One way Catalina Channel swim.

KatieBunKatieBun CornwallSenior Member
edited October 2017 in Swim Reports

In the light of Courtney's incredible 2 way Catalina, about which I am so delighted I could cheerfully shout it from the rooftops, it seems a bit of a damp squib to even want to report on my September 2017 one way C to M swim. Courtney was totally wonderful after my 16 hour 3 minute crossing, and really helped me to feel less despondent about the time.

I thought long and hard about whether or not to write this, but if anybody else ever feels as low as I did at one stage of this swim and sees that you can get through that, it's worth it.

When you're coming to do a swim in a different country, one which has a much faster average swim time, and so many lovely people have kindly reassured you that it'll be easier than your English Channel swim, it's easy to get excited and see yourself doing 12 - 13 hours, based on your training swims and your English Channel time.

I was absolutely ready for this, even if I was more than a little apprehensive about swimming all night and so much sealife passing beneath me. I just got in, swam to shore, waved, started, came level with my kayak and carried on.

That was all fine, except that I'm not used to being covered in Desitin as well as sunscreen and Vaseline and I managed to smear it all over my goggles, necessitating a change within the first hour. I also did it with the next pair, so just had to get on with it and see all the lights as starbursts through a haze. Let me tell you, I felt like a rank amateur and didn't want to disturb anybody any further so I just carried on.

The actual swimming was wonderful. Who wouldn't want to swim in warmer, calmer waters than they're used to, with feeds on a kayak close by and plenty of support on the escort boat? I forgot all about marine life and enjoyed it. A couple of shapes swam below me, so I just closed my eyes so my imagination wouldn't run wild.

I knew exactly how long I'd been swimming, whether I wanted to or not, as my amazing kayakers changed every 3 hours. Not much maths required!

I had a fully lit ship to look at at 2:30 am and a pod of over 100 dolphins with me at about 9:30am. It was as awesome as I'd been advised.

My trouble only started at 12 hours. I'd seen the coast of the mainland before this, but was puzzled as to why it wasn't closer. Between 11 and 12 hours, fog descended so I could no longer see the cliffs. It lifted in parts and everything seemed further away. I thought, since everybody seemed to swim Catalina in a straight line, there would be nothing slowing me down. Now, I'm not a fast swimmer, but I can maintain my pace over many hours in training and expected to on my Catalina swim.

At 12 hours, I felt really despondent and tired and had to remind myself of my aim, just to get there. I knew by then it would
be much slower than I expected. I just plodded on.

Then the wind got up a bit, so I was swallowing water and I really had to fight with my head. I wanted to get out. I have a friend who said to me once, "You can always do another stroke!", so I thought of that and changed it to, "You can always do another hour!".

By the time my kayakers switched again at 15 hours I seriously began to feel I was going to be a laughed at for taking so long. It's no fun to be thinking this when you've swum for 15 hours and land doesn't seem to be getting any nearer.

At this point, my crew and observers started counting down the distance. They knew I'd lost heart. I shouldn't have been looking, but I was..... and nothing seemed to be moving. It felt like I was swimming on the spot.

That last hour was interminable. I only believed I'd land it when my observer shouted "0.6 of a mile!"

The wind and the current were against me. I do wonder if I'd have carried on without the amazing support of my crew, kayakers and CCSF observers.

The shallows actually came very quickly.... along with a dense kelp forest. Normally, I would have balked at swimming through the stuff and getting my arms tangled up, but I could actually see the sea floor, so I was relieved. I stopped to disentangle my arms, had a bit of a giggle with my kayaker, Jax, and carried on to shore.

There were mixed emotions. Yes, I was about to finish, but I was a few hours slower than I expected to be.

Once I'd unsteadily walked out, I high fived a few guys, (they were on the beach and had guessed where I'd come from), had a fun tow behind the kayak back to the boat and got myself dry, dressed and rested.

16 hours 3 minutes 13 seconds. Gulp. It was the longest time I'd spent in the water.

I learned quite a lot from that swim. Courtney sent me the surface currents on the day, which explained a lot. She also told me to be proud because I'd got through it. She's absolutely right. :-)

I'm pretty slow in fresh water and was last to finish Zurich within the cut off last year, but I know I'm much better in the sea. I've talked about it with other swimmers much more experienced in these waters, and have come to the conclusion that I should just be happy I finished and move on to the next swim. It's not about how long it takes, it's about getting from A to B.

It seems wrong to say that I found the English Channel easier. Catalina was warmer, more beautiful by a long way and the swimming was a joy until I realised how far out I was. ;-)

Just had to get that off my chest. Chalking it up to experience and I will never, in future, have any sort of expectations! Onwards.



  • SoloSolo B.C. CanadaSenior Member

    To those of us who dream of this swim, you are a champion. And look at it this way- you broke 16:04!! Seriously, thanks for the read, it is refreshing to know that I am not the only swimmer to question themself if it takes longer than planned.

  • KatieBunKatieBun CornwallSenior Member

    Thanks, @Solo . I had no expectations on any previous swims, so this taught me a lesson! :\">

  • thanks for writing. this is on my list and i gave me things to think about and i enjoyed read it.

