Captain Bob Andrieux and First Mate Mike Bewley are the undefeated escort pilots of the Santa Barbara Channel island swims. He has been running the Tuna Thumper out of the Ventura Harbor for 22 years. He helps escort swimmers to, from, around and between the seven islands in the Santa Barbara Channel.

What is unique about Captain Bob is that he does not charge if the swimmer chooses not to start. Captain Bob and Mike have done 15 channel swims and all of them have been successful – 100% success.

I love the ocean. Channel swimming appeals to me rather than fishing.”

Marcia Cleveland summarizes what the Santa Barbara Channel swimming community thinks about Captain Bob and Mike’s efforts, “Our swim went like clockwork. They were well-prepared and [the swim] was very well-rehearsed. I always knew Captain Bob and Mike were there. They were a comforting presence. They were not hovering (above us), but they escorted us like it is supposed to be.”

Scott Zornig, President of the Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association, echoes the sentiments of others who have had the good fortune to be escorted by Captain Bob. “These guys are great. They are passionate and knowledgeable. They won’t collect any money unless the swimmer starts. They will take a swimmer out [to one of the Santa Barbara Channel islands] and make sure everything is right with and for the swimmer. They are very easy to work with.”

Their 100% success record is telling of their passion, knowledge and selection of the conditions with which the swimmer attempts one of the Santa Barbara Channel swims.“ We try to make everyone at home, keeping things light,” beamed Captain Bob, a man who possesses an ideal amount of humor and seasoned maritime knowledge. “We have been taking fisherman, tours, Navy divers and swimmers out to the Channel islands for 22 years.”

While Mike makes the support crew and kayakers feel comfortable and safe, Captain Bob drives his dual-engine 42-foot Tuna Thumper deftly under his command at 1-2 knots, both in rough and calm conditions. “I set the course and keep working both engines, keeping the boat straight for the swimmer. I put the boat in neutral, forward, reverse, using several GPS systems, to keep on that line. If the swimmer goes off-course, I try to bring them back to the line.”

With his eyes constantly analyzing the swimmer and the elements, Captain Bob prefers to take swimmers during daytime hours. “The conditions in the Santa Barbara Channel are unpredictable with the winds blowing between the Channel islands and the shape of the coastline. We go out before daybreak and try to be in position for the swimmer to get that ‘pump’ as the sun rises. Everyone gets it. It is so beautiful as the sun rises over the horizon.”

When they first started working the Santa Barbara Channel, every swimmer wanted to start at night, a desire born out of the traditional starting time of Catalina Channel attempts. “It just feels more claustrophobic at night. People get more sick [with the rocking of the boat]. We prefer to escort with the light of day. It makes it so much easier for everyone and as soon as the sun comes up, everyone gets energized.”

Sunrise gets everyone’s adrenaline going,” agreed Mike. Without having to deal with the witching hour (between 3 – 5 am), the northern Channel Islands swimming community can avoid the gremlins of the dark.

But sometimes, Plan A proves unfeasible and the Captain and crew move to Plan B and, occassionaly, Plan C. “In the case of Jim Neitz’s last swim from Anacapa Island, he was getting pushed all over the place. We had to change plans and I told him to just follow me. We were going to go with the current. We eventually landed 7 miles north of the place where we originally planned. In the 58° water, I knew which was the current was pushing Mike and knew that he could do it.”

We try to find the comfort zone for each swimmer. Sometimes, I ask the kayakers to bring the swimmers closer to the boat. Sometimes, the kayakers do it themselves. Sometimes, we see dolphins, sea lions and run into jellyfish. When we are all doing our job, we are working together as a team,” explained Captain Bob whose respect for the sea and the swimmers is oozing from his being. “I love the water. I love going out in the water. And these swimmers are inspirational. We have never seen anything or anyone as inspirational as these swimmers.”

Captain Bob orchestrates graceful synchronicity out in the channel. Just follow.

Copyright © 2011 by Open Water Source