Please tap on the glass

Month: July, 2013

Strait of Juan de Fuca, a brief thank you

[Originally published in Please Tap on the Glass at USMS Blogs on 28 July 2013.]

The swim has started. I’ve just jumped in. It is 8am here on the coast of Vancouver Island. There are six hours left to go.

Yes, it is 8am and I’ve only just jumped in, but I’d never have made it this far without you. There are many, many people who have helped make this swim a success. And this swim IS already a success. Who would let the outcome of a piddly twelve-mile swim define the success of something that has taken eight months to plan? Not me. The planning was the challenge, the adventure, the thrill.

The planning has been the adventure, and along the way I’ve met people who have offered everything, few who’ve offered nothing, and many who gave what they could, even a mere point in the right direction or a kind consideration. All of you are remembered, and all the help has been deeply appreciated.

So, while I swim, here’s a quick thank you to those of you who helped make this swim possible:

  • Mark and LCDR Meridena at Sector Puget Sound Vessel Traffic Service: thank you for being positive, thorough, and professional, for going beyond what your job requires, and for helping me resolve some of the most difficult parts of the planning.
  • Dan the Port Angeles Port Director, Customs and Border Patrol: thank you for your flexibility allowing me to take the route of my choosing.
  • Donna, at the Pacific Coast Highway CANPASS Application Center: thank you for your personal touch to the CANPASS process, including all the phone calls and faxes to see that these went through on time.
  • ​Captain Bob, Randy, and the staff of West Marine Store 1271 Seattle: thank you for patiently helping me with a lot of questions about your products (which eventually, after several months, ended in a sale).
  • ​Doug, and the staff of Milltech Marine: thank you for repeatedly explaining how an AIS works and listening to me explain what I was trying to do (also, eventually ended in a sale).
  • Vicki Keith and Peter Urrea: thank you for taking the time to tell me about your Strait swims. I love knowing your stories. And thank you to those who helped me track Peter down.
  • Evan M, Dave B, Phil W, Steve M, and the marathon swimming community: thank you for fielding some early questions about this swim.
  • Faculty and Staff of various oceanographic institutions, Scripp’s, UW, NOAA, Seattle and Vancouver Aquariums, WS DFW: thank you for offering what advice and guidance you could with regards to tides, currents, and sea creatures.
  • Doug S (PA Power Squadron), Ernie N (USCG Aux), Todd (PA Boat Haven), Ken V, Tom Y (Tommycod Charters), Jeremy & Jack (Arrow Launch) and others: thank you for being a part of the emotional roller-coaster ride that was finding a suitable boat.
  • Open Water Swimmers everywhere, especially CIBBOWS and those out here in Seattle: thank you for listening, and thank you for asking. Thank you for offering, and thank you for giving. The Open Water community is the greatest group of people I’ve ever met.
  • To my family and my almost-family: thank you for supporting my crazy things, and for teaching me how to do them.
My crew – Charles, Steve, Meg, and Caitlin: thank you.

Strait of Juan de Fuca, the 24-page pre-plan

[Originally published in Please Tap on the Glass at USMS Blogs on 21 July 2013.]

->> skip straight to the document <<-

This is it, my final post before the swim. Meghan and Caitlin are in town, the weather remains sunny and calm, and all indications point to a go on 28 July 2013. But we wouldn’t be able to start without the pre-plan being approved.

Last summer, I began typing up a “so you’re going to crew for me” type document to make early morning pre-swim discussions with an unfamiliar captain and crew a little easier. It is two pages and goes over what I want and expect from them on the average swim, and what they should want and expect from me. This document, along with the one-page supplement, makes up the last three pages of this swim’s pre-plan.

Early on in the planning, it became clear that the swim manager would need to have a lot written down to get across the borders and shipping lanes, so I began to draft a swim-specific pre-plan. As July approached, VTS recommended I submit a pre-plan for them to distribute to various agencies, and I was like, “easy, here it is!” They made one set of comments (thorough comments) and included emergency numbers, proper VTS procedure, and asked me to clarify some why’s and how’s. When they passed it on to the Port Angeles USCG station, USCBP, CBSA, and the Canadian Coast Guard, they got unanimous approval on the first try – something I’m told is a feat in itself.

