November 2006

Goal: To swim around the island of Key West each month for 12 consecutive months.

The Missing Kayak

Swim #5
Date: Saturday, November 4, 2006
Start time: 6:47AM (High Tide in Key West Harbor at 9:02AM – 1.85 ft.)

If I were to pick a title to describe each swim, this one would be “The Missing Kayak.” I will explain that title in due course.

I am finding that each of these swims has a unique personality. I am swimming the same course around the same body of land, but each swim is its own special event. I am very happy that I have been swimming early in the month. This past swim was the morning before the full moon. My next swim is scheduled for December 2nd.

This was my first Saturday morning since I started this series back in July. After the strong winds my daughter Christiana experienced kayaking for me last month, she suggested that we have a two-person kayak. Last month we dealt with some pretty strong winds. She would try to hand me my drink and would be blown away once she stopped paddling. So we borrowed a tandem kayak, strapped it to the lid of my 95’Ford Explorer and headed out prior to sunrise for Smathers Beach. Christie’s paddle partner was my daughter Julianne, who kayaked for me in the first swim this past July. When we got to the beach, we had to move quickly because we arrived a lot later than I had hoped. I wanted to get started by 6:45AM. The tide waits for no man. My goal was to begin 2:15 before high tide in Key West Harbor.

This time, we began on the north side of the jetty near the public restrooms. The reason for the change was because we plan to due chip timing at the next Annual Swim on June 16, 2007, and I wanted to check out that area. My thought is to begin and end on a sandier bottom. With the chip timing, we will start in the water as we have traditionally done, but will have to run out of the water across a mat to complete the event. This area of beach is very close to the Bertha Street boat ramp where all the previous swims initiated. Another thing about this new location is that the swimmers will actually do 360 degrees around the island. The traditional course stops just short of the full 360 degrees.

Anyway, we had a rather hurried prayer and I scampered into the water. I think this was my first swim with a swim cap on. The water wasn’t cold, but cooler than it has been. My guess is the temperature was 78 degrees. The reason for the cap this time was not so much for warmth as it was to protect what was under it: not my head, but a GPS. For the past several years, I have been using a Timex Ironman GPS system. It is a combination watch on the wrist and the GPS unit strapped on my bicep. This was designed for land operations like biking and running, not for swimming. About a month ago, I was doing a triathlon with some friends in my neighborhood. The staging area was under my house (not in the basement, which don’t exist down here. My home sits on 8-foot pilings). Well, I had placed sunglasses, my GPS and other items on my vehicle bumper and forgot to take them off before I drove away later that day, and I lost my GPS. Timex replaced the old one with a new one for $80. The new one is much smaller and runs on one AA battery. So I got the idea of putting the GPS in a baggy and placing it in my cap. I swam up and down my canal and – lo and behold – it worked!

So when I entered the water, I looked like a cross between a pointy-headed intellectual and a cone head. Surprisingly, when I swim with this thing under my cap, it is not painful. I should point out that the waters on the morning of November 4th were choppy, and the entire day was very windy and overcast. A seriously overcast sky could adversely affect the GPS’s ability to operate accurately.

My swim started exactly at 6:47AM. I was off, even as the girls continued to ready themselves. It was very interesting to read my watch after I got out of the water. As I scrolled my watch, I got readings for the first 8 miles of the swim. Once I was in Cow Key Channel, the GPS stopped working. Was it due to the cloudiness? Was it due to a low battery? I really don’t know. I hope to use this approach again next swim. It would be great to record my time for each mile. I am also anxious to know where each mile begins and ends. Is this swim really 12.5 as we have traditionally believed? In my mind, I visualized where I thought miles began and ended and I was right in some instances and wrong in others. Before I say anything, I want to be sure, and I hope the next swims will allow me to be more accurate in this regard.

Things seem to go well at the outset. I got out and past White Street Pier with no trouble. I experienced no swimming against the current as I did a couple swims ago. My first mile was history in 29:00, my second in 28:02. I feel good when I can complete any mile in under 30:00. The next 3 miles took me past Patio Beach and into Key West Harbor. The wind was atrocious as we entered the harbor; the waves were wild. It was as we entered the harbor that I had my first drink of Perpetuum. I would glance back periodically to see if the girls were still afloat. I was surprised to see so many fishing boats heading out. They were however not small boats but cabin cruiser size. They were all heading in the opposite direction to which we were heading.

There was no cruise ship docked in the Key West Harbor; what more, there were no Coast Guard boats, all of which I give thanks for. I was swimming hard in the turbulent waters, but the current was strong and my times for miles 3-5 were: 25:27; 26:32; 25:28. We had a moment’s respite as we went through the largely sheltered Fleming Cut, but when we came out, we were in rough conditions. As bad as it was heading out to Sigsbee, trying to get around Sigsbee was near impossible. Let me take that back, getting around Sigsbee was impossible. Not for me, but for my girls in their kayak. Later I was to learn that the wind was 23 miles an hour from the east-northeast. I tried to get a drink after we came out from under the Fleming Bridge, but the girls had a hard time getting to me. They managed to catch up to me just after I got out to Sigsbee and I grabbed a drink, but that would be my last one from them in that kayak. I was always ahead of them; they were always struggling to try to keep up.

