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Monday, January 13, 2014

Navigating With The First Couple Of Open Water Swimming

There have been many couples who have graced the sport of open water swimming:

* Audrey and Ray Scott
* Valerie and Roger Parsons
* Penny and Chris Palfrey
* Esther Nuñez and Damian Blaum
* Angela Maurer and Nikolai Evseev
* Laura and Michael Miller
* Sally Anne Minty-Gravett and Charlie Gravett
* Pilar Geijo, Diego Tricarico
* Michelle Evans-Chase and Bruckner Chase
* Patty and Dr. Jim Miller
* Nadine and Christian Reichert
* Edith van Dijk and Hans van Goor
* Poliana Okimoto and Ricardo Cintra.

And numerous others throughout the annals of open water swimming on every continent.

But the reigning couple on the West Coast are Catalina Channel record holder Grace van der Byl and her kayaking husband Neil.

Grace and Neil are all over channel swims, ultra-marathon relays, solo swims, ocean races, marathon events and circumnavigations up and down the coast of California and throughout the United States from Arizona to New York.

While Grace earns the top honors and headlines for her swimming exploits, Neil is usually in the background guiding, escorting and kayaking for his wife and many other swimmers in lakes, oceans, rivers and reservoirs.

His longest non-stop solo swims that he has supported were around 15 hours. "I also helped coaching the support paddelers for the 42-mile S.C.A.R. Swim Challenge including the night stage. The longest distance was Tina Neill's 52-mile (83.6 km) 28 hour 41 minute San Clemente Island to mainland swim. We rotated multiple observers and support kayakers for that one, but total headcount of 6 or 7 was lower than the typical [crew of] 10 on the Outrider [for Catalina Channel crossings] which in hindsight worked out very well."

He has seen the changes on how technology has helped swimmers manage the dynamics of the ocean over the years, improving safety and navigation. "To the left is a picture of how I plot courses on the observer sheets. This manual process occasionally helps us outline tracks where the swim philosophy is to ride the current.

These days, it is in addition to the GPS and mostly a nice memento of highlights usually at 30-minute intervals or after feedings. The nice thing about these plots are they give the swimmer an indication of velocity - stretches where they got a push for instance - versus purely the directional overlay with standard incremental updates - where speed is less visible.

Compare the plots to the above picture of a modern-day GPS spot tracker. As you can see, a much higher communication frequency rate using Google Maps with topography overlay

We asked Neil about the use of this technology and the benefits it provides the pilot, support crews and swimmers in the dynamic environment of the Pacific Ocean:

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: What year did channel pilots start to use GPS?

Neil van der Byl: I believe the Outrider was refurbished and retrofitted between 2007 and 2009. Other channel swims might have started GPS usage earlier.

The frequently used Outrider is captained by John Pittman and is a 50-foot fiberglass sport fisher built by Delta marine in 1976. It was purchased, rebuilt, and refurbished from 2005 to 2007 and has been updated with all the latest, state of the art electronics, navigation and safety equipment, two radars, dual-screen Furuno fish finder, two chart-plotters with computerized navigation system, wesmar side-scanning sonar, satellite communications and two steering stations

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: What did you/pilots use before GPS?

Neil van der Byl: When I started supporting swims, we already had sophisticated GPS on the Outrider. The [also popular] Bottomscratcher [captained by Greg Elliot], I believe received newly updated GPS equipment in the last couple of years. Before that, I believe they used marine navigation equipment, which I think included compass, radar, and radio navigation.

Even today, in local races without large support boats, kayakers still rely on sight and landmarks for line and drift compensation. In the Tour of the Buoys swim in La Jolla, kayakers have to sight landmarks like trees, hotels, and mountains in order to see if they are being pushed or pulled off course by currents between buoys. This technique is not as accurate as GPS navigation of course, but very helpful when you have to navigate lots of kelp beds which GPS units can't predict. A minimum of two points of reference are always needed in order to understand the line and drift.

At night, without fog, kayakers sometimes use the lighthouse at Terranea for a rough reference of where they are heading on a Catalina Channel crossing. This is sometimes important when there is a delay from the support vessel due to buddy swimmer pick-ups, alternate kayak exchanges, etc. During this time, the kayaker can hold the course with the swimmer for a short while until the large boat and observers can catch up - usually within a minute and less than 100 yards. This can be helpful when trying to prevent hypothermia or during record swim attempts. Other landmarks if visible can be of the same value during day-time, in which case kayakers can also get a second reference point behind them on the Catalina Island for instance, for a more accurate course and drift avoidance.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: What advantages does GPS give pilots?

