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  1. Strait of Juan de Fuca: The 24 page pre-plan

    by , July 21st, 2013 at 12:04 PM (Please tap on the glass)

    ->> skip straight to the document <<-

    This is it, my final post before the swim. Meghan and Caitlin are in town, the weather remains sunny and calm, and all indications point to a go on 28 July 2013. But we wouldn’t be able to start without the pre-plan being approved.

    Last summer, I began typing up a “so you’re going to crew for me” type document to make early morning pre-swim discussions with an unfamiliar captain and crew a little easier. It is two pages and goes over what I want and expect from them on the average swim, and what they should want and expect from me. This document, along with the one-page supplement, makes up the last three pages of this swim’s pre-plan.

    Early on in the planning, it became clear that the swim manager would need to have a lot written down to get across the borders and shipping lanes, so I began to draft a swim-specific pre-plan. As July approached, VTS recommended I submit a pre-plan for them to distribute to various agencies, and I was like, “easy, here it is!” They made one set of comments (thorough comments) and included emergency numbers, proper VTS procedure, and asked me to clarify some why’s and how’s. When they passed it on to the Port Angeles USCG station, USCBP, CBSA, and the Canadian Coast Guard, they got unanimous approval on the first try – something I’m told is a feat in itself.

    The document is attached for your use, review, and enjoyment. It’s sections are broken up as follows:
    1. definitions; vessel details
    2. entry into Canada
    3. entry into US
    4. communications
    5. emergency numbers
    6. VTS
    7. CANPASS worksheet
    8. safety goal
    9. safety authority
    10. crew responsibilities
    11. go/no-go decision
    12. safety plan
    13. escort craft description
    14. swim rules (taken from Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association rules)
    15. current overview
    16. daily route plans with current info
    17. general crew info
    18. specific crew info.


    The document can be found at my old MIMS2012 website:
    http://andrewswimsmims.com/wp-conten...y-redacted.pdf

    Thanks for sharing in the adventure!
  2. Strait of Juan de Fuca: Customs

    by , July 18th, 2013 at 10:05 PM (Please tap on the glass)

    As the more astute among have realized by now, there are international borders to be crossed in this swim. In fact, the question I get more often than “Where is that?” (get a map!) or “With a wet suit, right?” (glare…no) is “Do you have to carry your passport?” Yes. Yes I do.

    This is a long post, and you can blame Congress for that. Things got way tricky in 2002 as the Department of Homeland Security came onto the scene. Also, having the Canadian Navy sail into my path, megaphone in hand, shouting, “soorry to bother you, but if you could please stop swimming, we’d like to arrest you, if that’s alright,” would get in the way of Goal Number Two. Rule following is key.

    At the beginning of April, I took a scouting trip to Port Angeles to look for boats, look for access to the finish locations, and chat up the folks at the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP). Fortunately, Port Angeles is a port of entry into the US, so they’ve got a customs house that handles the occasional ferry passengers and cargo ships entering via the local port. Even more fortunately, the port is relatively small, so getting in touch with the Port Director is pretty easy (far easier than it was when I tried calling the Miami port, for example). So, we chatted.

    After I got Port Director Dan to believe that I was actually planning something legitimate, we began talking details. Apparently, every commercial vessel (defined as anyone for hire, including my escort boat) is subject to some amazingly complex requirements for entry into the US. This includes things such as the 24-hour Electronic Manifest Rule using the Automated Commercial Environment, and International Carrier Bonds (ICB) for Non-Vessel Operating Common Carriers. After much research (look up 67 FR 66318 and 19 CFR 4.7 (b)(3)(i) if you want extra credit), I finally understood the ICB was a major reason I was having difficulty finding a cheap boat option. The ICB is a $50,000 bond to be used in the event any you get any fines from the CBP, which by this stage I was certain we inadvertently would.

    Obtaining the bond was priced by one captain as about $1,000, and that was if I went through the commercial launch previously described (total now at $5,000 for that boat), and it was way, way over budget to ask a one man show, such as Captain Charles, to get. I reached out to the swimming community for help on this issue and got nothing. I even called the Port of Miami (the port that covers where those Cuba swimmers would land) to see what they were requiring, and got nothing. At a dead end, I talked some more with Port Director Dan and he agreed to use his power to waive the requirement “just this once.” I suspect he’d waive it again though, if you ask nicely. And if I don’t mess things up for you.

    To wrap things up, Dan told me that while technically I was supposed to call into the Port before setting foot on land, he’d send someone out to the beach to meet me. I offered at first to drive over to the Port to check in, but seeing as I could easily do my secret dealings between the beach and Port (they’re called Budgie Smugglers for a reason), he insisted to meet me at the beach. Which is AMAZING! Goal Number One: start the swim. Goal Number Two: picture of me handing my passport to a CBP agent on the beach. Can’t wait!

    But we haven’t even gotten o the start of the swim yet. Getting into Canada is easier, luckily. First, the US and Canada have a pretty decent relationship citation needed. Second, Canada has actually managed to use technology to simplify the border clearance prOcess rather than using technology to make a simple thing cumbersome and convoluted. A while back, Canada started a pre-clearance program, CANPASS, which eventually would merge with NEXUS (the joint Canada/US program). Most travelers use the NEXUS program, but some, especially private boat and aircraft passengers, can still use CANPASS, which only involves the Canadian Border Service Agency (CBSA). With CANPASS, you call ahead en route to check in and the CBSA can decide to meet you for inspection at the port of entry or not, and you’re set to go. Real simple.

    Again, I’m looking to avoid calling into Victoria. That’s an exercise that would add about 3 hours to an already very early morning. Luck would have it, a friendly CANPASS agent told me on the phone it should be fine to just head straight to the beach as long as we all had CANPASS since no one would really be touching shore (except me, for all of 8 seconds). So I got my crew all signed up and we’re ready to go.

    (Quick shout out to Donna at the CANPASS application office in Surrey, BC. Donna actually called me several times to make sure I was sending in some paperwork I forgot, and to personally give me status updates on the applications. Customer service from a government agency? Only in Canada.)

    This was not what I expected to be doing when I envisioned this swim. I was thinking tides, currents, and boat traffic. Not reading the CFR. It appears far less complicated now, sitting here in mid-July, than it appeared in April. I admit I made it harder than it had to be since I’ve been striving for transparency and legality, but I really don’t want to spoil it for everyone else.

    If you’re serious about making a trip across, let me know and I’ll get you to the right people. Names and phone numbers and everything.
  3. 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 shipfinder.co, vesselfinder.com, or marinetraffic.com.

    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.