05 August 2007

The Final Chapter

At 4:15 a.m. my crew (Alice, Heather and my dad Jon) boarded the Viking Princess at Folkstone Harbor. After Reg (pilot) and Ray (co-pilot and CSA observer) helped us load our equipment on board and did the final preparations for the boat, we headed out of the harbor and toward Shakespeare beach. The sun was barely just rising and the light on the white cliffs, the clouds, the water and the horizon was spectacular.

I was full of nervous excitement and couldn’t wait to just get in the water and swim! At 5:00 a.m. I jumped in the water to swim into the beach for the start. I was so happy that the day I had been waiting for was finally here: The day I was to swim the English Channel.

It was light already and over the next few hours I watched when I breathed to the left as the sun continued to rise above me. I knew it would be on the other side of the sky by the time I reached France. The water was a little bit choppy, but I felt smooth, strong and rested.

At two and a half hours, my right shoulder started to hurt in a way that I knew wasn’t good. The pain continued to increase and at 3 hours I asked my crew for painkillers to be added to my feedings. The pain didn’t concern me. There was no way a sore shoulder was going to get in my way of getting to France. The time went by quickly and I made an effort not to look towards England during my feedings, as I had been told that you could see the White Cliffs for almost 5 hours of swimming.

We entered the first shipping lane (West bound traffic) and I knew I made significant progress. Ray told me to stay close to the boat. I had spent the last week watching the vessel traffic from our house in St. Margaret’s Bay and I knew what I was heading into now that I would be swimming in the shipping lane. I paid little attention to all of the activity around me, as I knew Reg was safely guiding us through the ships and onward to France.

The closest encounter had Reg take me in a complete circle to avoid the path of a large tanker. I knew exactly what he was doing and laughed to myself at the fact that we were momentarily heading back to England.

At 6 ½ hours I swam through a large swarm of jellyfish. They were blue, purple and yellow and of all different sizes. They were on the surface of the water and as deep as about 5 feet. The water was clear by now and all that I could see was jellyfish in every direction. This lasted for about 30-45 minutes. My crew carefully pointed out the path I should follow. Sometimes the space between two jellies was too close for me to swim and I would make my body as narrow as possible and skull and kick as I made my way through. I swam with my head up and my eyes at the surface of the water. I picked up my head enough to loudly should expletives at the jellies. Something worked because I managed to make my way through hundreds of jellyfish without getting stung. I had gotten a small sting earlier, but nothing during that time. For the next several hours I watched as my dad diligently studied the water making sure I didn’t swim into any more jellies. I imagined that they seagulls were above were watching out for me too.

The water was rough (5-8 foot swells with scattered white caps) for all but about two hours early in the swim. I watched as the boat just bobbed up and down and side-to-side. The water conditions weren’t challenging for me, but I was sure glad I wasn’t on the boat.

At 8 hours my right shoulder throbbed in pain and I alerted my crew that I hadn’t been able to urinate in two hours. At the time I thought it just meant that I was dehydrated. I didn’t realize until much later that it meant not only was I dehydrated, but also I hadn’t absorbed any of my feedings after hour six.

I noticed the ships changed directions and I was overjoyed. I had reached the East bound shipping lane and was in French water! I was an incredible amount of pain and felt increasingly weak. I acknowledged the pain and then just let it go. This was the English Channel and nothing was going to keep me from getting to France. At 10 hours I could see France. I had almost swum to a new land! And it wasn’t just the cliffs above the coast; I could see the color of the trees and the details of the landscape. I started breathing more frequently to the left to get a better glimpse of France to remind me that I was getting there.

My crew told me to pick it up and I did despite the intense pain in my right shoulder. I had heard so many stories of how this is where a channel swim starts – after 10 hours of swimming and you had to sprint to make it to the point of Cap Gris Nez before the tide swept you right past. I continued to try and move my arms faster and pull as much water with each stroke. Alice later told me that my stroke rate never fell below 64 stokes a minute.

At my 11 ½ hour feeding I vomited up everything that had been just sitting in my stomach since hour 6. The canned peaches I ate at hour 7 came up just the way they had gone down. I thought to myself “This is a Channel swim and you just keep swimming”. And so I did. I popped my head up momentarily a few stokes later to vomit again without even breaking stroke.

France was so close and I never felt like I had been further from my goal. At 13 hours Alice told me what was going to happen next. “I am going to get in with you and you must keep up with me. You can make the point, but you must go faster now.” She got in and I poured every last ounce of energy into each stroke. I reminded myself that I never had to swim again. All I had to do was pick up my stroke and get to France! It wasn’t working, Alice and France were getting further and further away. Within a few strokes, Alice was ahead of me. I was giving it everything I had, and I was too weak to keep on pace.

I essentially had not fed since hour 6, which was over 7 hours ago. I was tired and running on less than empty. Alice got out at 13:40 and I continued to push on. With every stroke I was more and more committed to making it to France. I never thought I wouldn’t make it and I never stopped believing in myself.

At 14 hours my crew lined up along the side of the boat and told me that I had been a mile and a half from France and now I was 3 miles from shore. I looked up and saw the point and it seemed so close. I didn’t know that I had been on the other side of it and been had been swept right past it by the current. They told me it would take 6-11 hours to make landfall and then it wasn’t even certain. I told them I couldn’t swim for 6 more hours.

