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Maui Channel Swim 2012

Rating: 5 votes, 5.00 average.

Let me start by saying I give really good advice, frequently excellent advice, and when I give you advice, you should take it. More importantly, make sure I plan on following my own advice.

I am getting ahead of my self, untaken self advice is towards the end of the story, but important enough to mention first. Back around the time I was doing the Waikiki Roughwater, Coach Anna said that she wanted to do the Maui Channel Swim, a relay of six people who swim from Lanai to Maui with the aid of a guide boat. Like a good little swimmer, I nodded my head and said sure and continued on with my ignoring-the-coach thing I occasionally do.

Strangely, Anna kept mentioning the Maui Channel Swim (MCS). She mentioned it so many times over a long enough period that I thought she might be serious, unlike when she says "kick with no flippers". About this time she had also convinced me that I was in charge of organizing the relay, head coach Dave independently seconded this idea and I nodded my head like a good little swimmer and started recruiting.

In November the relay became official when I mentioned it to Dennis, who went home and mentioned it to Molly, who said something along the lines of "If you have to be eaten by a shark for me to have a Maui vacation, so be it" and promptly booked his tickets.

By Christmas we had a half dozen people interested, and by June we had almost the same half dozen signed up.

Dallas Aquatic Masters (DAM) has sent relays for 21 years, so instead of finding a boat, organizing hotel rates and doing a whole lot of work I am too lazy to do, we just signed up through DAM. The DAM rate at the Sheraton was better than any other comparable hotel rate, they provided us with a boat captain we were very happy with and they did all the paperwork and money handling for the MCS side of things. Pretty darn easy.

As relay organizer, I did do a fair bit of research on estimating trip cost, when to buy airfare, if the Sheraton deal was the best price, what we needed to worry about and when relay organizer became team captain I attended to paperwork requests, phone calls to the boat captain, attending meetings and paying the captain. My only organization failure was not keeping everyone up to date when times kept changing and in the future, I would know to just publish the official times of all the meetings the day before they happen since they moved around by an hour and that hour is only important the day of the meeting, not two weeks before.

The stars aligned, and we all trickled into Maui free of injury. The DAM "organized" practice swims off black rock are really times when lots of swimmers will be in the water, so I ended up leading 3 practice swims for our relay. During no single practice swim did we have all 6 team mates because of flight and tour schedules, but there was nothing critical we all needed to be present for at the same time. I am not sure how restful a vacation this trip was to Maui for most of my teammates, because some of them packed their schedules with activities, but I think everyone enjoyed their time in Maui, and touring didn't impact anyones swim.

Saturday morning, time to get on the boat! Four swimmers were staying in the hotel and two were staying somewhere else, so the hotel swimmers met in the lobby at 6am to head to the boat ramp to meet everyone else about 6:30 to load the boat and wait for it to be launched. We were on the road by 6:02, loaded the boat and headed to starbucks for a coffee until 6:45, the estimated launch time. By the time we got back to the ramp (the Starbuck's really is a block away), Captain Lee had launched and was waiting for us, "patiently", as we took pre race pictures.

OH! Our team name! (Skip if you really only care about the swim) Dennis was the first to book (via his lovely wife Molly who could care less if Dennis actually swam if she got to go to Maui), but about that time he started a new company. This company happened to be a fire and water damage company and their clients usually notice their house has been flooded, after the get home from work... which means late nights. Good news, Dennis' business is doing quite well, bad news is all their business is usually until late at night and he doesn't have anyone trained that he trusts to be first on site yet. So Dennis stopped showing up at the 5am practices a few weeks after signing up for the race. In early August, we have a prerace party... and Dennis doesn't make it because of a call that came in. His wife and kids made it to the party... and approved of the name. Team Where's Dennis?!

