In 2018, I am planning my final 2 big marathon swims. On July 18-20, I am planning on swimming the Santa Barbara Channel from Santa Cruz Island to Oxnard, California, a distance of 30 km. This swim is similar to the Catalina swim, but 100 km further north, on the north side of Los Angeles. The water is colder and the currents stronger. The main reason for doing this swim is to complete the "California Triple Crown" (Catalina, Lake Tahoe and the Santa Barbara Channel). Only 7 people have completed these 3 swims - and no Canadians! I would also be the first Canadian to swim from Santa Cruz Island, which is the "crown jewel" of the Santa Barbara islands and an ecological and marine preserve in the Channel Island National Park.
During the window of August 16-22, I am hoping to fulfill a 20 year dream by swimming across the eastern end of Lake Superior, from Whitefish Point, Michigan to Pancake Bay, Ontario, a distance of 29 km. This is a new route. Only 2 people have swum Lake Superior before, down at the western tip of the Lake. In addition to the cold water (hoping for 15-19 deg. c) and big wave challenge, this swim is interesting because it passes less than 20 km from the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. Lake Superior is the largest freshwater lake in the world. The massive storms and waves are legendary.
For those of you who don't know me, I swam Lake Ontario the easy way in 1983 and the hard way in 1984, becoming the first person to have swum it in both directions. I "came out of retirement" to swim the English Channel in 2011. I won the Van Audenaerde cup for the toughest endurance feat of the year. In 2013, I was the oldest Canadian to swim the Catalina Strait in California. After swimming around Manhattan Island in 2014 (oldest Canadian), I became the first Canadian to complete the coveted Triple Crown of open water swimming (English Channel, Catalina Strait and Manhattan). In 2015, I was the first to swim between three provinces: from Nova Scotia north to New Brunswick and across the Northumberland Strait to Prince Edward Island. In March 2016, I fulfilled a 3 year long dream, to be the first Canadian (and oldest woman) to swim across the icy, treacherous Cook Strait between the South and North Islands of New Zealand. In August 2016, I swam across Cape Cod, becoming only the 9th person and the first Canadian to swim this historic Pilgrim route across the shark infested swirling tidal waters. On August 20-21, 2017, I was the oldest woman and the first Canadian to swim the length of Lake Tahoe from Camp Richardson, California in the south to Hyatt Beach, Nevada in the north, a distance of 34 kilometers. The major challenge was the altitude of the lake, at 6200 feet or 1897 m. (See links below for more detail).
I am pleased to be able to use this opportunity to raise money for Sashbear, an organization founded by Lynn Courey, whose daughter, Sasha, a swimmer with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), died by suicide in 2011. Sashbear funds education programs for therapists, families and in schools. I have dedicated my psychiatric career to the treatment and research of BPD, which has a suicide rate of 10%. More treatment programs and support for families are desperately needed in Canada. Please support my swims by donating to Sashbear. Thank you. http://sashbear.org/en/
Thursday, 13 September 2018
The waves were 1-2 meters on the way out to Santa Cruz Island in our beautiful 34 foot Hunter sailboat, "Emmanuel", so it took us over 4 hours to get there. Fortunately, they settled down, as the wind driven by the hot air mass during the day often does, near midnight.
I swam 400-500 metres to the rock cliff face of San Pedro point of Santa Cruz Island. There was a bit of wave action and I got a couple of small scrapes touching the wall. The first 2 hours were fairly calm with only gentle rollers due to the protection from the wind of the island. When we hit the wind, which was blowing a bit broadside and creating waves, I started to get chilly. I wasn't able to put lanolin on my upper arms and legs because of the zinc oxide and the only suit I could find in Ontario or California that was white was kind of skimpy and didn't keep me as warm as my suits usually do. The water temperature hovered between 66 to 70 deg F. For 2 hours, I tried to swim strong because I knew the conditions would get worse. The conditions certainly weren't as perfect as they had been the first time, but it was my only chance in the 3 days Captain Dawn had reserved for me.The last 2 hours before sunrise were very choppy, with waves up to a metre, when the wind switched to the west. This really hurt my shoulders and wrists. The paddlers were working hard and had to change more often than the 3 hours they had planned.
