Kachemak Bay a confusion of Press

Last month, before the Cape May swim, I was in Alaska.  I mentioned before I meant to be in the Bering Strait but instead I was in Ketchikan, Anchorage and Homer.  I was re-entering a dream from 2011 of plotting a course across cook inlet.  I got together with people from AOOS and Cook Inlet keeper and spoke to local fishermen and rig tenders trying to understand the interplay of tide and current, wind and water in a place with some of the largest tidal swings in the world.

With guidance from these sources I chose a swim across Kachemak bay as a trial run of our models and ideas.  Kachemak is bordered on one side by Homer AK, it opens into Cook Inlet and share the tides but it is the inlet writ small.  This bay attracts fish Orcas (and tourists) although Beluga whales used to frequent it, today they stay away, perhaps their reduced population is not enough to brave the Orcas (who will prey upon them).  Large ships sit behind the spit in Homer await a change in tide to help carry them up towards Anchorage.  The town is a tourist spot and near the west most point on the continental USA highway system.

The swim was quite interesting and at the end very cold where there is glacial runoff.  The runoff part was a bit of a surprise as its both very cold and freshwater floating on top of salt so the swimmer sinks.  Other than this surprise the rest was great.  The wind held off, we launched at the correct portion of tide and tidal current to be pulled a bit away from the land at the start and pushed towards at the end, until I encountered the glacial runoff which ran perpendicular to the ocean current pushing me along the land.

What came next was press.  I hadn’t’ dealt with the press in a while and hadn’t’ prepared a press release.  I thought it wouldn’t’ matter but in the end each tale was confused.  What is so: it was my birthday but not my 40th, I swam the bay solo, in the past a group of 4 and another group of 2 crossed on the same day in wetsuits, they were not with me at the time.  Liz organized that previous swim.  I also swam across Sitka sound solo, later we organized a race (Sitka sound adventure swim that became the change your latitude swim in later years).  http://www.anchoragepress.com/news/going-naked/article_f92f550e-1b50-11e3-8335-0019bb2963f4.html?mode=jqm

I love the graphics form this and the round-up of Alaska open water swimmers, in the past such a thing was unheard of!





On the Way to Cape May….or the adeventures in the C3 swim

Last week I travelled to New Jersey and all the way to Cape May for a brand new open water swim put on by JC Malik.  I was looking forward to meeting my online friends and seeing the beaches and light house.  As a child I had gone there once or twice and once later in life and had some faint memories of it so I wanted to revisit it “for old times sake” and what better way than to swim around it. Recently I had seen the lighthouse in a lace curtain my mermaid swim partner has in her new kitchen.

So I signed up for the inaugural “C3 swim” even though it was going to be longer than I’ve done in some time and hotter than I am used to.  It would also be a last event of an uncertain season.  So when I got back from Alaska I rushed to get in some longer swims in the now warmer waters of La Jolla.  Still as I arrived in New Jersey I was uncertain, I had missed a few last training swims due to various things and ended up in cooler water than I had hoped but this is always the way.

The Background

On Friday afternoon (Sept 13) I checked into the Grand Hotel, met Don who I had flown out to paddle for me and then a group of the swimmers for a little pre race dip.  After this we got to go on a whale watching boat (The Spirit of Cape May) to travel around the race course and see dolphins.  All of us were happy to meet eachother, a big group of swimmers and paddlers, nervous and quiet or chatty and confident.  As we motored around the course we discussed landmarks and plans, near the end we came upon an area known as “the rips”.  This is the confluence of the Delaware river basin waters it was a mildly chaotic area reminding me of tidal rips elsewhere with waves of @ 2feet in various directions. We thought ti was perhaps 500 yards wide and although it was calmer close to the beach it really just looking “interesting”  then we passed the grounded cement boat and it was not much farther to the finish line. We were told not to worry much about the rips with the forecast winds from the north “tomorrow” they would “lay down”

After the tour it was a rush back to the hotel to try to eat and prep and sleep before a 4:30 am wake-up call.  Unfortunately it was at this time I started to feel very sick, pounding headache, upset stomach etc.  I managed to layout feeds etc and get all the gear together and then passed out.  4:30 came early, my head had stopped hurting but I had a bit of a fever.  No matter, I got everything ready and we were off to Higbee beach. There the usual chaos kayaks and parking and getting ready in the dark but there was also a strong wind gusting, seemingly from the south.  Don’s VHF radio gave a small craft advisory but the winds were to die down later.

