I think that song will be in my head for a little bit. Unfortunately that is the only verse/stanza of the song that I know, but it is appropriate. Yesterday at around 8:30am Steve Junk and I started our journey across Cook Strait. As one of our swimming friends reminded us, our boat name was Tongaroa, the god of the New Zealand seas and it looked as if he was going to smile on us for our journey.
First let me thank our wonderful crew because without them this wouldn't be possible. Philip Rush has the difficult job of organizing and scheduling all the swims. On top of that he is the main crew for the entire swim. He monitors the swimmers, talks with the support boat, the whole shebang. Then there was Mike who also was in the R.I.B. (I call it a dingy, but it seems sturdier). He was there for the whole swim driving the RIB, which can't be easy with the relatively slow speed and the wind and waves bouncing you about. Then there are the support boat captains, Barney and Chris. They monitored the swim from afar, made my food and somehow managed to pass it off to Mike and Philip in the RIB. What coordination. We were also joined by Paul in another RIB towards the end of our swim. I can't believe that in that rough sea that he took an RIB out to meet us. He did mention that it sounded like a good idea on the phone, but the actual trip wasn't the best idea. I believe he said "I can check that off my list of things never to do". As you can see, for a swimmer to be successful it takes a whole team (including the team back home) for a swim even to get off dry land. I can't thank all these people enough for making my dreams come true.
Ok Tongaroa was smiling on us for the first part of the journey. The seas were calm and quite warm. Steve and I were keeping a good distance as well as staying relatively together. Looked like we were in for a great day. Then the 2hr 15 minute feeding arrived. And Steve looked up and said "the seas are just gorgeous and flat". In my head I was screaming "NOOOOOOOOOO". Ok so besides the toe nail polish tradition, I also have the superstition that you don't tempt the gods. Tawhirimatea, the wind god, decided it was time for us to learn a little about his power. The seas started to get a little lumpy.
Steve thrives in choppy seas. He just bulldozes his way through and was pretty much off like a shot. I on the other hand spent some time cursing Steve and getting knocked about. I couldn't catch a rhythm mainly because I was trying to force it too much. I was supposed to keep up or be relatively close to Steve during the swim and I was falling quite a bit behind. At the next feeding, Philip told me to stop forcing it and find a rhythm. I tried and failed. Again I just kept slipping further and further behind Steve. Remember he loves choppy seas and sees it as a great big playground. For this 30 minutes, I was working on my speech to Philip for our next feeding. Again this distracted me too much. I came up to the boat at the next feeding and said "Ok, I'm really trying to keep up here, but I just can't keep that pace. I can't find my rhythm." Philip looked at me and said "Don't worry about Steve. You do your own swimming. Find your rhythm and we have got it under control." Ahhh that calmed me down and I got on with business. I stopped thinking, got on with swimming and surprisingly once I stopped forcing it I was keeping better pace.
Tawhirimatea didn't just stop with lumpy seas. The god cranked up the wind to 15-17 knots and it wasn't causing rollers. It was a short break causing a lot of chop and some white caps. But with my head screwed on straight (finally) and Steve enjoying the play time, we kept making progress to the finish. Nothing much of consequence happened for the next few hours as we continued to swim, feed, swim, feed. The sun was out which created a warming sensation on the back and the water was a really nice temperature. There was no real sea life to speak of, but I really was hoping for the dolphins that Philip and Mike talked about. Just a few odd jellies and some kelp and that was it.
We reached halfway at just over 4 hours. I wasn't quite sure yet if we were going to have a successful swim as I know that the winds had the chance to pick up even more. (Note: They were coming from our left side, but I still don't know what direction that is. Southwesterly maybe). Now Steve thought we would have a 9 hour swim. Philip thought maybe a 7-8 hour swim. I was a little less optimistic and was thinking 10. That seems to be my magic number for channel swims. I didn't think this one would be any different.
Another 2 hours passed and my shoulder was starting to bother me. I began to really focus on stroke entry, pull through and recovery. This seemed to help, plus it really got me out of my head even more. I felt like I was on autopilot except when I was slapped out of it with a mouthful of salt water. I little choking and coughing and then back into it.
