In complete darkness, a team of six swimmers recently embarked on a 21-mile relay from Catalina Island to Palos Verdes.
At 3 a.m., the relay began with the first swimmer diving into pitch-black water with nothing to guide them but the ambient light of glow sticks hanging from a kayak.
Keith Dickson of Hermosa Beach and Brent Blackman of Manhattan Beach faced the Sept. 28 ocean conditions with mixed feelings.
“My first reaction was ‘OK the water’s smooth, the swells are good, my stroke feels great, but I will never do this again,’” said the 56-year-old Dickson. “That’s the mantra I kept repeating to myself. ‘Everything is great but I am not doing this again.’”
The team eventually broke the record for the fastest relay swim from Catalina to P.V., which was 7 hours 2 minutes and 45 seconds, finishing in 6 hours 53 minutes and 4 seconds.
The relay started with one person swimming for an hour and then the next person taking over until it was complete with the first swimmer finishing the final leg.
“It’s pretty amazing, it’s definitely a different experience,” said Blackman, who is 44. “I’ve done so many races during the day. Swimming at night is completely different. It’s hard to navigate. There’s a kayak next to you with glow sticks to keep you going straight, but you can’t really see much. The only thing you could really see is a light house in Palos Verdes at Point Vicente.”
He said it was difficult to see before the sun lit up the water because the light house flashes every 15 seconds.
“We were kind of looking at the kayaker for guidance more than anything,” Blackman said. “We really owe our kayakers a lot of credit.”
Along with the kayakers the swimmers witnessed bioluminescence, which is a light produced by a chemical reaction within a living organism.
“Our swim was done when there was no moon,” Blackman said. “So, there was no natural light and to see these things that were under water glowing was different.”
The swimmers also ran into various fish during the relay, but never bumped into sharks.
“I had a fish bite my finger pretty hard while I was swimming,” Blackman said. “It was my left ring finger. It didn’t do too much harm, but it bit it like if you were to close the door on your finger. It doesn’t break or anything but it was pretty hard.”
Regardless of the challenges the team faced, they were thrilled about joining the record books of the 85-year-old Catalina Channel Swimming Federation.
“It’s a great feeling,” Blackman said. “We didn’t expect to break the record. We wanted to finish around 7 hours and 30 minutes.”
Blackman was the captain of the team, which included Karen Dehmel Schmidt (47) of Solana Beach, Amy Dantzler (50) of Los Angeles and Jen Schumaker (29) of Huntington Beach.