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Crazy Canucks swim the English Channel Part 3…Jellyfish…”Would you like salt and pepper with that?”

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Zzzzzzzzzzwat. “OK, that was definitely a jellyfish sting. You bastard, thanks for that. Keep swimming,” I say to myself and do. I don’t even consider that I may run into their pals as my focus was pretty intently on swimming as fast and as hard as I can and getting back up the wildly bobbing ladder.

There are more than 200 species of true jellyfish globally but only (only?) six species found in the English Channel: moon, compass, lion’s mane, blue and barrel jellyfish and the mauve stinger. The Crazy Canucks report seeing most of these. These bad boys are famous for their stinging cells, called nematocysts. The ‘sting’ is coiled and fired like a harpoon when triggered. All species have nematocysts in their tentacles, some also have them on their umbrella. These are some of the species we encountered…

“My fear of jellyfish and the sting they have was much worse than my fear of seasickness,” says Charlie, the first of the Crazies to encounter jellies. “Turns out I had things backwards. Don’t get me wrong, I still have a whole lot of respect for those creatures of the sea but after swimming over and around so many of them, I eventually realized they weren’t out there hunting me down to try and sting me.

“When I saw the first one early in my first swim, I freaked out and turned on the afterburners to get as far away as possible from him and he was just a little guy. (Editor’s note…the crew on the Viking Princess were watching when Charlie did her brief kick-a-thon and wondered what it was all about…) My swim coach would have been so impressed with how hard and fast I kicked. After that first sighting, it was like a steady jellyfish parade of all different sizes and colors floating by and underneath me.

When I got out of the water, I asked Elaine if she saw any and she had not (perhaps because it was too dark during her shift) ((Yup, pitch black…didn’t see a thing, yes!)). She told me not to say anything though so as not to add any more anxiety to Janet who was suffering so much already (seasick). When Janet got out of the water and said she saw some, it was okay to have the jellyfish talk.

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Here is Jaime putting on the brakes which gave us the photo laugh of the day indeed living up to the Crazy Canuck moniker. She is trying to avoid the dude you can see in the picture that brushed her thumb on the way by.

Janet reported be in awe of the beautiful creatures when she got over her initial fear of being stung.

Jaime contended with a flotilla of them, technically called a smack or a bloom. She saw John and Al on the boat deck pointing at them as they drifted by her. “As scared as I thought I was of the jellyfish, it was quite a sight to see them moving along in the deep water underneath me while I was swimming,” says Jaime. “There were sort of beautiful in a strange kind of way. I remember seeing lots of big orange-red coloured jellies. Then the little purple ones started floating by me on the surface and that’s when I got stung (actual moment recorded in photo above). “It was a weird burning sensation, not super painful but really annoying. I was freaking out a bit in my head at this point. I managed to avoid more stings and was relieved when my turn was done.”

“Poor Elaine never did see them but got a good sting on her shoulder that I treated with malt vinegar supplied by the boat pilot who also kindly offered some salt and pepper to go with it,” says Charlie.

Why I didn’t see any jellyfish? Embarrassing equipment malfunction I am eternally grateful for. Fogged up goggles. My goggles were all prepared with anti-fog for my first swim in the dark but in the excitement of the day were not sorted for my second swim. I could barely see the boat and my cheering section were a blur.The third swim I was out of luck for both anti-fog solution and back-up goggles as they were in the hold of the ship which became a no-go zone when the winds kicked up.  It was too dangerous to try to get down there. The sting was manageable…seeing them all floating around me likely may have not been. On the other hand I may have avoided Mr. Stinger Pants had I seen him but still thinking see no evil was the preferred course. I am happy to hear about how cool they looked…secondhand.

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The recommended treatment for a sting is immersion in salt water…got that covered…and vinegar which Reg had on board for his fish and chips. Good man. The next blog post is about Reg, his brother Ray and his famous father Reg senior and their long history of guiding other crazies through the jellies to France.

