Abigail Bergman and Kerianne Brownlie - Pailolo Channel
Maui to Molokai
13.7 km (8.5 miles)
6 hours, 10 minutes on 17 September 2022
Observed and documented by D. Lundberg + K. Baxter
- Support Personnel
- Swim Parameters
- Swim Data & GPS
- Observer Log
- Swimmer Statement
|Abigail Bergman||F||26||United States||Stanford, California|
|Kerianne Brownlie||F||29||United States||Martinez, California|
- Dorothy Lundberg - crew / observer 1
- Keith Baxter - pilot / observer 2
- Dorothy Lundberg - previously crewed Tahoe width and viking, CPR/first aid instructor, lifeguard
- Keith Baxter - pilot on numerous marathon swims in the Hawaiian Islands
- Category: Solo, nonstop, unassisted.
- Rules: MSF Rules of Marathon Swimming, without exception or modification.
- Equipment used: Textile swimsuit (AB – Zumo cut-out tank, KB – Jolyn tie back one piececap), swim cap, goggles, both swimmers wore Sharkbanz on ankle.
- Body of Water: Pacific Ocean
- Route Type: one-way channel swim
- Start Location: Kapalua Cliff House, Maui (21.00205, -156.66653)
- Finish Location: Puko’o, Molokai (21.069865, -156.796977)
- Minimum Route Distance: 13.7 km (8.5 miles) (map)
LongSwimsDB: Pailolo Channel.
- Start: 17 September 2022, 06:51:08 (Hawaii Standard, Pacific/Honolulu, UTC-10).
- Finish: 17 September 2022, 13:01:39
- Elapsed: 6 hours, 10 minutes, 31 seconds.
Summary of Conditions
|Water Temp (F)||79||81|
|Air Temp (F)||77||84|
Trackpoint frequency: 20 minutes. Download raw data (CSV).
Nutrition: See observer log.
by Kerianne Brownlie
On September 17, 2022, I swam the Pailolo Channel from Namalu Bay, Maui to Puko’o, Moloka’i with my friend, Abby Bergman. Abby and I met just last year, but we became close friends quickly as we shivered together swimming skins through the winter in San Francisco. The dynamic of our friendship is simple; Abby suggests a wild plan, usually swimming related, and I say yes before knowing any of the details. As we got closer to our Maui trip, I wasn’t surprised when my phone vibrated with a text from Abby – “So, I have an idea…”
We swiftly had a plan and a back-up plan. Abby corresponded with a pilot who was available to assist us towards the end of our time on Maui, and a few days before our swim date, it became apparent that the weather would be favorable to attempt the Pailolo Channel. If we were successful, Abby would celebrate finishing the Maui Triangle and I would complete my first ever channel swim.
My alarm rang at 0445, but I had already been lying awake in anticipation of the swim for quite some time. After a final check of our supplies, we drove from our hotel in Ka’anapali to the Mala Boat Ramp in Lahaina, where we were serenaded by an abundance of roosters crowing from every direction in the parking lot. Captain Keith welcomed us to his boat with warm hugs and a friendly smile. As we loaded up the boat, I admired a ray of some kind gently flapping in the water nearby. We discussed the route and safety considerations for the swim and began motoring to the start under the soft light of the early morning.
A short boat ride later, we arrived at Namalu Bay. We jokingly discussed starting the swim by jumping from one of the nearby cliffs, but ultimately decided that having greasy marathon swimmers climb up a steep cliff face might not be our brightest idea. Our crew chief extraordinaire and my wife, Deedee Lundberg, helped us apply sunscreen and a thick layer of Desitin to protect our skin from the strong Hawaiian sun. As I rubbed Aquaphor around my suit straps, Abby recommended I put SafeSea on my chest and abdomen. “Jellyfish tend to get stuck in your suit, this will help,” she explained, as our Captain told a story of a swimmer having convulsions after swallowing a Portugese man o’ war. Multiple species of jellyfish inhabit the waters surrounding Hawai’i, and I knew going into this swim that I would likely be stung en route to Moloka’i. Jellyfish are so common in Hawai’i that the Waikiki Aquarium maintains a calendar to predict the likelihood of encountering Box Jellyfish, which are known to be found on west and south facing beaches 8 to 10 days after a full moon.
Our swim date fell 7 days after the most recent full moon and started on a west facing shore, so our likelihood of encountering Box Jellyfish was… likely.
