Monday, 25 July 2011

Catalina Channel - Part I

Well....believe it or not, I made it. On Wednesday 20th July, I swam the Catalina Channel in 14 hours and 11 minutes. As usual for me, it's a bit slower than the average crossing time, but I got across, and that's what matters.

Like my English Channel swim, this was very much a swim of two parts. However, while my Channel swim had a good start and a difficult finish, this was very much the reverse. And the reason for this... more problems with boats and seasickness. Anyone who reads this blog regular will know that I am rubbish on boats, and that all the drugs and wrist bands in the world can't fend off the inevitable. And so it was with this swim, which unfortunately began with a three hour boat ride through rolling waves over to Catalina Island. The rocking and dipping of the boat, combined with midnight tiredness left me overwhelmed with waves of nausea, even after the boat had pulled into Doctor's Cove - the starting point for our swim. I felt dreadful as I got ready, and if it hadn't involved a three hour boat ride, I could quite happily have called it a day right there and gone back to the mainland and to bed. But I had lots of help getting myself prepared, and could only hope that it would pass once I was in the water.

At least the concentration required to control the seasickness took my mind off my barely contained fears about sharks in the water - in fact, I hardly thought about it at all until, right before I jumped in, something lept out of the water and then splashed back below the surface, right in front of me. I asked what it was, and Don, one of the official observers, told me it was a seal, but then, seeing that that didn't make me feel much better, said that it was probably a flying fish, and I decided to settle on that as appropriately harmless. (In fact, I later learned that it was a seal chasing a flying fish, and that, having caught it, the seal actually tailed me for quite a way). And then I found myself standing on the edge of the deck, preparing to jump in to the inky black midnight water. I still felt seasick, but this was now combined with a momentary surge of fear at jumping in. The backs of my hands and neck prickled with tension and there was a long, quiet pause, which I eventually broke with a quick, quiet count to three and IN. I let myself go straight down deep before surfacing, enjoying the familiar feeling of being in the water. I was pleased to feel how warm it was (about 68 degrees), and suddenly felt much calmer and more confident, able to focus now on the immediate task of swimming in to the beach, guided by my kayaker, Beth Barnes, and with the cheers of my crew ringing in the background. I ducked under a buoy line and then staggered ineptly up the rocky beach, clear of the water. I waited for the signal, then hobbled back into the water....but not before toppling over gracelessly, whacking my side in the process. From my prostrate position, I slithered into the water, all hope of dignity and grace now lost anyway, and swam back alongside Beth to begin the swimming.

However, whereas in the past, being in the water has resolved the seasickness, this time, my innards were too churned up to recover. Soon into the swim, I took a small mouthful of salt water by accident, and that was it...I was soon coughing, heaving and puking prodigiously - a sight / sound which my poor crew had to sit quietly through, offering up the occasional word of encouragement as I puked some more. Not the best start to a swim. Once I'd stopped being sick, I went straight back to swimming, but it was here that I made a series of mistakes. What I should have done is taken some time to get myself together, had a drink of water, and perhaps some mouthwash, and then restarted, gradually building up the strength of the feeds until I was back to normal. But instead, I panicked firstly about the loss of time / rhythm so early in the swim, and secondly about the loss of nutrition. So instead, I pressed straight on in a bit of a flap, determined not to waste any more time. The consequence of this was that when it came to the 1 hour feed, I forced down my regular 300ml of Maxim, eager to refuel after the sickness. However, this did not sit well on an already churning stomach - a problem which was now compounded with a new problem - acid reflux. So, for the next 6 hours, I was burping up most of the feed I was taking in; plus, every feed brought a burning pain in my chest and throat from the acid reflux. It was a tough few hours in quite choppy conditions with a five foot swell in parts, and I was worried that if this problem didn't resolve, I wouldn't get enough energy to complete the swim. But I decided that the only thing to do was to press on, and I chose to ignore the problem instead, including not telling the crew and keeping up as positive a demeanour as I could muster. Sometimes, denial really does work...although for future swims, I will definitely make sure that I've got some antacid on board in my drug box.

So, it wasn't the best start to a swim, and the sickness early on had quite far-reaching effects in terms of my digestive system, and I really feel like it slowed me down quite a bit in those early hours. But nevertheless, it was nothing that couldn't be ridden out, and eventually things started to get better as the water flattened out, the sun came up, and my insides started to settle (helped along by a water-only feed that I should have asked for hours before). At 7.5 hours, I was told that I was over half way, and even though this was a slower time than I had been hoping for, this gave me a huge boost. It was time to put that difficult start to the swim out of my mind once and for all, knuckle down, swim hard and get myself to that beach.

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