It is about 6:50 and we make the 25 minute boat ride over to Lanai, the weather is beautiful and the seas are calm. We chatted with Captain Lee a bit about currents, our route, how we want to do transitions and how conditions will change as throughout the swim. The night before he gave me really good directions on how to swim into the Lanai since the swim into the beach hasn't been dredged in years, the channel is very narrow, there is lots of coral and we were at low tide. Keeping this advice in my I headed off to the beach, and did notice while swimming in that even the channel was incredibly shallow.

After an easy swim into the beach, I walked up to the beach and noticed my first mistake as I turned around to look at the boats. I switched to a new sun screen the morning of the race, and the new sunscreen left a haze on my goggles that I could not wash off in the sea water. Looking into the sun was very much like a sun flare in a photography, with the sun blurred across my vision and everything else left in a shadow. If I was looking forward, I could only see outlines of boats, but looking anywhere else, my vision was fine. Of course the start is directly into the sun, and was now completely dependent on my boat finding me.

[nomedia="][IMG][/IMG"]Anna pre race announcement MCS 2012 - YouTube[/nomedia]

This year's start was a water start for the first time, we lined up waist deep in the water at the end of the dock, a flag was waved and off we went. A thirty minute swim was no big deal for me, I had done a few 30 minute swims, 3k continuous and hour swims to become comfortable with long duration swims. What was really disconcerting was when I was 10 minutes into the swim looking for my boat and I kept seeing the same boat off to my right, after passing mosts boats quickly. I am pretty sure someone took their 100ft yacht out to watch the start of the race either on purpose or by chance, but I never thought I would get past it. A few minutes after passing the Queen Mary 2, my boat found me! Yeah, I can stop trying to sight into the sun!

With the boat in sight, things get pretty easy, just try to keep the Captain in sight and I am heading in the right direction. If I am looking at the bow, then I am heading too far north and probably away from the boat and if I am looking at the motors, I am going to run into the boat. This works pretty well if you and the boat can match pace, and it worked fine for me.

After following the boat for only a couple minutes, Anna signals me that there is only 5 minutes left and our signals are 8"x11" numbers stapled into a folder. I assume that I just didn't see the 1, and I have 15 minutes left.

Four minutes later the boat pulls away to drop Joe, the next swimmer, off in front of me. Right around the 30 minute mark, Joe tags me and I take off swimming towards the boat, climb in and take a seat.

That wasn't bad at all. I yet again was really surprised no one else wanted the first leg, I was the only one who has actually set foot on Lanai. What also surprised me was how many people took off faster than I did at the start, I was no where near the head of the pack. A lot of time was probably wasted trying to connect with the boat and if I did it over again, I would just head north after coming out of the channel and let the boat captain know that was my strategy. We had none, and I just swam towards the boats hoping for the best.

As the first swimmer, I now have 2.5 hours before I swim again and am fairly tired after my 30 minute swim so grab a seat at the back of the boat watching Joe followed by Dennis. I sunscreen immediately, and have a bottle of water during this time. After Anna goes in and I help Dennis up the ladder and stow it, I am feeling a little sea sick. I head to the cooler, grab a gatorade and take a non-drowsy dramamine.

Advice: Everyone on the relay got a sea sickness patch, and everyone followed the recommendations to put it on the day before... except me. I sent out the video to my team to convince everyone to get the patch, and I ignored the advice because it was supposed to be smooth this year. It was smooth this year. Nice smooth rolling 4-6 foot swells. My advice to everyone considering the MCS, GET THE PATCH, put it on 24 hours ahead of time.

Five minutes later: "Oh crap, I am going to pop" running to the back of the boat, hand over mouth trying to hold back my gatorade colored vomit before I actually get to the side and empty my stomach. Good news, it was all liquid that I drank since being on the boat. Bad news, probably another 4.5 hours in the sun with 30 minutes of intense swimming without being able to keep fluids down. I am now mildly concerned that I am jeopardizing the relay finishing and my health.

