Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Holy smokes! People are reading my blog - Last UK post before heading home

Thanks everyone for coming here to read about my adventures.  I am relaxing in London right now with my family, trying to lick any residual wounds from my two past swims over the past weeks, and preparing for one final swim around my home town of New York City before I call it a summer of adventure.  

Apparently, others are reading my blog.  See this post from the Daily News from Open Water Swimming (.com).  Much appreciated that Steven took the time to write up a nice piece about my activities.

Nothing much to report other than very little swimming (one day to loosen up my upper body), a ton of cycling around the city (to avoid traffic and actually see the city), and way too much eating and drinking.  Here are some pictures to keep you entertained before I post my lead-up to the 20 Bridges Swim.  
One morning swim at Parliament Hill Lido - 61m long pool (Thanks Cheryl for the info).

Cycling throughout the neighborhoods of London.  Sweet 30mph hairdo, eh?

I did say eating and drinking...well, here we stopped for a pint.

My Peroni - Kat hates beer.
More later.  I am still ironing out the details of the 20 Bridges Swim.  When I learn more, I will post more.  We are off to cycle the city again and then take in "The Book of Mormon" at 7:30pm tonight before departing tomorrow for the states.  Probably my last post from the UK.  

Thanks again Steven for posting on the OWS website.  

Monday, July 25, 2016

What is next?

Glad you asked.  It appears I am headed to New York City to complete the 20 Bridges Swim (formerly known as MIMS or Manhattan Island Marathon Swim).  Yes, I intend to swim around my home town in mid-August (August 15th for now).  If I am successful, I will beat the record for the shortest period to complete the Triple Crown of marathon swimming.  The current record stands at 35 days and if I am able to successfully finish the swim on August 15th, I will have done the three swims in 34 days.  Should be fun trying to beat that record.  One thing at a time though...gotta finish the swim.  So, I guess taking a few months off from swimming will just have to wait.  I'm already fit and fully recovered from my two channel swims, so why not tackle another marathon swim?

Back to training:  Today, Kat and I swam in this outdoor pool in London.  It was spectacular.  Here are a few photos of the Parliament Hill Lido:

Neither Kat nor I could figure out how long it was but it was longer than a 50 meter pool.  How much bigger I haven't a guess.  I loved the water temperature and the morning weather couldn't be beat.  

So, I'm back to swimming again.  I think I will lose a few pounds too since the rivers surrounding Manhattan are a bit warmer (mid-70's F or mid 20's C) than either the Catalina or English channels.  Time to lose this extra warmth.  No better time than the present.  Expect a leaner Patrick soon....perhaps not by my next swim but I do intend to eliminate all excesses.  Well, maybe I keep a few beers in there for safe measure.

More later.  I have some planning to do.  Thanks for following.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

English Channel Recap - Part 2

Before I continue my recounting of the channel swim, I need to update and memorialize our day yesterday in London.  It was a spectacular day full of luck and surprises.  

Getting to London:  First, we caught the train from Folkstone just in time.  Most in the US would not be aware of much going on locally in the Dover area so let me fill you in.  After some recent terrible events and potential news of more, the French government decided to search each and every car, person, bicycle, or stroller as it came into the country.  Can't say I blame them.  What that did was cause a backup on the highways (motorways they call them here) from Dover almost to London (a 2 hour drive!).  Yes, it was a nasty mess.  Most of the traffic consisted of trucks (aka lorries) carrying cargo to cross into the mainland.  
Traffic backed up miles away from Dover.
Well, that tidbit wouldn't be terribly interesting if it hadn't affected our trip from Dover to Folkstone.  Our train was scheduled to depart at noon and we ran into gridlock after gridlock - even on the back roads.  I was getting a bit anxious thinking that if we missed our prepaid train, we might have to purchase another ticket and wait.  Ah, nothing to fret.  We have time.  Still, I was hot and not in the mood for waiting around.  We caught the train with seconds to spare - literally seconds.  Speaking of caught...I caught myself feeling like the ugly American as I watched the people in front of us purchase tickets for some train trip days in advance.  Many of us on line needed to pick up tickets for the train that was approaching.  No sense of urgency on their part but Kat and I were getting a little anxious.  

The train trip up was unspectacular.  A one hour trip seemed like nothing and next we were in St. Pancras to sort out our next leg.  Once we arrived, the AirBnB contact alerted Kathy that our accommodations would not be ready until 7pm - not 3pm as advertised on the app.  It was 1pm, hot (for some of us), and quite crowded at the train station.  Kat was not happy.  I figured we could just meander through the city along the path to our AirBnB - roughly 4.5 miles (7km) from St. Pancras.  

About 30 minutes into our walk and after a 20 minute stop to grab lunch, Kat's bag stopped rolling.  Patrick took over and just dragged it for a bit until we intervened.  Apparently cheap Amazon luggage doesn't hold up on the cobbles and odd surfaces of London's streets whereas Patrick's and my cheapo Costco roll aboard bags held up just fine.  The luggage fiasco caused a bit of a stir but we solved the problem by taking a cab to our digs.  Away we went!  Four hours too early but hopeful something would work out.  

Saved by luck:  And work out it did!  We rolled up to the AirBnB and a very nice Romanian fellow asked us which flat we rented.  He directed us to the one he and his compatriot were cleaning.  Somehow or another, we met the cleaning staff at the place at the right time.  I guess the stars were aligned for us.  We dropped off our bags and quickly headed out to explore the area - so happy we didn't have to lug around Kat's broken bag in the 80F (27C) heat.  All worked out in the end.  

More luck:  We walked out to a outdoor market.  For those of you who know me well, you know I hate shopping.  I don't shop; I buy.  And, when I buy, I buy online.  Walking down a crowded alley with people who are mindlessly hunting for knick knacks and chachkies drives me nuts (and makes me thirsty).  So, Patrick and I "offered" Kat some freedom to browse while we set off for some cool shade.  What better place to find cool shade than a pub?  
Bugger drank my pint!
While there, I figured I would send a FB message to my friends Sam and Alex to inquire about things to do while in London.  Shortly after the note, I got a reply from Sam.    Many of you know that Sam, Alex and I were climbing together on Everest in 2014 and 2015 when our expeditions were halted by circumstances beyond our control.  Since those trips, we stayed in touch and last year we even attended their wedding after my failed attempt to swim the English Channel.  Sam and Alex are great people and great friends.  I love their company and always like to hear about their adventures - and they have a ton.  Kat got to know Sam and Alex's parents as well during our fateful 2015 trip so we are now all well-acquainted.  Unfortunately, Sam and Alex live in Africa (Kenya and Ghana) now but I know they have many suggestions about what to do in London.  So, I asked.    What a great stroke of luck!  Sam was in London for 24 hours.  Even greater luck was that Kat booked our AirBnB just a 5 minute walk from Sam's parents house.  How cool was that?  I guess this trip is just full of luck.  