In addition to the almost guarantee of being stung by jellyfish during this swim, we also had to consider the possibility of encountering sharks. After multiple unprovoked shark attacks on Maui in 2012-2013, a team of researchers at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa tracked 41 tiger sharks from 2013-2015 to gain insight on their movement patterns https://www.pacioos.hawaii.edu/projects/sharks.
They learned that tiger sharks favor insular shelve habitats, which extend up to 600 feet from shore and are plentiful around the island of Maui. I wasn’t necessarily worried about being attacked by a shark during the swim, but marathon swim attempts can occasionally be thwarted by the presence of curious sharks. Even still, I was secretly hoping to see one (yet only from a distance).
I am usually a ball of anxiety before a long swim, but this morning felt different, even with all the chatter around jellyfish and sharks. As I ran off the back of the boat and dove into the ~80° water, I was filled with joy and excitement for the adventure ahead. With Abby by my side, I was able to calmly think of this major undertaking as “just another long swim with my good friend.” Abby cautiously entered the water and together we swam towards the Maui shoreline.
Abby and I carefully climbed out of the water and up the slippery rocks until we were on completely dry earth. We posed for a photo, gave each other a fist bump, and Abby said, “let’s do this thing” before we re-entered the water. The official start time of our swim was 0651.
Somehow, I managed to coat the outside of my goggles with Destitin. I negotiated whether I should try to swim until the next feed with minimal visibility, but ultimately decided that I should just deal with this immediately. I picked my head up after about 2 minutes of swimming and asked Deedee to throw a washcloth into the water so I could wipe my goggles. A moment of scrubbing and an “oh shit” from Abby later and all was well. Now that I could see, I was able to admire the various fish swimming below us. The water was calm and pleasant at 78°, and the wind was blowing at 3-5mph. I noticed that my shoulders were feeling a bit fatigued from surfing a few days prior, though I anticipated that this would improve as I loosened up in the water.
I noticed that the boat wasn’t making forward progress, and Abby and I were getting uncomfortably far from our escort. We stopped and decided to swim back towards the boat to make sure everything was okay. Captain Keith was using a large parachute and a tire to increase drag on the boat so he wouldn’t need to frequently shift in and out of gear to stay with us, and it took a bit of adjusting for us three to settle into a rhythm. Deedee later told me that we were swimming faster than he anticipated and he needed to remove some drag at the beginning of the swim.
Soon afterwards, I noticed a pinprick stinging sensation on my left elbow, and then another on my forehead. The stinging on my arm wasn’t too painful, but the facial sting was intense. This was my first time experiencing jellyfish stings during a marathon swim. It was interesting to feel the searing pain while knowing there was nothing I could do to relieve the sensation. When we reached out first feed, I asked Abby if she was also being stung and she gave me an affirmative nod. Deedee asked for a sting count, and we continued towards Moloka’i.
I continued to be stung as I focused on my swim mantra, “joy, ease, lightness.” I borrowed this from a passage in The Power of Now by Ekhart Tolle. Those three words remind me to stay present in the current moment, whatever it may bring. As I expected, the soreness in my shoulders began to dissipate. I was swimming with the boat to my left and Abby to my right and I could clearly see Captain Keith peering attentively at us from a small, open window at the helm. When we got to the second feed, Captain Keith and Deedee showered us with praise for how well we were swimming. Abby was silent, though I did not take her silence to mean anything. I generally begin swims with a burst of excitement that dwindles over time, while Abby takes some time to warm up to the swim, but gets happier as we progress. I silently made a bet with myself that Abby would be somber until our fourth feed and then she would perk up (spoiler alert: I owe myself $5)
A while later, I noticed that I could no longer see the ocean floor. Every so often a jellyfish would pass by, and the water was speckled with small, fluorescent blue particles. Some jellies reminded me of the moon jellyfish I have seen in Aquatic Park, Belvedere Cove, and the Foster City Lagoon. Other jellyfish looked like translucent ribbons dancing in the movement of the water. Once, I saw a jellyfish that I can only describe as looking like a translucent torpedo with thick reddish tentacles. Beyond these intermittent visitors, the water was clear and intensely blue. I could see rays of sunlight penetrating through the surface. A few feeds passed, and the jellyfish stinging thankfully stopped. Abby and I began exchanging words of encouragement during our feeds. We swam. Time passed.