Crazy Canucks swim the Channel…part two…Barforma or Ray’s bet

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Ray Brickell (brown t-shirt) and brother and boat captain Reg Brickell (green t) at the Ship’s Inn in Folkestone where we stood them a pint a few days after we swam the Channel and got the real skinny on our swim.

“We had a bet about who was going to get sick first,” Reg says. “We see all of you on the one side to the boat watching the swimmer in the water and see Janet take a runner to the other side. Ray wins a fiver.” I wonder who Reg picked?

Sea sickness is no laughing matter in actual fact and has scuttled many a relay’s attempt to swim the English Channel. Reg’s wonderful Viking Princess is a fishing trawler when not put into use to take crazy people across this narrow, unpredictable, cold, jelly fish, turbulent, current-plagued body of water. When moving at swimmer speed (with the aid of parachute drag line to slow her down) the Viking Princess has some pretty significant rolling motions that began as soon as we had cleared Dover Harbour’s breakwater. A large percentage of the team’s Channel crossing is spent on this carnival ride with resulting betting.

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A dirt nap on the deck helped with eyes firmly shut. I think this is Charlie…

To get all scientific, seasickness happens when there’s a conflict between what your eyes see and what your inner ears, which help with balance sense. Your brain holds details about where you are and how you’re moving. It constantly updates this with information from your eyes and vestibular system. If there is a mismatch of information between our two systems, your brain can’t update your current status and the resulting confusion leads to a quick run across the deck or a dash to the head and all the nice calories and fluids carefully selected for energy are offered to the fish.

As this was my biggest worry about our adventure I did a lot of research on how to prevent it. Marathonswimmers.org has over 1,000 posts on their seasickness thread with their various ideas for keeping cookies un-tossed including various ginger products, patches, bracelets, Dramamine and Bonine, the later being my drug of choice. Only available in the U.S., Jaime suggested it would be worth acquiring some as it worked well for her triathlon coach. Good call or maybe the Bonine takers were lucky? Once the half of the crew afflicted got things somewhat under control the Handyman dispensed Bonine to all and sundry and things started to improve for them slightly. I wrote a testimonial on the Bonine  website and added my comment to the 1,000 on the marathon swimmers forum. No, this post isn’t sponsored by Bonine but it sure could be.

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This is the only photographic evidence that Janet ever stood up in the boat and looked around. Other than this moment she was prone, dashing madly or swimming. She wins the award for toughest swimmer on the team. Note the Handyman eating a sandwich in the background.

“I had experienced butterflies many times through the lead up to the swim especially in the last weeks. The night of the swim my stomach was once again bothering me which I put to nerves,” says Janet. When we went through out to the one water and saw the waves I thought ‘oh dear I could be in trouble’ but I was convinced focusing on the horizon and being out in the wind would be OK. As the boat went up and down with the waves, the horizon would disappear which was not a good thing but I was excited for Elaine to be off and watching her blinking light in the distance and catching up with the boat.”

“I can’t remember for sure when I started to throw up but I think the sun was up…And then it was my turn. I went down into the head with Chris to put on my suit but the unsteadiness caused me to be sick again but there was no way I was going to let the team down — it didn’t occur to me to not go in so in I went.”

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Dauntless Janet

“Strangely when I was in the water I felt OK. Everyone was watching me except for Chris which was a little unsettling but I found out later that he was cleaning up the bathroom — that’s a good partner to have in life!”

Janet’s photography from a lying-on-the-deck perspective. “Gee, I thought this was the busiest shipping lane in the world and I don’t remember seeing any ships.”

Charlie is one of the toughest athletes I know. She also had her turn with seasickness and battled back hard.

In her words…Theme from Gilligan’s Island. “The weather started getting rough and the tiny ship was tossed.” And so were my cookies. When the nausea started I couldn’t decide whether I was sea sick or the nervous tension of jumping in the cold, jellyfish infested (this is not an exaggeration…they were everywhere) waters was getting to me. It did not take long to figure it out. No amount of ginger, Bonine or patches was going to help. The only cures, albeit temporary was to be in the water swimming or laying on the deck with eyes closed. Neither options were feasible for long periods of time so it was, what it was. That’s all I have to say about the barfarama. It wasn’t one of my biggest fears but it turned out to be one of the hardest parts of the day. Long day with no calories to keep you going.

