MS Victory: swimming across the Strait of Georgia – Part II

– for my sister Val, who inspires me to be strong

On August 6, 2011 at 8 am thirteen swimmers set out to swim 34 kilometres across the Salish Sea; 3 relay teams and 2 individual swimmers. Eight swimmers made the crossing. I am honoured to have been one of them.

The Blessings

I have come to discover that swimming across the sea is about far more than swimming. It is about a community of people that come together to plan out and participate in a day long journey, a journey filled with twists and turns along the way.

I am blessed to have been invited into the Salish Sea Swim community and am grateful to all of those who participated in our collective journey. I thank

  • John for his superior knowledge of the sea and tireless devotion to the environment,
  • Jim for his determination to seeing this event happen,
  • the medics for monitoring our physical well being,
  • the skippers and their crews for navigating our path and ensuring our safe passage,
  • the Canadian Coast Guard for escorting us from shore to shore and providing emergency response should it be needed,
  • and the swimmers for their passion for the sport and desire to succeed.

I would like to express my sincere appreciation to the drummer from the Seashelt Nation who blessed us and wished us a safe journey before we left his nation’s shores.

The Journey

At 6:30 am, swimmers and their crews met at the dock around the corner from Davis Inlet to load supplies into 4 sailboats and 1 zodiac. I was part of the Georgia Girls, a team of 4 female swimmers aged forty plus (Karen, Jennifer, Rhonda and myself), our skipper Luke, first mate S.J., medic Brant and spotter Grant. Our boat: the Sunshine Girl.

By 7:45 am we moored just off the shores of Davis Inlet, where I swam to shore to the start line. I would be the first to swim. Two other relay swimmers and 2 single swimmers congregated on the shore beside me preparing for the start. Before leaving we were greeted by an elder from the Seashelt Nation who blessed us with a traditional drum ceremony. When the start horn sounded, we ran into the crashing waves on the shores of the Salish Sea.

As I began the swim, I could feel the waves moving beneath me. The further I moved from the shore the larger the waves became. I soon reached my boat and settled into the waters beside her. I felt safe under the watchful eyes of my team. At first I swam on the starboard side where the swells were up to 7 feet. My team could see I was battling each wave. They motioned to me to move to the port side, where I would be partially protected from the waves. After an hour had passed I was called back to the boat.

Luke placed a ladder on the starboard side of the boat so I could climb on board. The waters were fierce. As I stepped onto the second stair I was thrown back into the sea. I tried a second time and with my teammates help was able board the Sunshine Girl. Karen was the next one to enter the waters to swim.

The boat was being tossed by the swells. I felt nauseous. I asked Luke “If I am going to be sick would you like me to just lean over the side of the boat?” to which he replied “Yes.” So I did – for what seemed like an eternity. I sat up and tried to regain my composure. Still feeling sick I leaned over the side of the boat again. I tried a small amount of water and a piece of bread hoping it would help. Within minutes I was sick again.

Brad gave me Gravol and I went below to try and regain my composure. I felt horrible. After about 20 minutes I made my way back up on deck, leaned over the boat, and was sick again. Brad switched me to ginger Gravol and S.J. had me focus on the land ahead. It helped and I was soon able to prop myself up on deck and watch my teammates battle the rough sea.

Karen’s time was done. She climbed back on board using the dingy rather than the ladder. Rhonda was next to jump in. We could see one boat ahead of us, one boat beside us and one boat behind us. The sea was not calming and I was still feeling ill. I continued to take Ginger Gravol and focus on the land, sneaking a peek at my fellow swimmers whenever possible. I tried to prepare myself for my next swim which was in less than two hours.

Jennifer was next. She flew off the boat before Rhonda was fully on board. She moved into the sea so quickly we momentarily lost sight of her. As the waves moved up and down, we found her and made our way to her as quickly as we could. That mistake would not happen again.

Jennifer was tossed from wave to wave, at times appearing as though she was a flying fish. I could not believe the conditions under which we were swimming.

I was next. Brad examined me to make sure I was ok to go back into the sea. I had no food in my stomach and was barely able to drink water. I looked him directly in the eye and let him know if I struggled I would return to the boat. He gave me the go ahead and before I knew it I was back in the water this time battling 4 – 5 foot chop.