The Start

The start had all the confusion of a typical newer open water swim.  The number tattoos wouldn’t work right, numbers got swapped, and the first turn buoy kept drifting away in the wind.

Since we had to get past a ferry before 7:30 there was no way to delay so off we went.  We were all happy to get in the water because it was much warmer than the air but also it was murky and choppy.  As we came to the end of a very rocky jetty Don joined me.  We made a sharp turn around the jetty and dropped into the canal.  It was supposed to have a current pushing into it but at this time the current was pushing out, there seemed to be big chop and swell and suddenly Don yelled something and sprinted off.  I put my head down and headed up the canal, remembering there was a dredge that we were to go left of, I veered into the channel past the dredge I turned back towards the side and a safety kayaker seeing me head up sighting started asking where my kayaker was.  It turned out eh had gone to rescue a swimmer being swept into the rocks, he put his pride and joy-a lynx inflatable kayak into those sharp rocks to save the swimmer from being slammed into them by a big wake. He then sprinted back to the safety kayaker and me and we resumed.

On The Way

The first half of the canal swim was pretty, passing the ferry, various buildings etc.  Soon we were under the bridges and the current was finally running in our direction and running fast.  We soon came under the railroad bridge and sited for the Coastguard boat across the harbor.  This was a very chaotic period with several boats bearing down on us and Don sometimes having to go around me to ward them off, there was a fair amount of chop and wind as well as wakes adding to the confusion.  The ehat was also getting to me and my legs were cramping.  I made a deal with myself that I would make it out the canal and 2 feeds in the ocean and if I wasn’t better by then I could stop.  Past the harbor is a long jetty known as the coastguard jetty.  Long long rocky area where we were to hug the rocks with the layaker as a buffer.  Several times here (as well as earlier) I hit the bottom, the canal was not as deep as the charts indicated!

As we were travelling down the jetty the kayakers were told they could not stop for feeds so it was long hot and thirsty!  At last we rounded the jetty and turned into the sea.  It felt like the sea gave a final push to get us out but we turned into—a boat turning sharply into the canal and a major headwind.  Once the boat was avoided and our hearts stopped racing, we stopped for a feed and to try to spot some dolphins that were whistling a little way out.

We headed towards a water tower in Cape May propoer and soon got close to the beach.

Some small troubles

Apparently some kayaker got in trouble here and a safety boat approached us and stopped us to enquire as it turned out, Don had spotted a halted team and directed them.  We then proceeded to get closer to the beach.  At this point Don told me he needed to stop for a moment and would catch up so on I went perhaps 100 yards offshore, seeing the umbrellas and kids playing in the water.  My leg cramps were gone in the cooler water and other than the annoyance of chop constantly over my left arm, I felt great.

Twenty or so minutes later I started to wonder, where is Don?  There is a rapidly increasing headwind is it so strong he can’t catch me? Maybe he can’t see me?  I turned on my back, I could see him far behind slowly heading in my direction.  I resumed swimming but still no Don, I switched to backstorke again my body clock said it had been nearly 40 minutes now.  I saw the safety boat come near then veer off they soon joined Don I started swimming back towards them at this point.  In another 10 minutes (of grudging swimming back along the course, now with the wind knowing I’d soon have to go against it again) we joined up.  Don had gotten some bad cramps and had been unable to paddle strongly enough to overcome the distance and wind.

He was still not feeling all that well and I worried about him.  I had him drink some of my electrolyte mix and he seemed to perk up but from time to time would sag and the wind was blowing and blowing building, white caps and chop.

We continued on for some time like this then the radio on the kayak woke up.  When I stopped to feed I heard “missing swimmer” “bad conditions” ‘capsized kayaker”  next feed it was “scramble helicopter” “cant’ get to kayaks”  there were squall lines forming in the water.  I stopped and asked Don how he was he wasn’t looking great.  He said he was trying to get a replacement “in case”.  I told him I would be happy to get to the lighthouse and get a picture if he could do that we could always call it a day, the safety equation didn’t seem to be in our favor.  He agreed we would evaluate at the light house.  Now at las the current seemed to be pulling us along although still into a head wind (which made the chop steeper) the winds still building, clouds forming, we arrived at the light house quicker than expected.  Don had me pose for some pictures for my mermaid friend.

lt hse

The world falls apart

I asked about the race situation-swimmer still missing, I could see the helicopter, kayaks in trouble, Don said he could see some worse looking water ½ mile ahead.  We thought that must be the rips.  I asked him to call in and see what was happening and what the conditions were and if it wasn’t good to ask where they’d like us to go.  The answer was a confused scream about the rips, the coastguard boat swamping, can’t get out, closed to recreational craft no swimmers to enter.  We decided to head for the beach and wait to see what the problem was. Then someone called for a headcount.  Don stopped and radioed where we were and that we were going to head in but..it was too late.

