How I Chose the Route

I like to believe that I didn’t choose the route, it chose me.

There are many different ways one can go about swimming across Juan de Fuca Strait. In open water or marathon swimming people often choose the shortest route from land to land. In this strait, that would be about 16.5 kilometers from somewhere near Crescent Beach on the American side to somewhere in Sooke on the Canadian side. It is a difficult and challenging swim but it is not the famous historic route swum by Americans Bert Thomas and Amy Hiland, and Canadians Cliff Lumsdon, Ben Laughren and Marilyn Bell in the 1950s. And it is not the route swum by Vicki Keith (butterfly) in the 1980s. They swam close to double that distance (29.5 kilometers) from Ediz Hook in Port Angeles, USA to Clover Point in Victoria, Canada.

The North West Open Water Swim Association (NOWSA) has been sanctioning swims in the pacific northwest on the American side of the border for a few years including the 16.5km Juan de Fuca Strait swim from Crescent Beach to Sooke. Andrew Malinka, a seasoned open water swimmer, manages the agency and swam that route in 2015. I contacted him to learn more about the swim. He provided me with some great information including on how NOWSA functions and the support they are able to provide. I learned through the NOWSA’s website that they do not sanction the traditional 29.5 kilometre swim route – only the 16.5km route. They do however have maintain a list of all who have crossed the strait. Everyone is on the same list regardless of the distance swum. It is a bit confusing as at first glance it looks like everyone either swam 16.5 kilometres or 29.5 kilometers. There is no distinction.
I knew in January that I wanted to do the longer swim from Port Angeles to Victoria so began investigating. I started with phone calls to the Canadian and US Coast Guards to seek their advice and eventually approval. After a phone call with the US Coast Guard I learned that I would not be permitted to leave from Port Angeles. It is considered a high-traffic area with large tankers and cruise ships coming and going on a regular basis. The pilot exchange where foreign ships receive or drop of local pilots for navigating the water way is directly in front of the town – it would be too high of a risk. The route from Ediz Hook to Victoria was also almost directly through the US/Canadian shipping lane. This is a no-swim zone.

The Coast Guard did tell me that if I wanted to do the swim I could go further down the Strait and leave from Dungeness Spit. I quickly pulled out a map and measured the distance from Dungeness Spit to Victoria. It was between 30 and 35 kilometers depending on where on the spit I started and where in Victoria I landed – BINGO. I had a course.

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