Editor’s note here: When I was down in the hold helping Charlie get sorted out after her swim she made a mad dash to the head and was violently ill. She came back, sat on the bench, apologized (not necessary at all) and started laughing at my sea hair do. Hard core, right?

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Jaime smiled through the whole day.

“Either it was the Bonine pills or I have good sea legs and never knew it,” says Jaime. Felt a bit guilty at one point that I was feeling so good and others were not.” (Me too.) Would’ve made for an extremely long day. Charlie and Janet were troopers. Just relieved I wasn’t part of the Barfarama club.”

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Chris and Charlie as we near France

Chris had an associated membership in the special club. “I vomited after both swims due to taking in some salt water and being below decks to change into warm clothes just did not sit well with me. When I was on deck and cheering on the other swimmers I was fine.”

(The hold was the death zone and was avoided but for the briefest visits to change or brew tea.)

 

Me and John were A OK. Me because of the miracle drug? John, pictured here taking a sighting on the French coast during the end of our swim,  has sea legs 100 per cent and took no sea sickness precautions at all. He grew up as the son of a West Coast fisherman.

All I can say is thanks guys. Your ocean donations were gratefully accepted and my gratitude is total.

Here is a CBC radio interview about the experience:

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/programs/homestretch/english-channel-swimmers-1.3706685

And newspaper articles:

http://calgaryherald.com/news/local-news/western-canadian-team-swims-across-english-channel

 

Part three…jellies!

 

 

Crazy Canucks swim the English Channel…part one…Holy Crap

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Viking Princess all ready for us a 3 am…we all saw a lot of FE 137 as we swam beside that lettering 
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3 am and some deers in the headlights

 

Much of this first post about our swim comes from team member Chris with a few of my interjections… Each swimmer or team gets a designated six-day window and a “tide” (which means first appropriate weather and tide opportunity to start a swim), when Elaine (our captain, and whose dream this actually was) had signed up for this way back when she thankfully opted for first tide, second tide is sometimes better for swimmers but you are second in line to go. Third tide makes it questionable if you will actually get a chance to go because you are down the lineup. There are 7 or 8 licensed certified pilots that do this. We met a Romanian on Tuesday night that is 3rd tide and has been here for 7 days waiting. (We saw him Friday night and he went Saturday…he sadly didn’t finish his swim) Weather Wednesday was a no go and it looks like the rest of the week is questionable.

Here is where the horse shit luck starts to come into play. We were in Dover all of about an hour when we make the call to our boat captain Reg which went like this…. “Hello luv…ready swim tomorrow.” Me (Elaine)…. Slight pause where I control my voice…”sure.” So only three hours into our swim window, no chance to deal with jet lag….we are a go. Our worst nightmare would have been to wait for the go-ahead day after day and not have a weather window at all…pack our bags and fly back to Canada.

So now we have the second worse nightmare…we are actually going to have to drag our asses out of bed and jump in the cold ocean and swimmer by swimmer try to swim to France.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016 – We loaded the van at 2:30am, picked up our other swimmer (who was not staying at the same place) and arrived at the marina at 2:45. There was another swimmer there from Japan, he was going to attempt a double crossing. (He only made one way) Ouch. Some pictures and nervous pees then they pulled the boat up to the dock and we loaded up. Dark and breezy, in the harbour. Out past the breakwater and it was a different story, still dark, still breezy and yes indeed big waves. Nervous laughter and then quiet. Dead quiet and stark white faces… What have we gotten ourselves into? I (Elaine) compared notes with everyone afterward and even the ones that don’t generally swear agreed it was “holy fuck” this is crazy although not one of us voiced this out loud.

