Dave Loeffler - Catalina Isthmus-to-Isthmus

Catalina Harbor to Isthmus Cove via West End

25.4 km (15.8 miles)

8 hours, 26 minutes on 11 August 2018

Observed and documented by Bert Ijams

First known swim of this route



  • Name: Dave Loeffler
  • Gender: male
  • Age on swim date: 53
  • Nationality: US
  • Resides: Prescott, Arizona

Support Personnel

  • Mike Galloway - pilot
  • Boog Bookey - crew chief, photo/video
  • Wanda Woodbury - feeder, photo/video
  • Rex Ijams - crew, kayaker

Escort Vessel: Moana (Kings Harbor)

Swim Parameters

Category: Solo, nonstop, unassisted.

Rules: MSF Rules of Marathon Swimming, without exception or modification.

Route Definition

Swim Data

  • Start: 11 August 2018, 07:07 (America/Los_Angeles).
  • Finish: 11 August 2018, 15:33:54
  • Elapsed: 8 hours, 26 minutes, 54 seconds.

Summary of Conditions

Feature Min Max
Water Temp (F) 72 74
Air Temp (F) 72 77
Wind (kt) calm 15

GPS Track

Trackpoint frequency: 30 minutes. Download raw data (CSV).

Speed Plot

Nutrition: (1) Carbo Pro + electrolytes + mango juice + water (2) chocolate milk + Carbo Pro + electrolytes

Observer Log

Download PDF


by Dave Loeffler

When you look at a map of Catalina Island, you immediately notice the place called Two Harbors, a settlement where Isthmus Cove and Catalina Harbor pinch together reducing the width of the Island to less than ¼ mile.

catalina isthmus
Two Harbors

As part of my training plan to prepare for an Island to Island swim from San Clemente Island to Catalina Island, I was looking for a one day training swim that would allow me to practice swimming for the first time with my escort boat and pilot, with my support crew for feeds and communications and to do a long swim in the same waters as the main event, 5 weeks later.

With a little research I found that “The West End Loop” was a route used for a prone paddle board race that was put on by organizers for a few years (20014/15ish?). I found no record of other swims using this route, but it seems like and obvious loop and I have no assumptions that I may be the first to do it.

This training swim ended up exceeding all our expectations. We achieved all our goals and this training put us on track with high hopes of a successful San Clemente to Catalina crossing. The crew and observer met at Kings Harbor, Redondo Beach, Friday morning, August 10th. We met, for the first time, Mike Galloway, the owner /operator of the beautiful 40’ catamaran “Moana”, powered by two 150hp outboards. After introductions, we loaded the boat with food and gear and took off for Catalina Island with a rather ominous NOAA high surf advisory for the weekend .

From Kings Harbor we headed for the West Point of Catalina. We rounded the western tip, Lands End at noon, in about 22 hours we planned to be swimming back in the opposite direction. We were able to observe the currents rounding the point and note the direction and speed by watching the kelp. We were able to scout the entire first half of the swim as we motored towards Catalina Harbor.

As we reached Cat Harbor, Capt. Mike was pointing out landmarks, and we were consulting the charts for beaches to land on for the finish of the San Clemente swim. The sea was calmer than anticipated and we had plenty of afternoon left, so we decided to continue past Catalina Harbor towards China Point . We ended up dropping anchor off of Salta Verde Point (East of China Point).

salta verde pt
Salta Verde Point

I was able to swim into the large beach of hand sized, rounded cobble. The surf was sizable and it was exciting to ride the waves into the beach I would return to, 5 weeks later, to complete my swim from San Clemente. What an invaluable oppertunity to scout out our target for the big swim. We returned to a mooring in Catalina Harbor. There we got down to business with a crew meeting that included safety brief for boat emergencies as well as personal safety reminders for crew and swimmer. We talked over the feeding process and the general flow of the swim and support, and our goals for the next day. Then I got in the water and we practiced feeds and hand signals and we did a couple of mock swimmer extractions using a ring buoy and life jackets. Then I did a 45 minute swim, with Rex escorting me in the kayak, to the pier and shore at the end of the harbor and back. The rest of the afternoon the crew spent snorkeling and swimming in the 73’water! We sat down for a wonderful dinner of pasta with marinara sauce and creaser salad, then eased into a great night sleep on Moana.

Next morning, Saturday, August 11, up at 5:30am, light breakfast for me, sunscreen and Vaseline applied. Electronics powered on, gear and feeds staged in place.

greasing up
Greasing up at Cat Harbor

We motored to the pier, I swam to shore, high and dry and Bert, our observer, signaled the start. We swam out of Catalina Harbor and around Catalina Head and into open ocean and the first mile of our swim was behind us. We were anticipating rough and wild ocean conditions with a NOAA high surf advisory due to a hurricane coming up from Mexico. Actual conditions were completely opposite, calm, almost glassy water with a gentle swell for the first few miles. I had my crew chief Boog Bookey giving me my mile time splits at the feeds (every 30 Mins.) and as is my habit I started to get excited at our fast pace and speculated my finish time. This obsession with time has been to my detriment in past swims when I abandon the planed easy early pace because I revert back to my past 30 years as a “competitive” swimmer.

