“You’re a land animal trying to swim,” says Paul Sereno, University of Chicago Professor. “You’re what we call a secondary swimmer.”
Your deposit has been received £1000.00. We have secured your position (1st swimmer 19th June – 2nd July 2023) with the non-refundable deposit.
Reg (Reginald Brickell, Captain of the Viking Princess II)
With that innocuous looking email, Jan and I are leaping into the English Channel as a team of just two very early in the Channel swimming season. Why does a Channel swim start with securing a boat? Why so early? Why 2023?
There are only seven boats accredited by the Channel Swim Association to pilot swimmers across the storied English Channel from England to France. With the knowledge that the success of our Crazy Canucks relay of six people in 2016 in pretty rough seas was in large measure due to our excellent pilot, choosing Reg and Ray Brickell and the Viking Princess II was a given. As the Brickells’ are much sought-after respected pilots we have to book three years before our swim and coming all the way from Canada it is important to secure a first swim on the tide position. This is key as we may run into weather that will delay our swim and we will get the first shot on that tide.
Our end of June slot was the only first swim position open for all of 2023 and we booked immediately when Reg opened up his booking for that year. What does June mean? The bloody cold English Channel could be very bloody cold (14C).
“It’s a state between a dream state and an awake state,” says famous open water swimmer Lynne Cox. “Maybe we can call it sea-dreaming. The rhythm of swimming lulls your body — which, well trained, seems to keep moving on its own — and your brain is allowed to go wherever it wants.“
To swim the English Channel has been described by many as the Everest of long distance swimming. “As an open water swimmer, the English Channel is the pinnacle,” says Jan. “I want to be part of that.” I’m looking to up the ante from the six-person team I was on in 2016 as far as I think I’m capable of pushing it. (I will be 67 in 2023. Jan will be 61). Knowing my swim speed and having a pretty good handle on my abilities and mental toughness, a solo swim although tauntingly tempting seems many hundreds of strokes too far.
Of all the teams that attempt the Channel, teams of two are pretty rare. The official record shows only 33 duos have made the England to France crossing until 2019 as compared to 483 six-person teams. I guess the thinking is you might as well do a solo if you are going to do that much swimming…
Jan and I (Crazy Canucks II) will take one-hour turns dodging jelly fish while our boat captain dodges cruise ships and freighters in the world’s busiest shipping channel. It will take us anywhere from 16 to 18 hours (very estimated) so 8, 9 or even 10 swims each with a total of 50 kilometres of swimming. It took our Crazy Canucks team 13 hours and 47 minutes to complete the task in 2016.
Here is Jan with my brother Dean in a much kinder ocean as we complete the first Canadian relay crossing of the Catalina Channel in 2019.
Here I am with Ray heading toward shore in the dingy to start the English Channel crossing for our team in 2016. Some of our swim will be in the dark which is actually less scary than the all-night swim of Catalina (sharks).
“Who needs psychedelics,” says Lynne Cox. “when you can just go for a swim in the ocean.”
The Crazy Canucks, a relay team of six Canadian swimmers, followed a successful English Channel crossing in 2016, with a bid to swim North America’s equivalent. Thirty one kilometres from Catalina Island to mainland California’s San Pedro just north of LA, the swim has its own unique set of challenges, in particular the pitch black sea and sky lit only by the moon. The area is the most popular dive spot in the U.S. so it’s well known for its large variety of marine life. So, inky black ocean teaming with life and a swimmer with only a regular bathing suit, cap and goggles swimming away hoping to blend in.
It’s been 40 years since I’ve stayed up all night, watched a friend puke, shed most of my clothes and had an absolute blast. Won’t wait another 40 to do it again.
Our swim began at 10:56 p.m. Friday, September 13 under a full moon. What could go wrong?
Within minutes of the start, after I had rendezvoused with my kayak paddler, my brother Dean, and our support boat, The Bottom Scratcher I saw something.
