Molly Nance - St. Lucia Channel

St. Lucia to Martinique

34.1 km (21.2 miles)

13 hours, 56 minutes on 16 May 2018

Observed and documented by Sue Dyson

First woman to complete solo swim of St Lucia Channel

Contents

Swimmer

  • Name: Molly Nance
  • Gender: female
  • Age on swim date: 52
  • Nationality: US
  • Resides: Lincoln, Nebraska, United States

Support Personnel

Escort Vessel: All In (Rodney Bay Marina, St Lucia)

  • Martin Thomas - boat captain
  • Sue Dyson - observer
  • Paul Nance - feeds, photos
  • Weston Moses - kayaker
  • Thalia Bergasse - first aid, first responder
  • Nathaniel Waring - relief kayak, support swimmer, photos
  • Lily Bergasse - general crew
  • Horace Popo - Ericsson/Flow testing
  • Kahlil Jules - Ericsson/Flow testing

Swim Parameters

Category: Solo, nonstop, unassisted.

Rules: MSF Rules of Marathon Swimming.

Additional equipment: Sharkbanz, one on right wrist (removed after 2 hours); one on each ankle.

Route Definition

  • Body of Water: St. Lucia Channel, Caribbean Sea
  • Route Type: one-way channel swim
  • Minimum Repeatable Route: Cariblue Beach (at BodyHoliday Resort), St. Lucia (14.10307, -60.94761) to Grand Anse Beach, Martinique (14.40203, -60.87731). Intermediate waypoint at offshore rocks 500m NNW of Cariblue beach.
  • Minimum Route Distance: 34.1 km (21.2 miles).

Route Commentary

Start: Cariblue Beach, St. Lucia (at BodyHoliday Resort) was identified as the closest accessible start location for a cross-channel swim. The rocky coast at the far north of St. Lucia is slightly closer, but inaccessible to swimmers and off-limits per instructions of the St. Lucia Police Marine Unit, Maritime Affairs, and Port Authority.

Finish: The beach at Grand Terre is the closest point of Martinique (33.6 km from BodyHoliday beach), but is inaccessible to many boats due to nearshore rocks and coral reefs. Therefore, the next beach to the northwest, Grand Anse, was identified as the closest accessible finish point - 34.1 km (21.2 miles) from the start at Cariblue beach.

Molly’s actual finish location was another 1.5 km further northwest, at Anse Meunier beach (34.7 km from the start).

For future cross-channel swims, the organizers of the St. Lucia Channel Swim recommend Cariblue Beach to Grand Anse as the official route, and 34.1 (21.2 miles) as the official swim distance.

These various locations, along with Molly’s GPS track, are displayed in the following map:

History

One previous known swim of this route - Jacques Sicot, 11-12 hours in 1987.

Swim Data

  • Start: 16 May 2018, 04:43, Atlantic Standard Time
  • Finish: 16 May 2018, 18:39
  • Elapsed: 13 hours, 56 minutes.

Summary of Conditions

Feature Min Max
Water Temp 77F 81F
Air Temp 79F 81F
Wind 11.1 knots 19.9 knots

GPS Track

  • Map: see above
  • Data: DeLorme InReach, 10-minute frequency: GPX, CSV.
  • Speed plot:

Weather Data

Observer Log

Download PDF

Planning

Swim plan document (PDF)

“What If” Scenarios

St. Lucia Channel Swim “What-If” Scenarios

In general- Captain Bruce has the absolute authority to end the swim for the safety of all involved at his discretion.

Change in the weather (wind, rain, storms)

Captain Bruce will keep an eye on the weather. Mild changes, such as wind between 8-10 knots or rain, will be tolerated as long as safe for swimmer and crew. If radar indicates more severe storm, captain will end the swim.

