Wednesday August 28th ~ Swim Day = Boat Departs 9pm
The forecast for today is stunning, a clear night and no sign of fog, I wake up early and head to the top of the road to the local gym for sunrise yoga at 6:30am, a good exercise in quietening my mind, and getting loose for tonight’s big swim, after a sound night’s sleep I wake up at the crack of dawn , my mind kicking into overdrive on all that had transpired yesterday.
Manhattan Beach ~ Golden Sand and Deep Brown tans
Tuesday started with crew members Jen kimmich, Cynthia Needham and me walking the length of Manhattan Beach early in the morning, we were in awe of the many surfers and paddle boarders expertly manouvering the breaking waves, such a feeling of commradire as they bobbed on their boards waiting for the next set of waves to roll in, then there were the dads with their young kids, the kids eager to ride the next big wave to the fullest of their ability, I loved their enthusiam with each new wave, just plain BIG fun, that’s how I feel about each and every one of my swims.
Manhattan Pier ~ Sharks on Display
Next up a stroll along the Manhattan Beach Pier, at the end is The Manhattan Aquarium, a closed sign planted on the door, we peer in the windows to see a large artifical Great White Shark complete with a sign saying ,” please no sitting on the shark”. I notice the hours, open Mon- Friday 3-5pm and weekends. Finally there is a cool world map with a blue line around all coastal areas in the world where Great Whites are found, ” Oh dear ” I say to Jen & Cynthia, look at the blue along the California Coast, we laugh, “look at New Zealand”, we all say in unison, the entire coastline is massive shade of blue, “swam all the time in the sea as a wee nipper, no shark worries”, I say to Jen and Cynthia……. Jen does not look convinced.
Round the back side of the Pier we come across a fisherman with multiple rods cast, ” Hi, having any luck today?”, I ask, he immediately bursts into an array of sentences, at the end of it all I catch, ” and then I caught a 5 ft Baby Great White right here, they were pulling them out all along the beach yesterday and tagging them”, he says with a VERY wide smile, he inhales and adds, ” look here in the photo”, with that he pulls out his phone and displays a large shark, “Wow”, I reply, “I’m swimming out there tomorrow, I point to the Catalina Channel”, the fisherman’s eyes narrow and he purses his lips ” sharks in the water, sharks in the water”, he repeats, while pointing his arm out to sea, all while flashing the shark photo in my face as if perhaps I did not see it on the first viewing.
We snap a photo, and wish him good luck with his day’s fishing, ” Good Luck to you in the water”, he says. We walk back down the Pier, ” we should watch jaws tonight”, Cynthia says amongst a frenzy of laughter, we all laugh and decide that that is more than enough shark talk for the week.
A Dry Run to the Dock
We wrapped up the day by picking up the kayaks from the most welcoming of Long Beach locals, Sue and Bruce Foat, Sue a swimmer herself cooked us up a terrific lunch, here we are loaded up ready to go…left to right is Jen, Cynthia, me, Sue & Bruce Foat.
Final stop a dry run to the dock and checking out Outrider, what a fine boat..
Wednesday ~ Eat, Sleep, Eat
Back to today, Wednesday, the day to motor to the Big Swim, ” you want some breakfast Charlotte”, Jen asks “that’d be great, already had one breakfast but I’ll take another” I reply,” how many eggs?” she asks, ” Ahh 7″, before I know it they are on a plate in front of me and ….down the hatch.
With my tummy full of food it is now time for me to rest up, here is the challenge…to keep me low key for the day, I am wired to hit the ground running full steam ahead each day, today is different, nice and easy, the girls set me up on the couch with a bag of chips, a gossip magazine, TV remote and my phone, ” Phew, this being lazy is hard work”, I joke ” and rather dull” I add, ” I have to take a photo” says Jen, ” I’ve never seen you sit still before!” Smile couch potato…
Meanwhile the girls bustle about getting the final crew supplies and feeds ready for tonight’s swim, first they head out to the store to pick up final supplies, then back to pack and label everything, I move from the couch to the bed, my schedule says rest 1-4pm, I do my best at closing my eyes…
The rest time goes fast, there has been no rest for Jen and Cynthia, they are packed up tight ready to go, 5pm arrives we all put on our sea sickness patches, they need to be on 4 hours before we board the boat, I have never been sea sick before and I am not taking any chances of tonight being the first.
Next up 2 lbs of beef and another 7 eggs, down the hatch…
My gear bag is packed, my health insurance card and drivers license are in a seal tight bag, I am excited and ready for battle, bring it on Catalina Channel, I have this gut feeling I am about to embark on an adventure unlike no others.
The sun sets as we drive to the dock, we are singing away to the California playlist I made for the trip, ” California here we come”, then we see the lights of the dock, Jen and Cynthia muscle through unloading all the gear, I introduce myself to the guys on the boat.