I was swimming hard for the beach 100 yards or less off but I seemed to be going backwards, suddeny Don turned towards me and screamed “over the nose into the kayak NOW!”  I tried but my arms and legs were not cooperating after 13+ miles of swimming and cramping.  I turned to see what was wrong and could not understand wild walls of 6-10 foot water crashing towards us and chaos of whitewater similar to the kern river in flood.  There seemed to be some dolphins riding waves away from the center.  I turned back and said I can’t get in save yourself but what is it? Don said its bad very bad sprint!!

At that moment one of our safety boats came barreling out of the chaos the passengers screaming and gesturing to the beach.  Don yelled its bad hold on for your life.  I grabbed the nose as the first wall hit. We climbed up slammed down and the kayak started to breach.  I let go and yelled “you’re ok, your ok its fine” It sounded in my head like my mermaid friend telling her 2 year old not to cry and suddenly she was with me in those moments when the conditions turned bleak (Coronado).  I ducked under the next wall and there was another, I saw Don miraculously still upright and suddenly the coastguard boat slammed through the wave just missing Don, he screamed GET MY SWIMMER and pushed off the side with his paddle.  A lifering came sailing though the air and I heard “hold on with both arms we can’t stop or come back”  I held on and was pulled through the waves and wild water bouncing off my stomach like a “tube “ ride.  After an eternity that was probably less than 10 minutes I was pulled to the side of the boat.  I remember screaming is the prop off and I was yanked to the back and pulled over the transom, I heard yes then fell on the men lifting me  with a loud crunch and immediately we were back in gear and fleeing.  We then picked up another swimmer-Jia who was behind me and didn’t quite understand the problem but her paddler did and we headed all the way back into the channel to the Harbor View Marina where we waited for a long time to be picked up and were given drinks and sweatshirts by the owners who were very kind to these washed bits of jetsam.

harbor view

When we finally got back to the beach and were reunited with our paddlers Jia and I were very relieved (as was Don whose last view of me was as I was towed away clutching the life ring).

After the swim I asked those who were in the boats what really happened it was so strange as if the sea suddenly reared up into the sky and curled back to chase us.  I was told indeed this is the case.  All afternoon the wind had been blowing, the water was emptying out from the Delaware into the Atlantic as the tide changed the wind opposed it.  For hours it was relatively well behaved just ridges and ripples, still a challenge for tired swimmers in the 12th or 13th mile but quite manageable.  Suddenly the confluence went from large riffles and confused water to huge standing waves in every direction, they swamped the coastguard vessel.  Nearby boaters reported they tripled in size in moments from what the earlier swimmers battled through to this amazing “avalanche”.  The coastguard pilot is still amazed that the area suddenly grew so much in size and violence and confirms indeed the area expanded out in a moment but we were also pulled towards it.  I just couldn’t understand it in the moment it reared up like that.  I don’t know what would happen if I kept swimming through and the coastguard folks assure me it was a magical moment for them to crash through the wave right where I was because it was far too big for them to see us, they were just fleeing to prevent their own capsizing.  The Marina operator told us when the winds come as they did that day this happens at certain tides and “the rips” eat boats.  In part because the waves can stand over 10 feet high but bottom out into sand so an unwary boat will hit bottom then break up in the wave. They call them “green monsters”  I was also told that since hurricane sandy the shoals and water behavior in the area have changed for the worse and become much more unpredictable.

So it was a great swim with a strange ending.  It all worked out all the lost were found and lived to tell the tale and dream of future swims.  Perhaps someday we’ll tame the green monster! I imagine you could swim around there many times before getting that perfect storm of wind and tide!









one little post won’t be enough to cover all that has happened since Feb 2012 but I can begin!
In 2012 I was asked to join an international relay team that would swim from Russia to Alaska, this was a great honor and a great undertaking.  The year moved on towards summer with endless politics and plans, ups and downs.  In the meantime I was training in cold alpine lakes and rivers in snow and wind trying to find conditions that would replicate some of what we would face in the Bering sea.  The cold seemed real but the plan dream like.  I spent many hours researching conditions and currents and sharing them with the organizers of the team.

