Thursday, March 10, 2016

TI Swim Camp, day #4

Today was field trip day, sort of a rest day in the larger context of the week. On Tuesday and Wednesday we discussed options and the overwhelming preference was for Hapuna Beach. Perfect for me as that is where is race will be. I have been there twice before and the bay was like a lake. The first time it was a little windy on race morning, enough to dislodge one of the buoys, but there was hardly any wave action. Looking to the upcoming race, the challenge for me is to swim the distance and not miss the cut-off time. Which is to say, I never thought conditions would be a challenge, the not like Queen's Surf.

Just our luck then that the cold front that has been kicking up waves in Kailua Bay moved south far enough to trigger high wind warnings for the northwest coast of the Big Island. Winds 15-30 with gusts to 50. Large vehicles beware. When we arrived the guy at the guard house collecting parking fees pointed out that it was very windy and rough, no good for swimming. We assured him we were experts and went on in. Down on the beach Coach Bill huddled with the life guards. Don't know what was said, but probably something like "I'll keep an eye on these folks but might need a hand if conditions deteriorate." He did report that we were advised to stay on the north end of the beach due to larger waves on the south end.

I don't know if it was the surf or the wind but one of our group decided not to go in. Maybe she hasn't been around the ocean enough. To me it looked just like Kailua Beach on Oahu. Fast, short-lived shore break not more than waist high. No big deal.

I should have started my Garmin sooner. As it was we were ready to head out and it was still searching for satellites. Too bad the Fenix2 does not have a "start now and add on the GPS data when it becomes available" mode. At least in open water mode it will not start the timer until it has found a GPS signal. So, I headed out through the waves to were the water was finally deep enough and calm enough to swim, at which point it found GPS happiness and I could start my track.

I can't say for sure but about five minutes later the wind went absolutely crazy. The chop we have had all week now had streams of spray blowing across the surface of the water, making breathing impossible. When my face was down in the water things seemed normal, but every time I came up for a breath I was overwhelmed by total pandemonium. I hung on a bit more but with growing concern that my trying to stay with the advanced swimmers going parallel to the beach was putting everyone at risk of having to break off and come back to rescue me. Having decided the conditions were beyond my ability to manage safely I decided to swim back in. Along the way I hooked up with another swimmer and Coach Bill, who led us back to the beach.

The good news is that I was never felt panic. Just a felling that this was more than I could handle. Maybe had I stuck it out I could have made it to the north end, with the others, but I just did not feel safe attempting it today.

Here is a short movie I shot after I returned to show how bad conditions were. Sorry about the camera movement, I was holding as still as possible. Pay attention to the spray coming off the top of the waves. That is what was causing me so much trouble.

After the swim we all had lunch at a nice place in Kawaihai called Cafe Pesto. Then the group decided to keep the party feeling going with a really nice dinner at a wonderful place up above Kona called Holuakoa Cafe. I thought of it as a birthday outing and splurged on a steak and a glass of Merlot. A happy ending to a not so successful day.

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