San Pedro Point, finishing at the southern end of Hollywood Beach, north of the entrance to Channel Islands Harbor. Capt. Forrest actually plugged in a slightly more distant waypoint – the resort at Mandalay Beach – which made it a 16.6-nautical mile swim. I don’t know why, but that’s what he did.
To break Ned’s record, I had to average 1.59 knots (2:02 per 100m, 2945m per hour) across the channel. To break 10 hours, I had to average 1.66 knots (1:57 per 100m, 3074m per hour). My neutral-condition (i.e., pool) pace for a swim of this distance, at my current fitness level, would be approximately 2.3 knots initially, fading gradually to ~2.05 knots.…
The chop disagreed with my stroke – pounding me randomly, from odd angles, making it impossible to develop any sort of rhythm.
The moonless night completely disoriented me. Shortly after the start we had a snafu with the glowsticks on Mark’s kayak, so it was insufficiently lit. He tried using a camping headlamp, but it was so blindingly bright that it seemed worse than the darkness.
It was a constant battle through the night – especially the first few feeds – to maintain a consistent distance from the boat and kayak. They were getting blown around by the wind; I was getting knocked around by the chop; and I had no depth perception to adjust to it.…
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?…
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.
My Catalina swim has been marinating for more than three months now, so I figured it was time to put this one to bed. Previous posts have covered my star-studded crew, a video, my GPS tracks, and my fear of deep water. Now to the swim itself.
You may have already read Rob’s account, but here it is again for those who missed it.
A Long Swim: View of San Pedro Channel and Catalina Island from Pt. Vicente. The island is barely visible in the distance. The white speck shows my location at 8:06am (an hour before I finished). Photo Credit: Mom
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.
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.…
Why was this the first thing I did? As most of my readers must know by now, I have as much fun (probably more fun, actually) analyzing marathon swims as actually doing marathon swims. Hence my six-part MIMS report.
As usual, the data tell an interesting story. The yellow path shows the GPS tracks of the boat which, except at the start and finish, was between 5-25 meters off my left side. The red line shows the straight-line “ideal” path between the start and finish. The white placemarks are self-explanatory.
I covered the first 5 miles in 2:06:50 (25:22 per mile), my fastest pace of the swim despite big swells and chop throughout the night.…
Early last Thursday morning, I crossed the Catalina Channel in 8 hours, 55 minutes, 59 seconds. There’s a good story to tell, but I’ll start with a video. Many thanks to my fellow Promontory Point swimmer Amanda Hunt for getting this footage.
No ultra-marathon swim is possible without support – and the selflessness of a marathon swim crew is one of the most beautiful aspects of our sport.
I couldn’t be happier with the motley collection of folks supporting my Catalina swim. The sheer aquatic talent and marathon swimming experience on the Bottom Scratcher this Wednesday night will be something to behold! I’ll be in good hands.
Anne Cleveland (CCSF observer)
- IMSHOF inductee
- double English Channel crossing, 2004
Without a team, a 24-mile swim doesn’t happen. Simple as that. And the swim’s success – it’s efficiency – depends on the quality of the team. Long swims are isolating experiences: A swimmer and his thoughts. But there’s an irony: The longer the swim, the more you utterly depend on your support team.
So any discussion of my experience in Tampa Bay must begin with my team.
The Team (L-R): Kathy, Carl, Pat, Michael, Kim… Frankland Bridge in the distance. (Photo Credit: Distance Matters)
NOTE: I wrote this as preface to my Tampa report, but it got a bit long so I decided to put it in a separate post. It’s not really specific to Tampa, anyway.
What’s a marathon swim? Without any historical reference point (as for marathon runs), there are various definitions. The official FINA and (as of 2008) Olympic distance is 10K – which has the virtue of similar finish times as marathon runs. Penny Lee Dean sets the bar at 16 miles. Ted Erikson says 10 miles. Steven Munatones, as usual, wrote a nice overview of the issue.
I’m not really interested in debating what is or isn’t a marathon swim, though I do think:
It must be in open water.
It should be nearly impossible (or at least very difficult) to finish without refueling mid-swim.