At 14 hours of swimming and getting as close as a mile and a half from France, I was pulled. My crew did absolutely everything to get me to keep down my feedings and to keep me on pace. Alice and Heather cheered for 14 hours. I’m talking red pom-poms, purple glitter top hats and motivating communication via the white board. At the end, I was too sick, too undernourished and too weak to make it to France. I had been swimming at 68 stokes per minute for the last hour and I couldn’t even lift my arms up to the ladder of the boat. Reg pulled me on board and Alice and Heather began the recovery effort. They quickly took my suit off and put me in warm clothes. I started to shiver violently and continued to vomit for the next hour. My eyes were almost swollen shut and my breathing was labored. I didn’t know at the time, but my dad was mentally planning on how we would get me airlifted out of the boat and to the hospital if things got any worse.

I was wheezing and I asked Alice “Why am I breathing like this?” She was concerned and asked Reg where the nearest hospital was and if we could get an ambulance to meet us at Folkstone harbor. He said he had never had to do that and that all of the swimmers are in bad shape at the end. He wasn’t close enough to me to see how difficult it was for me to breathe. I didn’t know at the time, but I had aspirated seawater or my feedings and bacteria were already infected my lungs. It was a long ride home. It took over 3 hours in the boat going full speed in a straight line to cover the distance I had covered swimming the reverse S-shaped curve typical of a Channel swim.

Reg let us off at Folkstone harbor. Alice and Heather unloaded the boat and my dad went to get the car. I needed help out of the boat, up the stairs, to get into the car and even to get my seatbelt on. Once back at the house, my condition continued to decline and I was short of breath and needed to rest after just walking across the room. I tried to sleep but couldn’t. My wheezing was getting worse. At 2 a.m. my parents took me to the emergency room in Ashford. I was admitted to the hospital after the doctors reviewed my “rather impressive” (direct quote) chest x-ray. Immediately after seeing the x-ray, I was put on interventions antibiotics and oxygen. They kept me for three days, carefully monitoring my progress and continuing to administer antibiotics intravenously three times a day for 48 hours.

The hospital staff was interested in my story and amazed by my perseverance. I continued to be in a tremendous amount of pain and had difficulty doing anything but lying in bed. The pain from my right shoulder radiated up into my neck and down into my hand. Every part of my body was sore to the touch. Sitting up, turning over, adjusting my position in the bed required a huge effort and help from the nursing staff.

My parents and friends visited my daily. Both Michelle and Julian came to see me the day after their swims. Alice printed out e-mails and comments on my blog. I truly felt the love and support of everyone who had supported me in my journey.

After I got out of the hospital, I met Reg at a bar in Folkstone. The first thing he said was "You look a lot better, Love". I told him the story of being hospitalized and the aspiration pneumonia. He told me that I am enormously brave and a great swimmer and not to give up on long distance swimming. He had charted my course for me even though I didn't touch France. I covered 30 miles. I gave him a hug good-bye, thanked him for everything and told him that I would be sending a friend over (Amber Rhett)to swim the Channel in a month and a half.

I gave it all in my training and during the swim. I don’t have any regrets. I couldn’t have done more to prepare to swim the English Channel. My focus for the past two years has been to get to France. I also had the intention to have the strength to endure and the courage to embrace the struggle. I found the strength to endure and I certainly embraced the struggle, but in the end facing a huge calorie deficit, a growing infection in my lungs, an injured shoulder and possibly 11 hours to go, there was no choice but to be pulled. I had a courageous swim on a day with very bad luck.

Many people have offered support, guidance, inspiration, encouragement and mentorship. I thank all of you.

THANK YOU to my crew of Alice Wong and Heather Catchpole for being as committed to the swim as I was and for believing in me throughout the journey.

THANK YOU to my parents for accompanying me to Dover and for being supportive of my swimming for 21 years.

THANK YOU to my training partners, coaches and mentors at South End Rowing Club, the Dolphin Club and Burlingame Aquatic Club.

THANK YOU to my colleagues and students at Aragon High School for their enthusiasm, patience and support.

THANK YOU to everyone who has “followed me to France” and been a part of my journey.

Onward to…the next chapter of my life!


"Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat."
- Theodore Roosevelt

13 July 2007

30 miles from England to Almost France

I am catching the train in an hour or so to head to London to meet up with some friends. I am just ready to get out of Dover. I am feeling much better, but I know the pneumonia will keep me feeling exhausted for awhile.

I met up with Reg last night. He gave me a chart of my swim and calculated the distance I swam - 30 miles!

I am working on writing up something about the swim but it will be several weeks until it is up here with photos and videos.

Thank you again for all of your support.


11 July 2007

quick update from Jessica

First of all, thank you all so much for your outpouring of support and concern over the past few days. I am deeply touched by all of your thoughtful and supportive e-mails. I didn't have internet access in the hospital, but Alice and Heather printed out and brought some of the e-mails. Like true South Enders Julian, Michelle and Alice visited me daily and made sure my spirits were up.

I think you have all heard a bit about the swim, and I look forward to writing a more detailed e-mail about it soon. I had trouble keeping anything down after hour 8 and somehow contracted aspiration pneumonia during the swim. The doctors think it was from inhaling sea water or maybe some of my feedings. I was in very bad shape after being pulled and my parents took me to the emergency room Sunday night after the swim. I was admitted as soon as they saw the results of my chest x-ray. I was immediately put on a cocktail of intravenous antibiotics. I was released from the hospital today (Wednesday) at 2 p.m.

My focus during my training and during the swim was to get to France. I never thought of "failure" as an option. I felt confidant in my training and knew I had done all I could have to prepare to swim the English Channel. In addition in getting to France, I had two wishes or prayers. Those wishes were to have the strength to endure the adventure and the courage to embrace the struggle. I believe I did both of those things wholeheartedly.

