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Catalina Channel Recap

October 12, 2008

First and foremost, thank you to Leroy for updating my blog yet again.  Without his support I couldn’t get all your great comments to keep me moving through the swims.  You all have no idea how great it is to hear all the support.  It buoys me throughout the swim.  Thank you to all of you as well.

On Monday night, my crew stopped for what ended up being too late of a dinner.  We had trouble locating a place as we weren’t familiar with San Pedro and many places were closed due to it being Monday.  We eventually located a place and sat in for a quick dinner before meeting the boat pilot, crew, observers and kayaker.  After a very quick dinner where the Musak was so loud we could barely hear each other we took off for the 22nd Street Landing.

I was able to meet everyone that was going to be on the boat.  We had the pilot, John Pittman and the boat crew of Jeff and Dave.  Then there was Claudia and Dorothy as the observers and Marie as the main kayaker.  Now it was great to see Claudia as we have swum together up in Alaska for the past 2 years.  Very knowledgeable and very helpful to me and my crew.  Plus it was nice to have another friendly face on the boat besides my crew. 

Before the swim could start we had to motor out to Catalina which we were told was about a 2.5 hour boat ride.  I settled in to the cabin and just tried to relax.  Most of my crew stayed out in the fresh air.  Now Dave gave us our safety talk about where the lifejackets were, the life raft, etc.  He also discussed that the other escort boat was out tonight escorting two 6 person relays across the Channel.   Lastly, he gave us a good discussion about if we got sea sick.  If sea sick on the way out to Catalina we were supposed to just go on the back deck as if we tried to boot over the side we could potentially fall over.  I was assured by most of my crew that they were fine and even one was so cocky as to say that they NEVER got sea sick.  Lets just say that the dinner that we had early didn’t stay down for most.  3/5ths of the crew fed the fish.  I felt bad, but I have to be honest I didn’t go check on them as I didn’t need to boot it before the swim myself. 

Dave came back and cleaned up the deck as we arrived at Catalina.  I quickly got ready and then was given a quick talk.  Swim towards the beach where the spot light was and then get out.  Once boat horn sounds I can get started.  Claudia had also given me some tips.  If I feel like I’m getting bumped by something it is just sea lions especially close to Catalina, if I was bumped further out in the Channel it would be dolphins.  I decided to just go with this and started to wrap my mind about not shooting out of the water if bumped by some underwater creatures.  I got the go ahead to swim into the beach.   I made sure that my 2 lights were activated and jumped in.  Marie was already in the water for the first kayaking shift.

The approach to the Catalina beach required me to swim over a kelp forest.  At times I felt like I was a turtle stuck on a log.  I was being held up and getting stuck on the kelp.  I was quite amused.  I have no idea what it looked like to the crew.  I’m sure that my white bum was glowing in the spot light as I tried to move through the kelp.  I reached the beach with some dignity intact and climbed out.   

The boat horn sounded and I started.  My goal was to get through the kelp as quickly as possible.  Plus I kept thinking, if you feel a bump just keep swimming it is only a playful sea lion.  I had been told that the sea lions would follow for the first few miles from Catalina.  Once I got past the kelp, I noticed something very strange in the water.  In fact it was very disorienting.  I felt like I was stuck in a disco room with 10 disco balls all working.  Phosphorescence.  I had heard about phosphorescence, but never really experienced it.  It was very entertaining once I got past the dizziness.  The best way that I can explain it is like chomping down on wintergreen certs in the dark.  The green sparks that the certs give off reminded me of phosphorescence, but my arms were causing the crunch to create the spark.  After about an hour, I figured I was outside the sea lions playground.  Apparently one sea lion did come up for a visit, but he/she never did any bumping.

Once I settled into the swim, we got down to the swim plan.  Feeding on the hour for the first 3 hours and then switching to feedings every 30 minutes.  Jeff, my support swimmer, and I would follow English Channel swimming rules.  He wouldn’t get in for the first 3 hours and then in for an hour and then out for 2 hours before he could re-enter the water.

Now I thought that swimming was a sensory deprived sport.  Swimming at night is way beyond sensory deprivation.  (Note:  Yes I did practice night swimming, so this wasn’t my first experience).  I couldn’t see the faces of my crew, the observers or the kayaker.   I could see outlined blobs, but that was about it.  There were 2 blobs on the boat that I continually saw through the first 3 hours.  It was only later that I found out that the other 3 crew members were not feeling well at all.  To all their credit, I didn’t know and they kept the schedule and positive attitude.  Rumor has it that there was syncronized booting which included laughing as they hung off the side of the boat.   

