Charlotte Brynn‘s night out in the Catalina Channel was pure adrenaline, swimming to the max, an adventure of a lifetime.
Although New Zealander Charlotte Brynn did not have a successful crossing of the Catalina Channel on August 29th due to hypothermia, she was interrupted along the way by a shark. “I knew I’d been hit, but I didn’t know by what, but it was painful unlike anything I had ever felt before. It clamped on to what felt like my whole left side. Whatever it was, it let go and I kept on swimming.”
She started at 12:15 am, in the wee hours of the morning during pitch black skies off Catalina Island. “I got hit within the first hour, it stung, it was throbbing. I felt like a got smacked with a wide piece of lumber. It was hard and it stung. But I was focused and did not break stroke. I am geared in. But I start to get hip cramps and my shoulders start to burn, so put it out my mind.
I kept my same flow going. You can to deal with what you know, and I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t stop and thrash around. You know you start to go down the checklist of things it could be: did I run into the boat? Did I hit the kayak? A shark wasn’t high on the list. .”
So she kept swimming and swimming and swimming until hypothermia got the better of her within sight of the California mainland. “Along the way, I had 3 pods of dolphins swimming near me, but towards the end when I got within 2.3 km of the finish, the Observer called me and started to ask me questions. Barbara Held was asking me questions and I was so happy with myself because I could answer right away. But then she called the swim and said, ‘You are getting out.’ I had slowed down, I swam towards the boat and I got all wrapped up. But by the time I get to the dock, I was getting warm.”
Once onto shore, she helped carry the stuff and equipment over to her car. “So I am dragging all the stuff. I just sat down and the pilot comes over and says, ‘I just want to know that you are so upbeat [even though you didn’t finish]. You did everything we asked you it.'”
Finally, they make it back to the car and she drag myself in the back and sit down. I was in my sweatpants. I wanted to get the grease off of me so I started taking the grease off and then noticed that I had a couple of puncture wounds and, suddenly, I got something sticking in me. And something popped out of my hip, tooth was sticking out. But she still didn’t know what it was. She couldn’t imagine it was a shark’s tooth. ‘Hey, look I found a crab claw,’ I said to my friends. Doesn’t it look like a crab claw?”
By this time, Brynn and her crew had been up almost 30 years. “Everyone was getting a big giddy and laughing at anything.” Then reality hit: “I got bit by a shark.”
After getting checked out, Brynn went to the marine biologist who works in the aquarium on the Manhattan Beach Pier. “I had a big bruise on my hip and a bit of shark’s tooth embedded instead. The biologist said there was a lot of squid running and the shape of the bite was the same as the leopard shark.* I have no reservations to get back in the water. It was pitch black when the shark hit me, but I was focused and I always need to get fuel.
I even got a call from a shark researcher. He was so happy that I was alive. He said, ‘I am really happy to talk to you.’”
Forrest Nelson of the Catalina Channel Swimming Federation believes it was the first shark encounter during a crossing of the Catalina Channel.
Brynn’s focus during the swim was indescribable. After the encounter late at night when darkness enveloped her shortly after leaving Catalina Island, she swam another 11 more hours before being pulled for hypothermia – not because of the remnants of the shark tooth in her torso. She never told anyone on her escort boat about the shark bite during or immediately after her swim this Thursday night. She only informed the Catalina Channel Swimming Federation after she confirmed the tooth came from a 5-6 foot shark.
While there are several shark sightings in recent memory from channel swimmers around the world, from the Cook Strait and the Tsugaru Channel to the Molokai Channel and Strait of Florida, only one other confirmed shark encounter had been recorded among channel swimmers: Mike Spalding in the Alenuihaha Channel between the island of Hawaii and Maui when a chunk of flesh was taken out of his calf by a cookie cutter shark.
* UPDATE: Although it was first reported that a leopard shark was responsible for the encounter, subsequent research by the shark investigators at the International Shark Attack File in Florida and the Shark Research Committee in California have indicated that the type of shark was most likely not a leopard shark. The final report has yet to be issued.
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