We motored west up the coast towards Folkestone (where some pilots are based) to Shakespeare Beach. Elaine gets ready and into the dingy she goes, gets dropped off on the beach – rather she has to jump in and swim the last little bit. Some boats sound the horn to start the swimmer but she just got in and they radioed the observer that she had started. Still very dark but she had a couple of strobe lights on so we could see her flashing as she approached the boat.

(Elaine) This all happened so fast I was in the water, on the beach, back in the water and swimming before I could process any of it. Swimming in the dark was fine but I think I was In shock that this was actually happening….The Handyman (my husband) said, “No matter how bad it is in there when you finish your turn say it was fine…you have to set the tone.” Good advice I thought and lied when I got out.

(Chris again….) Once she was beside us the dingy gets hauled up and we are away. Pretty wavy to start but I think we all settled in and cheered her on. Lots of people with one eye on Elaine and one eye on the horizon trying to ward off seasickness. This was one of our biggest fears so we had all sorts of ideas and means of staying away from that. Fail…more on that later.

So, the way this works with a team is that we have a designated line up of swimmers. You have to follow that sequence the whole day, no subs or changes. The other big rules are you can’t touch another swimmer or the boat while in the water and you have to have the swimmer in the water swim past the next swimmer when changing. Makes sense and relatively easy to do. So, the ladder was at the back of the boat. Swimmer #2 climbs down the ladder, they slow the boat and the Swimmer #1 (in water) swims up to the back of the boat. Swimmer #2 jumps in, Swimmer #1 swims past them to the ladder and grabs ahold which became an interesting challenge when the ocean got mad later in the day. Swimmer #2 swims to the side of the boat and once Swimmer #1 is aboard away we go. The observer from the Channel Swim Assoication gives you the jump in cue etc so really not hard. But – tired cold swimmer in the water, excited somewhat seasick second swimmer and a rocking boat and noise and cheering and cameras and… I (Chris talking here) almost landed on Charlie (a she) the second time we switched.

Part two…Barforama to follow when back in Naramata at a real computer with many more photos to choose from….

 

It’s GO time

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AT 3 am we board! 
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Our boat pilot Reg! Super nice guy.

It’s go time already!  We’ve been to check out our boat and will make our swim bid starting early this morning!

 

Crazy Canucks take on the English Channel – next week!

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The Dover Strait/Pas de Calais is the busiest shipping lane in the world. As the crow flies it’s a mere 22.5 miles but strong currents make some Channel swims as long as 56 miles.

Three years in the planning and training preparation have come down to one week before our swim window of July 26 to August 1 where, fingers crossed, the Crazy Canucks will don goggles and approved “swim costumes” and take turns launching ourselves into the salty drink so one of us get plant our feet in France. My pulse is racing as I type this in the mixture of excitement and trepidation that accompanies all crazy schemes like this.

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Some or a lot of our swim may take place in the dark.

John, Chris, Charlie, Janet, Jaime, Elaine (me) and alternate Al are the Crazy Canucks. We arrive in Dover on Sunday and then wait for the call from our boat pilot Reg Brickell that the weather is favourable for our attempt. We head out on Reg’s boat…the Viking Princess and I take a quick swim and then clamber on a rocky shore to the high water mark on a Dover beach and with the sound of a horn we are off. Al and Chris (Janet’s husband) will help us as Reg, his brother Ray and an English Channel Observer coax us on as we take our hour turns avoiding ships, jellyfish and seasickness (good drugs and good wishes).

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“We are going to need a bigger boat.”
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“I cannot command winds and weather.” Horatio Nelson

Collectively we have many fears but our biggest is that we end up in England and the weather gods conspire against us and we go home without dipping a toe in the Channel. Long-term forecast is looking pretty good to me although I’m not sure what wind speeds are safe to swim in… The sea temperature is 16.7 C (62.1 F) today which is not too bad considering the 12 degrees we braved in May.

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Half of the Crazy Canucks met for a training swim this morning in Lake Okanagan.

