Jessi Harewicz - Around Bowen Island
Bowen Island circumnavigation, counter-clockwise
30.5 km (19.0 miles)
21 hours, 1 minutes on 18 September 2018
Observed and documented by Craig Stewart
- Support Personnel
- Swim Parameters
- Swim Data & GPS
- Observer Log
- Name: Jessi Harewicz
- Gender: female
- Age on swim date: 36
- Nationality: Canada
- Resides: Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
- Andrew Liebmann - navigator/pilot
- Richard Harewicz - swimmer manager
- Teresa Seibel - support
- Craig Stewart - observer
Escort Vessel: Havoc (Vancouver)
Category: Solo, nonstop, unassisted.
Rules: MSF Rules of Marathon Swimming, without exception or modification.
- Body of Water: Howe Sound
- Route Type: circumnavigation (counter-clockwise)
- Start and Finish Location: Private Dock in Deep Bay (located just north of Bowen Island Ferry Terminal) (49.386183, -123.323900)
- Minimum Route Distance: 30.5 km (19.0 miles)
- Shane Collins, 1997
- Debbie Collins, 1998
- Brent Hobbs, 2008
- Mike Humphreys, 2010
- Emily Epp, 2017
- Start: 17 September 2018, 11:35:07 (America/Los_Angeles)
- Finish: 18 September 2018, 8:36:18
- Elapsed: 21 hours, 1 minutes, 11 seconds.
Summary of Conditions
|Water Temp (C)||14||16|
|Air Temp (C)||9||25|
Trackpoint frequency: 30 minutes. Download raw data (CSV).
Note: Water temps reported in log are 2.5-3 degrees C colder than actual temps, due to uncalibrated boat thermometer. Actual water temps ranged from 14 to 16 C.
by Jessi Harewicz
For past 2 years into this sport, my goal was always 1 international, 1 local. After landing on the beaches of Secret Cove in Los Angeles (Catalina Channel) on July 3rd. I had a hunger for more, and my body was reacting good days after.
- Mid July - I was back in the ocean training and harassing Andrew Liebmann about navigating this route.
- July 19 - Andrew found a good tidal window for September 17, with good wind forecast.
- August 15 - Andrew secured a appropriate boat for this swim. I was relying the lifetime of experience from Andrew to get me a dream boat that can go my speed !
- August 22nd - Andrew secured a private dock at sea level that I could easily start & finish without adding much extra distance to the circumnavigation.
- August 30th - All confirmed with Andrew, We agreed that putting a Kayak on board the boat as ‘back up’ was appropriate. No secondary vessel would be required
by Andrew Leibmann
Bowen Island is located at the entrance to Howe Sound near Vancouver, Canada. It is about 9km wide by 12km long. Queen Charlotte channel runs along the east side, Collingwood channel runs along the west side, and the southwest side is on the Strait of Georgia. The island is steep sided and has mountain peaks, the highest is about 750m above sea level. Depths in the channels are over 100m, and the Strait of Georgia is over 400m deep, over 200km long and about 25 km wide at the narrowest point
Bowen is home to about 4000 people, and is serviced by a 100 car ferry that runs across Queen Charlotte channel every half hour between Snug cove on the east side of the island from Horseshoe bay in West Vancouver about 3km away. Other larger ferries run from Horseshoe bay past the east and south sides of Bowen to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, and past the east and north sides of Bowen to Langdale on the Sunshine coast. Frequent water taxi boats, private boats, and tug and barge traffic can be found in both Howe Sound and the Strait of Georgia. Large deep sea cargo ships and Alaska bound cruise ships transit the Strait of Georgia.
Howe Sound is a deep, steep sided fjord that runs up into the Coast Mountains for about 42km to the town of Squamish at the head of the sound. The valley continues far into the mountains and contributes to significant thermal (inflow) winds from the south that often reach 20 knots or more in the afternoon. When the air cools at night, very strong katabatic (outflow) winds accelerate by running down the valley and are usually stronger than the afternoon southerlies.
GEORGIA STRAIT WINDS
Winds on the Strait of Georgia are affected by weather systems coming from the North Pacific and usually blow from the northwest in sunny weather, and from the southeast in rainy and stormy weather. The prevailing northwest winds tend to build in the afternoon, diminish around sunset, may build somewhat during the night, and diminish again after sunrise.
Tidal conditions in this area can be significant. The tide range is normally about 3 metres (10 feet), and currents in the channels can be over 1 knot (about 2km/h). The flood tidal current flows northeast up Howe Sound, and a weaker tidal current floods northwest up the Strait of Georgia. The strength of the current is affected by weather conditions.
Planning a swim around Bowen is complicated by this variety of environmental challenges.
The most important item to consider is the tidal currents in the channels. It should be noted that when simply swimming straight across a channel with tidal currents the flood and the ebb might cancel out and the distance could end up constant. However, swimming straight up and then straight down tidal channels with strong currents usually makes the swimming distance through the water much larger, because the swimmer spends much more time to cover much less distance. For instance, if a swimmer is going 2km/h with a 1km/h push (speed over the bottom 3km/h), they cover 1km in 20 minutes, but then turning around and going the same 2km/h against a 1km/h adverse current (speed over the bottom 1km/h) they swim for 60 minutes to cover the same 1km for a total time of 80 minutes over the 2km, versus 60 minutes with no current. When the current reaches 2km/h the swimmer makes no progress, and must swim in place and wait for the tide to change (which can be hours), but would only get the benefit of a 2km/h push for 15 minutes to cover 1km.
