Wednesday, March 9, 2011

More Channel Swimming

On Friday March 11, Penny Palfrey will be attempting to swim across the 28 mile wide Kaiwi channel between Molokai and Oahu. The last two times she was in the islands she attempted to swim from Kaena Point here on Oahu to Kauai. The Man-o-war jellyfish had other ideas. Both times she was stung so many times she had to be pulled from the water.
This swim (Kaiwi) she considers a warm up for an 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.

I got involved when close friend Bill Goding told me he was swimming the Kaiwi Channel. Of course I had to be involved and being involved meant paddling next to him and Forrest Nelson for most of the way. What an adventure!

Since then I have crewed (mostly paddled but other help too) for Bill, Quinn Carver, Forrest Nelson, Brian Denaro and Jen Schemacker. When I heard Penny was attempting a swim to Kauai I thought it was insane but also knew I had to be part of her team. By the time I actually talked to her she told me I was already on her list and  I paddled on both her Kauai attempts (along with Bill Goding.)

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.

1 comment:

sarah warwick said...


I'm writing from H2Open swimming magazine and I'd like to get permission to print your picture of Penny Palfrey swimming in Hawaii (the one on your blog) in our August issue. Can you confirm that this would be OK? We can send you a free copy of the magazine in return.

Kind regards,

Sarah Warwick