Jessi Harewicz - Strait of Georgia
Nanaimo to Vancouver
58.6 km (36.4 miles)
30 hours, 13 minutes on 25-26 August 2019
Observed and documented by Craig Stewart and Chris Thomson
First swim from Nanaimo to Vancouver
- Name: Jessi Harewicz
- Gender: female
- Age on swim date: 36
- Nationality: Canada
- Resides: Vancouver, British Columbia
- Andrew Liebmann - pilot, navigator
- Gunnar Jonsson - pilot
- Richard Harewicz - crew chief
- Teresa Seibel - social media
- Craig Stewart - observer
- Chris Thomson - observer
Escort Vessel: Havoc (Vancouver)
- Category: Solo, nonstop, unassisted.
- Rules: MSF Rules of Marathon Swimming, without exception or modification.
- Equipment used: Textile swimsuit, goggles, cap, safety lights, Desitin, vaseline, sunscreen.
- Body of Water: Strait of Georgia
- Route Type: one-way
- Start Location: Government Dock, Nanaimo (49.169892, -123.932489)
- Finish Location: Kitsilano Beach, Vancouver (49.275048, -123.154401)
- Minimum Route Distance: 58.6 km (36.4 miles)
11 cross-strait swims along a shorter ~29 km line between Sechelt and Nanaimo (including by Jessi Harewicz in 2016). No previous attempts of the 59 km route between Nanaimo and Vancouver.
- Start: 25 August 2019, 07:50:00 (America/Vancouver, UTC-7).
- Finish: 26 August 2019, 14:04:04
- Elapsed: 30 hours, 13 minutes, 4 seconds.
Summary of Conditions
|Water Temp (C)||16||20|
|Air Temp (C)||13||22|
Trackpoint frequency: 60 minutes. Download raw data (CSV).
Nutrition: Every 30 min: gel with 250ml water + peanut butter/jam roll.
Click link to expand
Nanaimo and Vancouver harbours are commercial ports used for a wide variety of activities located in two major cities They are separated by the Strait of Georgia, recently often called the “Salish Sea” to recognize the aboriginal First Nations name for the area. The Strait of Georgia is over 400m deep, over 200km long, about 25 km wide at the narrowest point up to about 40km at the widest. On the southwest side it is bounded by Vancouver Island and the Canadian Gulf Islands, which connect to the Strait of Juan de Fuca and thence to the Pacific Ocean. On the Northeast side it is bounded by the mainland of British Columbia. The Southeast part is bounded by the mainland of Washington State, and the San Juan Islands, U.S.A.
Vancouver is the biggest city in the Province of British Columbia, Canada. The Port of Vancouver is, by tonnage, the busiest port on the west coast of both North and South America. The outer harbour, called English Bay is about 11km from East to West, and about 5 to 7 km from North to South. Kitsilano Beach is located on the southeast corner of English Bay. The entrance to the inner harbour is in the northeast corner at First Narrows crossed by the iconic Lions Gate bridge. English Bay contains commercial traffic lanes used by large deep sea cargo ships, large cruise ships bound for Alaska, tugs with barges, and a high speed ferry. The southern part, is an anchorage for large ships, has numerous excursion boats and harbour tour traffic. It is very popular for pleasure craft of all descriptions. English Bay is bounded by many beaches used for swimming and small boats. Pleasure boats anchor in the southeast corner near Kitsilano beach. The Coast Mountain range meets the sea on the north shore of English Bay. The Northwestern corner of English Bay is Point Atkinson which has a large lighthouse and marks the entrance to Howe Sound to the north. The Southwestern corner of English Bay is Point Grey, which rises steeply from the Strait of Georgia. The north arm of the Fraser River empties into the Strait of Georgia south of Point Grey creating a current that can be significant. Due to the flood tide, sandy silt from the Fraser river is carried around Point Grey and creates a very large drying area north of Point Grey called Spanish Banks which is underwater at high tide, but uncovers at low tide to extend more than 1km from the high tide line.
Nanaimo harbour serves as the export hub for forest products from Vancouver Island, as well as general cargo traffic. The inner harbour is protected on the east side by Newcastle Island and Protection Island. The south point on Protection Island is called Gallows point and is marked by a small lighthouse a short distance to the south on a piling. To the east is Northumberland channel, across which is Gabriola Island. The northwest part of Northumberland channel is the anchorage for large cargo ships. The northwest point on Gabriola is called Tinson point. North of Gabriola Island is a small rocky island marked by a major light house called Entrance Island. There is a 400 passenger 40 car ferry from downtown Nanaimo to Gabriola that does a round trip in about 75 minutes. South of Nanaimo in Northumberland channel is the Duke Point ferry terminal for large ferries to and from the mainland which carry large cargo trucks, other vehicles, and up to 1,600 passengers. The downtown marina is used by commercial fishing boats, pleasure craft, and seaplanes. The inner harbour is an active seaplane aerodrome with regularly scheduled flights to Vancouver, and other locations in region.
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. In English Bay there is a significant thermal component to the local wind: as the buildings of metro Vancouver, and the farmland of the Fraser valley, heat up a strong westerly thermal wind (sea breeze) can be generated in the late morning and continue to the early evening, which may be followed by a weaker thermal easterly (land breeze) late evening, and quite calm winds in the early to mid-morning hours.
Tidal conditions in this area can be significant. The tide range is normally about 3 metres (10 feet), and tidal currents in the Strait of Georgia can be over 1 knot (about 2km/h). Depending on wind conditions, the strength of the current is affected by weather conditions, and wind driven surface currents combined with tidal currents may exceed 3 knots (5.5km/h). The flood tidal current flows northwest up the Strait of Georgia, and east into Vancouver Harbour. In English Bay the surface tidal current can exceed speeds of 2 knots (3.7km/h). Flood tidal current can be augmented by westerly winds. The interaction between the currents going through Vancouver’s First Narrows and the north arm of the Fraser river creates a generally counter-clockwise direction of flow in English Bay, and there is significant variance in the speed of the current depending on distance from the south shore at different states of the tide. On an ebb tide, the effect on the water coming out of the north arm of the Fraser river is to push more towards the west near Point Grey, and even to accentuate the southerly push south of the breakwater that runs along the edge of the channel (called the “North Arm Jetty). This makes it critical to make landfall at the north part of Point Grey, and be very careful not to get south of the North Arm Jetty on approach. There is not much current in Nanaimo harbour itself, but there is a portion of Northumberland channel where both the flood and the ebb run in a southerly direction. Around the northwest part of Gabriola Island the current flows west and south into the harbour starting slightly before high water, and flows north and east out of the harbour starting just before low water.
Due to the need to swim in areas of extensive and frequent commercial activity, prior communications were made with personal contacts in the Vancouver marine community, the Nanaimo Harbourmaster’s office, and the BC Coast Pilot Association. The route crosses car ferry routes in two locations and a busy junction of traffic lanes near Point Grey. During the swim, information was shared with the Marine Communication and Traffic Services (MCTS) run by the Canadian Coast Guard in Victoria. MCTS conducts traffic control and information services in the area. MCTS kindly provided extensive support by tracking the boat on radar, informing commercial traffic where the swimmer was located and alerting the swim support team to expected traffic. There was excellent cooperation from commercial traffic which voluntarily chose routes well clear of the swimmer, and in some cases slowed down while passing to avoid creating a large wake.
Among the organizations offering support was the Jericho Sailing Centre and one of their volunteers on the “Jericho Rescue” team. Depending on conditions and the time of day Jessi would pass through the junction of the traffic lanes at buoy QA there could be a lot of small craft fishing in that vicinity. In the week or so before the swim that area was often occupied by small sport fishing boats estimated to be more than a hundred in number. It might be an advantage to have a second escort vessel to warn off sport fishing boats, transmit our location on AIS to commercial traffic, and assist with general swimmer support in their well equipped RIB. One of the most experienced Jericho Rescue volunteers said that he’d be on standby to bring a boat out if necessary.
Planning a departure time for a swim across the Strait of Georgia depends mainly on a good weather window of calm winds and a departure time for favourable tides. Exact departure time should account for seaplane and ferry schedules to avoid crossing some critical areas while in use. Timing the end of a swim this length is difficult to predict, but it is very preferable to finish in Vancouver on the flood tide, and after the thermal winds start in mid-morning.
The official distance of the swim (the shortest possible route) was calculated to be about 60km. This included swimming outside the navigational beacons on the north edge of Spanish Banks so the route would be repeatable at any state of the tide. It was expected that the distance over ground would be somewhat longer to take advantage of favourable currents and if necessary seek relief from adverse currents. Jessi expected to swim about 2km per hour, possibly up to 3km per hour for the first part of the swim. It was hoped that a 30 hour completion time could be achieved. There was some brave speculation that ideal conditions could make it as little as 24 hours, but due to some tidal considerations up to 33 hours was considered realistic. This swim is about twice as far as a crossing of the English Channel, and would be Jessi’s longest swim ever. Her previous maximum swim time was 21 hours, so even in ideal conditions she would be exceeding both her time and distance in the water by a significant amount.
