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  1. To Bannerman's and Back

    Yesterday I was part of a small group test-swimming a new course in the Hudson from Cold Spring, NY north to Bannerman’s Island and back. It’s probably the most scenic swim route I’ve ever done, and a glorious day to be out on the water. The day had a little bit of everything—beauty, difficulty, adventure, and most of all fun. The course itself featured a lot of the highlights of the beautiful Stage 4 of 8 Bridges, which I had loved swimming in 2011.

    The route was first swum solo by Rondi a few weeks ago; her blog gives a map of the route and a description of her trip. For Saturday’s adventure we had 9 swimmers of various speeds; part of the point of this swim was to test tidal predictions and swim times for a range of swimmers. The start was very near the MetroNorth train station in Cold Spring, a plus for those of us traveling up from the city. We were divided into four pods of swimmers, each with its own kayak or paddleboard escort, while Dave patrolled the course on Agent Orange.

    We started during the latter stages of the flood (northerly) tide, and the goal was for all swimmers to reach the northern tip of Bannerman’s Island around slack in order to ride the ebb (southerly) current back to our starting point—a “tide me up, tide me down” swim, at least in theory. But since we would be catching only the last, weakest part of the flood and the corresponding early portion of the ebb, the current assist wouldn’t be very great—Rondi estimated the 10.5K swim would take around 2:45 to 3 hours for my group.

    The day was wonderfully sunny, with a hint of fall crispness in the air. Strong winds from the north were predicted, and we had seen white caps on portions of the river during the train ride up. The kayak launch where we started was in a protected cove, though, so during our preparations before splash time things looked very calm. That changed as soon as we started swimming. Once we headed out beyond the cove into the main portion of the river, it became clear that the wind would be pushing some nice choppy swells directly at us for the first half of the swim.

    With me in the third pod were Hannah, Willie, and Eli, with Andy kayaking alongside. We swam well together, and I could usually see all three of them to my right as we travelled along together. Stroking into the swells turned out to be fun if challenging—there were some nice roll-y waves which we were swimming directly into. I played with the water’s undulations, occasionally switching to dolphin kick with freestyle arms when the waves pushed my legs up behind me. Air temps were in the 60s, but the water was warm, in the upper 70s. Still, with the wind, it was pleasant feeling the sun on my back as we swam along.

    We passed the densely wooded rolling hills of the Hudson Highlands, punctuated by sheer rocky cliff faces. Sometimes I would roll over to do backstroke and admire the puffy clouds moving along rapidly overhead. When I did that, the waves breaking over my head would send sprays of water over my face that left enough space for me to breathe. I really liked that effect, and played around with it several times on the trip up.

    Our pod swimming upstream: me, Hannah,Willie, Eli
    (Photo credit A. Moore)

    We could see Bannerman’s Island in the distance, and I would occasionally pick up my head to see it getting closer. We stopped once or twice for leisurely feeds—it takes a while to feed four swimmers from one kayak—but otherwise stroked steadily along. Our instructions had been to swim steadily at a comfortable pace up to the island, in order to get there before the tide changed—then on the way back we could “play tourist” all we wanted.

    As we neared the island the water grew flatter and much easier to swim in. At the time I thought the wind had died down, but in retrospect it seems we were just being sheltered from the wind and waves by the island itself. Around this time the fourth pod caught up to us, and Rondi joined in with our group. As we neared Bannerman we all stopped for a final feed before heading clockwise around the island and its ruins.

    Bannerman’s Island is a bit of a curiosity. It’s a small bit of land about 300m from the eastern shore of the Hudson, and contains what looks like the crumbling ruins of a medieval castle on its northern side. The ruins are actually those of an arsenal built around the turn of the twentieth century by a munitions baron. The island and ruins are clearly visible from the railroads that run along the Hudson’s eastern shore, and when passengers first see the structure they wonder what the heck it is, and what it’s doing out there in the middle of the river. The site is now owned by New York State, and tours of the island are given every weekend.

    Hannah and Eli swim past Bannerman
    (Photo credit A. Moore)

    As we headed up the west side of the island, we could see that one of those tours was about to start—people were disembarking from an official-looking boat onto the island’s dock. The idea flickered through my mind that we could climb out and join in—I’ve always wanted to go on a Bannerman’s Island tour, but have never been up there at the right time. But mostly by this point I was preoccupied with the swimming. Conditions had grown tough fast. Once we were no longer sheltered by the island, the wind hit us again with full force, and it was apparent that the tide had turned early and was ebbing south as we were trying to make our way north. It took some hard swimming at this point to make it to the north tip of the island and round the point, but we all managed.

    When we finally rounded the tip and reached the eastern side of the island we were able to float and chat for a bit, marveling at how fast the current was carrying us back southward. It was fun watching the scenery go by as we relaxed in the water for a bit. The trip back seemed like it would be much easier, with both the wind and current with us.

    We swam together for a while, then split up as we were joined by a second kayak—Eli and Willie went on ahead with Rondi, while Hannah and I enjoyed a more leisurely pace. We took full advantage of the “playing tourist” provision, stopping and making sense of the different landmarks we passed. Hannah showed me the road she loved biking on Storm King Mountain, we stopped to admire the view of West Point in the distance, the Croton Aquaduct tunnel, and whatever else happened to catch our attention. Andy proved to be an excellent tour guide as well as kayaker. Hannah was kind enough to share some of her wonderful feeds with me—applesauce and chocolate pudding. (I had only brought juice and water for this trip, and was missing my figgy pops around the 3h mark). I really enjoyed the meandering journey back to where we started—races are all well and good, but I think I enjoy social open-water swimming even more.

    Finally we arrived back at where we had started. The entire swim took us around 3h20m. It was a spectacularly beautiful trip, and a really wonderful way to spend a glorious early fall day in the Hudson Valley.
  2. Lunchtime swim 09/28/12

    by , September 28th, 2012 at 02:41 PM (Trying to Train Smarter, Not Just Harder)
    This was not the day for swimming, apparently. My husband turned off my alarm last night (by accident?) so I slept in and totally missed workout this morning. Went at lunch, and didn't even have time for a 3000.

    8 x 75 warmup on 1:15 (50 free, 25 other)
    10 x 50; 2 hard on :40, one easy on 1:00, last one Sprint
    200 P @ 80%, on 2:40
    50 easy on 1:00
    2 x 75 IM no free on 1:15
    100 easy
    50 fast
    200 IM hard, on 3:00
    50 kick on 1:00
    2 x 75 free on 1:00
    100 (50 k, 50 s)
    4 x 150; swim/kick/swim by 50's building to sprint on 2:30
    100 easy cool down
    Total: 2800

    Plus, on the down side, every time I do something really hard - like the Sprints - I'm thinking - why do I want to go to meets again? I kinda like just going at a nice, leisurly pace. Don't know what's gotten into me - guess I need to have someone to race to keep me positive & remembering the fun of the race - not something I got at lunch today.
  3. Coney Island to Sandy Hook, + season recap

    I finally swam beyond the pier at Coney Island—far beyond the pier! Yesterday I swam 7 miles from Coney Island to Sandy Hook, NJ as part of a test swim of conducted by CIBBOWS. We met up at the Coney Island Aquarium between 4 and 4:30 am, and the swim got underway a little after 5. Air temps were around 50, so the few minutes of waiting around on the sand after I had relinquished my clothes and sent them out to the waiting boats were a mite chilly. But the water was still relatively warm at 67 degrees, and as soon as I got and things got underway I felt comfortable.

    The first hour of the swim was in the dark, and I loved it. The night was clear, and the bright quarter moon was reflected off the water, making for a good bit of ambient light. My escort kayak had lights fore and aft, and I could see my kayakers Teddy and Danika (it was a double kayak) silhouetted against the western sky as I swam along. A few white phosphorescent glows met my fingertips as I stroked through the water, and any air bubbles I made on my entry were lit up too. Everything seemed so calm and magical, and I wasn’t at all afraid. An idle resolution passed through my head: Night swimming is so wonderful it’s the only kind I’m doing from here on out. If only that were halfway realistic,..

    Out in the water with me were three other swimmers, John, Willie, and Dan. We each had our own escort kayak, as well as three motorized boats supporting the swim. On the boats were the four swimmers who would be making the return journey, along with a number of CIBBOWS volunteers who were supporting the swim and collecting data for future crossings. For a while I could see the other kayaks’ stern lights ahead of me, as well as some of the boats’ lights in the distance, but by the first feed I couldn’t see anything else around me except for my own kayak. That was actually nice—when I breathed to my left, on the non-kayak side, I could pretend I was all by myself out in the big ocean.

