#93, #94, #95 Down Around Key West

#93, #94, #95 Down Around Key West

Courtesy of Bill Welzien, Key West, Florida.

Bill Welzien is closing in on his Century Swim around the 12.5-mile (20.1 km) Key West.

On August 8th, he completed circumnavigation #93 with a 6 hour 3 minute swim with Terence White as his escort kayaker.

#93 was swum on a full moon; now I was with the new moon with swim #94. #93 was a piece of cake compared to what I would experience with #94,” recalled Welzien. #94 would take him three attempts to get it ratified in the books.

“My first attempt was on August 21st. The wind was blowing pretty good out of the east as we got out to the start at Smathers Beach and started in the dim dawn light. I had a 7:10 am start time. The water had a good sized chop to it, but I figured it would lay down upon entering the harbor. Sadly, I would never find out. As I have mentioned often, I like to keep an eye on my kayaker. If the kayaker is struggling, I get concerned.

My kayaker this day was in and out of view. Then about 2 miles into the swim, I looked and my spotter was nowhere to be seen. Now I stopped and put my goggles on my forehead to look. As the billow went up, I looked and shouted her name. Then I went back down and saw nothing. Finally, on the top of a wave, I saw her and began to swim to her. She was a couple hundred yards away. When I reached her, she was in the water. The paddle was in her hand, but there was no kayak. She pointed to the kayak drifting off, being blown by the wind. She was treading water about 100 yards from shore. Feeling she was competent to make it, I directed her to land and I made my way to the kayak.

There was no way I could catch it. I noticed it was heading for the shore at the naval base. When it landed on the shallow rocks, the waves flipped it. I finally arrived at the kayak and I look for my waterproof iPhone. My phone was waterproof, but it was not floatable. It was on the bottom of the ocean, somewhere. We lost a lot on that mishap. My kayaker’s phone too was ruined. Expensive losses.

The military police came to the scene. She wanted to see ID. My ID was in my car at the beach. And the keys? The keys were at the bottom as well.

My kayaker made it to the gate of the base. She was on one side and I on the other. The guard put the kayak in the back of her pickup and dropped me off on my distraught kayaker’s side. I thanked God, my kayaker was safe and sound, but now we had the unenviable position of being a good two miles from the van, keyless and a kayak to move.

I then thought, “I will call my wife.” I borrowed a phone, but then realized I didn’t know my wife’s cell number. It was on my cell phone in Davy Jones’ Locker. Thankfully, my kayaker did. We called and my dear wife who dutifully drove 20 miles to bring me my extra set of keys. She then drove me to the van and after which I drove back to the guard gate to pick up my kayaker and kayak. My first attempt ended as a 2 mile swim. Disappointment all around.

I had given up on securing #94 on this New Moon phase. But while swimming in my canal the next day, I thought, I can still give another try. I called my daughter Abigail White and put in my request. She agreed and we headed to Smathers Beach on August 24th. It was storming when I awoke that morning with thunder and lightning I called her husband and asked Terence what he made of the weather and he urged me to go. I told Abby she could call it off but she said, go. So we went.

It was not raining when we left, but the sky was dark and cloudy. I took my first stroke at 9:20 am. I was happy to see us pass the mile 2 area. And we entered the Key West Harbor. The sky got darker and right around mile 3, I saw some serious lightning bolts too close for comfort. I couldn’t believe I was aborting my second try to get #94. Here we were again on the Navy base property. We got escorted with our kayak to the gate and once on the other side Abby ran barefooted back to the car. I had my brand new iPhone 7 waterproof in a bag so it could not end up on the ocean’s bottom. She made it back and loaded up the van and headed to our homes. So much for my second attempt.

It takes effort to make bottles of drink, to put on the Solrx sunscreen, and then fail to accomplish the mission is so disappointing.

My third effort to secure Swim #94 came on September 4th. The full moon was scheduled on September 6th. However, when my son-in-law Doug Weeks said he could paddle on Labor Day, as he had the day off, I jumped at the offer.

We started in the dark. My first stroke was at 6:25 am. The tides were not great and I completed the course in 6 hours 41 minutes 57 seconds in 88°F water and 84°F air under partly sunny skies with 15 mph wind.

I was happy to pass mile 2 (site of the first failure) and mile 3 (site of the second failure). But I wondered what obstacle might come to hinder my forward progress. Praise God, none came my way. This swim was a lot longer than I would choose to be out there, but the course was covered and completed and for that I give much thanks to the Lord and to Doug. This one played hard to get, but by God’s grace I got her. I am so thankful to Doug and his eager willingness to assist. He was outstanding.

It was only four days after that swim that we would evacuate our home and the Keys, fleeing from Hurricane Irma. Six days later on September 10th, Irma’s eye would pass over my home on Sugarloaf Key as we fled to Orlando

We evacuated, fleeing from Hurricane Irma’s deadly kiss on September 8th. I was swimming in my canal, when my son-in-law Terence White noted that Irma made a wobble back in our direction. He sounded the alarm.