Neil van der Byl: The GPS allows for direct plotting from the starting point to the desired landing point which is not always at Terranea or Doctor's Cove [in the case of Catalina Channel crossings]. Some swimmers or relays prefer a beach landing for instance. In addition to a precise directional course plot, the latest equipment if connected to capable vessels can also assist the captains with automated vessel steering for precision. They merely need to adjust for speed or other uncommon events such as avoidance of obstacles or traffic. This is especially useful when there are currents, swell, or tides steering the large hull off course - this is also true for wind.

There are two philosophies pilots can use in planning and executing a swim. They can either stay the course and ensure the shortest distance per the GPS readings, or they can opt for a strategy of "riding" the current in hopes of the slight off-course current perhaps aiding the swimmer with a bit of a push, but with the risk that the swimmer might have to fight their way back on-course for a safe finish in case the same current prevails. Of course, they might luck out with another directional aid from currents pushing them back on course towards the end, which might mean no need to fight the current at the end - this is basically a gamble based on both their experience in the channel (more prevalent in the English Channel judging by the "S" course swims), as well as based on research by the team (which could include elements such as weather (wind, swell, and tide) forecasts, and surface current predicions based on websites such as the Southern California Coastal Ocean Observing System. Either philosophy could get the swimmer there in the shortest amount of TIME depending on currents, but not always the shortest distance if opting for "riding the current" philosophy

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: What benefits does GPS indirectly or directly provide a swimmer, if any?

Neil van der Byl: The addition of GPS navigation benefits the sport of swimming in many ways. First, it adds an element of safety to the swim. This is obviously of paramount importance - especially in challenging conditions which can appear from nowhere. Today's more sophisticated GPS devices can also point out marine navigational points of reference, which is important in channels with lots of boat traffic, especially the larger tankers and container vessels that sometimes need miles to turn around or stop in the Catalina Shipping Lanes. In addition, it is paramount that other vessels know where you are even if conditions are good. This is important because some fiberglass vessels don't reflect radar very well and there are often high-speed ferries between major connecting points that would need to know exactly where you are. The addition of GPS coordinates to audio (radio) confirmation of presence greatly improves awareness and safety (e.g, during foggy conditions).

Secondly, the swimmers benefit with the most direct swim possible. This means, in theory, ultimately less time spent in sometimes cold water. Some swimmers, like Gracie, are very particular about how far they still need to go. This is of course a relative concept to time and conditions, but for some, it really helps to manage their intake, speed (pace), and overall mental calculations between feeds. Obsessive swimmers can predict feeding times by counting strokes (usually within a few second), and many of them play scenarios in their heads about progress and goals. Towards the end of the swim for instance, they might forego a last feeding, usually risking hypothermia due to the stop, if the landing is within a quarter-mile. This might not be recommended by observers and coaches if energy depletion could add risk of hypothermia especially if it is more like a half mile to go and the swimmer's feedings usually take longer than 20 seconds. All of this is today possible with near-100% accuracy in GPS positioning. However, the impact of elements like rip tides typically require a trained watermen / seaman with experience in the area and conditions before they would recommend an alternate course of action based on accurate distance and line readings.

Thirdly, swimmers can now use mobile GPS's during training swims, which greatly improves their ability to plot courses and reach goals. Earlier, this was usually a lot more difficult to predict with a level of accuracy before the addition of GPS. Swimmers can then share their courses and even velocity with other swimmers and coaches in order to help them adjust their training plans to meet their goals. Luckily for the average consumers, GPS's are now even integrated into smart phones, so even kayakers can easily use this technology to help swimmers with training swims where they want to reach a certain distance - say 3/4 of the total distance of their goal swim before they start tapering. Kayakers can also relay important information about their speed and progress during the feeding in case their goal was to reach that distance within a certain amount of time.

Finally, there are consumer-ready devices called Spot trackers which relay GPS locations to websites for people to track progress even though they are not physically on a support boat. This technology is widely used by swimmers, organizations (like the Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association), and even races (like the Manhattan Island Marathon swim). The larger versions of these devices are more commonly used by hikers and mountain expeditions where you can easily get trapped or lost. They have the ability to relay pre-defined "OK" status update messages as well as notify authorities in cases of emergency situations.