    As I stroked along the sky to the east began to brighten noticeably, then broad strata of pinks and oranges began to appear. I was breathing to my left more and more to admire the pre-sunrise show. The water began to get choppier at this point, with the wind kicking up some waves from the west which made breathing left the easier option, as well. Occasionally the waves were big enough to splash over me, and when they did this I could see the reflection of the green blinking light attached to my goggle strap.

    Things were seeming very calm until around sunrise, when the grey support boat appeared in front of us, and we appeared to be making a left turn. Then I started seeing the sunrise on my right—were we making a u-turn? I did a stroke of breaststroke and looked over at Teddy—why had we changed directions? “We have to wait—do you want to swim or stop?” he asked. Aha—we must be near the shipping channel. “Swim!” I said reflexively, then started stroking again. But then I decided I wanted see what was going on. I stopped and looked around, only be told “There’s traffic—we have to get out of the channel.” Before I could finish saying “I want to see the traffic!” I looked ahead and saw a very large barge in the distance, heading our way. Nearby was another of our support boats, this one with all the swimmers for the return trip on deck on board, and they were all pointing to the left. I got the message—swim that way. I did, and got well clear of the shipping channel, then swam eastward, while waiting for the tug and its barge to cross. Teddy pointed out that there was another tug/barge approaching from the other directions. They crossed paths almost directly in front of us, a more-than-safe distance away. It was a really cool sight, with the sun glinting off the barges’ loads. It was interesting to see how far the tug boats were from the barges, and see the chains attaching them stretched between the two. I dipped my head down into the water to hear the deep clanking sound they made as they passed by.

    Sunrise over the Ambrose Channel (photo credit R. Davies)

    (One reason this swim requires so much support is that it goes across the Ambrose Channel, a major shipping lane used by traffic entering and leaving New York harbor—a lot of very big boats, barges, container ships and the like pass through here. Near the beginning of the swim I could see a huge cruise ship making its way across in the darkness, its decks all aglow.)

    Once the ships were past we got the green light to continue on. The water seemed to have gotten rougher, but the chop was mostly from the sides and behind rather than head-on, so it remained easy going. I could tell when I stopped for feeds that the wind was blowing from the west—while Danika did the bottle hand-offs, Teddy maneuvered the kayak to keep it from blowing into me during the stops. I could also see some heavy clouds moving in from the west, and hoped any bad weather they were bringing would hold off until I finished my swim.

    After another feed or two Teddy told me he could see the beach ahead. I didn’t put much stock in this, since I had learned in the Cape Cod swim how long it can take to reach a beach you can see. But over the next half-hour it did seem to be betting rapidly nearer. When I looked forward to sight I could see strange tall dark figures standing at regular intervals along the sand—the phrase “Easter Island statues” popped into my head. I looked again to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating, but they were still there. It took me a bit to make sense of what I was seeing—fishermen, in dark waders, casting into the surf.

    As we got within a mile to half-mile of shore I could feel some large swells propelling me forward. I thought about stopping and asking my kayaker if there would be breakers to contend with when exiting the water—sometimes when there’s biggish surf at my Florida beach swimming into shore feels like this. But I decided that I would be able to judge that better for myself as I got nearer shore. Around this point there also seemed to be some odd currents—sometimes when I would place my hand in the water it would feel like it was being pulled downward or to the side by the water. I worried a little about the current changing before I reached the beach—it can get strong around Sandy Hook, making finishing after slack tide has passed difficult. I picked up my pace to make sure I would make it in. But every time I looked up I was very noticeably closer to shore, so it seemed like I was making good progress.

    Approaching Sandy Hook (photo credit R. Davies)

    As I neared the beach Agent Orange came around beside me—I could see Rondi and Dave on board and I waved to them mid-stroke. Right before I landed it seemed like my kayak was getting between me and the shore for some reason—I wondered if they were getting pushed towards me by the wind and surf, but then looked up and saw that they were leading me around some fishing lines to a safer place to land. The sandy/pebbly bottom came into view—the sand is much coarser here than at Coney Island., I swam until my fingers touched, then stood up and walked ashore. I was done, in just under 3 hours.

    I hugged and congratulated Willie, who was already on shore, then hugged and thanked my Teddy and Danika, who had landed their kayak nearby. The fisherman—wrapped up in waders and layers of clothes—looked at Willie and me as if we had landed from outer space. “Where did you come from?” “Coney Island!” They just grunted and went back to their poles.

    I waded back out into the water—it was warmer there--then saw the other two swimmers heading towards shore. I went over to cheer them in and give them hugs after they landed, then we all headed back out to the boats. As I was wading out a crab pinched my toe. I yelped just a little, but no harm was done. I did get my feet up off the bottom pronto, and out swam to Agent Orange. I climbed aboard, put on some warm clothes—my brief time on the beach had chilled me a bit—then settled in to enjoy the return trip. Four new swimmers got into the water for the return crossing, the kayakers stretched and readied themselves for another few hours of feeding and guiding swimmers, and off we were.

    The return trip was interesting and fun. The sky clouded over and it eventually rained, but the wind had died down and water conditions were nice and calm for the return swimmers. I used all the clothes I brought—long underwear, wool pants, rain pants, wool sweater, swim parka—but managed to stay pretty warm. Being out on the water is just nice, even when it’s rainy and cold.

    And I got to see firsthand all the behind-the-scenes stuff it requires to get swimmers safely across shipping lanes. Dave and the other boaters were constantly on the radio with each other, with our Coast Guard escort, and with commercial traffic, discussing the swimmers’ positions and when they would enter and exit the channels (besides the Ambrose, we go through two lesser boating lanes, the Sandy Hook Channel and the Coney Island Channel). Occasionally we would intercept smaller boats that were zipping by and alert them to the swimmers’ presence. The kayakers also had radios, and used them to get instructions or give reports to the various boats. It made me appreciate all the coordination and care it takes to pull this sort of event off. I’ll never again look at Sandy Hook from Coney Island, and wonder if I couldn’t just swim over there on my own.

    The tides gave us a slower trip on the way back, but by 1 pm we were all back at Coney Island. I hopped ashore and went gratefully up to the Aquarium to warm up, change out of my rain gear, and say goodbye to other swimmers and all the kayakers and volunteers who had made the day possible. It was a good day out on the water, and I hope everything goes equally well for the other swimmers who will be test-swimming this route over the next three weekends.

    This was my last OW event of the season, and I was happy with how things went—it was pretty much an all-fun-all-the-time experience. I loved swimming at night, I thought it was really cool to see all the various other vessels out on the water, I felt well supported and safe, and greatly appreciated the chance to spend some quality time with the water on a glorious morning. It was a great way to end my 2012 season. And as a bonus, the 7-mile trip nudged me over 500 miles in GTD—so I got a free swimsuit out of the day as well. Thank you CIBBOWS!

    This was the last event of my 2012 season:

    Updated October 16th, 2012 at 01:12 PM by swimsuit addict (season recap added)

  4. 5000-yard workout

    by , November 8th, 2012 at 05:02 PM (Alex's swim journal)
    I missed my workout yesterday... for a good cause (more on that below); so today I felt like I had to make up ground. I started off sluggish, but picked up a little steam. I finished the workout with 5000 total yards in just under 1:45.00, the longest workout I've done since this summer. Here's what I did:

    300 (100 each fr/br/bk)
    500 free on 9:00
    100 br
    100 bk

    SET #1:
    10 x 50 on 1:00 (mostly :43-:44)
    10 x 100 on 2:00 (middle 4-6 at 1:25-1:27)

    300 (br/bk/fr) + 2 minutes rest

    SET #2:
    5 x 200 on 4:00 (all in 3:07-3:09)
    5 x 100 on 2:00 (1:31-1:36)

    200 (br/bk)
    500 easy free (counting strokes, stretching it out)

    The two sets, 1500 each, add up to 3000 yards of really hard swimming for me. That's a confidence builder!

    So, the reason I missed yesterday's workout was because of a super busy day ending with the happy occasion of Anthony's (he's my middle son) Cross Country team banquet and award ceremony. I'm happy to see the next generation of kids embrace the endurance sports, so this is always a neat event. And this year Anthony received the "Most Improved" award for the boys team.... He worked really hard for that and I am super proud of him!

    Click image for larger version. 

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    What a great smile (thanks to the orthodontist for that one!)... oh, and don't tell Anthony I put his picture up; I don't want to embarrass him unduly.
  5. Jimmy Boo Boo Child's Possibly Premature Ejaculation

    by , November 9th, 2012 at 11:01 AM (Vlog the Inhaler, or The Occasional Video Blog Musings of Jim Thornton)

    It begins!










    Let's hope the above ejaculation does not prove premature, for the listings are still preliminary. My fingers have been crossed so long it looks like I have developed arthritis.

