And the water flattened out beautifully, enabling me to swim peacefully alongside my two hardworking kayakers, Beth....
During Scott's kayak stint, I suddenly noticed that everyone was lined up along the side of the boat looking out to sea. Before the swim, I had asked everyone not to stand and point if they saw wildlife because I would be worried about what was heading my way. Instead, I asked them just to give me a thumbs up to let me know that it wasn't anything scary, and then to enjoy. Anyway, they were all amazing and once I'd got the okay signal from Scott, I felt absolutely fine about it as they discretely snapped away. I assumed that it was dolphins, but no...a blue whale. A BLUE WHALE!! It was a brief visit, and this is the best picture that we've got of it - the black stripe on the picture is its back arcing through the water. I know it's not a great image, but trust me....it's a blue whale! How amazing is that. (I didn't see it, and to be honest, I'm glad that I didn't as I was happier not thinking too much about the wildlife....but I'm so glad it came to join us).
And then, gradually, the coast came into sight and now feeling happy and strong, I upped my stroke rate a little to speed things along (from 58 in the first half of the swim, rising to 65 towards the end). I gave in to temptation and took a couple of naughty peeks at the coastline, and at one point protested to the crew that the land mass seemed to be reversing. But in spite of this, we gradually crept closer and closer to it, until I felt the distinctly colder waters of the coastline. In previous years, this has been in the 50's, but I was lucky, and it was only about 62 degrees, which I was more than comfortable with...plus I knew that it meant that I was getting close.
And suddenly, there was a flurry of activity on the boat as the swimmers on the boat (Ranie, Scott and Jen) got ready to swim in with me. Then I heard them swimming up behind me, and I felt a rush of elation as I knew that I had made it.
After a few more minutes, I could see the rocks below me, and then I was pulling myself over them into the shallows. I had made it....except for the final challenge of getting out and clear of the water. I managed this with an inelegant combination of crawling and staggering...
Until finally....I was there!
I could hear everyone cheering and clapping, andI was almost in tears with relief that, in spite of the difficult start, I had made it. And then I turned round to see this...
Completely unbeknown to me, Scott, Debbie and Quinn (who I'd been staying with) had been cooking up a surprise for me, and while Scott was on the boat with me, Debbie and Quinn drove down to San Pedro and were waiting on the beach with this beautiful banner (having recruited a passing stranger (the woman on the right) to help hold it up while Deb took photos). I couldn't believe it when I saw them - what a perfect surprise.
I plonked myself down on a rock and just took it all in - the beautiful cove, new and old friends all enjoying the moment with me, bright blue sky. Perfect.
And so it was done - I swam the Catalina Channel in 14 hours and 11 minutes. A good day on the water.
As with all long swims, the swimmer's name goes on the list, but behind them stand a whole host of people without whom the whole venture would be impossible. It was an amazing team effort, and I am enormously grateful to the many people who made it all happen:
- Scott, Debbie and Quinn, who provided boundless hospitality, logistical and material support, and the most beautiful swim crate and congratulations banner any swimmer could hope for.
- Ranie Pearce, Jen Schumacher and Denise Devereaux who, along with Scott, were my fantastic support crew on the boat. What a team.
- Beth Barnes, who kayaked for hours.
- The two official CCSF observers, Rob and Don, both of whom were enormously helpful and supportive throughout.
- The captains and crew of Outrider, who got us all there safely.
- All my training companions in Dover, Jersey and the Midlands, plus, of course, Freda Streeter and the whole beach crew down in Dover.
- And Peter, who sadly wasn't able to come out for the swim, but who has been endlessly supportive and enthusiastic about this project and who I know was watching from afar.
Thanks for a great day everyone.