Here are some Qs and As from team members as the countdown begins…

How does this rank on your life achievement scale?

Jaime — Ironically, when I was young, I got stuck on my grey Red Cross badge as I could never complete the continuous swim. Who knew I’d ever be swimming across the English Channel? Not to take anything away from my marathons and triathlons but the swimming takes the cake. I took adult learn-to-swim lessons in my late 20s and for a long time dreaded the swim portion of my triathlons.

Janet — This would be number one on my life athletic achievement scale. I never would have thought I would be involved in anything like this — not in my wildest dreams! I have had to overcome a lot mentally to get this far but with Elaine’s and my Chris’ support I believe I am ready although the butterflies are certainly there.

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It all seems better with our eyes closed.

Do you dream about it?

Charlie — Hard to dream about it when I can’t sleep worrying (freaking out) about it. Yes I am sick of swimming but I do use the time to plan mental strategies on how to get over hurdles that I anticipate. As of now, my theory is that the water is too cold for jelly fish and no matter how cold I get swimming, I know I will get colder when I get out of the water and so far, I have always warmed up eventually. Waves are just waves, roller coasters of the sea.

As scared to death as I am, I refuse to think of failing. We can do this! I committed to my sister that next year I will be normal again…..so, don’t anyone talk me into anymore crazy shit, ELAINE!

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Charlie looking strong this morning.

Why do we humans need to do this shit?

Chris — I honestly believe that “normal” life has become too easy/boring/humdrum and we need to find something to scare the shit out of ourselves to get a rush. This ought to do it! (Editor — yup)

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Chris is rocking the speedo this morning. Part of the Channel Association rules stipulate swim suits with no leg coverage.

Why do this?

John — I’ve always been fascinated by the English Channel. I’m a bit of a history buff and there’s a personal connection with Isabel’s father having landed at D-Day with the Canadian Scottish regiment. I’ll be thinking of that on our swim day. The channel was viewed as a barrier to overcome – initially, for Hitler’s plans for invading England and then subsequently the immense challenge of conducting the Allied landings at the Normandy beaches.

Chris — I have always viewed swimming the English Channel as a great challenge taken on by very dedicated, driven folks and never dreamed that I would be able to have such a unique experience. I would not have organized such an opportunity myself so I feel very fortunate to have been included in this group of Crazy Canucks.

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Lucky to have Canadian lakes like Quarry in Canmore to train in.

Share your innermost fears with us.

John —  I’m a bit worried how my body will respond to the colder water. I’m not the most flexible guy and I’ve noticed that my back gets “tight” in cold water. Add that to the list of “things” !!

Elaine — I feel responsible for dreaming up this scheme and want an all’s well that ends well scenario. I hope we all have a great day out there and that one of us has the privilege of touching a French beach. I can’t even think of the possibility of trying to convince five people to have to try this again if we don’t get the call from Reg that we are good to go. It would be a bonus if we are all still friends afterwards as well.

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An unusually calm swim day.
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Charlie, Jaime, Al, Elaine, John
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Chris, Charlie, Janet, Elaine

Some random quotes…

“Acupuncture is my friend,” Janet.

“I’m back and forth between thinking this is the coolest thing ever and wondering what the hell I’ve gotten myself into,” Jaime.

“Because it challenges us to push ourselves. Because it scares us. Because we can say WTF, let’s do it! Make it so. And so it was,” Chris.

“Are we there yet?” Elaine

“Next sport I choose will have more clothing involved and less cold…” Elaine

“I dream of octopus,” Janet

“I will be dedicating this swim to my mom and to my life buddy Chris,” Janet

“My swim is for Al and our kids,” Elaine

“Swimming for Ian and Ella,” Jaime

“I will be thinking about people who cannot do something like this. I’ll think about family members and team members,” Chris

 

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Stay tuned for the end of our story eh?

The Fish are Wearing Sweaters

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“It’s so freaking cold that the fish are wearing sweaters.”

