I’ve gotten a lot of questions about the risks of the swim, what could go wrong, and how I’m avoiding those scenarios and what I will do in case they arise. So here are the top four things I’m “concerned” about and what my team is doing to mitigate the risks. I use quotation marks around concerned because while these things are all a possibility, I know we are doing everything to prevent and handle them. Ultimately my main job is to focus on the swimming and trust in my crew who will be in charge of the safety.
There are a growing number of Great White sharks around Cape Cod. There have been sightings within the last month close to the start and finish points of my swim. Last year the swimmer that attempted the P2P was 4 miles from Provincetown when a fishing boat sped up to his safety boat warning the crew of a 14 foot shark they claimed was only 100 yards away. The swimmer got out of the water officially ending his attempt. Sharks are a risk with this swim but it is important to remember that the likelihood of a sighting, let alone an actual encounter, is VERY unlikely. Nevertheless it is important to mitigate the risk as much as possible and be prepared in case the marine life in the Cape gets curious…First and foremost, MOWSA has a shark protocol that states if there is a sighting of a shark within 100 meters, I will be automatically pulled from the water and the swim will be over with no option of returning to the water. If a shark is sighted around but not near, my boat captain who is an experienced Cape Cod boater has the say—no arguments or discussion. As much as I want to finish the swim, safety comes first and I am glad I am not the one who has to make the decision. It will be out of my hands so I won’t feel like I’m quitting or giving up.
To help mitigate the chance of a sighting or encounter, we’re doing a couple of things!
-MOWSA provides all swimmers with shark shields—a device that generates a small electromagnetic field that deters sharks. The shark shield will be towed behind the kayak and will help keep me safe. The electromagnetic field is only really effective when a shark is within 1 meter of the device. So, it is helpful but it won’t prevent all encounters or attacks.
-In addition to the shark shield I purchased two sharkbanz (photo below), one for me and one for Abby when she is in the water. Sharkbanz are magnetic and deter sharks. Unfortunately Great Whites have a distinct predatory behavior of fast, sudden attacks so Sharkbanz also have a limited efficacy.
-Sharks see predominantly in contrast (light and dark) so I will be painting white stripes of zinc on my legs and arms to help disguise me on the surface of the water.
-The best deterrent of sharks is the fact that I will be flanked on both sides by a big boat and by a kayak. Sharks typically attack isolated targets so the fact I will be between two large objects is good. Also if a shark does come it will be a very short distance to get to safety.
*Final note: sharks are a lot more prolific on the Martha’s Vineyard/Nantucket side of Cape Cod rather than inside the Bay which is also comforting!
Weather and conditions can create trouble. I’ve been keeping my eye on forecasts for rain and wind—right now Saturday is looking better than it was a few days ago but still not good. If the conditions do not improve, the solution to bad weather on Saturday is moving the swim to Sunday! Wind can of course whip up on any day but I know I have trained in choppy, windy conditions and can handle it. As long as there is no lightening I plan on fighting my way through the water!
Becoming hypothermic is possible since it is a long time to be in the water. However, the water temp in the bay should be between 60-70 degrees which I know I can handle! Other swims like the English Channel carry a greater risk of hypothermia because the water is distinctly colder. Nonetheless, my crew will be keeping track of my stroke rate throughout the swim. This is the best indicator of how I am doing! My typical stroke rate in open water is between 62-66 strokes per minute. If my stroke rate suddenly dropped to 55 my crew captain would stop me and check in about how I was doing. A common practice is asking the swimmer questions at feed stops to check cognitive functioning. Slurred speech, hesitation in answers, and being unable to answer what 23-1= is a good indicator that something is wrong and the swimmer is hypothermic and unable to continue to swim. Because open water swimmers train their bodies to “just keep going” our bodies can actually continue to swim even if your mind is not functioning or you are not conscious! This is actually how some English Channel swimmers have unfortunately drowned. Even after a swimmer is unconscious, the body can continue to swim, and by the time the boat crew notices, the swimmer is drowning and it is too late. BUT THAT’S NOT GOING TO HAPPEN TO ME! The water in the bay should be a great temperature and people will be regularly checking my stroke rate and ensuring I am okay.
This last concern is actually the “most likely” to happen. I am not truly worried about any of them happening but after my 6-hour training swim in LA where I was extremely nauseous I have thought about this one a lot. Even if the bay is not vey choppy for my swim, the subtle rolling waves can make a swimmer seasick. Additionally, feeds can make swimmers get sick or feel nauseous. I have trained with my feeds extensively on 3, 4 and 5 hour training swims and am confident that my stomach will be happy. But, in the unlikely case that my stomach decides it is unhappy—my crew will remake my Carbopro liquid feeds with a lower concentration of calories so it is easier for me to digest. Also to help with the possibility of rolling waves making me seasick, I will be wearing earplugs to protect my inner ears and prevent getting nauseous. Everyone will have to yell just a little bit louder to communicate with me!
The take-away from this post (I hope) is that: yes there are risks! BUT we are doing everything to mitigate those risks. I am confident that everything will go smoothly and I will make it to Provincetown not hypothermic or seasick, without having encountered any sharks, on a beautiful, sunny day! We are however prepared for all or any of those worst-case scenarios. I trust my team and I trust my abilities. So here’s to 4 days to go!!