Sunday night was a good night for sleeping. Yeah, I was a bit tired from what I’d done that day, but for the first time in a long time my mind was calm while I slept. It is nice to have this part of my story behind me; I’m excited for a bit of quiet.
To contrast, last week was anything but quiet. At the suggestion of a Seattle Times employee, I sent out a dinky little press release Wednesday morning to a few local news outlets. The time spent on the press release was roughly eight minutes, sixty percent of which was Wikapedia-ing “press release” for instructions. Eight minutes was all I really wanted to spend on media the week before my swim as I wrapped up my training, assembled my crew and packed my bags. My bad.
By Friday afternoon when we got on the ferry to the Olympic Peninsula, I’d spoken with two newspapers, been interviewed before my last workout, accidentally given a live talk-radio interview, and had snuck out of work mid-day to do a second, lengthier television interview. I did not realize so many people cared about the swim, but I like it! It reminds me of how things were in the 1950’s when this swim was big, and how things should be again for such an amazingly challenging sport.
Any good adventure is a combination of man versus himself, man versus nature, and man versus machine. This swim was no exception. The hours rushing up to Sunday, media aside, were an exhausting, frightening time to be me.
My long-stated goal for that week was to leave the Canadian shore in a bathing suit aiming for America, but the weather forecast was making the chances of that happening dim. NOAA was forecasting gale force winds (over 30kts) almost every night that week which wouldn’t diminish until around midnight. Those winds would certainly make some treacherous waves. On top of that, add the unpredictable fog that had been coming and going willy-nilly for weeks, and you can begin to see why I’d be terrified that this planning was all for nothing.
I made the decision (and my adrenaline is rushing just recounting it now) to go on Sunday. The forecast for that day looked the least-bad. Also to the captain, and to the Coast Guard, and to kayaker Steve, who reminded me that NOAA is always conservative on their forecasts, and all that added up to a small bit of reassurance. The decision for when to go was ultimately mine, and I’d only be able to blame myself if I got it wrong. So, I went for it, but pushed back the start from 6am to 8am to allow the winds a bit more time to lay down and the rumpled water to be ironed out.
The change in start time meant a change to my refined 24-page plan, which meant recalculating the currents, recalculating the route, and then plotting it to get some coordinates for my crew, plus running it all by the Coast Guard for their approval. Which then meant a few late nights trying to finish this up AND finish everything I’d already planned to do that week.
There was a huge amount of relief by Friday afternoon knowing that whatever the weather and waves were like, I’d already set a time and date. I’d let Future Andrew yell at Past Andrew later on, if need be, for his lack of clairvoyance, but right now my decision was set in stone and we were moving forward.
Now here, there are some dull details that every swimmer goes through before a big event. Grocery shopping, crew meeting, loading the boat, pre-swim dinner (enchiladas and beer), hunting for a pre-swim sausage egg and cheese, hike to a secluded beach to hunt for rocks, trying my best to not get injured, and a trip to the laundromat. If you’ve ever done a crew-assisted marathon swim, you know what went on here. If you haven’t…what are you waiting for, go do one!
Sunday morning. Alarm rings at 5am. Caitlin doesn’t even let me snooze once and we’re up, getting packed, suit on, and at the marina by 6am. We meet the Captain as he walks up in his snazzy captain’s shirt. “Well, I’ve gotta look the part,” he says. Don’t we all. My bathing suit is a size too small.
Good morning, Strait of Juan de Fuca! Let’s go!
The swim itself deserves its own post. And that is just what it’ll get.
On a final note, the best thing that came from all of this was the first line of the front-page above-the-fold article on Sunday’s Peninsula Daily News. The line reads: “Andrew Malinak is not crazy.” I assume it has been fact-checked.
Where are my manners! There are barely two weeks to go and I still haven’t introduced you to the most important people in the world! I’m so sorry.
No marathon swim is done alone. We all know that by now. Throughout the planning, I have been helped by many, many people, and we’ll mention them later on. Right now, I want you to meet the four people who will be on the water with me during the swim.
By now you know the difficulty I went through with finding a boat. I believe that saga ended with a now-I-can-find-any-boat-out-there statement. So why Captain Charles M? Well, not just because he said yes, and not just because his price was reasonable, but because he convincingly reassured me his boat could handle the Strait and he knew the waters. But perhaps most importantly, I detected a hint of enthusiasm on our first phone conversation.
Captain Charles runs a boat service called The Water Limousine out of Sequim, WA. We have yet to meet in person so there isn’t much else to say, other than I’m thrilled to hear his enthusiastic response every time I call to make sure he is still interested in the swim.
The Strait is not an easy thing to cross, either by swimming, in a kayak, or in a fishing boat. When I began looking for a kayaker, I knew that I’d have to have someone who is beyond seaworthy. If my kayaker gets in trouble or needs babysitting, then my safety and the success of the swim are in peril. (Next time we go out for a drink, ask me about the time I swam across the Hudson while my dad kayaked, and then ask me why I’m being picky.) Not knowing any local kayakers too well, I reached out to the Washington Kayak Club and ended up with an introduction to Steve G. His qualifications checked out, and I figured I’d be able to mold him to my liking during some practice swims.
Steve didn’t need molding. First of all, he showed up to our practice swim more prepared than I was (multiple dry bags, a GPS, his own VHF radio, etc.). Then, he just continued to impress me. After fifteen minutes and one minor comment, he stayed in the perfect spot, at the perfect speed for the rest of the four hours. I’m blown away. I feel extremely lucky to have found him. And the best part: after four hours, he offered to do another practice swim. Enthusiasm!
Steve recently completed a two-week sailing race around Vancouver Island.
The Swim Wrangler
The most important qualification of any crew member is: she brings her own “Crew” jacket. Meet Meghan P.
If the water is cold enough and severe hypothermia sets in, I need someone who can tell the difference between me saying nonsensical things, and me saying nonsensical things because I’m about to die. Meghan is the “crew” part of my Crew. She’ll be filling up my water bottles and looking after me from the boat. Not only does Meghan have her own “Crew” jacket, but she is a swimmer, she has crewed for me before (BLS2012), and she has known me since I was ten. If someone has to make the hard decision to pull my semi-conscious body out of the sea, Meghan will be able to draw that line at the right place.
Meghan recently left her home in Rhode Island after contracting what clinicians call Delayed-Onset Quarter Life Crisis. She is currently driving, camping, and hiking her way across the country. You can follow her travels on her blog. She’d better make it to Seattle on time.
The Swim Manager
With two international borders to cross, currents to contend with, and a large-scale game of Frogger being played, there needs to be someone looking after the big picture. Caitlin R. is a marathon swimmer who's originally from Seattle, so the idea for swimming the Strait has been bouncing around her head for a while. If there is one person that would listen to all the details of the planning, it would be her. Because her interest in this swim is so much more than just a passing curiosity, she is the perfect person for this role.
Caitlin is a teacher at a Brooklyn, NY school for students with learning disabilities. She is also a marathon swimmer and keeps a blog about her swimming experiences: thowmeintheocean.com.
So there they are. If things stop going right during the swim, at least I can be sure I’ve got four good people watching after me.
(And don't you worry. I'll get around to thanking the huge number of people that have helped me in other capacities.)