October 1, 2012

Thursday, September 27th, was a big day for the A Long Swim team. That was the day that we swam the 21 miles of the Catalina Channel, from Catalina Island to Palos Verdes Peninsula in California. Here it is Monday and I am just getting to write about it, because this is one of the first times I can lift my arms well enough to type.

Catalina is a very challenging swim. It is every bit as challenging as the English Channel, and deserves its reputation in the open water swimming community as one of the most difficult swims in the world. Last Wednesday, I hadn’t given Catalina its due; on Friday, I was a believer.

I will do a more complete write-up about the whole experience, but here are some of the sound bites:

  • We started a couple hours later than we had originally expected due to some calendar coordination, the result of which is that we hopped into the water at the Island about 12:45 a.m. on Thursday.
  • The water was 68 degrees most of the way, which was cool but manageable. We had heard about the temperature drop in the final three miles, when the water temperature dropped to 64. Maybe because it was so abrupt, or maybe because I was running out of gas, it felt a lot colder than that.
  • I had done a series of calculations prior to the swim, and had come up with these expectations:
  • My time window would be between 10 and 13 hours, depending on conditions
  • The 21 mile swim would require 30,000 strokes
  • Conditions were perfect, and yet my time was at the upper end of the time window, and I took 36,719 strokes.

I have plenty of theories for why some of these numbers don’t make sense, but will talk about that in the longer write-up. In the final analysis, it may not even matter; our goal was to see if we could swim to the mainland, and I am pleased to report that we achieved the goal.

The crew on the escort boat was outstanding. My son Gordy had referred to them as the “B Team,” but they sure performed like they were All-World that night. In addition to all of the regular team responsibilities (feeding, stroke counting, log keeping, general fretting) they also did rotating shifts in a kayak that provided a lane in which I could swim. Paddling a kayak. In the open ocean. In pitch black darkness. That takes a strong constitution, and they never flagged.

The other key goal of A Long Swim has been fundraising, which has been another bright spot. Between last year and this year, we are right at $200,000 raised for the Les Turner ALS Foundation to fund ALS research. Wow.

I will post the longer write-up shortly. In the meantime, I am once again overwhelmed with the feelings of gratitude, humility and good fortune that allowed the A Long Swim team to be there in the first place. I am a very lucky guy, and never has it been more clear that in those 12 hours last Thursday.

I will report back.

PS - You start swimming the Catalina Channel around midnight and if you've done a good job by sunrise, the captain of the Bottom Scratcher, Greg Elliot, plays the bagpipes. On this morning he took a request of Scotland the Brave