I can't wait to give you more stories from the swim, but this internet cafe is closing now. I'll try and come back tomorrow. The swim was truly an adventure. And damn...France was so close! Close enough to see the color of the trees. OK, gotta go now. More later.


09 July 2007

Update: More to come

It's Alice again. Jessica is currently unable to update her blog and I know people will be checking back in soon.

We do have great photos and video, but those will be put up later, so keep checking back! We have other things at hand.

More details will follow of the swim in the next few days. Yes, it is true that we pulled her at 14 hours. She was so close. She got to within a mile and a half of the French shore, and then got pushed out to 3 miles. We haven't debriefed the swim in it's entirety yet, as it was an exhausting ride back to England and later, an exhausting evening for all.

At 11 and a half hours Jessica threw up. She threw up multiple times and we could see that she had not digested any of her feedings. She did those last few hours on empty. She really is incredible.

The boat ride back was rough. She continued to throw up as we tried to get her warm. She was weak, and her breathing was labored. She had a hard night, which I will let Jessica share with you when she is better (but don't worry, she is OK).

Thank you everyone for your good thoughts.

07 July 2007

Tomorrow is the day!

Yes, I finally get to swim the English Channel. I just got off the phone and he says tomorrow is the day. We are busily getting everything ready. Thank you for all of your support. It is going to be a great day and I feel fantastic.

Onward to FRANCE!

06 July 2007

It is still not right, Love

Reg says "It is still not right, Love." So, no swim on 7/7/07. We are waiting for the wind to be below force 3. He says the forecast gets better on Sunday, so maybe then. We are going to head into town to visit with Julian, Scotty and Michelle since we won't be busily preparing my feeding supplies tonight.

I'll keep you posted. The right day is just around the corner. I can feel it.

Thanks for all the well wishes and good thoughts.

Onward to France!

Follow me to Dover...and wait...

Today we met Julian and Scotty at the Dover Harbour for a leasurily swim at 10. I brought my camera so you can enjoy our antics. Yesterday Reg was more blunt with Julian and told him that the forecast was "crap". People on the beach still seem hopeful about tomorrow possibly being the first day of the Channel season that a swimmer will set out to get to France the hard way.

Here are Julian and I on the beach, with France somewhere behind us:

A dramatic beginning to our swim in the harbour:

View of the White Cliffs from the beach:

Finally in the water:

They say if the flag on the castle in Dover is not blowing in the wind, it is a good day to swim the Channel. Here it is in the distance, flying in the wind:

I am ready for the real thing!

05 July 2007

The Storm Before the Calm

Reg said not tomorrow. Now we know why. The winds have picked up significantly, the fog has moved in and there are countless big "white horses" (white caps) on the Channel. It is raining. We are sitting comfortably on the couch inside our cement house with steel shutters drinking French wine. The house is aptly named "The Gun Emplacement" as it was used to defend England against invaders by sea during both World Wars.

We are trying to be as French as possible in hopes of getting a little bit closer to France, which we keep believing is some where out there beyond the fog bank. Alice is diligently listening to "In Flight French" and Heather is speaking in some convoluted accent which seems British at times and French at times. Heather even did her hair in French braids and contemplated giving herself a French manicure. As I type this, I am using my best "Brench" (British-French) accent. We sit staring at the barbie doll pink fishing nets, which remind us of the task we are waiting for. Yes, we have cabin fever and yes, this is the reality of waiting for your day in the Channel. My dad has gone to bed, as he is getting up an hour earlier each day, so he will be prepared to wake up at 1 a.m. on the big day. However, he is sleeping facing France.

"Keep everything crossed, Love"

Reg says no swim tomorrow and keep everything crossed for tomorrow. Now that we won't be finalizing swim details this evening, we have time to put some photos/videos up on the blog. Check back later. :)


04 July 2007

An Inter-Continental Moment of Silence

Several days ago we found out that members of the South End Rowing Club were going to have a moment of silence to "channel" energy to the channel swimmers here in Dover. This moment was going to take place after the SERC's annual 4th of July club swim at 9:45 am in San Francisco. This is also the day before the first day of the tide Jessica and Julian are going to swim. There is an 8 hour time difference between San Francisco and Dover. What do you think the 2 SERC channel swimmers patiently waiting in Dover were doing during that time?

At 5:43 pm here in Dover (ie 9:45 am at SERC) Jessica, Heather, Jessica's parents Jon and Joann, and myself all went outside. It was drizzling lightly, but there were patches of sunlight coming through the rain clouds hitting the Channel. We stood in a line at the edge of the cliff and stared out across the water, watching the ships and wondering if we would catch a glimpse of the French shoreline. At 5:45 pm we observed a 1 1/2 minute moment of silence, all thinking of the task at hand and feeling the thoughts of the people back home in San Francisco who were all thinking of us at the same time. As instructed, at the end of our moment, we all chanted "South End, South End, South End!"

At 5:45 pm in Folkstone Harbor, a few miles outside of Dover where Reg Brickell keeps his boat, SERC's other channel swimmer Julian was with his crew member Scotty and his parents. They were unable to observe the moment of silence as they were in the process of buying Reg Brickell a pint...also true South End style!

Tonight, Julian and his entourage joined us for dinner at our house. We all took a stroll at sunset along the white cliffs and observed life in the channel. It is wonderful to have so much support here as well as at home.

Thank you to the South End Rowing Club members for "channel"ing your thoughts to us, your support is definitely felt, even here, 10,000 miles away.

PS - Reg believes Jessica will probably swim Saturday and Julian on Sunday. There is a chance, he says, that if the wind dies down, Jessica could go as early as Friday.

