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Solo Swims Official Swim Master Report » STEP: Swim To End Polio

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The bottom line is this: As long as polio threatens even one child anywhere in the world, all children - wherever they live - remain at risk.
—Rotary International Website

Solo Swims Official Swim Master Report

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NAME OF SWIMMER:          Thie Convery 

AGE and DATE OF BIRTH:    44 years; July 24, 1966

DATE OF SWIM:                   August 7, 2010

LAKE(S) SWUM; STROKE:  Lake Ontario; freestyle

SWIM START LOCATION: 

Gazebo, Niagara-on-the-Lake  43o 15.470N; 079o04.117W  

SWIM START TIME: 9:38 a.m.

SWIM FINISH LOCATION:

22.7 km out in the middle of Lake Ontario 43o 25.954N; 079o12.717W

SWIM FINISH TIME: 7:10 p.m.         

 TOTAL SWIM TIME: 9 hours 32 minutes

 DISTANCE SWUM:               About 24 km

 NAME OF COACH:               Karin Hornblower

 SWIM MASTERS:                  Marilyn Korzekwa; assisted by Debbie Bang

 BOAT # 1:  Lisa Charles, 55 foot diesel fishing tug; Jim Sidddall, jsiddall@lowerlakes.com

 BOAT # 2:  Wishbone, 26 foot sailboat; Tim Ramm, lreidtramm@aol.com

 BOAT # 3:  Stress Free, 41 foot diesel Bayliner; Ken Ducharme, www.heritagecoastcharters.com

 

In 25 years of Swim Mastering, this was my most difficult weather start decision. Starting August 4, each 6 hourly forecast painted a different picture of the winds for the weekend. Furthermore, each of the 3 information sources, Environment Canada (EC), US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and sailflow.com could never agree on the wind predictions. It seems there were 3 weak weather systems passing through the region, not posing a thunder risk, but causing shifting winds. The swim was scheduled to start Friday Aug. 6 at 6 pm, but high northwesterly wind predictions and small craft warning led to postponement to Saturday Aug.7. The Friday 6:30 pm forecast from EC predicted variable 10 knots winds for Saturday morning, SW 10 near noon, up to SW 15 in the afternoon and light winds on Sunday. In addition, NOAA and sail-flow predicted 15-22 knot SW winds starting late Sunday morning, so the only feasible 24 hour window for the weekend started Saturday morning. Confusing the picture were the low wave predictions, which were consistently 1 meter or less from EC and maximum 2 feet from NOAA.

            There was also the issue of an under 10 degree Celsius water temperature near Toronto from the satellite map, but it was reasoned that the southwest wind would push the warm water back in that direction. Grimsby buoy was reading 23 degrees.

            Weather at 6 am on Saturday prior to departure: EC said that the afternoon winds would build to 15-20 knots SW, but NOAA said under 10 knots and sail-flow said 10-15. Waves were still less than a meter.

            Thie was determined to swim, despite this Swim Masters predictions that her chances of success were less than 50%. “I have nothing to lose”. She had assembled a flotilla of very large seaworthy boats (diesel powerboats 41 and 55 feet, sailboat 26 feet, and Zodiacs 14 and 18 feet [Hamilton Beach Rescue Unit]), the swim was superbly organized, she had done well in 1 meter waves on Lake Erie, and it was determined that even if the wind blew in her favour at 15 knots for a few hours but the waves stayed under 1 meter, it might be doable. 

            Thie started at 9:38:46 am. The Niagara sand bar was choppier than usual, with waves of almost 1 meter. As soon as we got out of the river, waves of over 1 meter from the NW hit us for about half an hour. Then the wind and waves died down and it was actually quite calm with residual small rollers for about 5 hours. Curiously, at about the 8 km mark, the water turned abruptly from silty to dark and clear. Perhaps the previous north wind had made this demarcation between river and lake water so sharp.          

Unfortunately, at about 1600 hours, the southwest wind started to whip up and create whitecaps. The waves built up over the next hour to around 1 meter. The downwind Zodiac was having difficulty staying close to Thie.  She could not tolerate the fumes from an upwind Zodiac, even though they were both 4 stroke engines. There was difficulty with the pacer being thrown too close to Thie by the waves. When the wind started gusting over 15 knots, the Zodiac was 2 or more waves away from Thie at least 30% of the time, and the waves grew to over 1 meter. This was becoming a safety issue, and would have been clearly untenable in the dark. While we were listening to the 6:30 pm EC forecast, which predicted ongoing winds of up to 20 knots and a small craft advisory, the “Free Spirit” 41 foot Bayliner reported that they were having extreme difficulty with the waves and requested permission to leave the flotilla. We made the decision at 6:45 pm to end the swim, but spent some time trying to organize the evacuation. Thie probably swam another half to 3/4 km beyond the measured GPS distance (22.7 km) at 6:45. Therefore, she was probably only a kilometer or 2 shy of the halfway point. Thie was in good shape and was able to step out of the Zodiac onto the swim platform herself. The doctor checked her out and her vitals were all normal, temperature 37.5 deg C.

            Thie swam strongly without complaint throughout the swim. The fluctuation in hourly split times is mostly accounted for by currents and winds. She fought a good fight but Mother Nature did not cooperate.

            Captain Tim in the sailboat did a fine job of trying to keep Thie on the line to MB Park, despite the wind having a westerly component for most of the swim. At the end he was steering 45 compass points further west than the course line. He also readjusted his position whenever necessary, without being asked, so that he was a comfortable distance and angle in front of Thie. Despite this excellent support, she was slowly slipping from the course line and would have ended up at Vicki Keith point. Captain Jim of the Lisa Charles, which has a very wide beam, did an excellent job of staying close behind Thie and communicating with freighters and the Coast Guard. Captain Ken of the Stress Free, unfortunately had to hang back in order to fight the waves head on.

            Debbie Bang did an excellent job as assistant Swim Master, contributing valuable observations and wise advice. She is more than ready to be a Swim Master.

            Safety issues were limited to the usual ones encountered in high waves. Transfer of crew was extremely dangerous in the last 2 hours. A crew member got a nasty bruise when her leg got caught between boats. Unfortunately, the Swim Master’s orders to cease crew transfer after Thie was evacuated went on deaf ears as people scrambled to get themselves and their belongings onto the boat of preferred destination. Also the driver of the 18 foot rigid hull Zodiac with 60hp motor, wanted to drive the boat unaccompanied by another boat to Port Credit. He did have enough gas, a VHF radio and excellent shoreline visibility. Eventually he agreed with the Swim Master’s plan to follow the Stress Free to Toronto (Leslie St. spit). Unfortunately (after the Lisa Charles was already motoring back to Port Weller), we could see from a distance that he had swung by the Stress Free to drop people off and then he headed to Port Credit unaccompanied. We later learned that he made it in good time, but the waves were brutal at around 1.5 meters. Incidentally, there was a May Day outside of Port Credit around 1930 hours, a 24 foot boat taking on water that was successfully rescued by the Coast Guard.

Respectfully submitted, Marilyn Korzekwa

August 8, 2010