The document is attached for your use, review, and enjoyment. It’s sections are broken up as follows:

  1. definitions; vessel details
  2. entry into Canada
  3. entry into US
  4. communications
  5. emergency numbers
  6. VTS
  7. CANPASS worksheet
  8. safety goal
  9. safety authority
  10. crew responsibilities
  11. go/no-go decision
  12. safety plan
  13. escort craft description
  14. swim rules (taken from Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association rules)
  15. current overview
  16. daily route plans with current info
  17. general crew info
  18. specific crew info.

The document can be found at my old MIMS2012 website:
http://andrewswimsmims.com/wp-conten…y-redacted.pdf

Thanks for sharing in the adventure!

Figure 2: 1,300 days of training

Training-1300-daysMore on this graph in a future post. Data!

Strait of Juan de Fuca, customs

[Originally published in Please Tap on the Glass at USMS Blogs on 18 July 2013.]

As the more astute among have realized by now, there are international borders to be crossed in this swim. In fact, the question I get more often than “Where is that?” (get a map!) or “With a wet suit, right?” (glare…no) is “Do you have to carry your passport?” Yes. Yes I do.

This is a long post, and you can blame Congress for that. Things got way tricky in 2002 as the Department of Homeland Security came onto the scene. Also, having the Canadian Navy sail into my path, megaphone in hand, shouting, “soorry to bother you, but if you could please stop swimming, we’d like to arrest you, if that’s alright,” would get in the way of Goal Number Two. Rule following is key.

At the beginning of April, I took a scouting trip to Port Angeles to look for boats, look for access to the finish locations, and chat up the folks at the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP). Fortunately, Port Angeles is a port of entry into the US, so they’ve got a customs house that handles the occasional ferry passengers and cargo ships entering via the local port. Even more fortunately, the port is relatively small, so getting in touch with the Port Director is pretty easy (far easier than it was when I tried calling the Miami port, for example). So, we chatted.

After I got Port Director Dan to believe that I was actually planning something legitimate, we began talking details. Apparently, every commercial vessel (defined as anyone for hire, including my escort boat) is subject to some amazingly complex requirements for entry into the US. This includes things such as the 24-hour Electronic Manifest Rule using the Automated Commercial Environment, and International Carrier Bonds (ICB) for Non-Vessel Operating Common Carriers. After much research (look up 67 FR 66318 and 19 CFR 4.7 (b)(3)(i) if you want extra credit), I finally understood the ICB was a major reason I was having difficulty finding a cheap boat option. The ICB is a $50,000 bond to be used in the event any you get any fines from the CBP, which by this stage I was certain we inadvertently would.

Obtaining the bond was priced by one captain as about $1,000, and that was if I went through the commercial launch previously described (total now at $5,000 for that boat), and it was way, way over budget to ask a one man show, such as Captain Charles, to get. I reached out to the swimming community for help on this issue and got nothing. I even called the Port of Miami (the port that covers where those Cuba swimmers would land) to see what they were requiring, and got nothing. At a dead end, I talked some more with Port Director Dan and he agreed to use his power to waive the requirement “just this once.” I suspect he’d waive it again though, if you ask nicely. And if I don’t mess things up for you.

To wrap things up, Dan told me that while technically I was supposed to call into the Port before setting foot on land, he’d send someone out to the beach to meet me. I offered at first to drive over to the Port to check in, but seeing as I could easily do my secret dealings between the beach and Port (they’re called Budgie Smugglers for a reason), he insisted to meet me at the beach. Which is AMAZING! Goal Number One: start the swim. Goal Number Two: picture of me handing my passport to a CBP agent on the beach. Can’t wait!

But we haven’t even gotten o the start of the swim yet. Getting into Canada is easier, luckily. First, the US and Canada have a pretty decent relationship citation needed. Second, Canada has actually managed to use technology to simplify the border clearance prOcess rather than using technology to make a simple thing cumbersome and convoluted. A while back, Canada started a pre-clearance program, CANPASS, which eventually would merge with NEXUS (the joint Canada/US program). Most travelers use the NEXUS program, but some, especially private boat and aircraft passengers, can still use CANPASS, which only involves the Canadian Border Service Agency (CBSA). With CANPASS, you call ahead en route to check in and the CBSA can decide to meet you for inspection at the port of entry or not, and you’re set to go. Real simple.

