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Archive for the ‘Ocean’s 7’ Category

H2Open Magazine Recognizing Accomplishments

August 16, 2013

A fellow swimmer forwarded on this lovely article in H2Open Magazine.   It’s fun to see the news spreading.

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This girl is on fire!

August 15, 2013

Ok as promised to the last update, this is the story about the after effects/affects (oh who cares I never promised grammatical accuracy in these updates) of being stung head to toe by Lion’s Mane Jellies.   Immediately after the swim, we pulled into Port Patrick Scotland.  Thankfully in the marina there was an electric shower.   This meant that I could warm up from the swim AND that I wouldn’t run out of hot water.  No cold water shower for me this time.  Double bonus!  There was only one barrier between me and this hot shower…20p and a turn style.  NOOOOOO foiled by about 35 cents.  The attendant was very nice to let me jump the turn style when I promised that we would pay double.  Plus I think my shivering and bluish skin let her know that a shower was way more important than the money. 

Now when you are stung by jellies there are a few schools of thought about what works best to alleviate the venom and ultimately keep the stingers from continuing to fire.  Yep, jellies are like bees in that the stingers stay in.  Unlike bees, they have way more than one stinger.  Treatment options:

  • Come on now people!  I know you are all thinking of the Friend’s option.  No this does not really work and wasn’t considered as a treatment option.
  • Vinegar or meat tenderizer – place on jelly sting and then scrape with a dull instrument like a credit card.
  • Baking soda paste placed on stings
  • Soaking in and rubbing with salt water

These are the ones that I knew offhand.  Then a google search turned up this lovely item.  I love the illustrations and step 2 recommendation.  Guess I missed that step.  Also don’t rub sand in the sting as you may already have blisters and this can cause infection.   Frankly I think rubbing is just a bad idea overall for jelly stings.

Even if we had brought vinegar, baking soda or meat tenderizer on the boat there would not have been nearly enough for me to cover essentially my whole body.   I would require a tub for that type of application and probably a whale hoist to lower me in and hold me steady.  Then I began to worry if we went down that route how long in a tub of vinegar before you are considered a pickle?  I had already been brined in salt water, so really I wasn’t too many steps away from pickles.  Then the credit card.  I forgot to stash one in my pocket.  Oh wait, I don’t have a credit card pocket in my swimming suit.  What would I buy anyways in the middle of a channel?  A vowel, a clue?  And while I knew that the pain from the stings was dulled in salt water, I wasn’t exactly itching to get back in the North Channel.  So a hot shower was what I had. 

While in the shower, I determined that it was most likely the stings that were making me feel cold vs. the frigid water.  Basically I felt mostly warm 10 minutes into the shower, but the shivering wouldn’t stop.  I took this to be a reaction to the venom, which was confirmed later at home.  Since I had unlimited hot water and confirmation that no one was waiting for the shower,  I gave myself an extra 10 minutes.   I said that I’d stay in the shower for “9 hours, 34 minutes, and 39 seconds” to even my time in the North Channel, but really it was only 20 minutes.   I’m about water conservation after all 🙂

Then I got quickly dressed.  Remember I said that I had been stung in prior days training sessions?  Well I learned that having a layer of tight clothing under a layer of warmer clothing is really helpful.  This keeps the fabric from moving against the skin and causing any leftover jelly stingers from firing.  Yes they stay on even after showering.  They are sticky little buggers and live in water so they don’t necessarily come off just using water.  I bet Nike Pro was never considered for this use!

After the 3 hour boat ride back to Northern Ireland and a small celebration with photos, I drove my crew member and I back home.  Thankfully she offered to cook dinner while I took another shower.  This time with the aforementioned vinegar and credit card.  Then into another set of clean clothes.  I knew that now I just had to ride the tide of the venom process.  Basically your skin feels like it is on fire with the massive pin pricks thus leading to internal singing of “This Girl Is On Fire” by Alicia Keys.  To the actual touch, the skin feels sticky as it is what I call weeping – sticky, wet and cool to the touch.   I believe this either to be the skin working out  the venom or the venom working on the skin cells.  Either way not pleasant.  This lasts for about 1-2 days depending on the severity of the stings.  Seeing as I had 9 hours of stings, I labeled it on the severe side.  Needless to say, this kept me from sleeping that first night.  I did try, but then quickly got up, drew a bath and gathered all the salt in the house and dumped it in.  I stayed in this manner until the water got cold and even then I considered staying there.  I did manage to get a few hours of sleep that night a bed not the bathtub.

