Life in a slow place that quickly steals your heart.


Open water swimming Okanagan Lake

Leap of faith – Diving into the English Channel

“You’re a land animal trying to swim,” says Paul Sereno, University of Chicago Professor. “You’re what we call a secondary swimmer.”

Jan Johnston and I in April in Skaha Lake


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.

Here we are in 14 C degree water on a sunny April day

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.

From the Channel Swimming Association record book

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.

That smile is why Jan is an ideal team mate. She is up for anything, willing to suffer in the cold and as upbeat as she looks in this photo.

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.

The beginning of our boat trip to the our relay start at Catalina Island.
The French finish of our 2016 English Channel Relay… a bit of a different beast.

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).

Bring on that leap or dive of faith. Here is hoping the pandemic will be over, we will stay fit to train and we experience the rush of it all.

“Who needs psychedelics,” says Lynne Cox. “when you can just go for a swim in the ocean.”

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?


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.


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.

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