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On a quest to be adopted as an aquarium animal, I'm swimming as often as I can in as many places as possible. Following a recent move from New York City to Seattle, I'm slowly turning into a pinniped. This is that story.

  1. 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 nights lingering waves. The wind had only been 18kts less than Id 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 Id 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 Id 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 wed deal with the fog if and when we reached it. It was a great move, because it allowed me to do the thing Id 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 didnt 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 Id been expecting, and almost 8 degrees colder than what Id 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 hed 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 Steves left shoulder. Dont worry. Its about two miles away. Theyre 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 wasnt getting any warmer. But Ive 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, youre doing great, keep going. Emotion wasnt 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, youre almost there. The numbers didnt 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 youre doing great, or just over a mile.

    That hurt. By now I could tell that something wasnt 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 didnt do was to reach the other shore. We got started an hour late and I hadnt 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, Ill be on shore in under five hours next time.

    What went right? Everything else. Sure, weve 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, Ill remember to pack a towel.

    Andrew still resides and swims in Seattle, and continues to be unable to thank his crew enough for what theyve done. His next attempt will be in the Summer of 2014. #SJDF2014
  2. Strait of Juan de Fuca: A short thank you

    by , July 28th, 2013 at 10:45 AM (Please tap on the glass)

    The swim has started. I’ve just jumped in. It is 8am here on the coast of Vancouver Island. There are six hours left to go.

    Yes, it is 6am and I’ve only just jumped in, but I’d never have made it this far without you. There are many, many people who have helped make this swim a success. And this swim IS already a success. Who would let the outcome of a piddly twelve-mile swim define the success of something that has taken eight months to plan? Not me. The planning was the challenge, the adventure, the thrill.

    The planning has been the adventure, and along the way I’ve met people who have offered everything, few who’ve offered nothing, and many who gave what they could, even a mere point in the right direction or a kind consideration. All of you are remembered, and all the help has been deeply appreciated.

    So, while I swim, here’s a quick thank you to those of you who helped make this swim possible:

    • Mark and LCDR Meridena at Sector Puget Sound Vessel Traffic Service: thank you for being positive, thorough, and professional, for going beyond what your job requires, and for helping me resolve some of the most difficult parts of the planning.
    • Dan the Port Angeles Port Director, Customs and Border Patrol: thank you for your flexibility allowing me to take the route of my choosing.
    • Donna, at the Pacific Coast Highway CANPASS Application Center: thank you for your personal touch to the CANPASS process, including all the phone calls and faxes to see that these went through on time.
    • Captain Bob, Randy, and the staff of West Marine Store 1271 Seattle: thank you for patiently helping me with a lot of questions about your products (which eventually, after several months, ended in a sale).
    • Doug, and the staff of Milltech Marine: thank you for repeatedly explaining how an AIS works and listening to me explain what I was trying to do (also, eventually ended in a sale).
    • Vicki Keith and Peter Urrea: thank you for taking the time to tell me about your Strait swims. I love knowing your stories. And thank you to those who helped me track Peter down.
    • Evan M, Dave B, Phil W, Steve M, and the marathon swimming community: thank you for fielding some early questions about this swim.
    • Faculty and Staff of various oceanographic institutions, Scripp’s, UW, NOAA, Seattle and Vancouver Aquariums, WS DFW: thank you for offering what advice and guidance you could with regards to tides, currents, and sea creatures.
    • Doug S (PA Power Squadron), Ernie N (USCG Aux), Todd (PA Boat Haven), Ken V, Tom Y (Tommycod Charters), Jeremy & Jack (Arrow Launch) and others: thank you for being a part of the emotional roller-coaster ride that was finding a suitable boat.
    • Open Water Swimmers everywhere, especially CIBBOWS and those out here in Seattle: thank you for listening, and thank you for asking. Thank you for offering, and thank you for giving. The Open Water community is the greatest group of people I’ve ever met.
    • To my family and my almost-family: thank you for supporting my crazy things, and for teaching me how to do them.



    My crew – Charles, Steve, Meg, and Caitlin: thank you.
  3. Strait of Juan de Fuca: training, part 1 of 2

    by , June 8th, 2013 at 07:46 PM (Please tap on the glass)
    Ive 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 wouldnt 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 wont 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, youll probably see an explanation of how Im scurrying to adjust for my plans shortcomings.

    Last December, when I moved to Seattle, I knew Id be travelling a lot. As I write this, Im 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 well say represents my level of acclimatization) Ive been working on since I first jumped in Lake Washington in January. And Im working on it three or four times a week when Im 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, Ill 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 doesnt hurt it (and its miscible, so its very hard to overdose). Hence, my feed bottles contain crushed B-complex. Id 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 wateryou 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 Im 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 ones life. This is where being opportunistic has come in. When Im 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 isnt 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 whats to come.

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

    Fine, you win. Heres 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

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