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Swimmer travels 32 km in Howe Sound in 15 hours

Around kilometre 14, swimmer Kendal Crawford boarded her support boat to be treated for hypothermia, therefore, the journey will not qualify for Marathon Swim Federation ratification.

Update: Open water long-distance swimmer and Camp Fircom counsellor Kendal Crawford completed a 32-kilometre swim from Squamish to Gambier Island in 15 hours on Aug. 19.

But around kilometre 14, Crawford boarded her support boat to be treated for hypothermia. Therefore, the swim will not qualify for Marathon Swim Federation ratification.

“After my core temperature stabilized, the whole crew got together and discussed what was next. By boarding the safety boat, my swim no longer qualified as 'continuous and unassisted'…However, part of my swim plan was to consider resuming an ended swim, if safe, exclusively in the spirit of the fundraiser I was doing for the camp,” Crawford said.

And that’s what she did, completing her goal but in more than the 12 hours that she predicted it would take.   

“So far, we're set to have raised $7,709 once all our pledge amounts come in, and we're still getting some newcomer donors as well! I'm feeling good that the face of Fircom's Beautification Project — an outdoor seating/garden/play space next to the dining hall
— will be realized with these contributions. Any leftover funds will go towards other important elements of site improvement. Next in line might be purchasing a new wood chipper to help us remove dead stumps and branches from camp spaces, turning the resource into mulch for our chicken coop,” said Crawford.

The journey

Her swim day began at 5:41 a.m., at the mouth of Howe Sound’s Mamquam Blind Channel. Upon exiting the channel, Crawford said the cold glacial waters from the Squamish River hit, and the water temperature plummeted to 12.4°C.

“I had anticipated these cold temperatures, and set my pace high at the beginning to escape them, hoping to exit the outflow around Watt’s Point and within an hour enter the 18-20°C waters I expected to make most of my swim in. My pace was excellent and bolstered by the outflowing tide and river. 

“Unfortunately, as I came around Watt’s Point, the cold persisted. About three hours and 10 km into my swim, I began suffering debilitating symptoms of hypothermia. My legs were cramping viciously, I felt the strength being sapped from my limbs, and I struggled to swallow the liquid calories I desperately needed. I was hit with the terrible feeling that I couldn’t continue. 

“After sprinting full-tilt with my renewed strength for a little over an hour, I finally entered waters warming past 15°C. Unfortunately, my body could no longer maintain this pace at the calorie deficit it had reached, and my core temperature plummeted once more.”

She ended her swim as an official continuous attempt. After a recovery period in the boat, she got back into the water.

“While water temperatures creeped up past 19°C eventually as we moved south, I still struggled to maintain my body heat, and had to board the safety boat several more times over the course of the swim to rewarm…Compounding this struggle was a growing pain in my right shoulder, which dramatically reduced my stroke rate and speed. This pain grew until, after kilometer 26, I had to stop using it entirely.”

Swimming with a single functioning arm, Crawford finished her journey at Gambier’s Halkett Point.

Reflecting on "what comes next"

“Even though the swim didn’t play out how I had hoped, by way of counting as a DNF (did not finish) within my sport, I’m so happy I kept going when I did. I did it for my family, my friends, my incredible boat support team, and all those who donated to the fundraiser and pledged dollars for every kilometre I swam. I’m happy to have given them the distance I promised, despite the struggles and messiness it took to get there. I swam 32 km on Friday, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and I am honoured to have been able to do it for a place I love and the people who love it with me.

“Something not everyone may know about open water swimming is that it's completely a team sport. My boat support team was everything to me…Every one of them expressed being so excited and determined to be part of the journey, even when things got rough out there,” she told Coast Reporter.

Talking about her future plans, Crawford said, “This swim was twice as long as the longest training swims I'd completed prior… I feel a lot more confident now in what I'm capable of, distance-wise, and I'm really looking forward to tackling swims of this length more frequently in the future. On a global stage, Catalina Channel [a 33km crossing in California] is the first iconic open water swim I'm really feeling good about attempting to tackle in the next year or two.”

She’s also eyeing a circumnavigation of Gambier Island. That swim would be a longer one (37km), but way warmer, according to Crawford. “I feel this could be such a fitting swim for another Fircom fundraiser,” she said.

For those interested in helping Camp Fircom, the donation link for the nonprofit operation is