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May the odds be ever in my favor.

I’m cogitating on a big decision regarding my Catalina crossing in late August. I’ve recently increased my time in the bay, and while it’s still cold, I’m doing fairly well. The plan is to gradually increase my tolerance to the cold, to the point that my long swims will be held in open water. I’m only now starting to increase my yardage in the pool, but I have a training plan and trust my and my coach’s judgment.

Following my application to CCSF, I’ve been in contact with two of their officials. In my conversation with them today, they said they would not approve my application unless I swam two qualifying swims for them in 60-degree water: 6 hours in April and 10 hours in May, with observers. While some associations, such as the English Channel, have such requirements, Catalina does not have an official qualifying requirement. These additional hoops are attributed to the fact that I don’t have enough cold water experience in their opinion.

I have no doubt that the CCSF means well, and that they consider this additional cautionary measure an important guarantee that all applicants are up to the task. But I am a grown woman, have considered my fitness and investment in this venture carefully, and I would respond better to advice and counsel than to unequally-applied requirements. It may well be that swimming 10 hours in 60-degree water is a great idea. But if it is, I want it to be my decision, not something I do to jump through externally-imposed hoops.

So, I am more and more excited about the prospect of swimming Catalina unsanctioned. I already have a boat and a pilot, a crew, and a training plan. I have friends who can act as observers for the swim, and I have every intention of complying with channel rules during the swim. The water belongs to everyone; it is not owned by channel associations. The only consequence, as far as I can tell, is that my name will not appear on the CCSF channel crossing list, but I’m realizing that I don’t really care: I will know that I swam it, and so will the people I love, and we will raise money for indigent advocacy, and that is the only thing that matters to me. I want to bring back the feeling of swimming for my own pleasure, gratification, health, and sense of achievement, rather than for the approval of others.

Much as I’m excited about the prospect of swimming unsanctioned, I haven’t given CCSF my final answer on whether I’m going to do the qualifying swims. I’m going to give this some thought over the next week or two. Your advice on whether swimming unsanctioned has any downsides I may have disregarded will be welcome.

7 thoughts on “Unsanctioned”

    1. An unsanctioned swim will not appear on the list of successful swims. I understand this may be of little value to you, but to those of us that devour the history and records of the worlds great swim routes this has the potential to make things muddy. You might view it as just one swim… but the precedent it sets is much larger. What if many others decide to follow your footsteps? WIll the CCSF have to compete with a new population of unsanctioned swimmers for support boats? crews?
      The CCSF does an excellent job of training observers and deserves community support.
      I don’t think the required swims are that outrageous, and I would certainly include training sessions along those lines anyway.

      1. Those are great considerations, and thank you for elaborating, Dave. I have immense respect for you and very much appreciate your opinion.
        Here’s how I see it: I’m slow, and very far from being a marathoning celebrity. I like the idea of leaving behind the same mark that the sharks and the oarfish leave – I swim for me, not for the glorification of my effort.
        As to the question, what if many others decide to follow your footsteps – I doubt that will happen; people value sanctioning, records, and stamps of approval a great deal, for understandable reasons like the ones you mentioned. And hey, if more people go in my footsteps, maybe CCSF will come to the conclusion that qualification requirements should be made clearly, transparently, and apply uniformly to all applicants. If they come to this conclusion, all of us in the sport have much to gain from it.

        In friendship,


  1. Hadar,
    I like your blog. Great discussions. Send me an email. I’m new to swim marathon and would like to ask you some questions. I’m interested in making the crossing from woods hole to martha’s vineyard.
    -Jon B

  2. Hadar,
    I just came across your post as I research swimming the channel. Did you end up making the crossing? If so sanctioned or unsanctioned?

    1. Hi, Allison! I ended up not doing the swim; while the interaction with channel authorities was discouraging, the bulk of the responsibility lies on me. I lost my motivation for lengthy training, and have been swimming shorter races since then–my next one is a ten-miler in Vermont.

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