Catalina: Class of 2014

heartheart San Francisco, CAMember
edited July 2014 in General Discussion
Hi, folks! Opening a thread for those of us planning a Catalina crossing in 2014 - @dc_in_sf and myself and possibly others on the forum - to share training plans, tips, and get good advice (and possibly volunteer crew members!) from experienced folks who have done it.

[Admin edit 3/4/2014]
A message from CCSF President Forrest Nelson:
CCSF encourages swimmers and supporters to utilize the MSF in sharing their wisdom and their experiences in the Catalina Channel.
Inquiries with respect to CCSF policies & procedures are best directed to with additional resources at


  • jcmalickjcmalick Charter Member
    Ask for Bacon on your morning feed (or a pork substitute...I'm sure Morning Star makes a plausible alternative), watch out for oar fish, enjoy the dolphins, and practice swimming over kelp (not a problem for Californians but this was my first time swimming over it and wish I had practiced by throwing some lettuce into the backbays of NJ!). You got this @heart especially after your epic crossing of the Sea of Galilee!
  • dc_in_sfdc_in_sf San FranciscoMember
    So I am definitely looking for advice on minimum and optimal crew sizes for a crossing on Outrider. I don't have an extensive SoCal network so likely paying for most of my crew to fly in... - open water adventures of a very ordinary swimmer

  • Outrider's limit is 11, and that includes the two CCSF Observers. So that leaves 9, which is really more than necessary...unless perhaps you're looking at a longer swim, say 14+ hours, in which case it can be good to have enough crew for them to take shifts and be able to rest so you always have a rested, alert and focused crew, especially kayakers, if you plan to have.
    That's also the primary reason for two Observers.

    So, as minimum:
    One crew chief, handling your feeds, equip, shifts, etc.
    One crew member helping with feeds, kayaker(s), etc.
    One kayaker, though that's a long duty for only one.

    One crew chief
    2-3 crew members to take shifts, say 2-3 hours.
    2 kayakers, 3-4 hour shifts

    CCSF has a crew/kayaker database that you can use to augment any extra crew you may need. But it still depends on people's availability, so not to be relied upon completely.
    Fees vary per individual, avg around $100-150.

  • KNicholasKNicholas ArizonaMember
    The Catalina swim was my favorite and the initial spark that fueled my interest in open water swimming. The personal vetting/application process was very informative. I was pleasantly shocked to receive phone calls from people I consider to be some of the best in open water - past and present (Penny Dean and Tina Neill). I think @DanSimonelli has a good recommendation on crew - my preference over the years has been to keep it simple with less moving parts. I started with a crew of 6 (Catalina) but over the years boiled it down to 2 (EC): my wife and an Irish friend (of course you have observers and boat crew). Kayakers add an additional level of security and safety. I couldn't be more enthusiastic for the Catalina swimmers. You'll end up meeting a fantastic group of swimmers with a great perspective on the sport.
  • I agree with @DanSimonelli and @KNicholas. Bring a crew of 2 (boat crew and kayakers aside). Make sure they are experienced marathon swimmers that you know well. I would avoid bringing family or close buddies who have no idea of what it takes to get across a channel. Make sure your crew of 2 communicates well with you and eachother. It is a big boost if one of your crew can jump in and pace you for a time.

    As for kayakers, find experienced escort kayakers (volunteer or for hire) that are from the SoCal area (2 would be best, but I had one who was with me at night and for the last few miles at the finish).
  • heartheart San Francisco, CAMember
    Folks, do you feed from the kayak or from the boat? And, if from the boat, what apparatus do you use to feed?
  • The Outrider is a big boat. I fed from the boat with a bottle/rope setup (there was one half of a pull buoy attached to the rope near the bottle for added buoyancy and viability). I only feed with liquids. If the crew needed to get vitamin I (ibuprofen) to me they taped a Ziploc bag to the bottle.
  • heartheart San Francisco, CAMember
    @gregoc (and others), given the Outrider's size, did you have the rope attached to a pole? Also, what distance from the boat did you keep, and did the fumes bother you?
  • No pole. I swam in closer to the side for feeds. I was about 20-30 feet from the side of the boat while swimming. No fumes. The boat does have to switch in and out of gear to go so slow so your position changes in relation to the boat. Sometimes you will be towards the bow or even in front of the boat and other times you will be more astern. If there is wind the boat will start to turn into it when it is idling.
  • jcmalickjcmalick Charter Member
    As Grace told me, Outrider's rear thrusters are amazing and they always take swimmers on a bee line to the target! For what it's worth, I had two kayakers (Alison and Grace) and fed off of them. If they needed something special like warm chai for one of my feeds they would ferry back to the boat. I always had one of my kayakers on my right and the boat on my @gregoc stated, most of the time I would be in the middle of the boat and other times I would be looking up at the "Outrider" name on the bow when breathing left...I also saw dolphins swimming under the boat!
  • KNicholasKNicholas ArizonaMember
    For feeding I started using a glow in the dark floating rope that I inherited from the Van Der Byl's (Grace and Neil support a lot of swims). A majority of feeds occur at night so take that into consideration.
  • Glow sticks taped to the bottles works as well.
  • heartheart San Francisco, CAMember
    How many days before the crossing should we plan on arriving in LA?
  • KNicholasKNicholas ArizonaMember
    You should give yourself at least a day to acclimate and jump in the ocean for a swim.
  • I am going to do mine June 5-6th... I am taking the Scratchy Bottom across (love the name). I am still looking for a kayaker and a member of the association to spot the swim. Who does that? Also, do you need a 6 hour trial swim like the EC? I am so excited. Hope everyone is having a good Sunday.
  • evmoevmo San FranciscoAdmin
    clugodmd said:

    I am still looking for a kayaker and a member of the association to spot the swim. Who does that?

    CCSF provides an observer, once you submit your application package.

    Support paddlers and crew are available via a local network organized by Neil and Grace van der Byl. Submit your request by filling out THIS FORM.
    clugodmd said:

    do you need a 6 hour trial swim like the EC?


    Good luck, and have a great swim!
  • Thanks EVMO. This is all new to me. They are redoing the application. I am getting excited to get the ball rolling. :)
  • Advice:
    If you are local, don't even think of hand delivering your paperwork.
  • I had some interesting takeaways from last year's swim. Here are 5 off the top of my head in no particular order:

    1) Paperwork: When you mail in your CCSF application, use regular post. Their offices don't have someone to pick up packages, and it's a long way to their post office. Don't have anyone sign for the parcel, just have it left there. I had multiple issues with getting my paperwork out there because I had done it certified mail. If you feel uncomfortable with sending a check through the mail un-certified, they can do Western Union.

    2) Crew: With swims, as with your business, let meritocracy guide your crew choice over cronyism. Yeah, your friends and family will be incredibly supportive of your swim and you want them there, but they have to be able to handle the journey and be useful. Your crew could make or break your swim. Small crews do better than big crews (less people to manage). Make sure everyone on that boat is both PHYSICALLY AND MENTALLY ABLE to perform their duties. If they get seasick and can't manage the condition even with meds, they'll be dead weight on the boat. If they can't handle the dark, they'll be dead weight on the boat. If they're mentally unstable, even if they're physically capable, they could cause problems and become worse than dead weight on the boat.

    3) Prepare for the cold: Yeah, a good swimmer will cold acclimate and train for distance, but you need to cold acclimate over a distance. 1 hour at 60F is not the same as 6 hours at 60F. The water temperature will drop as you approach the LA coast. You can feel it coming at your fingers, and then suddenly you take a stroke and it hits you. If you're not mentally prepared for that drop, it could stop you.

    4) Trust the boat: The Outrider crew is outstanding. They will not steer you wrong. Highly professional and a wicked sense of humor. They have a galley too (look this term up if you don't know it), so make sure that you don't bring on unnecessary food (haha yes I did this).

    5) Consistency: Always practice with the feed you're swimming every single time. Know it. Know how much of it you need, and make sure your food preparer knows EXACTLY how you take it and have someone at that post that was unwaveringly precise. I was lucky to have such a person at that post, and that familiarity can provide confidence when you find that confidence lacking.
  • All of this is true for ANY long distance swim. It is not specific to CC. Also,from experience... be prepared to EITHER direction.....

    Looking for the next big thing.. ... @suzieswimcoach

  • NatalieswimsNatalieswims Orange County, CAMember
    For your feeds, I highly recommend practicing on kayak if the swell is not in your favor. If you have a calm night, you're good to feed from the boat. You just never know what you're going to get out there and it's best to be prepared to do both. John and his staff will give you updates on the weather out there a few days before, so you know what to expect. I'd love to do Catalina again. If you need a pace swimmer, let me know. I live locally. :-)
  • NatalieswimsNatalieswims Orange County, CAMember
    Could be the opposite from mentioned above. Just don't over think it and practice using your feeding mechanism. I used a rope, carabiners, and an old pull buoy float made by Jim Barber. PM me if you need the "recipe" for the mechanism.
  • heartheart San Francisco, CAMember
    Putting the application in the mail tomorrow morning. Thank you, folks, it's an awesome thread. Keep 'em coming.
  • My regret about my Catalina swim was that I didn't have the confidence to ask to either swim the other way, or to get over there the night before. Or at least to get on shore for an hour before starting. I got sea sick on the boat over, threw up for England within 10 mins of starting and then had aggressive heartburn for pretty much the rest of the swim. Lesson learned. Speak up.
  • I've got a boat date and now I am filling out my application. I'm interested in volunteering for someone who is attempting early in the season, to see what it is like. I live in LA. I'd love to go on the Outrider and see how I feel. I don't usually get seasick, but who knows. I've heard some people take dramamine. So I might practice swimming on dramamine in the night. But if I do well on a trial run, maybe I can plow forward with confidence w/o dramamine...