As I exited the water, my daughter Jane gave me the news. At 2:30 pm we left. We headed for Orlando. There was nothing opened as we drove out the Keys. Every business was boarded and shuttered up.

We would be in Orlando`10 days. Personal news went from non-existent, to sketchy, to come on back, but be ready to be shocked.

We drove home to Sugarloaf Key on September 19th. We were shocked, what a mess, what chaos. Praise God, our house was standing. But, every tree was down. A palm tree fell on my electrical lines and bent my mast into a 90° angle before snapping the lines. A palm tree head smashed into my water line. So I had no electric and no water. Thankfully, we arrived home with a 700 watt gas generator. I named it, The Beast. It was loud, powerful and a gas guzzler. The Beast did the job until our electric lines were restored.

The canal back of my house was dirty and ominous. Boats in the canal were sunk. After a few days back, I ventured into the scary looking waters. I made sure to not to swallow any of this questionable sea water. Swimming my canal was now swimming in an obstacle course. I had to veer around downed trees and submerged boats. I had no visibility.

I set my focus on attempting Swim #95. The day in mind was October 5th. My good friend Don Nelson consented to paddle. I got ready that afternoon: put the kayak on the top of my van and got to bed with my phone set for 5:30 am. I awoke to flashes of lightning and peals of thunder. The rain blew sideways. Definitely, not encouraging.

I called Don. Not being quitter, he suggested we drive down to the beach and have a look. I reasoned that a trip to the beach in the dark would not be very helpful. My failed attempts with #94 were still too fresh in my mind. We finally agreed it was the better part of wisdom to call it a day. As the hours wore on, I was glad for our decision. Glad for the decision, but frustrated, as I was eager to go and continue in my quest for #100.

I said goodbye to the full moon and the glorious, tempting king tides and looked to the new moon. The new moon was scheduled for October 19th. As I examined the tide charts, I noted that the day before looked a tad bit better. My daughter Abigail White agreed to do the honors. I got ready, secured the kayak back on my van roof and picked Abby up just after 6:00 am. We were at the beach by 6:30 am for a 7:01 start. It was so dark we had to use my cell phone flashlight.

The water was cooler, now about 84°F. I wondered how the water would be after Hurricane Irma: clear or murky with debris in my path? Would the shallow areas be shallower? This would be my first post-Irma foray. It was also 45 days since my last go-around. I had done no swimming for a solid two weeks. I had 10 days in Orlando and on arriving home, for several days, I did nothing, but chainsaw and throw wood on a big pile.

Would muscle memory and determination carry me around? I would find out.

As I began, I found my muscles and joints were very kinky. But I moved steadily through the dark, heading for the lights on White Street Pier. I swam into a fishing line as I passed the pier. It startled me and I was thankful to have not been hooked. As the sun rose, it remained cloudy and overcast. Amazingly, I could see the bottom. The wind was out of the ENE at about 7-10 miles, hence at my back, as I swam westward. My first mile was about 33 minutes, my second about 32. Sadly, after the second mile, my GPS stopped working. That meant no more splits. I did notice that I swam under the Fleming Cut Bridge at about 2:26 pm. That put all hope to finish at about 6:00 to bed. Maybe, 6:10?

Now on the backside I made my way through the Mooring Field, I noted that the water was murkier. So far, I saw nothing drastically different on the bottom. This swim had a different feel. The sky was dark. I felt like we were all alone. There was virtually no one around.

After we came around Sigsbee, I took a drink break. I told Abby we were all alone. She responded, “Yeah, it is sort of, sort of like a ghost town!” “Yeah,” I said, as I tossed back the bottle and swam on.

By the time we arrived at the Cow Key Channel Bridge it was about 4:50 into the swim. I figured we aiming at a 6:30 finish. I also thought that if the bottom shifted it could well have been in this area, especially around Dead Man’s Curve. Coming around that curve is the shallowest part of the course. I made it fine, but saw a tree laying there. Where did that come from? I navigated around the tree and its branches. Now, I headed back into the Atlantic Ocean. I was on the final two-mile stretch. That stretch is traditionally shallow. No change here.

Upon reaching the poles at Smathers Beach, I was on the last half mile. I looked around and there were still few signs of life. Finally, I reached the start/finish pole. When I touched it, I stopped my watch. I clocked a time of 6 hours 35 minutes 40 seconds in 84°F water and 80°F air. As always, very happy to have completed the course.

I slowly made my way to the beach, some back stroke and some crawl. Abby kayaked ahead to the shore. To my surprise, my wife Sessie and daughter Jane were there to greet us. They were the only ones on the whole beach. It was 1:30 pm and there were only the four of us, it was like a ghost town.

So glad to get #95 done, completed, and put to rest. Looking to attempt Swim #96 on or before November 4th. I have 5 more swim to meet my goal of 100.

Interestingly, October 31st 2017 is the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. That day commemorates the day Martin Luther nailed the 95 theses to the cathedral door. So my 95 in this month is most fitting. Soli Deo Gloria.

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Steven Munatones