The second consideration is the diurnal winds. The southwest side on the Strait of Georgia has the biggest fetch (over 100km of open water) which can cause considerable waves and swell so it is desirable to start that section in the early evening or early morning when it is likely to be calmer. Because of the thermal winds in the channels it is preferable to be going north in the afternoon, and south late at night. To shelter from the katabatibc winds it would be useful to be in the lee of islands, or headlands, from about midnight through the pre-dawn hours.
Another consideration is sunlight and moonlight. Sunlight make orientation easier for the swimmer, monitoring easier for the boat crew, and makes the surface water a bit warmer. Moonlight does not affect water temperature, but improves visibility.
PLANNING SWIM PERIOD
The day selected for her swim was chosen because it gave the largest window of time with small tides, and the longest amount of moonlight. A start point on the island was selected that would allow her to swim north through Queen Charlotte channel with the end of the flood tidal current behind her for the first few hours of the swim, and in the lee of Gambier Island (north of Bowen) in the afternoon to stay out of the worst of the thermal winds. At the expected swimming speed, it was hoped that Jessi would fight against the end of the flood tide for only a short while rounding the northwest corner of the island and swimming down Collingwood channel, then get neutral or positive ebb current heading down the west side of the island and the southwest side in the Strait of Georgia. It was hoped that she would reach the exposed corner of the island (Cape Roger Curtis) around sunset when it is more likely to have calm seas in the Strait of Georgia. If she could swim fast enough through the weak flood in the Strait, she would benefit from the stronger flood pushing north after rounding Cowan Point into Queen Charlotte channel, or at least have neutral current as the tide changed to ebb. Because of the two headlands on the southeast side of Bowen Island, she would finish the swim mostly in the lee of the headlands if there were katabatibc winds from the north.
Tide and light predictions for the swim were:
Monday/Tuesday target swim time 15hrs (11am. to 2 am.)
2018-09-17 Mon 6:14 AM PDT 5.1 feet Low Tide 2018-09-17 Mon 6:52 AM PDT Sunrise 2018-09-17 Mon 2:05 PM PDT 13.1 feet High Tide 2018-09-17 Mon 7:21 PM PDT Sunset 2018-09-17 Mon 7:24 PM PDT 10.9 feet Low Tide 2018-09-17 Mon 11:46 PM PDT 11.9 feet High Tide Approx Midnight Moonset 2018-09-18 Tue 6:53 AM PDT Sunrise 2018-09-18 Tue 7:17 AM PDT 5.2 feet Low Tide 2018-09-18 Tue 3:17 PM PDT 13.3 feet High Tide 2018-09-18 Tue 7:17 AM PDT 5.2 feet Low Tide
It should be noted that there are no official predictions for currents in Howe Sound, but experience has shown that the direction and strength of the tidal currents lag behind the times of high and low water by up to an hour, and are variable depending on other conditions such as rainfall, wind, and time of year (due to snowpack runoff or freezing conditions in the mountains).
One can see that at some time varying from about one to three hours after midnight it could be expected that there would be the start of a strong ebb current. This made an early rounding of Point Cowan on the southeast corner an important factor in the total time for the swim.
In the days leading up to the swim, a frontal weather system was passing over the coast, and blustery weather was likely to be followed by a period of calm for the day of the swim. Temperatures were moderate and seasonal, and there was not much runoff after a long dry hot summer. Conditions looked to be good, but a small concern was the difference between day and night temperatures that could contribute to stronger thermal winds.
by Jessi Harewicz
You can see Bowen Island from most Vancouver City waterfront. Bowen is so high that you cannot see the mainland hiding behind on the West side of the island. I look upon Bowen Island 90% of my day and week.
Time of Year
A tricky time of year, as the air cools quickly in Vancouver dropping 8c in a matter of weeks. After September 1st, From 20-23c to 18- 12c air.
Being Plagued by over 300 forest fires in BC this summer. August swims were filled with Smokey air. Lots of days you couldn’t even see across the bay at Bowen island. An island so large it hides the mainland behind it, SunShine Coast. By the 1st week of September it was still smokey. ‘The rain should be coming and will blow the smoke away.’ The forecast and all my sailor friends said.
Cool Glacier Run Off
First snow at Whistler Ski Resort was to be the weekend before I swam (September 15-16). That run off ice water goes directly down Howe Sound. And flows out to the Georgia Straits, where I was swimming!
Another factor, was the high levels of algae that blossoms throughout the Salish Sea this summer. With record high surface temperatures of up to 23°C in Howe Sound surface water.
I had checked the surface temperature at White-cliff Park (located in West Vancouver, less than 1km across from Bowen island.) 7 days before the swim. And surface was 15.5-15.9c.
Seals, and Lions mane Jellyfish are common in the area. Sea lions and Moon Jellyfish are also prevalent.
Bowen Island Circumnavigation September 17-September 18, 2018
The boat thermometer was off, water was 13- 16c at max.
