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Friday, June 6, 2014

A Swimmer’s Account Across The Sea Of Cortez

Courtesy of Susan Moody Prieto of Sueño 88.

On June 3rd, David Ogden, Mauricio Prieto, Luane Rowe, Richard Ernst, Shannon Navarro, and I tried to swim 100 miles across the Sea of Cortez - the fifth try in history. The morning of the swim the sea was a flat, turquoise lake and we felt lucky and optimistic that we might be the first to cross. Dolphins were seeing us off — a good omen. My turn was second - right after Luane, a champion swimmer from Australia. We were making great time and Baja California kept growing more distant as we swam off into the blue horizon - mainland Mexico nowhere in sight. I was ready to swim a 10 am shift, 4 pm shift, 10 pm shift, 4 am shift and so on for the next two and a half days. Our whole team had prepared for this kind of routine.

The first shift felt great. It was fun to breathe and see my teammates giving me a thumbs up on the boat. The water was sapphire blue and the sun rays looked like long chards of glass. Mauricio swam after me followed by Richard, Shannon and Dave. We were all feeling pretty high. The second shift, at 4 pm, I was beginning to get stung by invisible jellyfish - the kind of stings that shock you temporarily, like tiny needles into the skin but that fade in seconds. It was unsettling but still not enough to distract you too much.

Preparing for the 10 pm night shift, my mind began searching through the card catalogue of all the information I’d read about Cortez from other swimmers. The wind had picked up and the water was getting rough. Luane, one of the most intrepid swimmers I’ve ever met, was churning along although I could tell she was getting stung by the spasmodic jerks in her otherwise strong rhythm. What I was most scared about were the jellyfish that paralyze your muscles and give you essentially third degree burns - something I had read about during the second thwarted attempt. Suddenly we heard Luane scream, “F*%K! F&#K!” as she stopped in the water. We were watching her green blinky light on the top of her cap sit motionlessly in the water as she tried to get the tentacles off her body. Since it was pitch black dark, I didn’t know if she was all right. Vito Bialla yelled at her, “You ok?” She swam over to the boat and I leaned way over the side and handed her a credit card so she could scrape off the poison. I looked at Vito and could tell he was calmly monitoring my reaction since I was next. He said, “She’s tough as nails. Look, she won’t touch the boat. She’s doing her thing and will keep going.” And she did.

I didn’t feel like myself anymore. I felt suddenly panicky - like a bucket of fear. I understood that I was going to get stung badly and had no idea what that would mean. Mauricio reassured me, “You can do this. You’re stronger than you think.” We were using a jellyfish repellant cream and I lathered up every inch of my face and body hoping to create a buttery shield. Richard told me that I looked like I was made of porcelain. “One minute!” yelled Vito. My hands were shaking comically as I tried to wipe the fog from my goggles (as if I was going to be able to see anything anyway). Feeling every bit afraid, I took a deep breath and dove into the blackness.

Swimming at night in the middle of the ocean you don’t think about the sea monsters deep below - like the man-eating squid that many talk about. You are desperate to stay next to the boat and not get lost at sea. I had tucked a credit card and a whistle in the back of my suit - the credit card being the true thing I needed: the whistle now a symbol of a safety measure I incorrectly thought I would need. Black water enveloped my bare limbs and I saw hundreds of golden bubbles shimmer off my fingers with each stroke - something I had heard about but didn’t really believe until now. I was getting stung by the same jellies as the earlier shift when suddenly it felt like 15 long knife-like fingers grabbed me all at once around the neck and shoulders. I stopped cold and screamed exactly as Luane had. I was stunned at how it seemed to reach way too many cells all at the same time. I knew I had to regroup as Luane had. I scraped at my neck and angrily kicked the water as hard as I could to try and minimize the pain and continued. This same thing happened to every single member of the team at least 3-6 times during their shifts. When my hour was up, Mauricio jumped in - awaiting the same fate. I was glad to have an extra credit card to give him so he could scrape off a jellyfish all over his body. After spotting for him, I went below to the bunks where I was supposed to rest a couple of hours before my 4 am shift. The wind picked up to 25-30 knots, waves were breaking and the boat was careening wildly from side to side. Anything that was not secured to the boat began crashing to the ground. At midnight I heard Shannon scream from the water: “OW OW OW OW OW OW OW OW!” Hearing her, I felt like I wanted to cry - things weren’t getting better. Shannon kept on, like a champ. When it was Dave’s turn, he got stung in the face but was stoic and never once complained. It goes without saying - my incredible teammates made me stronger than I ever could have been by myself.

My 4 am shift came and I had difficulty ascending the stairs to reach the deck. It was impossible to walk as the boat lurched from side to side. We were scrambling and staggering absurdly - grasping anything we could grab onto. At one point I saw Mauricio crawling on all fours and began sliding into a water cooler. I dove into the Sea of Cortez’s ruthless maw and hoped for courage. About half way into the hour I felt a throbbing mass of pain hit my face and go into my mouth (you’d think by now I wouldn’t swim with my mouth open). “Mother F#@$er!” I cursed like a sailor and scraped the tentacles off my face, regrouped, and continued. Somehow the hour was eventually up and I got out feeling drained from the stings and the rough waves. I then spotted for Mauricio — all the while worrying about Richard who was so sea sick that he kept on throwing up off the side of the boat. He never once complained and dove in and got stung badly in the first 5 minutes of his 6 am shift.

At 7:00 am Vito called us to a team meeting. The weather was getting even worse and it was too dangerous to be on the boat. There was nothing in our favor - the weather and ocean were adamant. It was clear that this attempt was impossible; I felt humble and completely sure that this was the only choice. The Sea of Cortez wasn’t going to let us cross her this time. We had swum 22 hours and made it 48 miles — just shy of the halfway mark. And Mexico wasn’t even in sight.

Huge huge huge thanks to friends and family who gave us support - it really made a huge difference!


* Equipment used: swim cap, goggles, standard swimsuit, Safe Sea® (jellyfish sting protective lotion*). A note on the jellyfish lotion: I'm pretty sure that using it made it possible for us to continue although the stings hurt badly. Without it, I think the swim would have been called due to jellyfish stings.

*Origin: Tecolote Beach, Baja California Sur

*Intended destination: Topolobampo, Sinaloa

* Start of swim: 9 AM, June 3rd

* Swim called off at 7 AM, June 4th due to dangerous weather conditions

* Distance covered: 42 nautical miles (78 km)

* Order of relay: Luane Rowe, Susan Moody, Mauricio Prieto, Richard Ernst, Shannon Navarro, and David Ogden

* Captain: Vito Bialla

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
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by giving you a free copy of the anniversary issue.

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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.

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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

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Open Water Swimming Event Sanctioning

World Professional Marathon Swimming Federation

Open Water Race Calendar

Coaches Education Program