Courtesy of Stephen Lewis, Santa Rosa Island, California.
“I have had the pleasure to watch and assist on several Catalina Channel crossings including the first attempt by Frank Reynolds when he swam for over 14 hours and was involuntarilly pulled out as the tides were pushing him away from the California mainland,” recalled Steven Munatones. “He came back the next year and completed his crossing – as hundreds of others have done to, from and around the 8 major islands off the California coast.
Evan Morrison of the Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association recently told me that one of the most remarkable swims in California Channel Islands history – since Catalina Channel was first crossed in 1927 – was achieved by Ken Mignosa on September 21st. Ken finished a 65.98 km two-way crossing between Santa Cruz Island and the California mainland in 29 hours 22 minutes.
Along the way, he also swam around Anacapa Island as he completed the second longest solo marathon swim in California Channel Islands history.”
So what are some of the most remarkable swims in the Catalina Channel swimming history?
“Swimmers who spend the longest time in the water, or did crossings at the earliest date, or set records for the fastest, or swam the longest distances or through the most difficult conditions are always impressive,” opined Munatones. “Everyone has their favorite crossings, many that go unheralded in the record books, but these swimmers of all ages and backgrounds are so impressive. The history of channel swims in this area is so rich, there are so many swims and crossings to celebrate.”
A Brief View of Historic Swims in the California Channel Islands (listed by date):
1. George Young completed the first crossing of the 32.2 km Catalina Channel in 15 hours 44 minutes at the age of 17 at the Wrigley Ocean Marathon on January 15th 1927. He won US$25,000 for his efforts after riding a motorcycle and hitchhiking from Toronto for weeks to participate in the swim, but he was quickly swindled out of his well-earned cash prize.
2. Myrtle Huddleston completed the first crossing of the Catalina Channel by a woman in 20 hours 42 minutes. What is remarkable is that Huddleston learned how to swim at the age of 30 in 1926 and entered the Wrigley Ocean Marathon in January 1927 where she lasted 7 hours in the channel. Less than a year from the time she first learned how to swim, she became the first female to swim across the Catalina Channel on February 5th 1927.
3. Although Paul Chotteau completed a 33 hour 50 minute crossing of the Catalina Channel on July 26th 1936, a more remarkable swim was attempted in July 1938 when he attempted a 90 km swim from Santa Barbara Island to Venice Beach. He aborted the swim after 70.8 km after a shark swam under him and left a scratch on his chest from its fin.
4. Greta Andersen completed a 26 hour 53 minute two-way crossing of the Catalina Channel on October 5th 1958. It was achieved three years before a two-way crossing was first achieved in the English Channel.
5. Dr. Penny Lee Dean completed the fastest crossing of the Catalina Channel in 7 hours 15 minutes on September 1st 1976. Despite not guided by GPS and wearing a typically baggy Speedo swimsuit circa 1970’s style (i.e., not a contemporary jammer tech suit with compression panels), her record for both men and women remains standing 42 years later.
6. John York completed the fastest two-way crossing of the Catalina Channel on September 21st 1978 in 16 hours 42 minutes despite being pulled out unconscious on a previous attempt. The teenager’s record still stands as he approaches the age of 60.
7. Cindy Cleveland completed a 74.7 km circumnavigation swim around Catalina Island on August 16th 1979 in 34 hours 24 minutes almost 10 years after she told her coach Siga Rose that she wanted to swim “there” (Catalina Island).
8. David Yudovin completed the first crossing from Santa Cruz Island to Oxnard on the California coast, 30.6 km in 15 hours 15 minutes on August 16th 1983 in an era where he and Cindy Cleveland were pioneering the different routes of the Santa Barbara Channel without GPS.
9. Scott Zornig began the island hopping style of channel swimming when he pioneered a 9 km swim from Anacapa Island to Santa Cruz Island in 2 hours 18 minutes on October 7th 2007 at the age of 48.
10. Marc Lewis became the first person to swim the 44.3 km from Santa Rosa Island to the coast of California in 15 hours 46 minutes on July 12th 2008 that was documented in a film called The Crossing [see above].
11. Tina Neill completed a Catalina Channel crossing – swimming entirely backstroke – in 10 hours 37 minutes, only 16 days after she completed a 22 hour 2 minute two-way crossing of the same channel at the age of 42 on July 25th 2008.
12. Penny Palfrey pioneered the 41.7 km route between San Miguel Island to the California mainland in 11 hours 29 minutes at the age of 46 on September 26th 2008.
13. Penny Palfrey swam an unprecedented 60.7 km from Santa Barbara Island to the California coast in 17 hours 53 minutes on September 25th 2009 at the age of 47. Early in the swim, she encountered a Great White Shark swimming underneath her and she calmly swam onto her destination without a pause in her stroke.
14. Ventura Deep Six including Tom Ball, Kurtis Baron, John Chung, Jim McConica, Jim Neitz and Mike Shaffer set the longest non-stop ocean relay record when they swam 325 km from Ventura to San Diego along the California coast on September 16th 2010. The 4 day 5 hour effort was a logistical and operational milestone [see video below].
15. Forrest Nelson experienced hallucinations during his 25 hour 35 minute record-setting circumnavigation swim around Catalina Island on July 7th 2011.
16. Tina Neill completed the first and only solo swim – 83.7 km between San Clemente Island and the California mainland – finishing in 28 hours 41 minutes on September 6th 2012.
17. Jim McConica set an Anacapa Island to the California mainland in a blazing fast 4 hours 38 minutes on October 2nd 2012. The next day he completed a second crossing in 5 hours 24 minutes, the fifth fastest crossing in history.
18. The Deep Enders completed the only relay swim 112.8 km from San Nicolas Island to the California coast in 33 hours 37 minutes on October 12th 2015 with Jim McConica, Tamie Stewart, John Chung, Theo Schmeeckle, Stacey Warmuth, Thomas Ball and Donald Stafford.
19. Carol Schumacher Hayden completed a 15 hour 2 minute crossing of the 32.3 km Catalina Channel at the age of 66 on September 27th 2016.
20. Ken Mignosa finished a 65.98 km two-way crossing between Santa Cruz Island and the California mainland in 29 hours 22 minutes with a detour around Anacapa Island on September 21st 2018. The 55-year-old swam the outbound leg via east and south Anacapa Island, for the second longest solo marathon swim in California Channel Islands history.
21. Susan Petro set two records in the Santa Barbara Channel with her 15 hour 53 minute crossing from Anacapa Island to the California coast. She was not only the oldest woman to swim the channel, but she also spent more time in the water by 4 hours on September 24th 2018.
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