Caitlin Swalec - Phillips (Lucerne) Lake
Island-enforced loop perimeter of Phillips Lake
12.9 km (8.0 miles)
6 hours, 32 minutes on 4 September 2021
Observed and documented by Emily Martin
First Documented Swim
- Name: Caitlin Swalec
- Gender: female
- Age on swim date: 27
- Nationality: United States
- Resides: Santa Barbara, California
- John Swalec - pilot (jetski)
- Emily Martin - observer, kayaker
- Laura Pasquine - crew chief, feeder, kayaker
John (age 66) is Caitlin’s father. He is a radiation Oncologist in Brewer, Maine. Resident of Hampden/Dedham, Maine. Boy Scout Eagle Scout and former Assistant Scout Master. Registered boat owner. Completed Maine Boating Safety Course. Certified in Proper Operation & Safety for Boating Handling including Cold Water Emergencies & Survival, First Aid, Environmental Ethics.
Laura (age 29) is a Professional Engineer in civil/environmental engineering, specializing in remediation engineering, especially of waterways. Laura has 10 years of competitive swimming experience including open water lake swims. She is also an experienced long-distance runner and typical Mainer (hikes, kayaks, swims plenty).
Red Cross Lifeguard/CPR/AED/First Aid certified, swim instructor, open water boat and safety instructor at Circle Camp EKC (West Virginia), 10 years competitive swimming (Texas and Maine, Bangor High School Class A and Bangor Y Barracuda; specialized in long distance events), two-time Beach to Beach Swim for Breast Cancer (3 mile open water swim on Green Lake in Dedham, ME) finisher, National Outdoor Leadership School Wilderness Course Alumni.
Escort Vessels: 2 kayaks, 1 jetski
- Category: Solo, nonstop, unassisted.
- Rules: MSF Rules of Marathon Swimming, without exception or modification.
- Equipment used: Textile swimsuit (Jolyn two-piece. Top: Adrian, size small in strawberry, 100% polyester. Bottom: Midl, size medium in cleansing print 100% polyester), TYR Sloth Silicone Cap, Speedo Women’s Vanquisher 2.0 Mirrored Goggle in Aqua, Adept silicone ear plugs in blue, Badger SPF35 mineral sunscreen face stick, Neutrogena SPF50 SheerZinc mineral sunscreen, Ocean Grease 60/40 (60 parts anhydrous lanolin, 40 parts petroleum jelly anti-chafing lubricant; used under neck straps and under arms), Timex Ironman 10 Lap Digital Watch in Purple.
- Body of Water: Phillips (Lucerne) Lake, Dedham, Hancock County, Maine
- Route Type: multi-island loop
- Start & Finish Location: Camp (44.69332, -68.60726)
- Minimum Route Distance: 12.9 km (8.0 miles) (map)
General Route description
- Start at camp
- Swim north, through the Narrows, and clockwise around Narrows Island
- Return south through the Narrows, around Pearl Point
- West of LBC island
- Clockwise around Sitting Rock (just off public boat launch)
- Swim southeast, along the west sides of Main Island and Rock Garden, and clockwise around boulder (#1)
- Swim south, clockwise around boulder (#2)
- South of Southeast Island
- Clockwise around boulder (#3)
- Counter-clockwise around Mulberry Rd peninsula, swimming north of Center Island
- Clockwise around boulder (#4)
- Clockwise around boulder (#5)
- Swim north, west of South Island
- Swim northwest, clockwise around boulder (#6), and northeast around Hurd Point Rd Point
- Swim north, through the Narrows, and clockwise around Narrows Island
- Return south through the Narrows to camp
No known historical swims that I or the Bangor Public Librarian I consulted are aware of.
- Start: 4 September 2021, 06:27:00 (Eastern Daylight Time, America/New_York, UTC-7).
- Finish: 4 September 2021, 12:59:14
- Elapsed: 6 hours, 32 minutes, 14 seconds.
Summary of Conditions
|Water Temp (F)||72||75|
|Air Temp (F)||55.2||77.5|
Trackpoint frequency: 2 minutes. Download raw data (CSV).
Laura Pasquine (crew chief/feeder) served as feeder. Laura operated the 2002 Wilderness Systems Pungo 140 Kayak. Laura used a lightweight Tupperware tray to offer snack baggies and fluids (in small squeeze bottles) to Caitlin to avoid any contact with the swimmer. All feed gear was marked with hot pink marker tape to increase visibility in case anything was dropped in water (most containers were clear and we wanted to ensure no littering).