Catching Up

Last summer I broke my nose, it was sort of a sharks fault but mostly human error.  I’ll tell you about it soon.  Then I swam in Ketchikan and Sitka, helped host the race there.  When I returned I had surgery on the nose.  During recovery I interacted with some other good swimming friends from around the world and joined up with the Meeting of the Sun group forming an international relay team to try to swim across the Bering Strait.  I’ve joined with the organizing board to help figure out logistics.  There’s the incredibly cold water, the long distance from civilization but then the fun challenge of working with swimmers from all over the world.  I look forward to learning more about our brethren from Russia and the rest of Europe as well as Asia and South Africa.  Of course political issues are a concern and there are visas and permissions that the founders and their “angels’ have worked tireless to secure.  Now we are getting to the “fun stuff’ like press, training and fund raising.  More on that soon too.  I’ll get some pictures and tales from last summer up soon, now that i can breathe again!

RSDSA Fundraising

For my last swim this year I’m trying something in my Dad’s backyard.  Although its familiar and close to him it appears to be something that’s not been done before, maybe its not glamorous or not what everyone else does and that’s why?  I’m using it to raise funds for chronic pain research.  This is applied research, the RSDSA is holding a conference for researchers and practitioners  in the field who are using non-narcotic approaches (specifically glial nerve support).  They face an uphill battle introducing approaches that may actually make patients like me healthier as well as relieving pain. The approaches work for some with RSD, MS, and chronic pain but the drugs are often off patent and the approach is not being picked up by major drug companies.  So it’s a bit do-it-yourself and go against the common path just like my swim!  Your contribution will help bring these researchers together to share their knowledge on treatment of many complex patients including me!  It should help with understanding some of the mechanisms of pain, inflammation and perhaps even aging.  It will result in a more productive population, many of the sufferers now must be drugged and can’t work or raise a family or contribute to society.  So it’s a cause I am proud and happy to support.  My “practitioner” is Dr. Nancy Sajben and contributions can be made through her website (link here- if the link does not work paste it into your browser)  see the sidebar for more information!

Brand New Historic Sitka Challenges

Its been a long winter since my last post.  I’ve been working with Dave Nevins on organizing the Sitka Sound Adventure swim (http://www.sitkaadventureracing.org/AdventureSwim/AdventureSwim.html).  This will be a fun 10 km (6 mile ) swim in the protected waters of the sound near Sitka (not a crossing like my Aug swim but a nice adventure for all).  
For anyone who has a chance to work in cooler water and enjoys this distance, consider this swim in historic sitka with some great activities such as a harbor tour also planned.  Sitka is a great place to start your Alaska adventure, then head over to Ketchikan for the 8th annual Pennock Island Challenge (8.2 miles of fun swimming or create a relay team).
This winter I also helped form a virtual swim team-Team Rogue but the wave has stirred up lots of muck and we’re waiting for clearer water to swim on!  Also since Jan 1 I’ve been seeing lots of dolphins, more on that soon!

Sitka Sound and Stealth Swims

I see the Sitka Sound swim news is starting to make the news circles all over the world except right here in California .  Here I’m still a “stealth swimmer”.  So in my stealthy fashion I went out with a fellow swimmer for the San Diego coastal swim mission.  The theme of this swim is to swim new places with friends.  I started in November 2007 with people training for the George Young Memorial Relay that we were organizing.  We started near the middle of the county.  I studied the map and selected different areas of the coast for different training swims depending on my needs and the tides and currents (I was sometimes wrong about those).  At least 10 different swimmers from all over the US have joined me on these swims and we’ve covered the county coast now from Oceanside Harbor to Silver Strand state beach.  I did not swim across the channel mouths as I was told by the lifeguards that this is illegal and they were not happy about people trying.  Instead I swam as close as possible to each side (usually tagging the jetty) and if possible swam in or out of the mouth (eg San Diego Harbor its legal seaward of ballast pt so I swam from OB to there).  This swim is not a purist swim, if one swimmer is faster the other uses fins, when it was cold we sometimes wore neoprene caps but we didn’t wear wetsuits or other types of wimpy contraband. 
Last weekend I picked off a little piece from N beach in Coronado to the Zuniga pt jetty, I had been south of there but missed that bit.  So we headed off to pick it off.  The water was hot (the hot down here had been hard to take after the Alaska swims) but we managed.  We confirmed that we must stay 100 yards off the navy beach so we headed out and out finally crossing to the breakwater .  No one seemed to be in the water although the beach was mobbed.  We fought the current out but had a nice ride for the two miles back, the dolphins didn’t’ show until we got back on the beach!  With that down its only the very ends of the county left! 

Claudia Rose