Severe reaction to jellyfish stings

If swimmer experiences severe pain or respiratory reaction to jellyfish stings, the swimmer should grab onto kayak for tow to yacht for jellyfish treatment: spray sting sites with vinegar and soak in hot water or hot packs. Ibuprofen. Get to hospital asap.

Shark sighting

Use the Boston Light Swim guidelines. All crew should be vigilant for any sign of sharks. In general, if a shark is sighted within 100 yards, swimmer must be escorted to the yacht and leave the water immediately. If attacked and injured, apply emergency first aid treatment and call appropriate coast guard authorities for airlift to hospital.

Nausea

If swimmer is feeling nauseous, she may skip a feed or vomit. Both are fine solutions. If nausea is mild, swimmer may request Gaviscon or Tums.

Cramps

Swimmer may stop to stretch out cramp. May request banana and/or ibuprofen. If cramping persists to the point that very little to no progress is being made for 15 minutes, boat captain or observer may end the swim.

Leaky goggles, broken cap

Extra supplies will be available on the kayak. Swimmer may request eye drops.

Getting off course

Boat pilot will do his best to keep swimmer on track, but if the current pushes the swimmer too far off course, so there is no possibility of reaching Martinique, the boat captain may end the swim.

Sunburn

If swimmer is getting pink from sun exposure, kayaker should notify swimmer and hand her the extra tube of Desitin, which she should apply to the affected area on her own.

Narrative

Planning the Swim

The idea for my St. Lucia Channel swim began in early 2017 when friends of ours vacationed in St. Lucia and shared stories and photos from their trip. I wasn’t exactly sure where St. Lucia was located in the Caribbean, so literally looked at a globe to see that it was near the southern sweep of Caribbean islands. I noticed Martinique just above St. Lucia and wondered how far away it was … because swimmers ALWAYS wonder how far it might be to swim. I looked it up on Google maps and discovered it was 22 miles apart, about the same distance as the English Channel. And, Martinique is a French province, making it even more similar to the English Channel. The one difference was much warmer water. More Googling revealed that average temperatures in the St. Lucia Channel are around 80 to 82 degrees year-round.

I assumed there must have been several channel crossings that I just hadn’t heard about. More Googling. I found records of two male swimmers who had successfully completed the channel swim: Jacques Siqot https://www.stlucianewsonline.com/press-release-jacques-sicot-completes-swim-around-st-lucia/ and Yann Richard, https://www.allatsea.net/richard-the-lionheart-crosses-from-st-lucia-to-martinique-the-hard-way/. Ross Edgely made an unsuccessful attempt to swim the St. Lucia Channel with a log in January 2018: https://www.redbull.com/gb-en/ross-edgley-strongman-swimming-interview but I couldn’t find any information about women who had attempted the channel.

I wondered why this channel hadn’t been swum by known marathon swimmers. Were there sharks? Box jellies? Government regulations preventing it? Pirates? More Googling. By now, I was getting hooked on the idea and started ramping up my training… just in case. The thought of being the first woman to swim the St. Lucia Channel was strangely intriguing – how funny if could be me, a 52-year old woman from Lincoln, Nebraska. Well, why not?!

By summer 2017, I’d found my boat pilot – Bruce Hackshaw with Captain Mike’s Charters. He is one of the best known and respected chartered boat captains in St. Lucia with several trophies for sport fishing contests. He also provides whale and dolphin cruises and has sailed all over the Caribbean. I talked to him on the phone and he was excited about my idea to swim the channel, offering to provide support services at cost.

The planning brought back my enthusiasm for open water swimming. I’d been sadly disappointed in my English Channel DNF in 2014. I did the best I could that day, but I knew I had not come anywhere near my physical limit for swimming. Nausea got the best of me and combined with the cold water, it did me in. I thought even if I got sick swimming to Martinique, at least with warm water, I could probably continue swimming. Plus, St. Lucia would be a beautiful place to visit. Planning and training for the swim became a pleasant obsession, although I didn’t share my plans beyond my family for a long time. I wasn’t sure if I’d even be able to get the swim off the ground, much less completed.