After we arranged to meet Sam and his folks at their place for some pre-dinner drinks, we grabbed another pint at a local watering hole (Kensington Park Hotel or KPH).  Apparently the place had changed operators and it was a shell of the pictures we saw online.  Oh well.  A quick pint and then off to our BnB to freshen up before more drinks.
Has my pint again!?!  Enjoying the KPH.

A great surprise indeed:  We sat around with Sam's family talking about all the goings on - some recounting of the swims but mostly talking about the current state of our respective countries.  It was a blast.  We loved hanging out and visiting with friends.  Talk about the stroke of luck.  During our chat, we found a ton of things to do while in London.  Mostly, I think Kat and I wanted to explore the areas while Patrick seemed quite keen on touring the museums (and catching up on his lost hours of sleep).  We departed after a few hours for a quick bite and then retired to our room for the evening.  What a great time!
From L to R:  Patrick, Sam, me, and Kat
Makes me smile just looking at that picture above.  Thanks Chappatte family for hosting us McKnights.  We look forward to returning the favor soon.


I left off my recap about halfway across the channel.  By this point in the swim, I was feeling pretty solid.  Nothing ached and I knew the swim was well at hand.  The funny thing was that nothing went wrong.  Nothing.  Adventures start when things go wrong.  I guess this wasn't much of an adventure; well, read on.

Focus:  During this period, I focused on two things - drag and propulsion.  The drag comes from lifting my head, dropping my feet too deep, or any other odd things that most swimmers do when tired.  Swimmers don't want drag.  I focused on minimizing drag as much as possible.  On the opposite end is propulsion.  Propulsion gains and losses come from a variety of things including rolling my hips, entering into the water without creating bubbles, initiating the "early vertical forearm" catch, pulling with my lats as opposed to my triceps, and finishing my stroke by pulling through.  Many of these things are natural to most swimmers and they tend to be fairly natural for me.  When all swimmers tire though, some of them go away for many reasons.  I focused on these two aspects of swimming - constantly checking my technique to be as efficient as possible.  If I could shave off a few minutes here and there, I might be able to catch a favorable tide into the shore and gain valuable hours (yes hours).  

Time counts:  I mentioned in my recap of the Catalina Channel that time was not terribly critical.  The water was relatively warm in the Pacific Ocean (68-72F or 20-21C), currents minimal (neap tide), and my energy levels were high due to low exertion and the high frequency of feeding (20 minute feeding schedule).  Things were different for this swim.  For the English Channel, every minute counts.  I was swimming during a spring tide where the currents can be as strong as 4-5 knots (4.5 mph or 7.5-8 km/hr).  Yep, fast.  Those currents push the swimmer sideways.  I was focused on swimming efficiently and kicking steadily throughout my swim.  Doing so allowed me to keep a rhythm and keep a relatively strong pace.  Ever minute counted if I was to escape the channel without an adverse tide pushing me to Nova Scotia or Norway.
(Above):  TYR Socket Rocket 2.0 clear/blue

Darkness sets in:  The crew alerted me that night was coming and I needed to shift to my clear goggles and get myself lit up so they could see me.  I had a pair of clear TYR socket rocket goggles with a light threaded through the straps.  The combination proved perfect for Catalina so I opted to continue using what worked already.  Unfortunately, I lost my setup during the finish of the swim and ordered replacements without trying them out before jumping into the EC.  Not a huge problem since I use these goggles all the time BUT...still a bad idea.  Thankfully that didn't come back to haunt me.  What did haunt me was the strap of my daytime goggles - the same TYR goggles but dark tinted ones.  One strap drooped around my neck and kept rubbing.  It was annoying for a few seconds but I paid it no mind.  That kind of equipment problem can really cause people to concentrate on the wrong aspects of the swim.  I controlled what I could and kept pace.  

Oh, almost forgot.  The light I used was this one to the right.  That little light is bright, water proof, and easy to see - at least according to my crew.  I also stuffed a light stick into the fanny of my suit to light up my lower body.  Kat said she could see me well from her vantage point so I would recommend this combination to all.  I never felt either light during the swim.  

The Dark Hours:  Yes, the sun went down but as the sun departed, so did my optimism.  I had no clue how I was doing and I kept thinking that I was going strong - at least initially.  My kick felt strong, my stroke intact and efficient, my body position perfect, and my muscles felt almost no fatigue.  All was great and I figured this swim felt like a solid 10 or 11 hour swim.  As 10pm approached, I couldn't help feel discouraged that I wasn't within reach of the French coast.  I tried my best.  There were times when I started questioning the timing and trajectory of my course.  Was I going to miss "the cap" and add a huge amount of time to my swim?  I even inquired if the lighthouse was Cap Gris Nez (aka the point many swimmers finish).  Neil was honest and answered my questions with positive optimism; Kat and Sam Jones had similar responses.  I wish I were positive during that hour or so.  I just felt discouraged.  We all experience points in these swims (or other endurance activities) where we wonder when it will end.  In mountaineering and other high risk activities, the saying "Be Here Now" is an important one to remember.  Thinking about the future and forgetting about what you are doing at the moment is not a good recipe for success.  I didn't care about the time per se but I did care about being out there for 18+ hours.  Again, future thinking.  My fear was that I would run out of fuel and really start burning out.  More future thinking.  Just as a hit a peak in my worry and questioning, I said to myself..."forget about it"..."swim and control what you can control."  Controlling the controllables - that is what all of these endurance events call for before, during and after.  I let myself slip but righted the ship soon enough and got back on track.  Soon, I was back to being in the moment.  I was back.

