As Outrider motored out from San Pedro, Helen’s support crew and observers gathered in the cabin for the briefings. A marked contrast here from the English Channel, where the observer’s just ask you a few questions about feeding and grease, and Lance Oram’s pilot’s briefing consisted of the following:
‘I assume you are all swimmers, but try not to fall in anyway. Try and keep 3 points of contact with the boat’
For this crossing, we had first a briefing from John about where the toilets (heads) were located, what course we would be taking, and a discussion about which side to be on, plus an explanation of what the current was doing that day. He gave us a computer printout showing some quite strong side currents, and I felt for Helen slightly being given this news on her way out to start the swim on Santa Catalina.
Then there was the CCSF observer’s briefing, given by Don on this occasion, after a short spell of ‘After you, no honestly I insist’ from Dan and Don. The first part was read from a script word for word; the gist was essentially the same as the English Channel CSPF rules: no touching the boat, support swimmers etc etc. This formal part was followed by an amusing monologue from Don, which set everyone very much at their ease!
As we pulled out from the port of LA, massive container ships loomed over the boat, delivering boatloads of consumer goods from China to satisfy America’s voracious appetite. The conditions also became slightly more ‘cheeky’, as the captain opened the throttle and aimed us out over the San Pedro Channel to Catalina. This is where the bonine tablets came into action. While I didn’t feel 100% as the boat skipped over the light Pacific swell, while looking directly off the back of the the boat in the fresh air, I was actually OK for the roughly 2 hour journey.
As we got further out from LA, the overcast sky started to clear, and the moon made its appearance, reflecting very beautifully off the ocean. The surface of the ocean was fairly flat looking, which augured well for what was to come later.
During this time Helen was remarkably composed. You could tell she was a little nervous, but on the whole, well in control of her nerves. It is a long trip out to the start on Catalina, and a long time to work yourself into a state if you were disposed that way. The two bottles of flavoured superstarch set aside for the journey sat largely untouched however.
There was a fair bit to do before Helen got in, but I was in no great mood to do any of it; I was in control of seasickness staring overboard, but did not much fancy carrying out tasks at the same time, these would all wait till we were anchored up near the shore, in ever-nearing Doctor’s Cove.
Once we were there, the excitement built, and we set about methodically carrying out the pre-swim tasks. Helen got out of her warm clothes, already coated in 2 layers of Riemann P20 SPF50. A third layer was applied first of all, very generously, followed by a wiping down of her forehead lest the swimming cap slipped up during the swim. P20 is pretty greasy, but it is top notch sun protection. I found myself inwardly hoping that it wouldn’t be much needed, and that Helen would be done around breakfast time, a fair possibility at her pace.
Next up was the vaseline, liberal gobs being applied the armpits, neck and ‘groin area’, and on the straps of Helen’s swimsuit. Despite taking great care, some of the vaseline ended up going on places it wasn’t wanted, like Helen’s goggle straps. As swimmers will know, a little misplaced grease can be a royal pain in the backside, so we took our time, and made sure all was well before splash time. Lesson learned, put the swim cap on before greasing up!
We switched the Spot Tracker ‘Sizzles’ on, and all too soon, it was splash time. Off she went, asking first ‘is the water deep here?’, the exact same question I remember asking as I jumped in the water off Shakespeare beach in July. The green head and tail lights arrowed off into the dark, traversing the 50 metres or so into the shore, where a spotlight from Outrider picked out the landing place. After clearing the water, two hands went in the air, the hands went down, the official timer started and Helen walked into the water. Over 20 miles to go. 10:56 PM, on the evening of October 11th 2014.
Good Luck SuperHelen!!