About this same time, one of my two older brothers was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I had originally thought to do the swim in fall 2018, but with his diagnosis, I didn’t want to wait that long. I called Bruce and asked if spring 2018 would be a good time for the swim. As with anything I asked Bruce, the answer was “no problem!” We settled on April or May.

In fall 2017, I sent an email to David Peterkin, one of the names that kept popping up in St. Lucia swimming articles. I didn’t hear anything for a few weeks, then got a reply email from Sue Dyson, one of the board members of the St. Lucia Amateur Swimming Association who had received the forwarded email. Sue and another swimmer, Nathaniel Waring, were planning a swimming event for the St. Lucia Channel in July 2018. Sue understood I wanted to do a solo crossing and was a wonderful support, helping me with the necessary approvals from the St. Lucia and Martinique authorities. She also found a great kayaker and other volunteer crew members.

We were all new at this and used the resources of the Marathon Swimming Federation website and advice from experienced marathon swimmer friends to prepare for the swim and ensure we complied with MSF rules. Both Sue and I watched the online videos from a swimmer observation workshop and we discussed plans – everything from starting points, to crew roles and responsibilities, to “what-if” scenarios and observer log notes.

We set our swimming window for the week of May 14 – most likely May 15, 16 or 17. Bruce said the tradewinds normally died down a bit from March and April. Paul and I bought our plane tickets and made hotel reservations at a charming little hotel near the Rodney Bay Marina, where our support boat was docked.

During the early months of 2018, I was extremely busy at work and worried about my brother. Fortunately, he has been responding well to chemo and the cancer isn’t growing. But, it’s still there. The swim training gave me an outlet for stress and the channel goal gave me something positive and exciting to focus on. In late April 2018, I wrote up a channel swimming plan with details on what needed to be done when and by whom and shared it with Paul, Sue and Suzie Dods to get their feedback. I also asked Ranie Pearce if I could borrow her Sharkbanz. I love the support of the marathon swimming community!

Finally, the time arrived for our trip and we packed like maniacs the night before we left since we both had to work right up to our departure. I brought a pair of jeans and 2 pairs of long yoga pants and just one pair of shorts. WTH? At least I had all of my swimming gear.

We arrived in St. Lucia on Saturday, May 12, and Paul drove our rental jeep across the island to Rodney Bay. They drive on the left in St. Lucia and there are huge, deep gutters between the street and the curb or sidewalk. It’s more of a moat than a gutter. And traffic is crazy with drivers careening all over the road to avoid people, dogs, chickens, goats and whatnot. I was sure we were going to dive into one the gutters, breaking the axle of our rental car. I had a good old fashioned panic attack and Paul had to pull over so I could slow down my hyperventilating and wipe the tears off my face. Guess I was tired. Maybe a little anxious.

We made it to the Ginger Lily Hotel without hitting a gutter or anything – or anyone –and quickly unpacked our bags so we could relax. Reduit beach was a short walk across the street. We were too pooped to meet up with Sue, so we agreed to meet the next day.

On Sunday, Paul and I met Sue and Wes, my kayaker. Wes and I practiced swimming and feeding from the kayak. The water was perfect! The temperature was probably about 80 and the most beautiful blue I’d ever seen. Lots of colorful little fish darted around near the bottom and I enjoyed swimming for a little over an hour.

On Monday evening, we had our crew meeting. Bruce and his wife Kim and their kids joined us, along with a gentleman I assumed was a crew member. Bruce introduced Martin Thomas, explaining that Martin would serve as the captain of our support boat since he had more experience with “non-fishing” excursions. I trusted Bruce and figured if he felt Martin was better suited for the job, that was fine by me. I enjoyed talking with Martin after dinner and learning about his career path, from being the son of a poor farming couple, to learning the ropes of charter boat sailing to becoming one of the best fishing guides in St. Lucia.

