1.7 Mile Hood Canal Crossing
DATE OF SWIM: 8/29/20
This swim featured a pre-swim boardwalk hike in the Theler Wetlands, an impromptu emergency buoy waist belt made from a dog leash, watermelon at the halfway point, shockingly warm water, the green blue depths of the canal and fighting a strong eddy back to the park.
Swim Across Hood Canal: But First, Theler Wetlands!
I found out about this organized swim from the Olympia Wild Swimming Facebook page. A wonderful group member fielded interest in the swim with a poll, found willing kayakers and paddleboarders to traverse the crossing with us, and then posted the swim as an event on Facebook. The event page let us know to meet at Twanoh State Park by the swim area, that we'd swim slack at high tide, the jellyfish would likely be few, and that parking would be tight in the park's small day use lot. Key tip - I would not attempt this crossing without boat, kayak or paddleboard support.
My friend and I set out for the swim around 10 am from Seattle, we planned to meet the group at 3:30 at Twanoh State Park in Belfair so we had some time before to explore the area. We planned to do a short hike that wouldn't be too exerting before the big push. If you are leaving from Seattle, I recommend getting to Belfair by ferry to Southworth as opposed to going all the way around Tacoma. It's a more pleasant experience - we didn't time the ferry properly for going to the park but I took it back home!
We decided to walk 3-4 miles before the swim at Theler Wetlands Nature Preserve, a renowned bird preserve in Belfair. Heads up - dogs aren't allowed (I imagine they can disturb resting birds). The preserve is 139 acres and contains five different trails, most of which are on a boardwalk (so cool!). This hike was gorgeous, it included ample plums hanging from mossy trees, the biggest blackberries I've ever seen adorning the side of the path, and marshy lands full of cattails, reeds and orange rosehips. We had lunch at a picnic table at the very beginning of the trail near the education center, along the path I ate my fill of the huge blackberries. This hike would be perfect for families with babies, older adults, really anyone. It's super accessible and beautiful. I highly recommend stopping at the Theler Wetlands before visiting the Hood Canal or Twanoh State Park! I want to come back sometime and do a trail run here.
We also stopped in Belfair at an artisan market and I bought the best grandma crocheted shawl ever. I know I'm officially getting closer to middle age when I have a special shawl for sitting by my fire pit and walking my cat outside. It felt good to support this community. Signs at the market really exemplified the impact of COVID-19 on small communities, one vendor's read "Help Me Put Food on My Table." The shawl could maybe double as a post-swim outfit!
Beautiful Twanoh State Park
After our relaxing hike at the Preserve, we drove to Twanoh State Park. From the bird preserve it only takes 20 minutes, and those 20 minutes involve driving along the scenic winding roads of the Hood Canal. We got to the park early, around 3 pm, and checked out the area that we'd be swimming soon. Luckily we also got a parking spot! Twanoh has 188 acres of forest and beach front. There are 2.5 miles of trails to explore and a campground, plus iconic rustic log cabin-style architecture built by the 1930s Civilian Conservation Corps.
Gear Mishap! Dog Leash to the Rescue!
Meeting up with the rest of the group and kayakers, we started to suit up and get ready for the swim. This was when I realized I forgot my waist belt for my buoy! I had a moment of panic and almost thought I wouldn't be able to do the swim. It was a good practice of going with the flow. I took a deep breath and realized I'd be okay if that happened - I just had a great hike and I could sit and relax by the water and swim a little by myself. However, one of the swimmers came to my rescue with a perfect "mom" moment as another swimmer said. She realized that her dog leash had a perfect belt that could be used as a waist belt with the buoy! I was so grateful because it worked. I managed to swim with the dog leash across the canal. I bet that's the first and only time I'll ever say that :)
Before heading out for the swim, we discussed safety calls (patting your head means you're okay, waving your arms means you're in distress) and counted the number of swimmers. Then, we set out to cross the canal! The water was so warm compared to the Puget Sound, we were ecstatic! The organizer told us it was about 68-70 degrees Fahrenheit. Entering the water, it was not only warm but also so clear. The sea floor was full of oyster shells.
The .85 mile (or so) crossing was mostly relaxing. I felt a bit nervous about motor boats and jet skis so I stayed closed to the kayaks. I also lagged behind the group because I am almost always a "slower" swimmer (45 minute open water mile pace) which made me feel nervous until I realized I was swimming the same speed as the organizer, so I stayed close to her and then felt way more confident and safe. I realized how much I dislike a big open water swim where I'm swimming alone, especially during a crossing. The Hood Canal in its deepest part is 600 feet but by Belfair it's around 200 feet. It's always a bit nerve wracking to swim new water, especially new water that is deep and involves a crossing, but I felt safer with the safety boats around us.
Once we arrived to the other side triumphantly, we paused for a little break in the water, ate watermelon from the kayak and took photos. Then, we headed back out across to Twanoh State Park. Swimming back, we encountered speedy boats and a very strong eddy right by the boat launch at Twanoh. Ironically, the last 500 yards was probably was the hardest part of the swim! I also saw only one jellyfish the entire swim, right as I was getting out. It was a moon jelly, not even a Lions Mane!
This swim was so gratifying. It's always so fun to swim in a new place, make some new swim friends, and try something that scares you. It's also always good practice to go with the flow, sometimes life throws you little curveballs like forgetting your buoy belt and having to wear a dog leash.
Some key tips for repeating this route:
Take the ferry from Southworth there and back - it means less driving and more relaxing water time!
Explore Theler Wetlands Preserve (~3 miles of trails) or Twanoh State Park (2.5 miles of trails) before the swim!
Make sure to have kayak, boat or paddle board support. Ideally one per every 2-3 swimmers. Be sure to swim with a buddy who has a similar pace.
Swimming at high slack tide went well for us. We had a light push on the way back in our favor.
Practice sighting before a crossing like this. You want to be very aware of your surroundings, eve with a buoy and boat support.
Don't forget your buoy waist belt!
Congrats swimmers, and thank you again for organizing!
View from Southworth Ferry Dock Heading Back to Seattle Post-Swim