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Catalina Channel Crossing 007

Courtesy of WOWSA, Catalina Channel, California.

Hank Wise broke two Catalina Channel records this morning in Southern California.

With his 7 hour 55 minute crossing, the Long Beach native set the record for the most number of crossings by an individual and the men’s Catalina-to-mainland speed record.

The newly crowned King of the Catalina Channel broke the tie for the most number of crossings by John York (set in October 2000), Tina Neill (set in September 2014), and Sam Neri (set in July 2017).

Hank Wise’s Catalina Channel Career Crossings:
Crossing #1: CM in 8 hours 7 minutes 3 seconds in October 2010 at the age of 42
Crossing #2: MC in 8 hours 7 minutes 37 seconds in June 2015 at the age of 47
Crossing #3: CM in 10 hours 56 minutes 44 seconds in October 2015 at the age of 47
Crossing #4: CM in 8 hours 20 minutes 10 seconds in November 2016 at the age of 48
Crossing #5: CM in 10 hours 14 minutes in October 2017 at the age of 49
Crossing #6: CM in 10 hours 1 minute 52 seconds in November 2017 at the age of 49
Crossing #7: CM in 7 hours 55 minutes 46 seconds in October 2018 at the age of 50

His escort team included Captain Darren Rosenberg and his father and first mate, Catalina Channel Swimming Federation observers Chris Geer and Dan Simonelli, and escort kayaker and feeder Sean Lieppman.

It was Wise’s third career Catalina Channel record as he previously was part of the record-setting relay with Parks Wesson, Ted Bramble, Lyle Nalli, Matt Mitchell and Lexie Kelly with the escort of Grace van der Byl, Samantha Miyahara, and Greg Wise, set nearly 7 years ago to the day.

Wise described his crossing, “Prior to the swim, Sean and I spent many hours studying the online charts regarding winds, and tides and their effect on the offshore swells. We were trying to give our best estimation as currents: The California Counter Current versus The California Prevailing Current: which current would be dominating the Catalina Channel that night?

With two days to go, Sean and I determined that we should swim from the island to the mainland and fortunately it all worked out. I am so grateful to Sean for his many hours with me on the computer and obviously in person as he paddled, navigated and gave me feeds on the actual race day.

Darren Rosenberg and his father Alan provided the escort boat. Their family sailboat, an Olson 32-foot racing sailboat, was ideal for our mission. Powered by a 5 horsepower Honda engine, it is able to go slowly, and hold its line and track really well for a point-to-point swim. Alan raised his family of three boys, racing and enjoying the sailing lifestyle as an alternative to more traditional land sports. His sons fully embrace their father’s passion for the sport and the legend of ‘The Rosenberg’s – A Sailing Family’ continues alive and well. Darren and Alan made this Catalina Channel Swim possible and I’m so grateful they offered to escort us.

Certifying this swim as legal and safe are two friends from the Catalina Channel Swim Federation: observers Chris Geer and Dan Simonelli. Both have swam the channel multiple times, and have observed most of my swims. They are a big part of the team effort because even though they are working in an official capacity, they are also friends and very supportive whilst still being totally professional.

It was a six pack of us on the sailboat. We rode over to the island on the sailboat on Saturday morning, right after the rainstorm and it took about five and half hours with our trusty five horsepower outboard engine, just motoring away. Once at the island, the first went to research the best starting spot, and we found a goodie at Arrow Point on Catalina’s West End (West of the Isthmus / Two Harbors). We found a nice new starting spot at the mouth of deep water cove, offering a not-too steep, climb up with mussels and barnacles mixed with soft moss, sea-softend rock. I practiced the get-up and jump in three times and enjoyed watching the garibaldis and sea life swim peacefully near the undersea rock wall.

Our team went to the Doug’s Harbor Reef restaurant for a nice dinner on Saturday night and after dinner we all slept a bit – the Rosenberg’s on a mooring and the rest of us in an on-shore rental hooked up by a friend on the island. We all awoke at 12:15 am and by 12:30 am we were back onboard making our approach to the starting spot.

The kayak was prepped and Sean dressed himself out in his night time paddle gear and gauges: wetsuit legs, Patagonia jacket, beanie, headlamp, two iPhones with external batteries, Garmin Marine GPS, and my feeding supplies – Carbo Pro, carrot juice, yerba matè, cinnamon tea, Advil, and oatmeal. I prepped myself: goggles, earplugs, cap, and Speedo, sunscreen on my face and lubricant in my armpits and neck, and lanolin on my chest and back.

