P8100004Yes indeed they can, but rattlesnakes are small potatoes when you think of the island’s key resident, Ogopogo, said to inhabit a cave beneath the island. Swimmers participating in the unique 7-kilometre out-and-back swim that loops around the back of Rattlesnake Island or the one-way 3-kilometre swim across Okanagan Lake from Rattlesnake Island to Peachland, British Columbia, Canada,  have never reported encounters with Ogopogo but rattlesnakes abound.

IMG_6948Plastic snakes that is. Each swimmer takes home one of these coveted reptiles if they finish.

Organized by The Across The Lake Swim Society, Rattlesnake Island Swim, is one of the most beautiful and unique open water swims in Canada. Never sponsored,  advertised or promoted, the race has been growing in popularity over its 20-year history by word of mouth.


It’s a challenging swim for a few reasons. Currents and swells can mean more people end up swimming the race than the number that started it. The 7-k swimmers are required to have a kayak, canoe or stand-up-paddleboard escort and in rough conditions paddlers have ended up in the drink and have had to be helped by safety crews.

Many swimmers with inexperienced paddler guides end up swimming farther than the 7-k, some as many as 3-k more. It’s tricky to handle the currents and winds at the slow paddling pace of a swimmer while aiming for the almost invisible island, which blends perfectly into the surrounding landscape. The more serious swimmer/paddler duos use GPS to help plot the shortest course around the island.

The more you race Rattlesnake, the more you learn how to race it. It’s hard to compare times from one year to the next however, as conditions change in this narrowing stretch of  beautiful Okanagan Lake. The average time is about 2:30.

Most of the English Channel team swam the 7-k Rattlesnake Island Swim in 2014

Swimmers are required to wear wetsuits and wear a swim buddy, which is an inflatable marker that can also be used to buoy you up if you get into trouble.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe swim, which takes place August 6 this year, is well organized with lots of safety boats and personnel and includes orientation sessions which are great for first timers.

Here’s John getting ready for the 2014 Rattlesnake Island Swim. “I won’t be needing this thing for the Channel.”

John says his decision to join the Channel team was pretty spontaneous. “I said yes before thinking. But its great bucket list material.”

He swam on a team beginning at age five until he was 15 and then “retired” to take the sport back up again when he was 45. At 50 he used his swimming skills to help him complete Ironman Canada. “I’m swimming more than ever now and ‘escaped Alcatraz’ earlier this year.”

John says he’ll be very embarrassed if he gets seasick. “I’m going to have to dig a little into my background for this swim. My family are commercial fishermen on British Columbia’s west coast and I did that for awhile before becoming a petroleum geologist in Calgary. My scuba diving background and experience on ocean-going boats will be helpful I hope.”