Thursday, March 29, 2018

I Came, I Swam, I Almost Threw Up - Nevis to St. Kitts Channel Swim Race Report (2018)

On Sunday I completed my first island to island swim in the West Indies, specifically from the island of Nevis to the island of St. Kitts (the Nevis to St. Kitts Cross Channel Swim). It's about 2.5 miles (4400 yds/4023 meters). Do you even know where Nevis is? Most people don't...



Here's the story:

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I have no clue how long I've been out here, but it feels like an eternity (okay, that's a bit dramatic, but it does feel like at least two episodes of This Is Us). Somehow standing on the shore and looking across the channel to St. Kitts didn't look that daunting. But, looks are deceiving. And, most of the time, objects (aka islands) are further away than they appear. I keep having to pinch myself that I am actually swimming in the crystal turquoise blue of the Caribbean. I see no resemblance to my indoor chlorinated pool at home with its floating hairballs and band-aids.

Image result for nevis to st. kitts

I am struggling to move forward with these waves, this current. The swells have my not-usually-seasick stomach feeling kind of pukey. Unintentionally taking in swigs of salty sea water does not help. I try not to remind myself that I am now alone, where the Atlantic meets the Caribbean and where the water is at least 80 feet deep. But it's hard to see land through the waves and I can't seem to track any other swimmers. I know I won't die out here, but it's lonely and I am just a tad freaked out.

Backtrack. The day began at 7:30 a.m. as I strapped on my ankle tracking device (hopefully the only ankle devices I will ever wear are for races and not because I robbed a liquor store specializing in Chardonnay and am now on probation). Ken hops on the spectator boat where he will have a sweet rum drink and take pictures while I swallow salt water and aim to make it 2.5 miles across the channel. The start area is organized and energized. I am just taking in the beauty of this place.


I meet lots of people while waiting to start. We are all a bit nervous as the wind kicks up and the waves look like they might give us a run for our money as we swim between islands. I love the  jitters of a race start - where everyone trades some last minute war stories and fears.

We are on "island time" so the race starts at least 30 minutes late. Who cares? I'll swim as long as it takes me then I'll drink Carib beer and lay in the sun. I notice most people have tied the optional bright orange buoys to themselves as a safety precaution so they can be seen. I don't reckon' I needed that. But half way across the channel and feeling vulnerable, I kind of wished I had something bright orange signaling that I was out there - just a speck of bright orange in that big ass and vast ocean. Help Me Please, if I need it.



The start was typical enough for a mass swim. You get kicked, swam over and all the while trying to get your bearings. In this race, things spread out quickly and comfortably. I got in a groove, choosing to breathe only on one side rather than bilaterally given the position of the waves. All was well and I just thought I'd cruise along to the finish.

Then we hit "the channel," i.e., the place where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Caribbean. The Atlantic is like, "Hey, what's up Caribbean? I'm gonna shake the shit out of your mellow ass." At this point we are out in the open sea and the chop starts. Living in Colorado, the only chop I get is in my bathtub when I fart.

The swells were not huge I guess, but they felt monstrous when you were inside them. Every time I tried to look forward to St. Kitts where I was headed, I would get thrown to the bottom of a swell and couldn't see. I knew I was off course and kept trying to correct. But, the current made it kind of exhausting. The water was so clear I could see all the way to the bottom - lots of schools of fish and sea urchins. I swam into hundreds of piles of sea grass that stuck to my face. At first, like a Caribbean newbie, I tried to swim under it and realized that was futile. Other people saw sea turtles and sting rays.



At this point I see no other swimmers, no kayaks, no buoys. I am spoiled by Ironman races where there are millions of people and buoys the whole way. I know if I got into trouble I could wave someone down. I hoped. At some point I realize it is just me, my swim suit, my swim cap and my goggles and that is what is going to get me to St. Kitts. I just had to keep moving forward towards land. I was not tired at all. I was just....uneasy.

I continued to struggle with my sick stomach and was mentally fatigued as I could see land ahead but did not seem to be getting any closer to it. I felt like I was not making any progress. I had a conversation with myself that went something like, "Get your shit together. You know how to swim. You know how to do hard things. Stop being a baby and keep moving forward." So, I did. I also kept reminding myself what a spectacular thing this was that I was doing.

That is about the time I spotted on orange buoy attached to a swimmer about 100 yards ahead. I decided to stop fixating on land/finish line and to just follow this dude/gal and assume they knew where they were going. That was a little life line and boost. Turns out they did know where they were going cause I finally saw the orange blow up finish line chute in the distance.

Finally I was there and welcomed by a large and loud crowd. I felt slightly self conscious stumbling onto the beach, trying to find my legs again and wobbling into the finish. They pulled me aside to interview me on the loud speaker and I have no clue what I said (probably fuck and mother fucker) as I was trying to not spew what little breakfast I had eaten.




My time: 1:35.




My favorite (and only) support crew member

Like with any race, your moods shift like an adolescent girl on her period while you are in the midst of it. I love this! I hate this! What am I going to eat later? I am scared! I am brave and amazing! I suck! I'm tired! I might throw up! But also like with any race, you finish, have a beer and start to feel like a rock star. The sense of accomplishment sinks in and you remember why you do these things in the first place.



I'm not sure what my next adventure will take me, but I know they'll be a next.

And, what I have to say to you is - if you are looking to combine a chill beach vacation with a dose of culture/history and a touch of adventure/fitness - this swim is for you. It tends to fall near or on lots of kids' spring breaks, so that's an advantage too. You can find more info HERE. This race is organized and well supported with an emphasis on safety.

SUAR 

Thank you to the lovely Island of Nevis and the Nevis Tourism Authority for hosting me on this trip and for supporting me in doing the swim. Your hospitality is second to none!

23 comments:

  1. Wow! What an amazing adventure! YOU are amazing!

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  2. Nice work! I have never said "I hate this" during an open water swim. Especially in warm ocean water. Now, my swims from Alcatraz...that's another story. Number 10 coming up!

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  3. Was it too warm for a wetsuit

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    Replies
    1. Yes water was about 80 degrees; no one wore a wetsuit.

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  4. Do Waikiki Roughwater- it's a little shorter than the 2.5 but the DO have longer swims in between islands...and of course a swim from Alcatraz in on your "do before I die" list...right?

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  5. Nice! I might have to give this one a try next year. Pity about water being a mineral here for the training time leading up to it. Maybe I'll just have to vacation there for several months to acclimatize and practice.

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  6. Glad you do these things so I don't have to! Congrats--

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  7. Hi! Congrats on the totally awesome swim! You DO rock. Your time for 2.5mi is about what my pool time would be. I swim in Lake Michigan when the weather is warm, and sometimes when it isn't. I hope you don't mind, I linked to your blog on my swimming group's blog, http://lakemichiganswimmers.blogspot.com/.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for the link!! I bet Lake Michigan can be FREEZING

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  8. Beth,
    You are amazing!
    The post before me nailed it... you are a badass!

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  9. Wow, simply wow!!! Congratulations on such an amazing feat. I can barely swim from one end of the pool to the other without dying. YOU ROCK!

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  11. Wow, what an amazing opportunity and race! At one point I could probably swim that distance if I tried really hard, but certainly not in the ocean!

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