Working in the coal mine...

We were a team of six: Phil Cutti, Patti Bauernfeind, David Holscher, Joe Locke, Zach Jirkovsky and myself. Our duty was to swim four 1 hour shifts per day. My swimming shifts were 1pm – 2pm, 7pm- 8pm, 1am – 2am and 7am – 8am. Everyday. Four hours per day of swimming sounds like a pretty good training week and at first glance it doesn’t sound like much but when you consider….

We swim without wetsuits. Water temperature ranged from 53 to 59 degrees. After each hour long shift in the water there were only a mere 5 hours between each shift to warm up, eat, hydrate and try to calm the mind after being amped up on adrenalin.

And, it seemed, just as I began to settle my mind and “wind down,” it was time to get ready to swim again. Heading into this swim, sleep deprivation was my biggest concern. My normal routine allows for an indulgent 9 hours of sleep per night.

Surprisingly for 6 days, I survived on no more than 2-3 hours of sleep per day.  Somehow, my body was able to adjust to our routine. I don’t recall ever feeling tired as such, just a little spacey. Incredibly my teammates also managed on little sleep. We were like a finely tuned machine that ticked along in auto pilot.

And we willingly did this even though we had a legitimate reason to back out. After the first 24 hours, our boat had a mechanical failure and we were considering abandoning our goal of reaching Santa Barbara. Amazingly, everyone on the team was determined to press on.  In fact we all cheered when we found out that a mechanic would meet us at Santa Cruz and replace the broken steering throttle that would allow us to continue.  

No one complained, everyone just did their “job” – 4 shifts a day. Rinse and repeat. With a latex swim cap that sometimes felt like a miners helmet and a blinky light that was our lamp in the darkness, David Holscher restarted our journey amongst cheers from pinnipeds who resembled other coal mining brethren…