For the sake of the visibility of the sport, this is most likely the most important benefit in terms of attracting and engaging the audience. It is not always practical to build an open water stadium or have natural resource for the sport to attract large audiences - even the Manhattan Island Marathon swim with infinite audience capability, will have limited spots at the finish. Tracking technology can put the audience right there with their favorite swimmer in the absence of real-time TV broadcasts. A $100 solution for a million dollar problem.

There are many other implied and/or obvious benefits to having this technology on your swim versus not having it, but the fact remains, if real-time information can help improve accuracy as well as add an element of safety to swimming, it is a no-brainer

Grace and Neil run the Southern California Swim Support for interested open water swimmers.

The Southern California Open-water Swim Support (for crew / kayakers) is posted here. For swimmers who are interested in kayaking support, visit here.

Copyright © 2014 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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The Staff of the World Open Water Swimming Association

2014 Global Open Water Swimming Conference

Learn more...
Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

2014 Global Open Water Swimming Conference Agenda

Friday, 19 September



Welcome Reception at Mount Stuart House, Isle of Bute, Scotland

Documentary films shown throughout the reception:

Blue Journey-Amerika Samoa – Stronger Together: The Waterman’s Way
(film by Bruckner Chase)

Dancing With The Water, Crossing of Lake Pontchartrain
(film by Wayne Ewing about Matthew Moseley's Lake Pontchartrain crossing)

Bering Strait Swim Chukotka - Alaska
(film by Admiral Konstantin Sidenko about the relay between Russia and Alaska)

The Clean Swim – Hong Kong to Macau
(film about Simon Holiday's Pearl River Delta crossing)

Saturday, 20 September



Registration and Coffee at Mount Stuart House, Isle of Bute, Scotland



Keynote Speech:
Colleen Blair (Scotland) on The History of Scottish Swimming



Christopher Guesdon (Australia) on Multidimensional Roles In The Sport



Colin Hill (England) on Recent Explosion in UK Open Water



Shelley Taylor-Smith (Australia) on The Feminine Code of Achievement - How a Lady from Down Under Revolutionized Professional Marathon Swimming



Simon Murie (England) on Open Water Swimming Holidays: How A New Sector Was Created Within The Travel Industry



Swimming The Oceans Seven
A round table discussion moderated by:
Kevin Murphy (England), with Stephen Redmond (Ireland), Anna-Carin Nordin (Sweden),
Darren Miller (USA), Adam Walker (England), Kimberley Chambers (New Zealand)



Coffee and Break



World Open Water Swimming Awards Luncheon:
with co-hosts Shelley Taylor-Smith (Australia) and Steven Munatones (USA)

Pádraig Mallon (Ireland), 2013 World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year

Olga Kozydub (Russia), 2013 World Open Water Swimming Woman of the Year

Bering Strait Swim, 2013 World Open Water Swimming Performance of the Year

Honoring: Vladimir Chegorin, Maria Chizhova, Elena Guseva, Ram Barkai, Jack Bright, Oksana Veklich, Aleksandr Jakovlevs, Matías Ola, Henri Kaarma, Toomas Haggi, Nuala Moore, Anne Marie Ward, Toks Viviers, Melissa O’Reilly, Ryan Stramrood, Cristian Vergara, Craig Lenning, Rafal Ziobro, Andrew Chin, Jackie Cobell, James Pittar, Paolo Chiarino, Mariia Yrjö-Koskinen, Ivan Papulshenko, Zdenek Tlamicha, Zhou Hanming, Oleg Adamov, Andrei Agarkov, Alekseev Semen, Tatiana Alexandrova, Roman Belan, Elena Semenova, Alexander Brylin, Afanasii Diackovskii, Vladimir Nefatov, Evgenii Dokuchaev, Oleg Docuckaev, Roman Efimov, Dmitrii Filitovich, Olga Filitovich, Victor Godlevskiy, Olga Golubeva, Alexei Golubkin, Alexander Golubkin, Alexandr Iurkov, Oleg Ivanov, Pavel Kabakov, Eduard Khodakovskiy, Aleksandr Komarov, Aleksandr Kuliapin, Andrey Kuzmin, Irina Lamkina, Vladimir Litvinov, Andrey Mikhalev, Victor Moskvin, Nikolay Petshak, Sergey Popov, Vladimir Poshivailov, Grigorii Prokopchuk, Dmitrii Zalka, Natalia Seraya, Viacheslav Shaposhnikov, Olga Sokolova, Andrei Sychev, Alexei Tabakov, and Nataliia Usachaeva [represented by Admiral Konstantin Sidenko and Nuala Moore]



