Last year, back before I had found a job in Chicago, I planned to spend the summer in California and accordingly planned to complete California swims. The California swim that has most interested me for a while is the 12 mile channel between Anacapa Island and Oxnard. I decided that this swim sounded like both a fun challenge and a good stepping stone to prepare me for a Lake Tahoe crossing next month.
My mom and I drove up to Oxnard to spend Sunday night in a hotel and met our boat captain, Dawn, who showed us the beach where I would start the swim. This was a lucky opportunity because Dawn had decided that since the currents were favoring a Mainland to Island swim rather than the traditions Island to Mainland. We woke up up very early to meet our boat in the Channel Islands harbor at 3 o’clock on Monday morning and headed out of the harbor in the dark and around to the beach. I covered myself in sunscreen and Captain Dawn had me paint black stripes on my arms to keep curious seals away at the finish. I did not realize until it was time to jump in that I was very grateful for getting to see the start spot in the daylight.
I jumped in and started swimming to shore along the kayak to start, but the water was colder than I expected and I had to stop once to let my breathing settle. There was hardly any surf so I got to shore quickly and stood there waiting to start. I quickly realized that I had no idea if the boat could see me or would know if I started, so I shouted to Jax in the kayak to tell me when to go. Jax shouted to me to start so I walked forward into the water and started swimming. Surprisingly, I found myself enjoying swimming in the dark and focused on finding my rhythm and getting warm in the cool water.
The water was flat and I felt the water temperature change in patches around me, making it harder to get used to the temperature. Jax signalled me to stop for the first feed and I drank quickly and kept swimming. I planned to use the first hour of the swim to find my rhythm but also not worry about speed or feeling good until the first hour was over because it usually takes me AT LEAST an hour to feel warmed up at all. By the time the first hour was ending, the sky was beginning to get light, but the foggy sky prevented a beautiful sunrise. I could see the oil rig named Gina in the distance and knew that it marked 4 miles from the start.
I continued to try to find my rhythm in the cool water and aimed to pass Gina before my 2 hour feed. As we approached Gina on our right hand side, I started to feel like we were swimming in left-hand circles. One blessing in disguise of most marathon swims is that there are few reference points to for me to know how far I have traveled or if I have not traveled at all. I was happy that Gina would tell me that I had covered 4 miles and therefor give me a reference point for my pace, so I was surprised that being able to see the rig for so long was actually demoralizing. I still felt like we were swimming in circles and found out later that around this point we hit a current that made us drift and that is why Captain Dawn was making so many course adjustments to get us through it.
Once we finally passed Gina I focused on getting to 3 hours and maintaining my rhythmic stroke even as the water started to get choppier. The sky stayed foggy and I found myself wishing for some sunlight to warm my back. At the 3 hour feed, Jax told me that we were just under halfway across the channel and that I was holding a steady pace. I continued to push forward despite having a difficult time letting my mind wander. Every time someone on the boat pointed out a dolphin or something else to each other, I could see it and I found this more distracting then I would have expected.
At the next feed, Jax pointed out that Arch Rock was now visible on the horizon. Seeing Anacapa for the first time was very exciting and made me confident that I would be successful in my crossing. The wind was starting to build slightly and Jax had me move to the left side of the boat, which made a huge difference in terms of the wind and also made it harder for me to see what was happening on the boat, allowing me to let my mind wander and just swim. Although I usually don’t like to know distance specifics, I really appreciated that my crew was telling me the distance I had covered during each half hour segment; letting me set goals for how much I would like to go in the next one. The water was a gorgeous deep blue and I was finally starting to enjoy myself, even though the water was a bit cold.
As we got closer to the finish, there were more birds around and I could start to make out color on the distant island. At the 5 hour feed, a pelican landed close by me and I was surprised by how large it was. My crew told me that I had about 1.5 nautical miles left to swim. I asked Jax to give me an applesauce at the next feed if it was going to be my last feed. I continued swimming and noticed that the pelican was following us, landing closer to me each time. Suddenly, it swooped down and opened its beak, as if to taste my feet. luckily, both Jax and I noticed at the same moment and I dove behind the kayak, while Jax shooed it away with her paddle. She chased it all the way behind the boat but i still tried to follow us. This encounter was quite scary; never did I expect to be attacked by a bird!
There were still a lot of birds around and they were making me nervous swooping around. Jax took off her hat to have a better view around us to watch for birds. The island seemed very close now but I was also aware that we were turning slightly parallel to the island to counter a current that was trying to push us past it. At the 5:30 feed Jax told me that I would need to pick up my tempo to get through the last stretch and I was reminded of how I felt angling into the beach in France 2 years ago. Arch Rock seemed so close but I knew that I needed to continue on and finish at the true island. I could hear the lighthouse periodically, adding to the noise of the birds.
I picked up my tempo, trying to finish the swim as quickly as I could. I could see the ferry docked and also a buoy so I started aiming for the buoy. As the sheer cliff face got nearer, the water was lighter and I could see kelp belo me. I noticed that this green was a nice change from the blue water and white sky I had been seeing for the past hours. I swam up to the cliff face with Jax on my left and the boat stopped behind us. Taking care not to scrape my legs on the rocks under water, I reached up and touched the wall of the island. Everyone cheered but it felt somewhat anticlimactic to finish a swim without walking on dry land. I waved to a small group of people standing on some stairs on the island but they did not wave back, perhaps bemused by what I was doing. Jax and I went back over to the boat and Captain Dawn asked if I wanted to swim through Arch Rock for fun and I decided I should because who knew if/when I would ever come back here. Jax let me hop into the kayak to go over to the rock.
Swimming through Arch Rock was one of the coolest things I have ever had the opportunity to do. I felt like a mermaid swimming through kelp under the arch. Anacapa seemed to be both a beautiful and somewhat desolate place and I really enjoyed how remote and untouched it felt. I am so grateful for my amazing crew of people who supported me to achieve this goal!