Author: Michael M

Why do you need my contact information?

Your contact information is needed for two main reasons:

  1. To be able to provide you with any last minute information about the race in case something comes up without enough time to post here, or expect you to read here.
  2. As an extra layer of safety to reach you in case we can’t confirm you are off the water after the race. Having an emergency contact helps with that as well.

I do keep track of every volunteer for these races, but if you want me to no longer contact you, I remove you from the master list. From time to time, other event organizers ask if they can have your contact information. I only give that out for people who expressly give me permission to do so. You may however get an email from me on behalf of another event organizer (this has happened twice in a little over three years).

 

What do I need to know in general?

Key points, beyond the other Logistics posts, are:

  • The safety briefing for kayakers is held generally 45 minutes before the start of the race, maybe earlier (as the 4.4 mile swim has a start time of +/- 30 minutes decided the morning of the race, we go for the earliest possible start time).
  • You will be given your own numbered wrist band, with the number assigned to you by the Kayak Safety Fleet Coordinator. This must be visible, else the various law enforcement boats will question your right to be on the water. As far as they are concerned, if you don’t have the wrist band, you don’t belong on the water.
  • Turn this in when you exit the water at the DNF pier by Hemingway’s. This is so we know you were on the water and safety exited the water. If your wrist band is not turned in, we will have to go looking for you.
  • All volunteers are welcome to partake of the volunteer food and drink after they get out of their boats, by the swim event tents near Hemingway’s.
  • All volunteers are welcome to a volunteer t-shirt as well. So far, even after specifying what sizes kayakers would like, the selections follow Henry Ford’s philosophy. You can have any size that you like, as long as it’s probably XL.

What should I know about the 4.4 mile swim?

Swimmers will leave the Sandy Point State Park beach in two waves, roughly 15 minutes apart. They will enter the bridge spans between the two big beach ball buoys, follow the spans, and exit between the other two big beach bouys near the end of the bridge, to follow the jetty to the beach at Hemingway’s.

There are numbers on each bridge pylon, and they are different on the north and south sides. If you need to provide location, use those numbers and be sure to specify north or south.

All kayaks should line up at the start to guide the swimmers in (between pylons N10 & N13), and then break off to provide coverage as the swimmers span out. The general rule for kayak coverage is, if you see other kayaks, keep paddling until there are swimmers and no kayaks. If you run out of swimmers, turn around and see if there are any gaps.

With that said, the slower swimmers are ones that usually need the most help. There is no hard and fast rule; if the rest of the Safety Fleet notices a gap, they will tell us and we will react accordingly. If you see a gap, and have a VHF radio, call it out on channel 69.

The only possible hard and fast rule is, we cannot give individual support to a swimmer. Unless, of course, they are showing signs of duress or stress, at which point we make sure they’re OK.

Swimmers must stay within the spans. If they exit due to any reason (unplanned is usually because of currents overwhelming them), they get disqualified and have to be pulled out. The most common interaction with a swimmer to date has been telling them to turn, because they really can’t see where they’re going when they’re 110% focused on swimming.

We always need four strong kayakers to keep station by the main bridge pylons with the wood slats in the center of the bridge, to make sure swimmers do not get too close and try to hold on. That’s a recipe for injury or worse, if swimmers get stuck there due to wave action.

There are big orange mile markers to help determine how much farther swimmers have to go, at miles 1, 2, 3, and 4.

There are food boats (the only propeller’d craft allowed inside the spans, only because they’re anchored) at miles 1.5 and 3, for swimmers to get a snack or drink. They frequently ask how far it is to them, so if possible, try to keep track of where you are in relation to miles 1.5 and 3.

Swimmers exit the bridge spans between pylons S55 & S57 and then follow the jetty to the Hemingway’s beach.

When it’s time to exit the water, be sure to stop by the DNF pier and hand in the numbered wrist band given to you at the briefing, and exit the water via the floating dock by the boat lift, on the far right corner of the marina as you’re entering it from the Bay.

What should I know about the 1 mile swim?

The swim course is triangular, starting at the beach by Hemingway’s, marked by large buoys at each point and smaller markers defining the edges, going in a clockwise direction. Sometimes swimmers get confused at the turns, so it’s common to have to point out the correct direction.

There are multiple waves of swimmers (up to 4) to help spread the legs and arms a bit.

The water is pretty shallow here, so most swimmers can always just stand and walk if they had to. However, if they are exiting the race, they must exit via a power boat, taken to the Did Not Finish (DNF) dock, for accountability.

Where do I go for the 4.4 mile swim?

Head into Sandy Point State Park. Plan to get there early as the traffic backup getting into the park can get pretty heavy as the race approaches. Also be sure to display your parking permit (provided to registered kayak volunteers) so that the gate attendants will let you in for free. There has been some confusion about this in the past, so ask the gate attendants to call their supervisor if any issues arise.

You can unload your gear by the small craft launch area (left turn just before the last parking lot before you hit the water; there have been years past where someone put up a road closed sign, but that is not correct – just go around it). The image below shows a map of the area. This has caused significant confusion in the past, so please make sure you understand this.

