This past week I had the timely opportunity to crew (as a pace swimmer) for fellow MIMSer Cliff Crozier on his Catalina Channel crossing. Timely because my own Catalina swim is scheduled for exactly a week after Cliff’s (August 24-25). A chance to help a fellow marathon swimmer, and also conduct a “dry run” for my own swim a week later? Where do I sign up?
Kevin the Kayaker at Doctor's Cove
It was a valuable experience. Unlike Tampa or MIMS (my two other big swims this year), Catalina is a full-blown channel swim – in the open ocean, with volatile, unpredictable conditions; in 3,000 feet of water that’s home to all manner of marine life, including white sharks. Catalina swims also generally take place in the middle of the night – starting around midnight and finishing mid- to late-morning. It’s tough to swim 21 miles when your body wants to be sleeping. Swimming at night can be unnerving.
I got to experience all these things without the pressure of having to swim the full 21 miles myself. And I got to observe the process of a Catalina swim from a crew-member’s perspective - which, I hope, will help things go smoothly for my own crew next week.
And Cliff actually thanked me for it!
Cliff on shore at Doctor's Cove
The Outrider, one of two boats certified by the CCSF to escort swimmers, is a first-class operation. Next week I’ll be on the other boat (the Bottom Scratcher), and it will be interesting to compare them.
I managed to keep my dinner down on the boat, despite bumpy conditions. Bonine and ginger pills seem to work well for me. This is not to say I felt “good.” It was a relief to be in the water.
Swimming in open ocean at night is creepy. Swimming in 3,000 feet of water - for me, at least - is terrifying. Perhaps it always will be. But I think I’ll be better off during my own swim, having already taken the plunge on Cliff’s swim.
It’s tricky to pace-swim in the dark. The kayak and swimmer are lit only by glow sticks, and it can be tough to see them from water level. Especially when the boat is shining a bright spotlight right at you. During my first pace swim, from 1-2am, I kept bumping into Cliff or swimming off course, because I couldn’t see a damned thing.
It was interesting to note the effects of slowing my natural stroke rate to match Cliff’s pace. At marathon pace, I’m typically 60-65 SPM. While pace-swimming with Cliff, I was sub-50. And it felt awful - my stroke was constantly being thrown off balance by swells and chop. A higher, more rhythmic stroke rate helps keep me balanced in rough water. Remember, lower stroke rates aren’t always more efficient, despite what you may have heard.
The transition from dark to light, which I got to experience while pace swimming from 5-6am, is magnificent at sea.
I swam with Cliff for 2 hours, 40 minutes - two 1-hour shifts, a 30-minute shift from 9-9:30am, and the final stretch into the beach along with Rob. That’s 25% of Cliff’s final time of 10:41, so I estimate I got in about 5.25 miles of swimming (25% of 21 miles).
Cliff had a great swim. It wasn’t the time he had hoped for, but he soldiered on like a champ through conditions that the Outrider crew described as the worst they’d seen for a swim this year. We were all proud of him.
Crewing for a Catalina swim is exhausting. Probably not as exhausting as for the swimmer, though.
Rob D. is a mensch. He drove down from Pismo for Cliff’s swim, then again today for Lynn K.’s Anacapa swim, and then again next week for my swim. I can’t imagine he’ll have any trouble finding people to step up for him when he decides to embark on a channel swim of his own.
I’ll steal just this one photo from Rob (be sure to read his post!):
Jumping in for pace swim #3. Such grace! Photo credit: www.robaquatics.com