As far as sea sickness goes, my problem was mild, I just couldn't tolerate anything in my stomach. Once I emptied my stomach, I didn't feel great, but I wasn't hanging over the side green in the face either. So I manned the ladder waiting for my next swim to come up. There was some concern about me swimming, but I pointed out I was much more comfortable swimming than sitting on the boat.

About 5 minutes before my swim, I suggested that we pull well ahead of Chris (who was in the anchor spot), and I would drink a water then toss the bottle back in the boat. I knew dealing with stomach cramps are a non-issue compared with dealing with dehydration. This worked ok, but Chris' leg was in quite tough conditions, so I got very little time in the water with some water before she caught up. Going much further ahead and she would have difficulty sighting in the swells.

10 minutes of bliss. No cramps, the swells had gotten progressively bigger now that we were outside the protection of the Lanai shallows and the wind picked up a lot to create some chop. Fun swimming for me and about 5 minutes into it, I realized I wasn't pulling my weight at that my pace and stepped it up quite a bit.

After finishing my swim and climbing into the boat, my water bottle and gatorade that I didn't finish before my swim are nearby so I resetup near the ladder and am good for about 45 minutes. During one of the transitions as I put the ladder up, the Captain kicks the boat into gear, I get knocked back with my shin pressing the steel rod connecting the two engines, the captain makes a hard turn slicing a 3" gash into my shin. Not a banner day. I put some vaseline on it, cut man style, and hope to minimize the chumming. It is very shallow, so it doesn't bleed much, but I didn't think to pack anything to accelerate clotting, so the vaseline will have to do.

Right before going in again, I think I was video taping or something, my stomach does a somersault and I am at the back of the boat again. My swim starts in about 3 minutes from that point, I grab a bottle of water to rise and jump over the side to start my swim. Good to be back in the water!

At this point the swells are dying down and other than the occasional wind induced whitecap, the swimming is the easiest it has been for me since the start.

The water is crystal clear, but the ocean is so incredibly deep between the islands that all that you can see is a deep dark blue. It is beautiful, and enjoyable if you find swimming in the swells enjoyable, but I don't think any of my relay saw any sea life during the race. Most of us did experience some small stings during our swims that were probably from little jelly fish, but the pain went away before any of us were out of the water just leaving a short line of red marks where we were hit.

After another enjoyable 10 minutes in the water, I was back on the boat and we can start to see land marks. At this point the sea is pretty calm, my dramamine might have kicked in and seeing the end in sight, I actually feel good. Really good. Seemingly all the sudden I am up walking around the boat, chattering away, talking about swimming a group finish, who is going to be the one to finish and really enjoying the last 30 minutes.

Advice: Get the sea sickness patch. Put it on 24 hours before. Enjoy the ENTIRE race.

We all agree that we will swim to the finish together and by our time, I will be the one person who has to official run up the beach to the finish table. I want to finish as a group so I hang back and swim with the everyone into the beach, then I am off and running to the table. The finish is quite confusing because the finish table is setup in front of the boat lane, and since they had a boat run over a swimmer last year, they kept the table in the same spot, but moved the swim up buoys about 50 yards north so the water buoys don't line up with the flags of the chute in the least. Luckily, we weren't going to time, and there was someone to point down the beach to where the finish chute was.

Grabbed a celebratory water at the finish desk and headed back to hang out on the beach with the team and our families.

Even vomiting over the side of the boat, this was still an incredibly fun swim. The time flew by both in the water and on the boat.

Notes on the swim:

- Direct distance from start to finish: 9.85 miles
- Estimated swim distance: 12 miles (my estimate)
- Estimated swim time: 6 hours
- Actual swim time: 5:04:35
- Actual swim distance: 10.7 miles (garmin on the boat)
- Start time from Lanai: 8am
- Leave from Mala Ramp Maui: 6:50am
- only food I saw consumed on the boat: water, gatorade, gu, fig newtons, salt tablets
- food on the boat: Apples, oranges, drink powder, peanuts, potato chips, cookies, energy bars, rolls.