On Monday September 17 Got up at 8 AM for me to get everything ready. I was picked up Just after 9 AM by my father and Craig. We packed everything into the car and started driving all the way to horseshoe Bay. Where we would meet Theresa and the boat (Andrew and Gunner at the public dock at Horse Shoe Bay terminal)
As we waited for everybody to arrive I quickly showed Craig everything we packed for for crew food etc. 30 min later I got the phone call that the boat was there. We all went down to the loading area with all of our gear. And started on our way over to quick boat trip to Bowen Island would be less than 20 minutes.
Andrew talked for about 10 minutes or so regarding safety on this excursion. The rest of the crew introduced them selves, along with their role. From my understanding it seemed like they all agreed that my father would be the only one who would be speaking to me. Even though I didn’t really care either way.
I proceeded to do a quick review of all the rules of marathon swimming. And reviewed the crews duties and responsibilities, for the swimmer. I had written and emailed a summary of basic rules including a personel preferences.
I had gathered an mix of experience people in specific fields. But really my dad would be the most experienced as for ‘Marathon Swimming’.
As we quickly got to our starting point. I started to grease up and get all the Desitin on my body.
We were starting from a private dock in Deep Bay. Which was just a stones throw north of the ferry terminal for Bowen Island
We were greeted by a few nice ladies from the local newspaper. We took a few quick pictures. I then got a little bit of music going before I was gonna get ready to jump in the water. I handed all of my stuff back to the Theresa. As the boat took off a 50 meters a head Then I heard the countdown and the gun go off. And I slipped into the water from the floating dock.
Forgot Seasick pill
I remembered as soon as started swimming, I did NOT take my Zofran (seasick) pill. As soon as I got up to the boat I told them I needed my pill. A few minutes later I got to try out my new food container. It worked great!
So we headed north, I got to swim a stretch me & dad did in 2017 a 6 hour swim with my dad (3 hours each way). A few years ago when I was training for Georgia straits.
I kept seeing my boat crew wave. I pause for second and then I realized it was people from the houses on Bowen waving back at them.
As we turned the northern corner, things still seemed quite familiar still. The water was cold and I knew that I had to try and get as much around the island as I could in the daylight. If only because of the fact that I knew that the air temperature would drop at nightfall. And I knew the water is colder than any water I had swim in for over eight hours. I decided to focus on the bend of trees on the farthest point of each bay. We finally passed the spot where I think we had turned around during six hour swim years before. I think I recalled that I was less than three hours and at this point. And was excited to see that I’ve progressed a decent amount away.
What I didn’t realize at the time, was I was getting some adverse current on the back side of the island. My feeding was going well and quick. Unfortunately my new food container had not adhered to some of the duct tape. But I knew what I was to fix for next time. But it still kept working great ! Thankful to my good boat crew for coming up with interesting ways to fix things.
Then suddenly my hair started to hurt. I was having a cap issue. I had been rushing to get everything ready before I jumped in the water. And I made a very low lying hair bun which was causing problems. I had to stop, tread water for a few minutes as I took my goggles and my completely off and re-adjusted them
I swore continuously for a few minutes. As this is happened on a few of my swims. Including in the middle of the English channel!
I saw at least two tiny moon jellyfish between hour 3 and sunset. The water was murky, nothing new for me. But I could remember only a couple of years ago trying to do some swimming near Anvil island. An island that is very close by. And being very scared out of my mind.
But today I felt very comfortable. Like I was in my own private swimming pool with beautiful mountains surrounding me. The sun was so bright, but I felt no warmth from it whatsoever. Not even a hint, I was definitely cold constantly.
I saw Theresa at one point chewing on something. I screamed ‘I can see you eating grrr…’ one of Jessi’s golden rules. (Don’t eat in front of swimmer) I get cravings for food in the water, I don’t need reminders.
Me and dad communicated well with feeding. ‘Too cold’ or ‘just right’. Was the mixture of exchanges we had. As I was trying to focus on moving (keeping my stroke rate up and quick stops for feeding).
A few minutes later I was back at it. I just kept keeping an eye on where my boat was and where I was headed. I did ask a few times if that was UBC already ahead. But it was only the edge of Paisley island. I remember hearing a motor in the water. And I looked above. A PLANE I could hear a low-flying airplanes motor clearly in the water!
The day seem to go by quite quickly. I’d forgotten to ask what time sun went down. But I knew him sometime between 730 and 830pm. I still cannot see UBC yet. So as the air cooled and I got used to the idea of night time. I did notice the moon before the sun completely set. Wow it was bright ! And I thought the lights in the boat might be an issue ? But thankfully as the world turns the moon moves as well as the sun does.
I saw my crew starting to string in the glow sticks before sundown, on the boat. I did notice though that they were not low enough. I yelled at them to let them know. I wanted to be able to see where the water hit the boat. As this ‘dark spot’ caused me lots of problems in English Channel. My crew responded well. And all was fixed!
I remember thinking that, I needed to NOT think about daylight. I was going to finish at night time. For My two other big channel swims. Which were Catalina channel and English channel. Both of these I started at midnight or before and finished in the afternoon.I remember really wanting to see daylight on those swims. But now I had to settle my mind into not thinking about daylight, until after the swim. It took me a few hours to get into this mindset. I tried to enjoy this beautiful safe water that I got to swim in. Constantly readjusting my eyes to the different shades of dark grey on the island, where the shoreline was. And where the boat was. I found myself going close to shore, thinking I would cut any extra horrible current but I may encounter. But I kept listening out for my boat to see if I had more instructions to follow.