The day selected for Jessi’s swim was chosen because it gave a period where the wind was expected to be fairly calm for crossing the strait, and low water in Nanaimo coincided with a good gap between seaplane and ferry schedules. The window of available days had to accommodate the availability of the swimmer and a six person support team. A likely “Go” or “No Go” decision had to be made with increasing certainty 7 days, 4 days, and the day before in order to deal with the logistics of getting the team together, getting the boat and team to Nanaimo, and preparing the boat, provisions, and notifications.
When the likely departure date was chosen, Gunnar (boat owner and pilot) prepared the following notes:
- Big flood 08:00 to 14:00. Assume this will push us 3 miles north of rhumbline.
- Ebb 15:00 to 20:00. Assume this will push us 2 miles south of rhumbline.
- Flood 20:00 to 23:00. Assume this will push us back to rhumbline.
- Big ebb 23:00 to 09:00. Assume this will push us south. Do not go more than 1 mile south of rhumbline.
- Big flood 09:00 to 17:00. Should push us into English Bay.
ASSUMING SUNDAY 07:45 START and AVERAGE SPEED 1 KNOT:
- Leg 1 from Start to Gallows Point 45 minutes with minimal current. Watch for seaplanes and small boats and stay close to Gallows Point.
- PASS GALLOWS POINT 08:30.
- Leg 2 from Gallows Point to Tinson Point 2.5 hours with beginning of flood. Watch for small boats and ferries. Expect flood current to push northward.
- PASS TINSON POINT 11:00.
- Leg 3 from Tinson Point to Entrance Island 2.5 hours with flood. Watch for small boats. Expect flood current to push north as we near Entrance Island.
- PASS ENTRANCE ISLAND 1:30PM.
- Leg 4 from Entrance Island to Point Grey 23 hours on 62 deg. M. We will be pushed north during floods and south during ebbs. Current from the North Arm of the Fraser may push north as we approach Point Grey. Watch for small boats and tugs with tows all the way; ferries during the first few hours; and deep-sea vessels during the last few hours.
- PASS POINT GREY 12:30PM.
- Leg 5 from Point Grey to Kits Beach 3 hours. There is a good chance we will finish during the big flood on Monday and that will help this final leg.
- REACH KITS BEACH FINISH AT 3:30PM.
My additional note to Gunnar was mostly that we should hope that Jessi could swim about 1.5 knots the first few hours so that she could round Tinson Point in about three hours and Entrance Island in about another five hours (that is, about 1 p.m.). My thinking was that if she passed Entrance Island by 1 p.m. she would have positive adverse current during the first part of the swim.
In the week leading up to the swim, a weak weather system was passing over the coast, likely to produce moderate to strong northwesterly winds in the Strait of Georgia right at the start of the available window, followed by a short period of calm for about a day, and then northwesterly winds predicted to start building, continuing for a day or two with another calm period of about a day before the end of the available window. With the various considerations in mind, it was decided that the earlier time was best right at the start of the availability window.
The day before the swim the provisions and equipment were loaded on the boat in Vancouver. That afternoon the swimmer, supporters, and observers travelled to Nanaimo by ferry to stay in a hotel near the harbour overnight. That evening the two boat pilots took the boat from Vancouver to Nanaimo in calm conditions. The wind was expected to build overnight then diminish in the early morning.
On the morning of the swim there were clear skies and relatively warm temperature for both sea and air, but moderate winds persisted. The assessment on that morning was that the hardest part of the swim would be dealing with the end of the northwest winds getting out of Nanaimo harbour, after which calm winds and favourable tides would aid progress. The alternative was to wait until the winds subsided, but that would risk getting outside the optimum tidal window. The next good tide window would be in 12 hours, at which time it was feared that there would not be enough time to complete the swim before the next period of strong winds started. The decision was made to start the swim on schedule.
The swim was started from the public dock which also acts as a breakwater for the main marina on the west side of Nanaimo harbour. The first portion of the swim went completely according to plan. Jessi was on the dock and ready to depart while the boat waited just off the dock inside the marina. When the second of two scheduled seaplanes had departed, Jessi entered the water at 07:50 a.m. on Sunday August 25th, 2019. She swam strongly the 1200 metres to Gallows point and made the turn to the north in Northumberland channel to clear the northwest corner of Gabriola Island. At about 08:10 a.m. the ferry for Gabriola left her berth south of the marina in Nanaimo and proceeded up the east side of Northumberland channel well clear of the swimmer who was nearing Gallows point. Due to the Sunday departure, the first ferry to depart Duke Point was not scheduled until 10:15 a.m. and the first arrival would normally be around Gabriola Island about noon.
About 9 a.m. an email from ashore instructed us that the tracker was not working, and advised how to get it going. Pressing the right buttons and knowing what lights to look for did the trick, and the tracker worked properly from then on. Approximately every 12 hours after that we cycled the tracker on and off and made sure that it was visible on the website.
Turning into Northumberland channel the waves were 30-60cm and the wind was a moderate 12-15 knots. Jessi had said that she could swim in those conditions, and was making progress at over 2km/h through the water.
As the swim progressed, the wind built up to periods of 15-20 knots with 60-100cm waves. Jessi continued to swim strongly, but her progress was slower and it was clear that the hope to be around Tinson point by 11 a.m. was not going to be possible. The target for passing Entrance Island was originally about 1 p.m. which was near the end of the flood when the tide was expected to turn adverse to exit Northumberland channel. Getting through that tide gate was an advantage, but once past Entrance Island the currents were expected to be favourable for the next 6 -10 hours. More importantly, the problems Jessi was having were entirely due to the winds unexpectedly building instead of decreasing, and the forecast was certainly for the wind to diminish to near calm very soon.
At 11 a.m. Tinson point was still distant, and on the boat worries about getting away from Nanaimo’s outer harbour began to grow. By 1 p.m. (when we had hoped to pass Entrance Island) Jessi was getting frustrated but by that time the wind had certainly dropped back to below 15 knots, the seas were back down to around 50cm or less, and progress over the bottom was picking up. Jessi was told that we wanted her to make it around the corner of Gabriola Island to see how her progress was there, and we expected the wind and current to be better by then. Even though the wind and waves continued, Jessi seemed to swim even stronger and in a short time she was making better progress over the bottom.
By about 3 p.m. Jessi was around Tinson point, the wind was light (clearly below 10 knots). The wind and wave direction was more from the side than the front, the waves were down to less than 30cm. Jessi said that she could swim in those conditions “For a long time.”
By 4 p.m. Jessi passed Entrance Island, the conditions were very good, her speed over the ground was almost two knots (about 3 km/h). Unfortunately, we had lost about three hours on the expected schedule.
By 5 p.m. Jessi was swimming strong and steady with a consistent ground speed over 2 knots (3.7 km/h) and was rapidly regaining time on the schedule. Everyone felt relieved that things were getting back on track, and both Jessi and the crew on the boat settled in to a routine for the long haul.
Shortly before 8 p.m. The chemical light sticks were rigged close to the water and a light was also attached to the food container.
When the sun went down just after 8 pm. the crew enjoyed a beautiful sunset, and feeling a bit guilty that we could layer up for the cool of the evening we put on our fleece, hats, and rain gear.
Jessi was making such good progress during the late evening that it looked like she had made up the schedule and more, and might even be able to sneak into English Bay before the final tide window. Giving her encouragement had to be tempered by the knowledge that there would be averse current later in the tide cycle, but she was told that she was clearly on track to make the 30 hour target, possibly even better.
About 11pm. the tide was changing to slack, and Jessi’s speed over ground was still good but it became important to get her to make some extra progress towards the north against the current. Around this time Jessi passed the halfway point in distance. Jessi was feeling a bit discouraged about here time, but we pointed out to her that she’d gone half the distance in 15 hours, and we thought she’d go a lot faster in the last five hours with the tide behind her than she did the first five hours with the wind against her.
At 3:00 a.m. Jessi was still making about 2km/h speed over ground, and looked in great shape to get through the junction of the traffic lanes (marked by buoy QA) before sunrise.
In the early hours of the morning watched two cruise ships making their way towards us and their 07:00 a.m. arrivals at Canada Place terminal. By this time the lights of the North Shore, the downtown buildings, and Lions Gate bridge were clearly visible, making the black bulk of Point Grey easy to pick out from the background. Every time Jessi was able to identify one of her familiar landmarks it seemed to raise her spirits.
At 4:30 a.m. while responding to a text from the volunteer from Jericho Rescue it was noted that Jessi was less than 2km from the QA buoy, and we hoped to pass that buoy in about one hour. There was no traffic bound for that area in the next few hours, and only one cargo ship due to weigh anchor to proceed out of the harbour. MCTS was tracking us on radar, other tugs and cargo ships were also identifying us by radar, and it was a clear night with perfect visibility, so it was decided that an escort was not required.