    For those hoping to follow in my path to flukish glory in what the current edition of Swimmer calls "the premiere event in swimming, the 100 LCM freestyle", I say it is critical to have a good role model.

    I will happily shoulder that burden for you, just as a little girl down 'Bama way has shouldered that burden for me!

    Note: to see the movie, you need to click on this link. Clicking on the picture below the link won't do you any good.

    I would also like to thank, in as public a way as possible, cinematographer and still photographer nonpareil, John Kuzmkowski.

    How John has time to work on his artistry while simultaneously racking up the #2 position in Go The Distance is beyond me!

    If I were a young girl, and I assure you I am not, I would find this combination of creativity and indefatigable endurance absolutely irresistible. - YouTube

    Updated November 9th, 2012 at 01:45 PM by jim thornton

  6. Of Dots, Gluttony, and Muskrats

    by , November 25th, 2012 at 01:42 PM (Vlog the Inhaler, or The Occasional Video Blog Musings of Jim Thornton)
    First of all, a very belated Happy Thanksgiving 2012 for all my viewers:

    I ate, of course, the Traditional American Thanksgiving Feed on Thursday, followed by the Traditional American Thanksgiving Leftover Feed the moment I woke up for breakfast on Black Friday.

    And the gluttony has not taken more than a few moments rest ever since.

    I am becoming a bloated monstrosity.

    Last night, for example, I went to the local Bottom Dollar store and found a good price on center cut pork chops. The smallest package I could find, unfortunately, contained four of these beauties. I do not like leftovers when it comes to the other white meat, so I grilled and ate four of these:

    and washed them down with some fizzy water and a whole avacado. Then I went to see Skyfall with my teammate Ben Mayhew and Liam White, son of our other teammate, Bill White. Liam is a boy genius and computer wizard about whom I will soon be writing more TERRIBLY EXCITING SWIMMING TECHNOLOGY DEVELOPMENTS LIKELY TO REVOLUTIONIZE THE WAY YOU WASTE TIME ON YOUR SMART PHONE!!!

    Anyhow, at the movie theater, I purchased a box of Dots:

    in the only size available. I gave Liam most, though I concede, not all of the green ones, and ate the rest of the Dots myself.

    Thanks to the way they calculate grams of sugar on the size of the box, it seemed at first that perhaps I had not done myself too much diabetes-inducing damage. But then I realized that they were talking about grams of sugar per serving, of which there were actually five servings in the box.

    Bottom line: as a chaser to my four grilled porkers and avocado, and as a prelude to my later beers and Klondike bar, I had inadvertently consumed 105 grams of sugar, somewhat more than the 25 grams per day recommended for men.

    I will leave unspecified my breakfast and lunch preceding the Pork-Avacado-Dots main meal of the day, but suffice it to say, I didn't starve myself.

    All of which circles me back to why this has relevance to my swimming and, for that matter, the Archimedes Principle.

    To wit, I am becoming so bloated with fat and plumptitude that I greatly fear my recent swimming accomplishment (i.e., that first ever individual All American rating: still not absolutely guaranteed, but looking ever more cautiously optimistic as Dec. 1 hustles towards us!) might be my last one.

    Partly because I must move so much additional fat-weight through the water.

    And partly because the sheer bulk of me is displacing so much water from the pool itself that there might not be enough left to actually swim in.

    All of which further circles me back to my Happy Thanksgiving card, photoshopped by my friend, Bill Robertson, who years and years ago similarly photoshopped a picture of me grilling a monkey in the jungle for use as my annual Christmas card. (Do not worry! I shall post this when the time is right!)

    Anyhow, the creature I appear to be eating in my Happy Thanksgiving card is a muskrat, trapped and skinned by Dan E., a carpenter who does a lot of work for my wife and me at out Bed & Breakfast in Western, PA:

    It occurred to me that maybe I could shed a few pounds if I went on the Modern Paleo Pittburger Diet™, eating only things like muskrats and pine cones that I can harvest on my own from the Western PA hinterlands.

    Muskrat in water

    Muskrat in truck

    Muskrat in me belly
    So far, unfortunately, I haven't managed to make the switch.

    But looking at these last two pictures on a regular basis has helped put me at least slightly off my Traditional American Feed Diet.

    And I hope, perchance, they will do the same for you!

    If you get a chance, please check out my new actual blog, where I am hoping to slowly archive many of my published magazine stories over the years. There are already a couple entries up that have swimming articles available for free .pdf downloads:

    I would be thrilled if any of you out there would consider "subscribing" via RSS to my new blog, known simply as ByJimThornton:

    I'm hoping it might one day prove to be a poor man's pitiable pension plan, cranking out revenue via page view advertising in the neighborhood of $3.25 per month.

    I am definitely going to need the money when the Modern Paleo Pittburger Diet™ inevitably fails and I end up--as we all know I shall--in The Nursing Home For Dot Addicted Fatties™.
  7. Vlog Aggregator for!!!!

    by , November 30th, 2012 at 12:40 PM (Vlog the Inhaler, or The Occasional Video Blog Musings of Jim Thornton)
    Great news, everyone! And just in time for the free gift-giving season!

    My USMS swimming vlog, the No. 1 Internet source of news about Jim Thornton's somewhat-related-to-swimming stream-of-consciousness ramblings, is now going to serve a second and arguably even more important raison d'etre:

    Driving traffic to my neonatal blog,

    The Vlog will, in other words, now serve as a "news aggregator" for the blog, and vice versa. I would explain what this means if I understood it myself, but I don't have a clue. In fact, I am just throwing around words like "news aggregator" in the hopes that they might apply to what I am doing. In any event, whatever it is I am attempting here, I am pretty sure it will work in some capacity or other, without causing the global Internet to crash under the sheet massiveness of my daily drivel.

    Emphasis on the pretty.

    In any event, my new blog,, not to be confused with this current vlog,, will feature some unbelievably enchanting unique content including:

    * Actual .pdf's of some of my magazine articles written over the years. These, unlike most of my vlogs 'n blogs, have actually useful information in them! You can learn, for instance, how to shorten the pain of heartbreak, determine your zygosity if you are a twin, and subscribe via RSS feed technology to And so many more useful things, too!

    Visitors to will be able to effortless click to view and/or save for your permanent electronic library charming and frequently award-winning articles such as the above (which won the 1992 Gold Medal Award for Best Article of the Year, The Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE)!

    * Actual cartoon novellas drawn and written by me both now in my senescence and during my juvenilia days--watch a mind develop and decay all at a single one-stop site!

    A snippet from the entirely viewable online and/or downloadable for permanent library inclusion of the ongoing cartoon autobiography: Jim! Up Through Screamer.

    * The Thornton Twins Podcast, not yet up, but which should be up very soon--perfect for downloading to your smartphone and playing either late at night when you need a cure for insomnia, or behind the wheel when you need to stave off grogginess and evade vehicular misadventure!

    Women of a certain vintage who have long fantasized about a dalliance with twins are free to stoke said fantasies while listening to the Thornton twins discuss the leading issues of the day in their deeply resonant male voices that only occasionally squeak!

    Go ahead! We do not mind being fodder for your fantasies, though if you have ever been diagnosed with erotomania (ero·to·ma·nia/ (-ma´ne-ah) 1. a type of delusional disorder in which the subject harbors a delusion that a particular person is deeply in love with them; lack of response is rationalized, and pursuit and harassment may occur), please know that John and I are not what we appear to be in this handsome picture from our younger days, but rather are constipated old cranks riddled with disgusting personal habits and you would be much better off fixating on these twins instead:

    Okay. I know what you're thinking. "Jim, you had me at 'Great news!' What do I need to do to make it incredibly simple to follow your new blog,, on the Internet? To be honest, I am not that technologically savvy."

    First of all, don't be ashamed! I, too, am not that technologically savvy. And figuring out how to make things as easy and enjoyable as humanly possible for anybody on earth to find and follow me remains an ongoing challenge.

    But here is what I recommend for now, at least:

    1. Check out this blog entry first,, which will explain how to use RSS feed technology to automatically funnel any new entries into your "reader"--and I even provide links to some good, free readers for those of you who, like me, don't know what "readers" are. Note: there remain some bugs in the system, so please be patient with the RSS feeding/reader thing! Eventually, it will all go swimmingly.

    2. Click on this link next for an easy-to-scroll compendium of the blogs so far posted so that you can read each one at your leisure, clicking away with abandon at all the little buttons at the bottom of each entry (share with Facebook, Twitter, G+, email, and the like.)

    Thanks ever so much, my friends! In the month or so I have been working on, I have already managed to "earn" $6.50 in eye ball views, assuming some of these aren't later deemed fraudulent! Once the new blog accumulates $100 worth of non-fraudulent eyeball view-based revenue, which I estimate will occur sometime in the third quarter of 2017, I shall cut a check to my Chief Technology Officer, Liam White, for 10 percent of the amount, and use the remainder to buy premium catfood for a much deserved family celebration!

