Going for his 30th swim in 30 consecutive months proved illusive for Bill Welzien. He aimed to complete 2.5 years worth of monthly swims around Keys West back on December 11th, but aborted his quest due to a lightening storm after swimming 11 miles.
Welzien said of that fateful day, “I knew the weather predictions were 80 percent chance of thunder showers that afternoon. I was hoping top finish before it set in. I was about a mile short of my goal. I was tempted to go for it, but I had already lost two kayakers to the rough and chilly rain. I as I thought about my family and my ministry, I thought it better to play it safe and called it a day.” Welzien pastors Keys Presbyterian Church on Big Coppitt and has a regular presence on Mallory Square during the Sunset Celebration where he does easel evangelism.
Not one to go quietly into the night, Welzien returned home, mildly discouraged, and looked at December’s tide chart. Welzien noted, “I saw there was one more window to pull it off.” He explained that swimming the 12.5 miles around Key West has a bit of science to it. “You can’t just go out and swim. There is no way any human can swim against the current in Key West Harbor or the Cow Key Channel. I look for the highest tide of the month at a decent morning time. I can leave from Smather’s Beach anywhere from 2 hours 30 minutes and 2 hours 45 minutes before that high tide,” said Welzien. “My first December swim was at full moon, and now I saw I had a couple of days with the new moon.” He knew fully that if he failed this time, there was no hope for another swim this month.
Welzien set out at 8:00 AM on December 27th. This time he employed the assistance of a few friends. Chuck Van Soye offered to pilot his boat and Roger Jean and Joe Towson rode along to hand Welzien his sports drink and encourage him on. Since the swim takes Welzien anywhere between 5.5 and 6.5 hours to complete, depending on tides and weather conditions, keeping fueled is essential, and he appreciates the enthusiasm his comrades provided.
Welzien, who organizes the Annual Swim Around Key West, said he conceived the idea to do monthly swims as a personal challenge after missing swimming in an annual swim in 2006 due to shoulder surgery. He explained that he wasn’t ready to swim that day, and not swimming was a major disappointment. The next week, while training in the canal behind his Sugarloaf home, he wondered to himself what it would be like to swim every month for a year, to experience each season. He had never heard anyone speak of such a feat. He began in July of 2006 and, to his surprise, one year turned into a second and then 2.5. Welzien said that he is amazed to have kept this up for so long. He was 56 years old when he began his streak; now he’s 58 with the total at 30. He marvels that his health has been solid though the entire time. Though his shoulders are great and he still loves the challenge, he considers this last swim his final swim (in the monthly streak, anyway). Welzien said doesn’t plan to swim around Key West until Saturday, June 6th, 2009, the day of the 33rd Annual Swim Around Key West.
As far as his final monthly swim, Welzien noted, “Today was not an easy swim. My crew told me that we passed about a dozen Men of War as we headed out toward Fort Zachary Taylor. I only ever see these dangerous creatures between December and February. Their stings are a cross between electric shock and a red hot poker. I had personal encounters in two previous memorable swims! On our way back, in the Atlantic, they told me they saw only a few, and I may add they were excellent in directing me out of their paths!”
Welzien also added that the winds were out of the east at about 25mph. That meant he faced a head wind coming out of Sigsbee and heading for the Cow Key Bridge. He was obviously happy with the choice of a boat as his support vessel over a kayak. “This would have been a tremendous challenge for the most experienced kayaker,” he said.
Today’s swim was clocked in at 6:03:54. Not only does Bill Welzien have 30 consecutive monthly swims (which totals 375 miles) to his credit, but today’s completion gave him a career total of 49 voyages around this rock. You do the math!