Closing in and closing the deal:  Neil said to me during my frustrated inquiries that we missed "the cap" but he would find me a nice beach to land.  I knew I was in good hands and far be it for me to question an awesome skipper like him.  Kat yelled bits of encouragement and I pressed on.  He then instructed me that we would land either on a real beach or some bit of rocks for a touch finish.  I was good with either but wondered how treacherous the touch finish might be after my experience with the Catalina Channel finish.  Donating more blood to the sea didn't sound too appealing as I neared the finish.  Still, I kept my focus and pressed on.  

I peeked ahead and could see the lights on shore.  The end was near and I felt just as fresh as I felt when I started the swim with no muscle aches, no fatigue, and no worries.  Now I knew I would complete the crossing - not that I had much doubt to begin with but the closing bit is just a strong confirmation that I will accomplish this feat.  So I swam on until I got a flashing light from the boat.  Neil said that he lead me as far as he could given the depth and terrain.  The rest was up to me.  I had to swim the next 4 tenths of a mile by myself into shore, touch the rocks, and wave my light stick when I touch.  So, 4 tenths of a mile.  Was that a nautical mile, a true mile, a country mile perhaps?  I had these strange thoughts going through my head.  Then I figured out how many meters and how many strokes I had left.  My math was a little rusty at that point.  400 meters?  Nah, perhaps 800 meters.  Before too long, I was upon the shore.

Each stroke felt easy but I felt apprehensive about pushing too hard.  With the end in sight, I didn't want to plow into a rock and break a finger, hand, arm, or my head.  I proceeding cautiously - so cautiously toward the end that I swam breast stroke.  Yes Cheryl, I swam a bit of the channel breast stroke.  I even took my goggles off or rather put them on my forehead because I could barely see.  The rocks or break wall Neil mentioned was a giant stack of black rocks (probably granite) that sloped out of the depths of the water and up about 15-20 feet (5-6m).  I could barely make out the rocks at first and then they were crystal clear.  It was eery.  A small, gentle swell - perhaps 2-3 feet or 1m - lifted me up and carefully (almost as if the sea remembered its poor treatment of me last week) placed me on the second tier of the rocks.  Instantaneously, I was done.  No touch finish for me I guess.  I was completely out of the water.  The water then receded and I was left atop those rocks.  Then, I grabbed the light stick that remained steadfast in my fanny crack and waved it to the boat.  The boat crew immediately sounded the horn and I was done!  My channel swim finished in 12 hours and 54 minutes (I am not sure about the minutes but will correct it if necessary).

I felt relieved.  Still a bit spooked about sitting on top of some odd rock break wall in an unknown area of France, I waited for the next swell to carry me off and soon enough, one came.  I rode it off and settled into the deeper waters.  Once I was clear, I put my goggles back on and slowly swam out to the boat.  I wasn't terribly tired nor was I cold; I just had a huge sense of relief come over me that the fears and doubts I had before and during the swim were now over.  Nothing to worry about now.  

Final Thoughts:  I was in good hands all along.  My family and friends helped get me through the tough times.  The expert pilot and crew guided me toward success.  All along, I should have recognized it but that brief hour or so of going dark lead me to appreciate what I had.  These marathon swims require a team effort.  My friends told me about the importance of the team repeatedly and I generally nodded in agreement but didn't really appreciate the depth of that truism until after both channel swims.  These marathon swims require a team effort.  I could not and would not have accomplished what I did without my team.   The success is ours and ours to share.  So, in accord with that motto, we shared the victory with our signature on the wall of the White Horse pub in Dover:

If you visit the pub, you'll see my post just as you walk in the front door.  Look above the picture to the top left.  My handwriting is the sloppy stuff that is barely readable, Kat's contribution is a happy Snoopy, and Patrick added a line from "Talladega Nights".  

So, what is next?  Apparently, I might be able to swim around Manhattan Island in a few weeks making my triple crown (if successful) one of the fastest but not quite the record fastest.  One person did it in 35 days.  If I can squeeze into the August 15th start, I will tie the record of 35 days but if I cannot then I would be happy just completing the three swims within 40 days.  Not a bad summer, eh?

OK, more to follow.  Time to figure out what our plans are for this fine London Sunday.  Thanks for following.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

English Channel Recap - Part 1

Avram Iancu and me - at the beach
Greetings from Dover.  We spent the day recuperating, drinking, eating, and relaxing yesterday after a long previous day.  I was sore - a bit from the swim and a bit from a restless night sleep.  Kat went for a dip in the harbor while I chatted with a few swimmers on the beach.  We had a total role reversal.  She swam while I watched, socialized (see picture to the left), and tended to her.  It was a good swap and one well-deserved.  The weather was perfect for both of us.  Relatively warm, calm waters allowed Kat to get in and swim solo around the harbor while I met new friends.  See Kat below in her seal suit?
Rough entry on those stones.  Good thing she had her trusty sidekick to hold her flip-flops.

Like I said, I stood on the beach, meeting new friends and talking about swimming (of course).  Above, you can see a picture of my new friend - Avram - who plans to be the first Romanian to swim solo across the Channel.  We got on very well and I feared our chat would ruin his opportunity to hop into a peaceful Dover harbor.  No need to worry, it was a spectacular day; too hot for me though.

My Swim Recap (Part 1 of 2 or more)

Enough about the post-swim relaxation, I want to recap the swim from start to finish.  Here is how it unfolded on Thursday, July 21st, 2016.

Morning (pre swim):  We woke up at our usual times; I got up to eat breakfast with the Churchill Guest House guests and hosts, Kat got up about an hour later, and Patrick slept until the last possible second (10am local time).  See picture below for photo proof of his position right before our scheduled departure.  I don't blame him, I would do the same - especially at his age.

Our plan was to meet Neil and the crew at the boat by 11am, assess the situation, and make a decision about whether to go then or wait until midnight.  We packed up our things, got a taxi to the Dover Marina, and hauled our stuff to the locked gate.  I knew we were early because I am habitually early and don't like to stress about time.  So, being early, we waited (see picture of Patrick...waiting but very patient).  Along comes a guy who kinda looks like Neil Streeter but way too clean shaven and tightly manicured to be him - at least not from my year-long recall.  It was him indeed.  We stared at each other as he walked down the gangway and then we connected.  It was a strange sensation just standing around looking out of place at a marina.  I almost felt like a displaced tourist.  After we confirmed our presence, Neil came back up and helped us with our bags.  It was nice to not have to haul our load down alone.