  • ssthomasssthomas DenverCharter Mem​ber

    Catalina was advertised to me as being easier/warmer than the English Channel. It was all lies. :-) Yes, my Catalina was faster than England, but the water wasn't all that much warmer. It was my first one, so I had no expectations, but Catalina still holds the record for my most painful swim. My EC swim was infinitely easier and more enjoyable that my Catalina swim. Talk to swimming greats like David Barra and Ron Collins about their Catalina experiences, and you'll find similar experiences. She can be just as tricky as the rest! It's good for even experienced swimmers to learn something from every swim. Too bad swimming lessons are always so dang painful.

    Good for you for finishing, thanks for sharing, and keep on swimming!

  • JaimieJaimie NYCMem​ber

    Well done @KatieBun . Thanks very much for sharing with us.

  • dpm50dpm50 PA, U.S.Senior Member
    edited October 2017

    As something of a fledgling in the marathon swimming community, I'm not even at the stage of starting Catalina, much less finishing! But a 5-ish mile swim I did this year in very choppy conditions and 52 minutes off my personal best is the one I'm most proud of. I'm realizing more and more that my runner's understanding of speed/pace per mile etc. has to be thrown out pretty much in any distance swim. It's actually one of the cool things I'm discovering about distance swimming. Keeps me fr getting discouraged if my pace is slow....or too complacent if I'm moving faster than usual.

  • KatieBunKatieBun CornwallSenior Member

    It's a relief to know I'm not the only one who didn't find it straightforward. Thanks for your story, Sarah.

  • KatieBunKatieBun CornwallSenior Member

    ..and thanks, all, for the encouragement.

  • curlycurly Issaquah, WASenior Member

    It's interesting how many of us swimmers focus on elapsed time. I know I do it constantly. And it occurs to me to ask the question; What difference does it really make? I mean, does the world change because it took you a little longer to get to the other side? The real point is that you started, you swam, and you did what you planned to do.

    So when someone hears you did the Catalina swim, most people would be simply amazed. Some people would ask how long it took. Then they would be amazed that any human being could swim that long. Kind of funny when you look at it that way.

  • KatieBunKatieBun CornwallSenior Member
    edited October 2017

    You're absolutely right, it doesn't matter a jot, once it's done. I only focused on it because land wasn't getting any nearer. That was something I expected in the English Channel and I didn't give a hoot about that time. I just thought I wasn't going to land this one...... so it became a bit of a nightmare in my head. That's why I shared it. I've never come so close to throwing in the towel..... and it was because I focused on the wrong thing. Lesson learned.
    Of course, in the scheme of things, none of it matters, does it? The world doesn't collapse if we don't finish a swim.... but this is the MSF forum, so if there's anywhere where one is permitted to share these things, it's here. :D

  • curlycurly Issaquah, WASenior Member

    It's times like these that I like to use what I call "Dog Logic". There's no past. There's no future. There's just now.

    You have stated a valuable insight in the idea of focusing on the wrong thing. I have definitely had swims where my head just wasn't in it and things went awry. Really cool that you just powered through your moments of self doubt.

  • KatieBunKatieBun CornwallSenior Member
    edited October 2017

    Cheers @curly. I think you just have to change your goal.... mid-swim if necessary. :)

  • courtneypaulkcourtneypaulk Richmond, VirginiaMember

    You had an absolutely amazing swim Kate! What we learn from swims that challenge us helps us in our next adventure. You persevered - despite the nightmare in your head! Each of my Catalina swims has been harder than my EC swim. it is no joke out there.

    So happy for you! xoxo

  • KatieBunKatieBun CornwallSenior Member

    courtneypaulk said:
    You had an absolutely amazing swim Kate! What we learn from swims that challenge us helps us in our next adventure. You persevered - despite the nightmare in your head! Each of my Catalina swims has been harder than my EC swim. it is no joke out there.

    So happy for you! xoxo

    As am I for you. What you did was in a different league. xx

  • MoCoMoCo Worcester, MASenior Member


    I had an interesting conversation with my podiatrist yesterday, post Swim the Suck. He's an ultrarunner, multiple Leadville finishs. Former triathlete/ironman. He thinks I'm "batshit bananas" for how much I swim, to which I said, right back at you and your running. But when I was trying to explain how StS "wasn't really" 10 miles, we came up with this: you sign up for a running race that's "about" 50 miles. You show up, and not only do you not know if there are any hills on the course, you also don't know what the weather is, and you aren't sure if it's at elevation or not. And maybe the first half of the race you're pretty sure it's actually a 50K instead and nice and flat, but then suddenly it's really a 100 miler and there's a couple mountains between you and the finish. I don't think that analogy made him think I'm less crazy.

  • DanSimonelliDanSimonelli San Diego CASenior Member

    Great write up, Kate.

    I've heard it so many times from swimmers coming to do Catalina who have swum EC or other channels.
    They've seen pics in daylight of flat calm surface water and don't know about the potential swirling, strong, unpredictable currents!
    It's thwarted many swims and certainly stalled many others even those who persevered and finished
    Like YOU!

  • evmoevmo SydneyAdmin
    edited October 2017

    Think of any marathon swim, especially ocean swims or big-lake swims, as a continuum/distribution of potential conditions, with both central tendency (average), and varation (standard deviation).

    While the average day in the Catalina Channel is almost certainly more swimmer-friendly than the average day in the EC, on "any given day" a Catalina swim can absolutely be more challenging than an EC swim.

    There have been some famously terrible Catalina days, e.g., many swims in the 2010 season, in particular @RonCollins and @david_barra, and @pennypalfrey who according to rumor intended to go more than a one-way.

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