I recently went to Hawaii to crew for 2 friends swimming the Kaiwi channel (26 miles/42K) between Molokai and Oahu. We all write a lot about our swimming experience and i thought it would be helpful to share some information about crewing too, some of this was typical and some was not. A little background on me - I crew/observe fairly often in NYC and also usually crew a couple of long swims somewhere else in the world most years. I don't crew more miles than i swim...but sometimes it comes close.
We sat in Hawaii for almost 2 weeks waiting for the winds to die down. During that time we tested foods and feed delivery systems. Both swimmers were experienced at marathons but had mostly been fed off kayaks during daylight swims. This would be swum primarily at night and fed off the boat (30 foot Boston Whaler ). There would be 1 crew for each swimmer - we were playing man 2 man. That was not the original plan another crew member was added only a couple of weeks beforehand at the request of the captain; good advice, it would have been a very difficult job for one person. The additional crew person was a nurse, a highly experienced kayaker, and a marathon swimmer. What did we learn/change in those 2 weeks:
the default would be warm feeds - originally the swimmers thought with the water at ~ 72 they wouldn't need it...they did
it was good to do a 1 hour test swim beforehand in 4-5 ft swells and 20 mph winds. In addition to good mental preparation for the team and we also got to test that the feed preparation and delivery systems worked in a pitching sea and that the crews seasickness meds worked
we dryland tested our sea sickness medication a week ahead of time to make sure there weren’t any adverse effects.
to deliver food (banana, almond butter sandwiches, etc) we needed a waterproof box that was easy for the swimmer to open but wouldn't open on contact when it hit the water or bounced against the bottle - we tested and found that waterproof boxes favored for cell phone protection (e.g., Pelican, Otter) worked great, as long as they had one latch. Two latches made them too difficult to open with one hand.
don't use green or blue lights - we swam with the local marathoners one morning and they gave us this great piece of advice amongst others - it attracts squid which attracts fish.
listen to the locals! this pod (like every other one I've encountered) were welcoming and supportive - as things didn't go as planned they continued to check in, visit and offer help and advice, we can't thank them enough.
not all duct tape is the same - make sure you get the really good stuff and test it. We found that the best duct tape can be ripped to size easily with your hands. Cheap and less effective duct tape required more force or even scissors.
good long ropes (at least 50 feet) with sturdy clips are worth the money
know where the nearest Target, West Marine and paddle shop is....it seemed like we went daily
if you can practice throwing the delivery systems, do so - we learned a lot.
if it’s a tandem, make sure you can tell the swimmers apart at night in the water....we could have done this better but we didn’t expect to have to avoid green/blue lights on the swimmers. Luckily their strokes are very distinctive.
as always have options with you - flavors that the swimmers normally liked didn't taste that great warmed in the ocean at night
have a backup to every system
have chemical hand warmers in your emergency bag - these are extremely useful for warming up a cold swimmer - a new one for the ‘never leave home without’ list for a night swim
sterile abdominal pad - its been in the kit for years - 1st time used but it was critical in creating a sterile barrier
have enough warm blankets/towels on board for all swimmers in case they are pulled.
as crew make sure you are properly clothed. i was under-packed for a night swim despite it being in the tropics. i would have been cold in a skort and wet in warm tights. Luckily for me paddlers have awesome clothes for this adventure! I am now the proud owner of nrs neoprene booties and will be investing in my own pair of waterproof breathable stretchy NRS pants
we were staying in an air bnb house on a canal in Hawaii Kai that led to the ocean - this was great for testing systems - thrsowing bottles from the dock, it was also super convenient for direct loading and unloading of the boat. I’m glad to share the air bnb link if your plan is to swim the channel.
The swim itself - it was a perfect night - 1/2 moon, the winds had finally died down and the swimmers started ~6:30pm at dusk. Unfortunately one swimmer started having trouble keeping feeds down. We tried the usual response of other food, and switching to water only at 15 minute intervals to no avail and so he made the really hard decision to pull himself...i was getting close to doing it as crew. He recognized that as he was continuing to deteriorate he could have trouble getting back onto the boat in the pitching sea, once on board we kept him warm and comfortable.
The 2nd swimmer continued, he was tracking to a 16 hour crossing, an excellent time and swimming smooth. He had a small problem with keeping feeds down earlier but was now fine and swimming strong. At around 8 hours in he was bitten by a cookie cutter shark. This is when the boat operator/kayakers earned their keep, they had booked with Matt Buckman to captain their swim. For personal reasons he was not able to come that night and captaining the boat was Manoah Buckman, Ocean, and Francisco (Nacho) - three 20 years old waterman. These 3 men were outstanding in how they reacted, pulling him into the boat, applying pressure, contacting the ambulance to meet us at the dock and overall being calm and competent in a very unusual situation. I cannot say enough good things about this team- in hindsight there was NOTHING i thought they should have done differently.
It was not how any of us pictured the swim to go and a cookie cutter shark (only 20 inches long) took a fairly large chunk out of the swimmer's lower belly - surprisingly little real damage besides a big hole. I decided to stay with him as he healed (hospital and hotel) for a couple of days and accompany him most of the way home. I have no medical training beyond cpr/aed and was now tasked to clean the wound and change the bandages and prevent infection. I learned that i could do this with some explanation (they gave me a bulleted list) and he would only be released once i could demonstrate competency. In hindsight maybe trip insurance would have been a good idea when the swim is far from home. Being retired I had the option to be able to stay with him as he healed.
The swim did not go as we expected but we all learned a lot that will help us as we move forward in life as swimmers and as people. And i will continue to say yes to crewing because it gives me joy to be part of a team working towards fulfilling a dream.