Deciding Factors:  Once on the boat, we made a quick decision to go.  The weather looked fine.  You need to understand what the word "fine" means for the English Channel.  For most waterways, fine would probably represent calm, warm waters.  Not so for the EC.  Instead, the word fine meant that the swell was about 2-4 feel (1m or so) and water temperatures hovering in the low to mid-60's F (15-17 C).  It was a fine day indeed and one that would shape up to be even finer as we progressed - at least that is what Neil predicted.  The forecast called for decreasing winds and a swell to subside throughout the day.  Neil asked me if I wanted to check it out and I said..."sure."  I really wanted to swim and I didn't care much about my time.  Donating another hour or so to the EC would be a small cost to just getting out there.  Seize the opportunity!

So we headed out.  The going was pretty rough at first - not in the harbor but as soon as we got outside the breakwater.  Things started getting a bit lumpy.  See Kat below not looking too keen on the idea of a whole day of lumpy seas.

The boat pitched back and forth due to our westerly heading and the seas and wind come from the SSE (hitting us in our port forward quarter).  That wind and wave combination - along with our heading made for some strange rocking and rolling for the first hour.  I grew up on boats so I those motions don't affect me at all but I know Kat and Patrick don't like the pitching motion.  

THE START:  We arrived at the beach roughly 40 minutes after our marina departure to a nice swell.  The waves were not breaking on the beach but it was pretty lumpy.  Between the wind, waves, and current (spring tide so lots of water flowing through the channel), I knew I was in for a good struggle.  The conditions didn't let me down.  Once we decided to go, I greased up quickly, had my final pictures, a quick kiss for good luck (from Kat, of course), and off I jumped into the churned up sea.  I swam to the beach where the beachgoers watched some crazy walrus-looking creature emerge from the ocean.  They may be accustomed to the sight but I got a chuckle as they all backed away when I approached.  Who would mess with a live walrus?  Just as Dover Harbor's beach offers an excellent foot massage with those large rocks, so too did Shakespeare beach  the west end of Samphire Hoe (see below aerial photo courtesy of Google maps).  

That beach looks nice and sandy from above but don't be fooled;  those rocks are tough on the feet.  I crawled out, looked like a baby giraffe as I finally stood, turned around, and then waited for the horn to sound.  The crew blew the horn and I was off!

EARLY SWIM:  I struggled to find my stroke for the first 2 hours.   The waves, wind, and chop interfered with my breathing - at least initially.  I am typically a bilateral breather but my fast side is breathing to the left.  The favored side for the boat and the conditions, of course, was to breath to the right.  OK, off I went to settle my stroke down and get into a rhythm.  That rhythm finally came but at about 2 hours - perhaps 3.  I was excited to be swimming across the English Channel.  How cool was that?  I thought it was pretty neat.

FEEDING:  My feed plan was to swim uninterrupted for 2 hours and then feed every 45 minutes.  It was a well-thought out plan given my experience during the Catalina Channel swim.  During that previous swim, I fed every 20 minutes and found that the frequency was too high and the feeds were not necessary most of the time.  So, I opted for 45 minute feeds during the EC and I think I chose correctly.  Also, I had fed for the entire swim in Catalina and, after consulting with many swimmers and judging from my own prior swim, I knew I could go for at least 2-3 hours without feeding since I almost always swam at home without feeding.  Many of those workouts lasted at least 2 hours if not up to 5 hours and I trained myself to conserve energy.  Again, I think that was a good call.  I swam consistently for the first few hours without any worry at all.  

SHIFTING OVER:  About 6 hours into the swim, I decided it was time for me to shift over to the other side of the boat.  I had enough of the waves hitting me in the face and my neck was getting a little sore.  Once I made up my mind, I asked Sam (the crew aboard SUVA) if Neil would mind me moving to the starboard (right) side of the boat to continue.  She said "yeah, OK with us."  I was really looking forward to getting back to my comfortable side and reducing the amount of sea water hitting me in the face.  The move was perfectly timed.  When I shifted over, I fortuitously hit the point of my swim where the tide changed and I started going out to sea - the Atlantic instead of the North Sea - and I could concentrate more on my stroke and less on my breathing.  That shift came at about the apex of my initial trajectory.  You can see it below:
 You can also see from the figure above that the dots got closer during that period - simply because I was no longer being pushed by a strong tide.  The slack tide happened right as I passed through the "separation zone" or part of the channel where the traffic shifts from one direction to another.  I now felt comfortable both with my stroke and my breathing.  Life was good.  

FEEDING ON THE GO:  Kat and Patrick mastered my feeding routine and I had all the faith in the world that they were looking out for my best interests.  Only one mishap occurred and it was so minor.  A bottle (water only) flew away after they tossed my feed toward me.  No worry but I did feel bad that we added more plastic to an already polluted sea of plastic.  Sorry ocean; I promise to pick out more than I put into you.  The combination of CarboPro, CarboPro supplements, plain water, and mouthwash (not mixed together mind you) sustained my energy and interest throughout.  My feeds were less frequent but perhaps not terribly quick.  The bottles we used - ones I posted about in a previous blog entry - had relatively small mouths so the fluid took a while to exit.  That delay created a much slower feed than I expected.  I would recommend a wider opening for anyone looking for tips on what to use for their swims.  More on those tips later.  

So at this point, I was about half-way through my swim, I was breathing on my "good" side, and I felt fantastic.  The wind and waves didn't really calm down and I still felt the push from my front right side.  Regardless, I felt fine and knew I was making reasonably good progress.  


We need to pack up now.  Our plan is to catch a train to London and tour the city.  I intend to post another entry either later tonight or tomorrow.  We have 5 days of non-swimming adventures ahead.  I'll post more soon.  Thanks for following.

Friday, July 22, 2016

English Channel Crossing - A simple thanks for all your support (pints to follow)

Family and friends,

I wanted to take the opportunity to thank each and every one of you who supported my swim(s).  The English Channel was a long haul and one made slightly harder by the sea conditions and jellyfish.  Otherwise, it was an unremarkable day.  I felt the love and support from all of you before, during and after the swim and that made me very happy.   When we returned at 4am from the boat, I was overcome with emotions from the outpouring of support via Facebook, Twitter, Email, and even voicemail.  Thanks to you all.  I am heading over to the White Horse right now with my crew (Kat and Patrick) to sign the wall, enjoy a pint, and take some pictures.  See you in a few hours when I begin recounting the swim.  After a pint, I may not make much sense so I apologize in advance for the word salad I may spread before you.