Caitlin planned to stop every 30-45 minutes (using her Timex watch to track time) for water and a feed bag. In addition to ambient temperature tap water, hot ginger tea, and ambient temperature coconut water was available to the swimmer upon request. Honey Stinger brand wildflower honey waffles (3), pink lemonade gummies (2 packs), golden energy gels (3 packets), Cliff Bars (3, one crunchy peanut butter, blueberry crisp, and peanut butter banana each), Cliff Bar Protein Bar (2 peanut butter chocolate), additional apricots and espresso caramels were also available for the swimmer.
Caitlin pre-packed 15 feed bags labeled with #1-15 for feed stops (only anticipated using 8-12 bags).
Odd numbered bags:
- 3 double shot espresso caramels from Sprouts
- 2 dried apricots from Sprouts bulk section
Even numbered bags:
- 5 Barenaked Granola Peanut Butter and Honey granola bites
- Approx. 3 Trader Joe’s Just the Lobster gummies
Used feedbags were placed in a large Ziploc bag labeled “used feed bags” and reviewed immediately after swim for documentation (whether feeds were finished or not). Alternative feeds (coconut water) were noted by observer. With this plan, observer was able to note feed bag number on log and detail feed after.
Swimmer Narrative or Statement
What inspired you to do this swim?
Phillips Lake is one of my favorite places in the world. Growing up in Maine I spent every summer at our family camp on the lake. Sharing one small bedroom with two bunkbeds and three sisters, I spent as much time outside, in and on the water as I could. Kayaking to an island with my swimsuit and goggles, a good book or two, and some PB&Js was my favorite way to escape and spend an afternoon. As an early riser, I cherished quiet mornings with my Dad, drinking coffee (for him) and hot cocoa (for me), reading the paper (politics for him, comics for me), and listening to the loons calling across the lake. Sunrise is the best time on the lake when it’s perfectly glassy and gorgeous, reflecting a natural watercolor for a few moments before the wind picks up and sailboats appear. In high school I started lifeguarding at the community beach club across the lake and kayaked or swam to work each day, crossing my fingers that the sun would hold and I wouldn’t get stuck by thunderstorms playing cards at the sticky picnic table in the snack shack. Living on the lake and spending many hours in the lake, exploring boulder-filled, sun dappled coves, chasing sunfish and snapping turtles, “sliming” my brother with lily pads, feeling the thermocline-driven thrill of diving into deep, cold waters, surely planted the seed that led me to become a serious ocean and open water swimmer.
I began ocean swimming at the Reef n Run swim series in Santa Barbara, California in July 2019. Jane Cairns, who has since become a dear friend of mine, runs this excellent ocean swimming event each summer. Despite being a lifelong swimmer, having competed in age group and high school swimming in Maine, lifeguarding and teaching swim lessons during college in Massachusetts, and joining the Santa Barbara Masters Swimming team during graduate school, I was terrified of ocean swimming. I had splashed around and dipped in the ocean many times, but never swam from point A to point B, fully embracing the ocean environment in the way that ocean swimming requires. Liz Boscacci, another swimmer and close friend of mine, convinced me to give ocean swimming a chance at Reef n Run, offering to swim with me my first night. I was used to pools and freshwater lakes so the salt and chop and tide shocked me out of my mechanical stroke, bringing me into the moment, demanding my full attention to navigate wild waters.
I fell in love. I couldn’t get enough. I joined a weekly ocean swim group that eventually became the Swim Wild Santa Barbara group. Swimming with these folks slowly built my confidence in open water and ocean swimming, teaching me my limits and my strengths, and providing me with the most wonderful community and set of friendships I could imagine. During the Covid19 pandemic, as pools closed and indoor and close-contact activities were discouraged, our weekly swim group started meeting daily to spend a little time together (but apart), enjoying the ocean and each other’s company. This was the only time we could breathe deeply and feel safe together, connected through the water and shared experience of our daily ocean swims. Swimming saved our sanity. It served as our outlet, our therapy, our joy. Each ocean swim is a unique experience, set apart by the temperature, chop, ocean life, visibility, sun and fog, taste and feel of the water. When it felt like everything shut down and life couldn’t possibly go on like this, the ocean taught us patience and gave us hope.