Upon checking the tracker records, it is now clear that at 4:30 a.m. Jessi was down to about 1 km/h speed over ground, and over the next three hours her progress was very slow in adverse current.
Shortly before sunrise Jessi was feeling demoralized that we had not yet cleared the shipping lanes. She was reminded that she’d feel better when the sun came up, and that she would be rewarded for her tough swim against the current now when it turned in her favour around 09:00 a.m.
About 6:30 a.m. shortly after sunrise Jessi had to deal with swimming east into the rising sun and couldn’t make out landmarks or her progress. She had to depend on staying close to the boat for reference. At this point she said that she could not go much faster as she was feeling some pain in her shoulder.
Every opportunity was taken to encourage Jessi by pointing out her progress. At 07:50 a.m. she joined the 24 hour club, was still swimming, and was tired but clearly able to continue.
Around 08:00 a.m. the cargo ship expected to leave the anchorage passed about a mile away, having altered course to give Jessi as little wake as possible.
About 08:30 a.m. we were passed by some friends operating a 250 passenger fast ferry. They departed from their usual course and reduced to a slow speed to avoid giving Jessi a large wake. When we called on the radio to thank them they sent their best wishes for a fast finish. Jessi was asking for less sweet items by this point, switching from Peanut Butter and Jam rolls to just bread and butter rolls, and also changing her sport gel drinks.
By about 09:30 a.m. the adverse current was much reduced and Jessi was making steady progress. She was still feeling tired and discouraged, but we could tell her that the tide was turning in her favour and she kept pushing on. She decided to change up her food and beverage selection and had some pasta during the next few feedings.
By 10:30 a.m the current was with Jessi, and her speed was back up to about a knot over ground (about 2 km/h) and increasing. The Jericho Rescue volunteer had decided to come out and say hello, so he came about three miles in a rowing dory to wish her well.
At about 11:30 a.m. Jessi passed Point Grey, her speed was up to almost two knots (about 3.5 km/h) and the westerly wind was starting build behind her.
Shortly before noon Jessi asked when we would pass Point Grey, and she was told that she already had passed it. She took a moment to look around and was told she was already past the first beacon on Spanish Banks. She was also happy to hear that she had the wind and current behind her so even when she was eating she was being carried towards her destination instead of fighting the elements.
At this point Jessi felt like she was in her own back yard, and every opportunity was taken to point out her familiar landmarks. A slightly more northerly route than the direct line was taken through the anchored freighters to give her every bit of push from the wind and current, and it was clear that Jessi would successfully complete her swim. Her concern at this time was that she did not want to “Bonk” and asked for some flat Cola to be used for her next drinks.
About 12:30 pm. Jessi saw an official looking orange SAR boat running beside us and asked “Are we in trouble?” but it was just more volunteers from Jericho Rescue coming out to wish her well.
With about a mile to go to Kitsilano beach, the kayak was put in the water for Jessi’s father Richard, so he could escort her through the last section where the support boat was not allowed in the swimming area. A short time later one of the observers also got in the water to swim alongside for the last few hundred metres. The boat waited outside the swimming area with the other observer watching through binoculars.
Several swimmers were waiting for Jessi on the beach, and as we approached they swam out part way to the edge of the swimming area and escorted her in. Richard got to the beach ahead of Jessi, and prepared to make the arranged signal with his paddle when she came out of the water to finish.
At 3 minutes and 4 seconds past 3 p.m. on Monday the 26th of August 2019, after 30 hours 13 minutes and 4 seconds in the water, Jessi completed her swim from the breakwater dock in Nanaimo to Kitsilano beach in Vancouver.
Jessi Harewicz is one of three Canadians to have completed the “Triple Crown” of open water swimming. This includes swimming from Catalina Island to Los Angeles, across the English Channel, and around Manhattan Island. Last year, Jessi asked me to be the “independent observer” for her circumnavigation swim of Bowen Island, British Columbia, which she completed in 21 hours.
To do these swims and have them be counted, swimmers must adhere to the Marathon Swim Federation stipulations: “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.”
Jessi’s undertaking one year after her Bowen swim and a few months after her Manhattan Island swim was to swim across the Straight of Georgia (named by Captain George Vancouver for Britain’s King George III) at one of it’s widest points: from the small city of Nanaimo on Vancouver Island to Kitsilano Beach in the heart of Vancouver, British Columbia.
Jessi told me that she anticipated that it would take 24 to 30 hours. It was to be the same crew as the previous year: her father Richard feeding her with help from Teresa Seibel, sailors Gunnar and Andrew piloting Gunnar’s 33-foot sailboat Havoc and taking care of all concerns nautical. Because it was a longer swim, there would be two independent observers including myself—a chap named Chris Thomson was joining us. 6 people on sailboat puttering alongside Jessi for possibly 30 hours: this is what I would be signing up for.
I agreed to do it as we got closer to the confirmed date and I was able to take time off work. We were to leave Nanaimo Harbour quite early on the morning of Sunday, August 25th 2019, arriving—I thought, bracing myself—sometime late in the afternoon the next day.
As we prepared to leave and Jessi was covered in sunblock and whatever else it is she puts on her exposed skin, I sat down on the dock and heard a plop: my smartphone falling into the ocean water of Nanaimo Harbour. Apparently I would not be taking photographs or videos of the swim.
At 7:50 am, Jessi jumped off the dock to the sound of an air horn. We were underway.
It was a bit choppy. At our pre-swim meeting a week or so before, sailor Gunnar expressed what must be a standard issue warning for people who aren’t often on boats: if you know you get seasick on a boat, take the necessary steps—pills, aids, et cetera—to help you cope. If you don’t know whether you get seasick on a boat, assume that you do and take whatever steps are necessary to help you cope. If you don’t take care of this, it puts a an unnecessary burden on the rest of the crew. We had all nodded soberly in agreement (though Teresa was on speakerphone). If we were feeling seasick, it was because, added Andrew later, what we were seeing didn’t mesh with what we were feeling according to our inner ear and balance—which leaves one disoriented. The solution (other than medical aids) was: when below, close your eyes; when on deck, keep your eyes on the horizon; if trying to sleep below, close your eyes and let the waves rock you to sleep.
And here we were, in the opening minutes of Jessi’s swim, and it was rocky. I was not feeling comfortable below for even a few minutes. But that’s where the food was, and one of Jessi’s cardinal rules was “Do not let the swimmer see you eat.” (Other rules included: “Don’t lie to the swimmer” and “Do not vomit in front of the swimmer.”) I went below about an hour into the swim, munching crackers and trying to keep my eye on the horizon through the hatch.
It was sunny and not too cold. The air temperature was 15 degrees Celsius (59 degrees Fahrenheit) according to other peoples’ smartphones. The sea I measured at 16 degrees (61 Fahrenheit) with a thermometer that Jessi had given me.
I counted Jessi’s stroke rate at 63 strokes per minute in the opening minutes of her swim. Her father had said that she ideally wouldn’t fall below 60. And Jessi herself had said that she tends to have a higher stroke rate when she’s in colder water.
I did not have a clear idea of exactly what the route was, other than it would soon be as straight a line as currents and conditions would allow across Georgia Straight. At first, though, we needed to skirt north around Gabriola Island and across the track of one of the commuter ferry routes.
After 30 minutes, Jessi was given a Gu gel in warm water, a small, rolled portion of a peanut butter and jam sandwich on white bread, and a Zofran pill to combat seasickness. These items are placed in a screw-top thermos and small water bottle, hooked onto a rope with a carabiner, and handed to Jessi by her father. She would tread water and eat and drink while the rope line is played out and she drifts away from the boat. For this swim, she was to get a sandwich roll and gel in warmed up water every thirty minutes. For the previous swim, I remembered that it was the rule that it was only Jessi’s father Richard who was to speak to Jessi during the swim—relaying any well-wishes and reporting progress or anything Jessi wanted to know.
Progress was slow in those first hours. And it was disorienting as a non-sailor: we were headed east, and we were clearly moving that way, but both vessel and swimmer seemed to be mostly pointed north. Winds were gusting up to 22 knots from the north, and the waves were not small. I learned later that there was a wind warning up and down the coast for that morning.
As we got nearer to a small lighthouse marking a side of Nanaim Harbour, which we were longing to escape, authorities in a vessel approached and questioned us: did we have permission? Andrew had cleared it all with proper authorities, but messages didn’t all get relayed. It was confirmed and the Nanaimo Harbour boat kept an eye on us from a distance.
The commuter ferries were informed by Victoria Marine Traffic as to what we were up to. The AIS (automatic identification system) did not plot the location of our small Havoc, and so Andrew informed Victoria Traffic occasionally (or when asked) what our location was.
Conditions got more blustery and rolling as we made it past the lighthouse. Jessi’s stroke rate hit 64 an hour into her swim. Two hours in she reported that her mouth was salty. The water temperature seemed to be 17 or 18 degrees and the air temperature stayed around 17 degrees. We discussed the conditions. Andrew admitted at the start of the third hour that the wind was “more than [he] expected.” It just was not dying off as quickly as it should have been.