03 July 2007

Thursday? "Not looking good for Thursday, Love, not looking good at all"

Hey Everyone, Alice here. Jessica has given me some power over her blog now, so sometimes it might be me instead of her. After a day of anticipation and of waiting for the time to come tonight to call Reg, the pilot, to hear if Thursday would be THE day...and after almost an hour and a half of "network busy" signals from the British phone service, Reg informed us, "Not looking good for Thursday, Love, not looking good."

To be honest it wasn't the response we have been waiting, anticipating, or even expecting after today. After a couple days of staring out the living room window hoping for a glimpse of France through the rain and fog, we spent many hours today watching France! It was clear enough to finally see the French shoreline, and I am sitting here tonight looking out at the lights on the coast of Calais. Jessica's quote of the day today, "Wow, France looks really close when you look through the binoculars!"

They say this is the toughest time. The waiting. But we are all in good spirits and everyone has been well prepared for the waiting. Jigsaw puzzles, knitting projects, good books, board games, walks through town, and commentary on just about everything are passing the time well.

A huge rainbow encircled the sky tonight, from one side of France to the other. We think it is a good sign!

Thank you all for your thoughts and well wishes.

Given everything...Reg still said to call tomorrow, so Thursday or Friday still are not crossed off.

02 July 2007

We're in Dover!

Alice, Heather, my parents and I are all here. I took a swim yesterday in the harbor. The water felt warm and salty. I met this morning with my pilot Reg. He says to call on Wednesday night at 7 p.m. and he'll let me know if I'll be jumping Thursday morning at 3:30.

Our house has a beautiful view of the Channel. Yesterday for about five minutes I could even see France! I feel great and ready to tackle this swim.

Onward to France!

28 June 2007

Tomorrow I will wake up in London...

I am leaving my house in San Francisco in about 5 minutes. All of my bags are packed. My parents have the two large duffels with my swim supplies as it is easier for them to bring those in the rental car than it is for me to travel with them on the train to Dover. In my carry on bag I have all of the essentials: swimsuit, cap, goggles, passport. Thank you for all of your support. Your belief in me gives me strength. As soon as I get the chance, I'll post a quick update on life in Dover. The good news is that the forecast calls for rain UNTIL the first day of my tide, July 5th!

Onward to London, and then Dover and then FRANCE!

10 June 2007

On My Way to France!

On Saturday June 9th I swam for 10 hours and 5 minutes in the San Francisco Bay. The water temperature was 55-56 degrees. I covered 27 miles in my swim from the club, to Candlestick and back, and then to Chrissy Field and back.

I left from the beach at the South End Rowing Club at 5:20 a.m. Leslie, Lynn and
Alice were on board the zodiac. The water was smooth and calm and it was my favorite time of day to swim, just before sunrise. We headed to the Bay Bridge and I could see the sunrise slowly when I breathed to the left. The increasing amount of light on the bay reminded me of the city limits swim attempt three weeks ago.

My stroke felt smooth and strong. I had been concerned about my right shoulder recovering fully from my 8 hour swim just two weeks before, but it felt great! No popping, cracking or pain. I had spent two intensive acupuncture sessions working on getting my right shoulder ready for the 10 hour swim.

The water was glassy and the sun was out. I knew it was going to be a great day. My stroke rate was still in the low 70's even though I felt it was slower because I was trying to keep my strokes smooth and long.

The cityscape changed to the industrial skyline of the southern part of San Francisco. At three hours we had made it to Hunter's Point and it was time to turn around and swim nine miles back to the club for the change of crew.

The water wasn't quite as smooth as it had been earlier, but it was nothing compared to the chop and wind of my eight hour swim. At four hours I felt better than I ever had at that point. I still felt smooth and strong. There was no doubt that it was going to be a long day, but it was comforting to feel so good at four hours. The sun on my back gave my body just a little bit of heat and it felt nice compared to the 55 degree water that my body was feeling every where else.

As we approached the club at about five and a half hours I began to feel nauseous and cold. I remembered from my eight hour swim that this was normal, my body was going through a metabolic change and I would feel better in an hour or two. I was greeted by friends cheering on the South End dock as we approached the club.

I didn't stop to wave or say hi because I didn't feel well and didn't want to slow down or stop because I thought I might get cold. After the swim I told Alice that I didn't feel cold at all during the swim. She said that I was shivering when I came up for my feedings for about an hour and half during the middle of the swim.

Alice stayed on board for the last half of the swim and Joel and Duke took over for Leslie and Lynn. Once we were set, we headed back out of the cove, this time West towards the Golden Gate.

The water got a bit more choppy and the wind had picked up significantly from the morning. As we headed towards Chrissy Field, the crew told me to stay close to the zodiac as we were going through the middle of a windsurfing race. My stroke rate had decreased to about 66 strokes per minute and my shoulders were getting very very sore. Duke reminded me that this was all normal and that I was just doing just fine.

At seven hours we turned around and headed back to the cove. The water had miraculously calmed down and I felt much better than I did at the seventh hour of my eight hour swim. I was relieved to be swimming back home but knew that the next three hours were certainly not going to be easy.

I was still in good spirits and making jokes with the crew during my feeding breaks. I didn't feel well, but what kept me going was knowing that they next time I was in this situation it would be in the ENGLISH CHANNEL! By eight and a half hours I wasn't joking anymore and would just let out a series of groans during my feedings. As you can see below, I am doing some backstroke to stretch out my shoulders.

At nine hours I was exhausted. Not only did my shoulders hurt, but my legs were in pain and I had had my goggles on continuously for the entire swim. My face was swollen and I felt my tongue getting larger. My throat had already swelled up from the salt and I knew the next step would be my tongue starting to slough off. That had never happened to me, but I had heard plenty of stories. I could feel my left goggle leaking a tiny bit and I knew that meant that my eye would be swollen for days. We were close to the cove and Alice would be getting in to swim with me shortly.