We have been in the lake since May 9th training for our chilly relay swim across the English Channel this summer. Our conversations have been going like this as we stand in the water trying to talk ourselves into actually swimming:

“Colder than yesterday, which was colder than the day before. How is that possible?” — Me

“Just get in.” — Charlie

“Don’t rush me.” — Jan

“It’s a good thing we don’t have balls.” — Me

“Maybe we do.” — Charlie

“I just saw a fish go by. It was wearing a sweater.” — Me

“Just get in.” — Charlie

“Look at the ducks on the shore, I think their feet are frozen to the ground.” — Me

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Charlie checking the lake temperature. Sometimes it’s better not to know.

When we start whining I bring up teammate Jaime who is swimming in chillier waters in Alberta. The day she went in when it was 7 degrees in the water with an air temperature of 8 and it was snowing a bit was pretty hardcore. We have been swimming in 12- to about 15-degree water and once in, over the initial ice cream headache and teeth-aching first few minutes we are actually finding it almost “enjoyable”. We have the lake to ourselves as even the hard-core Ironmen are still in the pool. We’ve learned to trust that this too shall pass and we actually will find it bearable.

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We have a perfect one-kilometre swim route from the Peach (giant Peach concession stand) to the SS Sicamous (historic paddle wheeler) which is protected from boat traffic by a line of buoys.

The glass is half-full…of lake water

  1. The cold water is helping our immune system. It helps boost the white blood cell count because the body is forced to react to changing conditions. The cold actually shocks your system into rallying its defences.
  2. We get an endorphin high because it brings us close to the pain barrier or on some days through it. The pain stimulates endorphins and voila…it hurts so much it makes us feel good. Something like that…
  3. It boosts our circulation and flushes our veins, arteries and capillaries. The cold water forces blood to the surface and pushes the cold downwards.
  4. It burns a few more calories.
  5. Cold water swimming places stress on the body physically and mentally. So, go figure this one…those stresses reduce life stress making us more calm and relaxed.
  6. You actually habituate to the cold water. You find it hard to breathe for the first minute or so but you settle in, relax and get used to it. You learn it won’t kill you.
  7. The pain of immersion never disappears but the cold shock response will reduce somewhat after about five or six cold water swims.
  8. It makes you feel BAD ASS to be out there when it’s frigging cold and wavy and people on the beach stop and stare. You learn you have the power to master the cold.
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A rare calm day. Nice for swimming but not great for our Channel training.
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It is really mind of matter for the first few minutes…every time. You learn to trust that the initial shock will wear off and the sense of revitalization you get afterward is worth it. My new secret pleasure is a hot bath of about equivalent swim time with Saje Apres Sport bath salts. Good thing we have solar panels for our hot water.
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I don’t know if I will be swimming in early May next year though… Probably will wait until June.

7 Swim stories almost as weird as Kevin Costner’s gills in Waterworld

IMG_43901. S.S. Eating Disorder

In the swim zone with thoughts drifting in and out like a slow moving current, I pass a sail boat anchored in the bay at Manitou in Naramata. I casually note the vessel’s name and swim on. “Mmmm, odd name for a boat…The Bulimia.” After a day of reflection I make it my mission to swim closer to The Bulimia for a confirmation check of the unusual name. “The Bohemia”…makes more sense.

IMG_44092. Cats and Rats and Elephants

A swim alongside ducks is pretty common here. We note each other’s presence and do our thing. An eagle flying over and making off with a duckling a foot away is not as common. Despite the mother’s efforts to shield her remaining fuzzy kids, the eagle made a second pass and then there were five. Circle of life right?

Swimming on a hot day at Manitou can bring other hot creatures to the beach for a dip. It’s not uncommon to see horses wading out from the dog beach for a paddle around. No eagle worries there.

Weirdest of all. A woman arrives at the Penticton beach with cat in her arms. Both head out into the water for a short dip and the cat seems pretty OK about it. I stuck around to watch it being towelled off before they packed up and headed for home. The cat looked cooler and still pretty OK with it.

