Nick Hobson - Holland to Grand Haven
Holland to Grand Haven
31.3 km (19.4 miles)
10 hours, 5 minutes on 4 September 2018
Observed and documented by Michael Landis
First solo swim from Holland to Grand Haven
- Name: Nick Hobson
- Gender: male
- Age on swim date: 37
- Nationality: United Kingdom
- Resides: Holland, Michigan
- Bill Blair - pilot
- Mike Landis - observer
Escort Vessel: Alba - 21’ SeaRay (Holland, MI)
- Category: Solo, nonstop, unassisted.
- Rules: MSF Rules of Marathon Swimming, without exception or modification.
- Equipment used: Goggles, cap, trunks, sunscreen.
- Body of Water: Lake Michigan
- Route Type: one-way
- Start Location: Holland State Park Pavilion (42.774663, -86.212201)
- Finish Location: Grand Haven State Park Pavilion (43.054396, -86.247712)
- Minimum Route Distance: 31.3 km (19.4 miles)
- Start: 4 September 2018, 07:20 (America/New_York, UTC-4).
- Finish: 4 September 2018, 17:25
- Elapsed: 10 hours, 5 minutes.
Summary of Conditions
|Water Temp (F)||70||70|
|Air Temp (F)||71||88|
Trackpoint frequency: 30 minutes. Download raw data (CSV).
Nutrition: Water every 30 min, custom feed every hour (electrolytes, Gu, rice pudding, baby food, honey + banana sandwich)
by Nick Hobson
The background for this swim originated over a beer or two in the middle of winter 2017 when my friend Bill and I cooked up an idea to swim from Holland to Saugatuck in Lake Michigan. I estimated it was 4-5 miles tops, we roped in a few other friends and safety boats and in August 2017 we spent a beautiful sunny morning swimming in a warm and flat calm Lake Michigan. As it turned out Holland pier to Saugatuck pier following the shoreline is a 7.4 mile swim…
Another winter, another beer and another plan. This time to swim north from Holland to Grand Haven in Lake Michigan, I was fairly sure this one would be about a 20 mile swim, almost three times further than I’d swum before. Bill offered to pilot instead of swim this time and suggested that there would be plenty of people willing to put money to a good cause in support of doing something crazy like swimming 20 miles.
After much consideration I settled on raising money for a Michigan based breast cancer non-profit called The Pink Fund for three reasons:
- My mum had breast cancer when I was young so it is a cause close to my heart
- I wanted the charity to be local yet have a broad reach
- I wanted the money raised to have a tangible impact on someone’s life
- I applied to be a fundraiser and upon being accepted I learned that the Pink Fund’s CEO, Molly MacDonald, is also a swimmer. The Pink Fund team piled in to help me set up a fundraising page, set up interviews with local news stations and even rustled up a bright pink swim hat with their logo on for the big day.
After spending most of the summer training 6 days a week in both the pool and Lake Michigan the plan was to do the swim on a week day to reduce risk from boat traffic, time it with decent water temperatures and low wind. Water temp on our side of Lake Michigan peaks in August in the high 60’s/low 70’s on a good day (warm water, no salt, no jelly and no sharks - tough gig I know!) but is subject to dramatic change in a very short space of time. Our open water swim group observed a 30 degree temperature drop in just 12 hours this year! Easterly winds peel off the top layer of warm water and send it to our friends in Chicago and Wisconsin and the upwelling of cold water from the depths takes its place. So the trick for long swims is to swim after a southerly or westerly wind has blown for a day or two.
I was very lucky to secure the expertise and support of two swimming friends for the swim. My co-conspirator Bill who has completed a number of ironman events plus our 7.4mile effort from Holland to Saugatuck last summer piloted his boat as the primary support vessel. And Mike, a local swimming expert with a few decades of open water swimming experience in the big lake which includes, swimming the planned route as part of a relay team several years ago. Mike also coached and crewed for Jim Dreyer on his 60mile Lake Michigan crossing from Wisconsin to Michigan in 1998.