The next day was pretty much the same as the evening so we did the only thing we could think of, swimming.  Yep you read that right, I went swimming the day after the event.  It allowed me to just stay in the water and feel some relief.  Day 2 after the swim…we went swimming again.  However, the burning and painful pin pricks were subsiding and transitioning into crazy itchiness.  This lasted for another day and a half.  I felt bad for people who were around me those days as I my “I’m an adult and shouldn’t scratch those areas” filter was completely overridden.  (Side note:  I think guys are born without this filter.  Just saying.)  Thankfully most of this itching was on my arms and legs, but still there were some awkward moments.  Ah another joy of open water swimming!  Want to learn more about the various types of jellies in the Irish Sea – here is a great link:  I can confirm that I saw the Common, Blue, and Lion’s Mane.  The “Little Jellyfish” are usually the ones that take a trip down my suit and cause some major havoc on sensitive stomach skin.  Thankfully none of those on this trip.

Here is a picture of me the evening after the swim.   This is a rare photo where I am bundled up to the hilt and still shivering.   At least we have some idea of what I’ll look like when I’m 80.

Bundled Up Post swim

And here is an account of Day 2 – post swim swimming adventures.  Some good photos in this entry as well.

I know you are all still thinking about the $0.35 cents that I owed for the shower and rest assured that it was paid in full.  We can all sleep easy tonight!

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In the mad mind of the marathon swimmer

August 8, 2013

I’ve been contemplating what to tell you about the North Channel swim and have been drawing a blank.  Maureen McCoy already wrote such a beautiful account from the boat perspective.  In case you missed it, here it is again    And just this week the Beaverton Leader has this article:

Then I thought of some questions my crew member and friend Erin asked me after the swim.  She asked “How do you get into the water knowing that you are going to be stung by jellyfish?  What keeps you going?”  When she asked me this question, I was stumped for an answer.  It isn’t something that I even really thought about as being a choice.   Now I’ve had the time and I think that is as good a place to start as any to tell you about my perspective of swimming the North Channel known for its extremely cold temperatures and loads of jellies.

Jellyfish are some of the oldest organisms in the world dating to 500 to 700 million years old.  And according to Wikipedia the Lion’s Mane jelly (pictured below – and yes that is me flirting with danger.  This was taken after the swim, so you’d think I know better.) “Although capable of attaining a bell diameter of 2.5 metres (8.2 ft), these jellyfish can vary greatly in size; those found in lower latitudes are much smaller than their far northern counterparts with bell about 50 centimetres (20 in) in diameter. The tentacles of larger specimens may trail as long as 30 metres (98 ft) or more. These extremely sticky tentacles are grouped into eight clusters, each cluster containing over 100 tentacles,[4] arranged in a series of rows.”  ( )

Ok not sure if you digested that information, so it bears repeating – the tentacles can reach up to 98 feet long and are EXTREMELY sticky grouped into EIGHT clusters each containing OVER 100 tentacles.  Just wanted that to be crystal clear. 


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Now on arriving in Northern Ireland, I did do some practice training to get ready for the ultimate swim of the North Channel.  Unfortunately during two of these training swims I was stung by a Lion’s Mane jelly.  Probably not the same one, but cousins I’m sure 😉 I got a lot of first hand knowledge of what the stings felt like and how my body would react.  My friends and I had hoped that this welcoming to the North Sea by the jellies would be my only encounter and that my actual swim would be jelly free. 

July 15th rolled around and it was time to get into the water for the North Channel swim.   As I was working my way to shore to start on the actual land, I managed to beach myself like a whale on a barnacle covered rock.   In the process of trying to remove myself through some amazingly graceful flopping around, I ended up bloodied and bruised.  Not exactly how I wanted to start a swim, but at least I was pretty confident that there weren’t sharks in the North Channel.  Or at least I was pretty sure.  (Side note:  3 weeks later and the leg cuts are almost healed.)

I was also hoping for a good jelly forecast – meaning no jellies or jellies way below water surface level.  It became clear very very early in the swim that this was not going to be the case.    Shortly after starting the swim I ran into a large group of jellyfish, which is called a “bloom, swarm or a smack.”  Smack seemed appropriate at this time.  Here is the sequence of events when encountering a smack of jellies – this sequence occurred multiple times during the swim:

  • Shoot there is a jelly – let’s swim around it.  YAY you!  You missed it!   Be Dori and Nemo – you can do it.  Thread the needle!  Dance and slither around the jellies!  Happy times swimming.  You are so going to make it through this!
  • Dang! Shoot! Plus some other larger non-appropriate expletives as I felt myself swim into threads on my arms.  The best way that I can explain it is that it is like when you walk into a spider web that you didn’t see.  You can feel the threads and they are stuck to you, but you can’t exactly find them to get them off so you do the spider web dance as you flail your arms, wiggle your body side to side all while saying ACCCKKK FLLLLFFFF.   Now a jelly encounter is somewhat similar.  If you are lucky, you catch the bell of the jelly and really only end up with a stung forearm because you grab the bell and push it under you while trying as much as possible to levitate over the rest of the jelly.   Heck if you can manage to levitate out of the water you’d do it.  Unlucky and you get to have the jelly slide all along your body creating havoc as it goes.   Instead of ACCKKK FLLLLFFF you either decide to keep your mouth closed so you don’t swallow any tentacles or lift your head up and bellow.  Most often I go with the mouth closed approach. 
  • I did raise my head up to inform my crew that the jellies were going to be paying a visit and that I had been stung.  I also warned my kayaker to be careful as I didn’t want them to have a jelly slide up their kayak paddle and sting them.
  • Then I get to wait a very brief second before the burning starts.  In addition to burning, you also feel as if you have an extremely bad case of the painful pin pricks that occur when a body part has fallen asleep or more accurately has started to wake up.