Once we entered the cove I had 25 more minutes to swim. Joel and Duke led me on an "inside-inside". That was along the inside of the breakwater and back. For the first part of that I was swimming with the tide and was protected from the turbulent water outside of the cove. I turned around at the end and faced an opposing tide that was difficult to swim against. I kept my arms moving, but couldn't see any noticeable progress. I thought about all the stories I have heard about the difficulty of finishing in France against a strong tide. So, this is what it is going to be like I thought as I struggled to get my arms out of the water for each stroke. I slowly made it back with Alice by my side. She had to slow down significantly to stay with me after I had swam for nine and a half hours. It felt good to have her next to me. As I swam back into the main part of the cove, Alice headed into the beach to make sure the showers were warm and the sauna was on at the club. I still had about 10 minutes to swim. Duke told me to head towards the flag, around a buoy and into the club. I was overjoyed! I had made it through all of the long and difficult training swims in less than ideal conditions during the coldest year in the bay that anyone can remember and once I stood up on the beach I would know that I was truly on my way to France!

I picked up my stroke rate as I headed in to the beach. I could see people waiting on the dock. I knew my parents and my roommate Kristina would be there. I swam until I felt the sand with my fingertips. I struggled to stand up. I heard Alice tell Kristina "Let her clear the water on her own!". We were committed to follow English Channel rules right down to the finish. At 3:25 p.m. I stood up on the beach and said "My name is Jessica and I have been swimming since 5 a.m." My family and some spectators followed me in to the club.

I walked into the locker room and was shocked to see what I looked like. As expected, my eyes and face were swollen. My skin was coated from silt from the bay. My face was red and I still had the greasy A&D ointment I had put on that morning to prevent chafing.

I stood under the shower and realized this was the swim in which afterwards I would not be able to wash my hair. My shoulders throbbed in pain. I couldn't move my left arm. Alice and Kristina helped me wash my hair. I laid down in the sauna and reflected on what I had gone through to get to this point. After a long sauna, I went back into the locker room. I looked in the mirror and still was surprised by my appearance. For one moment I thought I may be able to brush my hair. I gave up on that idea quickly and decided I wouldn't brush my hair until I could do it myself. That would turn out to be several days.

Alice, Kristina and I headed back to my house. Sarah was coming over to help prepare a recovery dinner. We ate and drank as Alice and I told stories from the swim. I had difficulty sleeping that night. I couldn't turn over, I couldn't take the covers off without kicking them off and my shoulders still throbbed in pain.

THANK YOU to Alice for being my most loyal friend and crew member and for putting up with me these past few months!

THANK YOU to Lynn and Joel for piloting.

THANK YOU to Leslie for helping me avoid injury by working with me on my stroke.

THANK YOU to Duke for being an incredible Channel mentor. I will make you proud.

THANK YOU to Nicholas for healing my shoulders and making sure I was ready for the 10 hour swim and working with me to prepare for the last big one: the English Channel.

THANK YOU to Kristina and Sarah for a great post swim dinner.

THANK YOU to Tom K., Suzie D., Bob R., Jon M., for being flexible and working out the logistics so that three great swims could happen in the bay on one day.

Up next: Dover to Cap Nez Gris, first tide of July (July 5-12)

08 June 2007

Thank You, South End!

Thanks to everyone who attended the Swimming to France English Channel Benefit party last Friday at the South End Rowing Club. Kim Howard did a great job of putting together a fantastic party. The raffle was a success, the turnout was phenomenal, the food was fantastic and everyone loved the chocolate fountain, chair massage and the tequila fairies and studs!

3 weeks from today I leave for London! Tomorrow is my last long swim. 10 hours in the bay starting at 5 a.m. I am a little bit nervous, but I know when it is finished I will feel like I am truly on my way to France.

29 May 2007

8 Hour Swim - check!

Thank you to Alice, Brenda, Marta, Nigel and Joel for making this swim happen. I swam from about 8:30 - 4:30 and it was rough and windy the whole way. At two hours I knew it was going to be a long swim because my shoulders were already hurting. We headed towards Candlestick for two and half hours, turned back towards the club (and a sailboat regatta) and cruised in for a change of crew at about 1:30. I swam around the cove while Joel hopped in the zodiac to relieve Brenda. We headed towards Chrissy Field and I started to get cold. The water was only 54 degrees. I was shivering from about 5 hours to six and a half hours. I felt very cold and very tired. At six hours I felt much worse than I did finishing my 6 hour swim a month before. I continued on and my shoulders started to hurt more and more. We arrived at the cove and still had an hour. Alice got in with me which was a huge motivator. We did several small coves and then Alice got out early to make sure the showers were warm and the sauna was on. I was greeted on the beach after eight hours, two minutes and twenty two seconds by my roommate Kristina and Alice. I thought that I would need to crawl up on the beach, but I was fine to walk and made my way into the shower. I sat for several minutes and couldn't believe I was done. This was the hardest swim that I had ever done.
Up next: 10 hours on June 9th!

24 May 2007

Today's S.F. Chronicle

Paul McHugh's article about the City Limits Swim attempt and South End's Bay to Breakers swim appears on the back page of the sports section of today's Chronicle.

You can also find the article at: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/chronicle/a/2007/05/24/SPGFVQ0D3L1.DTL

It was the P.E. teachers at school who noticed first. I guess they read the sports section cover to cover.

The article mentions my blog and today I got over 50 hits! That is more than I usually get in a whole month.