Again, I’m looking to avoid calling into Victoria. That’s an exercise that would add about 3 hours to an already very early morning. Luck would have it, a friendly CANPASS agent told me on the phone it should be fine to just head straight to the beach as long as we all had CANPASS since no one would really be touching shore (except me, for all of 8 seconds). So I got my crew all signed up and we’re ready to go.

(Quick shout out to Donna at the CANPASS application office in Surrey, BC. Donna actually called me several times to make sure I was sending in some paperwork I forgot, and to personally give me status updates on the applications. Customer service from a government agency? Only in Canada.)

This was not what I expected to be doing when I envisioned this swim. I was thinking tides, currents, and boat traffic. Not reading the CFR. It appears far less complicated now, sitting here in mid-July, than it appeared in April. I admit I made it harder than it had to be since I’ve been striving for transparency and legality, but I really don’t want to spoil it for everyone else.

If you’re serious about making a trip across, let me know and I’ll get you to the right people. Names and phone numbers and everything.

Strait of Juan de Fuca, training 2 of 2

[Originally published in Please Tap on the Glass at USMS Blogs on 15 July 2013.]

WooHoo! It’s taper time! [Cue Team America music, cleverly sing “Taper Time!” instead of “Americuh!”]

Actually, pretty much every other week has been a taper since the last training entry, and the reason is counter-intuitive. I stopped moving around. Yes folks, I’ve not travelled for work in over five weeks. Once again, I have a permanent address (and my new mattress is being delivered in a few hours). But with the open schedule comes a choice of how to spend my time; I can all of a sudden choose when to train, and not let departure times dictate when I musttrain. It took a few days to relearn that skill.​

Making it harder to set a regular training schedule, the water in the Sound has been changing. Seattle has had an amazingly sunny spring (amazing if you’re into that sort of thing). Sun is something both Seattleites and algae love, and therefore Alki beach has been crowded with both. And where the algae bloom, so do the jellyfish.

Before we get to the jellies, let’s talk about the temperature. The endless sun here has been causing me a bit of trouble. In the evenings, with the downtown buoy reading 53F, the water at Alki (3 miles away) feels downright warm. Naturally, if you want to swim in cold water, you resort to waking at 4am to swim at 4:30 before the 5:11 sunrise. And with great pain (consider, bed to 53F in under 30min at 4am) comes great beauty. The beach at that hour is gorgeous. And all mine, no crowds.

Getting out of bed at 4am is a complicated set of mental gymnastics. “My waterbottles aren’t filled,” was my first excuse that kept me in bed. Lesson learned. “Jellyfish,” was the next, and legitimately so. I’d been doing a Matrix-style front crawl for days dodging the three to twelve inch blobs of terror, and had no emergency vinegar on hand. Turns out, those blobs don’t hurt. The egg-yolk jellies sting so weakly they can’t be felt anywhere but on the thinnest of skin, which is excellent because by mid-June they were unavoidable. There were days where I’d be wrist-deep in one while shaking off another that had draped itself across my goggles. I even managed to get a tentacle up the nose at one point (only mild irritation).

The height of my training was a test swim with SJDF kayaker Steve at the end of June. We left Alki and headed around the lighthouse and south to Lincoln Park on the flood tide, and returned four hours and 13.5km later on the ebb. Although I was tired after, it felt great. All of the experience from the past three years is paying off. And the best part: no Advil and no sore joints! My shoulder was pretty bad after MIMS last year, but I’ve been working on, no,conscious of technique since then and it’s paying off.

Following the four-hour swim, I promptly got on a plane and took a week-long roadtrip, then returned to Seattle for a few more days of solid training. One last big push. The 90min to 120min swims have been mentally draining after a long day at work, so I traded once-or-twice-weekly for daily short swims (60min to 90min). In addition, I tried making them more fun. I’ve been doing runs up the seawall stairs every kilometer, or swimming to the Anchor Park pier (2.5km), jumping off it, and swimming back. It’s very different than just doing 2, 3, or 4 trips to the lighthouse, and exactly what I needed to keep my focus as we approach…Taper Week! Woot!