Other support crew members included Nathaniel Waring, the co-director of the St. Lucia Channel swimming event in July, who would take photos and support swim, if needed; Wes Moses, kayaking; Thalia Bergasse, first aid; her mom Lily Bergasse, crew hand; and Sue Dyson, observer. And, of course, Paul, who knows me and my swimming style better than anyone.

Sue read the MSF rules aloud and I answered a few questions. Bruce said Wednesday looked to be the best day of the week for good weather. The winds had been higher than we expected, around 18-20 knots, and we were hoping they would die down by Wednesday.

Tuesday we prepared for the swim, gathering groceries for the crew and getting my feeds lined-up. Paul made a huge stack of PBJs. The hotel staff kindly boiled up some sweet potatoes for me so we could mash them up with coconut water for mushy feeds. I measured out the Carbo Pro with juice and tea for the liquid feeds. We were both tired from all the activity and actually slept pretty well from 7:30 p.m. to 2 a.m. when we woke up to get to the marina.

The Swim

We all gathered at Rodney Bay Marina at 3 a.m. to get supplies loaded onto “All In,” a beautiful 40-foot catamaran with inboard motor. Wes and Nathaniel had loaded the kayak the evening before, along with some ice and water. We left the marina about an hour later, heading for the start at Body Holiday beach.

I had applied SeaSafe sunscreen the evening before. I doubt if a product can prevent jellyfish stings, but hey, I figured I’d give it a shot. Paul added a layer of zinc oxide cream, then a layer of Bag Balm mixed with lanolin to help prevent chaffing. I looked like a mime. Just the way I like it.

I put in my earplugs, slid my gold swimcap over my head and then pulled my goggles on. Paul affixed the button lights – one on my goggles strap and one attached to the back of my suit. Finally, I added the sexy nose clip with the neck band. Don’t know how anyone could resist my hotness. At least I thought that’s what Paul said. Maybe it was hot mess.

The boat made its way to the Body Holiday beach cove. Wes and Nathaniel slid the kayak into the water and Wes got situated in the kayak hull. I stepped off the back of the catamaran and swam about 100 yards or so to the beach. I cleared the water and walked until I hit dry sand. I adjusted my goggles and cap and made sure the button lights were still on. I raised my arm to indicate I was ready.

Still holding the arm up. Hey, guys, over here! I’m ready to swim now! Finally, Martin blew the horn and I walked into the water. I was a little nervous, but more excited and confident than I had felt when I started my English Channel attempt. I was going to give it my all and feel proud of what I accomplished, regardless of the outcome.

I noticed the water light up every time my hand dove into the water. Phosphorescence is so cool! Below me, a million baby jellyfish (or something) were glowing like little blue stars. It was absolutely magical. The water felt great – not warm, but not cold – and very mild in the cove. I took my time and enjoyed the swim, noticing the stars above when I took a breath and the stars below when my head turned back into the water.

The kayak looked like a riverboat casino with lots of lights and reflective tape, making it easy to follow Wes and the support boat. It seemed to take a long time to get out of the cove, foreshadowing the day ahead.

The sun rose behind us, its light illuminating the clouds in beautiful shades of pink, orange and yellow. At the hour feed, I told Wes the swim was already worth everything we’d put into it. I was having a fantastic time and felt so lucky to be swimming in the deep blue Caribbean Sea.

The next hour, we turned north into the channel and conditions changed. The choppy waves grew from small moguls to small mountains and it was hard to get into a rhythm. But, the sun was coming up and I could clearly see the support boat and Paul in his safety yellow shirt, watching from the bow. Martin had said it would get a lot choppier as we rounded the north point, so I expected it.

The next few half hour feeds went well, although it seemed like it was longer than 30 minutes between feeds. In practice swims, I usually get into a zone and am surprised when it’s time to feed. But, I was so focused on every stroke and every minute, the time passed more slowly.

