80 mile swim in the Cayman Islands in June.
I've been getting some questions about channel swimming and the crazy folks who do this kind of thing. Before I answer the few questions I know something about, I would like to direct you to the blog that Penny and her husband Chris write, Penny and Chris Palfrey Marathon and Open Water Swims and to the website The Daily News of Open Water Swimming expertly edited by the man who knows more about open water swimming than anyone: Steve Munatones.
As a Lifeguard, triathlete, paddler and surfer I have a lot of experience in the ocean and often lead the way on adventures of my own but with this open water swimming I am quite happy to be on the support crew. I'm still kind of an outsider but this gives me some unique perspectives on these incredible athletes.
How scared are they at the start? When Bill and Forrest left a dark west side of Molokai beach at 1am and dove into the Kaiwi Channel, they seemed no more concerned than if they were going on an afternoon swim in a backyard pool. Penny too on her Kauai attempts. Determined and focused, yes, scared or nervous, no. These are experienced and well trained athletes doing what they love to do.
The swimmers have a boat and paddler? How does that work? Safety is the number one concern. A boat is always part of the deal and carries supplies and crew. Its not easy. If you are prone to seasickness don't volunteer. The boat stays as close as it can to the swimmer, provides navigation and is charge of the feedings. The paddler is just one step closer, staying as close to the swimmer as possible without interfering. Some swimmers use a "Shark Shield" an electric gadget that hangs over the paddleboard or kayak and emits an electronic pulse that annoys the sharks so they hopefully go away. This is only good within nine feet so the paddler has to stick close to the swimmer. I've done it on both a kayak and a paddleboard and while the considerable drag of the shark shield is easier to deal with on the kayak, I can stay closer to the swimmer with the paddleboard. Perhaps that's because I have much more experience on a paddleboard and I worry I might hit the swimmer (in rougher water) with the paddle or the kayak itself. I also feel if necessary I could get off that paddleboard faster and get to the aid of the swimmer.
Sharks? As a surfer, paddler and someone who spends a lot of time in the ocean, I do feel qualified to answer this one. I really don't think about them unless I see one. I don't think they want to eat me. Generally I'm not worried. But they're out there and are the top predators in the ocean and deserve a lot of respect. The channel swimmers I know are concerned but not to the point of not swimming. I've seen a few while escorting these swimmers and of course we all remember Mike Spalding an his encounter with the Cookie Cutter Shark and Penny told me stories of seeing Great Whites off California. The "Shark Shield" and various other devices give a little piece of mind but I think you have to believe you're not on the menu or you'd never try this -especially swims that start or finish in the dark. Jellyfish are much more of a concern.
I'll be getting messages out on twitter as I can on Friday. They will be shown on the upper right of this blog.