I swam as close to the boat as possible. My teammates let me know as each 15 minute mark was passed. At one point they whistled to me to let me know a dead-head (log) was headed straight for me. I stopped and gently pushed it away. At about 30 minutes Brad checked in to make sure I was ok to continue. I signalled to him that I was fine and swam on. As rough as the conditions were the ocean was beautiful. I watched my arms pulling through the sea. It was so deep; it seemed to go on forever. I had never seen anything like this and understood where John’s passion for the sea came from.

With my hour up, I made my way back to the Sunshine Girl and boarded her deck once again. I quickly leaned over the side for what had now become my Georgia Strait crossing routine. I went back to my corner, had some more Gravol and cheered Karen on. While we were watching Karen swim we received a call from John. The two single swimmers and one of the relay teams were turning back. The other relay team, the Strait Shooters, was now behind us. We re-focused our attention on Karen and cheered her on as she swam. Her stroke was strong and smooth – she made it look easy – and within what seemed like no time, she was back on the boat and Rhonda was back in the sea.

Rhonda liked to settle in the waters just behind the boat. About 5 minutes into her swim she screamed and then yelled “what’s following me? Something touched my foot.” She was spooked. We did what we could to re-assure her that nothing behind her. You could see the fear on her face as she swam beside the boat. Her breathing was heavy. Brad and I talked to her to try and calm her as she swam. About half an hour into the swim she settled in.

I was still feeling quite sick so asked Brad if we had any more Gravol. The other relay team had similar issues on their boat and had sent someone over for what I thought was the last of our supply. Karen, the clever gal that she is, had a backup supply and was able to provide me with 2 quick release tablets. With the waters calming the tablets kicked in almost immediately. I was finally back to my usually self. I had one more swim to go. My only concern now was that I had not eaten in over 8 hours and any fuel I packed into my belly in the morning had ended up over the side of the boat. I was also de-hydrated.

I drank as much water as I could. Still afraid to eat, I took a few Shot Blocks (electrolytes) hoping they would help.

Jennifer was back in the water again. She moved quickly! It was beautiful to watch.

The Victory

Luke had been monitoring our progress on radar the entire time. We had about two hours to go before we reached the shore. We decided to cut our swims down to 35 minutes. I took a few more Shot Blocks and replaced Jennifer in the water. I darted ahead as quickly as I could. The Strait Shooters had been gaining on us. I wanted to widen the gap as much as I could. I needed to redeem myself for not performing as well as I could on my previous 2 swims.

After 35 minutes of pulling through the water as hard as I could I was back on the boat this time smiling. Mission accomplished!

Karen dove in and forged ahead. Looking as strong as ever you could see Karen smiling as she turned toward us to breathe. We were ahead of schedule with under an hour to go. We called Karen back to the boat and Rhonda and Jennifer jumped in together for their final swim. Their stroke was perfectly synchronized as they swam closer to the shore.

Luke continued to monitor our progress. He reported back that Rhonda and Jennifer were caught in a strong current and were moving backward. The Strait Shooters were gaining on us. Karen and I dove in to the water and had Rhonda and Jennifer change direction and ride our draft as we all swam as one toward the shore. Within 15 minutes, we could see the bottom! We made our way up the rocky shoreline, staying low as to not fall as we left the sea, each helping one another make our way onto land. We turned around and waived to our team members on the boat. We did it! Nine hours and 33 minutes after starting we had found our way across the Salish Sea.

Five minutes later the Strait Shooters swam toward us. We helped them make their way to shore. We all looked at one another and smiled, knowing what we had all just achieved.

If you are challenging your disease I encourage you to contact me so we can share your story with others.

Links

> Read Delving into the Unknown: MS and Heat Training for Hawaii

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2 Comments on “MS Victory: swimming across the Strait of Georgia – Part II”

  1. Lorraine says:

    What a feat~ I am so happy for you all. Congratulations to you and your boat team. I’m in awe….and interested!
    Lorraine

  2. Pat says:

    Wow, what a remarkable story!


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