Virgin Waters: Distances between and around the Channel Islands and the U.S. Mainland

The biggest season in the history of the Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association officially began yesterday, with a previously “undisclosed” relay crossing from San Clemente Island to the mainland – a distance of 54 miles.

Compared to the most famous Channel Island – Catalina – the remaining seven Channel Islands are still relatively virgin waters for marathon swimmers. Here are the number of successful solo swims, by island:

  • Anacapa to mainland (12.6 miles) – 25 swims by 23 individuals
  • Santa Cruz to mainland (various distances) – 8 swims
  • Santa Rosa to Santa Cruz (6 miles) – 2 swims
  • Santa Barbara to mainland (37.7 miles) – 1 swim
  • Santa Rosa to mainland (27.5 miles) – 1 swim
  • San Miguel to mainland (25.9 miles) – 1 swim
  • Anacapa to Santa Cruz (5.6 miles) – 1 swim

There are 80 possible swims between and around the eight Channel Islands (including Catalina) and the U.S. mainland. Only 11 of those have been conquered by solo swimmers. The following table shows the distances (in statute miles) for each of the 80 swims:


  • Abbreviations: ml = mainland; SM = San Miguel; SR = Santa Rosa; SCru = Santa Cruz; Ana = Anacapa; SN = San Nicolas; SB = Santa Barbara; Cat = Catalina; SCle = San Clemente
  • orange highlight = one or more successful swims
  • from [island] to [same island] = circumnavigation

Race Reports & Wrap-Up: Semana Nautica 2012

Saturday, 30 June 2012, 9am. East Beach.
3-mile Ocean Swim
Water temp: 61F. Air temp: 65F.

The course: Bathhouse –> Stearns Wharf –> end of East Beach –> Bathhouse
Wetsuits = DQ
An unusual east wind gave us a nice ride to Stearns Wharf. But then the real fun started: A 1.5-mile grind against the current & a head chop. At this point I was leading by ~20 seconds.
First out of the water, 1:27 ahead of a 2008 10K Olympic Trialist.
Santa Barbara News-Press article, Part 1 (click to enlarge)
Santa Barbara News-Press article, Part 2 (click to enlarge)

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Whirlpool Drill

Whirlpool Drill is one of my very favorite swimming drills – yet when I’ve shown or told people about it, I’ve been surprised how few have heard of it. It’s so much fun it almost seems like it shouldn’t be a drill. So here I am, sharing the wealth.

The other day I was doing a filming session off Santa Cruz Island (more on that later), and Whirlpool Drill was accidentally caught on tape! I was treading water, talking to one of the filmmakers, and a little whirlpool started to form near one of my hands. I got my interlocutor’s attention and made the whirlpool bigger for a few seconds while he kept the GoPro running. At one point, a stray piece of kelp was drawn into the vortex. Here’s the clip:

Basically, you scull your hand back and forth a few inches under water – rapidly, trying to maintain constant pressure against the water. If you’re doing it right, you’ll make a whirlpool! Bonus points for big and/or long-lasting whirlpools. Extra bonus points for keeping two of them going – both hands, at the same time!

Whirlpool Drill is basically a more focused, intense form of the various sculling drills, which are intended to reinforce a solid catch and “feel for the water.”

How big is your whirlpool?

My New Beach

I recently moved across town, and my new digs have one especially compelling feature: It’s walking distance from the Pacific Ocean! Fifteen minutes from door to sand: Two minutes along a sidewalk to the access trail; 11 minutes along a dirt path through an open-space preserve; two minutes down a cliff to the sand. As the crow flies, I’m about 2/3 of a mile from the water.

And it’s a gem of a beach:

Click to enlarge

Even on the sunniest days, it’s nearly deserted due to its vehicular inaccessibility. On the entire stretch of coast shown in the photo above (6pm on a weekday – prime-time for the after-work crowd), there were about five people. While tourists crowd the downtown beaches – East, West, Butterfly, and Leadbetter – this beach remains remarkably off-the-radar, even to many Santa Barbara locals.

I hesitate to reveal the beach’s name or location because – probably for good reasons – it rarely appears on the internet. But it shouldn’t be difficult to deduce with a little sleuthing, using the clues I’ve already provided.

Approaching the edge of the cliff, through a eucalyptus grove. 

My new beach is a special place; at certain times of the day, even magical. The water seems cleaner; the landscape more wild and natural. Without crowds, cars, or any sign of development, one feels more directly the magnificent power of the ocean; the vertiginous sense of standing on the edge of a continent.

Fancy a swim? 

I look forward to spending more time here.

Guest Post: Abby Nunn on winning the 2012 Manhattan Island Marathon Swim

Abby Nunn has had a big couple of months. In May, she graduated from Yale University with a degree in History of Science and Medicine. A scholar-athlete in the truest sense, Abby received the Kiphuth Award for highest GPA among varsity athletes – while specializing in distance freestyle for the Lady Bulldog swimmers.

Five weeks later, Abby became the 30th champion of the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim.

I got to know Abby through the Marathon Swimmers Forum, and have enjoyed keeping in touch as she prepared for her biggest swim yet (her previous-longest was the 12.5-mile Swim Around Key West).

One interesting bit of trivia about Abby is that she’s a 6-beat kicker – which is unusual for an ultra-distance swimmer. Back in March she asked the Forum: Is 6-beat kicking prudent for a marathon swim? Apparently, she had been advised that “trying to maintain [a 6-beat kick] for 7-8 hours is counterproductive/a waste of energy, if not impossible.”

Some Forum members agreed with this sentiment. I did not. If someone has been 6-beat kicking her entire swimming career; 6-beat kicking in training; 6-beat kicking in the 500/1000/1650 pool events; 6-beat kicking in 5km open-water races; 6-beat kicking around Key West — why would she fundamentally change her stroke for MIMS? 

People are different. Human bodies are different. Therefore, it seems obvious that individual swimmers’ adaptations to water – and moving through it efficiently – will be different. 6-beat kicking for 8 hours would not be efficient for me; perhaps it wouldn’t be efficient for most marathon swimmers. But that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be efficient for Abby.

You know how the story ends: Abby dominated MIMS – 17 minutes ahead of second place. And she 6-beat kicked the whole way. Even at the end, she was still pulling away.

Different strokes for different folks.

Abby graciously agreed to write a guest post about her experience swimming around Manhattan. I’m honored to publish it here.

Continue reading “Guest Post: Abby Nunn on winning the 2012 Manhattan Island Marathon Swim”