The Swim

Swim Day: You must check in at Smathers Beach (on the Atlantic side – west end – near the restrooms) between 8:15 and 8:45 a.m. on race day. Swimmer should be on the beach an hour before your wave start. Once you check in, you must have your body marked with your solo or team number. This is the time to organize your kayak with your provisions, put on your sunscreen and work out last minute strategy with your kayaker. Time will pass quickly, so get out to the beach early avoiding rushing.

Start Time: The reason for the date and time change from year to year is so that we can find the best tidal currents for our swimmers and still hold the event on a Saturday. The 9:20 and 9:50 a.m. start times mean that the swim will close by 5:50 p.m. The sun is the hottest from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. A wet swimmer cannot re-apply sunscreen, so make sure you apply a thick coat before you enter the water. We cannot emphasize sun protection enough!

Sun Protection: This is a warm water swim. Since the swim is July 2 this year, water temperatures will likely be between 84 and 87 degrees. Swimmers coming from the north will have not been exposed to the sun since the previous summer. Since we do not allow any special “skins” to protect the skin of the swimmers, we recommend zinc oxide to cover the body of the swimmer. Conventional sun screens are not very helpful as they wash off in a couple of hours. Zinc oxide ointment can be purchased from most supermarkets and pharmacies. You will need to look in the Baby Care section of the store. The most enduring zinc oxide ointment is Desitin Maximum Strength (40% zinc oxide). See Bill’s review of Desitin Max here. You can find Desitin Max in one-pound jars, which is the most economical purchase. Another 40% zinc product is called Butt Paste. It also can be found in the Baby Care section of many stores. It does not come in a pound jar, but only in 2- and 4-ounce tubes. It is more expensive, but smells better because it does not contain fish oil. Zinc products containing less than 40% zinc will not provide full protection from the sun. Zinc oxide is a pain to remove from your skin. Try vegetable oil and know that the zinc will stain your swimsuit.

The Race Organizer (and fellow swimmer) has found great benefit from a product called SolRx sunblock. This product is easier to apply than maximum strength zinc oxide and washes off with soap and water. It applies clear and seems to protect the skin from burn for a full 8 hours. (You can learn more at or read Bill’s review of SolRx Sunscreen here.) He uses the Clear Zinc Sunscreen (reef-friendly) SPF 50. This product is oxybenzone free.

Hydration: Another important consideration is hydration. Salt water and the hot tropical sun mean that hydration is essential to a successful swim. We suggest that all swimmers drink liquid every 20 to 30 minutes while in the water.

Why two starting times? The reason for the two-wave start is to assist slower swimmers. If the swimmer doesn’t get into Key West Harbor before the tide changes, he/she will be forced to swim against the tide, diminishing the chance of success.

How can I know if I should start in the first wave? If you swim one mile in a pool and your time is 40 minutes or more for one mile, we recommend you consider the first wave. If your time for one mile in a pool is 39 minutes or less, you should be fine in the second wave.

Time Limit: There is an 8-hour time limit beginning with the first wave at 9:20 a.m. At 5:20 p.m., any swimmers still in the water will be picked up and escorted by boat to the start/finish line. Any solo swimmers or relay teams choosing to enter the first-wave start and completing the course will receive a finisher’s medal, but will not be eligible for any placement trophies. The finisher medals are only awarded to solo swimmers and relay teams who complete the full course within 8 hours.

Benefits of the Tides: There are a couple of areas where the swimmers will benefit from the tide. When you enter the Key West Harbor, you will find a push for about two plus miles. This will end when you come out under the Fleming Cut Bridge at mile 5. At mile 9, you will be swimming under the Cow Key Bridge and should have a good push for about one mile. This push will vary depending on your speed and when you enter these areas. Lead swimmers may have a mild current against them for the mile through Cow Key Channel.

If the water is calm, you will see much sea life, such as tarpon, rays, colorful tropical fish, conch shells on the bottom, perhaps a sea turtle, etc. You may see a nurse shark; they are docile. In the history of our event no one has ever been attacked by a shark. We have Portuguese Men of War but only in December through February. I have never seen one after early March.

Since you are swimming in a circle, it is never boring. You will never see the same thing twice. Also, if the conditions are challenging on one side, keep in mind that after you turn the next bend conditions will change. The headwind will eventually become a tailwind and vice versa.

Post Swim on the Beach: TBA