"Cold. So cold," marathon swimmer, Shane Collins uttered almost as if those were his last words not his first words as he stepped out of the water at Horseshoe Bay on Sunday, July 22, after a nine hour swim from Squamish.
This was the second attempt by Collins, 51, to swim Howe Sound. His first try, swimming from Copper Beach near Horseshoe Bay to Squamish on Aug. 22, 1999, failed when he was stopped by back eddies and winds three and a half hours into the swim.
On Sunday, the West Vancouver residents route followed the middle of the sound, past Britannia Beach, Porteau, and Anvil Island, then down in between Bowyer Island and Lions Bay. He had a window of about nine hours before tides would begin coming back up Howe Sound. But when he stepped into the 58 degree Fahrenheit water in Squamish harbour last Sunday at 5:50 a.m., the wind was a concern.
At 8:45 a.m., he was off Brunswick Point and the water was relatively calm. By 9:40 a.m., Collins, who swims without a wet suit and was being monitored from a pilot boat by his wife, Debbie, and pilot, Cameron Caulder, was past the halfway point off Anvil Island. But by 9:50 a.m. there was a one foot chop and the crew decided to cut in behind Bowyer Island.
"The wind is coming in at his right shoulder," Debbie, who is a sports medicine doctor reported.
The wind was blowing up Howe Sound and would have directly impeded Collin's progress. Turning in between Bowyer and the shoreline meant the wind had slightly less effect but it still pushed him back.
But Collins was doing well and the team expected to be in Horseshoe Bay about 1 p.m.
"Seals were playing with me for the first couple of hours," he recounted later. "They play with your toes."
Collins has completed solo crossings of the English Channel and Georgia Strait. He's competed in a rough water swimming race off Bondi Beach in Australia and in the Maui Channel race in Hawaii. He's also done Iron Man races and several 100-mile mountain races but nothing may compare to marathon swimming for shear toughness.
"During a 100-mile race if I'm really tired and I'm hurting, I can stop moving," he points out. "But if you're in the ocean and youre swimming there is nothing you can do except keep moving. You have no choice. "
Sunday was a picture perfect summer afternoon in Horseshoe Bay. Fishermen were mooching for spring salmon along the east shore of Howe Sound. Ferries and small pleasure craft slipped in and out of the Bay. Seagulls and curious onlookers swarmed the dock at Sewell's Marina where someone was dressing a fresh caught salmon. But by 1 p.m. there was no sign of Collins. More time went by. A small group of people had gathered at the end of the dock. Then the pilot boat was spotted just off Horseshoe Bay. By the time the pilot tied up at the government wharf people were clapping and passengers had gathered along the top deck of a B.C. Ferry to watch Collins come in.