Friday, July 15, 2016

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.

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