Juan de Fuca x 2 – Go: No Go

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what happened in Juan de Fuca this year, and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what I might have done differently. But most of all, I have spent a lot of time thinking about how grateful I am for having had the experience. Of all of my swims, thus far, this one is my favorite.

It was a tough training year, with some very cold-water training sessions in Lama Pass and Fisher Channel in Heiltsuk territory in the Great Bear Rainforest. I spent a week in November at Drifter’s Cove immersing myself in 7C water each day. In June I swam for 6 hours in waters as cold as 10C one day and 4 hours the next where the water dropped to 9C. I swam over 1,000 kilometers between September and July, went to over 75 spin classes and lifted pound after pound of weights. I was ready and prepared for all that might happen during the swim.

My pilot, Gordon Higgins, and lead safety and chief observer, MJ VanBergen, had selected 3 potential dates for the swim. Juan de Fuca Strait, in the Salish Sea does not offer the luxury of 2-week tide windows each month. There are however 2 to 3 days each twice during the month where a crossing is possible. If you swim at the wrong time you are at risk of the currents pushing into a shipping lane, or even further into Race Rocks, and area where even the most experienced sailor take caution.

British Columbia, where I live, was under a state of emergency during a good portion of the summer because of wild-fires. A thick layer of smoke was blowing in over the Strait making it difficult to see across the waterway. My first tide window was the 1, 2 and 3 of August. I had been in taper mode (rest) for just over 2 weeks and was feeling the energy stores build up in my body. Gordon, MJ and I chatted daily about wind predictions daily monitoring Environment Canada’s marine forecast and windy.com’s predictions. As much as we wanted to go and looked at every possible scenario, the wind and sea made it very clear, I would not be jumping in.

My next window was August 18 and 19 and the one after that was September 1. I continued to immerse myself in the cold water and swam 10km swims as often as I could. MJ, Gordon and I continued to check the wind predictions hoping for a sign of ideal conditions. The smoke continued to thicken over the water way.

On August 17th we had an early afternoon conference call to review the weather forecast and wind predictions for the next 2 days. There was a 6-hour period where the winds would build to 20 km/hr about but the remainder of the time it was forecast to be calm. We talked about the pros and cons of moving forward, with 3 major concerns should we delay until September 1. The first concern was the possibility of very poor weather on the next window which would mean abandoning the swim for the summer. The second was my concern around a declining fitness level; I had been living in taper mode for over a month. And the third was the decreased amount of sun (and heat on my back) as we moved closer toward fall. We knew the challenges and risks with the wind and opted to move forward. Our start time would be 1:00 pm the next day.

On the morning of the 18th I woke up at about 7:00 am and lay in bed thinking about the day ahead. As with every other day, I nourished with vegan blueberry smoothie. I listened to Ziggy Marley until my niece Kelly from Montreal arrived from up north, and then she, Ray and I headed to Ogden Point where the swim would start.

More to come…

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