If my GPS was accurate, the mile to get around Sigsbee took 58:22. After I rounded Sigsbee, the wind and waves were much more manageable. I figured the girls would love that, but they never made it around. I kept looking back over my shoulder for some sign of them, but they were nowhere to be seen. Were they okay? I knew they were very close to the shore. If they were in trouble, they should have no difficulty reaching land, and the water in that area was quite shallow. Christy had my cell phone in a waterproof box. Then I thought, “I am now more than halfway, I need to forge forward.” I reflected that I wished I had taken a bigger drink the last time I drank. I wondered to myself, “Can I swim another 3 hours with no nutrients?” I also pondered, “How dangerous would it be swimming through the Cow Key Channel with no support boat to protect me from the boat traffic that potentially I would find there?”

The kayak was gone and I swam on alone with the Lord and deep in prayer. I cautiously entered the channel. I thought, “The weather is working for me here. It is so bad that there are no boats in this channel, and I swam on. My mile 7 and 8, which got me to the channel, were 33:08 and 39:41. Somewhere in that channel, the GPS stopped functioning. I can tell you this: the GPS stopped, but the stopwatch continued running. From mile 9 until the end took me another 1:42:13.

As mentioned, I swam cautiously through the channel. I say no boat as I looked forward, but I did glance back and saw a boat coming in my direction. I prayed that they would see me and avoid me. Then I noticed that they had seen me and that several people in the boat began to motion to me. My thoughts were that they thought I was in danger; I mean here was a swimmer all alone in a boating channel. They waved to me and I waved back, attempting to indicate that I was fine, and I began swimming again. The water was very shallow.

I have noticed as we in the northern hemisphere move closer to winter solstice, the high tides are shallower and shallower. It is just the opposite in the summer. As I sought to exit the Cow Key Channel, the water was ever so shallow. It was so hard to swim. Then I look to my right and I saw someone walking toward me in less than knee-deep water. Keep in mind that I have smoked lenses in my goggles and contacts on my nearsighted eyeballs. I wondered what was up and then I realized it was my son-in-law, Terence White. He had a half-gallon jug of water in one hand and a fistful of gels in the other. Terence had come to my rescue! It was only after the smoke cleared that I began to understand all that was taking place as I swam.

Apparently, Christy phoned her mother about her and Julie’s inability to kayak around Sigsbee due to contrary winds. My wife, Sessie, told the girls that she and friend Don Nelson would come by and pick up the kayak. My wife mentioned to some running friends the fiasco and how I was unattended without nourishment trudging around the Island. Friend and fellow runner Ross Pipken took off to find a friend who had a small boat. (Remember the boat I saw with the people motioning to me? My daughters were in that boat with Ross, but my blurry eyes could not make that out!) Another runner friend, James, jumped out of the boat and was trying to swim to me. He later told me that he almost caught me, attempted to slap me on the leg, but just missed. I was totally unaware and thought if he had in fact slapped or grabbed my leg I most likely would have had cardio arrest.

Well, there was Terence with water and Gu packs and so I ate two and drank the water. I didn’t know where my next meal would come from. Then I saw James waking up toward me from behind my right side. He had one of my bottles of Perpetuum. I immediately went from famine to feast. This was all very surrealistic! I knew I had about 2.5 miles left to cover and was very eager to finish the course. I thanked my buddies for their assistance and forged forward through the shallows. The water did get somewhat deeper, and I swam the straight away toward the finish, but not very much deeper. My finger hit the bottom with every stroke I took. The one big plus I had was that the wind was straight behind me, pushing me to my goal.

There are 10 wooden poles in the water that separate Smathers Beach swimmers from would-be boat traffic. Shortly after I passed the first couple, there was Terence again with more water and Gu. I don’t even remember if I indulged in any. At that point, I was less than a half mile from completion. As I rounded that final pole, I stopped my watch. It read 6:08:13. I looked up and there on the beach were Christiana, Julianne, Terence and his wife (my pregnant daughter Abigail) to warmly greet me. Praise God that was #5. I was tired but elated to think that I had just completed my fifth swim in five months!

Happily, I can report that my body functioned well. My shoulders felt fine. Some of you know that I have been preparing for the Rocket City Marathon in Huntsville, Alabama, on Saturday, December 9. Terence and I plan to travel together for this event. It was the next Monday – after my #5 swim – that I was scheduled to do my long training run. So Saturday I swam Key West, Sunday I ministered to the flock at Keys Chapel OPC and Monday morning November 6, I ran my 26.2 miles. It took me 4:30:26 to complete to run. One thing I have realized is that it takes me longer to recover from a long run than a long swim.

My next swim is scheduled for Saturday, December 2. I think it is about 5:30AM (very early). Then a week later I will be pounding the pavement in Huntsville. I hope to get my swim completed early so as to avoid cold weather. (As you know this is a fool’s guess. December 2nd could be the coldest day of the year!) My main prayer as to this swim is that we have unusually warm weather over the next few months.

One note on the training side of things: I plan to begin using 5 -pound dumbbells in preparation for future swims. Since I do so much crawl stroke I don’t want to over use those crawl muscles at the expense of the others around the rotator cuff. I recommend for budding long-distance swimmers to add some back and breast strokes. I have read that working with light weights can keep your shoulders strong and healthy. I will try to get the exercises on our website in the very near future.

Until next time: Keep swimming!

Splits according to the GPS
Start to Mile 1 – 29:00
Mile 2 – 28:02
Mile 3 – 25:27 (1:22)
Mile 4 – 26:32 (1:49)
Mile 5 – 25:28 (2:14)
Mile 6 – 58:22 (3:12)
Mile 7 – 33:08 (3:46)
Mile 8 – 39:41 (4:25)
Mile 9 to the finish – 1:42
Total time – 6:08:13