    And you will all be invited!
  8. Criss Cross Chicane!

    by , December 3rd, 2012 at 04:49 PM (Vlog the Inhaler, or The Occasional Video Blog Musings of Jim Thornton)
    Today, an actual and fully swimming-related blog complete with partial race results and the kind of trash talking that gives anyone beyond 38 hope!

    Simply click on this link to be whisked immediately to a world of utter swimming enchantment! Can't wait? Click now!

    Bonus: includes two of my Sewickley teammates/Kona World Champion Triathlon competitors modeling actual underwear.

    Real people! Real underwear! Real trash talk! Right here! Right now!

    Still waiting? Okay, now click! You've made your point! No sense belaboring it!

  9. My Rudder

    by , December 4th, 2012 at 01:41 PM (Vlog the Inhaler, or The Occasional Video Blog Musings of Jim Thornton)
    Okay, so maybe today's blog entry is not 100 percent, entirely swimming-related the way yesterday's was.

    On the other hand, it is on a subject that roughly half the USMS swimming population owns, and--at least according to Sigmund Freud--roughly the other half wishes they owned.

    Which reminds me of the classic old joke, wherein a little boy and a little girl are playing doctor.

    The little boy points at his nether regions and sneers, "Na na na na naaaaa na! I have one of these and you don't!"

    The little girl just shakes her head wisely, points to her nether regions, and replies, "With one of these, I can get as many of those as I want!"

    Which to me remains the most convincing of all arguments that Freud's notion of penis envy just doesn't pass the real world test.


    In any event, for today's reading and viewing pleasure, I present to the greater USMS diaspora an in-depth meditation on the nature of my rudder:

    Note: click on the above, not the picture, which will take you nowhere.

    Note: I am pretty sure that the bugs have been more or less worked out of the RSS feed thingy, making it even easier than ever to subscribe, absolutely for free, to my new blog!

    Though for those who can't figure out how to do so, I shall continue my quest to create infinite loops between hither and thither

    PS I signed up for the 400 and 200 IM and the 800 freestyle at the Hudson, Ohio SCM meet next Saturday. I shall keep you posted.

  10. Getting De-All'd

    by , January 23rd, 2013 at 10:26 AM (Vlog the Inhaler, or The Occasional Video Blog Musings of Jim Thornton)
    If you have ever been the victim of rule-mongering bureaucracy run amuk, and would like some misery to provide you a little company, grab a shawl and settle in for the blood-boiling pleasures of my most recent experience at the hands of our beloved "We do it all for the swimmers" organization!

    Yes, my swimming comrades! I have been officially De-All Americanized five weeks after the Top 10 listings became official!
  11. Saturday, March 3, 2013 Coeur d'Alene, ID Meet Results

    by , March 10th, 2013 at 12:09 AM (Fast Food Makes for Fast Swimming!)
    Got up this morning and left about 5:30am, which was a 2 hour sleep in for me, so I was happy. At least I wasn't going to work, but I do have to go in on Sunday morning instead since I missed today for the meet. Work still has to get done.

    There were about 60 people in the meet today, but it was spread out nicely on the total timeline, going from ~10:15am till 4:30ish pm when the final 1500 heat finished. I didn't space out the events too well though, doing the first 2, last 2, and one in the first 1/3 of the meet as well, in addition to 3 relays with my workout group. It was a good day of swimming, having over 3000 meters of racing in 8 races, plus all the warmups/cooldowns, and the 205 miles of driving each way to and from the meet.

    200 IM - 2:25.27
    30.04 / 38.23 / 43.72 / 33.28
    My legs were just dead after the backstroke...during the breaststroke leg, I thought to myself "boy the 400 IM is going to hurt later".

    400 Free - 4:33.08
    30.80 / 33.73 (1:04.53)
    34.91 / 35.13 (1:10.04)
    35.17 / 34.99 (1:10.16)
    34.55 / 33.80 (1:08.35)
    Not too shabby. A few seconds slower than last fall, but this was a few heats after the 200 IM as well. At least it was split decently.

    50 Free leadoff in the 200 Free Relay - 26.76
    Pretty sure this is a SCM best time in the 50 for me.

    200 Free - 2:08.01
    29.44 / 32.18 / 33.29 / 33.10
    This was a better swim than this meet last year, at least in terms of time. I got "dusted" (to use That Guy's words) by Larry Krauser, a 60 year old who just set the World Record in the 200 Free right next to me. He dusted me by 0.05 seconds, but did admit that I gave him a hell of a draft for the first 150 of the race.

    100 Fly split in the 400 Medley Relay - 1:05.40
    This was just fun with the team. I caught us back up after the neighboring relay left us in the breaststroke leg. Good thing our Wenatchee team has a flyer

    200 Free leadoff in the 800 Free Relay - 2:19.40
    I originally was going to do the 200 like normal, but my earlier time was good enough, so thought I'd do a 100 Split Request. Went a 59.30 UGH!! super tired!!, and then had to finish my leg as quickly as I could manage. Our team was going for the LMSC record as well. We did get that by about 5 seconds.

    400 IM - 5:19.11
    32.07 / 37.55 (1:09.62) - serious...I tried to go easy
    43.37 / 42.85 (1:26.22)
    46.19 / 46.56 (1:32.75)
    35.40 / 35.12 (1:10.52)
    I was just DEAD prior to this race. I didn't want to swim it, but did it anyway on sheer principle. You sign up for it, you swim it.

    1500 Free - 18:19.46 - New LMSC Record

    I was semi-dead tired prior to this one as well, and almost just fell into the pool off the blocks. We had no counters either (our fault for not trying to find one), but magically around lap 17 or so some numbers starting appearing in my lane! Thank you mystery person!! I wouldn't have been able to count the whole thing myself.
    I just cruised alongside That Guy for the first 3-400 of the race. My UGHness starting wearing off, so I decided to pick up the pace a bit to see what happened, and I felt okay. I kept looking over to T.G. to see if he was coming, but didn't seem to want to. Around the 800, I tried giving another speed increase, and was still feeling good...slowly increasing my lead. 300 to go, one last speed increase. WAIT A MINUTE!!...cancel that. I'm fine at my 800 cruising speed. Finished the race and just hung on to the wall, glad to be against dry land again.

    They had to input all the 1500 times manually as they decided to do a little reconfiguring at the last moment with the heats to combine them from 3 heats into 2. It was a good idea to save another 30 minutes for all of us, but no computerized splits on Meet Manager. I'll have to check the computer tape backup...
    About the backup...(I'm sorry T.G.) I left the meet getting the meet manager backup file on my flash drive, but left the hard copies sitting on the desk in the office of the pool. I called the meet director on the way home and let her know that so she can save them for me. SOOOOOOO, both our 800 free split request times are still unknown, but they are in Coeur d'Alene.
  12. Sprint ladder

    by , March 10th, 2013 at 12:16 AM (Alex's swim journal)
    So, as I feared... a sprint ladder; lots of rest, no excuse to not push hard on every rep. At the end of the workout Scotty added the 25s off the block in IM order. I was already sore before I left the pool... but at least the soreness was symmetrical (i.e., both shoulders and lats on both sides).

    Here's how it went down:

    450 warm-up
    400 fly (25-50-75-100-75-50-25)*
    400 back (25-50-75-100-75-50-25)*
    400 breast (25-50-75-100-75-50-25)*
    400 free (25-50-75-100-75-50-25)*
    4 x 50 off the blocks (25 AFAP followed by 25 EZ recovery; IMO)
    4 x 25 underwater
    150 EZ

    *We did these ladders on :45 interval per 25 yards (so we went on 1:30 after the 50; 2:15 after the 75, etc.). And took about 3:00 rest between strokes. We kept them pretty fast... my first 25 fly was in :18 and I was at :48 at the 50-yard mark of my 75, for example... this is about meet speed for me. Also, I was happy on the back to see that i hadn't lost any speed, despite not doing any hard backstroke in a week... if anything I was fast with the fresher muscles; my first 25 was in 17-18, even as I slowed down to cruise into the wall and check the clock.

    Scotty was about a body-length in front of me on the fly and back on these; I was about half to a body-length in front of him on back; we were neck and neck on the free. Tough, but a fun workout. 2800 SCY/85 minutes.
  13. Indy, Day 1

    by , May 10th, 2013 at 05:09 PM (The FAF AFAP Digest)
    Yes it is! It is sprinters day 1!