As I was swimming west on the edge of Bowen, I saw the lights of UBC then I saw the darkness that followed which would be the west side of Vancouver where I live. And then I saw the lights of downtown Vancouver and oddly enough I noticed the Lions gate Bridge. I never realized how bright the lights on that bridge were at night time.
Before I realized it I could see more darkness right in front of me, I heard my boat crew call out I was going to run into a pile of rocks or something. So I moved towards my boat more.
I could see massive rock faces that I passed as I swam, around the island.
Starry Starry Skys
The night sky was so clear, bright stars & moon. I saw bioluminescence in the water. I remember thinking that it may be was a reflection of the bright stars above me. But as I over rotated to catch a glimpse of sky again. I realized whatever was underneath me was a lot closer together. And twinkled almost even brighter !
So As i got used to this beautiful site beneath me. I found it actually allowed me to relax a little bit more. As I didn’t have to readjust my eyes as much to the pitch black dark water, to dark grey sky. Repeat. I slowly started to see West Vancouver. Which meant I was getting closer to when I would start heading north again.
It was a nice feeling, to know that I was getting somewhere. But then I started to see the sky light in color. I couldn’t believe it ! It would be DAWN soon !
I started to see what I thought was Whitecliff park. Which is just across from Bowen island. I think I saw that area forever. As the sun is starting to come up I could finally see the water change color. Because we are in such a mountainous area. This was the first time where I noticed the colour of the sky lightened quite a bit earlier than the colour of the water !
‘Nightmare’ Southeast Deacon Point
Then all the sudden we swam around a pile of rocks and I started feeling a current push me so hard. I wasn’t moving at all! I later learned that it was at least 1 knot of current pushing me backwards. I saw the ferry from Horseshoe Bay motoring to Bowen Island and back. I knew I was getting very close to my finishing dock. But I was going nowhere! And I felt like it was getting worse. I swam a few strokes then put my head up to see what was going on I got pushed backwards quickly!
I was told to swim further out from the island. Perhaps going a bit wider I could catch a bit of relief from this current. But as I swam wide (away from the island), closer to the boat I was getting pushed out into the Georgia Straits!
Try to stop me!
I then was told that it might be almost an hour before the tide would change to my favor. I think I murmured out ‘this is my worst nightmare’. And ‘I’m tired’.
At this point there is a bit of shuffling around on the boat. And then my dad ‘asked me do you want to get out’.
I screamed back at him, angrily . ‘Why? All I told you was that I was tired.’ I put my face back in the water. Swam a few strokes. Then I pop my head up again. ‘Are you pulling me?’ I lifted my fingers up, ‘I can still feel my fingers, I am fine.’
I was so pissed off. I knew I just had to ‘Hang in there’ until the tide flipped on me.
I started thinking about the English channel. The panic that had set in on hour 14 1/2 when I couldn’t get into France. Andy King Screaming at me to ‘go harder’. I had to scream at myself. I was so tired. But I knew I had to just keep on going. I was already a ‘channel swimmer’. I wasn’t going to let this ocean beat me this time !!! I hadn’t even been sick on this swim! I had NOTHING to worry about. I didn’t even have jellyfish! Suck it up, and swim!
It was feeding time and the current was too strong. So they asked me to swim back to the previous bay a couple minutes we’re at least I could feed quickly without getting pushed.
Try #3, ‘the starfish gate’
I asked for some soda crackers. It took a bit longer to feed, but it was worth the change up. I got my head in the water and started another attempt! I got right into the rocky shore… I was about 20cm from the rocks. I could see these purple starfish. I swam right over them in one spot. Going nowhere, I stroked almost touching them. If only I could swim past them! I felt like they were talking to each other (‘don’t let her pass!’).
Then finally! I saw myself slowly move inch by inch. I did a couple of breast stroke, diving a few centimetres just under the surface. Then I saw the green ferry marker. Finally !!!
I started to see how the last two bays we’re actually just one bay merger slightly together. A part of me thought I had a bit further to go. But after I got through that hard part of current, I felt so so lifeless. I started thinking about rewarming.
I heard them say LAST feed ! But I opted out! The last feed is always such a hard one to do. As I knew I was going to be out of that water within 20 minutes. I couldn’t stomach another gel with water.
I told them I wanted to towels and my hat for when I got out right away. As I finally saw the dock where I had started about 21 hours. Previous. I finally thought to myself I am actually going to make it !
I had to urinate one more time so I floated for a few seconds. Then carefully got a hold of the latter and pull myself up onto the dock.
I quickly got onto the boat, and started to get changed quickly. I found a bit debris in my swimsuit. Pieces of wood chips and a little bit of seagrass.
I got changed and quickly into my sleeping bag.I think it was no more than 45 minutes from when I finished, to when we were back at Horshoe Bay. I had just stopped shaking (rewarming) when we got on the public dock. Personel Best; Longest + coldest swim to date ! Salish Sea tested me that day!
by Craig Stewart, observer
Jessi Harewicz’s circumnavigation swim of Bowen Island, September 17, 2018.
Jessi asked me to be the Independent Observer for her attempt to swim around Bowen Island. This meant that I would be recording information about conditions along the way, taking photographs and video, and ensuring that Jessi adhered to the marathon swim rules of the Marathon Swim Federation (MSF).