The water became increasingly bumpy. I could feel myself being pushed and pulled in every direction. The Pailolo channel is well known for being windy. Captain Keith would later tell us that it would be impossible to swim this channel the next day due to increasing winds. In Hawaiian, Pailolo means “crazy fisherman.” It is also considered a combination of the words pai (lift) and olo’olo (shifting), which perfectly describes what I was feeling in the water https://www.afar.com/places/maui-to-molokai-pailolo-channel/ At times, I could not see Abby when I breathed towards my right as we alternated being in the peaks and valleys of the swells. The boat rocked back and forth, and I worried about Deedee getting seasick.
I picked my head up and asked for Deedee to throw me a piece of sandwich with our fifth feed. It’s not often that I get hungry for solids during a long swim, but I was really craving having something substantial in my stomach. At that feed, Captain Keith and Deedee told us how amazing we were doing, and I joked that we should swim right past Moloka’i and keep going until we reached Oahu. I noticed a small school of silver fish swimming with us under the bow.
I enjoyed feeling the power of the water and was fully present and engaged. I was happy to be exactly where I was in every moment without anticipation of where I would be in the next moment. I even allowed myself to break a law of marathon swimming by looking forward towards Moloka’i. It looked far, but instead of letting that cause me to feel stressed or frustrated, I simply thought, “Far is okay. I can do far.” I did not worry myself with how long it would take there and just focused on having fun with the swimming. At some point, Captain Keith informed us that we were stuck in a bit of a current and he was going to angle us more towards the west. We adjusted our sighting point and began making more forward progress towards Moloka’i.
I heard a squeaking noise that I assumed came from the boat, but then it occurred to me that it might be a dolphin. As I considered picking my head up to ask Deedee and Captain Keith whether they saw anything, a single dolphin swam under the boat and right up to my face. I yelled “DOLPHIN!” to the others, then watched as it majestically swam up to Abby and the bow of the boat in the same manner before swimming away. I felt a surge of energy that lasted through the next feed.
Abby started picking up the pace and we swam a bit further apart. When the boat began drifting ahead with her, I became overwhelmed with fear that I was going to be left behind. I understand that this is irrational, but this worry materializes on occasion while I am swimming. Abby and I have talked about this before. The pod we train with is fast, and I am always at the back. We do a great job regrouping at predetermined locations but being the caboose can be unnerving at times. The next time we stopped, I explained to Abby how I was feeling. We adjusted our distance and I calmed my nerves.
We fed again and then I noticed that I could see the ocean floor. When I did the Vikingsholm swim in Lake Tahoe in July 2022, I made the mistake of getting excited when I started to see the bottom of the lake. Unfortunately, I was just seeing the sand at the entry to Emerald Bay, and I still had about 1.5 miles to swim. Naturally, the entire rest of that swim was mentally excruciating, so I gave no meaning to seeing the sand off Moloka’i. I didn’t want to make that mistake again! I reminded myself that I could see the ocean floor for about an hour while swimming away from Maui. Instead of wondering how much longer we would be swimming, I simply appreciated the change in scenery and took pleasure in looking around for fish and turtles. As we got closer to Moloka’i, Captain Keith told us to sight on a house at the shoreline. He would need to maneuver around a reef and then would meet back up with us. The color of the water changed from deep blue to light blue to bright teal as we got closer to the island.
Deedee tossed us our last feed. We swam up the shoreline for a few more minutes before I saw Deedee and Captain Keith pointing towards the island when I picked up my head to sight on the boat. “Abby! It’s time to swim in!” She looked at me, then at the boat, then at the shoreline. We smiled at each other and made a 90 degree turn towards land. It was at this moment that I allowed myself to become flooded with emotion as I watched the ocean floor move closer with each stroke. I could see a person fishing from a jetty towards our left, as well as a small group of people sitting under a shade structure on the sand towards our right. Two people walked from the jetty towards the shade structure right before we were ready to stand up and exit the water. Both Abby and I wanted to be as minimally disruptive to the inhabitants of Moloka’i as possible, so we waited until the stretch of beach ahead of us was empty before walking up to dry sand. Once we were all the way out, we hugged and Abby congratulated me on completing my first channel swim. We made it!
We only spent a moment on shore before swimming back to the boat. Somehow it felt like the swim back took longer than our swim across the channel. Before climbing out of the water, Abby and I took some videos of us swimming with Moloka’i in the background. Captain Keith let us know that his friend was going to swim out to the boat for a ride back to Maui, so we had plenty of time to remove our layers of Desitin and put on our clothes. Abby called a restaurant on Maui and ordered lunch to be ready for pickup once we returned to Lahaina. Deedee let us know that we exited the water at 1301, for a total swim time of 6:10.31.