Where do I go for the 1 mile swim?

There will be a parking area available for kayak volunteers in the Bay Side Marina. From the DC area, take route 50 across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, to the first exit, #37 (route 8). Head south towards Romancoke & Stevensville. Coming from the east, take route 50 to the last exit before the bridge (#37), also heading south towards Romancoke & Stevensville. Take the first right on Pier One Road and follow the signs directing you to our designated parking area (there are sometimes ways to get in without having to go all the way to the water; follow the signs). There will be staff directing traffic at the entrance as well, so please be sure to display your parking permit (made available to registered volunteers). The image below gives a rough idea of how to get there.

There is a floating dock by the boat lift, which is our launch (and landing) area. If you have never done a floating dock launch/exit, ask for help — it’s not hard, the trick is to keep your weight centered.

2016 GCBS Info

For those that participated this one, they knew it was one of the most challenging ones in memory. There was a small craft advisory with winds coming from the northwest. Said winds were over 20mph, guesting far higher, creating conditions that were “challenging” (or perhaps “hazardous”) to small craft such as kayaks. Swimmers probably benefited from it, as it pushed them across in record time. But this did lead to some lessons learned and the event became more the better for it.

 

2017 GCBS Info

Weather conditions were just about perfect for the 2017 swim & support. A great turnout of 44 kayaks total (45 kayakers, as one was a father & son tandem sit-on-top) supported 647 4.4 mile swimmers and 294 1 mile swimmers.

Fellow paddler and awesome photographer Dom J Manolo has published the following photo albums to Facebook:

The Safety Fleet

The Swimmers

The Capital Gazette ran this story after the swim: Smooth Day for Great Chesapeake Bay Swim (photo gallery)

Lin-Mark sports (organizers of the swim itself), shared these photos: SmileBox

Stories like this, from one of the 4.4 mile swimmers, really drive our value (and the reason I personally do this) home (outstanding job, Ron!):

Hi Linda,

I want to pass along a story about an amazing volunteer who changed my race. Maybe you might even know who I am talking about and can pass along my words. I know there were 700 volunteers but you never know.

This was my second swim. The second wave left from the beach and thrashed into the water. As always, people were bumping into each other and swimming over body parts. I couldn’t catch my breath and was getting completely overwhelmed. The more I thought about it, the worse I got. Breathing every other stroke wasn’t frequent enough. I was panicking-like panicking.

I stopped to catch my breath and was treading water. I couldn’t believe it. This kind man on a kayak noticed me and asked if I wanted to hold on. He was amazing. He spoke to me in such a kind way and completely talked me through my panic. He let me hang on the front and said it wasn’t a rush. He introduced himself (I wish I could remember his name but my brain wasn’t working). He just kept telling me to breathe. I hung there for what seemed like a long time but was probably just a few minutes. That interaction changed my race. I was able to calm down and go back to the race.

I wish I knew his name because I would like to send him an email/note. He was on a white kayak with a red stripe. He was right in the beginning when the swimmers first turn under the bridge. He was on the left.

I’m crying as I write this because that is the difference he made.

Can I get a ride back to my car after the race?

There are times when people park their cars at Sandy Point State Park for the 4.4 mile race support, and then have to paddle back across from the Bay Bridge Marina after the race ends. Many conditions can make this less than ideal (exhaustion, weather, not enough time, etc.).

There is no formal transportation back to Sandy Point State Park, but there are usually fellow kayakers who can give you a ride. If this is going to be a known issue, try to coordinate before race day. Otherwise, during our briefings and post-race camaraderie, just ask.

Worst case, we do modified fox & chicken exercises.

What do we do for the swimmers?

Our primary job as part of the Safety Fleet is to be able to mass evacuate everyone from the water in case of bad weather (e.g. thunder or lightning). While we’re there, though, we do the following:

  • Provide moral support. Every swimmer who’s commented on this has said, without fail, that just seeing kayakers out there makes them feel safer and makes it easier to continue the swim. Cheering them on helps too, although they may not hear you as they’re concentrating so hard on swimming.
  • Provide brief rests. Swimmers can absolutely hang on to your boat to rest, as long as you keep station-keeping. Be sure to have them grab the front (bow) or back (stern) of your boat, preferably the front so you can see them. If they grab you near your cockpit, you’ll be joining them momentarily.
  • Help get swimmers out of the water. Sometimes swimmers recognize when they’re done, and they ask to be removed. Under some situations (such as when they exit the spans due to current, or don’t make the mile markers by the time cut-off), they are disqualified and have to be pulled. There are rare situations where a swimmer doesn’t really want to stop swimming but you have to decide for them. The phrase “perhaps today is not your day” usually helps them realize their swim is done for the day.
  • Keep swimmers on course. Swimmers are totally focused on swimming and can’t really see which direction they’re going, so you may need to nudge them to turn and guide them between the entrance and exit markers.
  • Keep an eye on swimmers. While this has not ever been an issue in the past, it’s highly recommended that you be familiar with the signs of someone who’s drowning (they won’t be splashing about calling for help). This website is an excellent read (thank you Kevin for reminding me): http://mariovittone.com/2010/05/154/