Eight islands off the coast of Southern Califorina; eight world-class marathon swims. From gateway swims (12.4 miles from Anacapa) to greatest-ever swims (61.2 miles from San Nicolas). From well-trodden paths (275 swims to/from Catalina) to virgin waters (San Clemente and San Nicolas). A swim for every budget, ability, and ambition.
The Ocean’s Seven will soon have its first conqueror, most likely later this year. What will be the next epic challenge? For U.S.-based marathon swimmers – especially those on the West Coast – the SoCal Eight would have to be enticing. Residents of Southern California could potentially do all eight without ever setting foot on an airplane or in a hotel.
Who wants to be the King and Queen of the Santa Barbara Channel? This is (quite literally) the “Wild West” of marathon swimming. It’s yours for the taking…
For more information about swimming to, from, around, or between the Channel Islands, please consult the SBCSA’s website, Openwaterpedia entry, Facebook page, or Twitter feed. You can also subscribe to the SBCSA newsletter.
And now, a few words about the CCSF and SBCSA annual banquets (before the memories are too far from mind). Rob already wrote a fairly authoritative recap – to which I don’t have much to add.
Despite the recent surge of interest and participation in open-water swimming, marathon swimmers are still a rare breed – and our efforts are distributed across the globe. It would be unusual for more than a few of them to be in a room at the same time. How often, for example, would you be able to get a picture of the three great Clevelands together? (No relation – see picture at left.)
November 5th at the San Pedro Doubletree (a place I’ve come to know rather well this year!), the CCSF filled a large conference room with marathon swimmers (past and present) and their families. In a classy, inspiring ceremony emceed by Forrest Nelson, the Federation celebrated the successes of 26 solo swimmers, several relays, as well as Forrest’s own epic circumnavigation of the island.
It was a moving tribute to the courage of channel swimmers: the courage required to jump off a boat in the middle of the night, to leave the safety of land and offer oneself up to deep, dark, unknowable waters; swimming for as long as it takes to reach the other side.
Lynne Cox – perhaps the most courageous among us – gave a keynote speech without notes, holding the room spellbound for a solid 45 minutes.
Cindy Cleveland was finally recognized for her pioneering circumnavigation of Catalina in 1979. Here was this petite, unassuming lady… one of a small handful who might be included in the “greatest marathon swimmer ever” conversation. She got a spontaneous standing ovation – and I think she almost melted on the spot. It was adorable.
And so, with a certificate signed by Forrest Nelson, Paula Selby, and John York, I officially became the 212th person to cross the Catalina Channel. It was the 263rd successful solo swim (accounting for multiple crossings by the same individual) and the 24th-fastest in the C-M direction. The full, updated list of successful solo swims can be viewed here.
When things started winding down at the Doubletree, Rob and I headed across town to Acapulco Restaurant to attend the board meeting of the Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association. I’m super-excited to serve this organization, and mark my words: There will be some interesting things happening in the Santa Barbara Channel over the next few years.
Following the board meeting was the banquet, celebrating 7 solo successes – 6 from Anacapa and one from Santa Cruz. It was the second-biggest year ever for the SBCSA, behind only 2008. Many of the same faces were in attendance – a benefit of having the banquets on the same day in the same town.
Rob and I polished off the day at the Crowne Plaza bar, where we ran into Captain Bob and Three-Ring Mike. We reflected on our experiences and discussed the future. In marathon swimming, the end of the season can mean only one thing: Time to plan for next year!
The blog has been rather text-heavy lately. This post should fix that.
The Santa Barbara Ocean Ducks gather Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at Goleta Beach County Park, and Sundays at Butterfly Beach in Montecito (plus Saturdays in the summer). It’s a diverse, friendly group of folks, and even this late in the year you can expect to see 8-10 of us in the water during the week; more on the weekends.
Typically we head out in groups of 2 or 3 according to speed. There are a variety of possible swim routes. Here’s one of my favorites (click to enlarge):
From our meeting place next to the shower head (west of the restaurant and pier, east of the restroom), we make our way beyond the surf line, 100-150m offshore. Then we turn right, towards UC Santa Barbara and Campus Point. On the outbound trip, we try to maintain a constant distance from shore as we bend around the cove. In the image above I’ve noted four intermediate landmarks, which offer convenient turning-back points if someone is in a hurry.
The full trip to the east side of Campus Point is approximately 1800m. As seen on the satellite image, this location is actually a “false” point, beyond which there is a small cove that bends into the “true” Point. Usually the false point (or even a little before) offers a better turn-around spot, to avoid rocks and surfers – especially on big W or SW swells. Even on flat-ish days there’s often a nice little right-breaking wave at the Point – perfect for a bodysurfing interlude.