The “spirit” of marathon swimming is expressed thusly on their website:
Marathon swimmers embrace the challenge of crossing wild, open bodies of water with minimal assistance beyond their own physical strength and mental fortitude. There are ways to make the sport easier, but marathon swimmers consciously eschew them.
Marathon swimmers take pride that their achievements can be meaningfully compared to the achievements of previous generations, because the standard equipment of the sport has not changed significantly since 1875.
What this meant was that Jessi would be swimming in mid-September above the 49th parallel in 13 degree (Celsius) ocean water for many, many hours, in nothing but swim suit, goggles and cap. I researched signs of hypothermia.
I was aware that Jessi had already done some mind-boggling swims. Just a few months earlier, she had swim the 33 kilometres from Catalina Island to Los Angeles. And the previous summer she had swum across the English Channel, getting stuck in eddies and currents for three hours along the coast of France. It takes a very unique kind of person to do swims like these. I once asked another accomplished swimmer what she thought about during epic swims like this. She responded emphatically: “Oh, you don’t think. You think and you’re dead.”
Independent Observer? Okay. This could be an ordeal just to watch the swim. Not starting too early? Great. Getting a lift from your father and swim manager, Richard? Great. Two expert sailors in charge of the 33 foot racing sailboat? Awesome.
We climbed aboard the vessel with our stuff (for me: many layers and a change of clothes and a bit of food) in Horseshoe Bay and powered over. The sailboat had no sail—we would be using the sailboat’s motor between neutral and a low throttle for the entire swim as we monitored her progress and Richard fed her with bottles attached to a string every 30 minutes. She would not be allowed to intentionally touch the boat.
We arrived at the private dock on the east side of Bowen Island that navigator Andrew had determined would be a good starting and finishing point in relation to tides. Andrew had been through the area previously and had left notes on houses and docks requesting use of private docks to ensure that Jessi had a good starting and finishing point. This dock’s owner, a vibrant elderly woman, and her granddaughters came down to greet us as Jessi was slathered with Vaseline (for chafing) and white sun block. There had been an article in the Bowen Island paper about Jessi’s swim. So the Island would generally know this would be happening today.
Jessi had told me that this would be the coldest long swim she has attempted. I imagined the water would be about 11 degrees Celsius. I have swum in 13 degree water (with Jessi and a few others) for about 20 minutes—I wore a wetsuit. She would be swimming without a wetsuit for an anticipated 14 hours, in—what is the actual temperature of the water right now? 12 degrees Celsius you say? [NB: Apparently the boat’s temperature reading was off, and so the water is said to have been between 13 and 16 degrees Celsius.]
We pulled away from the dock and gave her a countdown. She slipped into the water at 11:35:07 am on September 17, 2018 to the sound of a horn. We were off.
Those of us on the boat peered out as she caught up to us and stayed off our port side, between us and the shore as we headed north and counter-clockwise around the island. Andrew and Gunnar, two sailors who have raced each other in their respective yachts, took turns helming the vessel for the entire swim. I was to take photos and video and record the wind and water conditions every 30 minutes. And ensure, hey—no touching the boat.
I was not responsible for her safety or her food. Theresa, a person who trains triathletes, was excited to join us. She assisted Richard in boiling water and preparing food and drink for Jessi, sent out updates on social media, and greatly added to the supportive and cheerful morale of the support crew.
Richard would alert Jessi that it was time to “feed” (this term struck me as being a bit odd: “feeding time!”) and she would swim over to the boat and grab the bottle or two attached to a string that Richard was dangling down. Every hour, she got a small piece of rolled up peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Every thirty minutes, she drank about 250 ml of a Gu gel with warm water. I typically gave a two-minute warning for feeding times. As a rule, it was only Richard who spoke to Jessi.
Jessi would give feedback about the temperature of the water in the bottle: “Too warm!” or “It can’t be any colder than that!” Once: “That was perfect.” Richard, dutiful, regardless of the specific comment: “Okay.”
Horseshoe Bay had been a bit cloudy as we left, but it was now bright and sunny as we headed up the east side of Bowen Island according to Andrew’s plan to make use of expected tidal currents. The water was not choppy. Conditions seemed surprisingly ideal.
We heard some cheers from shore. People in their waterfront homes had spotted us and were cheering Jessi on. We saw a swimmer in the water ahead. He stayed on the starboard side of the boat and told us in a Scottish accent that he wanted to come out and say hello to Jessi during her swim. He, too, wasn’t wearing a wetsuit.
Jessi had told me that she wanted me to note every time she urinated. This was related to safety, she said. She also wanted me to make note of her comments. She yelled out “Moon jelly!” at one point, avoiding the jellyfish.
After about 90 minutes, Jessi requested Tylenol for cramping. She also took an anti-nausea pill every 6 hours, which Teresa had set an alarm for.
After two and a half hours of swimming, Jessi asked: “Was I fighting something there?” and let us know that the cramping was still there bit not bad.
Our sailors noted that we were in an “adverse current” as we started heading west around the north part of the island. Jessi paused at one point to adjust her hair and swim cap (“Fuck!…Shit!”) and resumed her pace.
