On September 20, 2014 I became the 53rd person to successfully swim the 12.2 miles from Anacapa Island to Oxnard. I landed on Silver Strand Beach.
Some highlights from my swim (in no particular order):
- Swimming with a pod of 40 bioilluminated dolphins for 2 hours!
- Sharing my finish with my crew who escorted me into shore
- A seal who randomly joined us a few times after daybreak (and the time s/he spooked Gracie)
- Sunrise from the water (never get tired of this anywhere really)
- Having a crew who really truly cared about taking care of me and ensuring that my swim was a success
- Seeing Grace bouncing up and down cheering me on (not sure why this made me laugh in a good way)
- Having my support swimmers in the water to break up the monotony of just me and the kayak.
- When I was eating applesauce and Peter said “Simple carbohydrate. Good choice.” and I said “Thanks DAD!”
- Seeing the bottom as I got closer to shore
- This conversation with a surfer as I was swimming into Silverstrand Beach:
surfer: “Where’d you guys come from?”
surfer: “Oh my god! You guys are rockstars!”
- Two very sweet emails that I received from my friend and fellow pod member Howard Burns before and after my swim
- Lessons learned that I can take into my next big swim 🙂
Lessons learned from this swim:
- Have tinted goggles on the kayak so I can get them ASAP when needed
- Lube EVERYWHERE my suit touches as I may chaff where I least expected it
- Wear a suit that isn’t stretched out anywhere already
- Marathon swims are really traumatic on the body so don’t plan on doing anything (even driving) afterwards
- Training swims with a 7 AM jump time are vastly different than a swim with a 2 AM jump time due to amount of sleep
- Know your current stroke rate before the start of your swim (crew may / should ask)
- Be very specific on what feed to give me when so the crew isn’t trying to guess what I meant
- Tell your crew if you’re having trouble keeping food down especially if you start throwing up while swimming
- A little Gu isn’t a bad thing since well, your crew will probably slip it in your feeds anyway so just accept it
- My crew really will do anything legally allowed to help me
- Light on the top of the kayaker required as it maximizes his/her visibility to me
- Work out communication signals with the kayaker before starting the swim
- Kayaker should have his/her own light to dig through feeds and not the communication light as this just confuses the crap out of me (see: almost hit boat because I thought Tom was telling me to swim closer to the boat)
- Feeding from the boat allows your crew to adjust your feeds based on your performance
- When the boat circles, it’s because there are other boats nearby and they’re trying to create a “circle” around you so don’t freak out if the boat looks like it’s taking off
Most of the stress for me had everything to do before I got into the water even. A relay the night before was postponed due to horrendous conditions in the channel. I spent the morning of the 19th on the phone between Mavette at Hooks Landing and Peter and Carol. Weather predictions had changed from the day before (which were perfect) to 10 – 15 knot winds with gusts of 25 knots and 2 to 4 foot swells at 10 second intervals all Friday night. Saturday day was supposed to be a lot calmer after daybreak with only 2 foot swells every 9 seconds. I didn’t know what to do. Mavette didn’t either and said she’d defer to Peter. We could show up and it’d be horrible conditions or it could be absolutely nothing. I didn’t care much about the swells after the conditions I swam in La Jolla back in February that were basically the same and I felt fine in (minus those 6 foot waves that tried to kill me). I didn’t want to miss my chance to swim Anacapa though even though I had reserved 4/5 October as a back-up. Peter texted me at 2:30 PM saying that if we have a window to do the swim, we should take it so let’s head over to Oxnard. I agreed. I put all of my faith into Peter for my jump time and now attempting the swim at all that night.
Turns out that the weather predictions never materialized and we got perfect conditions. Hooray!
Sometime in the middle of the night Peter woke me up to get ready to jump. I had butterflies in my stomach and feeling almost nauseous. I needed to be lubed up and remember yelling at Susie to get out of her bunk to help me. Gracie flied out of her bunk a lot faster and got to work on lubing me up with SeaSafe and Bag Balm. It was pretty surreal and on one hand, I couldn’t believe I was actually doing this. Second time I got nervous was when Peter said that they were ready for me to jump. Blinded by the boat light outside, I can’t even see the island. Peter takes me out of the light and duh..Anacapa is about 40 yards in front of me, if that. He tells me where to go to touch the island and cautions me again to not get vertical by the island because of mussels underwater that’ll cut my feet up.
Leaving the boat to swim over to Anacapa Island for the swim start. OMG I’m so nervous.