Thank you to Paul for being part of our swim adventure on Sunday morning and for accurately and beautifully describing the bay swimming experience.

21 May 2007

Candlestick to Diablo Point

The swim started just below the city limits on the bay side at 3:26 a.m. on Sunday May 20th. The water felt warm when I got in. I stayed right next to Duke, who was escorting me in a kayak. For the first half of an hour, I couldn't see much. The southern part of the city is not well lit and I couldn't make out the Bay Bridge yet. It took me about an hour and a half to get into a good rhythm with my stroke. I wasn't scared and I felt calm and confidant with Duke and my crew on board the "Magic Woman" watching over me. As I approached the Bay Bridge at about 4:45 a.m. the color of the sky changed and revealed the very first hint of the light of day. The sun wouldn't rise for another hour and 15 minutes. By now, the lights of downtown San Francisco were clearly visible and I felt like I have made some progress. We continued on, past the Ferry Building, the piers along the Embarcadero and towards the Golden Gate. As we approached Alcatraz, a container ship passed on my right. I was a little nervous, but stayed right next to Duke in the kayak. As we got closer to the Gate, the water got a little more rough but I continued on. I swam under the Golden Gate full of enthusiasm. I didn't know for sure that conditions would allow us to continue this far and I felt like I had a chance of making it as long as I could make the turn to head South down the coast. It was smooth sailing under the Golden Gate and then conditions changed dramatically. 7-9 foot swell had been forecast and now I was in the middle of it. The wind caused the swell to break so they were like waves. Because of the geography of that area, the huge cresting swell was hitting me from three different directions. I saw the Duke skillfully maintaining the kayak and the boat moving side to side but I was in the middle of too much water to see anything else around me. All of the sudden everyone was telling me to swim South, towards the South tower and towards Mile Rock. An incoming ship was approaching fast and I had to get out of the way. I felt like things had gotten bad very quickly and that if they got any worse I would be in trouble. I told Duke I wanted out. The boat got close to me quickly and Dan pulled me out. I wasn't tired, just scared. I started shivering about 5 minutes after I got out but I hadn't felt cold during the swim. Heather and Alice helped me get warm and we headed back into the bay. As we went back through the Golden Gate, I looked back to where I had just been and the water looked more calm than it had been when I was just there. Things can change so fast in the open ocean. Mark dropped us and all of our stuff off at a dock near South End and I headed in for a shower and sauna.

After we were all warm and dry, Alice, Heather, Duke and I went out for breakfast and discussed the swim. This swim put us all in a situation that we had never been in before. I was scared and doubted myself for just a moment. We discussed what we learned and what we could all do differently next time.

I feel stronger, more confident in my crew and better prepared for the Channel. I feel fortunate that this happened on a training swim and not on my way to France.

THANK YOU to Dan and Anna for coming up with the idea for the swim and asking me to be a part of it.

THANK YOU to Mark Chow and his crew for donating his time and his boat.

THANK YOU to Alice and Heather for monitoring me in the water and keeping me well fed.

THANK YOU to Duke Dahlin for paddling next to me, especially in the dark!

Next up: 8 hours on Sunday the 27th.

20 May 2007

Update on Swim Around the City Attempt

Let's call it Candlestick to Diablo Point. I made it to about 1 mile past the Golden Gate when huge swells cresting from three directions left me feeling like I was up against several walls of water. I asked to be pulled. The only thing we didn't have a contingency plan for happened. I wanted to get out.

Right now I feel great about how much I did do and lucky that we had this experience before we get to the Channel. Details and photos to follow.

Thank you for all of your support.

19 May 2007

Countdown Until S.F. City Limits Attempt

It is 5:34 p.m. At 1:30 a.m. tomorrow morning I will be boarding a boat at the Berkeley Marina with Alice, Heather, Duke, Paul from the Chronicle, Dan McLauglin and boat captain Mark Chow. We'll head over to just South of Candlestick Park where I will jump in the water at 3 a.m. Duke will be kayaking for me. We'll both have 2 glow sticks attached for visibility.

Sleep tight and dream of smooth fast water outside the Gate!

18 May 2007

3 Hours Under Sunny Skies

Last Sunday Bob, Cory, Nigel and his son Tristan and Ruben piloted for me out and around our cove. It was pretty much the same course that Nigel and I took a month before when we were stuck in the pouring rain swimming against the tide. This time, the weather was beautiful and the water was about 2 degrees warmer. Inside the breakwater, outside the breakwater towards Fort Mason on a 2.6 knot flood tide. We made more progress than I expected against that tide and made it almost all the way to Yacht Harbor before turning around and heading into the cove for the last half hour. I felt well cared for with my flotilla of four pilots! Bob was the official time keeper and paddled along next to me on a paddle board. Cory was in charge of feedings and was in a kayak. Nigel and his son were in a double kayak and Ruben just happened to meet us at the opening in a row boat. He had planned to just go out for a row, but when he saw that there was an Channel aspirant in the water, he decided to join our crew.

This Sunday I jump at 3 a.m. for an attempt at a 21 mile S.F. city limits swim. We are still looking for a second boat, as the boat captain of our primary boat is concerned about his own fatigue as the swim continues. Please e-mail me if you have any connections to people with boats who might be interested in being involved in this historical swim.

On the 27th I'll do my 8 hour swim in the bay, June 1st is not only my last day of school but the date of the South End Swimming to France fundraising party. A week later I'll set out on my last long swim...10 hours in the 9th.