But it seemed that Jessi was not daunted. I later thought that this difficult start seemed to galvanize her. If it was to be this hard AT THE BEGINNING, by God, she was going to meet that challenge. At three and a half hours, it was noted that Jessi “was a little behind schedule.” The wind was still at 15-18 knots as Jessi began her fifth hour of swimming, still mostly pointed north to head east.
“Am I going to miss a whole tide change?” asked Jessi at her 10th feeding. Andrew assured her that it wasn’t going to be a problem and that it should get easier once she made it past the point of land to the east and south of our position. Her frustration was evident when she asked 20 minutes later: “Are we even moving?” Chris recalled Jessi saying: “Am I going to make this or not? I am not making any progress.” She had been almost continuously swimming for five hours and seventeen minutes by this point. She complained that her goggles were starting to leak and asked her father to have another pair handy.
Chris took over observing from me at hour six, at 1:49 pm. At 2:20, Jessi was given a second Zofran pill for seasickness and 400 mg of Advil. She was told that Marilyn Bell was tracking her progress.
(Marilyn Bell was the first person to swim the 51 kilometres across Lake Ontario in 1954, at the urging of Alexandrine Gibb, an advocate for women in sports, after the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) offered U.S. swimmer Florence Chadwick $10,000 to do the swim as publicity for the Exhibition. Marilyn Bell did it for no money and “did it for Canada.” Chadwick and another swimmer did not finish, leaving Bell as the sole finisher. There was an estimated crowd of 250,000 people waiting for Bell when she arrived at 8:15 pm in Toronto after 21 hours of swimming.)
Seven hours into her swim, Jessi reported “feeling good.”
The swell was still severe enough that it was not easy to hand Jessi the thermos and water bottle. For her 3:50 pm feeding—eight hours in—she reached and missed, Richard dangled it above the water, and suddenly the metal thermos hit Jessi—hard—in the forehead. A string of expletives issued and Jessi refused to eat.
She had calmed down by the next feeding (4:20pm) and was given two Tylenol pills, and two sandwich rolls: she seemed happier. At 6:20 she was given another Advil along with her sandwich roll an gel drink. She noted to both Teresa and Richard that she would want the water for the gel mix to be warmer, particularly at night.
We surmised that while the air temperature might drop down to something like 12 overnight, the sea temperature was unlikely to drop that much. The sea seemed to be holding steady—along the surface, anyway—at about 17 or 18 degrees. The wind had died down to about 5 to 7 knots after we had made it around Gabriola Island and were passing Entrance Island. We had no trouble with ferry traffic. We would hear Vitoria Traffic report on the radio: “There is a 30 foot sailboat—Havoc—with a swimmer in the water. Their current position is…” We chatted on the boat about sailing protocols on the water and various other topics. The sea started to smooth out even more, still rippling across the top, but with much smaller waves.
Sunset was at 8:10pm. I took over observing from Chris at the 8:20 feeding (we had each done a six-hour shift).
For the previous swim, Jessi had wanted me to note every time she urinated. This was to track just exactly how her body was responding to everything. Teresa and I talked about this and kept forgetting to mention it to Jessi at each feeding: did she want us to track the frequency of her urination? So Jessi decided to report her urination starting after 8:20pm. At that feeding, she was given her third Zofran pill for seasickness.
Another of Jessi’s cardinal rules was to not freak out the swimmer by reporting animals. In the golden hour after sunset I saw the massive tale of a whale a few kilometers distant and pointed with enough excitement for the boat crew to look where I was pointing but not enough for Jessi to notice. I kept my eye locked to the sea for another five minutes but saw no further sign of the animal.
By 8:50 pm it was getting pretty dark. We prepared: glow sticks were attached to a string and this was mounted on the port side of the boat at which Jessi got her food, the glow sticks just tapping the waterline. A glow stick was attached to the collection of containers which had her food and drink. At 9:20, Jessi was given two Tylenol.
But was she given two Tylenol? I did not record that on the MSF log sheet. I seemed to recall that Teresa had given Jessi two Tylenol. Richard had taken a break at some point and left the feeding in the care of Teresa. Feeding Jessi required boiling water below from time to time and keeping it in a thermos on deck, adding just the right amount to make the drink just right for Jessi. It was a few minutes of preparation followed by carefully wiping out the saltwater, and occasionally preparing another batch of gels in water bottles (to which the warmer water was added). Chris or I tended to give them a few minutes’ warning.
At Jessi’s 9:50 feeding—as at other feeding times—she was told that various people send their best via social media and personal communications. Jessi’s stroke count stayed between 59 and 61 per minute around this time. The sea was getting calmer, the wing down to 2 to 5 knots. The air and sea were both still quite warm-feeling.
Earlier there had been a conversation about pain medication: Jessi was going to be given both Tylenol and Advil, because they “walked pain different ways.” Was there a concern about giving her too much? He metabolism was probably going to be processing the medication very quickly. How often should she be given the medication? Four hours apart, alternating. So every 4 hours: two Tylenol pills, every 4 hours: Advil, and the Tylenol and Advil two hours apart. The giving of pain medication seemed to be the purview of Teresa, who helped Richard at every feeding and did a few by herself while Richard took a few short breaks.
But Teresa had gone below to sleep for a bit around 10pm, and since I hadn’t properly recorded the last time Jessi had been given Tylenol, no one on deck knew where we were in her pain medication schedule, nor where the medication even was. Andrew, at the helm, insisted Teresa be woken up to make everything clear. Chris had noted that Jessi got one Advil (not sure the dosage) at 6:20 pm. Perhaps it was decided not to give Jessi the two Tylenol at 8:20 because that happened to coincide with the once-every-six-hours Zofran pill.
Teresa was woken up and we clarified the schedule (and where the medication was). I felt more sure by then that we had given Jessi two Tylenol at 9:20 (one hour after we had scheduled to), so we agreed that her next Tylenol should therefore be at 1:20 am. Her last Advil had been at 6:20, which would make her next one 10:20, but it was already after 11pm. Because of all this delay and confusion, we opted to give Jessi one 400mg of Advil at her 12:20 feeding (which was actually a little early at 12:11 am), and the Tylenol at 2:20 am.
Later I asked Jessi when she felt pain during her swim, or whether this taking of pain medication was meant to be preventative. “I was in pain after the first seven hours,” she told me. Chris noted: “Her shoulder was getting sore (around 3am?) and she wanted to make sure she got Advil.”
The wind was up to five knots, but the sea was still reading around 17.5 and the air around 18 (according to online sources for our location). At 1:20 am I counted Jessi’s strokes at 56 per minute—the slowest we had recorded. Chris said that she wanted her drinking water to be warmer at around 2:00 am and it stayed that way for about four or so feedings.”
Jessi was not questioning or complaining about her progress around this time because Andrew would generally be telling her at each feeding that she was making good time. Late in the Sunday afternoon, he had calculated a small sample—90 minutes—of her pace and it seemed a little too good to be true. But the current was definitely helping her through Sunday afternoon and night. The points on the swim tracker clearly show this—they are much more spread out in the clear open water of the Georgia Straight.
We stared at Vancouver’s lights in the dark. We could just make out the iconic pattern of the Lion’s Gate Bridge after the sun went down, the low glow of Richmond’s lights. I went below to sleep for a few hours around 2:00 am, hoping that Vancouver would look visibly closer when I woke up. Chris said that “when Jessi could see the lights of the city and the clear moon she was encouraged and swam hard.”
Gunnar and Andrew took two-hour turns helming the vessel and reporting to each other on the status and conditions as they switched out. Just after 4:20 am, I got up. Richard was passed out in the bow of the boat where we had put all our luggage on a hard surface. Andrew was getting up and I was conscious that I was occupying precious bed space. On deck in the still-refreshing cool, I learned Jessi had just vomited. She asked for some water and was now doing just fine. She got another Zofran at 4:50 am.
I was slightly dismayed that it was still dark out when I woke up. Working by lights—ideally not bright white ones but dim red ones—made our twice-an-hour-tasks slightly more difficult. It was not long until dawn, however. We recalled the previous morning and reckoned on light being good enough to see by around 6 am.
Around this time—5:00 am, Jessi requested only the lighter coloured (“triple berry”) Gu gel in water and only the bread with butter roll—no more peanut butter and jam. Luckily the next Gu gel Richard and Teresa had ready to go was this requested flavour.
By 5:50 am, the wind speed had picked up to about 10 knots. The sea was still 16 degrees and the air was down to about 15. The surface of the water was more textured and choppy by around 6:20 am, just before sunrise. At the 6:20 feeding, Jessi dropped the two Tylenol pills into the water. Grabbing a thermos on a string while treading sea water while you are beyond exhausted in the dusky light of dawn: yah: I would probably drop more than Tylenol pills. Chris noted: “The early morning part of the swim just after sunrise was difficult due to the wind and waves. It was difficult for her to see and the mist clouded her vision. She was upset at her apparent lack of progress. This was another difficult time during which Jessi’s support crew huddled on deck and discussed progress and possibilities. Gunnar was very strategic in his charting and he and Andrew worked it out.”