Something big and grey and slow moving was visible in the water beneath me because of the cluster of lights from the Bottom Scratcher. It glided away and while I was telling myself that I hadn’t really seen it, it made a second pass going in the other direction. Big enough to displace the water under me and big enough to be terrifying.
During our rules debriefing aboard the Bottom Scratcher by our two Catalina Channel Swimming Federation observers, we were told to call out for advice if we saw anything disturbing rather than head for the kayak or the boat and touch either which would disqualify our entire endeavour, two years of training, hours of logistics, thousand of kilometres of air travel, three kayakers and five family and friends who came to help and cheer us on… A team earlier in the season had suffered this fate the observers told us.
I chose not to phone a friend and put one arm in front of me and then the next and next until the grey phantoms receded from my thoughts. A few moments later I clearly heard dolphin squeaks underwater. Kayaker Dean later reported he had seen two dolphins and a big seal at the beginning of my leg. Dolphins! I had wanted to swim with dolphins, so wish comes true, even though I didn’t see them.
The next bit of magic was bioluminescence. The bubbles from your hand entry and exit were a vibrant blue and green. We were all enchanted by it.
Before I knew it, a whistle blew and it was time to tag off to John Ostrom and it was time for Dean to paddle faster as John is speedy.
“Jumping into the ocean in the dark was made a lot easier in the moonlight,” says John. “The water was way warmer than I expected, there were no jellyfish like in the English Channel, although I occasionally brushed into bits of seaweed. The first one in the dark and the biggest chunk were disconcerting at first but then became routine.”
“It was different swimming at night,” says Peter. “This is well out of what I normally do as I am almost always asleep at 1 a.m. and definitely not swimming in the Catalina Channel so that aspect really made it a grand adventure. “
“Dean getting in the kayak and then you in the water swimming to shore at Catalina to start our swim made a very strong impression on me. As for swimming at night, it was pretty comforting to have cousin Dean in the kayak right beside me.
“It was a really fun experience having all of the 20 people on the boat including my sister Gail and her husband Doug and the boat captain Kevin and Chef Ro.”
“The mighty night swim was very much anticipated,” says Janice Johnston who tagged off from Peter in the relay. “It was like the nervous excitement of a small child on Christmas Eve. I talked about doing this for the last two years and everyone said, ‘Wow, that’s really crazy.’ I really questioned what I had signed up for and was encouraged by you saying, ‘You are going to love this!’ (I was right eh?)
“After almost losing my goggles by diving in (not a great choice) I was very scared to start but I had to with the team needing my leg of the relay. It took about five minutes to settle in to a nice pace and I couldn’t believe how beautiful the bioluminescence was. Green and blue lights with every stroke! The water was giving me a nice warm hug and the waves seemed to have flattened out. I felt like I was swimming strong and fast only to find out later that we were in a very strong current and no-one was swimming their usual distances. When I heard the whistle, I couldn’t believe it and felt I could have kept going and going.”
Chris Lough, next swimmer up, said the dark made an impression on him too. “Swimming in the dark, the full moon shining on the bubbles, the sunrise when it finally came and the whole crew having such a good time (except for the seasickness episodes) made the biggest impression. The warmth and calmness of the water surprised me. Once I got my head straight, which took about 10 minutes, I really enjoyed it. As for sharks, so many folks had been swimming previous to me and had no issues so it was not really a concern.”
Our anchor swimmer Janet Robertson, had selected the last leg as she had incorrectly anticipated it would be dawn by then. “The hardest part for me is always getting in the water. Sitting down on the platform and looking into the dark water at night and the blue water of the day made me wonder what might be out there,” she says. “My head going under water after the push off was not a happy place.”
Janet says, “Its wonderful how we all worked toward the success of the swim. Everyone was so supportive of each other and seemed to enjoy each other’s company. Dean’s determination to get us through our swims, his supportive comments from time to time were very much appreciated. He had to work harder than any of us. The beauty of the surroundings was something else I won’t ever forget. The full moon, calm ocean, the quiet… I also loved it that we all got to swim into the beach to join John, who like in England, got to touch land at the end of our channel swim.”