    Send me a message if you need crew! or if you live in LA and are training for 2014.
  • I prefer Bonine over Dramamine. It works better for me.
    Though you should try both for yourself.

    For helping crew on someone's swim, along with posting here, you can try a couple other ways to connect with swimmers:

    ~ contact Neil or Grace to be added to the CCSF crew/kayaker support database,

    ~ around May, CCSF will have our annual Observer trainings at which time there's a preliminary swimmer schedule for us to sign up for swims.
    You can either come join and be trained as Official Observer and get on a swim or swims before your swim; or utilize the list to contact the swimmers to see if they need any crew help, or perhaps if a swimmer already has crew but there's room on Outrider for one more, you could ask to simply come to observe (and help as needed).

  • heartheart San Francisco, CAMember
    @KarenT: Is the departure time of the boat negotiable? If so, your advice is golden (I speak as a fellow barfer.)

    What is the etiquette concerning nonlocal crew members? Do the swimmers usually cover the crew's travel expenses?
  • heartheart San Francisco, CAMember
    And, what is transportation like from LAX to San Pedro? If I arrive a couple of days before the swim, where would you suggest I stay?
  • Thanks Dan, those are good suggestions.
  • my swim of Catalina is on the 4th sept. can you advise where bottom scratcher leaves san Diego from. also cheap accommodation near start of swim as im on a budget.
  • evmoevmo San FranciscoAdmin
    edited February 2014
    heart said:

    Is the departure time of the boat negotiable? If so, your advice is golden (I speak as a fellow barfer.)

    You're chartering the boat, so you can always ask if you want to do things differently. Of course they may adjust the price if there's more time involved.
    heart said:

    What is the etiquette concerning nonlocal crew members? Do the swimmers usually cover the crew's travel expenses?

    heart said:

    And, what is transportation like from LAX to San Pedro? If I arrive a couple of days before the swim, where would you suggest I stay?

    You can get to San Pedro on a bus, but it's not convenient. I highly recommended renting a car. You may have pre-swim errands to run, as well.

    Best place to stay is the Doubletree San Pedro. There are cheaper places, but that is the best. 2-minute car trip to the dock.
    doversoul said:

    my swim of Catalina is on the 4th sept. can you advise where bottom scratcher leaves san Diego from. also cheap accommodation near start of swim as im on a budget.

    22nd Street Landing in San Pedro. There are maps/directions on

    Don't go to San Diego - you will miss your swim.
  • Some great info & advice on here. I'm getting all my paperwork ready now. Really looking forward to doing the swim!
  • Hi. My date is July 20th on the Outrider. I am very excited about the swim but have a couple of questions for those who have done it before. How much night training did people do? I have access to the Long Island Sound early in the morning, about an hour before sunrise, but wondered if I need to do more. I am also not much of a night owl so did people do some training late at night to acclimate to the early morning hours of the swim?
  • NiekNiek Heiloo, NetherlandsMember
    edited February 2014
    You don't have to do a long stretch of night swimming.
    It's more that you have done it once say for 1 -2 hours swimming besides a boat. To get the experience of swimming in the dark besides a boat. The first time can be quite scary. - Cold, wind, waves, sunburn, currents, jellyfish and flotsam! Hop in and join the fun!

  • AnthonyMcCarleyAnthonyMcCarley Berwyn, PAMember
    I don't think you should count on July 20th... the person who has the Outrider on the 19th is really slow and probably won't be finished by the 20th... :)
    ...hope I am kidding... I will do my best to finish up before your swim! Good luck!
  • Good luck to all you guys swimming this year.
  • heartheart San Francisco, CAMember
    Just got off the phone with Barbara from CCSF. I really appreciate how seriously these folks take the crossings and how keenly they want you to be aware of the risks. Time to cut the sluggishness and start putting in some more time at Aquatic Park!
  • @frnkdeb,
    I don't think you should count on July 20th... the person who has the Outrider on the 19th is really slow and probably won't be finished by the 20th... :)
    ...hope I am kidding... I will do my best to finish up before your swim! Good luck!

    Now I feel bad for the crew of the Outrider as they will have two very long days in a row. If you get a chance, please mention to the sharks that the next guy coming through isn't very tasty.

    To Niek- thank you for the advice. I have done swimming in the dark next to a kayak for a couple of hours and will try to get out more as soon as the water warms up on in the New York area.