After a couple of hours, Wes let me know he needed a break. I told him that was fine. I wasn’t concerned about feeding from the support boat and Paul is used to the feeding routine, so it was all good.

I noticed a marine police boat come up to the support catamaran. Sue had mentioned that they would stop by, but I’d forgotten that and wondered what they were doing. I hadn’t seen Sue since I started swimming and I thought maybe she’d gotten seasick and was going back on the police boat. I hoped that wasn’t the case. I was worried about her, but figured she would be OK and someone else would pick up the observing tasks.

Wes came back for more paddling shortly before the police boat left. He stuck with me for about an hour, but the waves and my pokey pace made it difficult for him to stay aligned with me and handle feeds as well, so he returned to the support boat.

I was pleased when I made it to the 4 hour feed. I was feeling queasy, but otherwise fine and was intent on passing the time I’d spent in the English Channel. My shoulders felt good and the choppy waves had morphed into big swells. It was easier to time them so I’d get a good breath in as I was sliding up and then put my head back in the water as I was sliding down. The feeds from the catamaran were a bit troublesome. The line wasn’t quite long enough, so I had to get close to the boat to get the bottle and then it would get yanked from my hands as the boat rocked in the waves. I may have expressed some polite constructive criticism.

Sometime around hour 5 or 6, all the feeds came up. I’d heard of swimmers throwing-up and continuing to swim, but I’d never actually experienced that. I puked what seemed like gallons, but felt so much better when I got all that out of my system. I didn’t want the crew freaking out over it, so quickly got back to swimming.

The next several hours were a repeat of the nausea cycle. I’d take some water or coconut water and, at one point, tried to down some Advil because my left shoulder was getting sore. But eventually, the feeds and Advil came back up. I kept swimming. I found it kind of interesting that I COULD keep swimming. Nausea is a miserable feeling, but I felt a lot better after I vomited – of all the weird things, I was so happy that I could puke.

Nathaniel joined me for a support swim. He is so long and strong, I know it was difficult for him to swim slowly enough not to get ahead of me. It was nice to have the company, but also a little stressful as I tried to increase my pace to stay even with him. He swam with me for an hour then returned to the catamaran.

I hit the seaweed patches around 9 or 10 hours into the swim. They weren’t as bad as I was expecting – more like rosemary floating on top of the water. I thought it might be like thick beds of kelp. The stuff was full of sea lice and got into my suit, which was itchy, but I’d scoop out what I could and kept going.

I could see Martinique, which was a huge motivator. I knew I must have more time behind me than ahead of me. But, like a lot of channel swimming stories I’d read about, the island didn’t seem to be getting any closer.

I wasn’t sure how much longer I could keep going. I went through periods where I thought the swim was doomed and then, 10-15 minutes later, I felt a little more confident. My body tapped into fat stores and seemed to be running OK, so I just kept going. I was able to keep down small sips of water and appreciated the mouthwash to freshen up my saltwater tongue.

At a couple of points, the support boat was behind me. I didn’t know why it wasn’t next to me all the time. So, I gently suggested that perhaps they could move next to or ahead of me so I could better follow their lead. Paul translated my instructions (taking out the cuss words) and off we continued. Paul later explained that Martin was conserving power by stopping the motor as I was taking a feed.

I knew I’d been in the water at least 12 hours and that island STILL looked miles away. I figured I must be fighting the current, but I wasn’t sure. I couldn’t really tell any difference in the feel of the water, just by the lack of progress. Paul said I only had about a mile left. That looked like a long mile and Paul is always lying to keep me going, so I was skeptical. But, again, there wasn’t much else I could do except keep on swimming. I was feeling very nauseous and didn’t want to take any more feeds. I stuck with a mouthwash swish-n-spit. It was reassuring to see Paul and Thalia or Lily always at the side of the boat. I knew this was a long haul for them and I really appreciated their vigilance.

