I attempted the Kaiwi (Molokai) channel. I made it a little over halfway, and then ran into a shark, which ended the swim.
After a hiccup getting the engines to start, we boated out from Oahu to Molokai in some choppy water (against the current). After a little bit of relaxing and prep, I hopped off the boat, swam to shore, and started back.
The swim was off to a great start! Conditions were a little choppy, but I could feel the current pushing me, and found a good rhythm. When I tried to pick up my pace a bit, I got out of rhythm of the chop, so I slowed down. The way I see it, the ocean kept me at a pretty sustainable pace.
We started right at sunset so it got dark pretty quickly. The second 45 minutes of my swim were already completely dark, but I could hear dolphins! For almost the entire 45 minute section, it was pretty cool, and I was hoping they’d stick with me.
The choppiness meant I constantly heard water splashing and could only hear the kayaker or the boat when I stopped and went vertical. When the kayakers were trying to coach me to go left, I had to ask them to turn a light on as a signal since their verbal commands literally went right over me.
The surface chop also made it hard for me to zone out like I normally do, so it felt like time passed more slowly. My typical feed schedule is 2 feeds 45 minutes apart, then the rest are 30 minutes apart. So for the 3rd feed, which was 30 minutes after the previous one, I asked my crew if they had changed the timing, but they hadn’t, it was just my own internal clock being off.
The next few sections are a little bit of a blur. I got stung by a few jellyfish across my chest, but nothing that left a mark.
The swim-ending event happened somewhere around 2:30am local time. I remember reaching out for a stroke, and I hit something leathery. I hit all sorts of things when swimming (seaweed, jellies) so I got spooked and felt an adrenaline rush, but thought nothing of it (since I react the same way even with seaweed).
However, the mood on the boat changed. I heard the captain (who had been mostly out of earshot for me thus far) barking commands at the crew on the boat to “let ladder down” so I could get on the boat and something about a shark.
In a little bit of a haze (it was 2:30am!) I realized that was for me so I hopped on the boat.
Once on the boat, I got a few more details from the kayaker Edo: he’d seen something big outlined about 20 feet away approaching me. But when I said something, he turned his light on and said he saw a big tiger shark in between his kayak and me (we were maybe 4 feet apart).
Once I was back on the boat, my crew consoled me with a few “fuck sharks!” but my first response was that the ocean is their home too.
I knew that sharks were a possibility for this swim, but I’d spent my worrying energy on cookie cutter sharks, not tiger sharks, so I hadn’t done any reading on them
I don’t think we’ll ever know if the shark would have tried to bite me if given the chance, and I’m glad we didn’t give it the chance.
I told my crew two things:
- There’s no one right choice (whether to have left me in or not), but we made a right choice which was to err on the safe side
- I wasn’t the first swimmer to be pulled on the Kaiwi Channel due to sharks, and I suspect I will not be the last.
The swim was my first big DNF (did not finish), and now that I’m a few days out reflecting on it, I thought I would feel more shame and disappointment than I do.
I’m lucky I didn’t actually see the shark, or have any visual sense of how big it was, or how dangerous things were, so I don’t feel scared about what happened. I am sure that I’ll be back one day to try this swim again. At the end of the day, it’s still been an amazing trip to Hawaii. Onward!