As we motor out past the breakwater and feel the first dark swells of the open ocean I make my way below and get settled into the recommended bunk. It is the one transverse to the long axis of the ship, that way the swells rock you like a baby in a cradle rather than head to toe. My oldest daughter Kelly comes below as well and soon the few of us that could tolerate the motion below decks are "horizontal". Trying to sleep before a big athletic endeavor entails coping with a strange cascade of thoughts and images that slip, slide and wiggle through your head as you try to remain calm and think good thoughts. I try to think of bright, dry, desert-like settings... I will get to think about dark, wet, ocean-like soon enough. It is 9PM and we are aboard the Outrider, a comfortable 50' sportfisher, captained by John Pittman. This is the same boat that our Catalina Channel relay team consisting of Emily Evans, Marianne Brems, Michele Santilhano, Virginia Justice, Lorraine Sneed and I had used last year. With us as observer from the Catalina Channel Swimming Federation is accomplished ocean swimmer Forrest Nelson. Forrest was with us last year as well, and it was the relay that planted the seed for this effort. The relay was a fun event, with great swimming on a calm sea with no wind. The relay was a test run for Michele, who would have a successful crossing a few weeks later. Two of us, Emily and me, began thinking about solo attempts. I needed a little prodding from Michele, but six months ago I finally took the big step of reserving a date with the Outrider. I was well behind Emily, she had already booked the boat for an early August date. Emily would go on to successfully cross in ~9:35, wow.
have thought John had just announced we hit an iceberg. I find my wife Katy and sister Elaine looking pale at the rail. Bummer. They have been sick for a long time. Elaine is a trooper and starts to help me get ready, which includes some comedy while attaching the glowsticks that will allow the crew to keep track of me in the dark. I'm worried about Katy, she does not look well. Soon I am ready to go, suit/earplugs/cap/goggles/glowsticks in nervous procession. From the swimmers point of view, this is not a complicated sport. Finally, some A&D lotion for the chafe spots and to make myself a fragrant delicacy for whatever creature of the deep might be attracted to a pale thrashing, fleshy creature that smelled faintly of cod-liver oil.
My dominant emotions are relief, disbelief and gratitude. Relief because, lets face it, this sort of endeavour is a big investment in time and energy from a lot of people. You really don't want to let them or yourself down. Disbelief because, growing up as an athlete in Southern California, even as a runner not a swimmer, I was well aware of Lynn Cox and her swims. Although my humble crossing pales in comparison to her exploits, for me it is like a tip of the hat to her and the dozens of "real swimmers" who have hammered across the channel so expertly. I swam the Catalina Channel! Finally and most importantly, gratitude to the folks who have selflessly helped me in what is essentially a selfish endeavour. The crew of the Outrider led by John Pittman are real professionals. Forrest Nelson and Peter Attia both set me straight on nutrition and training. My friend Karl Ehlert who never hesitates to sign on to one of these adventures and paddled on training swims including the Santa Barbara Six Mile. My friend Tom Markiewicz who is smart, steady and good to go. Thanks to all my Channel Relay teammates and Menlo Masters teammates in particular Marianne Brems who got me out swimming at Coytote Point on more than one occasion and joined me on the Santa Barbara 6 mile, and of course Tim Sheeper for his inspired coaching. Special thanks to my sister Elaine who worked all day, then stayed up all night on her birthday to help me on this crossing. My daughter Kelly(19) who paddled FOREVER during training, as well as daughter Allie (17) coping with the 1st week at Berkeley, daughter Shelby (14) coping with Hell Week in water polo, and Mostyn (9) coping with his crazy dad.
I dedicate this swim to my wife Katy who, as everyone who has met her knows full well, is the nicest and most supportive woman in the world!