Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Catalina Channel swim video

I've put together some bits of video and some stills from my Catalina Channel swim. Enjoy.

Swimming with the seals...

I went for another lovely swim today, this time with a group of regular morning swimmers. We did a gentle mile or so, pausing at the buoys to enjoy the scenary and to let any stragglers catch up. A gloriously social swim, punctuated by various wildlife sightings - first, a bat ray, gliding smoothly below us, and then, a playful harbour seal. It "bumped" a couple of swimmers, then frolicked quite happily around us. I put my head under to watch, and found myself face to face with it and couldn't help but laugh. As we swam back towards the beach, it was tailing me, nudging my feet.

Later on, I wandered along the sea front, looking at the piles of seals lazily sleeping on the rocks, stopping to take some pictures. Cute, cute, cute.

After the morning swim, I went for something to eat with a very long-standing member of the La Jolla Cove swimming community, Bob West, who gave me this beautiful, hand-made Gariboldi fish to hang in my car. Gorgeous, and it will make the perfect addition to Bob when I get home.

Everyone's been incredibly kind and hospitable, plus I've got several research interviews set up already, so it's all going really well.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Let's swim over to where the sharks are....

"Let's swim over to where the sharks are". This isn't a sentence that I ever thought I would be pleased to hear, especially while in the water, but by the time Anne Cleveland uttered it during my first dip in La Jolla Cove, I was feeling positively blase about the whole wildlife thing - after all, you have to trust local knowledge about what's safe and what's not...and how often do you get to see a nursery of (perfectly harmless, but still very sharky-looking) leopard sharks? We swam in to the shallows where they are known to hang out, and I was still trying to get my head around the warning not to put my feet down because there were stingrays on the sea floor when the figure of a leopard shark, probably about 4-5 ft long, drifted lazily along the sea floor below me. I have to confess that I felt a momentary jolt of fear when I saw it - I am of the generation for whom "Jaws" was the primary reference point for ocean swimming in the US after all - but it was also incredibly beautiful, and I suddenly found myself scouring around hoping to see more. Who would have thought it?

We then finished our swim by heading through some caves and arches, passing between two stone platforms, each with a slick pile of sea lions on them, barking and craning their necks upwards, trying to look impressive and intimidating to their competitors. Below the surface, bright gold gariboldi fish, about the size of a hand, bobbed about lazily among the weeds and rocks, along with a host of other less strikingly coloured, but equally numerous fish.

I am starting to see now why the local swimmers don't have that fear of aggressive wildlife that I arrived with - they know about the possibility, of course, but their everyday experience is of this fairly benign aquatic menagerie. For me, it was a revelation to be able to be around sea life without feeling afraid (albeit accompanied by knowledgeable and confident locals). An amazing swim.

Catalina Channel - Part II

And so...after a difficult few early morning hours, everything got better and I started to feel much more like my old self in the water. The feeds started to slip down more easily....

And the water flattened out beautifully, enabling me to swim peacefully alongside my two hardworking kayakers, Beth....

And Scott....

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'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 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.

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.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Greetings from California

I'm finally here in California, hanging out with my lovely friends, Scott and Debbie, and their daughter, Quinn for a few days before we head down to LA on Tuesday evening for the swim. I had my first dip in the Pacific yesterday - a gentle hour along a line of buoys, set out for swimmers along a beautiful beach. I have to admit that I found the first half hour a bit challenging - there were long, dark strands of kelp reaching up to the surface and I was having trouble keeping my imagination in check...both when the kelp brshed againts me unexpectedly, and also when the dark shadows they cast under the water caught the corner of my eye. I was swimming with Scott, which really helped, and then he got out and I carried on for another 30 mins, by which time I was feeling much calmer and happier. Lovely.

But the most important bit of news is....look what I got! Waiting for me when I arrived was this swim crate, perfectly decorated by Quinn. How could I fail to get across!

Friday, 8 July 2011

Happiness is...

Happiness is....a bit of banana, a cup of Maxim and some long-awaited sunshine. Thanks to Nick Adams, who took this fun pic of me last weekend looking very pleased with my feed.

Feed-related pleasures aside, it was another successful weekend, with some wonderful, calm and sunny weather. I managed a couple more 6 hour swims....although one of those was split into two because it was the Dover Festival and we had to get out for a bit over lunch time while the lifeboat and rescue helicopter came to do a display. A good weekend.