Alexey Salmin Pavlovich (Russia) and Dmitry Dragozhilov (Russia)
on the 2016 Winter Swimming World Championships [film]



Sally Minty-Gravett (Jersey) on Motivating Swimmers



Dmitry Blokhin (Russia) and Aleksei Veller (Russia)
on the First World Ice Swimming Championships [film]



Matthew Moseley (USA)’s Dancing With The Water, Crossing of Lake Pontchartrain [film]



Simon Holliday (England) and Doug Woodring (Hong Kong)’s The Clean Swim – Hong Kong to Macau 2014 [film]



International Swimming Hall of Fame (ISHOF)
and International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame (IMSHOF)

IMSHOF Induction Ceremonies and Dinner
with co-hosts Shelley Taylor-Smith (Australia) and Steven Munatones (USA).

Recognition of International Swimming Hall of Fame honorees:

  • Elizabeth Fry (USA), IMSHOF Honour Swimmer

  • Vojislav Mijić (Serbia), IMSHOF Honour Swimmer

  • James Anderson (USA), IMSHOF Honour Administrator

  • Dr. Jane Katz (USA), IMSHOF Honour Administrator

  • Indonesian Swimming Federation Open Water Committee (Indonesia), IMSHOF Honour Organisation

  • Melissa Cunningham (Australia), Irving Davids – Captain Roger Wheeler Award by the International Swimming Hall of Fame and IMSHOF Honour Swimmer

  • Sandra Bucha (USA), ISHOF Honor Open Water Swimmer and IMSHOF Honour Swimmer

  • Jon Erikson (USA), ISHOF Honor Open Water Swimmer and IMSHOF Honour Swimmer [represented by Sandra Bucha]



International Swimming Hall of Fame (ISHOF) Introduction Video.
Welcome speech by host Shelley Taylor-Smith (Australia)






International Swimming Hall of Fame (ISHOF)
Induction Ceremonies and Dinner with host Shelley Taylor-Smith (Australia)

Recognition of International Swimming Hall of Fame honorees:

  • Mercedes Gleitze (England)
    ISHOF Honor Pioneer Swimmer and IMSHOF Honour Swimmer
    [represented by daughter Doloranda Pember]

  • Dale Petranech (USA)
    ISHOF Honor Contributer and IMSHOF Honour Administrator

  • Claudio Plit (Argentina)
    ISHOF Honor Open Water Swimmer and IMSHOF Honour Swimmer
    [represented by Shelley Taylor-Smith]

  • Judith van Berkel-de Nijs (Netherlands)
    ISHOF Honor Open Water Swimmer and IMSHOF Honour Swimmer
    [represented by Niek Kloots]

  • George Young (Canada)
    ISHOF Honor Pioneer Swimmer and IMSHOF Honour Swimmer
    [represented by the Catalina Channel Swimming Federation]

  • David Yudovin (USA)
    ISHOF Honor Open Water Swimmer and IMSHOF Honour Swimmer

Sunday, 21 September



Registration and coffee at Mount Stuart House, Isle of Bute, Scotland



Nuala Moore (Ireland) on The Mindset of 1000m at 0ºC



Admiral Konstantin Sidenko (Russia)’s Bering Strait Swim Chukotka - Alaska in 2013 [film]



Ned Denison (Ireland) on Swimming The World



Bruckner Chase (USA)’s Blue Journey-Amerika Samoa
Stronger Together: The Waterman’s Way



Rok Kerin (Slovenia) on Lifestyle Benefits From Open Water Swimming



Survey distribution and group photo-taking



Swim at Stravvana Bay, Isle of Bute


The Global Open Water Swimming Conference is a conference on the sport of open water swimming, marathon swimming and swimming during triathlons and multi-sport endurance events.

The conference which has been attended by enthusiasts and luminaries from 6 continents, is devoted to providing information about the latest trends, race tactics, training techniques, equipment, psychological preparation, race organization and safety practices used in the sports of open water swimming, marathon swimming and triathlons.

The conference's mission is to provide opportunities to listen and meet many of the world's most foremost experts in open water swimming, and to meet and discuss the sport among swimmers, coaches, administrators, event organizers, sponsors, vendors, officials, escort pilots, and volunteers from kayakers to safety personnel.

Dozens of presentations at the 2014 Conference at the Mount Stuart House cover numerous aspects of the vast and growing world of open water swimming where attendees can learn and share the latest trends, race tactics, training modalities, swimming techniques, equipment, race organization, logistics, operations, and safety practices for open water swimming as a solo swimmer, competitive athlete, fitness swimmer, masters swimmer, triathlete, multi-sport athlete, administrator, race promoter, sponsor or referee.