I joke about wanting to back out while I’m climbing over the ladder. I get in the water thinking again that I can’t believe this is actually happening. Tom escorts me to the island, signals to Peter that I’m touching the island, and tells me start. Everything goes dark and I’m following the glowsticks on Tom’s kayak. I’m mildly distracted by my arms being bioilluminated by the plankton in the water. Knowing that Tom is right there with me helps keep me calm. After some confusion, we work out signals for when he needs me closer or farther away from the kayak. I don’t really biltarally breath so I have no idea where the boat is. I ping pong for awhile until we get settled down with a routine.
At my first or second feed I get a heavier feed than I wanted and finish it anyway. It sits in my stomach like a brick and I try to deal with it and work through it. Big mistake. I’m not really used to eating while exercising and in all of my training swims I had light feeds for the first 1.5 hours as then I could do something heavier and not feel ill. I keep swimming although think every now and then of stopping to throw that feed up. Unfortunately I don’t tell anyone what’s going on and know I should have. Even in total darkness, I can hear Gracie and know that it’s her. I didn’t have anything that really motivates me to keep going from crew members although her enthusiasm helps keep my spirits up. 🙂
Peter had told me to not look at anything in the water. I spot my first thing in the water that is bioilluminated and not me. It’s about 18 feet long, relatively skinny for being that long, moving slowly, perpendicular to me, and quite a bit deeper. HOLY F***. I snap myself out of it and remind myself that Peter said to not look. I trust the belief that I’m not on his menu. If I’m going to turn into a snack, it’ll end up being relatively quickly. I figure that if I make it the next several minutes than I can relax.
Sometime after the next feed 3 fast swimming creatures zip up underneath me. WTF? Carol had told me that there were dolphins on her swim so I figure out quickly based on their size and movements and speed that these are dolphins. They’re bioilluminated also! Cool! I figure that these aren’t sharks also since I don’t know of any sharks that swim in unison together. They’re swimming along with me under me, next to me, go away, and come back. Tom stops me for the next feed and tells me that there are dolphins in the water. He doesn’t get to see what they look like underneath. I try and quicken through the feeds to get back to seeing them underwater. One bumps my right arm while I’m swimming and another one swam directly in front of me so close that I could see the skin on his tail clearly in the dark! A bright light appears and makes everything I see white. I stop and ask Tom about it and he said that the boat turned on the light so they could see the dolphins. I ask him to have them turn it off so I can see (obviously that has priority!). The light gets turned off instantly. I find out from the crew later that the dolphins scattered when they turned the light on and came back after it was turned off. I continue swimming with the dolphins for two of the most awesome hours of my life! 🙂
Try to imagine this in a bunch of dolphin shapes (lit up green!) and that’s what they looked like to me underwater for the better part of 2 hours!
It’s getting lighter and I know when it’s about 5:30 AM. Spectacular sunrise with calm waters. Tom tells me that the crew wants me to take a bottle from the boat. Uh oh. I ask if it’s Carol’s coffee concoction (coffee makes me nauseous, even the smell of it). It takes like my Skratch Matcha w/ Lemon (natural caffeine) but stronger.
Tom and me at sunrise. One of my absolute favorite photos of me swimming.
Tom wants a break so Cherie jumps into the kayak along with Carol as support swimmer. Having my training partner in the water was great! We take off.
The sun gets really bright and I can’t see anything. I ask for my smoked goggles. Cherie says that she’ll have Gracie get them. I continue swimming and haven’t been stopped to get my other goggles. I stop and yell for them as I can’t see anything. Carol swims and gets them for me. I feel bad for the rest of the swim for having yelled for my goggles. In the moment I was unhappy as I couldn’t see Cherie on my right because of the sun and then blinded by that, I couldn’t see the boat when I’d turn to my left. It felt like I was in a white light room. I try to pull off my clear goggles and they feel stuck to my face. I realize how uncomfortable they were when I finally got them off. Once I’m wearing the other pair, I feel a lot better and can see everything now. 🙂
Tom gets back in the kayak and I continue primarily feeding off whatever they’re giving me in my bottles. I don’t even notice for awhile that I’m no longer eating solid foods in addition to the bottles. Cherie says that they can see Gina although I can’t see her. I have no idea what time it is or where in the channel I am. Since it’s after daybreak though, I know it’s past 7 AM. I just keep swimming (well, what else am I going to do?). Cherie tells me a couple of times to swim faster since I have some current trying to push me south. I’m really not in the mood to swim faster though and have no way to gauge if I’m swimming at a different speed.
At one point, Tom tells me that the crew wants me to take a feeding from the boat. Red flags go up in my head. I swim over and ask if it was coffee (as Carol had talked about this awful sounding coffee / frappuchino concoction earlier). They say no. I’m still suspicious. It’s my Skratch green tea hydration mix. It tastes kind of different though. I’ll find out later that it was 3 – 4 times the regular concentration with some Gu mixed in. My crew drugged me. What I didn’t know was that my stroke count had dropped a lot and they were doing their jobs of taking care of me. I speed up to a pace that if I had kept it up (according to Gracie), I’d have finished the swim in eight hours! They went through that entire bag of Skratch (40 servings) plus more. And no, I haven’t drank that flavor since.