    50 back, 27.04, NR

    Great first event for me. My first event at Nats isn't always my best, so I was glad to see this time. Execution was good except I was too close to the wall on my turn. It didn't effect me materially, but might have made the .05 difference in getting under 27. Still extremely pleased. This event is clearly my baby with a 4.5 winning margin. I felt like I had a fast reaction time. But that doesn't seem to be listed in the results. I did really jam my finger on the finish, which required ice and 4 ibuprofen.

    50 evil, 32.80, PR, 2nd

    Really pleased with the time, but my execution was iffy. I dove in and took my bloody time taking my dolphin kick. And I had to short stroke both walls. I pulled ahead on the UW off the wall, but Kim Crouch tracked me down, out touching me by .02. I've never beaten her in yards. My turnover looked slow on the vid too (in complete contrast to my other strokes). Breaststroke is the most aggravating, unsightly, frustrating, bizarre stroke. And hence I am completely happy with my fake evil time!


    Day 1 is in the books and went very well. Teen Fort won her 50 evil so we are mommy daughter national champs. Now off to forum dinner!
  14. Strait of Juan de Fuca: an announcement

    by , May 16th, 2013 at 12:36 PM (Please tap on the glass)
    The Strait of Juan de Fuca separates Vancouver Island, BC from Washington and connects the Puget Sound and Salish Sea to the Pacific Ocean. At its narrowest point, the Strait is 11.6 miles wide. Like the Strait of Gibraltar, it is oriented east-west and hosts challenging winds, currents, and sea life with mountain ranges rising from both coasts. My swim is set for late July and, if successful, will be the seventh swim crossing of this waterway[1]. Planning a transnational swim has been an amazing adventure; it’s a feat that’s made me realize merely jumping in to start the swim will be a huge victory.

    But this isn’t just a swim report. This is also a love story. However, the fair maiden is not played by ‘swimming’ as you’d expect. That’s old hat; you don’t need to hear that story again. No, this time the object of my affection is…Seattle.

    The idea for this swim popped into my head sometime in mid-December, just after I’d arrived in Seattle from New York with all my belongings packed into a half-filled station wagon. At that point, Juan de Fuca was just a twinkle in my eye. What gave the idea some body was a visit with a Seattle native turned New Yorker, marathon swimmer Caitlin R. Growing up in the Pacific North West, Caitlin had already given thought to the seemingly endless possibilities for open water swims the Puget Sound offers, and it was inspirational to find someone to share ideas with, especially someone so encouraging. A sense of adventure: something I love about Seattle.

    Seattle in the winter is dark and dreary, the omnipresent cloud blanket blocks out what little daylight there is at this latitude. Wet and cold, it’s downright British, yet somehow an outdoor attitude persists in a way I never found on the East Coast. On 5 January, I headed to a vacant swimming beach in Seward Park, Lake Washington for my first day of training. The beach was empty, but the paths were full of joggers, dog walkers, and parents putting Christmas present tricycles together. Despite the 40F temps, people wanted to be outside. Outdoorsy-ness: something I love about Seattle.

    There are two reasons I began outdoor training in January. First, when it comes to training, $3 per swim is the most I’ll happily pay (my entire training costs in NYC for MIMS last year didn’t break $210 dollars), and there is so much free open water here to be had in Seattle. Second, the water temperatures, while cold, are consistent. The Puget Sound was 46F in January and will be 55F in August. What better cold water environment could you ask for than one that has such a stable temperature range? Beautiful beaches, you say? Check. Consistency: something I love about Seattle.

    As planning the swim got into full swim in March, a new side of Seattle showed itself. I’d made a few friends at the beach and as swimmers they were naturally supportive of my plan. What I did not expect was how supportive non-swimmers would be. Surprisingly few Pacific North Westerners have ever asked me: “Are you crazy?” A typical post-swim conversation with passersby goes something like: [stop walking] “How long? … Nice job.” [keep walking]. Compared to reactions I get from people elsewhere, regardless of water temperature (“You mean you actually *want* to swim in that ocean/lake/river?”), well, Seattle just seems to get it. Encouragement: something I love about Seattle.

    Seattle, with its outdoorsy, encouraging ways has kept me believing this swim is possible. And planning this swim is what has kept me sane. What really kicked the planning into high gear was a grad school rejection letter[2]. For nine months, I’d been dreaming of Scripp’s physical oceanography program as a means of redirecting my career away from heavy civil engineering. Also as a means of moving to San Diego. On that Saturday morning, while plying the waters of Alki Beach, I realized the oceanography I want to do is swim planning, and a grad school rejection wasn’t a huge loss. Since then, most of my free time has been spent on a phone or computer or airplane tray table working on this swim. Ubiquitous, cozy cafés: something I love about Seattle.

    Seattle was meant to be a stepping stone; it isn’t where I planned on ending up. I’m still transient, I still live in hotels, and I still travel out of town for work every few days, but I’ve surrendered my New York license and I’m slowly accepting the feeling of home I get every time I return here. All of this swimmable water (Puget Sound, Lake Washington, Salish Sea) is so surprisingly underutilized by swimmers, but perhaps it’s this off the-map feel that makes swimming here so exciting. Seattle, I think I love you.

    The rest of the story is about the swim itself.

    [1] Please feel free to verify this. A summary of my research is available on and will be covered in future posts.

    [2] Who sends rejection letters on a Saturday morning???
  15. Strait of Juan de Fuca: a brief history of swimming

    by , May 21st, 2013 at 11:46 AM (Please tap on the glass)
    Some of the greatest advice I’ve ever been given came with an Ikea bookshelf. You don’t have to follow the instructions, just make sure you’ve read them. After decades of diving straight into things, I’m proud to report: I’m learning. The first thought in planning this swim was, “I’ll just do what everyone else did,” working under the assumption that Of Course other people had completed this swim, after all it’s only a 12 mile crossing at minimum. As Christmas 2012 approached, my research had turned up only six successful crossings and over eighty-five failed attempts. What was more shocking is that only three of those attempts took place after the Strait-swimming heyday of the 1950’s. It was clear that I would not simply be hiring the same captain as the last guy.

    A quick disclaimer: There is no guarantee that what I list here is comprehensive, but everything that follows, unless stated otherwise, is as found in primary source newspapers from back in the day. Citations are proudly available upon request. If there is something you know that shakes up this timeline, I want to correct it. Let me know.

    The first recorded attempts on the Strait took place by three unnamed men in October 1933. And then no one followed. Not until August 1954, did Florence Chadwick show up to give it a go, and start the race to be first across. It would be almost a full year and sixteen other attempts before the first person was successful, Bert Thomas of Tacoma, WA on 8 July 1955 in eleven hours twenty-two minutes on his second attempt in two weeks.

    Throughout the 1950s, the route was declared as either Victoria, BC to Port Angeles, WA, or reverse, a distance of 18.3 miles. The route was not set by the swimmers themselves. The route was also not set by amateur oceanographers using the straight-line ruler on Google Earth, with tide forecasts, Excel spreadsheets, and CAD drawings spread out across a Starbucks table. No, these routes were set by the local papers who were giving out cash prizes to the first swimmer to reach the other side, or to the closest, or to the four closest, or to anyone at all who could draw readers and sell papers. Douglas Rivette told the Montreal Gazette before his 1955 attempt, “I thought I might as well turn the hobby to a cash basis if I’m lucky.” For her swim, Marilyn Bell was given $20k by the Port Angeles Chamber of Commerce just for showing up, plus a $10k (1950s dollars!) bonus if she made it. Right? I, too, want to live in that world.

    Another interesting thing about Douglas Rivette: he was a “deaf-mute linotype operator” who started swimming as therapy for the polio he had at age two. Yeah. Every one of the swimmers I’ve read about in connection with this swim has a wild story. There are the recognizables of course: Florence Chadwick, Marilyn Bell, and Cliff Lumsdon. There were a few regulars: Ben Laughren (1 for 12), Amy Hiland (1 for 4), and “Bill Muir, the Saanich surveyor” (0 for 8, and that’s what the papers always call him). “Big Ben” Laughren weighed 274lb and ran a burger joint in Victoria where kids heard their first Dave Brubeck. Rev. John Donelon was a Roman Catholic priest from Toronto. Marilyn Bell is constantly referred to as a “Toronto schoolgirl” despite her impressive resume. Then there was a guy who jumped in and gave up after 40 minutes because of the cold. The spectrum of backstories is broad. Just a bunch of regular people doing crazy impressive things. Come to think of it, this is still the rule in marathon swimming.

    By the end of 1957, three men and two women had made it across. And in 1957, as abruptly as it began three summers ago, the attempts ceased. One more try in 1966, this time by Robert Cossette, was abandoned after two hours thirty four minutes. Then silence. Did the papers just give up in 1958? Did they spend the whole century’s swim budget in three summers? Did the swim really just fall off the radar like that?