We, the five members of the boat crew, were provided food by Jessi and her dad, and we would occasionally go below and pull out a cookie, a piece of fruit, or a piece of cheese. However, Jessi had some “golden rules” which included not eating or vomiting in front of her. We tried to be discrete. As for vomiting, I didn’t believe I would get sea sick, thank you very much. The water was pretty flat, with not much in the way of swells or chop.
Sometimes Jessi was close to the boat; sometimes she was 10 metres or more away.
After about three hours of Jessi swimming in what remained 12 degree water [maybe more like 13-15 degrees], I started to decouple my sense of understanding of what she was enduring. It was simply beyond me. I could no longer identify with her. She was still going when I would have turned into semi-sentient automaton with claws for hands demanding my mom’s lasagna and that VERY GOOD hot chocolate you can only get from Thierry on Jervis.
On the boat we chatted about various things, enjoying the late afternoon sun and the beautiful water, the forested islands to the north of us. Every thirty minutes this person in a swim cap with white stuff on her face came to get some nourishment on a string.
Towards sunset, I pulled out the waterproof ukulele someone had brought and sang a few songs. Coffee was made. It was nice. The five us were sitting there munching on cookies when Jessi yelled out from the water: “I CAN SEE YOU EATING.” Ahem. We got back to business, put the food away.
We were looking west. Jessi asked on one of her eating breaks whether that was UBC ahead. Unfortunately it was not. It was Pasley Island, west of Bowen Island, its eastern edge obscured by points of Bowen ahead of us. She was still hoping to do the entire swim in about 14 hours. The sailors seemed a touch skeptical, but were hopeful of better currents ahead.
Sunset came at 7:24 pm. Jessi had attached a few lights to her swim cap, which were now visible. I was also to count her stroke rate throughout her swim. Ideally, it was to be between 60 and 68 strokes per minute. Most of the time I counted by listening to the splash of each arm and catching her rhythm.
Around sunset, Richard noted ominously: “That was the easy part.”
We had spotted Cape Roger Curtis at the southwest corner of the island ahead of us before the sun had gone down and it was getting mostly dark by the time Jessi was making her way across Tunstall Bay.
We rounded the corner in the dark and finally the lights of UBC were visible. Gradually, downtown Vancouver appeared. The water was choppier here, with bigger swells. Going below briefly to get food, I could feel that sense of unreality with the rocking motion competing with the visible lack of movement of the interior of the cabin. I determined that I should be as quick as possible in the cabin. By now, though, it was about 11 or 12 degrees outside—the same temperature as the water [actually a little colder than the water]. Which Jessi had been swimming in for about 11 hours by this point. I put on a few more layers—I now had 6—and sat on a life jacket to be more comfortable.
The tide was again adverse at this point. Jessi was not moving very fast. I noted down at 10:28 pm: “Pause in stroke: ‘UGH!’” I don’t know if she touched something in the dark or was frustrated. And let me highlight that she had been swimming in the pitch dark ocean for about four hours by then. A few swimmers had been texting me to ask how it was going. I posted a few updates along the way to VOWSA Swimmers Forum on Facebook.
Jessi took a third anti-nausea pill at 11:40 pm. Her stroke count was about 61. The water temperature was 12 degrees [maybe more like 13-15 degrees] and the air temperature was 11 degrees. Jessi told us that she was bracing for this swim to take 18 hours. We started to hit a current that was helping her. She was making better time, according to the boat’s instruments measuring speed over land and speed over water. There was very little wind altogether—at most about 6 knots.
The boat crew chatted about Bob Dylan, the camaraderie of sailors, Montreal, the stars, the relative experience of sailors and their ambitions, the opinion of Gunnar that the film “All is Lost” with Robert Redford portrayed a sailor with a woeful lack of safety strategies in place. We rocked back and forth with the sea, bundled up, chewing food discretely, bustling every thirty minutes to prepare and facilitate Jessi getting food or drink. Richard using a flashlight to get Jessi’s attention: “What?” “Feeding time!” “Oh. Okay.” Intermittently, the sailors: “You want a break?” (with helming the tiller). “Sure.” Jessi: “Is that the Lion’s Gate Bridge?” “Yes!”
Teresa sat/laid down on a thermarest in the cabin for about 90 minutes for a nap. Now that we were hitting midnight and 1am, I felt oddly awake. We hit Cowan Point at the southeast corner of the island, at 2:05 am. We began to swing north.
The current began to be adverse again. Some discussion about what to do. Richard called out that Jessi should swim closer to the shore, despite that the boat could not move any closer to shore for fear of hitting bottom. At 4: 06 am, during a feeding, we told Jessi that she was 90% finished. At 4:21 am, I recorded that Jessi yelled out from the water: “AAARRGH!” I longed for it to be light again.
Jessi was not moving very fast. Andrew addressed Richard in a way that sounded serious: “Let’s have a talk.” Andrew noted that Jessi was barely moving in the current current. How long could she keep this up? It would not turn around for a while yet. If she couldn’t pick up speed, they may have to consider pulling her from the water. Richard, experienced with Jessi on these major swims, responded to say that he could mention this to her. Around this time, at 5:17 am, Jessi called out that she was tired.
Richard used the flashlight to get Jessi’s attention. He mentioned the adverse current and that there might be a few hours left to go. He yelled through cupped hands: “Do you want to stay in? Or do you want to get out?” Jessi yelled back, maybe from about 50 metres from behind us, from the pitch dark: “WHY WOULD I WANT TO GET OUT? I JUST SAID I WAS TIRED!” In the boat, we all smiled. “Okay. That seems pretty clear,” someone said. “She understands that that was the start of the conversation,” I said.