With the dawn the kayak exchanges became easier and for me the shark fear shrank. For John they amped up. “It was cool to be swimming at dawn when the sun came up. The downside was I could start to see shadows further down in the water. I had a few anxious moments with my imagination starting to go wild on me. I kept seeing a shark, whale, submarine, shadows? I focused on the kayak and settled down.”
How cool is this note from the Queen of open water swimming Lynne Cox! “Congratulations you Crazy Canucks: Elaine, Chris, John, Janet, Peter, and Janice on your Courageous Catalina Crossing! I Loved seeing your photos, reading about your swims, seeing how much support you had from: Dean, Jill, Isobel, Al, Gail, Mel, Chris and Doug on your swim. So happy you had such a grand adventure, a wonderful time, and made some unforgettable memories. You must feel so proud of yourself and your team! Congratulations!”
Pretty proud of us. As we were having breakfast at our hotel in our swag a woman came up to us to ask what we were up to. Upon hearing our story she said, “Don’t know if it is proper to point this out but you guys aren’t spring chickens.”
Thanks to my swim buds for life, our kayakers, friends and family on the boat and back home cheering us on, our Penticton swim coach Diane, The Bottom Scratcher crew and captain Kevin, Caterer extraordinaire Ro, observers Steve and Roxanne, the dolphins, bioluminescent plankton and California.
Up next? Looking like a big ass relay the entire length of Okanagan Lake in 2020 and a duo relay of the English Channel with Jan Johnson in 2023. Can’t wait!
And then this happened…just three weeks after our swim…
A San Diego resident is fortunate to have emerged unscathed after a massive great white shark chomped his kayak Saturday as he paddled off Santa Catalina Island.
Danny McDaniel and Jon Chambers were enjoying a break from a commercial scuba-diving trip and paddling in separate kayaks toward Ship Rock, near the island’s east end, when the shark bit the back of McDaniel’s vessel.
“My very first thought was that my buddy, who was 25 feet behind me to my left, was messing with me,” McDaniel, 51, told For The Win Outdoors. “But then I looked down and saw this giant snout completely over the kayak, and then I saw its huge body stretching beyond the bow.”
The shark, estimated to measure nearly 20 feet, turned McDaniel’s 9-foot kayak until he was facing a wide-eyed Chambers.
“I remember him saying, ‘Oh crap. Oh crap,’ ” McDaniel recalled. “My primary thought, meanwhile, was to stay on the kayak no matter what.”
Chambers told NBC 7 that the shark “was in attack mode” and “thought we were prey.”
McDaniel and Chambers waited briefly in eerie silence before paddling back to Emerald Bay, where the rest of the dive group had been hanging out.
On the way McDaniel discovered that the shark had left two of its teeth as souvenirs. “One was laying inside the kayak under seat, and the other was in the cargo hold behind the seat,” he said
A week before McDaniel’s encounter, (so two weeks after our swim) photographer Jami Leslie Feldman captured footage of a 13- to 14-foot great white shark swimming 70 feet below the surface at Ship Rock, and posted the clip to the Underwater Paparazzi Facebook page.
Swimmer Chris says, “I am glad I was in the water and NOT in a kayak.
The next act of the English Channel swim relay team, the Crazy Canucks is a swim that is comparable in length , conditions, difficulty and challenge and all a bit closer to home. The Crazy Canucks are taking on the Catalina Island Channel on lucky Friday, September 13, 2019.
First swum in 1927, on the heels of the intense publicity from Gertrude Ederle’s swim of the English Channel in 1926, Catalina also has a long and storied history in marathon swimming history and brings with it its own set of unique challenges that make it a worthy goal to be respected and tackled with solid preparation. Our swim will be overseen by the Catalina Channel Swimming Federation, our pilot boat the Bottomscratcher could not have a better name and our main kayak guide is my brother Dean Dogherty, who competes internationally in outrigger canoes.