    Seemingly out of nowhere, legendary marathon butterflier Vicki Keith, takes on the Strait in 1988 in her traditional style, and wins. Her 14 hour swim was epic, and not just because it was butterfly. Hoping to learn everything she knew about Juan de Fuca, we spoke by phone this past March. She told me she chose her route, the traditional Victoria to Port Angeles route, not because of the money (of which there was none by this time), but to follow the route Cliff Lumsdon took over thirty years earlier. A stranger to cold water by no means, the end of her swim is a glimpse into a marathon swimmer’s dedication. As she neared the US coast, she recalled what her crew later detailed: she’d take one stroke of butterfly and then stop, unconscious in the water. Moments later, her movement resumed and she’d take another stroke. Then stop again. She laughed on the phone, remembering how disorienting it was to have to ask, back on dry land afterwards, “did I make it?” She did, or course.

    Another eleven years go by, and in 1999 Peter Urrea makes the next and most recent recorded attempt at the Strait. Getting in touch with Peter is a great example of how warm the open water swimming community is, but that’s another story. We also spoke in March because, although he did not complete his swim, he did last 14 hours in those cold waters. From a planning point of view, our conversation was not as helpful as I’d hoped. He hired a logging tug (the boats that pull hundreds of meters of floating logs down the Fraser and across the Salish Sea), but he advised against repeating it. He was a bit unclear on his tides, swim plan, and route. But his story! His story was just as amazing as the rest. His swim did not end because of a physical or mental breakdown. It stopped because of whales. It turns out, when you get surrounded by a pod of killer whales and can’t swim anywhere, you start getting cold fast. And when those whales start bumping you, and your captain loses confidence that the entire pod is salmon-eating whales, but may have some mammal-eaters in it…well, you get pulled out of the water. Nobody wants to be an Orca chew toy.

    The directions to successfully cross the Strait of Juan de Fuca are just as clear as that Ikea bookshelf’s. I know it can be done because it has been done before. I’m pretty sure I’ve got the right tools (they were all in that little baggy). But I’ll be damned if any of it sets me in the right direction. But I’ve got a general idea of what the final product should look like and learned a few of the dos-and-don’ts. Plus, I’m an engineer. Just a few exhausting hours and it will be all put together. Here’s to hoping it doesn’t collapse.

    Here’s the record book to date:

    1. Bert Thomas - 8 July 1955 (11 hours 10 minutes)
    2. Cliff Lumsdon - 17 August 1956 (11 hours 35 minutes)
    3. Amy Hiland - 18 August 1956 (10 hours 51 minutes)
    4. Ben Laughren - 18 August 1956 (10 hours 17 minutes)
    5. Marilyn Bell - 23 August 1956 (10 hours 38 minutes)
    6. Vicki Keith - 10 August 1989 (14 hours, butterfly)

    [Correction: While the above post remains unedited, as of 17 July 2013 I understand Fin Donnelly MP (Coquitlam, BC) crossed the Strait in 10 hours 15 minutes on or about 17 August 1994.]

    Updated July 17th, 2013 at 07:32 PM by andrewmalinak (Correction)

  16. To be an aquarium animal

    by , May 30th, 2013 at 04:34 PM (Please tap on the glass)
    Let me start by saying, coworkers if you’re reading this, I do not hate my job. It’s just, well, I feel I have a higher calling in life. It isn’t you personally, but the industry as a whole; construction companies really discourage swimming in the workplace. That’s why I mailed out the below letter a few months back.

    This letter, attached to my aquarium animal resume, was snail-mailed to seventeen aquaria in the US, Canada, and farther abroad hoping for a position as an aquarium animal. I didn’t expect much. I didn’t specify “Must Be Main Attraction”, or “Mammal Positions Only”. I was ready to start at the bottom of the food chain, literally, and work my way up.

    So far, it has not worked out. It’s been dismissed as a joke, or a clever joke, or an annoying joke, or some other kind of joke. The few (four) responses I received were all to the tune of “check our website for openings.” Mr. C.W., General Manager at the Vancouver Aquarium, called the effort “entertaining and innovative,” while Mr. CJ.C., the Seattle Aquarium’s Director of Life Sciences, acknowledged it is “certainly one of the most unique letters [he’s] ever received.” What more does an aspiring sea pen (S. bollonsi, perhaps) need to do to get hired by you people other than write an entertaining, innovative, and unique letter!? I’ve personally stared at your actual sea pens for hours, Seattle Aquarium, and never once seen them produce a work of nearly the same quality. They’re lazier than I am at my real job!!!

    Am I getting too intense? Can you not handle my passion for swimming and for being sea life? That must be it, because it clearly isn’t my qualifications that disappoint you. Confession, Seattle: in my free time, I stalk at your aquatic employees; I know their backstories, their scientific names, where they eat lunch. For example Ada, your sea otter. You want “found hypothermic on an airport runway”? I can do that. I’m hypothermic on nearby Alki Beach three or four times a week, just waiting to be rescued by you. Rescued from this dry, meaningless life they call geotechnical engineering.

    So, aquarists worldwide, have some compassion. I just want an opportunity to be a sea star. Or any other echinoderm for that matter. Give me a chance. You will not regret it.

    Here’s the letter:

    You probably do not receive many requests like this, I understand that most or your new additions are the product of a rigorous scouting program. However, since I fall outside of the usual candidate pools, I feel my exemplary qualifications may be overlooked and would like to inquire as to any opportunities you may have at [Specific] Aquarium.

    My interest in becoming an aquarium animal first came to light as a youth. As many young humans do, watching the sea lions at the Bronx Zoo filled me with the usual why-not-mes and dad-can-Is. It was easy to let others’ disapproval of the idea take hold, as I didn’t even begin serious aquatic-mammal training until the age of nine. After nearly two decades of work, I now possess more aquatic experience than many of your typical employees: five times that of an elderly Giant Pacific Octopus, twice as much as a male Southern Sea Otter, and an amount equivalent to a middle-aged Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphin. With my anticipated life-span, I could foreseeably become one of your most enduring exhibits.

    Aside from my proven experience as an aquatic animal, I have many innate qualities that would make me an excellent addition to your organization. I am diurnal and euryhaline, and will swim without complaint in waters between forty-five and eighty degrees Fahrenheit. I travel well without special equipment or handlers, from a crowded public bus to first-class international flights, and do not require special customs clearances. I’m able to draw a crowd to watch my performances, whether circumnavigating Manhattan or demonstrating an Endless Pool at the Seattle Home Show. What’s more, I enjoy sardines and can even make my own Vitafish! Try to get a bat ray to do that.

    Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I believe in the mission of aquariums and would excel at furthering public interest in aquatic life. In most exhibits I’ve seen in my lifetime, those on display rarely look interested in communicating with those of us on the dry-side of the glass; and never have I seen any ambition from the wet-side to inform or educate. Even the friendly seals and dolphins, stars of the show, often fail to show initiative or produce results without express directions by whistle or hand signal. Perhaps my most valuable contribution to your aquarium as an aquatic animal would be to clearly communicate both the rigors and beauty of life in the water with minimal managerial input and maximum client results. As a bonus, I can vocalize in both English and French.

    Please let me know if you have any openings, especially in the phyla Chordata or Mollusca (I’m still uncertain of my abilities to be convincing as a Poriferan or Cnidarian). I welcome the opportunity to fill any niche—Eltonian or Grinnellian, or Hutchinsonian—as you see fit.

    On a final note, you will not have to worry about “the Ryan Lochte problem” with me. Hygiene is something I take very seriously—I frequently bathe with soap or sterilize in a high-chlorine solution.

    Andrew Malinak BE EnvEng, BS EnvSci
    Full resume available upon request.

    Updated May 30th, 2013 at 06:07 PM by andrewmalinak

  17. Strait of Juan de Fuca: training, part 1 of 2

    by , June 8th, 2013 at 07:46 PM (Please tap on the glass)
    I’ve got a theory: anyone who says they cannot find the time or place to train is lying to themselves.

    Last year, I told myself I wouldn’t train for anything this year. Life being as unsettled as it is right now, how could I give the necessary effort to make any serious swim worthwhile? Look how well that worked out. This is Part 1 of 2 of my training for the Strait of Juan de Fuca. You won’t find any sets here. If you want that, check out USMS Forums, or ask a coach, or something. What you will find here are the basics of my approach to acclimatization, endurance, and how to do it without a permanent residence. In the next training post, you’ll probably see an explanation of how I’m scurrying to adjust for my plan’s shortcomings.