On the return trip we aim for a straight-line trip across the cove. If done correctly, this shaves 300m off the outbound distance. The north side of the pier (where it intersects with the beach) is the best sighting landmark. I usually make the 3300m (2-mile) round-trip in a little under an hour, including a bodysurfing break.
Here’s a short video I took near “the rock”:
It’s a beautiful little swim. There’s an occasional kelp patch to dodge, and perhaps a lone seal or pod of dolphins out for lunch; but for the most part, not much in the way of sea-flora or fauna.
A couple gratuitous Google Earth views of the swim:
Interesting historical note: this swim route partially retraces a favorite workout of Lynne Cox, a 1979 graduate of UC Santa Barbara. According to her memoir Swimming to Antarctica, Lynne would swim from the Goleta pier to Campus Point, then on to the next point (Coal Oil Point), and back – a 6.5-mile round trip.
I’ll go out on a limb and say: This may be the best video ever made about a marathon swim. At least, it’s the best one I’ve seen (and I’ve seen a few). Perhaps it’s more appropriate to call it a “short film.” The production values are that high.
The film, by Stephen Lewis, tells the story of Marc Lewis’ unprecedented 27.5-mile swim between Santa Rosa Island and the California mainland in 2008. It features 720p video quality, an imaginative soundtrack of Sigur Ros, The Ventures, Radiohead and Beethoven, stunning photography of the Santa Barbara Channel, and thoughtful interviews with Marc’s family, coaches, observers, and crew.
The cast reads like a “who’s who” of So-Cal marathon swimming. Carol Sing and Forrest Nelson as observers; David Clark as swim coordinator; Bob West, godfather of the La Jolla Cove Swim Club; Sickie Marcikic, head coach of UCSD Masters. Marc had some incredible folks supporting his swim; listen closely to what they have to say.
“The Crossing” captures the beauty of an open-ocean channel swim, but also accurately reflects the monotonous reality of swimming and crewing such a swim. It’s a long night on the boat for everyone involved. It’s 35 minutes long, but worth the time investment. I don’t know how it only has (at the time of this writing) 99 views. By comparison, my Catalina video – with iPhone-quality video, no music, and zero production values – has more than twice as many views in less than 2 months. It’s not right.
Just watch it (if you’re viewing this in a feed reader, you’ll have to click through to YouTube):
As a random sidenote, the finish line for the Santa Rosa swim, Coal Oil Point in Goleta (accompanied here by the swelling strings of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony) – is just a few hundred meters down the coast from “R” Beach, a favorite spot from my youth.
Correcting a bit of misinformation from the comments section of a recent post…
Tandem swimming is allowed on Catalina swims, so long as each member of the tandem is sanctioned by CCSF. This is from a CCSF official:
The CCSF recognizes a difference between a SANCTIONED swimmer and a COMPANION swimmer. Sanctioned tandem swims are allowed.
What’s at issue is the COMPANION swimmer, who typically knows the swimmer but has no relationship with the CCSF (eg application, swim history, insurance). For safety purposes, the CCSF wishes to limit that swimmer’s time in the water to a maximum of 3 hours in shifts no longer than 60-minutes. That’s more in accordance with English Channel standards. Different than Dover, a CCSF swimmer could– if they so desired– recruit 5 companion swimmers. Technically, they could rotate 1-hour legs for a 15-hour crossing (5x 3-hours). I have also pondered having a tandem event from the same boat: One solo swimmer going side-by-side with a 6-person relay. Though, it would take some serious synchronized swimming to make that feasible….
The SBCSA also allows for tandem swimming (with each swimmer being sanctioned), but has not yet followed CCSF in adopting a 3-hour limit on pace swimmers.
The SBCSA supports and sanctions open-water swims to, from, and between seven of the eight Channel Islands – all except Catalina, which has a separate governing body, the Catalina Channel Swimming Federation. There are a variety of interesting and challenging swims available to Santa Barbara Channel swimmers, ranging from Anacapa (25 successful solo swims) to San Nicolas, which has never even been attempted. A map of potential swim routes is available here.
The SBCSA website is worth bookmarking. For many of the successful swims there are written narratives or YouTube videos to accompany the entry. If you want to know what it’s like to do a marathon swim, you should be reading and/or watching as many of these as possible.
Are you subscribed to the SBCSA newsletter? If not, you can do so here.