With Love,


P.S.  Despite my objections, I may try for the Triple Crown in August and go for the record of shortest time to complete all 3 swims.  More (much more) on that later; for now, the siren call of a pint at the White Horse keeps yelling at me to visit.  

P.P.S.  Kat wants to swim.  Needless to say, I don't.  I am going down to the beach with her first so she can swim and then we hit the pub.  How's that for teamwork?

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Off at 12:02pm

via Instagram

The iceman cometh

via Instagram

Getting ready to hop in

via Instagram

Headed to the start.

via Instagram

Check-in/OK message from SPOT PEM

GPS location Date/Time:07/21/2016 02:32:38 EDT

Message:Swimming the English Channel right now. All is well; please check the map to see our progress.

Click the link below to see where I am located.

If the above link does not work, try this link:,1.31763&ll=51.12666,1.31763&ie=UTF8&z=12&om=1


You have received this message because PEM has added you to their SPOT contact list.

Ready for Adventure

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Wooo Hoooo!!!!! Swim time coming up.

Nothing definite but a ton more certain than before.  We either push off at 11am tomorrow or midnight (later tomorrow).  Either way, I'm going to be swimming!

OK, now that I have the news and a rough estimate for my start, I have a few options for following my trip across the English Channel.

Option 1:  You follow along via the blog, Facebook, twitter, and/or Instagram.  Yes, I went hog wild with social media so that each and everyone interested can follow with ease.  Kathy has my phone and will take pictures and post updates routinely.

Option 2:  Check out the website and see updates live on the map and see stats.  Thanks to Evan Morrison for the fantastic service.

Option 3:  Follow my SPOT locator map and see where I am on the Google map that the service uses to plot my progress.

Option 4:  Check out the Channel Swimming & Piloting Federation (CS&PF) webpage for tracking SUVA (my pilot boat).  Here is a quick link but you need to select the my pilot boat at the top and then select "Latest Track" below the picture of the boat.

All four will work just fine.  More options means that there are no chances that you will miss my swim tracking.  I have my own SPOT and SUVA has AIS (don't ask).  

I'm psyched...and tired.  More later.  Time for bed.  Remember, 11am local time is 6am EDT and 3am PDT - just for your reference.  On the bright side, if I start my swim at midnight tomorrow (25 hours from now), my American friends can follow along for most of the adventure.  Thanks for following; have a great night.

Waiting for the call.

via Instagram

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Day 4 Rest Day - Bouncing around the room (with beer)

Yep, I'm feeling manic.  
It is hot outside (82F or 26C).  Given my tendency these days to overheat in temps 20F below today's heat wave,  I decided to avoid the outdoors at all costs.  For those of you back in VA who laugh at those temps, imagine relatively warm weather with no air conditioning.  None.  They don't need it here.  Most of the time, Dover is overcast and chilly.  Not today.  OK, enough complaining about the weather.  

My adventure today consisted of a trip to the store to get essential supplies (eggs, butter, bread, and cheese) and then back to the room for a beer and perhaps another nap.  

The King of Beers
I'm bouncing off the walls; waiting is not my strength. So what better way to pass the time the by enjoying a few pints?  Wish I could just fall asleep and wake up for my swim.  Madhu and Yuta - two marathon swimming veterans - offered me sage advice.  They said "focus on your day and let Neil worry about the swim window" and "the channel will tell you when to go."  I loved the advice.  The timing was perfect.  Patience is king - wish I had some.  Unfortunately, I'm not the patient type.  

I finally got to sleep at 5am after tossing and turning all night.  When I could smell the swim coming up, I couldn't muster the enthusiasm to sleep.  I was going over details in my head, getting my swim brain ready for the long haul.  At roughly midnight, I got the call that today would be blown out.  No swim!  Ugh.  If my previous post sounded negative then good - precisely what I was feeling.  I didn't drift into a funk but I felt the euphoria of pre-swim (same as the euphoria pre-climb, pre-summit, pre-anything grueling) dissipate to just a nervous energy to get things in order.  That post euphoric sensation lead to a night of restless card-playing on my tablet.  I'm mastering Cribbage.  My cousin will be happy about that update, right Kev? 

When I woke up this morning (only morning in California at 2pm local time in the UK), I received a call from my pilot Neil Streeter.  He was upbeat as usual.  Great guy.  He asked me how I was doing and I said "OK" but ready to swim, then, he laid out the plan.  It appears that there is a rather large front blowing in later today through tomorrow.  Thursday and Friday may work.  So here is the tentative plan:  Thursday morning is iffy, Thursday afternoon maybe, Friday morning maybe, and from then on it is anyone's guess.  Just hearing a plan gave me another spark.  I know today is off and I can have a few pints, laze around the room, and then enjoy a fine meal later tonight.  Should be fun just taking the day off.  Tomorrow, I will get back into the harbor for a swim even if it is choppy and nasty.  Bring on the chop!  You heard it here first.  I may swim either Thursday or Friday.  Keep your fingers crossed.  

The extra time to prepare for my swim is actually a blessing.  If we pushed off today, I fear my feeding setup would have been a mess.  I just unpacked all my gear and realized the retrieval lines were all tangled and my bottles needed a bit of tape to reinforce the retrieval cord connection.  All in all, I am at peace.  One beer into the afternoon - it is difficult not to be at peace.  

OK, enough for now.  See you all (virtually) tomorrow for an update after my swim.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Day 4 going to be a rest day - no swim tomorrow

Yep, I'm bummed but I won't let a delay get me down.   Just need to wait my turn.  Hope it comes soon. Sorry to get your (and my) hopes up. 

Day 3 in our holding pattern - Tomorrow may be the day

I type this update with some trepidation of making a colossally wrong prediction.  Today offered near-perfect conditions and team SUVA (my pilot boat) is out with a swimmer who is just screaming across the channel.  Tomorrow may be my day.  Yep, tomorrow.  I am 75% confident but after last year, I learned that some things about the English Channel are difficult to predict.  

To get ready for our potential outing, Kat and I went for a swim in the placid harbor.