We are going for a record that we are keeping on the down low at the moment but it could add to the fun of the achievement.
Four English Channel team veterans will be joined by two new swimmers to make up the team of six.
The challenges of cold water, high winds and waves we faced in the English Channel, the seasickness that struck down half our team to varying degrees from violent to mild and stings from jellyfish are all Catalina possibilities. In addition we face two more. The Pacific Ocean swim starts at near midnight to avoid the winds that kick up in the afternoons. Pitch black conditions can bring on vertigo as the black sea and sky merge together to cause confusion and add to the stress of swimming in a large ocean. On the plus side, many swimmers report swimming through magical bioluminescence. The other factor involving sea life with many sharp teeth is not to be mentioned by name….Voldemort, Voldemort, Voldermort. The positive side of this equation are dolphins which will all be on the look-out for.
Here are thoughts from the team as we prepare.
“I’ve swum my whole life and I enjoy it most when I’m in shape and feel powerful in the water…Open water is interesting to me because I grew up on the ocean (Prince Rupert) and always feel it’s a bit mysterious. I don’t really fear the ocean but am always curious about it. Swimming in some ways allows me to become closer to nature.”
“The epic nature of the swim and doing it as a team appeal the most. I am not super keen about swimming at night (me neither) and I’m going to have to put images of sharks and squid lurking below out of my mind!” (Guess he didn’t get the memo re that which shall not be named.)
“I am very happy about the English Channel swim and how everything worked for us so well. Of course I am very proud to have been the “finisher” that touched France. Having done that channel I know we will also do Catalina the same way with a very competent group.”
“I swim three to four times a week year-round,” says Chris. “I spent all my summers in Quebec and played in the water for hours a day. Open water is just a return to the joys of those childhood times for me.”
As for the challenge ahead, Chris says, “Swimming in the dark and the unknown potential for larger “fish” ups the excitement.” (See, he got the memo…)
As for the English Channel, Chris says he has nothing but fond memories. The only thing he would change is his approach to dealing with the nausea.
Chris is preparing by swimming four times a week and working up to cold water swims in the spring as well as some night swims and increasing his distances as our swim draws near.
“I like the feeling of moving through the water both in the pool and in the lake. I believe in balance in life – swimming is part of that balance. Open water swimming is freeing and meditative – I can find my zen. I lose all that life throws at me when I’m in the water…so freeing.”
Janet’s approach is to try to minimize the build up talk as this makes her nervous.
“Night swimming will be very important to the success of the swim so I think we should plan a swim camp with that as a focus.
“I am proud to have done the English Channel. I had to dig deep quite a few times to reach the group goal. I wasn’t going to let the group down. I will take everything from the English Channel to Catalina, except, hopefully, the sea sickness. Who knew I would consider doing either the Channel or Catalina. Butterflies reign supreme as well as deep breaths.”
As idea originator and the team captain of both swims I am fully in. For me it’s all about something I love doing more than anything else, talking five and now seven people into joining in on the adventure and working toward a crazy goal that will change our lives or at the very least give us some pretty unique experiences.
In water, all is possible. As T.H. White says, “There is practically no difference between flying in the water and flying in the air…It is like the dreams people have.” When you swim, you feel your body for what it mostly is – water. When you enter the water you dive through the surface into a new world. You are in nature, part of it, in a far more complete and intense way than on dry land. To get that feeling utterly and completely you need to be in a river, lake or the ocean.
The swimming training is important, sure. The mental training of swimming in cold water, in the waves and wind and at night are the most important. My training goals are to be prepared physically and mentally tough.
I am also beyond proud to swim with this team which comprises four long-time friends, my cousin Peter who is a Canuck( but lives most of the year in Australia) and embodies for me my dad’s spirit and a new enthusiastic swim pal Janice who is up for anything. Making the team even more special is my brother Dean who will be beside us in that big ocean in a kayak making it feel a little less big. We will swim between the Bottomscratcher and the kayak which will both be lighted to keep us on track in the pitch black.