I was incredibly fortunate to have the resources and privilege to use the pandemic shutdown to prioritize my mental and physical health. I began swimming more and more, and I also began training for an ultramarathon. I went to therapy to manage the anxiety that set in during grad school and I cooked nourishing food and practiced self-care daily. My endurance was better than ever before; I could run or hike for hours, even after a morning ocean swim with Swim Wild Santa Barbara. But the races kept getting cancelled (for good reason, of course) and my pent up energy was peaking. Through my ocean swim group in Santa Barbara I felt more supported and loved than ever before, but I also missed my friends and family in Maine who I hadn’t seen since before the pandemic began. I was constantly torn between overwhelming gratitude and grief for the friends I saw daily and the friends I didn’t see at all.
Finally as Covid19 appeared to be coming under control early in the summer, a few of my Santa Barbara Swim Wild friends, Jane Cairns and John McCarthy announced that they were training for a tandem swim circumnavigating Anacapa Island. This was my swim-spiration to plan a trip home to my favorite lake for my own marathon swim, a cap on a wild year or so of tremendous growth and personal development, an opportunity to bring some of the people I love and missed most together, and a chance to connect my communities in California and New England by sharing my love for open water swimming.
Describe how you planned for the swim.
I began training for this swim before I knew I was going to do it. During the Covid19 pandemic shutdowns I had the great fortune and privilege of using my resources to focus on my mental, emotional, and physical health, which included training for endurance swimming and running events. Through this training, I reached a high baseline fitness level, able to run ultramarathon length races, and swim miles in cold ocean temperatures. I was already going to the ocean and pool several days a week, swimming as meditation and therapy, but without a specific goal in mind. When I set my sights to swim around Phillips Lake in June, I developed a training program immediately.
I checked out a copy of Lynne Cox’s Open Water Swimming, combed through the Marathon Swimmers Federation website, and subscribed to the Outdoor Swimmer Magazine newsletter. I began adding double swim days and longer pool blocks with endurance sets, increasing my yardage from about 25,000 yards per week to 45,000 yards. I increased my cycling and running cross training to build my endurance, but also added more yoga and recovery sessions to ensure that I took care of my body.
My wonderful friend Jane put me in contact with Evan Morrison of MSF for help with planning my swim route and answering some questions about gear. I am a detail-oriented, careful planner when the occasion calls for it so I began writing gear lists and procedure guides for my crew immediately. I read MSF forum and blog posts for tips on nutrition, gear, and training, and also relied on the expertise of my Santa Barbara Swim Wild friends as well as my own experience as an endurance runner, competitive swimmer, and athlete. I made many checklists and carefully organized labeled gear bags. Finding a pilot (my Dad) was easy, but I worried that finding observers would be a bit more challenging in rural Maine. Fortunately my swim community roots are strong and I found two fabulous ladies and fellow swimmers to kayak and serve as my observer and feeder. I provided my crew with information packets on MSF rules, documentation guidelines, and my swim route, including back up plans in case of bad weather, safety issues, or other unexpected events. I prepared nutrition and gear (Emily brought her own kayak) for the crew and made detailed checklists and clear role definitions to ensure a smooth documentation process.
How did the swim go, generally? Did you face any unanticipated challenges?
The swim was incredible. One of my training mantras was “I am grounded and I am buoyant,” which is exactly how I felt during the swim.
When we began the sun was rising, the waters were glassy, and there was a lovely morning mist laying on the lake. It looked like the cover of a fall edition of Down East Magazine. It also felt like a fall morning. In the preceding week I had been training on solo swims in the lake, getting reacquainted with the feeling of warmer, freshwater swimming compared to my usual daily cold, salty Pacific swims. The remnants of Hurricane Ida brought heavy rain in the few days before my swim and I was worried about the lake temperature dropping significantly. Fortunately, the water temperature was still pleasant, holding in the low 70s.
During the first few hours, as we headed up the narrows and into the mist, the waters stayed calm and I felt extremely strong and powerful. I kept a steady stroke rate, perhaps kicking a little too hard, too early since my hip flexors tightened up later in the swim. I was overjoyed to be gliding over boulders and around loons, spotting camps belonging to neighbors and friends as I moved up the lake. I wanted to stick to regular 30-45 minute feedings throughout my swim, knowing from other endurance events that I need to eat early and regularly, before I feel like I really need it. I stuck to my feedings as planned for the first part of the swim and felt confident and strong.