Andrew told Jessi to “power through” this part of the swim. She was still making good progress, despite what she may have thought. Unlike the Bowen Island swim the previous year, in which we kept coming around a new corner to find a new bay and a new view, this time we were watching Vancouver—mockingly—inch ever so slowly up over the horizon line. At first, in the late afternoon of Sunday, the buildings of UBC and Point Grey were dimly discernible amongst the trees right at the water line. Eventually, the next morning, they had moved higher as we crawled slowly over the curvature of the earth and could see more of the bluff on which they stood.
Teresa would relay messages of encouragement to Jessi when she came for her food. Chris noted that the messages made her feel good: “She was very happy to hear from Marilyn Bell and another woman who meant a lot to her.”
At 6:30 am the sun was in our eyes. Jessi mentioned that her shoulder was in pain and that the boat was too far away from her. The sailors and Richard could occasionally be heard telling Jessi to follow the boat since it was on the straightest course.
Jessi was sticking with butter rolls and the lighter gel. Throughout, there had been adjustments to the temperature of the water added to the Gu gel, which was continuously commented on by Jessi. It seemed that this was one of the things that could occupy her mind out there. Was she not bored out of her mind? “There is some crap floating in the water out here,” Chris noted her saying around this time. He also remembered that Jessi started to get more salt in her mouth and was coughing after she ate.
At 7:50 am we told her that she was now in the “24 hour club”—she had been in the water for a full day, three hours longer than her longest previous swim. Another marathon swimmer congratulated her on this via social media.
The wind had picked up to 11 knots around dawn, but it was back down to about 6 knots. We were passing Bowen Island to the north and it was evident that the wind was coming at us from Howe Sound, which surrounded Bowen. Jessi’s progress began to slow again. I recorded in the log that at 9:36 am, Jessi looked up and ahead, said “Fuck,” and got back to swimming.
Chris noted that “it was the start of the swim (Nanaimo Harbour) and the part south of Bowen (with the wind coming down from Howe Sound) early Monday morning that gave her the most difficulty.” Chris added that “it was always in your [Jessi’s] hands unless Andrew saw imminent danger. You persevered so many times. We got more confident that even in some very difficult times, you could move through it. Andrew often gave a rough timeline to be met, for example: ‘She has to get through another 30 minutes of this or we are going to be facing some decisions on what to tell her.’ But it was always in your hands.”
At 9:40 am, Jessi announced that she wanted “cheesy pasta”—the macaroni and cheese they had made—and “plain water.” Her stroke counts were around 54 to 58 at this time. Teresa and Richard put the pasta in the “feeding tube”—the screw-top thermos in which she got her rolled up pieces of sandwich. At 9:50 am, Jessi stuffed 5 small handfuls of pasta into her mouth as Richard played out the line the thermos was attached to. But it was difficult for her to do. Jessi yelled: “I’m gonna choke on my pasta! I was so hungry!” She had been swimming for 26 hours straight at this point.
What was our estimated time of arrival? Andrew had been saying that it could be 30 hours or less. The currents around Bowen the previous year made it so that an estimated 14-16 hour swim turned out to be 21 hours, but the outside predicted time of 30 hours for this swim still seemed achievable. Andrew told us that the current was not great at the moment—we were hitting the outflow of the Fraser River—but that Jessi was still going strong, still covering distance, even though Vancouver didn’t look that much closer. We noted how long it took us to get to the QA buoy. The Victoria Traffic person continued to report our location (a different person than at the beginning of Jessi’s swim because, of course, they have a reasonable work day).
It was discussed how to make it easier for Jessi to eat pasta. Jessi suggested the flimsy water bottle, so Richard and Teresa squeezed individual pieces of mac ‘n’ cheese into it, with the idea that Jessi would squeeze it out like toothpaste. This only worked so well. But it was better than choking on it or dropping it. At 10:20 am, Jessi got another Zofran. She requested “flat Coke Zero” for the next feeding. Teresa obliged—she poured it back and forth between two containers to reduce the carbonation. Jessi continued to eat pasta for her feedings.
Andrew was motivating Jessi by informing her of what he had anticipated her progress to be and what it actually was: he was hopeful of her making good time. “You have to power through this current to get to the tide and then you will be in better water,” Chris remembered him telling her.
In the water, as a non-sailor, it is a difficult to see where you are simply by examining the visible landscape. You THINK you know Point Grey and its shape, but have you ever seen it from the water? Could you really track your progress by how close you seem to Vancouver? Jessi said later that she was getting hopeful about how much closer things looked but then had to discipline herself: “Jessi, it looks far away UNTIL YOU PASS IT,” she told herself. While Jessi’s progress had been a lot slower on Monday morning, and some optimistic finishing times were dialed back, it was still looking good; a 30-hour swim was still within reach. She continued to slog through it.
Finally, Jessi asked if she had reached Point Grey yet and Andrew got to respond: “We’re PAST Point Grey!” Jessi: “That makes me feel better.” Gunnar and Andrew discussed that the boat was getting pushed in the wind and currents faster than Jessi was swimming—they had to back pedal to stay level with her. Occasionally Jessi was swimming quite close to the bow and Richard would try to get her attention and gesture that she should move away from the boat a bit.
The feedings became a little less consistent as we were coming into the final hours of the swim. Jessi was reaching waters she knew well. At her 12:07 pm feeding—after 28:17 of straight swimming—Jessi continued to have a few sips of flat Coke Zero and a few mouthfuls of pasta. At 12:47pm she said: “I don’t want to bonk. I need to eat.” Her stroke count was around 58. Chris remembers that it was “only very late in the swim…that her stroke count was averaging in the high fifties instead of her fairly consistent 60-62 per minute.”
The air and sea were hovering around 17 and 18 degrees, but Jessi noted some cold currents that she attributed to commercial marine traffic stirring things up. “We’re at 29 hours,” someone said.
Jessi was concerned about how things were going to go when she reached the beach. She wanted the beach lifeguards to leave her alone, and occasionally shouted directions at us: “Call Jayne and get her to tell the lifeguards to stand down.” Chris noted that towards the end of swim Jessi was “overly concerned” about Facebook reports and had to be encouraged to stop talking and keep swimming. “I actually think she cost herself some time by swimming close to the boat and instructing us who to contact about various things.”
We were now coming amongst the tankers parked in Vancouver’s harbour. Gunnar and Andrew conferred about how we were being pushed and what route we should take through the parked ships.
We were excited to be coming to the end. The slowing down at the mouth of Vancouver’s harbour had elongated the time but we now anticipated that Jessi could be done around 2:30 pm or even earlier. Teresa informed people online. Swimmers would be coming out to meet Jessi, but they were not supposed to come too close to her or touch her before she landed on the beach. The last few hundred metres was an area that prohibited motorized boats, so Richard would be getting into his kayak to escort Jessi into the beach. I decided that I would swim in with her—keeping my distance—for the final few hundred metres.
We got Richard in the kayak in what was by now fairly choppy seas again—there was much up and down movement between the two boats. I jumped in and swam to catch up with Jessi and Richard. Jessi complained that she needed another feed, that she was exhausted, that she was bonking. Andrew shouted from the sailboat: “Put your head down and swim!” It seemed like she was going to complete this 60km (likely more) in just over 30 hours. “You have 7 minutes!” Andrew yelled from the boat.
I heard some shouting of unfamiliar people. I noticed two swimmers not far from us cheering Jessi on, waiting for us to come closer. They quickly announced to me that they knew they couldn’t come close to Jessi or touch her until she was finished. I felt briefly like Jessi’s bodyguard. Jessi was just swimming, eking out her last efforts. Another swimmer, Patrick, came up and swam close beside her.
The plan was for Richard to raise his paddle over his head to signal completion to Havoc where Andrew would sound the air horn. Jessi ran raggedly up the beach into the arms of her mother and they collapsed to the sand in a hug. I shouted from the water to onlookers what Jessi had just done. About 20 people and a news cameraman were there to see her finish and applaud her efforts. Other beachgoers seemed curious as to what was happening.
Jessi’s official time for her 60+ kilometre swim from Nanimo, British Columbia to Kitsilano Beach in Vancouver, British Columbia, was 30 hours, 13 minutes, and 4 seconds. She began her swim at 7:50 am on Sunday, August 25th, 2019 and completed it at 2:03:04 pm on Monday, August 26th, 2019.
Jessi had earlier shouted to the boat towards the end of her swim: “This is really difficult; this is why most people don’t do this.” All of us in Jessi’s support crew presumably thought, at one point or another: “She might not be able to do it.” We were all tempted, at various times, witnessing this incomprehensible feat of fortitude, determination and grit, to think: “Well, even if she doesn’t complete the whole swim…” There is an allure to bracing oneself for someone ELSE—this incredible swimmer—not accomplishing what they set out to accomplish. Which is simply not reality. It’s not what happens. You cannot predict the future. Sometimes swimmers really can swim 60 kilometres over 30 hours in occasionally difficult conditions in the ocean.