Pre Departure Safety Meeting
Finally we are all on board, Barbara Held, one of the two Catalina Channel Association Observers, David and Danny the boat Captains and Micheal,deck hand, who has the role of making sure we have everything we need, super impressive crew! David sits us down to go over the safety features of the boat including life jackets and life boat, he asks us our plan for feeding, my estimated swim time and makes a point of telling us that a swimmer is never to swim along ahead of the boat alone. “Any questions”, David asks, ” Yes ” says Cynthia with a smile, with that she makes a shark fin with her hands above her head, we all laugh, ” what?”, David asks, ” You know, sharks ” replies Cynthia, ” We have never had a shark encounter, nothing to worry about”, he adds. “I have a question, what’s the shore like at Catalina Island, is it clear where I go”, I ask, “Yes, you swim in, there’s thick kelp, you can get tangled in it so be careful and also there’s a buoy, you can go over or under it”, David replies calmly, ” Barbara chips in ” go over you can get caught under “, satisfied with the answers I make a mental note to not dive under anything unneccessarily swimming into Catalina Island!
Next up is Barbara, time to read over the Catalina Channel Association rules, Barbara reads the rules, which include that the swim officiallt starts once I leave the shore of Catalina Island, I may wear only a bathing suit, one cap, ear plugs, goggles, no aids or flotation devices and no assistance from the boat apart from feeding, I may not hang on the kayak or escort boat and an escort swimmer may be allowed to join the water only for an hour preiod at a time. She reads through the final rules and looks up at me, I know you know this, you follow the rules, I nod my head, in reply. Finally, ” Forrest, will be joining us by Water Taxi”, say Barbara, Forrest is anther observer, I am yet to meet, I head down below to get some sleep, it is a 2.5 hour journey to Catalina Island, I lay down in the bunk, the water is swishing alongside the bow of the boat right by my head, the boat is creaking as it rolls from side to side, ” funny, I remember the forecast saying calm and clear”, and with that the boat rocks me off to dreams of dolphins swimming alongside of me, it feels like they are a baseball mit and I am the ball, I feel cozy…
Rise and Shine Time to Swim
“Time to swim Charlotte, 30 minutes”, Jen’s voice is right in my sleepy head, I open my eyes, it’s time, I climb up the stairs to the cabin and begin making final preparations, I lay out my light sticks, sun lotion and grease, Cynthia is all geared up to Kayak, she is going to paddle to my right with the boat to my left for the first few hours..
Jen applies my final layer of lotion, I pull my cap over my head, before my ear plugs go in I catch the boat captain saying ” squid hatchlings everywhere out here”, I secure my ear plugs and from then on hear only the slow steady sound of my breath, the crew continue to bustle around me, Jen is applying grease thickly on my suit straps, neck, thighs, armpits, Michael is helping get Cynthia and the kayak in the water,” it’s time” shouts David the Captain, I have already let him know that I am not a jump in fast gal, I am a “piddle about” getting in swimmer.
Kiwi In the Water
I peer over the side of the boat, next I go over and peer over the other side of the boat, all I can see is the black, there is no difference between the sky and the water, it is all pitch black, “Where is Cynthia?” I think, as I move towards the swimmers platform off the back of the boat .
” Is she going?”, I hear someone shout, I step onto the swimmers platform, it feels cold on my bare feet, ” Relax, take your time and enjoy the ride”, I give myself one final pep talk of lessons learnt from past swims, the corners of my mouth curl up in a small smile ” what fun”, and with that I sit on the platform, dangle my feet over the side, take one last look into the blackness, and slither into the water, I feel the swell move me away from the boat.
Blackness surrounds me as I swim away from the comfort of the boat, I see a spotlight and swim towards it, then the thick leathery kelp David had told me about is under my body, I pull through it with my hands, I half swim, half crawl up onto the shore, with the water cleared I turn to face the lightsof the boat and raise my hands signalling that I am on the Island of Catalina, cheering erupts from the boat and I step into the thick kelp covered sea, my Catalina Channel swim has begun!
The water is jostly, the swell unpredictable, the only consistant thing is the small slither of moon, Cynthia is a mere dot of blue light, she appears and disappears with the roll of the ocean, the swell picks me up and rolls me like cork towards her, with the next stroke I am picked up by another swell and tipped in the opposite direction towards the boat which is on my left, I evaluate the here and now, ” no calm seas right now, kick it in Kiwi, this is what you trainined for”, I think, I am in for a battle and I am not about to back down, I drive my head down and attack each and every stroke with all my determintaion.
I swim on through the dark night, my body and mind feels freight train strong,” here is where I am at, at least another 6 hours of night swimming, you love the waves, lets get dig it in and enjoy them “, with a positive outlook reinforced I roll to breathe just as a rouge wave hits my mouth, a mouthfull of salt water goes down the hatch, ” Rats”, I think, “I’ve gotta minimize that”, I breathe to the left in the hope that it is a clearer shot for air and swallow yet another gulp of salt water, ” regroup time”, I ride my body a little higher in the water to better clear my mouth from the sea when breathing and swim on. ” Now time to manage the space between me, Outrider and Cynthia and I will be all comfy and settled in for the night swimming ahead, my performance zone is just around the corner”, I think.
Will I settle into cosy night swimming or will the dark of the night lure out yet another challenge?
I’ll Keep You posted! Here’s a hint… SHARK
Closing Thought: NEVER GIVE UP, difficulties strengthen the mind, as workouts stengthens the body.