At close to 2 am on Sunday, the boat pulled up to our predetermined starting spot and the observers were poised to have a very good look at me up on the dry rocks. With a yowl and a count back, I jumped in and began swimming. I knew my pace and the breathing rhythm that I wanted to hold and tried quickly to find my pace. The tide was at max high and water was refracting off the west end and pushing out away from the island for a bit. I felt little bits of tidal push especially at the beginning.

The night was clear and beautiful, stars and a crescent moon, and we could see the lighthouse at Point Vicente in Palos Verdes. The wind was a light south-westerly flow at about four to seven miles an hour and dropping off as we continued. The ocean surface was medium washy close to the island and less washy as we continued. Black velvet, dark water at night, of course, a comfortable and warm 68°F [20°C] in the deep sea.

I had been working on channeling my innermost calm for a few weeks now. I knew I didn’t want to let anything rattle me or excite me along this long swim: peaceful and powerful as I was racing. I felt the current slightly aiding for two hours and then it felt neutral or even against me for two hours. I was determined to keep my feeds down to 7 to 12 seconds max and not talk during feeds. Basic knowledge = you don’t go faster by talking to your paddler = don’t talk to your paddler much = silent feeds mean that you are focused and continuing. Other mantras of this moving meditation: Go back to your breath – focus on your breath. Deep hand entry with body roll from the core, soft shallow pulls. Engage the legs with light kick.

At four hours, Sean asked me if I wanted to hear the mileage report, which is my usual first spot to request mileage. This can be an emotional thing. On a ‘bad current’ night, you can be quite discouraged to hear how few miles you’ve gone after four hours. On a ‘good current’ night you can feel elated that you are about 1/2 way across. I said, “Sure Sean, what’s the mileage report?” Sean gave me the report that we indeed were close to halfway across: “9.8 miles at 4 hours.” Yewwww! I thought to myself, “Looks like we are gonna have an eight-hour day.” And off I swam.

It turns out it was about four hours in the darkness, four hours in the light of day. When the sun came up, it was hot morning sun with no cloud canopy. Just searing sun beating straight into my preferred breathing side. I found sunshade in the kayak by swimming right next to Sean’s silhouette. More shade could be found by swimming next to the boat – I love pacing boats. Then swam back to the kayak and Captain Darren worked it so the sail of the sailboat blocked the sun for a while. Then finally morning clouds provided a much needed break from the sun.

By hour six, I was in the mix on being set for a fast time. I’d worked out a feeds rhythm such that I would drink as little as possible and still stay hydrated, big feeds often make me feel sick. By hour seven, Sean reported 2.3 miles to go and I knew I was in the mix for a good time. At this point I wanted to build my speed in overdrive with a power kick and sprint for the last mile; however, it was tough to shift into the next level of speed.

At about 500 meters from the beach in Terranea, the current kicked in hard and whisked me to the onshore rocks. I love a good ocean-to-shore rock climb and the final finish provided another fun challenge. My technique is to look for a big rock which will break the force of the ocean – get behind that rock and then climb up to shore on the leeward side of that rock. I hit the shore and my wife, my son and my sister were all up on the bluff overlooking the finish. Sean’s mom, sister and brother-in-law were up there too cheering; it was quite a moment. I laid down on the rocks to stretch out my back and take in some sun and relaxation.

I swam back out to the boat, loaded the kayak back on board, chatted with my teammates, thanked everyone and we drove the boat peacefully back under sunny skies and light winds to Alamitos Bay. We unloaded the kayak, our gear and back to our cars. And back to our lives. That’s another thing I like about this particular challenge, it’s so homey – my teammates and I are all friends and it’s all local – no big drives and no plane flights. Just get out and swim home from the island.

Sometimes when there are shortcomings or lack of success there are many lessons from which to learn. Sometimes when people are successful they forget what brought them success. In this case, after a few really hard crossings, I feel like my learning in this time of success is:

1. Continue to study the currents, tides, wind and swell conditions and the probabilities for the forecast.
2. Continue to use friendly local sailors and local sailboats as the best method for escorting.
3. Continue to use kayak navigation and feeds as the best most straight line across the channel / big boats just can’t draw the straightest line.
4. Cultivate a quiet and focused, powerful and peaceful flow, a moving meditation during these long distance swims, where emotions are kept to a minimum and steady efficient progress can be made regardless of conditions.
5. Be comfortable with minimal communication, the task at hand is to swim and talking is not swimming.

6. Continue to be open, adaptable, resilient, positive, generous, smart, thoughtful and appreciative with your team = teamwork makes the dreamwork.
7. Have fun. Be focused and at the same time have a good time doing what you are doing. Intrinsic enjoyment of the nature, the vast ocean, the sea animals, the sky, stars and clouds – take it all in along the way – the beauty and wonder of it all

Hank’s 7th Catalina Channel Swim 10.14.18 courtesy of Tim English from Jeb's Beach House.

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