We attempted to use the white board in the dark, but all that I could see was that the white board was lit up but the words weren’t distinguishable.  Back to the sensory deprivation for me.  Swimming at night was very strange.  Unlike during the day my mind didn’t wander.  There were no songs.  Only me watching the phosphorescence and Orion rise in the sky.  Which meant that I thought a lot about time and how much of it had passed and how much of it was left.  Perhaps watching Orion on its path through the sky wasn’t my best plan.  Then with the phosphorescense my arms continually sparkled.  There was of course other things causing sparks below me, but I just attributed the deep phosphorescence to a very strong deep pull on my account.  I know it was deluded but it kept me calm. 

Jeff entered the water after 3 hours and we had a little bit of a bumpy swim.  It was hard for him to see me and for me to see him.  Eventually we hit a rhythm.  We found that if he followed the kayaker and I followed the boat, we maintained a safe distance from each other.  It was nice to have someone else in the water knowing what I was going through. 

After about 4.5 hours I asked if I was halfway, at the 5 hour mark I was told that yes I had reached the halfway point. 

I wish that I could say that I had some great thoughts during the darkness, but all I knew was the time.  There was a point that I heard the squeaking of dolphins, but I never saw them.  According to the boat account that you all read, the crew saw the dolphins but I was in such a groove that they didn’t want to stop me.  Probably a good idea.  Although part of me wondered if the squeaking was from the dolphins or if my sinuses were under a lot of pressure and were squeaking.  Yes this can happen. 

The swim at night was pretty much the same for me.  But I really felt good.  My neck was playing along, my mind was in a good space.  The only issues were some bad stomach cramps, which caused a few close booting moments of my own.  All that really happened was getting rid of a little swallowed salt water.  Then my left shoulder started acting up.  After a quick stroke adjustment, it got better.

Jeff came in for hour 4 and 7 and the end as you all read.  There was a kayak switch after 3 hours and 6 hours.  When Claudia was kayaking I found out that I was having some issues with the current.  There were times when I was getting pushed backwards…dang that current.

Then the sun started to come up and my mind started it’s normal wanderings.  Of course I started singing “Here Comes the Sun”   Then I was able to get all the comments from the white board and see the faces of my crew and the kayakers.    And then the water temperature started to drop, which meant that I was getting close.  I’m used to swimming in cold water, but after going from 68 to 60 it is a drop, plus the shivers that I was getting from my stomach issues didn’t help.  

The best stop was when I heard that I had a set of 4×200 left to finish up.  Plus Jane made a great choice to land me on more of a pebble beach rather than the boulders we were headed for.  I wasn’t too pleased at the time as we started to go parallel to the shore to get there, but I played along.  Jeff came in and helped to escort me into the beach. 

I exited the water as gracefully as I had entered it which is to say that my bum was again center stage as I fell, stumbled and crawled my way out of the water.  I can’t wait to see those photos.  After I exited I sat down and started to pick through the pebbles to find MY pebble.  I grabbed a few and then it was back to the boat.

I have found that after a long swim and getting on the boat that I always get sick.  Good news I had apparently digested most of my food.  Bad news, I still booted.  I got positive comments from the crew.  According to their records I maintained a constant pace and stroke rate.  I looked strong even with my shoulder issues. 


  • Do practice at night, as it will prepare you for the sensory deprivation.
  • Do purchase some waterproof bike lights as they worked great as markers.  I wore the Cats Eye brand.  They were light and I didn’t even notice them. 
  • Don’t use water resistant bike lights.  They will not last in the salt water.
  • Have chemical lights on hand to light the boat, crew and as a back up to the bike lights.
  • Do have a good crew that will keep all their discomforts secret while keeping a positive attitude towards you.

Thank you to my crew.  You endured a lot and most of it I didn’t know about.  Thank you for following the rules and beinging there.

Thank you to the Channel Swimming Association for providing great access to kayakers, observers, and experienced people. 

Thank you to Claudia, Dorothy and Marie.  The support you provided just added to my already strong crew.

Thank you to John Pittman, Dave and Jeff for guiding the boat and letting me follow the boat and feed from the boat. 

Thank you to all of you for your support of my swimming.

As usual, I will provide photos as soon as I have them.


One Response to “Catalina Channel Recap”

  1. Jeff Rodgers says:

    Michelle’s stamina and mental toughness was truly amazing and inspiring. I’ve been swimming since age 5 and that was the most memorable event I’ve ever been a part of. Thanks for including me, Michelle.

    Jeff “Thank goodness for Dramamine” Rodgers

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