When looking at the swim route I wanted to create a route that could be easily repeated by others in the future. The obvious start/finish was pier to pier as both Holland and Grand Haven have breakwaters that have ladders descending into the water to get in and out. I ruled this out for two reasons - the first was that a breakwater/concrete pier is a tough sell for a ‘natural shoreline’ and the second reason was safety, after 20 miles I was unsure how much gas I’d have left in the tank to navigate the strong currents that can occur around these breakwaters. So in the end I opted to start on the beach in front of the pavilion in the Holland State Park and finish on the beach in front of the pavilion in Grand Haven State Park.
Day of the Swim
I kicked off the day by putting a call in to Grand Haven Coastguard, the poor guy who answered the phone didn’t sound very happy or awake when I called at 6am but obligingly noted the details of the swim and wished me well.
We left the dock with two safety boats to a beautiful sunrise and cruised down a glassy Lake Macatawa heading towards the channel that takes you to Lake Michigan where we discovered the water was not so glassy owing to a brisk southerly. After waving to the webcam on Spyglass Hill that was streaming it’s video of the early dawn to my mum watching in the UK we held a short briefing and gear/food check on the boat before I hopped off the boat and swam to the beach for the start.
I was met on the beach by a fellow Masters swimmer and a journalist from the local paper who came to see me off. Starting the swim was a bit of an anti climax due to the double sandbar that meant I waded in up to my waist, took a few more steps and was back in ankle deep water before dropping away again allowing me to start swimming for the marker buoy on the edge of the swim area where I turned right and headed north to Grand Haven in comfortable 70 degree water.
The first 30mins of the swim was tricky, the wind was coming from behind and to my left pushing me towards the shore on an angle that took constant adjustment to maintain some sort of straight line. The same wind direction and 2-3 feet waves were also causing the safety boat to pitch and roll quite uncomfortably so the crew had to keep maneuvering the boat into wind at the same time as maintaining a good distance to keep me in their sights.
The first few miles were a little cool before the sun rose above the dunes and trees that line the shore but was made very enjoyable with the banter from the boats at feed stops each 30mins. After 3 hours the second safety boat wished us well and departed. The water temperature was very consistent and I was swimming a few hundred yards off shore on the outside of the double sandbar in approximately 15-20 feet of water. After about 5 miles it is possible to make out the smoke stack of the Port Sheldon power station which although a little too industrial for my liking near such a beautiful body of water, provides an excellent landmark to sight off. It’s also positioned at around the halfway mark of the swim.
In hindsight the first half of the swim flew by and was relatively uneventful. We rested up briefly just before attempting to cross the channel at Port Sheldon where we were joined by one of our friends from the Michigan Lakeshore Aquatics Masters who popped out to say hello on her paddle board. We successfully navigated the channel which was free of boat traffic at the time and pressed on until we were well past the inlet-outlet to the Port Sheldon Power Station.
For those thinking about swimming this route or part there-of in the future, about 500 yards off shore directly west of the beach in-front of the Port Sheldon power station there is an inlet/outlet pipe on the lake bed. On a flat calm day when they’re pushing water from the station to the lake you can see the water bubbling up. Beware, I’m told by someone who works there that they also draw in lake water through this pipe. I highly doubt it would suck a swimmer from the surface but best to either stick close to shore or out further in line with the end of the breakwater to the channel just to the south just incase.
From my competitive swimming and spearfishing days my secret weapon for energy was banana and honey sandwiches. Prepared hours in advance and left on a warm boat, the banana slices go nice and soft and the honey soaks into the bread creating an easily digestible snack that tastes amazing and was (I thought) a great source of energy.
For this swim I’d planned to treat myself to a bitesize square or two ‘at lunchtime’ to act as a symbolic pat on the back for making it to halfway. About half an hour after taking 2-3 bitesize slices onboard things started to unravel. My lower back, abs, quads and hammys all decided to tighten at the same time and made life rather difficult for what felt like a very long time. Bill and Mike encouraged me to do some in-water stretches to try and relieve the tightness which provided some relief physically but mentally, the dream of my banana and honey sandwich slices carrying me all the way to Grand Haven had been shattered.