I watched for signs of slower or nonsensical speech. There were none. At 3:05 am, she had mentioned that a pectoral muscle “had gone.” At 5:35 am, Jessi reported during a feed that her hip was bugging her.
Sunrise was to be at 6:52 am; we began to see the silhouettes of the north shore mountains around 6:00 am. Finally. No using a bike light to record data; no errant flashlights blinding people. Jessi still swimming. People who had contacted me earlier texting again now that they were waking up to ask about the lack of finishing announcement on Facebook. Prayers offered. Many online comments saying “you can do it!”
We were not far from the bay that with ferry dock and the private dock which was the finish. Jessi had been swimming now for more than nineteen hours straight.
I had become a little more attuned to the way the surface of the water communicated things. As we approached what was to be the final the point, still in an adverse current, I was suddenly alarmed: the water looked very rough. Not as in swells or waves, but like a whirlpool, like it was moving fast in complicated directions. This point is to the southeast of Crippen Park, just past Dorman Bay. I mentioned my alarm to Gunnar, who was helming. We watched as Jessi got closer, hugging close to the rocky shore. This was sometime around 6:15 am.
Indeed this was tough. Jessi slowed to a crawl. And as we moved a little bit forward in the boat about 30-40 metres away from her, it was clear that she was swimming—at a rate of 60 strokes per minute—but was not moving at all. For many minutes. We called out that she should try to swim out towards the boat to see if that was any better. We noted among ourselves that the dock we were aiming for was somewhere right ahead of us in the middle of that dark shape of land. There were no more points to get around after this one.
As Jessi swam towards the boat, she was pushed backward by the current. We had to reverse the boat to get alongside her. It was clear that she was doing better closer to shore. When was the tidal current going to reverse? Not for another hour. She swam back towards shore and again came close to the rocks and again seemed to make progress.
Just how exhausted was she? How could she keep going? She had less than an hour to go in her swim. As the light got brighter, we could see the very dock that was the finish line, that would mark the complete circumnavigation of Bowen Island.
And again Jessi got stuck. In the same exact spot, right near a cleft in the rock. There must have been an especially bad combination of eddies right there. Again she came away from the shore and got pushed backwards. Richard yelled out to her that she should swim back into Dorman Bay were the water looked calmer. At 6:45 am I noted: “Jessi has been stuck at a point for 20 + minutes. Retreat to cove.” On the boat, options were discussed. Bring her out away from the shore and hope the current was less powerful? Have her bide time in the bay until the tide changed?
We met up with her in the bay to feed her. She requested soda crackers for the first time. Jessi: “I gotta keep moving.” Her speech slower. Discussion of options with Jessi, including her staying put in the bay while the boat went out further to check how strong the current was. I was generally saying nothing, uninformed as I was about current and just what exactly Jessi’s capacity was. But I was aware of what I would want to do in this situation. It was NOT to hang tight, or swim way out of the way with only a possibility that it might be easier.
Jessi: “God, this is like the worst nightmare ever.” My God, how we wanted to help her. Richard, though, keeping things light: “But it’s daytime.” Her stroke rate was down to 51.
She wanted to try again. Here we go. I thought to myself: At what point does she give up? Isn’t her energy draining away? Isn’t she mildly hypothermic by now?
She got close to shore as before. It was almost too hard to watch. We were transfixed, trying to stay calm ourselves. She was almost at the exact spot where she got stuck twice before. I think: Could she actually die? Would she actually push herself to that point? I try looking away for a few minutes in the hopes I could see some measure of progress more clearly when I look back. Sobriety takes me and I think: if it really came down to it, Jessi would know to pull herself before that, would be able to make that decision. It certainly wasn’t for me to decide.
Finally. It looks…like….
“Has she gotten further? Is she past that point?” Still swimming at a solid stroke rate. She is further. She has not much more to go to get to visibly calmer water. “Has she just broken through?” Unbelievable. We surmised that being that close to shore in the increasing light, Jessi would be able to see exactly the incremental progress she was making.
At 7:35 am I noted: “After her 3rd attempt, Jessi seems to have finally broken through the deadlock and moved past the point after about an hour and twenty minutes.”
Ten minutes later, she had her last feeding. She asked us: “I actually have a hope of finishing?” At 8:17 am, she asked: “Is it right there?”—meaning the finish.
Jessi reached the dock at 8:36 am and 18 seconds on September 18, 2018: 21 hours, one minute and 11 seconds after she had started. She requested two towels and a hat on the dock and everything else down below. She could not stand up straight on the dock, her eyes were puffy, and her speech was slow. Teresa ministered to her below and covered her with every conceivable blanket, towel and jacket. “She knows what she wants and is drinking hot chocolate.” Craig Stewart
by Andrew Leibmann, navigator
On the morning of the swim there were mostly clear skies, light winds, and not too much traffic in Queen Charlotte channel. The swim was started from a dock on the north side of Manion Bay, thanks to the generous cooperation of a private homeowner.
