An Unprecedented Double-Double In the English and Catalina Channels

An Unprecedented Double-Double In the English and Catalina Channels

Anne Cleveland announced her unprecedented “double-double” attempt this August.

The 54-year-old La Jolla Cove legend plans to be the first person in history to complete a two-way crossing of both the English Channel and Catalina Channel come this August.

The training required, the logistics required and the potential risks of accomplishing this feat are mind-boggling. But, if anyone is committed and talented enough to see her plans through, it is Anne.

Anne first entered the elite world of endurance swimming in 1999 at the advanced age of 43, after initially quitting the sport as an accomplished age-group swimmer.

During her first Catalina Channel attempt, she passed out from hypothermia after 6 hours and 40 minutes in the water during a cold, windy night in the Pacific Ocean.

The next year, she wisely shifted gears and headed to warmer waters with a 9.6-mile solo swim from Lanai to Maui which she finished in 4 hours and 9 minutes.

With sufficient experience under her cap and confident in her training, Anne went back to the Catalina Channel to redeem herself. Although luck and weather conditions were not on her side, persistence was. Her crew, including experienced Catalina Channel veterans John York and David Clark begged her to not get in due to unsafe conditions, but Anne’s mind was made up – come hell or, literally, high water. She bravely took on extremely rough seas and finished her swim in 10 hours and 15 minutes to the surprise of the seasoned channel experts.

With that courageous swim behind her, her dream to swim across the English Channel, initiated when she met Florence Chadwick in San Diego in her teens, seemed closer to reality. The next year, at the age of 46, Anne experienced that reality when she crossed the English Channel in 12 hours and 32 minutes.

But she was not done yet – not by a long shot.

With another two years of hard training, including training through miserable conditions in the cold Pacific Ocean throughout winter, Anne was ready to significantly step up and become the 17th person to do a double-crossing of the English Channel. But no one had ever attempted a Channel two-way only two years shy of 50.

After an incredible 28 hour 36 minute battle with the elements and tides, Anne became the oldest person, male or female, to successfully complete a two-way English Channel swim. Gamely toughing out Force 5 conditions with winds up to 24 knots on spring tides, she had to face 6-9 foot (2-3 meters) waves in miserable conditions. Despite the tides that forced her to land at the northernmost point of history of any two-way swim (Kingsdown), she achieved her goal and received the Channel Swimming & Piloting Federation Award for the Most Meritorious Swim by a Woman in 2004.

Her two-way crossing was a charity swim for the Moores University of California San Diego Cancer Center. With trademark humility and profound analogies, Anne described her effort, “Staying in the water for a channel swim is similar to staying the course for cancer treatment. You can’t ‘get out’ when you are tired or if you just don’t feel like it anymore. You have to stay in to the finish. Sometimes toward the end of a swim, you can see the shore, but the tides shift unexpectedly, so you must swim a few extra miles. I’m not a cancer survivor, but I know about staying in there for the long haul.”

Her 28 hour 36 minute swim certainly counts as a long haul.

After establishing her motivational company, Wish Upon A Star, Anne took a bit of time off to focus on shorter ocean swims and relays, including a 10K swim in Fiji, a two-way Catalina Channel relay, a one-way Catalina Channel relay, a swim in 52°F (11°C) Haro Straits in Canada and a variety of relay swims in the San Diego area.

But the solo marathon swimming bug came back in 2007. Back among her friends and a supportive escort crew in Dover, she completed a one-way solo crossing of the English Channel in 11 hours and 33 minutes.

The seeds of doing something special have been ruminating around her mind since reaching the French shore. Achieving a double-double will be special – and unprecedented – but she will need to call upon all of her ocean experiences – good and bad – to waltz into history with her double-double. Anne has assembled the most experienced crew, led by renowned Catalina skipper John Pittman, to help guide her from the California mainland to Catalina island and back. Her star-studded crew, aboard Pittman’s Outrider, will include John York, Todd Robinson, Michelle McConica, Paula Selby, Lynn Kubasek and Emily Evans.

To date, there have been only six people who have successfully completed a double-crossing of the Catalina Channel: Greta Andersen in 26:53 in 1958, Penny Dean in 20:03 in 1977, Cindy Cleveland in 24:30 in 1977, Dan Slosberg in 19:32 in 1978, John York in 1978 in 16:42, Tina Neill in 22:02 in 2008.

Anne fully intends to join their club.

It would be doubly sweet.

Copyright © 2009 by World Open Water Swimming Association
Steven Munatones