“I love to swim in open water because I find it both relaxing and challenging. Swimming to me is like walking, you don’t have to think about it. The challenge comes to get faster and add some distance. There is such a great freedom and being close to nature when you swim in open water plus I REALLY DON’T LIKE FLIP TURNS! I didn’t swim competitively as a young person but I have embraced swimming as an adult. I even became a lifeguard at age 51.”
Jan says she is looking forward to meeting her new team mates. “I think it’s going to be amazing to swim in the ocean at night (maybe even scary) but that is part of the challenge. I am really hoping not to get sea sick during my leg of the race.”
She is a firm proponent of our post-swim tradition of doing in-water handstands and sharing liquorice on shore.
Peter, who swims every day, has spent this past summer taking dips in Elk Lake in Victoria, Lake Ontario in Toronto and Lake Rosseau in Muskoka. “In Australia, I get to swim in the ocean a lot which is really fantastic, conditions are different every day. Variety is fantastic.
“I am looking forward to meeting all the team members and their families, taking the boat to Catalina, where I’ve never been before and of course the swim itself. I’m maybe a little nervous about the temperature of the water.”
The English Channel and Catalina Channel are two of the marathon swims that make up the triple crown of swimming. The third is the swim around Manhattan. There are fewer than 200 relay teams that have swum Catalina and even fewer than that 200 number that have swum the English Channel.
“Congratulations on your English Channel relay last year! ,” says Lynne Cox. That is a tough swim and it must have been fun and challenging to swim the Channel as a team. Your next goal sounds equally challenging.”
Even people outside the rather niche open water swimming world recognize the name Lynne Cox. It’s because she is an elite athlete who broke many world records, among them swimming the English Channel at 15, being the first woman to swim across the Cook Strait and working 10 years to get the permission and then swimming across the Bering Strait from Alaska to Russia during the Cold War.
“The San Pedro Channel – swim from Catalina Island to the California mainland is the place I began my open water swimming career,” she says when I asked her advice on the Crazy Canucks’ next adventure in 2019. “It was as significant as my first kiss. It was where I fell in love with swimming long distances in the open water and the people who make these swims possible.”
That first kiss for Lynne came when she was all of 14 when she made the crossing with three other teenagers. “We felt a small school of fish swimming around us, bumping into our legs and feet. Flying fish the size of mockingbirds were leaping out of the water,” she writes about that historic Catalina swim in her amazing book, Swimming to Antarctica. “They’d emerge from the depths and fly across the air, flapping their fins and sailing across the sky…In the phosphorescent light, they were magically turning iridescent pink, blue, purple, rose and green.”
Lynne says, “You can expect that your Catalina Channel swim will be exciting. If it isn’t, why do it? You will have an incredible journey, learn lots about yourself and your team, and the Pacific ocean.”
“The Catalina Channel will be a bit warmer than the English Channel depending on the weather, time of the year and time of day that you swim it,” says Lynne. (See Charlie, it will be OK!) “Weather conditions are usually more stable than the English Channel, so you will have a good chance at getting good conditions.”
Any advice for us non spring chickens I asked her? “I think you don’t need to be limited in your thinking by your chronological age. People in their 30s can have the bodies and health of 60-year-olds and people in their 60s can have the bodies and health of 30-year-olds. I think it’s great to tackle these swims at any age if you’ve done the preparation and you are in shape.”
It was a thrill to be in touch with Lynne and prompted a re-read of her Swimming to Antarctica book and an intense, couldn’t-put-it-down read of her latest book Swimming in the Sink which had some lyrical descriptions of open water swimming.
In the darkness of early morning, my arm strokes jostle millions of plankton. A chemical reaction occurs in their bodies. They turn the black water sparkling phosphorescent blue. I wonder about life, the universe, and my place it it. I feel the warmth in my body, the cold ocean surrounding me, and I watched fish swimming fathoms below me lighting the depths of the universe. I wonder how the stars can burn so bright without losing their heat the frigid heavens.