Notice Kat down by the water (post swim) socializing with a friend - and some humans too.

These are rare calm conditions for the harbor.  Very warm today too.

The fellow in the yellow shirt is scheduled to swim tomorrow with Sea Satin.  Give him a cheer as well if we both shove off for the crossing.

Nary a ripple in the water.  Doesn't get any calmer than this today.
So we had a great little swim today.  Met a fellow channel swimmer - Dave - who is scheduled to go tomorrow (we think) as well.  He is going with Sea Satin.  We chatted a bit but then he noticed his legs getting a bit burned so he retreated for shade.  I should have done the same since I get burned from an incandescent light bulb.  Unfortunately, I didn't leave the sunshine right away but on the bright side, I didn't get too burned.  

We are back at the Churchill relaxing.  Been a relaxing day throughout actually - no other way to characterize it.  I had a hunch that Tuesday may be my day to swim so I wanted to rest up as much as possible.  We woke up just 10 minutes before our scheduled 8am breakfast.  Enjoyed the company of our fellow guest house tenants, and then retired back to our room for a 2 hour nap.  Ain't life grand?  We finally hauled our carcasses out of bed and managed to meander to the beach for a quick dip.  Kat and I swam together in the harbor for about 40 minutes - nothing strenuous but enough to shake out the cob webs and gain a feel for the water.  

If all goes well, I may be well on my way to France tomorrow.  Keep your fingers crossed for the wind/waves/tide gods to keep them in check.  I really want to get going.  Too many days in Dover is not good for the head.  Tonight, we plan to go to Il Rustico again for our pre-swim meal.  That restaurant just offers the best bang for our buck here.  Plus, I know I can swim on Italian food - traditional English fare is a bit iffy.  I skip the wine and beer tonight just to lessen any strain on my body.  If we go tomorrow, I might know before dinner but certainly not much later than after dinner.  Expect a brief note about our plans for tomorrow.  I will not have time to post much because I need to prepare my feeding materials and such.  

I am totally psyched.  OK, time for a nap.   

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Day 1 (travel) & 2 (waiting) in the books - my typical non-swim day

I left Fairfax in a flurry.  Unable to focus on anything but the swim, I slept most of Friday.  Naps rock!  The only problem was that I was not tired at all when we boarded the plane at 10pm.  So, I watched two movies and managed a paltry 1.5 hours of sleep during the tail end of the flight.  I was beat tired when we landed.  Kathy and Patrick had taken Dramamine for the flight so they passed out before the plane even took off and slept the entire 6-hour flight until right before we landed.  I was jealous.  Typically, I have that sleep pattern during long flights.  Not this time.  

We landed, cleared customs and gathered our things for our hired car trip down to Dover.  Initially, Kat and I were thinking of taking the "cheaper" route down via trains and taxi.  I did the math and in no way was it cheaper than a £110 (roughly US$150 at the time) - ride for the family. Plus, we were in no shape to grab the train from London - Heathrow to Paddington station, take a cab to St. Pancras, board a train to Dover, switch at Rochester, and then carry on to train station where we would lug our bags to the Churchill Guest House. Nope, no shape. Kat and Patrick were still a bit dazed from their drug-induced plane naps while I could barely keep my eyes open from sleep deprivation. We landed at 10am local time or 5am our time and thankful that our trip to Dover involved nothing more than greeting our driver, crawling into the car and crashing for the 2-hour ride. Without any sleep during the night, I needed to nod off.

Did I sleep? Nope. I spent the entire car ride down chatting up a storm with our driver - Rob. We talked about Brexit, the US presidential election, UK tourism, Ireland, and tourist destinations. All in all, it was a mighty craic. The time flew by and we were at the Churchill in nothing flat - at least that is what I recall. Toward the end of the trip, I was falling asleep while talking. Yep, I was beat and ready for bed. Unfortunately, it was only 2pm and I had no reason to crash that early. We headed out and grabbed groceries instead. It might be a long wait before bedtime calls.

A quick trip to the grocery store followed by a quick pint at the White Horse, and then an early dinner at Il Rustico ended our day at 9pm. Now, I was ready for bed. Really, I was and fell asleep about 20 minutes after we returned from dinner. That sleep lasted just 3 hours when I awoke from the slumber and felt totally rested. I have no clue why but I just couldn't get to sleep. I tossed and turned then decided to read email, check Facebook, and organize my photos. Some of you benefited from that last step. Once I got to 5am local time, I fell asleep and slept until our breakfast time of 8am. In total, I logged in 6 hours of sleep - not bad but not good enough to really feel rested.

Breakfast at the Churchill Guest House is an event. I hurried off to sit at the "big table" where we could meet other guests, strike up some good conversations, and talk about and with Alastair and Betty - the proprietors. Alex - their son - runs the place now because Alastair and Betty are getting older but they all have a strong hand in the day-to-day operation. Our interactions are similar to those observed in the John Cleese serial "Fawlty Towers." I posted this observation last year but this year just confirmed it. We have a great time. Well, 2 hours later, our breakfast time ended to give way to our swim.

Kat and I walked down to "the beach" at Dover Harbor where all the marathon swimmers congregate. It is a great event every day during the summer but particularly well-attended on the weekends. Today was no exception. We were met by countless people either training for, preparing for or waiting for their EC swim. Everyone rolls out the Dover welcome mat for any swimmer. The Dover harbor swims are truly one of the best parts of marathon swimming. The people, the location, and the conditions make it ideal for training.

I wasn't interested in training per se. Instead, I just wanted to get in, get a few strokes into the 17C water (sans cap today to boost the exposure) and restore my feel for the water. The harbor was warmer than I expected and quite choppy. All of the pilot boats were out with swimmers today. Despite that draw, I counted no fewer than 50 people at the beach. Kat and I swam for about an hour and then got out to socialize. It was great. We had a fun time chatting with the folks. I had the great pleasure to chat with the Honorable Secretary Kevin Murphy. We chatted briefly about my upcoming swim and my Catalina Channel swim. He is a lovely person - always supportive and interested in every swimmer who attempts or even dreams about a marathon swim.

