A friend, whom I have met through the network of open water swimmers, had plans to swim the Catalina Channel on June 25th – 26th, and asked if I would be on the escort boat crew. His name is Goody Tyler, and (despite the fact that he lives inUtah) he is a perfect example of how everyone in the open water swimming world is never more than one or two degrees of separation, as opposed to the cliché of six we use with the rest of the world.
Goody and I got to know each other over emails, Facebook and numerous phone calls over the last year, which he initiated because of A Long Swim’s support of the Les Turner ALS Foundation. It turns out that Goody lost his mother-in-law to ALS, and had wondered about how to use his considerable swimming talents to bring awareness and funding to the disease. He even went so far as to put a “Donate Here” button on his blog, which clicked straight through to A Long Swim. He should be applauded not only for the gesture, but also for the technological capability to figure out the whole donation connection thing.
So, when Goody called to ask if I would be on the support crew, I jumped at the chance. Not only would it be a chance to help out a friend, but it was also going to be the chance for me to see the Channel for the first time and understand what exactly I had committed to do myself. He also asked Marcia Cleveland, the coach we share, to really manage the support crew, so Marcia and I were able to travel together. Here’s a picture I took of Marcia and Goody getting ready …
The arrival afternoon was consumed with hustling around with grocery shopping and other logistics, meeting Goody and the rest of the crew, and getting to the Outrider escort boat that would be our home for the next several hours. The crew included Goody’ father, also named Goody (apparently, there were two more Goody Tylers who preceded these two Goody Tylers, [insert ‘Goody Plenty’ joke here]) and Goody’s wife Patricia. In addition, three open water swimmers of whom I had heard were there – Gord Gridley and Josh Green (both of Utah) and Rob Dumouchel. They are all terrific guys, and there was plenty to jabber about with Gridley planning to swim the English Channel next month and Green’s experience as the organizer of Utah open water swimming. Rob Dumouchel is the gadfly of the open water world, taken to wearing shirts (and shimmery training suits) with his tagline, “Chubby, Tattooed, Bearded and Awesome!” Rob is everywhere and knows everyone, so I was honored to meet the author ofwww.RobAquatics.com. He is a very funny guy. Here is a picture I took of him on the boat …
The Catalina Channel Swimming Federation, that is responsible for certifying these swims and making sure that everyone stays safe, assigned two observers to Goody’s swim, Lynn Kubasek and Alli DeFrancesco, and the kayaker Neil van der Byl. Lynn and Alli are both highly respected open water swimmers (in fact, Alli also has a date with theEnglish Channelin September) and Neil is a kayaking legend, so I felt fortunate to be among such superstars.
We left theLong BeachHarborabout 7:30 that evening for a zip out to theIsland. Along the way, Lynn Kubasek delivered the safety briefing, courtesy the CCSF, and Goody walked everyone through their jobs and tasks. A key message in his remarks was about letting him know where he was during the swim. “Even if I demand to know,” he said, “don’t tell me where I am unless I am over half-way.” We all made note of it.
The sunset was beautiful, but the waves were rolling enough that the ride was a challenge for many on the crew. I have been known to struggle with motion sickness, but thankfully I was fine. As we approached theIsland, Goody started to apply the Channel grease and go through last minute instructions, and he hopped in the water. As with theEnglish Channel, the start and finish are from dry land, so Neil and his kayak escorted Goody over to a small beach while the rest of us tried to squint so see in the darkness. He stepped into the water at 10:02 p.m.
Goody started swimming strong, though it was clear that he was getting over the jitters for the first several minutes. He followed the kayak more than the big boat, and started to make his way.
Everyone on the boat was excited, too. We counted down to the first feeding, and we shouted encouragement to Goody. By the time the third feeding came around, however, there is a realization among the crew that you are in for a really long (and mostly boring) trip. I couldn’t help but think back to the A Long Swim team, and how they never flagged, they never wavered and they never left the rail. My respect for my son, Gordy, was never higher than during that time.
Through the night we went, with Goody’s feedings and stroke counts staying as steady as could be. Unfortunately, he wasn’t moving as fast as we would have liked, and his pace was slowing. We were well into the morning light and he hadn’t reached the half-way point. Goody hit a bit of a mental hurdle around 8 or 9 a.m., where he demanded to know where we were.
Goody: Tell me how far we’ve gone.
Goody: C’mon, this is killing me. Aren’t we half-way yet?
Goody: I don’t care what I said before, tell me how far we’ve gone.
Us: <nervous looks> You’re about 1.5 miles from half-way.
Goody: Oh, shit.
It was obvious that he was discouraged, but he put his head down and kept swimming. I really give him credit, because that is a tremendously difficult thing to do. As tough a son-of-a-gun as Goody is (or, should it be “as tough as the Goodys are?”) something wasn’t working for him that day. Here is what we saw:
- The water temperatures were mid- to high-60s most of the night and into the day
- Air temperatures were chilly overnight but warmed to the 80s in the morning
- There were jellyfish, but most of the activity was what are called “salps” that look and act like jellies, but don’t sting
- There was no sign of sharks, but we did see a very impressive sea lion swim about 15 feet behind Goody at one point
- The waves were manageable, but the west-to-east swells were sizeable; probably five footers with 50 – 60 yards between peaks
- Neil felt like there was a bit of a north-to-south current, though it wasn’t apparent to the boat pilot
After 15 hours, there were still five nautical miles to the mainland shore. Goody was moving at about 0.6 miles per hour at that point, so he was in for several more hours of slogging away. The weather was churning up unfriendly conditions about then, and he had been pretty beaten up. Lynn Kubasek called the end of Goody’s swim at about 1:30 p.m. to avoid any long-term physical damage to Goody. You can bet that Goody was in no mood to be told what to do, but he also realized that his shoulders weren’t going to just snap back from the ordeal they had been through.
Those of us on the crew witnessed an awe-inspiring athletic achievement. Goody is the toughest Tyler I can imagine, and there is no limit to my respect and admiration for him. One day, he will be back to Catalina and he will punch across with ease. He is that guy.
I will report back. See you at the beach.