Susan Simmons swims in the Koeye River in June. Her attempt to swim across the Strait of Juan de Fuca ended early Sunday after currents pushed her back. (Corey Teramura)

Victoria swimmer ends Strait attempt early

Late start forces battle with tough currents

A Victoria woman attempting to swim across the Strait of Juan de Fuca called it off early after currents began pulling her back to Canada on Sunday.

“I’m never sad when I don’t make it because I still got to spend the day in that beautiful water way,” said Susan Simmons.

Simmons began her swim at about 6:45 a.m. Sunday, an hour later than she had planned, and was unable to make it to the center of the Strait of Juan de Fuca before the tides shifted. She was pulled out of the water at about 1:30 p.m.

She was attempting to swim 18.3 miles to the Dungeness Spit from Ogden Point, but was pulled out of the water just shy of the halfway mark.

The swim was part of Simmons’ attempt to swim across three Salish Sea straits — the “Salish Sea Three” — this summer. She swam across the Haro Strait last weekend and plans to swim across the Strait of Georgia next month.

READ ALSO: Tackling ‘one fear after another:’ ‘Spirit Orca’ swimmers ready for next challenge

Simmons, an ultra-endurance athlete with multiple sclerosis who successfully swam across the Strait of Juan de Fuca in 2017, said she wants to try the swim again this summer, but has to work out scheduling with work, her crew and Mother Nature. If schedules allow, she’ll try again.

“We’re going to sit down and figure that out,” she said.

Simmons became the eighth known person to have swum across the Strait of Juan de Fuca without a wetsuit when she swam from the Dungeness Spit to Victoria in 2017.

Nine people have swum across the Strait without a wetsuit. Those who have made the crossing without wetsuits are Bert Thomas, Cliff Lumsdon, Amy Hiland, Ben Laughren, Marilyn Bell, Vicki Keith, Andrew Malinak, Susan Simmons and Melissa Blaustein.

Again, Simmons was not wearing a wetsuit as she attempted the crossing and she said the water wasn’t cold.

When she started her swim the water was about 52 degrees, but as the day progressed it warmed to about 57 degrees.

“It was a really comfortable swim,” she said. “Why is Juan de Fuca so warm is a question I have to ask.”

Simmons’s bar for “warm” is lower than it is for most people. She said the water was so warm that she was not at risk of becoming hypothermic — which happened when she attempted a double crossing last year.

The temperature of the water would not have been an issue for her if she kept swimming, Simmons said. She believes that if she fought the currents, she would have eventually made it to the other side, but she and her crew had set a 5 p.m. deadline due to expected 20- to 25-knot winds in the evening.

“We were wanting to be back before all of that happened,” she said. “I could have kept swimming for a long time in that water.”

READ ALSO: Perfect day to swim 29km across the Salish Sea

She said it became clear the currents would be a problem when they started pushing her into a tanker. She estimated that she came within a few hundred feet of the vessel.

“Because we were behind schedule, [the current] was so strong it was pushing me into the tanker,” she said. “I looked up and waived and there were guys on the deck waving back. I’m sure they were shocked to see someone swimming.”

At first she was trying to swim around the front of the tanker, but the currents prevented her from safely doing so. Instead she stayed back and waited for it to pass, but that’s when the currents really started pulling her back to Canada.

“For me, I want to learn as much as I can about the water,” Simmons said. “I want other people to do the swim. The more we can learn from each other, the better.”

For more information about Simmons’ swims, visit WithMS4MS.com.

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Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at jmajor@peninsuladailynews.com.

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