    Last December, when I moved to Seattle, I knew I’d be travelling a lot. As I write this, I’m about to board my 40th plane of 2013. So finding a home team was out of the question. Even buying a monthly pool pass would be a waste of money since I spend less than 45% of my time in Seattle. Also, pools are hot and crowded (and gross). So I took to the Sound. Always free, always open, always empty, and always the perfect temperature to training for a cold-water swim.

    The way I plan on accomplishing this swim is three-fold: brown fat, metabolism, be in shape.

    The brown fat (which we’ll say represents my level of acclimatization) I’ve been working on since I first jumped in Lake Washington in January. And I’m working on it three or four times a week when I’m not out of town. Hot showers are the worst, and I break a sweat walking to the car on a chilly morning, so it seems to be working.

    Metabolism also has three parts. First, stay fed. I quickly adopted a tow-behind water bottle filled with calories (maltodextrin and AminoX, mostly). Then, I started shoving a few Gu packs in my suit to snack on. During a typical training swim, I’ll consume about 500 cal/hr with more before and after. Second, vitamins. This might not be true, but I believe vitamin B boosts metabolism. Or at least, certainly doesn’t hurt it (and it’s miscible, so it’s very hard to overdose). Hence, my feed bottles contain crushed B-complex. I’d like to hear what my coworkers think when they see my crushing pills and mixing piles of white powder in the office lunchroom. My swim bag also contains gummy multivitamins and fish oil capsules. Third, move! When I move on land, I get hot quickly. Therefore, if I move fast in the water…you get the idea. Which brings us to

    Be in shape. To warm up, literally, at the start of my cold water workouts, I jump in and swim as fast as possible until the cold numbs my skin. And when I start feeling cold later on? Swim faster! The product of these two is a fast-paced, survival-based swim. And this works! Despite minimal interval training, every time I jump in a pool I find my pace to still be over 4 km/hr. When I do want to work on something, in or out of the pool, it is usually getting my stroke rate up from 59-60 to anything over 60. Moving more means more calories burned means more heat generated means less dying in July. Right now, I feel like I’m in nearly the same shape I was before MIMS last year despite a very, very different training “plan”.

    By the way, “Be in shape” is easier said than done when there is no coach, no workout, no pool, and no pattern to one’s life. This is where being opportunistic has come in. When I’m in Seattle, opportunistic simply means heading to the beach after work and on weekends. Everywhere else, it means exploration and adventure. Awesome adventure. There was the day in Abbotsford, BC where the wave pool was turned on for my entire pool workout. There was a 2.5k swim in Delta, BC when I high-fived snails for forty-five minutes because the water was so shallow (it was called Mud Bay, go figure). There was the gorgeous Kinsmen Centre pool in Edmonton, AB, and the time the fire department showed up when I took my to work out to the adjacent river. There were olympians at a pool in San Jose, CA, two-foot breaking waves in Lake George, NY., and instructions on igloo building from a stranger while warming up on a Vancouver beach. Opportunistic isn’t always convenient or ideal, definitely not repeatable, but it seems to be working. I could write a whole post on the merits and challenges of opportunistic training, but suffice it to say: it works for me for now.

    After all of this, six months of swimming every chance and place possibly, I can get out of 50F water after two and a half hours and feel great! I am in shape, I have some brown and white fat building up, I have no excess fear for what’s to come.

    I also have no idea where I’m sleeping Tuesday night, but today is Saturday and I know where I’m swimming in the morning. And it’s not in the same country I’m in right now.

    Fine, you win. Here’s your workout: 200 w/u LCM, 8 x 1,000 @ 15:00 200 c/d

    Updated June 17th, 2013 at 01:27 AM by andrewmalinak

  18. Strait of Juan de Fuca: Tides & Currents

    by , June 17th, 2013 at 10:36 AM (Please tap on the glass)
    Heads up: there’s some math in this one.

    If you think knowing the tides and currents is all there is to planning a swim, you’re wrong. But if you think you can plan a swim without knowing the tides and currents, well, good luck. Even on training swims, currents play a big part (see Fig. 1). The methods presented herein are my own, developed over the past year and largely untried in the real world. This swim will either be a joyful validation of my methods, or a long, cold, learning experience.

    Figure 1: The effect of various currents on an out-and-back swim loop

    Adverse currents were cited as the reason for stopping in numerous historic articles about past swims. The reason why is clear when you look at a map. The Strait of Juan de Fuca, connecting the Puget Sound and Salish Sea to the Pacific Ocean, has currents ranging from 3kt flood to 3.5kt ebb swirling along the rocky shorelines, playing Plinko with the San Juan Islands. To get a good feel for the overall movement patterns, the Current Atlas (Atlas des Courants) published by Fisheries and Oceans Canada is extremely helpful (see Fig. 2). Unfortunately, its resolution, both spatial and temporal, is not sufficient for planning on the scale of a swim.

    Figure 2: Excerpt from the Current Atlas showing some tricky currents.

    There is one resource that probably every American swimmer who has the slightest interest in currents has referenced: the NOAA tidal current prediction tables. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration publishes current predictions on hundreds of stations across the US, providing times and velocities for maximum flood and, and slack times in between. They’re published well in advance so do not take wind or weather into account, but provide a reliable starting point for any maritime excursion. The downside is, they only provide a bunch of data points, not a curve.

    To connect the dots, I’ve written a formula that fits each predicted high and low with a piecewise sine curve (Fig 3) and put it into an Excel spreadsheet, allowing me to calculate a current velocity at any given time. Since this equation does not take into account the predicted slack-current times, there is there is almost certainly some error. This error appears worse for some stations, but relatively good for the two stations I’ve based my model on. This unquantified “goodness” is assessed by matching up the predicted slack times with the plotted equation and seeing how closely they match (Fig. 4). Some have been as close as 6 minutes.

    Figure 3: an equation to fit a sine curve calculating y at time t given a time range and y range (y = current velocity, tidal height, etc.)

    Figure 4: A calculated velocity profile showing NOAA-predicted slack current times as red triangles

    With a way to calculate currents and a feel for how the water sloshes, the course can be set. To make planning uncomplicated and conservative, I like to pick one heading for the duration of the swim and let the currents take me where they will. There is a bit of guess and check involved. In half-hour increments, I draw a line from the start along the fixed heading scaled to correspond with my anticipated speed, and then another matching the direction and velocity of the current just calculated. Repeat, repeat, repeat until the other shore is reached, or it becomes clear the other shore will not be reached (Fig. 5). By varying start times and headings, I’ve now got at least two routes planned for each day of my window.

    Figure 5: Sample of route creation method showing 30-min steps

    One of the responsibilities of my swim manager will be to compare these predictions to our actual progress. By keeping a constant heading throughout the route planning, it should be easy to anticipate where a deviated heading will take us. My goal is to hit one of the two coves in Washington and end on a sandy beach. Fortunately, the coastline here is relatively straight, so messing up the currents should only mean a little extra swimming and/or ending on a rocky cliff.

    The most important things in planning tides and currents are a reliable set of predictions and a good feel for how the currents operate. I admit I don’t really know the intricacies of the Strait the way I’d like to, but products like the Current Atlas help, but I think I’ve been conservative enough in my planning to account for a few reverse eddies near shore or a delay due to shipping traffic. I’m excited to find out if this works.

    Updated June 17th, 2013 at 11:45 AM by andrewmalinak (typo)

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  19. Strait of Juan de Fuca: VTS, AIS, and not getting squashed

    by , June 27th, 2013 at 12:53 PM (Please tap on the glass)

    From the beginning I knew that if I was swimming across a shipping channel, at least one person, or one government agency, would care about it. Without the right permission, this and future attempts at this swim would be jeopardized, and that is the opposite of my goal. So I Googled “Coast Guard Seattle.”

    After several phone calls up and down the chain of command, many including the phrase, “yes, swimming,” I ended up with the number to Vessel Traffic Service (VTS) Sector Puget Sound. VTS is a part of the US Coast Guard that controls America’s ports, waterways, and shipping channels; they are the air traffic controllers of our inland waters. The Strait of Juan de Fuca west of Victoria is controlled by VTS here in Seattle and not VTS in Victoria. Lucky! This is where I first spoke with LCDR MK, who did not ask me “swimming?

    A week later, MK and I met at her office in the Seattle Port along with VTS Director MA. The two of them explained their procedures, how VTS works, and what they would expect from me as far as safety goes. Since this is a one-swimmer deal, there would be no permit. As we talked about the route I had in mind, and they really made me believe this was possible. We were talking logistics and a way forward rather than Danger! or Cold! or Boats! or Common Sense!

    VTS would require an AIS Class A device on board during the swim[i]. An AIS, simply put, sends and receives GPS signals by VHF so boats can see each other, and so VTS can see the boats. A Class A is required by 33CFR164.46 on all boats of a certain size, bigger than…yawn…oh, sorry. Oil tankers and ferries have ‘em, your uncle’s boat doesn’t. So finding a small, swim-escort size boat with a Class A was a challenge.