The swim proceeded flawlessly towards the Western Tip of the island and the half way point. We had some moments of opposing currents and some cat paws on the water surface as a light breeze developed. The water temps were 72-73’ and I was feeling great and cruising.

towards west end

As we approached Lands End, at the Western tip of Catalina Island there was increased boat traffic and a number of fishing boats at anchor. We were concerned about swirling currents rounding this point but, as we swam around the rock out croppings, the still rising tides pushed us around the point, following the streaming kelp with easy effort. We were 8 miles into the swim. Water temps were Rising to an incredible 74’. I continued to calculate finish times with my swimmers math after every feed and announcement of the last miles split times.


My feed plan was working out perfectly. I was using 100 calories of CarboPro powder, a table spoon of Endure electrolyte liquid and watered down Kerns mango Juice, totaling about 12oz. and approx. 180 calories per feed. Around mile 9 or 10 my tongue was noticeably swelling from the salt water. I asked for a feed change of chocolate milk, CarboPro, electrolytes. This was soothing for my mouth and I stayed with this mix for the rest of the swim. I had absolutely no stomach issues the entire swim and loved the chocolate milk.

After mile 10, an obvious rhythmic, following swell developed. The swell was coming in about 30’ from my left side. I adapted my arm strokes to a catch up type gallop and did a bit of a dolphin kick as the swell lifted and pushed me. I was having a blast riding the waves. I naturally increased my stroke rate to the timing of the swells. I was cruising, having fun but, in retrospect swimming too hard.

At the next feed I expected to hear a split time for a 25 minute mile. Nope. 29+! What was I thinking ? With 5 plus miles to go I never should have been swimming that hard. Immediately after that mile 11 feed it was payback time and the perfectly timed swell turned messy and I could not get my groove back. This lasted for the next 2 miles or so and I had plenty of time to reflect on this lesson learned and to imagine having this messy chop for the entire 22 miles of my upcoming swim from San Clemente. I’m learning and I realize that long, open water swimming requires calculated patience and a conservative approach. The ocean can and will change in an instant and I better have reserved some energy and mental capacity to deal with it when perfect conditions suddenly turn nasty. Luckily this was a coastal swim and I could aim for a short term goal of rounding Arrow Point and hope for some protection from the chop.

At my next feed Capt. Mike reinforced my hopes with an encouraging prediction that things would calm down once we rounded the point. At 13.5 miles or so we rounded Arrow Point and water condition were far more accommodating and my pace increased. With 3.5 mile to go all the hard/fast swimming followed by rough conditions started to catch up with me and I was feeling some fatigue and soreness in my shoulders. I did a mental body scan and told myself this is where the work begins. This is what all those experienced marathoners were talking about, switching to auto pilot, letting my muscle memory take over, trust in all my miles and miles of training and just KEEP MOVING! And that’s what I did. Resisting for the most part looking up to gauge my progress towards Lions Head and the entry to Isthmus cove, I told myself to keep my head down and my arms moving. Maybe I’m being too dramatic but I was purposely being hyper aware of all the changes, Physical and mental, that I was experiencing and I was trying to visualize how this would all play out in 5 weeks as I was crossing the open ocean of Outer Santa Barbara Channel, 4000 ft. deep and nothing to block the wind and waves for thousands of miles from the West.

The next thing I knew we were rounding Lions Head and making the turn into Isthmus Cove. The marina was packed, oh ya! It was a Saturday on Catalina Island. It took us 42 minutes to weave through 0.94 miles of moored boats and partying crowds to finally walk up the beach. Boog paddled the kayak to shore with me for pictures and congratulations. Of course the guys drinking beer, sitting on the rocks nearby, after hearing that we just swam around the Island from Cat Harbor, commented, as they pointed up the beach,“You know you could have walked over here in about 10 minutes”. Yes sir, but what a great day of swimming we had. And what a great opportunity to get the team together and train and rehearse for our big swim from San Clemente to Catalina. We feel so much more prepared for the challenge.


Thanks to Mike Galloway for graciously donating his time and expertise and his beautiful boat. Thanks to Boogy Bookey for flying over in the middle of her work hiatus and thanks to Wanda, my beautiful wife for all the prep and support and for inviting Bert and Rex to come out at short notice and support my crazy passion. And thanks to Evan Morrison and the Marathon Swimmers Federation for all the great advise and user friendly resources that truly encourage aspiring marathon swimmers to take the plunge. And now we a more prepared to turn around and do it all again, bigger, longer and better . If the ocean forces permit, we will be back on Catalina Island Sept 18th. Stay tuned.

Dave Loefler
August 22, 2018


Click to enlarge.