Observing and Documenting The Improbable

Observing and Documenting The Improbable

On June 15th, Stève Stievenart of France set off on a 64.6 km two-way crossing of the Catalina Channel, starting at Smuggler’s Cove on the Palos Verdes Peninsula in Southern California.  An improbable 28 hours 45 minutes later, he joyfully pranced his way back onshore and into the arms of his younger brother and coaches Kevin Murphy and Kathy Batts.

His first leg from the Southern California mainland to Catalina Island was brutal to say in the least.  Battling stiff winds that stirred up plenty of swells and a relentless onslaught of white horses [whitecaps to the American crew members], Stievenart took nearly 16 hours to complete his first leg.  Only in the very last part of his first leg in the leeward side of Catalina Island did he see any relief from the elements.

But his transition on Doctor’s Cove was efficiently quick. The 7 minutes on dryland seemed to give the 45-year-old Frenchman a well-needed boost of energy and confidence.  While his stroke turnover did not change, he moved much faster in the water during the entire second leg.  His return only took 12 hours 54 minutes – nearly 3 hours faster in an unprecedented negative-split two-way crossing.

The worried looks on the faces of his coaches and crew on board the escort boat Pacific Star were not shared by his confident partner Fredricka.  Escort kayakers Dan Simonelli, Barb Schumacher, and Patricio Libenson kept Stievenart on course throughout each leg that were observed by CCSF’s Don Van Cleve, Roxie Hipolito, and Steven Munatones.

Stievenart’s Observer Report was handwritten in real time throughout the swim and includes:

* real time (e.g., 6:30 am PST), measured by the watches of the observer on watch
* water temperature (e.g., 63.9°F), measured in Fahrenheit by a water thermometer left in the water off the hull of the escort boat
* air temperature (e.g., 66.9°F) and wind speed (e.g., 3-5 knots), measured by a handheld anemometer facing the wind
* wave height (1.0 feet), measured in feet, estimated by the observer on watch
* stroke rate per minute (56), counting each arm entry into the water for 60 seconds by sight.  At night, SPM (strokes per minutes) is normally counted by sound.
* GPS position expressed in latitude and longitude (e.g., 33° 37.48 N 118° 26.31 W), that enables a post-swim graphing of the swimmer’s progress across the channel.
* observers’ narrative, summarizing multiple observations of the swimmer, conditions, marine life (from jellyfish to dolphins), and other relevant information on a constant basis, officially compiled every 30 minutes (e.g., Stéve wishes a good morning on his feeding stop to the escort crew on board…he consumed Maltodextrin drink with a piece of Battenberg cake). 

This text supports additional information that includes photographs, videos, and GPS data.  Collectively, this documentation enables the Catalina Channel Swimming Federation, as the local governing body, to officially ratify a swim for its archives and to certify a swimmer as a Catalina Channel swimmer.

Smuggler’s Cove

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Steven Munatones