About one week before the swim began, there was a call out for a crew for this swim. Richard Harewicz whom I have known for many years asked me if I was interested. I knew about Jessi and her swims and actually met her first when she was barely 2 years old. We did not have a lot of contact during her formative years as Richard and I were friends socially but did not have relationships with one another’s family. A few years ago, I learned of Jessi’s open water swimming and Richard told me about and I was very curious. Richard would share stories of Jessi’s swims with some of his friends but few of us actually understood this sport. Last July, there was an Open Water swim event at Kitsilano, Jessi was not swimming but was part of the organization. I volunteered to help move equipment and do set up and take down. While there, I got to see what open water swimming was about, and what “skin swimming” was and how it was different. The course was fairly short, 6k if I remember. I watched as these swimmers made their way around pylons set out from the beach. My first impression was how powerful these swimmers were yet body size and weight did not make sense to me. Jessi explained to me some of what it takes to do this swim and it was not hours and hours of being in a weight room!!
I have followed Jessi’s swim accomplishments through Richard telling me about them and I did see her give some talks on video to different groups of people. When Richard asked me if I wanted to volunteer on this adventure, I said yes, not really knowing what would be in store. To be honest, even having read some of the event material beforehand, I had to actually see how this unfolded to get a true sense of what a marathon swim involves.
I got up at 5am having already been in Nanaimo for a blues festival that weekend so it was convenient for me and my hotel was just across from the dock where we launched. There was a bit of confusion at the beginning as to when we would actually launch. I met the crew for the first time outside of Richard. Preparations began to get Jessi ready and before we even got on the boat Craig, one of the other observers dropped his cell phone into the water. He was obviously disappointed and I was worried about how much this was going to be a problem. Some people are very attached to their phones and keep a lot of information and utilize it for a lot of things. Thankfully Craig let his initial disappointment go and was focused on the swim!!
We headed out of Nanaimo just before 8am. I asked Craig to take the first note taking shift as I was new and unfamiliar with what to be done. I watched him do notes and asked a lot of questions. Teresa was doing social media and was very engaging throughout the trip. Gunner and Andrew were doing all the sailing and I felt very safe and secure with those two on the boat. The boat is 33 feet and not really meant to have 6 people aboard so we were pretty tight and movement was difficult, you had to basically launch yourself from one side to the other and not trip over the supplies and jackets. The back of the boat was where Gunner and Andrew steered so actually, 4 of us were crammed into a very small half section of the boat.
We set out in the sunshine and were quite optimistic yet quickly there was concern as the wind and current picked more than what was expected. Jessi had to swim very hard right at the beginning. It took a long time to just get out of the first part of the harbour. In fact, the first 3-4 hours were looking like a setback as the plans as to where Jessi should have been and where we were concerned everyone. Jessi was getting somewhat frustrated as she was working hard and making slow progress, this was not the way the swim was supposed to start. It seemed to be around noon before we were actually out of the harbour. On the boat, Andrew was updating us on the conditions and telling us that we were probably ok now that we finished the harbour but was worried about how much that took out of Jessi’s swim plans.
I started my first charting at 1:50 pm August 25/2019. I was nervous at first because I was trying to fill in the chart quickly at the designated intervals of 30 minutes. I asked Craig how to read the wind/speed accurately and wanted to get everything right. By this point, Jessi had been swimming for 6 hours I was getting pretty familiar at how the feeds were going and the little things that interfered with progress. Sometimes the “beaner” which is what they called the container that had the food, drink and pills, would not reach Jessi due to the waves and sometimes the line out caught got on something and Jessi would have to reach farther for it which is a real problem because she only has seconds to complete the feeding and can’t be chasing the container. The line attached to the container had to be reeled out and nothing could be in the way for it to get caught on which was challenging at times. We were so close together on the side of the boat that occasionally the line would catch something or wrap around a foot and this had to be sorted out. During the feeds, Richard would be throwing out the beaner, Teresa would be talking to her or posting to social media live, and either Craig or myself would be reeling in the line when done. Richard would talk to Jessi and get update on how she was and did she need anything. While all this action was happening, within minutes the recordings had to be made it was hard sometimes to get everything done as fast as possible as the next recording and feeding was just around the corner. The wind was blowing and, in the night, we had to use various forms of light sources to see the chart as Andrew had told us not to use “white light” like the kind you get from phones or flashlights as it is distracting.
When Jessi heard from Teresa (around 2:30 pm) that Marilyn Bell was watching her tracking she was quite encouraged and was feeling pretty good about her swim. At around 3:50 while Jessi was headed towards the boat to get the beaner, she put her hand to reach it but it hit her in the head. She was immediately incensed at yelled at Richard and was concerned that this could happen again and if it did happen in the night it would be worse. She was so angry that she refused her food and swam away. On the boat, we realized that it was simply an accident that could not have been avoided and no one was at fault. We felt bad for Richard yet we all knew it was part of the swim, frustrations will happen and Jessi had told us at the beginning of the swim, “I will get mad and say things sometimes but I don’t mean it” and that was true. There were a few times that Jessi yelled back, mostly at Richard however they have done this before and know how to handle it. Jessi later on at the next feeding apologized to Richard and did that a few times during the swim.
I took a picture of the sunset at 7:58 and things seem to be calm at that point. Jessi was swimming strongly and it seemed like we were all in a groove with the temperature and current in her favour. I asked the others if Jessi had urinated as I had seen on the other charts that this was noted. Jessi hadn’t said anything to us we reminded her to let us know so at 8:40 this began to get charted. As night fell, things seemed to be going fairly well with the swim, we were making good progress. We had to adjust the lights alongside the boat so Jessi could see better and we did make an adjustment to the glow stick used for the beaner as it didn’t seem bright enough to contrast with the water and boat lights.
While things were going well on the boat in the evening we had a few huddles about upcoming currents and strategies. Jessi had made it clear to us she did not want to be lied to about either progress or water conditions. Andrew had a connection with Jessi and was able to deliver her information about her progress that was encouraging yet realistic. When things were difficult as they did become later in the night, he would say things like, “you are making some progress but we need more to get through this current and then things will get better”. At some of those moments what was actually happening was that progress was minimal and the immediate forecast was not in her favour. What was always agreed on with the boat crew was unless there was imminent danger to Jessi, it would be her call and she would always know the truth about conditions and progress, just not every detail as that might be discouraging.
We did have a serious moment when the medications that Jessi wanted were not clearly identified. Teresa and Jessi had put them together (Advil/Tylenol) but they were not clearly marked so when Teresa was taking a break, we realized that we had a brief moment of confusion. Andrew was very clear that there can be no mistakes here and we had to wake Teresa from her rest and get these sorted out. It was a bit tense however, it was extremely important to get it right and I would take this as a learning moment for any future swims. Do not put pills into a container this not clearly marked and do not mix pills. Example. Advil at 200 mg and 400 mg are different and are not marked on the pill. All pills must be in separate clearly marked containers so that any crew member can easily identify the pill and not have to be concerned about strength or type. Especially in the night using low light and sorting these out. That was a tense moment however it served as a reminder of how important it is as a mistake could really be detrimental to the swimmer.
When things were relatively calm water wise, the crew was relaxed. Gunner and Andrew took turns steering and when possible, quick rests. Richard and I pretty much stayed awake the whole time and I must admit, it felt guilty to even consider resting while Jessi swam and swam and swam with no rest!!!! During the night it was quiet chat and the social media aspect was quiet so we often simply watched Jessi swim, trying to observe anything that seemed to change.
Late into the night, around 4:30am Jessi was having problems with the feeding and wanted to have more hot water. She said she was going to throw up and I think I heard her do that but it was dark and sometime she would cough up during the feeding if salt water got into her mouth. I could tell she was getting bored with the peanut butter jam (PBJ) rolls and she eventually requested butter rolls with the PBJ.
As we got toward early morning sunrise, Jessi was concerned about her shoulder which further emphasized why these medications are so important. Jessi switched up the gel and went to clear Tinberry. At this point, although the water temperature and air temperature were not too different, the wind made it feel fairly cold. This was a difficult time as Jessi had to battle through current and her stroke count went down a bit from an average of 60-61 strokes per minute down to a low of 54. That continued for about 90 minutes and then rose up to 57-58 strokes per minute.
As we approached 9:30am, we encountered strong current trying to get past the tides from Howe Sound. Jessi was tired of drinking juice and eating the rolls and wanted something warm so we switched to cheesy pasta. It had to be squeezed into a tube so she could eat it. That didn’t work so well so it was put into the beaner and she ate it by hand. This was difficult for her and she choked a bit but wanted to eat something desperately. Thankfully she did not fully vomit and was able to keep most of it.