    Spoiler alert: I still haven’t found one. I got two prices for such boats. The first was a commercial tender, 65 feet long, and expensive. I’d basically be hiring these guys to not deliver supplies to ocean going ships for a day. Option Two was a recommendation of the VTS director (did I tell you they were awesome?), an ex-VTS staffer who had put a Class A on his private sailboat. After letting him name his own price, he was at 80% of the commercial boat’s Really Expensive price. Having someone so knowledgeable on my crew felt right, so I bit the bullet and went for it. Then, the day after I told him he was my guy, he got sent to Mississippi to run their VTS for the summer. Bummer.

    Fortunately, this left me with only one option. Buy a Class A device and hire anyone that looks like they won’t sink halfway through the swim. Since Class A’s are federally mandated devices meant for really big boats, they don’t run cheap. The best I could do was $2,500, from a nearby Miltech Marine. I asked if there was a Groupon, they said, “huh?” But even for that price plus hiring a boat for a day, I’d still come out a few hundred dollars ahead than if I’d gone with the first two options, plus I’d own a Class A at the end. Sold!

    After I got to the yeah-we-remember-who-you-are level with the AIS dealer figuring out if making this thing portable was possible, it finally arrived. Long, long story short, after I figured out how to connect it to a 12v plug fused at 4 amps, soldered a connection onto a 3' VHF whip antenna, sorted out a VSWR error, put the whole thing in a waterproof case, and got to the yeah-we-remember-who-you-are level at West Marine: it works!

    So now VTS can watch me swim. And so can you! One side benefit of the AIS is I’ll show up on all those vessel tracking websites. You can search for my MMSI (367575160) or look for “Swimmer In The Water” in the area of my swim once we get going. Check out,, or

    I’m meeting with MK and MA at VTS in two weeks to talk more about how to not get run over by an oil tanker, and they’re guiding me through my Coast Guard safety stuff as well. They’ve been way more supportive than I ever would have expected. After this is over, they'll be getting a very good Yelp review.

    [i] If you want to know why a cheaper Class B wouldn’t work, I can explain after class.

  20. Strait of Juan de Fuca: The swim

    by , August 3rd, 2013 at 04:13 PM (Please tap on the glass)

    We set out of Sequim harbor on the morning of Sunday, 28 July 2013 with a light fog and headed into last night’s lingering waves. The wind had only been 18kts – less than I’d originally feared – so the seas were choppy but manageable. We went in and out of fog banks on the way out as I sat in the back and watched Caitlin spell “F-U-C-A” to the Canadian Border Service on the phone and then call up Vessel Traffic (VTS). I ate a sausage egg and cheese as our little boat pounded her way through the thickening fog.

    All of a sudden, the sun peaked out and then there it was, the coast of Vancouver Island. Along shore, the weather was bright and clear with little or no wind and flat water. The rocky cliffs were lower than I’d imagined they would be, and the combination of teal water, grey rocks, tall Northwestern pines, and blue sky set me at ease. It was perfect. Behind us, however, lay a thick bank of fog, just as I’d feared.

    Caitlin had been on and off the phone with VTS about the fog for a while now, and they were requesting a mile of visibility to begin the swim. After a while, Caitlin convinced them to allow the swim to start and we’d deal with the fog if and when we reached it. It was a great move, because it allowed me to do the thing I’d been most hoping to do for months now.

    We launched the kayak as I gulped down a tin of sardines and quickly read the rules of the swim aloud to the crew and reminded everyone how serious I was about them (they knew, already). Cap on, Caitlin asked if I didn’t want something thicker than the thin Latex one I was wearing. Yes, she was right. My mind was still in training mode (make it harder for yourself) and switched to a thicker silicone cap.

    The boat faced east. I faced west. We were only about 25m from shore when I jumped, the swim through the kelp went quick and I hauled myself out on the rocks next to a Canadian fisherman. We shook hands and I told him I was swimming to America. Before he let it set in, I turned around and set my goggles. Kayaker Steve bumped the shore with his boat (he wanted to make the full crossing as well), and I dove back into the smooth green water.

    The sun was on my back and a huge smile was on my face. Victory! Eight months of planning and here we were. Sandwiched between blue sky and the sea, surrounded by a qualified and passionate support crew, the coast of Canada behind me, the American shore some twelve miles distant. As promised, I did some good reflecting on everything and everyone who helped me get here as I slid through the flat water.

    Somewhere around the first half hour I began to notice the cold. About the same time, so did my crew. The ships thermometer was reading between 46 and 47F (8 to 9C). On the boat, some jaws reportedly dropped. This was 5 degrees colder than I’d been expecting, and almost 8 degrees colder than what I’d seen on the buoys in the weeks leading up. Cleverly, my crew did NOT tell me this and let me go on thinking it was about 51 and I was just being a wimp.

    At around half an hour, we said farewell to the sun and entered the fog. To my left was the water, blending into the sky. To my right was Steve, blending into the fog, blending into the sky. For the second time now, Steve was the perfect kayaker. He knew what needed to be done and did it. And his aim with a water bottle was flawless. Steve provided a huge amount of mental warmth, something about seeing that red and yellow kayak 10m away made me feel safe. When he’d disappear to get a new water bottle, I felt cold. And alone. It was eerie out there.

    During one feed, I was finishing up yet another bottle of calories when I heard a BWWWWAAAAAaaaaaaa from behind Steve’s left shoulder. “Don’t worry. It’s about two miles away. They’re keeping an eye on them.” Stoic. Well, who am I to argue? Face in the water, move on.

    Little did I know, but they were really watching out for me. VTS and Caitlin were hard at work moving mountains of steel. The Traffic Separation Scheme has an inbound and outbound lane in the Strait with a median-like separation zone in between. While I swam in the shipping lanes, vessels were being sent out into the separation zone to avoid me. Pause for a moment to reflect upon the awesomeness of this…

    Shortly after two hours, the shivering began. I was now gulping down half a water bottle of calories every fifteen minutes and emptying a full bladder in the same interval. My metabolism was maxed out and I wasn’t getting any warmer. But I’ve shivered a long time before and was set to deal with it again. I was over thirty minutes ahead of schedule and knew I could hold out to the end.

    Around four and a half hours, I broke my rule and asked how much farther. I needed the motivation. My thigh flexors were screaming from the shivering, and all I could think of was how I wanted to curl up in a wingback chair bundled under a heavy blanket and doze off while pretending to read. “One point eight miles,” Steve said curtly, “you’re doing great, keep going.” Emotion wasn’t what I needed, just a voice gently telling me to keep going. So I did. I could do another hour.

    I asked Steve to stay by my side. I needed the company and the distraction he provided as we made our way quietly through the fog over gently rolling swells. The water had reached 50 at one point early on, but was now back in the high 40s.

    With thirty more minutes behind me, I needed to hear I was under a mile. The shoreline was too foggy to see. “One point five,” Steve said, “keep going, you’re almost there.” The numbers didn’t add up, but I could do another 45 minutes. A little more of this game was played and at six hours, I asked again. A confused murmur went through the crew, “You need to swim fast,” or “you’re doing great,” or “just over a mile.”

    That hurt. By now I could tell that something wasn’t right, we were moving too slowly to make this work. My ears had been filled with a high ringing for over a half hour and my vision was getting unreliable. I had a mile left in me, but the swim had more than a mile left in it. At six hours and ten minutes, I took my goggles off and looked at my crew, then at Steve, then I grabbed on to the front of the kayak. Clinging to the deck, he paddled me back to the boat.

    What went wrong? Not a lot. I did exactly what I wanted to do. I set out from Vancouver Island in a speedo, cap, and goggles and swam for twelve miles and longer than six hours. The only thing I didn’t do was to reach the other shore. We got started an hour late and I hadn’t given a clear course to follow for that time. Both an 8am course and 10 am course would have been handy, allowing us to swim between the two rather than just guessing “stay east.” With that we might have avoided what I assume was an eddy pushing us off shore. With that, I’ll be on shore in under five hours next time.

    What went right? Everything else. Sure, we’ve got little things to work on, but given the scale and complexity of this swim, and the fact that none of us had ever attempted to plan something like this from scratch, we did an awesome job!
    From that December evening I picked out two points on a map and declared to myself I am going to swim that, to dinner with friends in Port Angeles after Customs checked us back into the US, this has been a fantastic journey. Thank you for letting me share it with you.

    And next time, I’ll remember to pack a towel.

    Andrew still resides and swims in Seattle, and continues to be unable to thank his crew enough for what they’ve done. His next attempt will be in the Summer of 2014. #SJDF2014