Finally, we broke through the current. I could tell because the water became much calmer and Martinique finally looked within reach. I didn’t see the wide beach we were supposed to land on, but I didn’t care. I just needed to touch the cliff side. I could see the bottom below me, which was a huge motivator. But again, it seemed like it was taking foreeeeeeever to get there.

Nathaniel and one of the boat crew motored by in the dinghy. I thought we were still too far away for them to be accompanying me. I still wasn’t 100% sure I’d make it. It was hard to tell exactly how close we were. Turns out they were looking for a landing spot. Nathaniel got out to swim and found a small patch of sand at the base of the cliff face. The dinghy returned to where I was swimming and Nathaniel pointed me in the direction of where I needed to go.

The sun was setting, but I had enough light to see the sandy bottom rising up to meet me. I was so excited, but still cautious. It didn’t seem real that the end was within reach! I had to maneuver over some rocks to get to the tiny beach. I pulled myself over them and slid onto the sand like a beached whale. After some very ungraceful wallowing around, I got my feet under me, stood up and backed away from the water so I was on dry sand, lifting my arm to let Martin know I had cleared the water. After hearing the horn, I sank to my knees, eyes filling up with gratitude, exhilaration and exhaustion. I was so in love with my crew at that moment – WE had done it. It was the hardest thing ever, but we did it.

I looked around for some rocks or shells, but there wasn’t anything lying about on the sand. I pulled a small chunk of rock from the base of the cliff and waded over the rocks to the dinghy. Nathaniel pulled me in and the crew guy pulled the engine. And pulled. And pulled. OMG, are you kidding me? Did anyone check to make sure there was gas in the motor? Ugh!! But, finally, it fired up and we buzzed back to the catamaran.

I got on board and Paul covered me in a big towel. I just wanted to sit. Since I wasn’t cold, getting changed wasn’t as urgent as it would be if I’d just come out of 60 degree water. We took a few pictures and enjoyed the moment together with the whole crew – including Sue, who hadn’t left with the marine police. She’d been stationed at the top of the boat with Martin to have a good view of me during the swim. Paul helped me get below deck so I could change. The boat had a shower. Can you believe that?! A shower! I made a mess of the bathroom, with bits of seaweed everywhere. But it felt so good to get rinsed off and into dry clothes.

I came back upstairs and had a cup of tea and a cookie – which came up a few minutes later as the catamaran rocked over the waves on the return trip to St. Lucia. I can’t imagine anyone vomiting as much as I had done in the past 10 hours. I knew I had to be dehydrated, but I never felt disoriented or faint. Just sore and very tired. I took a nap in the boat on the way back, sleeping as best I could as items in the kitchen banged all over the place.

When we returned to the marina, we packed up all of our gear, which was a pretty big job. I managed to carry a few of the tote bags to the car. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one ready for the adventure to be over! When we got back to the hotel at about 1:30 a.m., I took a long hot shower and scrubbed at the zinc oxide with Dawn dishwashing liquid. Good stuff. Paul and I crashed for about 5 hours.

The next morning, I was sore, but surprised at how good I felt. No shoulder impingement or any other injuries. And I didn’t feel nauseous! Woo hoo! We had a big breakfast at the hotel and I drank water and coconut water all day long. We went for a short swim off the beach and walked around Pigeon National Park. I figured it would be better to keep moving so I wouldn’t stiffen up.

Despite getting sick, it was a fantastic experience. Everything from the training to planning to meeting such wonderful people to enjoying the beauty of St. Lucia and swimming in the incredible blue sea was amazing. When I got on the boat after the swim, I told Paul that was my first and last channel. But, as we reflected on the swim and the things we could do differently – like taking motion sickness medication and making sure we have an extra-long feed rope – I’d like to try another one. But not today. This was enough for today.

Photos

Click to enlarge.

Video

Molly Nance - St. Lucia Channel from MSF on Vimeo.

Media