It took probably 45 minutes to motor back to Maui. As we were pulling up to the Mala Boat Ramp, we saw a massive pod of spinner dolphins swimming north. We all squealed with excitement as we watched the dolphins leap out of the water. It was the perfect way to end a magical experience. I am grateful to Pailolo Channel for allowing me to cross, and I will cherish the memories of my first channel swim forever.
Thank you, Keith Baxter, for your expert navigation. You kept us safe in that channel and ensured that our swim was successful and enjoyable. It was an honor being on your boat.
Thank you, Abby Bergman, for being an incredible training partner and friend. I will look forward to your next “I have an idea…” text.
Finally, thank you to my wife, Deedee Lundberg, who served triple duty as crew chief, observer, and social media manager for both of us. We could not have done this swim without your support. I love you.
by Abby Bergman
The story for this swim goes back to last year when I came to Maui to swim the three channels making up the Maui triangle: Kalohi (Molokai-Lanai), Auau (Maui-Lanai), and Pailolo (Mau-Molokai). Even before we arrived on Maui, the weather indicated that swimming Pailolo (the most finicky of the channels wind-wise) would not be possible on that trip. I still had a blast joining Steven Minaglia and some of his friends to swim Kalohi and Auau (read that recap here), but I felt like I had some unfinished business in Pailolo. So when I found out that I would be returning to Maui for a vacation with some swim friends, I reached back out to Steven to see if he could help me plan an attempt at Pailolo. Steven connected me to Captain Keith Baxter and I convinced my swim buddy Kerianne to join me for a tandem crossing. We also made a backup plan to do another swim in case the winds proved too strong again.
When we arrived in Maui last Sunday, I called Captain Keith and he said the best looking weather days were Friday and Saturday September 16^th^ and 17^th^ and that he was piloting a Kaiwi Channel attempt on Thursday so the best day for our attempt would be Saturday. We agreed that if the winds stayed low, we would swim Maui to Molokai and if the winds were too high we would follow our backup plan. It’s been a while since I have attempted a swim with a weather go/no go and it was nerve wracking to wait for the captain’s call that the swim was on. He did call on Friday and we prepared for a splash Saturday at sunrise.
On Saturday morning, Kerianne, her wife Deedee, and I met up with Captain Keith at the Mala Boat ramp in Lahaina and loaded his boat gorgeous boat the Kanaloa. We discussed two potential starting locations and decided on a rocky outcropping under the Kapalua cliff house, which would mean a rocky start but would not be too difficult to climb. When we reached the spot, Deedee helped me and Kerianne put on sunscreen, SafeSea, and grease and get ready to splash. Captain Keith had a raft attached to the back of the boat and Kerianne ran and dove gracefully into the water. My entry was more sedate and I walked down the raft and jumped feet first into the blue water. Even though I had been swimming in the water all week, I was still surprised how warm it felt. We swam over to the rocky spot that Captain Keith had indicated and climbed carefully up to a dry spot. We fist bumped, waved back at Deedee on the boat to show that we were starting, posed for a picture, and slid carefully into the water.
Captain Keith’s plan was to drag a parachute and a large tire in the water behind the boat to create drag and slow him down to our speed and prevent him from needing to shift in and out of gear constantly, but it was immediately clear that the speed wasn’t quite right. We stopped for a moment while he fiddled with the drag, and I got hit with my first jellyfish. Captain Keith told us we could continue on ahead, but we were too nervous about large wildlife to swim away from the boat and the water was warm enough to just wait for him. We swam over reef for a while and started to get into a rhythm with Kerianne keeping the boat on her left and me keeping Kerianne on my left. It was so nice to be able to see Kerianne in the water, as the water we are used to in San Francisco is much less clear. At this point, the water was still fairly flat and the wind was around 3-5mph (Captain Keith told me afterward), and I was still finding my rhythm and we were still hitting lots of jellyfish. We stopped for our first feed and Kerianne seemed to be in a very good mood, while I was working to stretch out my stroke and get used to all the stingers in the water.