Sunrise was not very pretty as is was cloudy and a bit foggy. The winds got even worse with up to 1 metre "confused" waves coming from all directions. Evidently, there was also a current pushing me. On the tracker, the current appears to be pushing against the tide. The track is supposed to make a gentle reverse S curve with the tidal currents. From about 10-12 noon, it was a beautiful warm morning and the sun came out and the water was almost flat. The dolphins also came out to play. Five different groups went by during the swim. We were most excited by a group of about 100 that "stampeded" right through our flotilla. About 30 of them swam right under me! But then the sun heated the land and the onshore wind started and grew to a steady 14 knots with gusts up to 21 knots. Fortunately, even though the waves were up to 2 metres, they were large rollers and pushing me exactly in the direction we wanted to be heading. Between seeing the kayaker riding a wave 3 feet above my head and the stripes on my arms, I was getting flashbacks of Cape Cod. The last 11 kilometres were a challenge in swim-surfing and kayaking, but I knew all I had to do was keep surfing and the waves would eventually bring me to land. I also knew that the wind was helping increase my speed. I was a bit worried because Captain Dawn said it would get a lot worse. The pain in my wrists and shoulders came and went. When the going got tough, I kept repeating to myself, "nothing great is easy".
Captain Dawn knew a spot that was partially behind a break wall so I wouldn't have to swim through monster surf that could roll me. Of greater concern to me was knowing I'd have to swim through it to get back to the boat. Unfortunately, getting to that spot involved a bit of fighting the waves and this was really painful, especially for my left shoulder, so I wasn't able to keep up the pace they had been expecting. But I eventually got to the spot and surfed in through the 2 metre breaking waves to finish at Hollywood Beach in Oxnard in a time of 18 hours 45 minutes. My son surprised me by swimming in from the boat with the camera in a waterproof case to get the finishing photos. Then I succeeded in swimming through the surf and over 4 sandbars for about 300 metres back to the boat. Official distance 30.6 kms.
Although the water temperatures were lovely, the stiff breeze most of the night and day chilled me. There were periods where I felt fairly warm but the deep body chill from the pre-dawn hours never went away. The air also cooled as the sun set, making the finish cool. If I had to, I could have swum faster to keep warm, as I did on Lake Superior. However, the salt water was upsetting my stomach every time I tried to swim faster, so I figured keeping my feeds down was more crucial to success.
The President of Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association sent me this note:
"This swim has a few notable distinctions.
- First Canadian to swim Santa Barbara channel from Santa Cruz Island"
- Oldest woman to swim SB Channel from SC Island.
- First Canadian to complete California Triple Crown
- Oldest to complete California Triple Crown
- Longest duration swim from SC Island to mainland
- Longest duration combined California Triple Crown time (29 hours 12 minutes)"
I would like to thank Captain Dawn Brooks, who is the most cheerful captain I have ever met. She is also extremely competent and knows these waters and winds inside out. She can make detailed predictions about what the water will be like for the swimmer from only a few lines of weather report. I felt very safe with Assistant Captain Alicia always on the lookout for sharks. My "sister" Jodi DiLascio, was assistant observer and always on the deck with binoculars cheering wildly. The chief observer, Jim Cherry did a great job and he is easy going, too. My paddlers, Paula, my son and husband were brave in the face of huge waves. Thank you to everyone who made this swim a success. I think they had a lot of fun together, even though it was such a long haul.
Thank you to everyone who donated to Sashbear to reduce suicide and help families. It's not too late to donate if you haven't already. http://sashbear.org/en/events-main/events-2/making-waves-4-sashbear-lake-superior
Wednesday, 12 September 2018
More details tomorrow after I get a chance to touch base with the observers.
The unofficial time was 18 hours and 45 minutes. This is the longest time I've swum since Lake Ontario at age 28.
Thanks for all your cheering.
It's not too late to donate to Sashbear to celebrate my last long swim and the California triple Crown.