Last Friday on her 40th birthday, a San Diego cold-water, open-ocean swimmer did what only six other people, including three other women, have done: swim across Kachemak Bay. With her partner Al Bremer paddling alone beside her in a bright-yellow kayak, Claudia Rose pushed off from the beach by Land’s End Resort on the Homer Spit at about 11 a.m. and by 1 p.m. landed at McKeon Flats at the mouth of China Poot Bay, about 4 nautical miles or 4.6 miles.
Rose duplicated a swim pioneered on Aug. 4, 2006, by a group of three women and one man, Liz Villarreal, Ingrid Harrald, Kristin Siemann and Brian Stone. Earlier that same day, two Anchorage men, Chris Hodel and Bob Kaufman, swam a slightly different route from the Spit to Halibut Cove.
Rose, however, pegged a first for her swim: she’s the only person so far to cross Kachemak Bay wearing a thin Nike tank swimming suit, what master’s swimmers call “naked” swimming.
Rose had first planned to swim on Thursday, but high winds and seas with whitecaps caused her to scrub her plans. An Ashore Water Taxi boat, the Blackfish, operated by Dave Lyon, also followed Rose on her Friday swim. As the Blackfish pitch-poled through rough seas on Thursday, Lyon advised Rose to call off the swim. On Friday, with calmer seas, she made another attempt.
“It was smooth and glassy,” Rose said on Friday afternoon in a phone interview as she warmed up in the hot tub at Land’s End Resort. “It was nice. We had an incoming tide that seemed like it was pushing me along. Either that, or I swam the fastest 4 (nautical) miles I ever swam.”
Most of the trip was in seas with a water temperature of 52 degrees.
“The last 500 yards was glacial runoff and I was miserably cold,” Rose said, estimating the water temperature there to be in the low 40s.
With silt from glaciers and other runoff, Rose said she could see where currents sheered against each other. During the swim, her suit had filled up with silt. Except for the last leg, she said she felt strong on the swim.
“Until then I was nice and strong and fast, warm and smooth,” she said. “Well, warm for here.”
The last stretch was the coldest water Rose said she had ever swum in. Rose has done long-distance swims across the Catalina Channel, including a solo swim in 2006 and a relay in 2009. This summer she swam as part of an Alaska Masters team in a sanctioned swim across Sitka Sound. In California she swims with the La Jolla Cove Swim Club. La Jolla gets cold water in the 50s from deep water rising up near there, so a La Jolla winter is like an Alaska summer.
Rose grew up swimming in New England and has a classic cold-water swimmer’s body with more body fat. However, she’s not as heavy as some cold-water swimmers, she said, and doesn’t have the well-distributed body fat of legendary cold-water swimmer Lynne Cox, who did a training run in Kachemak Bay in 1988. Rose started ocean swimming in 2004 after joint pain kept her from other sports like running. Now, she gets body pains if she doesn’t swim.
Her Kachemak Bay swim was training for a longer, more ambitious swim she plans next summer: an 8-mile swim across Cook Inlet at the Forelands between Nikiski and Kustatan to raise awareness about the Cook Inlet environment. She wore a custom swimming cap with an image of a dolphin on one side and a beluga whale on the other to show her support for the environment.
“We swim for the belugas and the marine mammals of the world who keep getting squeezed out of their habitat,” Rose said.
She swam in just a tank suit “in sympathy with the belugas and the orcas out there who don’t get to wear wetsuits,” Rose added.
Rose used to drink fancy sport drinks. On a Catalina Channel swim when she got sick from diesel fuel, she found she could keep down green tea. Now green tea with a mix of complex carbohydrates is her hydration of choice. The night before she ate salmon and that morning had a boiled egg and a Pop Tart. She tries to eat a lot of protein before big swims.
A Cook Inlet swim will be in warmer waters but faster currents, Rose said. That distance is about 8 miles. Rose said with the current it should cover 20 miles. Nobody has ever done a Cook Inlet crossing, and many say it’s not possible because of the currents.
“If you work with the current, you can do it,” she said.
The Sitka Sound swim also was a first crossing for Rose and the other swimmers — but not the first for land mammals. Locals told Rose that problem brown bears taken across the sound had been known to swim back.