We were aiming for a point on the left-hand side of Molokai, because the current was flowing left to right across the channel, and we did not want to get pushed too far to the right. It always takes me a while to start enjoying a long swim, but I always forget this fact, so at 90 minutes into the swim, I was still pretty grouchy and had counted 21 jellyfish stings. Kerianne still seemed to be in a pretty good mood, and we were clearly making progress away from Maui. The water was so incredibly blue and around 2 hours I finally started having fun in the increasingly swelly seas. Whenever we stopped for a feed, Deedee and Captain Keith told us how great we were doing. I never knew whether to believe them, but it was still nice to hear.
As we got into the middle of the channel and the seas picked up a little bit, I could still see some jellies floating beneath us but I stopped getting stung. That made swimming much more enjoyable and I marveled at the gorgeous clear warm water.
While the swell felt like it was coming over my right shoulder, it seemed like the current was increasing in strength from our left. Captain Keith seemed to be turning the boat to the left and angling us directly into the current so that we did not get pushed too far right, but we were not making much progress. He called to us and told us that we were fighting a current but that he was trying to find a way across it for us. The strong current made it harder for Kerianne and me to stay together but it did seem like we were getting past it. Captain Keith told us that we should turn back toward the island and that he had found us a small channel through the current. It was somewhat reminiscent of swimming the English Channel watching the island slide past us but we were making progress toward it again.
Kerianne and I had discussed before the swim how we were both really nervous to run into large sharks, so we stayed close to each other and close to the boat. After we were about halfway across, we were just swimming along when suddenly I heard an unmistakable dolphin squeak. I swam head up for a few seconds but didn’t see anything and the folks on the boat weren’t reacting so I figured that the dolphin must be far away and the sound just travelling. We stopped for a feed, and I didn’t say anything to Kerianne about hearing a dolphin in case it scared her. A second later, Kerianne said “DOLPHIN!” and sure enough, there was a dolphin swimming right at us head on. It swam up to each of us, getting as close as maybe 1 foot away, before checking out the boat in the same way and then zoomed off again. This brief encounter felt like we were being greeted by a guardian of Molokai.
I never let myself ask where we are early in a swim, but by 4 hours in, I knew that we had to be at least halfway and probably over halfway, because Molokai looked closer than Maui. My armpit started to chafe, and I asked Deedee if she could pass me some grease on the next feed. She had a hard time hearing me and repeated back to me “you want grease” (or so I thought). We swam for another half an hour and when we stopped to feed, there was a waffle attached to my bottle. When I asked why I was getting a waffle (usually reserved for the last feed or when the boat crew thinks I am struggling), Deedee responded “you asked for treats!” We laughed about how treats and grease sound similar, and she promised me grease on the next stop.
The seas had started to pick up, but I could tell that we were getting close now and I was looking closely to see if I could see the bottom through the water. As I was getting tired, I kept going on autopilot and had to keep reminding myself to stick close to Kerianne. Eventually, I started to be able to see sand beneath me maybe 15-25 feet down, but it looked like we were still at least a mile or more from shore, so I didn’t let myself get too excited yet. We continued swimming in the choppy water, and I saw a turtle hanging out on the bottom, as if it was welcoming us to Molokai. Deedee called us over for a feed and told us that this was going to be our last feed. Captain Keith told us we needed to swim over the reef, but that he needed to take the boat around it and meet us on the other side. We headed over the reef, and I enjoyed looking at the brightly colored fish, even though I did not like being so far from the boat. Captain Keith had promised us that he would escort us into the beach as far as possible, so we met up with him on the other side of the reef. I saw another turtle and a bat ray. There was another even more shallow reef on the other side, so Captain Keith directed us to make a 90 degree turn to the left and cut around the reef and then turn back to the right and swim parallel to shore for about 5 minutes. This was frustrating because it did not feel like we were making any progress toward the finish. I asked why we couldn’t just head to shore but Captain Keith told us that we had to find a public beach and could not land on private property. Suddenly, Captain Keith shouted that we should turn and head into a small sandy beach bookended by 2 jetties. As we turned and swam towards shore, the water got increasingly murky and warm. We saw a few people on shore and waited for them to pass by before climbing onto dry sand. We posed for a few pictures and then headed back to the boat.
This was my first tandem swim and it was a total blast. I am so proud of Kerianne for completing her first channel swim and so grateful to Deedee for supporting us and for Captain Keith for his expert navigating! We finished Pailolo in approximately 6 hours and 10 minutes and I can finally say that I have completed all 3 Maui triangle channels!
Click to enlarge.