In early September, a relay team of swimmers who met and trained at the YMCA — and are affectionately called the Y Rats — completed the Catalina Channel Swim, one of the top 50 open water swims in America. Months of training in local pools as well as the 5 a.m. dark waters at Gray’s Lake could not begin to prepare them for what was to come.
In an effort to swim in calm Pacific waters with minimal ship traffic, the event began at 10:30 p.m. After swimming 24 miles in mostly dark conditions, the team completed the event the following morning at 10:45.
Captain Greg and his crew manned the Bottom Scratcher and fed everyone involved. On board for support were two official observers from the Catalina Swim Federation, a group of brave kayakers for safety in the water and some cheerleaders who remained dry.
Ted Kempf led off the team by standing on dry land with raised arms until signaled to begin with a blare of the ship’s horn. He dove in wearing only a Speedo, swim cap, goggles and a green beacon light; no comfort was involved.
Swimmers rotated hourly and Ted was followed by Sarah Riley, Jerry Greenfield, Esmie Holderman, Colleen Kinney, and the infamous Scotty Avitt swam anchor.
Conditions leaving the island were rough with high swells but settled down after a few hours; the main obstacles remaining were darkness, fear, seasickness and the pills to overcome it, jelly fish stings, cold water and sleep deprivation. The night was overcast, so, even with beacon lights attached to the back of swimmers’ heads and glow sticks draped along the kayak, a large spotlight from the ship was needed to transition swimmers and kayakers safely.
The Bottom Scratcher was a great platform from which the team completed the journey. Captain Greg was something of a curmudgeon but in the end, he knew the waters well and his foremost concern was the safety of all involved. He set the course with the boat and kayak bounding the swimmers' lane.
Sonar on the ship detected marine life that accompanied the swimmers on their journey. Once the sun rose, porpoises and whales were visible to the cheerleaders on the ship. The entire team swam the last half-mile finishing on the rocky shore of Palos Verdes, California and then celebrating their shared victory at a restaurant overlooking the harbor.
What a journey! Thanks for sharing your story, Y Rats!