Bill Welzien Completes #96, Closing In On A Century Swim

Bill Welzien Completes #96, Closing In On A Century Swim

WOWSA, Key West, Florida.

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

On November 2nd, he completed circumnavigation #96, a 6 hour 11 minute swim with Jane Welzien as his escort kayaker.

He explains, “This was an uncomfortable venture. It was an extra early start and the water temperature was chillier than I would prefer. But as the old saying goes, ‘The show must go on.’

My 19-year-old daughter Jane had volunteered to ride shot gun.

This is a tidal swim. I swim on new moons and full moons. There, I find my best tides and at a decent start time.

#95 swim was on the day before the new moon of October 18th. My daughter Abigail White paddled for me. I took my first stroke at 7:01 am. If I leave the western most pole off Smathers Beach between 3 to 2.5 hours before the high tide in the Key West Harbor, I will find assistance (I leave on an incoming tide) through the Harbor and Fleming Cut (miles 2.5 to 5). When I reach mile 9 at the Cow Key Channel, I will have the outgoing tide for a mile.

I have a window of a day or two before and after the new or full moon. Every day the high tide comes about 40 minutes later than the previous day.

The fall and winter months generally have a lower high tide and a higher low tide. That means my finish times are generally slower. A high high tide and a very low, low tide mean a greater transfer of water and quicken the pace in these aforementioned areas. This is generally true, but now always.

Why? There are other factors that contribute to the finish time of a swim around. The wind can factor greatly. The wind can affect the waves. There is also the water temperature. In the summer, I can be swimming in water, as high as 90°F.

That is very claustrophobic and contributes to lethargy! Another factor, which goes without saying, is how well I am feeling on that particular swim.

I say this to point out that there is a little bit of method to this madness.

I am a thin-skinned, warm blooded creature. The only thing I like cold is a drink. I detest cold weather and cold water for swimming. For me, cold is water below 75°F. My window for ideal comfort for swimming is 78-82°F.

My #96 swim landed on a day when the water was 74°F. Worse yet, I had a 6:30 am start time.

Daughter Jane and I arrived at the beach at about 6:15. It was pitch black. It was at the very opening of the window, being two days before the full moon. The moon must have set because there was no moon light. We arrived at the beach a little later than we should have. Since I have been using the SolRx Sunscreen (SPF 50), I apply it at home which saves us a bit of time at the beach. This product is simple to apply and stays on until I wash it off with soap and water. It has provided me with skin protection for up to 7 hours without re-application. It is ideal for swimming under the intense sun of the Florida Keys. I am so happy to have ditched the maximum strength zinc oxide – a pain to apply and to remove, stains everything and stinks like fish oil.

At the beach, we took the kayak off the van roof and loaded it. Then dragged it to the shore line. The water quietly lapped the shore.

At 6:36 am I had breakfast on the beach, a bottle of strawberry flavored Hammer Perpetuem and a mint Clif Bar. I then led us in prayer and we headed into the inky black water in the dark. I could only see my start pole as I approached it. I touched the pole and then I took my first official stroke at 6:44 am. The sunrise was schedule for 7:34 am.

As I swam west in the dark, my reference point was the lights at White Street Pier (Knight Pier). That pier is a tad more than half mile from the starting point. I knew the sun would be rising. I would have some twilight and then the dawn. The dark was not as disconcerting to me as the chill of the water. Again, I reasoned, as the sun rises the water and I should experience some warmth. I was sure my situation would improve.

I knew this swim was to be called No Lollygagging. I wanted to get out that water as soon as I could. I was clenching my jaw. My body was like a stiff board. I just kept moving my arms. I kept telling myself to relax and not be so tense.

My first few miles were about 30 minutes each at 32:04, 30:26, 30:27. I got past the radar dishes on the Base (mile 2) about 1:02. Sadly, before I got to mile 5 my Garmin Forerunner 920XT GPS watch stopped recording my splits and distance. This must be bout the fifth time this happened. Is this because of the radar on the Navy and/or Coast Guard bases? I swim right past each. A call to the Garmin appears to be in order.

Since the wind was out of the northeast at about 7-10 mph, it played little part as I swam toward the harbor. In the harbor, there was a little chop. The one cruise ship was scheduled to dock at 9:30 am. I was well past the piers for cruise ships by that time. One less concern. I was swimming under the Fleming Cut Bridge (mile 5) at about 9:05 am. That was about 2 hours 20 minutes into the swim. This was heartening. The sun was well up. But, I was still cold.

Funny how the mind works. I set my sights on certain markers and aim at them. These are my little goals to accomplishing the big goal of finishing. The first one was the Knight Pier lights, then the radar dishes at mile 2, then in the harbor there is a square concrete piling near mile 3, then the edge of the pier that leads into the Fleming Cut, then the clump of trees jutting out on the north side of Sigsbee, etc. As I face the next, I think I past the other milestones, this next is just another. I reflect at how many times I passed those very same milestones in the past 95 swims. I proceed on. The chilliness of the water and the thought of getting warm again drives me on.

I finished this swim with a better time than the last two. My Swim #94 time was 6 hours 41 minutes 57 seconds. Swim #95 was a 6 hours 35 minutes 40 seconds and now Swim #96 was clocked at 6 hours 11 minutes 16 seconds. The high tide with #96 was not much higher than swim #95. Yet, my time was some 20 minutes quicker. Why? Perhaps the desire to get out caused me to speed up.

I must admit my dismay at not having my splits recorded for each mile. I only fueled up a couple times. I had no desire to stop and a big desire to finish.

The wind factored only minimally. We hit it as we left the Fleming bridge heading to Sigsbee and coming out of Sigsbee heading toward the Cow Key Bridge. I knew the closer I get to that Bridge the less effect the wind would have on my kayaker and me. As I swam under the Cow Key Bridge and looked at my elapsed time, I guesstimated a 6 hour 15 minute finish. I was close with my 6:11.16.

I finish by touching the start/finish pole and then hit my watch. I feel the ache in my shoulders. Then slowly, and thankfully, make my way back to shore doing back and crawl strokes. I stand up in the shallow water at the edge of the shore. I was happy to get out, cold and eager to warm up. A good look at the Victory Photo indicates I am chilled.

My youngest daughter, Jane did a fine job of accompanying her dad on this trip. Now I have just four to complete in achieving my goal of 100.

I am frequently asked what I will do after reaching 100. My answer is ‘Ask me after I reach 100!’ I still have four swims to complete.

I choose not to assume anything in this life. Things happen. I humbly pray that the Lord strengthen me and allow me to complete this goal. The next question is, when? I originally hoped that the first swim this month would have been #100. The difficulties securing #94 and the hurricane and other stormy days have set back my ambitious goals. However, I will aim to secure at least two more swims before the close of 2017.

Last year, I ended the year with an unprecedented 15 swims. Currently, I have nine completed swims in 2017. Indeed, the times and season are in the hands of the Father.

Soli Deo Gloria.

Swim #96 completed on November 2nd 2017 with escort kayaker Jane Welzien (19) in a time of 6:11.16 over a distance of 12.5 miles with a start time of 6:44 am, sunrise at 7:35 am, water temperature at 74°F, air temperature ranged from 73-80°F under mostly sunny skies and a NE wind of 7-14 mph using a Garmin Forerunner 920XT GPS that failed at mile 4 and SolRx Matte Zinc Sunscreen SPF 50.

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Steven Munatones