At the 6 hour feeding, Philip had us look to the finish. It did seem really close. I said so like another 3 hours. He replied maybe 2, as we had picked up our pace and were really doing well. In my head, I still planned for 6 more feedings. The feedings were every 30 minutes. I know I know, I'm not exactly the optimist, but I like to plan for the worst so that I can keep my head in the game. Philip also pointed out where we should focus our swim to as they were having trouble keeping the RIB with us due to the lumpy seas. I love that description Lumpy. It makes it seem like the seas are mashed potatoes and it really covers a lot of variables. I don't know what constitutes lumpy seas and when does it move to rough? Maybe for swimmers it is always lumpy.
After the 6hr feeding, I stopped taking in my carbo fuel. I just couldn't stomach it anymore and things weren't moving as they should. I also didn't want to start puking, as I haven't on a swim yet and I wasn't about to start. I switched to a straight electrolyte at my feedings and took on some ibuprofen tablets to help my shoulder. All systems seemed to want to continue forward. (FYI – Steve was still there plugging away as well. I don't exactly know his mindset, but he seemed happy at our feedings. I didn't see much of him past 2 hours after the seas became lumpy). Around this time, Paul showed up in the other RIB.
Another 30 minutes later and the sea temperature dropped. I began to think about Catalina and how the temperature drops there as well near the finish. It was a nice reference point. Another feeding and we kept chugging and chipping away at the distance to the South Island.
On the last feeding, Philip said that we only had 30 minutes left of swimming. I wasn't so sure. Sure the cliffs of the South Island looked close, but they had looked close for the last 2 hours and they didn't seem to be getting any closer. I was cautiously optimistic and thought "Right 30 minutes, I'm going to really have to work." I hit a rhythm and just got going. The seas hadn't changed, but I was on the move. Steve unfortunately started to feel the effects of the colder temperature (skinny man 🙂 ). Me I was still fairly insulated. Steve started to drop back, but again Philip gave me every indication that we were ok to be split in this manner. Also Paul came out with the other RIB to be with Steve. Apparently the decision had been made to allow us to split, so that I wouldn't get cold and Steve could continue his pace.
During this last 30 minutes (I really think it was 45) I kept seeing Philip hold his hands up indicating distance and that we were close. I of course would pop my head up and look…nope not any closer by my standards. I finally asked him if he was sure. He replied with 300 meters to go. Ok 300 meters, I can do that. I put my head down and kept going what I hoped was forward as the waves seemed to bump me in every direction. After what I assumed was 300 meters, I looked up again. Reply 100 meters to go. Head down keep moving forward. I expected to eventually see the sea floor rise up to meet me to signal the end or that I was getting close. In Cook Strait this doesn't happen. All of the sudden there is the cliff in front of you. Philip and Mike guided me in to where the waves were breaking less. I would gradually ride a wave forward then tread water then rode the last wave forward and touched the cliff. I had done it.
Mike and Philip hauled me into the RIB like a dead whale and then I had the chance to see Steve. He was just behind me and would finish in the next few minutes. I wanted to go over, but Philip wisely advised me that I should get back to the boat and start to warm up. It was great to see Steve finish and touch the cliff as well. We were the first 2 swimmers of the season to finish Cook Strait. Our times were just over 8 hours, but I don't have the official ones yet.
Back on the boat and warm, I spent the time out on the back due to my stomach's needs to empty. I didn't want to mess up the boat. Surprisingly I didn't throw up like I normally do, which probably had to do with the fact that I hadn't really eaten anything for over 2 hours. Mind you I didn't feel great. However, I had a good time talking with Philip, Mike and Paul.
So that is the story of the Cook Strait swim. As for the morning after, I'm sore, sunburnt and quite happy. I think a big breakfast is in order!
The rest of Steve and my time here will be exploring some local vineyards, relaxing and maybe having a few short paddles in the harbour.Tags: Cook Strait Swim