  • NiekNiek Heiloo, NetherlandsMember
    A kayak is different from a big boat that's hanging above/besides you.
    You won't be afraid that the kayak runs you over. - Cold, wind, waves, sunburn, currents, jellyfish and flotsam! Hop in and join the fun!

  • DanSimonelliDanSimonelli Member
    edited February 2014
    Be 'afraid'...very afraid! ;-)

    Getting bumped by a kayak or slapped by a paddle isn't much fun.
    Choose your kayaker(s) prudently.

    Key instruction (as Moe used to say): "SPREAD OUT!"

    No need to be pinned between boat and kayaker...
  • heartheart San Francisco, CAMember
    Folks, thanks for all the good advice.

    Having had a second conversation with CCSF, in which they said they'd be requiring me to do two qualifying swims - one of 6 hours and one of 10 hours - because they don't think I have enough cold water experience, I'm seriously considering quitting the process, but will make a final decision in a couple of weeks. I have no doubt the requirement is well intended, but it is really souring me on the experience for various personal reasons.

    Regardless of what I decide, please keep the good advice flowing for the other applicants! It's a big and exciting undertaking and they need your encouragement.
  • suziedodssuziedods Member
    edited March 2014
    Catalina is no less an undertaking than the EC. EC requires ONE 6 hr swim and that has changed from prior to 2000 , when a 10 hour was required. I think it prudent for almost anyone to do a 6, an 8, and a 10 in preparation for EC, Catalina and probably Tampa as well. If you don't( as I did NOT for Catalina), you'll end up w an 18 hr plus swim......Why would one not do something that ameliorated ones chances of success?
    Just sayin....

    Looking for the next big thing.. ... @suzieswimcoach

  • heartheart San Francisco, CAMember
    edited February 2014
    That may be true, but that should be my judgment call to make given that the bylaws do not specify this requirement and that it is not a uniform requirement addressed at all applicants. Under the circumstances, I'm going to explore my options, one of which is to do an unsanctioned swim.
  • Heart, I understand your reaction, it may seem burdensome, however...

    It's not your judgment call. It's the judgment call of the Observers, the boat captain, your crew that should know you, everyone who is responsible for you and has your life in their hands.
    The CCSF Board includes many veteran marathon swimmers with vast amounts of experience, both as swimmers themselves as well as Observing and crewing for many others' swims. So, it's not simply an arbitrary decision to single you out for extended qualification.
    CCSF's success record is what it is because of the attention to detail for safety and support.

    It's certainly an option to go the unsanctioned route. But you'll likely not find more dedicated and experienced people amongst CCSF observers and support that have proven to get swimmers across efficiently, effectively and safely.

  • heartheart San Francisco, CAMember
    edited February 2014
    Again, Dan, I don't think the topic here is the reasonableness of the requirements or lack thereof. It's the fact that the requirements are not advertised as such on the website, which means that when one submits one's application, one relies on advertisement that does not accurately represent the process. And, wherever a requirement does not apply equally to all applicants, by definition, it singles out the ones to whom it applies. These are basic principles of fairness and reliance, and I should know them well in advance, because they impact my decision whether to apply at all.
  • heartheart San Francisco, CAMember
    edited March 2014
    To summarize: I applied assuming that the process was X. It now turns out that, with regard to my application, the process is Y. Process Y doesn't work for me, and had I known about it in advance, it would have been a consideration in my decision to apply, certainly before I put down considerable registration fees and downpayments and conformed my professional schedule to a training plan under process X. This is what contractual reliance is about, plain and simple.
  • heart,
    You make a good point with expected requirements and transparency.
    I think it would be beneficial to both you and CCSF to send them your feedback, as it pertains to you personally as well as how they may want to alter the information posted for everyone.
    If you've already done so, let me I may also address it with them as I agree with you that the potential requirement should at least be visible and understandable to anyone reading the details and considering the endeavor.
    Because, it also effects those of us that are in contact with other swimmers who are considering the swim and if it's not known prior, for instance, that a "6hr and 10hr" qual swim may be necessary for anyone without the 'appropriate' cold water training ('at the discretion of the CCSF), then this will continue to happen and be frustrating to others.

    caveat: CCSF did just recently revise the application packet, so perhaps it wasn't in the information you received prior to Feb 2014, when you may have started your process...?
    (I haven't looked to see if it is in the 2014 info.)
  • heartheart San Francisco, CAMember
    Dan - I'm exploring the possibility of swimming unsanctioned. Depending on the outcome of this inquiry, I'll contact CCSF and we'll see what's what. For what it's worth, I applied using the new packet. The qualifying requirement is not official and not uniform.

    Since I started posting about this, I heard privately from folks who want to remain anonymous about not-dissimilar experiences they've had with CCSF. So, in the interest of openness and transparency, I will keep you all posted as to my decision and, if I choose to do the swim anyway, how it's progressing.
  • thanks heart.
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