I have never been one to choose the easy route. It is not because I wish to make things harder on myself; I think it is because I need constantly challenge myself to remain in the game. As a pool swimmer, there came a point where I was no longer motivated to compete. When I reached that point, I turned to open water swimming so I would continue to be physically challenged and excited about my goals. Being physically challenged is what is important to me. Without being physical my MS symptoms will resurface.
This year I opted to challenge myself with 5 open water swims; two in Heiltsuk Territory in the Great Bear Rainforest and 3 in the Salish Sea. Four out of 5 of these swims are action packed with crazy mad currents. In the past I would have done everything I could to avoid the madness of currents. But this year, to keep my swims lively, I am learning to embrace them.
My first two swims of the year were in Great Bear. It was there where I was first challenged with currents strong enough to push me from one channel into another, and strong enough to have me swim without moving forward. It took hours to move meters forward. You can read more about these swims on the Great Bear Swim website. My tale of two currents is about my two most recent swims withMS4MS in the Salish Sea.
The Harrowing Haro – Current 1
My first swim this year in the Salish Sea was Haro Strait. My team has dubbed it the Harrowing Haro. The swim started on Henry Island off the tip of San Juan Island on the US side of the border. It looked like a straight forward swim; but it wasn’t. The shortest distance across the strait is about 11 kilometres where the crow flies. But there is no possible way you can swim straight across. Not with these currents. There is never more than a 1 hour period where the currents are less than 1 knot (1.8 km/hr). Often they are 3 knots (5.5 km/hr) or more.
My crew and I chose a route starting at the north eastern tip of the strait and landing at the south western base. A straight line from top to bottom crossing the strait was just over 14 kilometres. When all was done, with the push from the currents I ended up swimming over 16 kilometres.
There are some points from this swim that will remain seared in my mind for ever. The start of the swim off the tip of Henry Island was beautiful, 11C and crystal clear, but as soon as I left the protected area I could feel the tug of the water pulling me directly down the strait. It seemed to take forever to make any kind of headway across, which is where I really wanted to go.
Within 30 minutes I found myself in what I can only describe as the ripples. Each time I took a breath I could see tiny ripples and waves – lots of moving water. It was not something I had experienced before. At one point I stopped and looked at MJ who was paddling beside me and said “what is going on with the water?” She replied “You are in a 3-4 knot current. Just keep swimming until you get through.”
As I swam on I continued to feel the pull of the water – sometimes a downward pull. I carried on until we were through the major current and then settled into my swim. Gord, my pilot, had me swim pointing up towards Vancouver. He knew that if I pointed down I would end up in the strait of Juan de Fuca before ever having a chance to cross.
There’s a tanker in my swim lane
Haro Strait is a well known shipping lane and man those big boats make a lot of waves and noise. Within the first hour of the swim I spotted a tanker headed straight for me. Gord radioed Vessel Traffic Control to let them know there was a “swimmer in the water”. He is in constant contact with them throughout the swim. The control tower asked that we hold in the water until the tanker passed. So I wouldn’t get too cold, Gord asked that I swim up the strait until we had the all clear. And then came the massive waves from the wake!
From that point on in the swim there were no tankers in front me, but each time I looked back I would see another vessel behind me; and endless parade of massive tubs of steel.
I continued to feel the tough of the current, but I wasn’t aware of its true force until I was a few kilometres from the Canadian shore. I am vary familiar with both Haro and Juan de Fuca strait. I often canoe just outside Victoria’s inner harbour and have had several canoe races around the Discovery Islands and through Baines Channel. These waters can get nasty even when you are in a canoe, sailboat or power boat.
We were targeting landing and the Beach House in Cordova Bay. I could see the long beautiful beach ahead. On my next food break I looked up the landing sight and it had slipped away. We were now 1 km south of where I was hoping exit with no progress forward to the shore. My crew encouraged me to swim insisting that we were getting closer. I could see the Catham Islands to the south of me getting closer but I didn’t seem to be making any forward progress toward land.
About 5 hours into the swim the tide changed. I had not noticed on previous swims, but there is an interesting waterline that forms where the ebb and flood tides meet. There is typically a lot of debris on the water, its like swimming through a bit of a minefield. As I made my way through the seaweed, twigs and logs I heard Claire, one of my crew, say “there’s jellyfish carnage everywhere.” Hearing that and knowing there are Lion’s Mane jelly fish which can seriously sting in the Salish Sea I stopped, looked and MJ, and ask that she be on alert. Luckily, they were to the right of me.
With tide now at slack and soon to be flooding Gord had me focus on swimming across the strait to a small beach in Telegraph Cove. This is the part of the swim that was very intense and frustrating. Although the tidal currents had subsided, I was still being pulled down the strait toward Baynes and the Catham Islands. I am truly grateful to Gord, MJ, Claire and Colette for all of their patience with me. I was clearly frustrated with the inch-by-inch approach to land.
As I swam into the protective part of the cove I could feel the change in the water. I was no longer being pulled down and could focus on swimming to shore.
I landed on a nice little beach in Telegraph Cove with MJ kayaking beside me. The water was now 13C. The surface had heated from the warmth of the sun throughout the day. I was greeted by a small group of close friends on shore who has been patiently waiting for me. I had successfully completed the first known swim across the Haro Strait (to be ratified by MSABC).