08 May 2007

10 Coves of Death

In 2002, I swam the 5 Coves of Death for the first time. 5 Coves of Death is held every year on the 5th of May at 5 p.m. It is the qualifying swim for the Bay to Breakers swim (Bay Bridge to Ocean Beach) held later in the month. Each "cove" is about one mile.

On my 5th time around in 2002, I saw Elizabeth Leahy swim behind the Balclutha for the 10th time in completing her 10 Coves of Death. Her pilot told me that she was training for the English Channel. At that moment I knew that they year I swam the English Channel, I would swim 10 Coves of Death. At that time, I didn't know when that would be.

Elizabeth swam the English Channel later that summer. Last Sunday I swam 10 Coves of Death in 4 hours and 11 minutes.

It is a difficult swim. You are with the tide sometimes, against it at other times. It is not a swim that is planned with ideal tide conditions in mind. Legend has it that for it to be a true "cove of death" that you are required to take a shot of tequila each time around. I have never done that. For me what makes it a cove of death is going behind the large historical ships of Aquatic Park. This year those include the Balclutha, Eppleton Hall and our new neighbor, the Thayer.

Alice, Amber and I started at 3 p.m. so that we would be able to finish with the rest of the pack at about 7. Alice was in a kayak and would be in charge of my feedings. Amber was swimming, but quickly got ahead and maintained her lead for the rest of the swim.

The water temperature was 54 degrees. It felt much better than it did a few weeks ago, but 54 is still not warm. The cove was full of cold spots that felt like they were 50 degrees.

The swim was uneventful from a swimmer's perspective, but Alice told me later that on 6 of my 10 times around she spotted a HUGE sea lion between the goal posts and the repair. Once she changed direction so quickly to avoid a seal that she paddled my leg. Alice did a great job maintaining a calm presence in the kayak while I just kept on swimming.

When I finished my 5th cove, the rest of the swimmers were just starting. It gave me energy to see South Enders cheering from our dock as I came around for coves 6-10. Cove #6 I swam alone while Alice walked on the beach to stretch her back. She was back in the kayak for coves #7 and #8. At the beginning of #9, Alice gave the kayak to Marta and went in to change into her suit. With one and half coves left, Alice swam out to Marta and me to finish up the swim. Just like in San Diego, it was great to have Alice swim next to me as we finished #9 and headed into #10. My stroke rate stayed the same throughout (74 strokes/minute) and although I was tired at the end, I recovered quickly. I only felt cold in the real cold spots but Marta told me my skin looked purple, which is a sign of hypothermia.

I socialized on the beach at the finish, not even feeling the urge to rush to the shower and sauna. I walked past the party on the patio at South End and looked forward to a great dinner.

The fatigue and exhaustion from 6 hours on the 28th and 4 hours on the 5th is starting to wear on me. I have been having trouble sleeping, yet my body desperately wants to rest.

Thank you to Amber for being a part of the 10 coves.

Thank you to Marta for turning disappointment into teamwork!

Thank you to Alice for kayaking, feeding me, counting my strokes and finding a way to swim where she can match me stroke for stroke after I have been swimming for 4 hours.

30 April 2007

We Made It Happen!

Alice, Heather and I met boat captain Andy at the dock at Mission Bay in San Diego at 7 a.m. It was foggy, but the air was warm. I knew that this swim would be beautiful. I'd be out in the ocean, with my English Channel crew on board in the warm waters off of San Diego. We loaded up the boat and Andy drove it slowly out of the bay and into the ocean. Once we got to the ocean, we picked up the speed and Andy put the boat in neutral about a half mile of shore. He looked at me and asked me if I was ready to jump. Just about as soon as I reached for my cap and goggles, we all smelled the smoke coming from the engine. Alice and I got out of the way and I scrambled up to the front of the boat. Andy grabbed the fire extinguisher and Heather helped lift the cover off of the engine. I had stripped down to my swim suit and was prepared to swim to shore from the burning boat. I knew the gas tank was full and that there was a full extra tank of gas near the engine. Andy got on the radio and called for help "Vessel in distress!". I was one second away from jumping in the water when Andy said that he thought he got the fire out. Two guys out fishing stopped and lent us their extinguisher. Heather called her friend Brian on her cell phone. He works for the San Diego County beach lifeguards and would be able to send someone out. It seemed as if no one at headquarters had heard our call for help. We heard Heather's end of the conversation: "Our boat is on fire...no, I am not kidding". Brian called lifeguard headquarters and within 2 minutes a Baywatch style rescue boat was in sight. Alice, Heather and I climbed on to the rescue boat and rode back to the dock towing Andy and his broken down boat behind us.

We had no boat, but we still had a 6 hour swim to complete. I didn't go all the way down to San Diego to give up just because we didn't have a boat. We put our heads together and came up with the following plan: We would rent a 2 person kayak for Alice and Heather and Brian would lend Andy his paddle board. We would do 6 hours in the ocean off of La Jolla Shores. I'd swam there before and liked it.

We had all packed as if the crew would be on a boat all day. No one had clothing for kayaking and we didn't even have enough bottles for my feeding supplies because we had planned on refilling them from a larger bottle on the boat. We filled every container we had, bought some dry bags and headed to the beach.

We left the dock at Mission Bay at 9:30, we were on the water in La Jolla at 10:45. It would be a long day of swimming and it wasn't going to be perfect, but I was going to get my 6 hours in.

I felt great for the first three hours. The water temperature was perfect (60 F), the water was clear and relatively calm. Around 4 hours I started to get a little tired, but I still swam on. After 4 and a half hours I was tired, but just kept swimming. At 5 hours, Alice jumped in with me and swam the last hour. It was great to have her by my side after swimming alone for 5 hours. I imagined us swimming side by side in the cove in San Francisco as we have done for many years together. I remained in good spirits and was cracking jokes with the crew until the very end.

