The Catalina Channel is in our backyard,” said Hank Wise just hours before his relay attempted the 20.2-mile Catalina Channel. “Long Beach needs to rally around this beautiful channel. We need to own it.”

And that they did. The Long Beach Swim Focus Catalina Relay set the new overall world record across the Catalina Channel in 6:53:04 this early California morning.

The relay of fit masters swimmers who took a keen surfer’s approach to the channel broke the overall record set by U.S.A. National Team in 1989 with a time of 7:02:45.

The masters athletes, all locals from Long Beach, California, are former collegiate swimmers who have stayed in good shape over the years – a testament to their love of swimming and healthful living – found their Fountain of Youth in the Pacific Ocean.

The swimmers, who often gaze across the Catalina Channel in the course of their daily lives, included Hank Wise (age: 43), Dr. Lyle Nelli (51), Ted Bramble (40), Matt Mitchell (44), Parks Wesson (50) and Lexie Kelly (24). The alternate swimmer was Samantha Sears with paddlers Benjamin Landis and Matt Landis never leaving their side. Captain Greg Wise on El Goofy out of Dana Point escorted the team who never wavered from the rhumb line.

Hank took off from the San Vicente Lighthouse, flanked by his paddler and the 32-foot escort sailboat. Lyle went next and the team sensed the night was going to be theirs. “Ocean conditions were rough at the start, but got nicer as the sun set and the moon begins to shine,” explained Wise who studied the channel and its conditions like the die-hard surfer he is. “We received the benefit from a light offshore breeze.

We picked our start time to match up to the beginning of an outgoing low tide which often makes a subtle current towards Catalina
.”

He was definitely trying to channel the local community’s positive energy before the start – and the good karma they received definitely helped. “We channeled dolphin energy to see us through…our friends gave us a chest bump, kissed their knuckles and pointed their index fingers to the sky – we felt their good vibes. They all knew that we will be out there on the channel, carrying their love in our hearts on this moonlit night in an excellent aquatic experience!”

The team started and finished in the dark, boated over to the Isthmus and celebrated by a bonfire.

But training hard was only part of the successful equation. As surfers, Wise and Mitchell poured over data and analyzed the water movements over time. They selected this date due to a variety of factors. “The conditions were pretty rough in the beginning, but we were patient and knew that we were riding a gentle outflow of water away from the shore,” explained Wise. “Both Hank and Lyle, our second swimmer, got banged around in the first two legs, but after looking at all the data with our pilot Captain Greg, we were counting on a fast swim. We never got off more than 60 feet from the rhumb line. About a third through my leg (as the third swimmer), the ocean ironed out and we took a straight hot into Diver’s Bench where Hank finished up on the rocks.”

Their patience proved to be their strength as each of the swimmers kept driving towards the finish. The lead-off swimmer Hank, under very rough conditions, swam 2.2 miles through white-capped waters. Second swimmer Dr. Nelli, facing only slightly less rough conditions and some ocean rollers, swam 2.6 miles. Third swimmer Mitchell got the benefit of the night’s growing tranquility and was able to swim a third under increasingly calm conditions, completing 2.7 miles. Bramble, the fourth swimmer, was riding fast on the ironed-out Pacific and swam 3.0 miles. Wesson, flying even faster on a calm channel, completed 3.2 miles. Kelly did another 3 miles closing in on Catalina with continued calm. Wise then finished off the world record swim with a 53-minute sprint to Barnacle Beach at Doctor’s Cove.

It was a beautiful night [out on the Catalina Channel]“, recalled Mitchell. “It was nearly a full moon and we could see Catalina the entire way, right from the start. As we left the lights of Long Beach, Catalina’s silhouette was always within our vision.

It was certainly a sight/site to behold on their world record relay.

Top photo shows the entire team. Second photo shows Hank Wise. Third photo shows Dr. Lyle Nelli getting ready to get in.

Copyright © 2011 by Open Water Source