Afterwards, we retired back to our guest house accommodations to nap. I was done eating and just needed some sleep. My nap lasted from about noon until 4pm - some nap, eh? I needed it. We topped off the day with a quick meal at Blake's of Dover and then a stroll down to the harbor beach to cool off with the sea breeze. The boats are still out so I don't have any news about my swim tomorrow. Tomorrow will likely follow the same routine as today. I'll keep you all posted as I learn more about the potential to swim. More than likely, if conditions hold, I will swim on Tuesday. Stay tuned for more updates as they come. Thanks for following.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Catalina Channel Recap: One final post to wrap up my end of the story

My friend Madhu Nagaraja introduced me to Evan Morrison today.  Thanks Madhu, I really appreciate the introduction.  Evan has a service called TRACK.RS that takes SPOT locator data or any GPS tracking system data and plots it for you.  The service is inexpensive and really quite nice - so nice I signed up for my English Channel swim.  Expect a post with the URL.  Should be fun looking at the map and graphs.

Evan took my Catalina Channel data and uploaded it to the Marathon Swimming Federation website.  I encourage you to check out the map and the stats page.  The track indicates I swam 32km at an average pace of 2.9 km/hr.  With slow feeds, some relaxation time in the water, and a painful finish, I am very happy with that outcome.  Many of you know I am a sucker for data.  Well, here is my speed data:

Note those points at about mid-way through the Channel?  I was almost still (i.e., NOT moving very quickly) for three out of four of those data points (40 minutes).  Also, you can see the finish took some time.  I wasn't moving very quickly over the rocks at the end either.  Just as I described in my recap, dragging my legs caused me to slow down BUT allowed me to save energy for the final push.  Also, I am fully recovered from the swim so BRING ON THE EC!

OK, off the computer to finish packing.  Thanks.

Catalina Channel Swim Recap - Part 2 of 2

Part 2:  Catalina Channel Crossing Recap - the second half

As promised, I am back with the exciting Part 2 and conclusion of my Catalina Channel swim.  There were far more exciting things that happened during the second half so let me start right away with the details.

Just to review the timing and order of kayakers and swimmers, below were the shifts from what I recall and confirmed with my crew:
Hour 1:  Anders kayak, me solo
Hour 2:  Anders kayak, Chris swimming (with me)
Hour 3:  Sean kayak, me solo
Hour 4:  Sean kayak, Paul swimming
Hour 5:  Sean kayak, me solo

Part 1 ended with the Hour 5 and now I pick up at Hour 6 onward.  The order went something like this if you are keeping score at home:
Hour 6:  Sean kayak, Chris swimming (for 30 mins)
Hour 7:  Anders kayak (with interruption)
Hour 8:  no kayak, Anders swimming
Hour 9:  no kayak, me solo
Hour 10: no kayak, Paul swimming
Hour 11: FINISH with Sean kayaking, Chris, Paul, and Anders accompanying me into the "beach"

So, we begin with Hour 6 for Part 2.  You'll notice above that we had a few hours without the kayak.  Read on....

Hour 6:  I left off with hour 5 where the Sean finished a 3-hour shift on the kayak while I swam alone.  Things started going south with the kayakers trading spots.  Anders spelled Sean while Chris hopped in the water during my feeding time.  Everything seemed to be going smoothly until I heard a loud, profane yell from the stern.  I wasn't sure who it was but it sounded like Sean.  Later I learned that it was Anders.  The funny thing is that I never hear Anders swearing.  He must have really struggled with the hand-off.  Anders paddled out to me and we started on the next 20 minute segment post-feeding.  

"When everything goes wrong - that is when adventure starts" -- Yvon Chouinard - 180 degrees South

Man overboard!  All seemed fine - at least from my limited view when all of a sudden, Anders drifted away from us and then flipped over.  I am sure he was tired.  My crew was up now through the night tending to my needs.  I was oblivious to all the goings on in the boat.  Apparently, there were a ton of things going on that I was not aware of and my crew told me funny stories after I finished.  So Anders flipped the kayak; my feed bottles, along with all the other nutritional supplements I had scheduled in my feeding routine, scattered in the Pacific.  Thankfully, all these things were tied together with a pull buoy (courtesy of my friend Yuta).  

What happened?  I had no idea why he flipped but thought it was quite odd.  Anders is a heck of an athlete.  He may not agree but I can assure you that him flipping a kayak would indeed be a rare event.  So the kayak turned over and then swamped.  That kayak was the standard sit on top types - not sure of the actual brand but it looked something like this and almost the same color:

Top View
Side View
Now, bear in mind that I never really got a good look at the kayak since it was either on the deck upside down or it was in the water about 6 feet away from me.  Anders and Sean could probably tell you the make and model.  The reason why I posted pictures is because the kayak pictured above is essentially a float shaped like something you can sit upon and paddle.  The float is supposed to keep water out.  Instead, our kayak allowed water to enter in at will - if water has a will.  The bow (the front end for those who know nothing about boats) had a crack that was previously patched.  That patch obviously failed and no longer kept the water at bay.  So by the time Anders got into the kayak after 5 hours - now in the 6th hour of use - the entire thing was filled with water.  Needless to say, the kayak was extremely unstable and Anders got to swim a bit more than he wanted.  

Chris and crew to the rescue:  Chris swam over to Anders and the kayak - now located about 50 meters to the starboard (remember, right side) of the pilot boat while I laid on my back in the water and sipped a pina colada.  Actually, I took in a feed later because the whole ordeal took about 20-30 minutes to fix.  My dad - who turns 80 this year - tried to single-hand the kayak retrieval from the water.  Bear in mind that the kayak probably weighed about 300 pounds (135 kg for my metric system friends) if not way more because the vessel itself maybe weighed 20 pounds (9 kg) and each gallon of water weighs 12 pounds (5.5 kg).  Add up a few gallons and you see my point.  My dad is a strong dude.  He may be old but don't arm wrestle him.  Chris, Anders, Sean, and I believe the entire crew had to manhandle the kayak out of the water, diagnose the problem, propose a solution and get it floating again.  