I am not sure our transition method was as effective as it could have been. It took a long time to get the finishing swimmer on the boat leaving the next swimmer without a guide for 2-3 minutes.

We brought way too much on the boat.

The fig newtons were really popular. One or two sealed packages of cookies is probably enough food. Even I wasn't hungry and most of the food bought was not eaten on the boat.

Spray sunscreen sucks on a windy boat. The spray ends up on the boat and in your teammates eyes and mouth. Consider non-spray for the boat.

Consider zinc oxide for the nose.

Put on the same sunscreen on the beach before practice swims as you will use on the boat during the race. Does the sunscreen cloud your goggles, get in your eyes, etc? Address these issues before the race.

Leave flip flops with the person who drops you off at the boat ramp. They aren't needed on the boat, and if everyone swims to the finish, no one has shoes! Beach sand is hot and not having shoes limits the post race celebration options.

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Updated September 9th, 2012 at 02:00 PM by qbrain



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  1. qbrain's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by chowmi
    Wow you were out there a long time! Did you guys attempt to go straight? I heard that those that did, and didn't get a lot behind them early (like the Edmund Fitzgerald), were really struggling through the heavy wind. Bonine works really good, too. Glad you had fun.
    Are you saying we swam slow?

    No we didn't attempt to go straight, you can see where we hit the current and had a lot of trouble keeping swimmer heading closer to due east than due north. We were further north than we planned to be when we started heading straight in to the beach, but by then we were in calm water and it was easy swimming. The goal was to swim a gentle southern arc off the straight line course. It started out that way.

    I don't know why the heavy wind would have been a problem. The wind was south and the current was north. The wind was a problem if you really liked your hat.

    Quote Originally Posted by chowmi
    Question: How do you KNOW you did good in an OW swim, other than overall place? How do you find meaning in an OW swim if you don't know how fast you are going?
    Do you need an objective measure to appreciate an experience? I don't look at pool swimming and OW the same way. OW is purely for fun and I need to find a way to make pool swimming the same.
  2. jbs's Avatar
    Great write-up and swim! Sounds like it was a lot of fun.
  3. pwb's Avatar
    Awesome. Someone was spreading rumors at La Jolla that the boat captains for MCS now carry rifles because of the preponderance of tiger sharks on that course. I suspect it must have been one of the LJRWS race organizers to try to draw more crowds to Cali vs Maui! Any other boats / teams see any scary aquatic life?
  4. qbrain's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by jbs
    Great write-up and swim! Sounds like it was a lot of fun.
    Thanks jbs it was a lot of fun.
  5. knelson's Avatar
    Sounds pretty cool. So how long were you in Maui for?
  6. qbrain's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by pwb
    Awesome. Someone was spreading rumors at La Jolla that the boat captains for MCS now carry rifles because of the preponderance of tiger sharks on that course. I suspect it must have been one of the LJRWS race organizers to try to draw more crowds to Cali vs Maui! Any other boats / teams see any scary aquatic life?
    I didn't hear of any shark sightings this year, but I skipped the banquet. Our captain had swam with the sharks and was confident that the sharks were just curious, nothing to worry about in good visibility. I tend to agree with that, and if you don't dress up as a seal, a shark won't treat you like a seal.
  7. qbrain's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by knelson
    Sounds pretty cool. So how long were you in Maui for?
    I flew in Wednesday and flew out Sunday night, and 4 days was the shortest anyone I met stayed.

    My wife said that after leaving the night of the Waikiki Roughwater last year and the day after the MCS this year, that there needs to be a full day of vacation after the event before heading to the airport. That seems about right to me.
  8. knelson's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by qbrain
    My wife said that after leaving the night of the Waikiki Roughwater last year and the day after the MCS this year, that there needs to be a full day of vacation after the event before heading to the airport. That seems about right to me.
    I agree. Smart woman.
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