As we approached around 11am Jessi wanted to change up her fluids so we got some Coke 0 and flattened it out to reduce carbonation. She was wanting to skip her next feeding as she felt she was making progress having finally moved through difficult waters and was in sight of Bowen Island. She continued thought to have pasta for a few more feeds and Coke 0. She had gotten tired of so much sugar in the gel packs and this was the reason to move to Coke 0
By late morning we could see Point Grey as the mist had cleared and with Bowen Island in sight on our left-hand side and Jessi familiar with where she was, her spirits lifted. We were at 29 hours and within Jessi’s target time of 30 hours.
The last hour was exciting as well all knew the end was near and people were posting rapidly on social media and swimmers were wanting to come out near Kitsilano to swim the last metres with her but not too close. Craig eventually jumped in to participate. What did happen in the last hour was that Jessi was calling out directions to Teresa about how she wanted things to be texted to people, what she wanted at the conclusion of her swim and a number of other details. She actually had to be told to stop thinking about the ending and continue swimming hard to reach her goal of 30 hours. Throughout the swim, Jessi would occasionally be curious as to where she was but seeing her final destination helped her power through the final 2 miles.
She had her last feed at 1:23pm August 26 2019 and simply powered her way past the freighters in the harbor. I got some nice video of her swimming with the freighter looming behind her. There was a scramble at the end as we launched Richard into his kayak for him to escort Jessi to shore where her Mom was eagerly awaiting her along with some swimmer and some media. Gunner, Andrew, Craig and myself had to watch from a distance as she got to shore as the boats are not allowed past Jericho. I wish there could have been a live close up of her getting out of the water as we had all spent the past 30 hours waiting for this moment!!! 2:03pm is the final time I believe and Jessi achieved her goal of swimming from Nanaimo to Kitsilano.
On a personal note, I have never witnessed anything like this before and Teresa often said we were watching history in the making. I can hardly believe I saw someone swim continuously for 30 hours. It was amazing to be a part of this event with such a great and accomplished crew. When I look back on it, Jessi and I never said a word to one another during the whole trip until the next day!!! Her communication was with Andrew, Richard and Teresa mostly and a little bit with Craig who is also an open water swimmer and knows Jessi and can appreciate even more than the rest of us how open water swimming feels.
And to top it off, I have always wanted to take that journey but never thought it would be on a sail boat at 1 knot for 30 hours!! The scenery was fantastic and I am very grateful for this experience.
THE LONG SWIM HOME
This is a swim I will always remember.
This is a swim where we had it all !
Wednesday August 21st 2019
Andrew Lieberman confirms that the weather is a go.
Friday August 23, 2019
Last minute shopping, crew food
Crew meeting; Gunner Johnson, and Andrew Lieberman, Richard Harewicz, Chris, and myself.
Saturday, August 24, 2019
1:00pm - Meet at Vancouver Rowing Club located in Coal harbour, Vancouver. Pack up boat
2:50pm - Jessi & Richard Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal. To take ferry across Nanaimo.
Saturday evening - Andrew and Gunnar to sail across Georgia straits to Nanaimo.
9:00pm - meet Teresa at Motel in Nanaimo, finish preparation swimmers food.
10:30pm Craig arrive
Sunday August 25, 2019
- 5:00am - wake up
- 5:45am - cab from motel to Nanaimo government dock gate C.
- 6:15am - load boat (Starbucks in hand)
- 7:30 -
- Safety briefing, Andrew Lieberman
- Boat briefing, Gunner Johnson
- Review of marathon swimming rules, Jessi Harewicz.
- 7:45am - Jessi step off of boat onto dock.
- 7:50am - swim start
As I stepped onto the government dock, they got the Boat to position for me to start, I realize that I would not be able to do any official live send off. Dang !
We had a small crew for this trip. It was a good & experience crew, but it was small. 2 people for each duties. 2 feeders, 2 observers, 2 pilots.
There was two men on their boat. On the right edge of the dock. We chatted a little bit. Explaining that I would be swimming to Kitsilano Beach hopefully within the next 30 hours! They asked, ‘what are you swimming for?’ ‘a cause?’
I said ‘I have a few organizations I support’ ‘but I swim for myself!’
For me to be brutally honest, I have to swim for myself. This is my therapy, my fight. I could not do with out others. This was a very personal swim for me. A personal quest to see what I am made of. Double the average distance I have done previous.
There was two morning joggers on the pier. I heard Andrew’s voice ‘one minute’ ‘30 seconds’ ‘10 seconds’
FIRST 30 MINUTES
Then the horn went off. As I jumped off the high dock into the water. The most industrialized atmosphere for a start ever for me!
The water felt nice. As I focussed on getting into stroke rhythm. Only to realize that I had forgotten to take my Zofran again! I said something to my dad, and he said will take it with the first feed in approximately 25 minutes
I noticed the local harbour Authority boat trolling just behind us. I presumed it was just to keep an eye on us so that we got out of Nanaimo safely.
As we headed to the lighthouse off the edge of Protection Island to curve around into the passage that would take us to the tip of Gabriola out to the Georgia straits.
My first feed was right off the edge of Prospect Island.
But as we continued up towards Fairway channel, the wind got very strong very quick. I got a good beat in my head.
“Da da daaa da da daaa do do dooo do!
Turn it up
Big wheels keep on turning
Carry me home to see my kin
Singing songs about the SOUTH WEST CANADA land
I miss VANCOUVER, once again
And I think it’s a sin, yes
Well I heard Mister Young sing about her
Well I heard old Neil put her down
Well, I hope Neil Young will remember
A southern WOMAN don’t need him around anyhow
Sweet home VANCOUVER
Where the skies are so blue
Sweet home VANCOUVER
YEAH I AM SWIMMING home to you’
After while we I didn’t feel like we are moving much! I’ve learned over the years to ignore this feeling. It will make you go mentally sick of longing for the finish. But a few hours later I realizing that we should’ve probably been all the way out into the Georgia Straits already! I tried to time my breathing with the waves, but every few waves I got a big smack on the side of my face! I could feel the vibrations through my ear drum.
I think I asked somewhere around hour 4 or 4.5 ‘Is was even worth it to continue?’
I was given a little bit of hope that it would die down once we got to Gabriola island & into Georgia straits.
Like normal it felt like forever just to get around to the open strait! I saw different houses on Gabriola Island. The tip started to become rounder. But once we made it, Gabriola started to fade quickly into the distance! I saw Entrance Island, with the pretty red roofed houses.
I saw hints of mountains ahead of us already! I started looking up and down the Georgia Straits into sweet nothingness
FEEDING / PAIN
There were 3 events I clearly remember. They all happened sometime I was still light out, but I can’t remember exactly what order so here I go.
- My left shoulder slowly started to recover a little bit from all that pounding and for the first 6 1/2 hours. And then before I knew it smack… As I was trying to get a feed my small thermos canister for my food, it hit me in the head. ‘I screamed’
‘DAD - What in the fucking hell!
What are we gonna do when it’s night time now!’
‘Are you gonna hit me in the head like the English channel at night?’
The pain from my fore head started to vibrate through my body. I was too tired (already) to cry. So I took my feed, & I just kept swimming!
- Then I realized that my left shoulders was really hurting worse then I thought! It felt like lots of knots in the back left side. With the smack from the head, I couldn’t take it anymore. I said Teresa, ‘please text Steve Walker. Ask him about Tylenol/ Advil dosages!’
I would proceed to have two Tylenol and to Advil every two hours alternate.
Soon after I started to get refocused again. The pain subsided I got back to business.
- Then at some point I got my food and realized that, there was nothing in it ! I screamed ‘what in the hell! No food!’
I swam off. ‘Dad, get your SHIT together, what is this Amateur hour ?!?’ I am hungry, I need solid food !
My dad tries to give me the food again.
‘I am protesting, I am not going to eat !’
I swam hard 30 minutes. I was pissed. I needed time to think to get my headspace focused. We had a long night ahead!
I started feeding like normal. My feedings were pretty quick, so I asked lots of questions. Needed things to think about. Words of encouragement from Teresa weather updates from Andrew.
I realized that the sun was going to set soon. And my dad had not had any rested yet! We discussed before the swim that he wanted to rest in the daylight. So he could keep an eye on me all night long!
I asked him to please go and take a rest! Soon I saw him go down below. And Teresa took over feeding me.
I kept looking behind me to see where the sun position was. And if Vancouver Island was actually looking further away! And how surprisingly it was! This was not gonna turn into another Catalina channel! Where I swear both sides mountains didn’t change for so many hours!
I was watching patiently at the reflection of the iridescent glow of the sunset on the North Shore Mountains. I started to get ready for nightfall! I kept waiting for when the glow sticks would go on the boat.
I was hoping we wouldn’t get much wind at night, but I know the Salish Sea does can get some breeze at night.
A new tune in my head….From Free, album: fire & water. Please forgive my artistic license. My brain really liked this rhythm of the song !
‘All NIGHT long, babe It’s going to be a LONG NIGHT now!’