Looking back, the past few months has held the minimum amount of training required to make this swim a success. Normally, I’d be disappointed with this. As I learned in the Chesapeake Bay swim a few years back, I’m a better swimmer than “made it out of the water alive,” and hence should act accordingly. But this swim has been about so much more than yardage. You’ve seen the posts about planning, right? Victory in this swim will be defined as jumping in and touching Canada. After the start, it’s easy. After the start, it’s just a 6 hour swim.

Strait of Juan de Fuca, there is no ‘I’ in ‘swimming’

[Originally published in Please Tap on the Glass at USMS Blogs on 11 July 2013.]

Where are my manners! There are barely two weeks to go and I still haven’t introduced you to the most important people in the world! I’m so sorry.

No marathon swim is done alone. We all know that by now. Throughout the planning, I have been helped by many, many people, and we’ll mention them later on. Right now, I want you to meet the four people who will be on the water with me during the swim.

The Boater
By now you know the difficulty I went through with finding a boat. I believe that saga ended with a now-I-can-find-any-boat-out-there statement. So why Captain Charles M? Well, not just because he said yes, and not just because his price was reasonable, but because he convincingly reassured me his boat could handle the Strait and he knew the waters. But perhaps most importantly, I detected a hint of enthusiasm on our first phone conversation.

Captain Charles runs a boat service called The Water Limousine out of Sequim, WA. We have yet to meet in person so there isn’t much else to say, other than I’m thrilled to hear his enthusiastic response every time I call to make sure he is still interested in the swim.


The Kayaker
The Strait is not an easy thing to cross, either by swimming, in a kayak, or in a fishing boat. When I began looking for a kayaker, I knew that I’d have to have someone who is beyond seaworthy. If my kayaker gets in trouble or needs babysitting, then my safety and the success of the swim are in peril. (Next time we go out for a drink, ask me about the time I swam across the Hudson while my dad kayaked, and then ask me why I’m being picky.) Not knowing any local kayakers too well, I reached out to the Washington Kayak Club and ended up with an introduction to Steve G. His qualifications checked out, and I figured I’d be able to mold him to my liking during some practice swims.

Steve didn’t need molding. First of all, he showed up to our practice swim more prepared than I was (multiple dry bags, a GPS, his own VHF radio, etc.). Then, he just continued to impress me. After fifteen minutes and one minor comment, he stayed in the perfect spot, at the perfect speed for the rest of the four hours. I’m blown away. I feel extremely lucky to have found him. And the best part: after four hours, he offered to do another practice swim. Enthusiasm!

Steve recently completed a two-week sailing race around Vancouver Island.


The Swim Wrangler
The most important qualification of any crew member is: she brings her own “Crew” jacket. MeetMeghan P.

If the water is cold enough and severe hypothermia sets in, I need someone who can tell the difference between me saying nonsensical things, and me saying nonsensical things because I’m about to die. Meghan is the “crew” part of my Crew. She’ll be filling up my water bottles and looking after me from the boat. Not only does Meghan have her own “Crew” jacket, but she is a swimmer, she has crewed for me before (BLS2012), and she has known me since I was ten. If someone has to make the hard decision to pull my semi-conscious body out of the sea, Meghan will be able to draw that line at the right place.

Meghan recently left her home in Rhode Island after contracting what clinicians call Delayed-Onset Quarter Life Crisis. She is currently driving, camping, and hiking her way across the country. You can follow her travels on her blog. She’d better make it to Seattle on time.


The Swim Manager
With two international borders to cross, currents to contend with, and a large-scale game of Frogger being played, there needs to be someone looking after the big picture. Caitlin R. is a marathon swimmer who’s originally from Seattle, so the idea for swimming the Strait has been bouncing around her head for a while. If there is one person that would listen to all the details of the planning, it would be her. Because her interest in this swim is so much more than just a passing curiosity, she is the perfect person for this role.

Caitlin is a teacher at a Brooklyn, NY school for students with learning disabilities. She is also a marathon swimmer and keeps a blog about her swimming experiences: thowmeintheocean.com.


So there they are. If things stop going right during the swim, at least I can be sure I’ve got four good people watching after me.

(And don’t you worry. I’ll get around to thanking the huge number of people that have helped me in other capacities.)