We made it all the way to the beach club and around sitting rock before the wind began picking up. So far it had been easy to pass time, taking long, strong strokes, entering a meditative state, appreciating the beautiful green trees and clear waters, reflecting nostalgically on summers spent on this lake with my family and friends. When we set out towards the center of the lake and the main islands, a bit of chop started up, but I was still feeling strong and centered. It was pleasant to reach the islands and think “well that wasn’t as far as I remembered” from swimming to the islands from the beach club when I was in high school. Ten years ago I was not adapted to open water swimming and spotting techniques, nor the long, continuous blocks of swimming my training had involved.
After we passed the island, my swim became tougher. Emily and I both knew the route well, as did my dad. However, the cloudy, low-light day made the trees dark and it was tricky to distinguish mainland from islands. Boulders were disguised in shadows and hard to see over the chop. I swam too far east for a bit, but Emily corrected my route quickly to ensure I didn’t overspend my energy with many miles to go. One of the islands was so difficult to distinguish that we navigated incorrectly and I swam north of the island rather than south. Our choices were to loop back around the south side of the island, or to use the alternative route around a boulder that I had planned for the cove ahead. Emily judged the distance to either point and the conditions in either direction to be about the same so we decided that I should swim to the boulder ahead before swimming around the causeway. Although I expected the southeast cove to be the trickiest part of the swim as it’s the part of the lake I was least familiar with, I did not anticipate such a difficult navigation experience. In the future, if I plan a highly technical swim route like this, I will kayak the full route beforehand to ensure that all navigation points are clear.
I was relieved after we started hugging the causeway since I knew the rest of the swim and spotting points well. However, as we turned and headed into the wind, I was starting to feel more than tired, and starting to hurt a bit. I had trained with swim blocks of up to 10,000 yards per single session, and reached over 45,000 yards in a week, but I was pushing my body further than that and the extra yards were taking a toll on my body. Swimming in freshwater rather than salt water also meant that I sacrificed buoyancy. My abs and hip flexors were working much harder than usual and they were beginning to tighten up and hurt. Frog kicks during feeding breaks provided some sweet relief.
Heading South with the wind towards the slightly more protected, southern cove of the lake was a reprieve and gave me a chance to reground myself and find my rhythm again. I kept a steady kick and was mostly keeping up with feedings, perhaps waiting a few minutes longer between than I should’ve. On the northern side of the southern cove, as I passed in front of one camp, I ran into a small, black water pipe that was well-disguised in the weeds. Fortunately, I only bumped it with my jaw, jerked away, and swam right past it before pausing, treading water and letting my crew know. I did not rest on or intentionally make contact with the pipe, but it did surprise and unsettle me a bit.
After turning around at the eastern end of the southern cove, I felt like I was entering the home stretch and my spirits were renewed. I picked up my pace and made it to the western end of the cove feeling strong and confident. Knowing that I only had to swim in the open, exposed water once more, I charged eagerly into that portion of my swim. However, this choppy water caused my stomach to turn on me as I swallowed too much lake water and I didn’t want to eat anymore. For the final stretch up the narrows, I refused my feeds and drank coconut water, for sugar and electrolytes and to soothe my throat. Although fresh water is far less abrasive than salt water, swallowing a lot of it from wind spray and choppy waves had irritated my throat and nose. I could also feel several hot spots forming on my neck. My legs were heavy and my hip flexors hurt so I didn’t want to stop for anti-chafe with only an hour or so left by my estimation.
As we passed by my camp heading up the narrows, I was fighting hard through the chop. My mom, brother, and sister came out with a cowbell and the family dog to cheer me on for the last few miles. I hadn’t expected to see them until after my swim so that helped me rally and keep a strong pace up the narrows. At the north end of the narrows I struggled when boats went by and pushed me back with strong wakes so I broke into a bit of breaststroke at times. I paused in the water at the North end of the island again for a final bit of coconut water and told my kayakers that I was hurting but ready to get home. For the final stretch I was relieved to turn out of the wind and head towards my camp. I drew strength from seeing Emily and Laura’s sweet smiles, appreciating the beauty of my favorite lake, feeling the joy of being back in Maine, reflecting on how much stronger and more capable I’d grown over the past few years, and thinking of all the incredible people and communities that supported me and encouraged me throughout my training and during this swim. I was grounded and I was buoyant.
Click to enlarge.