What happened to the swim?  What was I doing?  I was chilling out.  My constant refrain was "time is not of the essence."  It was really relaxing just floating on my back and thinking about how cool it was that we were doing this great adventure together.  I took in another feed, relaxed, chatted with anyone who wasn't working on the kayak, and watched the sun rise.  It was really cool.  Anders and the kayak flipped at about 30 minutes into the hour so I suspect it was about 5:30am.  The SPOT locator tracking has it at about The sun began to rise but it was really dark just before then.  I had no idea what engineering feats were going on topside but from the sounds of it afterwards, I was and continue to be glad that I have a ton of really smart friends and family members.  We had more scientists and engineers aboard than probably exist in some companies.  I was useless because I couldn't see anything and, if I got involved, my swim would have been deemed illegal.  So, I hung out.  The water was warm (70F) and I had not a stress in the world.  Plus, what could I do?  Nothing except relax and get ready to swim when the time came.

Hour 7:  The next hour was rather uneventful.  I saved up my energy during the first half of my swim and that tactic really paid off.   During those hours, I just dragged my legs trying to stay cool (i.e., not overheat) and conserve as much energy for later.  Well, at this point, I deemed it "later" so I started kicking.  Chris yelled at me to "point me toes" so I started correcting my stroke, adjusting my body position, and kicking a 6-beat kick.  I really felt smooth and comfortable.  Also, I started smelling the hay in the barn.  The land was now fully visible and I knew that it was only a matter of hours - perhaps a few - before I would hit the beach.  During this hour, I was alone so the change in pace and stroke mechanics only affected me.  Everyone cheered me on and told me I was doing great.  

How am I doing?  Funny note here.  Kat was being super positive - telling me I was doing great.  She yelled that I had 2.5 more hours to go.  Initially, I thought...great, I can easily do 2.5 hours.  That time amounts to about one and a half practices OR 7 feeds OR 1.5 more swim sessions with my pals OR some other numerical combination.  I knew the end was near.  During my next feed, the skipper came out and said I was really keeping a good pace.  Actually, everyone was yelling that to me.  Then, the skipper said, I had 6.5 nautical miles from the time Kat mentioned I had 2.5 more hours.  In fairness to Kat, she may have said some other number but I heard 2.5.  I did a little mental arithmetic and figured I had 4+ hours to go.  Instead of going into a funk, I felt relieved that I had a few more swim sessions with my friends.  I was doing great and feeling fantastic.

Hour 8:  Anders jumped in at the 8 hour mark ready to swim with me.  He was outfitted in his wetsuit (unnecessary by the way in 70F water) and looking fit as usual.  
Anders - looking good buddy

Feed time from the boat.  Nothing for you Anders.  Sorry.
We held a great pace.  According to Anders' Garmin swim watch, we held high 1:30's per 100m at this point.  I was thrilled to hear that later.  The feeds now were going well.  Chris - aka "the mad chemist" or "mix master extraordinaire" - whipped up some fine CarboPro, UCAN Super Starch, and fruit sugar.  I can tolerate anything and the mix was just fine with me.

Chris working some magic on my feeds.

I fed as usual, swam with Anders, and the hour flew by without incident.  We didn't have a kayak so at this point, I was guiding off the boat - much easier to see now that the boat was fully visible and easy to make out the direction it was heading.  My body felt great.  My mind free of any worry.  We were jamming.
Final feed before Anders got out.

Hour 9:  Anders headed back to the boat and I was left to swim by myself.  At this point, I had a few intrusive thoughts that crept into my head.  One thought was..."hmmm, it is dawn and feeding time for sharks."  I tried everything in the world to think of anything other than that thought but it was no use.  Instead, I started thinking of what I could do to reduce the risk of a shark even knowing I was in the water.  One thing came to mind - stop kicking.  So, I did.  I went back to dragging my legs and making as little splash as possible.  Yeah, I know many of you will say that wouldn't do much.  But tell me, how rational can a person be after 9 hours of swimming?  In my case, not very rational.  I stuck to my no kick routine for a bit until I finally shook the idea from my head and started back to my 6-beat kick.  The end was near.  No sense of prolonging this swim.

Hour 10:  Paul jumped back in the water and it was a huge relief.  I enjoyed his company as I usually do in the pool.  At this point though, the company was comforting.  I figured that if a shark came out, it had to deal with both of us.  We swam well - just as Anders and I had during the 8th hour.  I felt great.  My kicking helped me relax my upper body and I just sensed that we were "in the groove."  Funny how that sensation crept in at this time since there were several hours when my stroke just felt off.  The water was totally calm, the feeds were now faster and more efficient (no snarled bottles, capsized kayaks, or tangled lines).  The team worked well together.  I could see my crew and the observers all cheering me on.  It was such a great feeling.

Hour 11:  Things got sorted out quickly.  As the 11th hour crept up, I knew we were close.  Sean reboarded the patched up kayak.  Apparently - as I heard afterwards - there were some serious surgical repairs being done to this critical piece of plastic.  

And about this time, Greg - the skipper, remember him - started to rally the troops for the finish.  Here is his call out:

So many positive comments kept me going.  It was a blast.  The real highlight - aside from each and every moment - was the final push into the shore.  Here are some pictures and video that capture the moment.  I had my three pals - Paul, Chris, and Anders - jumping over the rail to joing me while Sean guided us in via kayak.

See them in action:

The finish was near and we had no idea what awaited us on the shores.  Here are a few good pictures of our final push:
We look like ducks.  Note, rules require me to lead.  I'm good with that directive.

Sean guiding us in as we drifted too far left.

I'm close now but getting beaten up by the surf, rocks, barnacles, and kelp.
It was a brutal finish.  I cannot emphasize enough how tough it was to drag my tired carcass up, out of the water.  The waves kept dragging me over these sharp rocks and cutting my legs, hands, feet, and stomach.  At one point, I just said..."the heck with it" (in not exactly those words), "I gotta get outta here." A few hard pushes to stand up paid off.  I heard the horn from the pilot boat and felt relieved that the swim was over but sad that the adventure was over too.  
Happy Finisher

The Swimmers (from L to R: Chris, Anders, me, and Paul)
Too bad we didn't get Sean in the picture above.  He was out there as long as anyone (other than me).  Oh, want to know how hard that finish was?  Here are my battle scars after several hours of healing:

Concluding Remarks

What a great adventure.  You can see the tracks on my SPOT Adventure page.  Time to pack for Channel #2 - The English Channel.  We leave tonight at 10pm.  Wish us well.

More to come!  I have more updates and pictures to post shortly.   Thanks everyone for making this adventure memorable.  Your loving support, kind words, and constant encouragement make the adventure.  Thanks again.