The conference was first held in Long Beach, California as part of the 2010 USA Swimming National Open Water Swimming Championships. It has since been held on the Queen Mary in California, at Columbia University and the United Nations in New York City, and in Cork, Ireland. This year in September, it comes to another iconic location, the Mount Stuart House on the Isle of Bute in Scotland.

"The Global Open Water Swimming Conference was started due to the desire and need for athletes, coaches, referees, administrators, race directors, promoters and sponsors from around the world to share, collect and learn information about the growing sports of open water swimming, marathon swimming and triathlons," said founder Steven Munatones. "Other swimming conferences usually offering nothing on open water swimming or perhaps a speech or two, but we thought open water swimming deserves its own global conference. It is great that the community shares its information via the online social network, but there is nothing like meeting other open water swimming enthusiasts face-to-face and talking about the sport from morning to night."

Speakers at the conference include English Channel swimmers, ice swimmers, record holders, renowned coaches, world champions, professional marathon swimmers, renowned race directors, officials and administrators from the Africa, Americas, Asia, Europe and Oceania.

"Because the audience is passionate and educated about the sport and its finest practitioners, the Global Open Water Swimming Conference is also the location of the induction ceremonies for the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame and the annual WOWSA Awards that recognize the World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year, the World Open Water Swimming Woman of the Year, the World Open Water Swimming Performance of the Year, and the World Open Water Swimming Offering of the Year. Special Lifetime Achievement Awards are also occasionally presented to individuals who have made significant contributions to the sport over their career."

Copyright © 2014 by World Open Water Swimming Association

A Thank You Gift from WOWSA

WOWSA is celebrating the
1-Year Anniversary of the monthly Open Water Swimming Magazine
by giving you a free copy of the anniversary issue.

Open Water Swimming Magazine Anniversary Issue
File Size: 13MB


Download the file to your computer, and then right-click to extract the magazine which is inside the zip folder. The magazine is in PDF format.

CLICK HERE to download your free copy now.

Swim Across the English Channel...


Who else is looking for a qualified open water swimming coach to help them swim across the English Channel?

Chloë McCardel is a 6-time English Channel Swimmer who inspires and instructs. Access featured content by Chloë in this month's issue of the Open Water Swimming Magazine. Published monthly by WOWSA, the Open Water Swimming Magazine is a digital, interactive publication made available exclusively to WOWSA members. See what you've been missing! Become a WOWSA member today!

Open Water Swimming Magazine

Open Water Swimming Magazine

The Open Water Swimming Magazine is the monthly magazine entirely focused on open water swimming heroes and heroines of every age, ability, and background. Published by the World Open Water Swimming Association, the Open Water Swimming Magazine is a free benefit to WOWSA members.

WOWSA Member Benefits include 12 issues of the Open Water Swimming Magazine, the annual 276-page Open Water Swimming Almanac, a free listing in Sponsor My Swim, outstanding product discounts from FINIS, an entry in Openwaterpedia and more...

The Other Shore

The Other Shore follows world record holder and legendary swimmer Diana Nyad as she comes out of a thirty-year retirement to re-attempt an elusive dream: swimming 103 miles non-stop from Cuba to Florida without the use of a shark cage. Her past and present collide in her obsession with a feat that nobody has ever accomplished. At the edge of The Devil’s Triangle, tropical storms, sharks, venomous jellyfish, and one of the strongest ocean currents in the world, all prove to be life-threatening realities. Timothy Wheeler’s documentary brings Diana Nyad’s extraordinary adventure to life as Diana sets out to prove that will and determination are all you need to make the unimaginable possible.

2014 Open Water Swimming Almanac

An Almanac for Open Water Swimming

An almanac is essentially a body of knowledge which is so complete that it enables people in different fields to make predictions about the future of their respective industries.

This, for example, was the purpose of the traditional farmers almanacs. It enabled farmers to determine as accurately as possible which crops to plant for the greatest harvests in a given year.

But the farmers almanac was just one example among many.
There are, of course, many different kinds of almanacs.

In fact, there is even one for open water swimming...

Preview the Open Water Swimming Almanac:

The trends are very clear.
The tide is rising for open water swimming.


Open Water Swimming Event Sanctioning

World Professional Marathon Swimming Federation

Open Water Race Calendar

Coaches Education Program