IMG_84853. Sunnies

The summer of 2015 I could have opened a used sunglasses shop. I found six pairs of sunglasses on various long swims in the lake. Many were found beneath the buoy most used to anchor floaties filled with wobbly-pop drinking sun-tanners. My new Maui Jim’s retail for $269.00 US. The rhinestone beauties went to my sister-in-law. Another pair ended up back in the lake. Circle of life right?

 

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Ironman Canada start in Penticton

4. An argument for skin

Conventional wisdom is to hydrate well before the long day on an Ironman course and pee while swimming to save time before hopping on your bike. Never having practiced this, a tri friend gave it a go during the race. “No problem, made it happen. Then I started envisioning my body covered in pee and literally freaked out. I grabbed my zipper and peeled my wetsuit half off to rinse myself. It’s impossible to put back on in the water. Long, awkward swim.”

Another bud, Crazy Canuck team member Jaime put her wetsuit on for the first time on a 30-plus degree day. As my daughter aptly described wet suiting up as, “like putting on a dolphin,” a red-faced, sweating Jaime did the Ta Da dance after the epic struggle. “Hey Jaime, You know the zipper is supposed to be in the back right?”

5. Disturbia

Swimming blithely along, a search and rescue boat pulls alongside and attracts my attention. “We’re searching for the victim of a fatal boating accident. Please be aware of the search boats in the swim area.” As I answer, “OK, sure,” my thoughts go to the deep, weedy area I’m just entering. I’m not really worried about the boats.

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6. Great balls of fish

Swimming in the ocean in the Kailua harbor in Kona, Hawaii is cool but for us Canadian shark-worriers…it’s a bit daunting. Imagine our surprise at coming upon a fish ball, or bait ball. It’s a large, teeming mass of fish that swim in a tightly-packed formation for less than 10 minutes in a kind of last-ditch measure to protect themselves from predators. Well at least the fish near the centre of the ball. “Mmmm fish ball… predators…sharks.” The experience notched up a level when a snorkeler emerged from the very centre of the ball beside Crazy Canucker, Al.

7. It who shall not be named

“I guess you know why I asked you to give me a call,” I said.

“I’m in,” says Chris.

“That was easy,” I say.

“What do you need me to to do?” Chris says.

The fifth member of the Crazy Canucks relay team making a bid to cross the English Channel this summer telepathically knew what the call was about and signed up without a qualm.

Well maybe a few qualms…”The swimming itself is perhaps not the challenge. It will be the weather conditions, the dark, seasickness and nerves. But it will be a blast!”

Chris spent summers at a cottage in the Gatineau hills of Quebec and swam down the lake with canoe escorts. He and his family still spend time at the lake and swims now circumvent the entire lake. A triathlete, he has raced in many events including numerous Iron distance races. He says, “In the past couple of years the ‘swim only’ bug has bitten and he has completed some four and five-kilometre open water races.

Making his home in Canmore, Chris will have no problem getting in some cold water training … once the ice on the mountain lakes melts in June.

Rattlesnake Island Swim…can rattlesnakes swim?

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

10 weird questions asked about our English Channel swim

 

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  1. Is this a new race? I’ve never heard of a swim in the Channel.

Locals think we are talking about swimming in the Okanagan River Channel, a seven-kilometre-long man-made channel connecting Okanagan and Skaha Lakes. It is filled with people on floaties, often with beers in tow, every hot summer day and is only five-feet deep in many places. “No, we are swimming the English Channel, also called simply the Channel, hence the confusion. It’s the body of water that separates southern England from northern France, and joins the southern part of the North Sea to the Atlantic Ocean. We will swim at its narrowest point of 32.3 km in the Strait of Dover.”

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2. You wear a wetsuit right?