The first portion of the swim went fairly according to plan. Based on the boat’s instruments Jessi swam at about 1.2 knots (2.2 km/h) with a small push from the end of the flood current that varied from nothing to about 0.3 kt (about 0.5km/h). There was a light inflow wind building, but it never became very strong.
Local residents gave vocal support from shore, from kayaks, and one gentleman even swam out from the shore to briefly speak to the crew on the boat.
On the northeast corner of Bowen Island there is a small island connected to Bowen by an isthmus which dries at low water and is submerged at high water. In order to ensure that the route was repeatable at any state of the tide the official distance was calculated to go around this small island. One could say that this was a swim around both Bowen and Finistere Islands.
Swimming west across the top of Bowen included the first two instances of ferry wake, which did not seem to be a big problem.
Approaching the northwest corner of the island where Jessi would turn south past Hutt island the end of the flood tide was against Jessi by about 0.3 kt (about 0.5km/h). This adverse tidal current continued longer than expected down Collingwood channel, and it became apparent that Jessi was falling behind schedule to round Cape Roget Curtis in daylight and ebb current.
Part way down Collingwood channel the current slacked, and eventually turned to a weak ebb helping her with about 0.2kt (0.35 km/h) current. Unfortunately there was some inflow wind creating surface waves that Jessi had to swim into, and as is common with wind against tide the waves were short and steep, but not very big.
A lovely sunset over the Strait of Georgia saw Jessi still swimming strongly at a very consistent stroke count and speed through the water, but unfortunately a little slower than necessary to be around Cape Roger Curtis which was visible about 2km away.
The good news was that the Strait was calm and there was no sign of the weather changing. Deploying the chemical lightsticks on the side of the boat gave Jessi a clear reference while the boat crew tried to use mostly dim red lights to avoid dazzling her with bright lights. The moonlight was welcome in spotting Jessi and keeping track of stroke count.
Before Jessi turned the corner into the Strait of Georgia the current had turned again, and at this time Jessi was informed that she was behind schedule. She was told that it looked like the swim would be at least 16 hours, depending on current. She took this in stride and continued with a steady pace into the Strait of Georgia.
As Jessi swam across the bottom of Bowen there was a weak (0.3 kt or 0.5km/h) flood current against her. Attempts to find current relief further out from shore were unsuccessful, and it seemed that the closer to the steep rocky shoreline she could get the better. After moonset it became harder to keep track of stroke count, but the green lights on Jessi’s head and back were very visible.
Part way along this shore the current slacked, and then turned to a weak ebb that was too small to measure, but seemed to give Jessi a bit of better speed towards Point Cowan. Jessi was also heartened by spotting the iconic outline lights on the Lions Gate bridge which marks the entrance to Vancouver’s inner harbour.
As Jessi rounded Point Cowan she was well behind schedule and was now swimming into the start of a building ebb current. tucking in tight to the shoreline under each small point gave some help, but her stroke count was dropping, her speed through the water was dropping, and the adverse current was building. Speed over the bottom was getting slower all the time.
Jessi and the spotter (her Father) were convinced she could keep going. She was not feeling particularly cold, she was clearly lucid and responsive, and she was determined to finish. When she apologized the first time for slowing down, she said “Sorry guys, I’m slowing down, I’m really tired.” When asked if she wanted to keep going her answer was an indignant “Why WOULDN’T I keep going?” and put her head down to swim. About 10 minutes later, in an aggrieved tone of voice she asked “I’m just trying to understand, did you guys want to PULL ME???” and the boat crew were convinced that her rhetorical question was clear evidence that she could keep going.
The adverse ebb current continued to build, and as the swim passed 17 hours (Jessi’s previous longest time) in the very dark pre-dawn hours it was decided to put the kayak in the water and the kayak gear on deck ready for quick deployment. Jessi was swimming very close to shore for current relief, closer than the boat could safely go so the kayak could be available if she needed closer support or assistance. As it happens, she was able to swim out to the boat for feeding or to cut the distance across small bays and the kayak never left the support boat.
After sunrise, some back eddies were found in the bays on the southeast side of the island and Jessi made good progress into the north part of Dorman bay. Unfortunately getting around the point on the northeast side proved to be very difficult. The ebb current was at the strongest point and was measured by the boat at about one knot (1.8 km/h) which was about the fastest Jessi could swim. There was a strong stream of water shooting out from the point that Jessi could not cross on her first attempt and as she was slowly pushed backwards she was advised to swim back into the lee of the point in Dorman bay to take a rest and have a scheduled feeding.
Jessi was advised the short distance (about 2km) to the finish, but also that the current was not going to diminish for about an hour. Jessi’s response was that “Failure is not an option I’m willing to accept” and she made two more attempts to round the point, angling in close to shore at the critical place, and on her third try she was able to get around and she swam far enough up the next section to take another scheduled feeding before passing the entrance to Snug Cove.
By this time the Bowen ferry was in operation, but luckily the timing worked out and the ferry was far off as Jessi made her way across the ferry track into Snug Cove. At this point the finish was in sight about 1km away but Jessi’s speed was quite slow, and not consistent. Despite her fatigue, Jessi’s force of will got her to the finish, pausing about 15 metres from the dock to give instructions on what she wanted after the finish.
After 21 hours and 25 seconds Jessi completed her swim around Bowen Island.
Click to enlarge.
- Bowen Island Undercurrent: English Channel swimmer circumnavigating Bowen today