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Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Bill Welzien Completes His Century Swim Around Key West

Courtesy of Bill Welzien, Key West, Florida.

Reaching the Goal: Swim #100

On April 20th 2018 68-year-old Bill Welzien completed swim #99, a 12.5-mile circumnavigation swim around Key West, Florida.

"After that, I set my sights on May 19th to attempt swim 100. A new moon was scheduled for May 15th. Ordinarily, I would have chosen that Tuesday to swim. I considered there might be some who would want to see me leave or return so I moved the day to Saturday. That put the start time to 10:15 am. Each day the high tide comes about 40 minutes later. Had I swum on May 15th, I would have had a 7:15 am start time.

My start and finish pole is at the west end of Key West’s Smathers Beach. I need to leave that start point 2.5 to 3 hours before high tide in the Key West Harbor as I head westward around the Island. I start on an incoming tide and finish on the outgoing tide. If I leave in that window, I will catch some tidal assistance as I approach the Harbor and enjoy that advantage for about 2.5 miles until mile 5.

There is a mile push from the Cow Key Bridge (mile 9) to the Atlantic (mile 10). The tidal assistance is not always of the same quality.

This trip there was nothing spectacular.

I had done my long training swim on May 9th. That was a 4 hours 23 minute swim. I gradually increased my training time. On May 4th, I swam 1:10; on May 5th I swam a 1:53; on May 8th a 2:30, and on I upped the ante to the max on May 9th and then did two-mile swims and then down to one mile two days before May 19th. I didn’t swim at all the day before my swim.

I usually recommend that anyone who wishes to swim the Island of Key West swim for time rather than distance. However, with the tidal assistance, I figure it is about 8 miles worth of raw energy put out. I usually take 6 - 6.5 hours to cover this distance. Based on that I concluded that about 4.5 hours of swimming in my back canal (with virtually no help from any tide) should be enough. I also recommend that anyone wanting to swim this venue do their long swim about 7-10 days out and then begin to taper. So, I met my criteria.

Swimming on Saturday, May 19th meant a one-time shot. I never do athletic events on the Lord’s Day. So, if it didn’t happen that day, I would have to postpone to the Full Moon on May 29th.

On Thursday May 17th, I paid a visit to my massage therapist Stephen Graniela. In my opinion, there is no finer deep tissue man. He has been working on me for years and knows my body well. He worked his magic. When I got home, we had a drawing. We took the names of all the kayakers from Swim #75 to #99 and put them in a hat and my wife Sessie drew. The first draw was my daughter Abigail. She deferred. Second was my son-in-law Jeremy Smith. He lives in Oregon. Not likely he would fly to Key West with a day’s notice. Third was my daughter Jane. She accepted and hence she became my primary kayaker. I would also be joined by son-in-law Doug Weeks, good friend Matt Avery and halfway around friend Pam Borgert. Matt drove 6.5 hours from Bradenton, Florida to be here for the occasion. It was a treat to have four competent kayakers around me.

Friday was prep day. I mixed my Hammer Perpetuem drinks. I had 6 sport bottles. I grabbed our orange pennant. I put two kayaks on top of my van, paddles inside the van with the life jackets. I wanted to remember all we needed for the event. I had everything, except the refrigerated items, in my van the night before.

The 10:15 am start time made for a rather leisurely morning. We applied my SolRx (matte zinc SPF 50) before we left the house. Doug arrived about 9:00 am and with his arrival, we left. Jane, Doug and I rode together in my van. We all marveled as we looked at the sky. It looked threatening: overcast and dark. For the past week, we had some storm system hanging over the entire Lower Keys.

We arrived at the beach by 9:30 am and began to load the kayaks. Matt Avery met us there. We all wondered whether the weather would allow us a complete trip.

At about 10:00, I ate my Clif Bar and drank a full bottle of Perpetuem. That usually keeps me satisfied until mile 5 (the Fleming Cut Bridge). Then, we had a group prayer. We asked the Lord Jesus to allow us success. We prayed that He might keep any storm at bay. While there were always ominous dark clouds to be seen somewhere through the entire day, my kayakers told me they heard no thunder, saw no lightning and felt no rain! Thank you, Lord.

I swam out to the start/finish pole and took my first stroke at 10:17 am. The air temperature was 79°F and the water temperature the same. The wind was out of the ESE at about 8 mph. That provided me with a tail wind. Physically, I felt pretty good. There was a slight chop, but that posed no problem.

As I checked my Garmin Forerunner 920XT, I was heartened by my pace and then my splits for the first two miles. My Garmin has let me down for the past half dozen swims. Usually, by mile 8 or 9 the GPS would cease to record. The tidal current in the Harbor was only marginally advantageous. The big blessing of arriving in the Harbor was the flatness of the water.

If I can get to the Fleming Bridge (mile 5) in 2 hours 15 minutes, I can finish sub six hours. Stroking through the Harbor and checking my watch I realized I was not going to swim a sub six. When I finally got under the Fleming Cut Bridge, I was at 2 hours and 32 minutes into the swim. Never mind, I thought, just keep moving. Next before me was the Mooring Field out to Sigsbee. The Mooring Field calls me to navigate through the sail boats. We had some effect of the wind at this point. It slowed me down to a 35-minute mile.

The trip around Sigsbee is about 1.5 miles. It was very calm, being sheltered from the ESE wind. It was at this point Pam Borgert joined us in her bright yellow kayak. She and her husband Glenn are retired Coast Guard and have an RV on the Navy Base housing which is what Sigsbee is.

As we rounded Sigsbee we hit the head wind. My flotilla of kayakers had to dig in. Leaving Sigsbee and heading to the Cow Key Bridge is the most difficult to site. A great challenge to open water swimming is swimming straight. There is no tall, stand out indicators to aim at this portion of the swim. Here experience pays dividends. I know basically, after all these many swims, where I need to go, I just need to look up more often.

I knew the closer I got to the Bridge, the less wind. That proved true. The water in the Cow Key was very shallow. It is always shallow, but this was very uncomfortably shallow. My arms didn’t like to do strange gyrations I had to do to get through. I persevered and made it. Now the last two miles.

The wind on the Atlantic side was now a tail wind. It was not super strong, but it is better to have it at your back than anywhere else.

I stroked my way along the poles at Smathers Beach to my destination. I touched the pole I started with and my finish time was 6 hours 21 minutes 41 seconds.

There were a handful of friends at the beach to receive me and congratulate me. My daughter Abigail had a gold finisher’s medal, the same design as the silver medal we give out to solo finisher’s at the Annual Swim. I still don’t know where she got it.

We took some photos and had a group prayer. Our earlier prayer was for decent weather to swim the distance. That prayer was answered. Now we prayed a prayer of thanksgiving. We reloaded the van. Then homeward. To my surprise, the family had a get-together planned where good friends and good food were my rewards.

Will I quit now? I have no plans to do that. I hope to continue as long as I can.

If the weather is good, I may try #101 on May 29th or 30th. Then, there is the 42nd Annual Swim Around Key West on June 16th. Currently, we expect about 190 swimmers from all over this country and 6 foreign countries.

Sadly, my watch crapped out at mile 8. Do I need a new watch? Maybe. No, definitely. I want to thank everyone who has encouraged me in every way in this endeavor.

Soli Deo Gloria

Copyright © 2008-2018 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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