No, just like the first woman to swim the Channel, Gertrude Ederle, we will wear bathing suits, caps and goggles. Gertrude was slathered in blubber from baby dolphins, mainly because she was allergic to the salt in the water. Today’s solo swimmers can buy Channel Grease from Boots Pharmacy in Dover. It’s made from the sap of an Amazon rainforest tree. Us relay guys won’t need it with our one-hour stints in the sea.

3. So, you find the biggest bathing suit you can to keep warm? One with legs?

Nope. And they are called swim costumes. “A standard swim costume shall be of a material not offering thermal protection or buoyancy and shall be sleeveless and legless. Sleeveless shall mean the costume must not extend beyond the end of the shoulder onto the upper arm and legless shall mean the costume must not extend onto the upper leg below the level of the crotch.” So basically we are talking speedos for the guys.

4. What day is the race?

It’s not a race as in a mass start all on one day, although times are meticulously recorded by an independent observer of the Channel Swimming Association. Swimmers head out throughout the swimmable period, which is pretty much July to September, according to weather and tides.

5. How do you know where you are going?

Swimmers don’t have to worry about that. You are escorted by one of eight Channel Swimming Association pilot boats. We will be in the capable hands of Reg Brickell, whose father also piloted Channel swimmers. We will swim alongside, (without touching) the trawler, Viking Princess and when at sea Reg has the last say on our safety.

6. Lots of people have done this right? It’s not that big a deal?

If we make it, we will be among a pretty elite club, even as a mere 6-person relay team. My admittedly dated 2011 record book shows only four Canadian relay teams have made this swim. I know of one other that swam it two years ago as they live at the other end of our big lake and I’m sure there have been a few others since. Half our team will be 60 in the year of our swim so that will be cool too. Touching wood, fingers crossed, rabbits foot…

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7. What will you do when you get to France? Holiday?

After the lucky last swimmer on the relay team walks or crawls on the French shore above the waterline somewhere near Cap Gris Nez, we hop in the dingy until we hit deep enough water to board the Viking Princess and motor for Dover. Although we all have to have our passports onboard, we aren’t allowed to stay in France. It’s tradition to take a pebble from the French beach with you as a souvenir.

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8. It’s only about 32 kilometres right? You can see France on a clear day right?

Strong currents and tides mean you swim a lot further and a typical swim looks like an “S”. In fact, the slowest ever successful swimmer took more than 28 hours to complete the swim. She ended up swimming 70 kilometres as she pushed well off course by strong tides. We don’t want to beat that record.

9. Aren’t you afraid of the deep water?

No. We are all used to swimming “in the deep end” and have lots of deep lake swimming away from shore experience. But, we are afraid of the cold water, jellyfish, swimming in the dark at night, being in the busiest shipping lane in the world, not the cleanest water to swim in, getting seasick either on the rocky fishing trawler or in the sea while swimming, letting our team down by not swimming hard enough to get through the currents and the biggest one of all… Getting to England and not being able to even attempt the swim if the weather is too bad during our swim window (July 26-August 1). Rabbit foot, touch wood, salt over shoulder…

10. Why are you doing this?

Because it’s there? Speaking of Everest… About 3,000 people have climbed it and less than 1,000 have swum the English Channel solo. We all have our reasons. Here’s the story of Crazy Canuck team member Charlie:

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Charlie, warming up after our 15-degree 2-hour test swim in Skaha Lake in the fall

 

“I’m swimming the Channel because of a combination of things. You twisted my arm and I was dropped on my head.” More seriously she talks of the amazing English Channel history and that swimming on a relay team seems a “doable” way to be a part of that amazing story.

Charlie is an athletic goddess in my eyes. She holds the Woman over 50 records for both Ultraman Canada (2011) and Ultraman Australia (2015) among other achievements. Enough said.

“My biggest challenge is with the cold water. I’m sure I had some mild hypothermia after our test swim. My brain was pretty fuzzy and it took forever to get into warm clothes. It should be OK though as it’s only an hour at a go and the Channel will likely be warmer than our test swim was.”

She says she also looking forward to adding our names to the walls of the White Horse in Dover and celebrating with a pint.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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