‘There she stood in the street
Smiling from her head to her feet
I said hey, what is this
Now baby, maybe she’s in need of a kiss
I said hey, what’s your name baby
Maybe we can see things the same
Now don’t you wait or hesitate
Let’s move before they raise the parking rate
All NIGHT (right)now baby, it’s all right now
All right now baby, it’s GONNA BE A LONG NIGHT NOW’
This was so comforting !!
I couldn’t see the moon anywhere! I was wondering if eventually I would see downtown Vancouver in the night time. Like in Bowen Island.
It always takes time for me to settle in to night swimming. It wasn’t that cold. So I settled quick. I just had to keep swimming 10 hours to dawn, 9.5 hours till dawn. 9 hours till dawn.
POINT GREY NIGHT
Then I could start to see the shadows of Point Grey/UBC! Then I could see the glowing lights of downtown Vancouver, and of course the Lions Gate Bridge lights! Which again was almost brighter than the city itself!
I remember that as much as I would like daylight to come. It would not solve any of my problems. It might actually be more painful! As I knew that I probably would not be entering Burrard Inlet until after sunrise!. And I knew that it could actually be worse in the daylight! Seeing how much further I still had to go. Never the less I counted backwards to daylight! Guessing when midnight would be… Then I saw my first ship sometime and of the night. And I start to feel the water temperature drop. We must be near the shipping lane ??
The boat with Glow sticks & only 3 tiny lights. I couldn’t see my crew, Except for when they put their headlamps on to get my food ready!
I was quite at ease with this, but I just had to be wary of where the boat was. As it was a sailboat, less stable. And at some point the swells did start in the middle of the night it was such a weird feeling like the black water came alive under me. I tend to have better sense awareness at night. So I just proceeded onward.
I started to see some lights on the left which was Gibsons. I could see you more shadowed definition of Bowen Island. It looked different shape! This kept me entertained for awhile. The lights of Gibsons started overtime to look further left! The lights Vancouver started to spread out a little bit. CALM
When I could, I looked up and down the Strait into the nothingness. It was actually quite comforting! I wanted to do this route for so long and finally I was doing it!
I was exactly where I should be. Doing exactly what I should be doing!
I knew the sun was rising somewhere around 6 AM.
I thought I could be seeing phosphorescence in the water. But it was only a bit of reflection from the lights on myself. As I dug into the water lots a little flashing sparks everywhere from the light on my head.
I started to notice another light in the sky. I asked my crew, they said it was the moon! I didn’t understand! It was just as bright as the Lions gate Bridge light ! About 30 minutes later. I started to see the shape, so thin scallop. I started singing to myself.
“And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man on the moon
When you comin’ home dad?
I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then son,
You know we’ll have a good time then” repeat !!
Harry Chapin - Cat’s In The Cradle
It was a pretty and even more painful reminder of how close it looked, but how much further I had to swim. My stomach started feeling a little bit queasy. I knew I can only handle the GU gels + water + bread for so much longer.
The sky lightened then the water. same as Bowen. Less dramatic though.
24 HOUR CLUB
I knew 24 hour club would happen just after sunrise! So focused on that. I told Teresa to tell me when it was!
I look back now from a few years ago. Thinking that those people were crazy ! To swim continuous for 24 hours. But guess what? I just became one of them ! Another goal achieved!
At this point I couldn’t take anymore… I was having trouble swallowing my rolls whole my throat was so dry! I was still drinking at least 250 ml every 30 minutes. But the salt was getting to me. And it wasn’t even that salty!
I finally asked to have my plain butter rolls. Instead of the peanut butter and jam rolls. Then I asked for a break from the Gels. But I soon realized that I needed some other source of energy. I asked for Pasta. It was a nice change! Although I think we stuffed it too tightly into the pouches that we had!
I asked for the cheesy pasta which we just put into the container. This was probably my longest feed as I had to float while shoving fistful’s pasta into my mouth. I had no strength to egg beater my body upright. I was so hungry. So I proceeded to lightly cough as I ate. Explaining to my crew that I was OK. I just couldn’t feel part of my throat.
After about an hour of no Gels I started feeling way too sleepy! So I yelled out to them to open a can of the Coke zero to flatten it. And I would start to take sips of it every 15 minutes with some water and Pasta.
Then the wind started getting crazy again! Andrew had hinted to me that we were making really good time we might be able to get into the bay quickly! But of course, this did not happen.
We were too early. I could not fight the EBB tide that was coming out of the inlet. I was told to crank it up a bit! I was so exhausted. Good thing my shoulders weren’t feeling any worse! But I was very wary. At this point. Teresa said I looked really solid! Way better than I had at the end of Bowen. And we had already passed the 21 hour mark.
The sailboat was flying all over the place. My pilots are doing a very good job considering. I just kept swimming as hard as I possibly could. I couldn’t see a thing the Waves were getting so big. My hope was fading. I was getting frustrated & pissed off.
Andrew you told me if I just hang in there a bit longer the tide would flip and it was slowly letting us in!
We saw a guy in a row boat, it was somebody from Jericho sailing Centre making sure we are OK. He waved us and proceeded back into the bay.
We also saw a big fast ferry boat. V2V Andrew told me the captain saluted me! There is a big native orca whale painted on the side of the ferry.
‘Teresa tell Marilyn Bell the orca’s did come and see me!’
As all this was happening I was slowly being pulled into the Bay. It felt like forever!
THE HOME STRETCH
But before I knew it, I asked him to tell me when we were at the first dog beach (The most western beach starts a connection of 5 more beaches finishing with Kitsilano Beach. My finish.)
He said we were already there! I was in disbelief. We are on the homestretch!
We were swimming right into the bay! I knew we weren’t in the shipping lane. But it felt like we were! I could barely recognize the beaches that I swim almost daily ! I saw the Jericho sailing Center. I saw a quick glimpse of the Royal Vancouver Yaht Club.
Jericho Rescue, (from Jericho Sailing Center) in the orange zodiac. Came out and waved!
Andrew told me, I had to pick it up if I wanted to make under 30 hours. The waves were still so big. But they were pushing me towards my destination.
I finally saw them getting the kayak ready! Andrew asked if I knew I was going! I knew of course! City Hall. He said look at that stepped like building. I said ‘ I know that is City Hall!’ That is the sighting for Kitsilano Beach.
After all these years! When I envisioned swimming across the Georgia Straits, across the bay. Everything I’ve ever dreamed of! This was what I was swimming ! I finally started to feel very lucky and happy! I just hope now some of my friends would come and swim me in !!
I’ve been thinking about this moment for almost 30 hours! I hope my mom would be there with the dog !
As I saw them getting the kayak into the water. And Craig put his swim cap on and goggles. Then another feeding. I asked Teresa if that was the last feed. She said ‘yes it’s your last supper!’ don’t think she really got it.
I saw a few boats that are moored just outside the swim zone at Kits. I kept trying to focus on them as they got closer. Then I started trying to sight less and look at the city on the left of me as it got easier to view from a side breath glance while swimming.
Then I could hear some other swimmers! I could hear Craig talking to them! Apparently they were saying ‘DON’T TOUCH HER’. But they all knew! I knew who they all were. But they didn’t know each other. I laughed a little bit inside envisioning what was going on.
The beach only got visible in the last 15 minutes. Then I started focussing on looking at the bottom. Where was the sand? Finally I could see sand! I kept digging till my hands touched the gritty sand. I dug one last set of strokes. I dug my feet into the shore climbed up into the air. step step and put my arms up ! And proceeded to hug my mother. Falling as quickly as I had arose on to the sand/shells beneath us.
I started to realize there was a camera crew. Well at least hopefully a few people got video of that landing! I saw my friends on the right Heather and Colette, and of course Craig and Patrick. All the people I wanted there! I proceeded to give Heather and Colette hugs. I just couldn’t believe had finished! I saw Jessica Albes. She was in her work clothes! I just told her how much i wanted to hug her ! But she looked too pretty !
Within a few minutes I knew of course I had to change etc. Asking where my bag was etc.
ICE CREAM LUXURY
There’s lots of people there… I recognized a few more faces. But all I wanted to do was to go and get change. I felt almost guilty going out to the change room there. It was so nice and warm inside. I just threw on some light clothes and a few blankets. I proceeded to lie down outside on a bench. I asked for something soft and dairy! So they got me some ice cream bar. Which was awesome. But we had to pick up all the chocolate hard bits on the outside. My mom & friends happily ate the chocolate scraps.
There was camera crews there who kept coming to asked to interview me. But my stomach was doing jumping jacks still. I couldn’t believe I had finished! Finally was able to sit upright to talk to them! I don’t think I’ve been out of water for more than 30 minutes at this point.
I was still able to talk quite clearly.
It felt like only a few hours ago I was battling out at Nanaimo Harbour.
I was proud to say, I SWAM HOME!
Click to enlarge.
Jessi Harewicz - Strait of Georgia from MSF on Vimeo.