Support on the water and in the air
By this point on the swim, the water temperature was still very consistent and the waves had begun to lay down quite nicely and had become less disruptive to boat and swimmer. The water looked a bit clearer and the bottom is pure sand stretching for miles. Over the next few miles we were joined by our former swim coach in his support boat and another friend on a jet ski.
At around the 12 mile mark a work colleague and fellow masters swimmer swam off the beach to meet us and was a support swimmer for a mile and a half which helped to keep my arms arms ticking over. Once again the lake was pushing me toward the shore and with my arms feeling like concrete I got stuck swimming over the outer sandbar again and got tossed around in the waves for too long before I had the sense to swim off it.
One of the memorable moments of this part of the swim was being buzzed by an Air Force Helicopter from a local airbase. We subsequently found out that one of our friends (an air force veteran) had given the crew my track.rs info incase they had any training flights going out that day. It was so loud I heard it in the water before it even reached us, as it flew right over the top of us Bill and Mike were screaming like schoolboys and it left us all buzzing as it disappeared over the lake to the south.
The Home Stretch
Lake Michigan is famous for it’s lighthouses and they provide excellent navigation and reference points for open water swimmers as they can literally be seen from miles away. The draw back of this at the end of a long swim is that they can feel like they never get any closer.
I’d read about numerous marathon swimmers going to dark places on long swims. I didn’t really go to a dark place but I definitely lost my sense of humor over the last two miles. I could see the Grand Haven Lighthouse and soon enough the beach but they felt like they just weren’t getting any closer and my concrete arms were getting harder to turn over in the water.
My crew were doing a great job of keeping me going despite me getting a little high maintenance when I swam through a patch of cold water. In hindsight, the wheels fell off my feed plan at this point. I switched from alternating water and electrolytes + liquid food to just taking on electrolytes every 30 mins, I was just craving more than water on each rest stop and my brain went out the window with regards what to take on board.
Over the last few miles, my team from work came out on a boat with the CEO of the Pink Fund Molly MacDonald. Having them there supporting helped enormously with grinding out the last few miles.
The Grand Haven State Park beach stretches a fair way south of the pavilion I was aiming for. At this point the only thing I was thinking of was trying to hold some kind of technique and I was ready for the swim to be finished. As I drew level with the outer markers of the swim area I was joined by another swimmer with a buoy in tow who struck up a conversation with me while I was trying to work out where to finish. She knew my name and what I was up to but to this day, I have no clue who she was or what else she said to me or I to her, so if she ever reads this, I apologize for probably making no sense and I hope I wasn’t rude.
From the outer edge of the swimming area, Bill’s best efforts to point out which of the 300 people on the beach was my wife marking the finish were lost on me for what seemed like ages until he was able to get her to wave. Alas, the other 299 people on the beach were there enjoying the 80 degree weather and not to witness my big finish.
Seeing my wife wave was a huge boost, and the feeling of swimming back over the sand bars into warm shallow water before finding my feet and making my way up the beach was the best feeling I’d had in ages. The Pink Fund team had arranged a local news station to cover the finish and we had to borrow a towel from a total stranger (thank you if you ever read this!) while I scratched my water logged brain for a coherent response to their questions ten hours and five minutes after setting off.
Through local media, friends, family and work colleagues I was able to exceed my $5k fundraising target and finished at >$6,200 which was enough to provide financial support for two women undergoing treatment for breast cancer through The Pink Fund.
I identified a few areas of improvement for future swims; some more strength and conditioning for my arms and shoulders, better all round flexibility, more disciplined execution of feed plan, no banana and honey sandwiches till afterwards and extra sun cream on the back of my lilly white legs (I used Riemann P20 SPF 50+, applied two layers all over before setting off and it worked a treat (except for a little pink burn on the back of my thighs) in almost constant sun - will definitely use this again)
I highly recommend coming to swim this part of Lake Michigan, just beware of boat traffic in the summer and strong currents around structures, and if you’re ever in the area look up the open water swim group on facebook or drop into swim with us at the Michigan Lakeshore Aquatics Masters group at the Holland Aquatic Center.
For additional pics and video, the swim was covered by a few local news stations:
Click to enlarge.