At this point I decided that I needed to add another mantra to my repetorie.   Prior to the start of the swim they were:

  • We are going to have a safe, relaxed and successful swim.
  • You are made for cold water and excel there.
  • You have prepared for this swim and are focused.
  • Control what you can control and let go of everything else.

I quickly added:  The jellies should not kill you. 

I didn’t go so far as say won’t because at this point I wasn’t really sure and I knew plenty of swimmers that had ended up in the hospital due to jelly stings.  Then I started to think about counting how many jelly stings I got as this is often a question.   Then I began a debate with myself – does it count as one if a jelly rolls down your body stinging as it goes or does each separate point that it hits count as one?  Does being stung in the face count as more than the forearm?  What constitutes a lot of jellyfish?  Because to me this seems like a lot of jellies, but I don’t have a lot of reference points so maybe this is just a little and a lot is way more.  If this is a little, then I should be thankful that it isn’t a lot!  This thinking killed quite a bit of time during the swim.  I never settled on what counted as one sting so I don’t have a count of stings.  I know that I ran through many groups of jellies and was stung from tip to toes.  One even managed to sting through my swimsuit.  At this point counting seemed futile.

I also spent time thinking about the seal.  Why was it following me?  What did it want?  I wan’t super concerned as it was maintaining its distance and I only really saw it during the feedings.  (Side note:  Yes they are called feedings when my crew gives me food.  They occur every 30 minutes.)  Then there was the Nike futbol (or soccer) ball.  After the ball was pulled from the water, the seal disappeared.  We later joked that because we took the seal’s ball it decided there was no reason to hang around with the crazy swimmer.

Most of my time is spent trying to be meditative.  I count my strokes in a pattern – “One, two, three, breathe.  One, two, three, breathe.”  Yes after many hours this can get boring. 

During the feedings, my crew would cheer me on and keep me entertained.  They also asked questions to ensure that I was still functioning and not hypothermic.   One of the rules that I have with my crew is please don’t tell me how far I’ve gone, how many hours, or what I have left.    I have the crew tell me one bit of information – when I’ve reached OVER halfway.  Now it is up to my crew if they tell me this close to the actual halfway point or wait until much later into the swim.  Up until I hear this I try my best to keep track of exactly how many feedings I’ve had which in turn tells me how long I’ve been swimming.

As we reached what I calculated as the 6 hour mark, I realized that either I was getting cold or the stings were causing me to feel cold.  I couldn’t exactly determine which.  This led to a bit of time debating that fact.  Ultimately I decided it was an effect from all the jelly stings.  Then I also started to calculate that I was in for potentially another 6-8 hours of swimming.  Could I do that?  Would my body hold up?  Just how much more jelly venom could I withstand before I had problems?  At the 6.5 hour feeding, my crew announced that I was more than halfway.  For the next 30 minutes, I did some bargaining with my body.    “Ok body,  if you keep pushing forward, doing your job, and handling the jelly stings… I will never make you swim this body of water solo again.”  Some of you may have caught the key word in that sentence “SOLO.”  Yep, I was already talking with some of my crew about how fun it would be to do a relay 2-3 days after this swim was over. 

At the 7 hour feeding, the crew told me that if I pushed harder they thought the swim would be over in 2 hours.  I asked “and if I don’t?”  They replied that the swim would be maybe 3-4 hours more.    I decided I’d try to push.   One of my crew members also suited up to swim with me for an hour which was a nice distraction.  At 9 hours, my crew asked me to keep pushing.  I told them that I could push for 1 more hour and then I’d have to scale back to something more manageable.  It was around this time that I just decided to put my head down and swim forgetting that looking for jellies may still be a good idea.  Shortly after this I ran directly into a large Lion’s Mane and ended up wearing it as a shawl wrapped around my neck and upper body.   Needless to say this caused some bellowing and slapping of the water as I pealed the jelly off my body.  Thankfully that was the last major jelly encounter for the swim.   I ended up finishing 34 minutes and 39 seconds after that last feeding. 

That’s a bit of what I was thinking during the North Channel swim.

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North Channel Swim – An account from the boat

July 17, 2013

Please take time to read this beautiful account of the swim from the perspective of the official Irish Long Distance Association observer, Maureen McCoy, with photos by Paul McCambridge. 

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