Lama Pass is a very interesting body of water. You think it’s going one way only to find it it’s going the other, so you change your plan and then find out you are wrong again. I’ve been asking myself if it’s a body of water with a mind of its own or is it just what happens when you swim in Heiltsuk Waters in the Great Bear Rainforest.
I opted to start my swim to Namu two days early this year because of weather and water temperature. When I first arrived at Drifter’s Cove I did a quick temperature check only to find the water was 10C – a bit cooler than I had anticipated. The weather was overcast and rainy for all of my chosen swim days. Although it was ideal training conditions for my upcoming double cross attempt of Juan de Fuca Strait, to be honest I have never swum for more than 30 minutes in waters that cold, and I would not have the benefit of the sun keeping my back warm along the way. I wanted to give myself extra time to get to Namu – even if it took 3 or 4 days instead of 2.
The tides on June 5th looked good. I would be starting my swim from where I finished last year; across the pass about 1km from Serpent Point. The plan was to assess the wind, and if conditions permitted, swim across the Pass heading toward Serpent Point and then swim along the shore to Fisher Channel. Once at Fisher we would assess the wind and current and if all was good head across that channel. It was a 20km swim and I anticipated it taking about 8 hours.
My crew was ready and excited. This year I had Don Tite, a local Coast Guard member, as my primary pilot. He knows the water well. MJ, Matt and Claire would be on the boat with Don making sure that I and all crew members had all they needed throughout the swim. Colette and Ray were on the second power boat and were available in case anyone needed assistance. Corey and Pam were in kayaks and would be escorting me along the way.
It is interesting when I compare crossing Lama pass to crossing Juan de Fuca Strait or the Strait of Georgia. Lama pass is about 20 km long and has 3 bodies of water flowing into it influencing how it moves. It is never more than 5 km across and my crossing point was 3 to 4km. Juan de Fuca and Georgia Straits are each over 30km. One would think that Lama was easier; but it wasn’t for me.
When cross a wide body of water you can time things with changing tides so you are swept up and down the channel as you head across. For the first half of the swim you are pushed in one direction and for the second you are pushed in the other direction. In You can draw a straight line from where you started to where you finished, but the reality is you swim an S because of the push to and fro. With a narrow channel crossing you are working with one tide and are pushed one way or the other. If things go terribly wrong you may cross and be pushed a few kilometres down the channel from where you want to be. That was fairly close to what happened to me on June 5.
We started exactly where I stopped last year. I remember the beach well. It took a bit to find the spot but once we were close Matt was able to point it out and we headed ashore. Pam and Corey prepared themselves in their kayaks while Don brought his boat to shore and I hopped off the front with MJ, dis-robed and then popped in the water. The water was gold, it felt colder than Juan de Fuca last year. The sky was blanketed in clouds and every now and again it would sprinkle a bit of rain. Perfect for me as I wanted the challenge of swimming in colder water and I wanted to swim without the benefit of the sun on my back. Both of these conditions would help prepare me for night swimming in Juan de Fuca Strait this August.
The swim across Lama Pass toward Serpent Point seemed to take forever. The water was colder than I had been in before. I could feel my veins constricting, my muscles stiffening, and my body slowing down. I reminded myself that I often feel stiff when I start swimming and that it would soon go away, but it didn’t.
There was a bit of chop on the water from the wind opposing the tide and the current was beginning to pick up making it difficult to make the crossing. My crew decided to b-line strait across rather than on a diagonal and then put me on the back-eddies on the other side. We moved as quickly as possible to get me out of the wind. We did it, we made it across.
For the next several hours we made our way up Lama Pass toward the entrance of Fisher Channel hugging the shoreline. My crew was doing a brilliant job. Corey and Pam were working together to choose the path and keep me on course. MJ, Claire, Don, Matt and Ray were on the main boat watching over making sure the route was clear, the crew was safe, I was feed, and that the swim was documented in the event that anything go wrong.
At about the 4 hour mark I started to feel the could set in. I was also aware that we were not where I thought we would be by that time. I remember seeing a marker on the other side of the pass. It wasn’t moving. No matter how long or far I swam I wasn’t moving. I can not express how frustrating it is to have this happen. I knew then I was fighting a current. My crew continued to work with me to help me move forward. It worked, but only for a while.
A few hours later we hit the mother of all currents. It was right at a point. If I could just get around we would be able to swim further up the pass to Fisher. Corey worked with me to engage my kick. It seemed like I was swimming for ever. I made some progress but then had to stop for a little rest from all the kicking. My body swiftly moved back to where I had started before I sprinted. From where I was I could see how quickly the water was moving. I continued to try but no matter how hard I swam I went backward. The crew decided it was best I pop out and start again the next day. I agreed.
We were 6 hours into the swim at this point and I had swum at total of 8 km. I don’t I have ever swum this slowly in my life. I was discouraged by the numbers. My crew reminded me of the conditions; the wind, current and temperature. It was the first time I had swum this long in 10C water. I was still feeling discouraged but accepted what had happened and looked to our plan for the next day.
SPECIAL THANKS TO COREY