I swam the Kaiwi Channel! After last year’s abrupt ending because of a shark, I was both nervous and excited to attempt again this year.
At 15hr47min40sec, this is now the most time I’ve ever spent in the water.
Logistically, this swim was a challenge. Last year, we rode along with the boat to Molokai, and my crew got seasick.
This year’s pilot prefers to have the swimmer and crew fly over to Molokai, and then get picked up by the boat. So it meant I had to give all my feeds to the pilot on Thursday, so he could load them in his boat, and have them for Friday night. I also had to make sure to pack my swim start supplies (suit, goggles, dessitin, gloves, lights) with me. Molokai is a very sparse island so there is not much to do, and because of the timing of the flights, we had a solid 6 hours or so just waiting. Luckily there was a convenience store that sold water open until 5pm nearby.
There’s no dock on the west side of Molokai, so we had to swim things out to the boat. Luckily, I have a small drybag, so I could keep my phone, wallet, and things dry. But there wasn’t enough room for everything, so my duffel bag with my clothes made it onto the boat wet.
By the time the boat arrived, it was dark out so it was a little tricky getting out there, but we managed. Since last time we started right at sunset, I started with my tinted goggles, but that was the wrong move, since it was dark when starting, so at the first feed we switched to my clear ones.
The first part of the swim was characterized by darkness. There are just so few lights out there, and we want to minimize the amount of lights because more lights attract more fish, and more fish attract more things that eat fish.
It was also the part that I hated the most. Last year, one errant stroke in the dark ran into a shark that I never saw. So for easily the first half of this swim, every single stroke I took, part of my brain was wondering if this was the next one that would end my swim.
It was a little windy, and the waves were fairly choppy. It felt just like last year, so I had this eery sense of Déjà vu. I had the same challenge of not quite being able to zone out and relax, and not being able to turn my brain off. List most swims, I did have a few songs going through my head, but since I was actively trying to get my mind off of swimming, I spent much more energy on it. When I try to think back to the songs I picked, Rina Sawayanama’s Hold The Girl is the standout.
This pilot had a small Zodiac and also the bigger boat. The wind was a challenge for the smaller boat, I had a hard time figuring out how to position myself. We finally found an arrangement that worked, with the big boat on my right side (the side I don’t breathe on) and the little boat way out left.
Since the boats were hard for me to see, I had to make sure to sight myself. The Makapu’u lighthouse on the east side of Oahu was the target. Its light is on for ten seconds, off for two, so it was nominally fairly visible. However, since as a swimmer I’m so low to the water, and with to the swell and chop, I’d have to pause and go vertical every to be able to see it. It was a small dot on the horizon, like a flashlight being lit through the eye of a needle. As I got closer, it got easier to see, because as we get closer it gets higher off the horizon, and I think the wind and chop died down a bit too.
Just like last year, I got tagged by a few jellyfish. The stings continued into the daylight and I couldn’t see any of them, so I think they are the “no-see-ums” or maybe stray stingers floating in the water. The stings weren’t terrible, but it was not great getting a little shock or out of nowhere.
Eventually, the sun came up. This was when I felt so much more confident in being able to complete the swim, since I knew that if there was an animal, at least we’d be able to see it, and at least we’d be able assess if it was aggressive or not by watching its movement.
The dessitin had started to wear off, and I didn’t have so much on my back, so at one feed, Spencer put dessitin on his hands and hopped in to add some to my back.
My mood picked up a ton in the light, I kept wanting to banter with the crew and tell them I was solar powered. But in reality, I just had so much less to worry about.
At one point, I decided to take a guess and ask how far we were. “5 miles left, right?” and boy was I wrong, we had 9.5 miles left. In many swims, they’ll tell you not to look at land, but for this one, I had to help sight and keep a straight line.
Approaching the island, the pilot had me aim for this middle peak between two others. As he started to get a sense of the current, he said the thing every channel swimmer is bound to hear eventually: “this is the crucial moment” when we need to make it past a certain point to avoid getting swept.
He had me aim for the mountain to the right, which happened to be the same that the lighthouse is on. During the day, the lighthouse looked like a little ping pong ball on the hill, and my goal was to aim right for it. Too far left, and I’d get swept into a strong current I’d have to fight for hours. Too far right, and we’d easily miss the beach we were aiming for.
Once we got closer, we the pilot picked Makapu’u beach (right) instead of Sandy’s (left). The approach felt like it took forever! There was fighting against a current that would have made me miss the beach, and then getting close to shore there was an upwelling that really made it a fight to just touch the ground. But the water was so clear! I could see what must have been 30 feet down to the bottom.
When I finally got close enough, I body surfed a small wave and then touched the ground and walked. There were actual people on this beach who cheered for me! It was surreal! Every other channel swim has been an empty exit, but this one had so much more energy! The pilot called ahead once things were looking certain, so my ugly exit was caught on camera by the local Hawaii News Now, which was such a treat. Sometimes I’ve exited the water with “swim brain” but this time, I had a pretty clear mind! I think the warm water helped a ton with that.
I’m so glad it’s over, and I now know what it feels like to be humbled by, as well as finally finish this channel.