I felt fine walking up on the beach and just barely started to shiver during the time Heather and Andy went to get the cars. I even made friends on the beach with another woman who had done a 9 mile swim that morning. We showered at Heather's and met back up with Andy and a few of Heather's friends at a nearby sushi restaurant. I slept OK that night and felt stiff in the morning. The more I moved around during the day, the better I felt. Today (Monday) I felt completely recovered.

THANK YOU to Heather, Alice and Andy for making this swim happen despite the early morning set back. As two of my students told me this morning after I recounted the story of the accidental kayakers: "Those are some good friends!".

THANK YOU to Brian for lending us the paddle board to use. It was helpful to have another pilot out there and it saved Alice's back!

THANK YOU to the fishermen who initially helped us and to the San Diego County Lifeguards who brought us into shore.

You can also check out Alice's photos which include the boat incident and the rescue: http://www.flickr.com/photos/aywong/sets/72157600158796788/

28 April 2007

I came, I swam, I QUALIFIED!

Today I completed my English Channel qualifying swim by swimming for 6 hours and 53 seconds in 60 degree water. It really is much more exciting than that. Our boat caught fire and so we headed to La Jolla Shores to rent a two person kayak for Alice and Heather to paddle. I'm tired now and we are about to head to dinner...I'll include more details and photos later.

26 April 2007

Tropical San Diego Water

After enduring the longest and coldest winter in the bay in the past 10 years, I am heading to San Diego tomorrow and will be completing my 6 hour qualifying swim on Saturday in the ocean off of La Jolla. Expected water temperature is 60 degrees Farenheit.

The bay is still a chilly 52 and hasn't consistently been above 53 since November 30th. The absolute low point was 46 degrees on January 17th and 18th. If you want a better description, read my blog from those days.

Currently there is a whale in the bay and one of our very own South Enders swimming from the Bay Bridge to the club got close enough to it on Sunday to see the barnicles on it's back.

I'm ready to get out of here and head towards some more tropical water.

SWF seeks Boat

If anyone has a boat in the S.F. bay and wants to help me with an incredible swim please e-mail me ASAP!

14 April 2007

Times When I Think I'm Crazy

There have been two instances during my training when I think to myself that I must be crazy to do what I am doing.

1.) When I was walking barefoot across the icy South End deck to get in the 48 degree water in the dark in January at 6 a.m.

2.) Today when I was swimming through the swell in the pouring rain against a 2.2 flood tide in 53 degree water.

My goal was to swim for 3 hours today. Last night the water felt alright (about 54) but this morning it felt much colder, I think it was a low 53. I jumped at 7 with Nigel, did a cove and kept swimming waiting for Nigel to come back out and meet me in the kayak. We headed East inside the breakwater, made a sharp left around the end of the breakwater and headed West. That is when it really started pouring, and continued to do so for about the next hour. I got really cold at about 2 hours. I told Nigel I didn't feel well and I wanted him to stay close to me. I told myself to calm down and just keep swimming. At that point we had turned around near Gas House Cove and were headed back to the cove. I wanted to get back to the cove as fast as possible, but swimming out into the bay to catch the tide seemed so daunting. I felt nauseous and warm and cold at the same time. I felt light headed and couldn't imagine swimming for another hour. I only felt this way for about 5 minutes and once I calmed myself down I felt much better and knew that I could make it to 3 hours. Nigel was calm and supportive the entire time which made the situation much more bearable. Once we got back to the cove, Alice swam towards me and we did the last half an hour together. A soaked Nigel headed in to the beach with the kayak and I finished my swim in the cove with Alice.

Thank you to Nigel for kayaking in the pouring rain.

Thank you to Alice for finishing the swim with me.

I am now ready for a nap.

07 April 2007

Bay Bridge-Anita Rock-Yacht Harbor

This morning under foggy skies 15 sunrisers and I jumped at the Bay Bridge. Alice, Michelle and I missed the boat (no pun intented) and got a ride from our swim commissioner to the start. However, getting in the water from the Embarcadero involved a climb down algae covered steps and sliding into the water getting scraped along the way by barnacles. Alice and I swam stroke for stroke for the 56 minutes it took up to get back to the opening to the cove. Along the way we encounted a large red ship and a ferry that sped between us and the rest of the swimmers.

At the opening, Joe Butler (in a zodiac) and I continued with the ebb tide towards the Golden Gate Bridge. We found ourselves almost amongst the start of a regatta and then right next to a capsized sailboat from the day before. We didn't see the baby gray whale that was sighed off of Chrissy Field on Thursday.

I wanted to stay in the water for 2 hours today. The temperuature is still just a brisk 53 degrees. I swam towards Anita Rock (a shipping channel marker just West of Chrissy Field) and rounded it to start back swimming against the ebb tide. The sky was gray, the same color as the water and it was starting to drizzle.

From the water I saw kids playing on the beach in front of Chrissy Field. I thought "what are those kids doing playing on the beach on a day like this?". Then I remembered what I was doing and thought that they might be thinking the same thing.

It was difficult to make progress against the 2.25 ebb, but I made it back to the St. Francis Yacht Harbor and Joe pulled me out of the water out of 2 hours and 10 minutes of swimming. I was alright and didn't start shivering until just before we docked the zodiac at the club. I didn't feel too bad, but was looking forward to a long shower and sauna.

Thank you to Bill Wygant for getting me to the start. Thanks to all of the pilots for keeping us safe on a busy day in the bay. And to Joe Butler for staying out in the cold and missing the club breaksfast to help me get more milage in.