I watch the rosy sun rise from the dark blue ocean and see it change color and create waving rivers of crimson, orange, yellow, and white light. The onshore breeze wakes the world like a gentle morning kiss. When I train I think about my life, my passions, and what is in my heart. I list the things I do need to do each day and the things I want to do. But I also dream about what I can do, and that makes life rich and exciting. Lynne Cox
It was a thrill to read about her English Channel swims as well now knowing what it is like to be in that chilly water myself. How fun was it to read that her boat pilot was our pilot’s dad, Reg Brickell?
Twenty-six miles, so near yet far I’d swim with just some water-wings and my guitar I could leave the wings But I’ll need the guitar for romance Romance, romance, romance
Catalina Island may be the island of romance but a relay attempt from the island to the California shore will be anything but. That’s OK. The Crazy Canucks are gearing up for our next adventure in 2019 after successfully crossing the English Channel in 2016. As the first dude to cross the English Channel (Mathew Webb) says, “Nothing great is easy.”
Less than 300 relay teams have made the 32.5 kilometre crossing which starts at midnight from Catalina Island when winds are calmest. It’s cool that it’s still a relatively small number of crazies that have made the crossing. This open water swim challenge, part of the triple crown of swimming that includes the English Channel and the swim around Manhattan, has some unique elements we will have to wrap our heads around including a lot of night swimming. It’s so dark on a Catalina crossing that some swimmers experience vertigo not knowing which is up or down in the inky black. This channel is also home to a type of fish with a recognizable fin that shall remain very nameless, especially as the team has four members at present and it would be fun to add a full compliment of six.
How hard can it be right? Canadians are a tough lot as we proved to our sceptical English Channel boat pilot Reg. He confessed after our swim, with a pint in front of him, that he wasn’t super confident we would make it as we had done the majority of our training in lakes.
Canadians are so tough that the first to cross the Catalina Channel solo was a 17-year-old from Toronto, George Young. Young was the only one of 101 starters in a race in January of 1927 and he did most of the swim without his swim trunks. We will likely wear suits…
Here is my 10 point case for talking more of my team mates into this new adventure…
1. The Catalina Channel is slightly shorter than the English Channel (32.5 km vs 33.7 km, about 0.8 miles shorter which should take an elite swimmer about 16 minutes)
2. The Catalina Channel is slightly to significantly warmer no matter what month is attempt is made.
3. Tides are much less powerful and less lateral than those in the English Channel.
4. The Catalina Channel winds are significantly less strong than in the English Channel on any given day, especially since most Catalina Channel swimmer begin their traverse at night. (We faced Force 4 winds on the English Channel)
5. The Catalina Channel has jellyfish, but while everything can change on any given day, the jellyfish in the Pacific are generally not in the same volumes as they are strewn across the English Channel. (Two of us got stung.)
6. The Catalina Channel allows kayakers, paddlers and pace swimmers to support the swim from shore-to-shore in any formation or duration as desired.
7. The windows of the Catalina Channel are much longer due to the number of swimmers and fickle weather in the English Channel.
8. Both shores and illumination across the Catalina Channel can generally be seen, even at night, but this psychological advantage is not always available in the English Channel.
9. Dolphins, a sign of good luck and protection among channel swimmers, are in significantly greater numbers in the Catalina Channel. (How cool would that be)
10. Boat traffic is significantly less in the Catalina Channel than in the English Channel.
A couple of additional “selling” features of the Catalina adventure are the name of the boat that we will charter to guide us, our kayak paddlers and the pipes that will mark our successful completion. The Bottom Scratcher (yup…that’s the name) and its captain and piper Greg Elliot will pilot, our paddlers will include my brother Dean and fellow team member John’s wife Izzie.
Crazy Canucks Catalina Channel Relay 2019 here we come!