Feeding “go go juice” from the boat. Don’t ask, just drink it.
During one feeding, Peter asks me how I’m feeling and if I want any Advil. I say that I feel fine and continue swimming. I start thinking about how I’m feeling though and realize that I do have some soreness. I ask for Peter for the Advil at the next feeding.
I get excited when I finally see Gina (an oil rig) as I know she’s 2/3 of the way into the swim meaning that I’ve got 4 miles to go after I pass her. Four Miles. I can do this as it’s only four miles.
Swim, swim, swim. After awhile I look behind me and see Gina seems so far in the distance. Everyone talks about Gina since she’s the only landmark during the swim and passing her seemed over in such a short amount of time.
I forget when my support swimmers jumped into the water with me (before or after Gina). It was comforting to have them in the water with me. Carol was my training partner so having her in the water with me was like we were doing just another training swim. When I was swimming with Gracie, I kept thinking “oh my god..I’m swimming with Grace van der Byl!! HOLY CRAP!” She has a beautiful stroke from both above and under water! She stays shoulder-to-shoulder with me (support swimmers should NEVER be ahead of the swimmer). I pretend that I’m keeping up with her normal pace. 😉
Swimming with the incredible Gracie van der Byl!
Peter starts telling me how much I have left to go once we get down to a couple of miles. At one point I’m 4400 yards from shore and Gracie yells out “That’s one Masters practice!” I tell her that’s not helping. 😉 I get excited when Peter says that I have just 1.5 miles (and later 1.1 miles) to shore. Not only is this almost over with but also it means that I’ve passed the 2-miles-to-shore mark that has blocked many other swimmers from completing this swim (due to winds picking up).
I can see the bottom now and know that we’re getting close. The bottom seems to never come closer though. Carol is back in the water with me when I’m within a mile from shore so I know we’re damn close. Gracie jumps in with my camera and swims around us taking photos. Damn I wish I looked better in my swimsuit. We get to the point where the waves start breaking and there are beachgoers around us. Carol and I look behind us to make sure no big waves are coming and I see Cherie and Ray were also in the water to accompany me into shore. Awesome! I didn’t anticipate being able to swim into shore with my entire crew (minus Susie who isn’t really a swimmer).
Walking onto Silverstrand Beach with my crew behind me (literally!).
I get to the point where I can stand and it feels very weird to stand up after all that time. Carol, Cherie, and Gracie tell me how far up the beach to go before I can signal to Peter that I’ve cleared the water. Tom has beached his kayak and is taking photos. I was really afraid that I’d get onto the beach by myself with no one to share it with. Having my crew who helped me get there on the beach with me was the most incredible feeling. Cherie suggests that I take a rock from the beach as a momento and hands me one. We head back to the boat and the last thing I want to do is get in the water. Gracie sees a sand dollar and hands it to me. 🙂 Gracie and I are trying to time it between wave sets and she can see how tired I am. She and Tom have me climb onto the kayak so Tom can give me a ride back to the boat. I get back on the boat and Peter gives me a big hug. Peter had said before how he hates when people ask him what the time is as it takes him awhile to figure it out. Cherie starts asking him “Peter, what was the time? Peter, what was the time? Peter, what was the time?” 😉 I sit down and just still in disbelief that this is over. I made it. Holy crap. Now it feels like the whole swim went in the blink of an eye.
I change out of my suit into regular clothes. I try to pack up my stuff and Gracie shoos me away saying that I should rest and they’ll take care of packing up all my stuff. My mind is a bit hazy feeling. I try and eat something although I’m really not hungry. I’m conscious enough though to remember to ask for a group photo before we get off the boat back at the dock. Peter and Carol suggest that I spend the night in Goleta but I just want to go home and sleep in my own bed that night. Susie gives me a lift back and I leave my car out there. I get an email from my friend Howard congratulating me on my swim as he’d heard that I was successful. I start crying then as the magnitude of what I did finally sinks in. Two and a half years ago, I was recovering from a surgically broken pelvis. Two years ago, I started swimming again after a 17 year hiatus. A little over a year ago, I had done my first open water swim every. Two months ago, I had finished my first marathon swim. I was now a channel swimmer. I’m really touched that friends were tracking my progress!
I had an incredible crew who really took care of me from the start through to the end. I really could not have done this swim without them. I was very lucky to have the people I had on the boat that night and eternally indebted to them. I’m going to take my lessons learned into future swims, especially my Catalina swim next August. 🙂
My certificate and medal from the Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association presented to me on 1 November 2014.