Eel Lake. Where We’ve Been. Where Are We Going? 1


The swims at Eel Lake, started in 1999, have been a fairly consistent stop on the OMS Open Water schedule and have served as a valuable incubator and test site for new open water ideas.  This is a short history of the event, and a big question about its future.

Where We’ve Been

The event was started by Trudi Gugliamini in 1999 and continued in 2000.  The one-mile loop course started & finished in a tiny cove at the SE corner of the lake and extended up the west arm past the boat ramp & fishing dock (right past the fishing dock—pull in those hooks!).  These were fun swims in a new venue.  Alas, Trudi’s Coast Guard husband was transferred and she moved with her family.

In 2002, needing another swim for our annual O.W. Series, I restarted the swim as the Eel Lake Carnival” with major help from Ralph Mohr.  This was the beginning of a beautiful friendship, the start of the “Bob & Ralph Show” at the lake, and the start of Coos Bay area swimmers representing COMA.  This swim was notable in several ways.  (1) I moved the course location from the original cove and now headed straight across the lake to avoid the ramp & dock.  (2) Despite planning to pioneer the first ¼-mile cable swim course in Oregon (long before Foster Lake was a gleam in my eye), we had to shift to a ½-mile elongated diamond course when we couldn’t secure a firm anchor point. (3) We used our first ever in-water finish board, a 2’ x 8’ plywood board which is now part of my attic floor.  (4) We introduced the nation to the first-ever “Dogs Swim Too!” event, which earned us a brief notoriety in Swim magazine and spawned several follow-ups.

In 2003 (and in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2014, 2016), we did not hold the event in deference to late summer pool meets, particularly the USMS Summer National Championships in 2008 & 2016.  Scheduling is tight in the summertime, and we graciously donated our usual weekends for pool meets.

In 2004, now Event Director Ralph Mohr moved the start & finish of a new course to the cove just north of the boat ramp.  This 1500-meter loop course featured the long out and back legs, the blind buoy, and the infamous run on the point, which over time produced some great tactical moves and some spectacular flops on the slippery bottom (and was eventually disallowed).  Ralph also the introduced a popular third swim, a 500-meter Predicted Time swim out-and-back along a floating line, which has remained in this event most years.

In 2005, Ralph hosted the first Oregon LMSC (a.k.a. Association) Championship at this venue.  It has also been held there in 2009 & 2017.

In 2009, South Coast Aquatic Masters took over the running of the event, directed by Ralph in 2009 & 2010 and Karen Matson in 2011.  One year, after two swimmers collided near the far turn, we added another buoy there for safety.  It’s a good thing that the two swimmers who crashed—you know who you are—had thick skulls!

In 2013, 2015, & 2017, COMA resumed hosting this event with me directing and Ralph (now with the well-earned title of “Local Knowledge Guru”) assisting, with two important changes in 2017. (1) In the 1500-meter swim, we ran the national pilot for the “Just for Fun” concept, a non-competitive category held with the racing swim but without formal results; this idea is now used in several events across the nation.  (2) We tried one of my offbeat ideas, a 600-meter “Agility Swim” with 10 obstacle course features, temporarily replacing the Predicted Time swim.  We struggled a bit that year as I had under-engineered several of the features, but we tried it again in 2019 with better success.

In 2018 & 2019, Matt Miller and SOMA took over the swim and established a new 1500-meter course without the sharp turns or blind corner.  It’s a good course that can be reversed without any problems, so this may be our preferred course for a while.

In 2020, the Eel Lake Swims, like everything else, were cancelled due to the COVID pandemic.

In 2021, with Matt’s departure for Missouri, COMA and I—as always with Guru Ralph’s help—planned a return of these swims.  Sadly, we had to cancel the swims when I had my heart attack three days before the event date.  But serendipity ruled!  Despite the cancelation, swimmers turned it into a set of informal group adventure swims by showing up at the venue anyway for swimming, camping, and socializing.  Several dozen swimmers did a wide variety of swim challenges on all three days, embodying irrefutably the kind of open water community that we have worked very hard to build for many years.

Where are we going?

Now in his ninth decade, Ralph has retired from event management; after all of his service, this is eminently justified.  I plan to attend the USMS Cable Swim Championship in Lake Placid on Eel Lake weekend this year; finally, a chance to do a cable swim without having to direct it!  As a result, the future of the Eel Lake swims is cloudy.  Some important questions: (1) Should we continue a sanctioned swim at this site on the usual date (which would require an intrepid soul with a team who would like to direct it—I can mentor)?  (2) Or should we just pass on having the sanctioned event this year with the plan of resuming it next year?  (3) Or should we keep it on our schedule as an unsanctioned “Wild Swim” weekend (as our English cousins would call it and as it turned out last year)?  (4) Or should we put it on the shelf?  I’d like to hear what you think.  Let me know at coachbobbruce@gmail.com.

Good Luck and Good Swimming!


Leave a Reply to Aubree Gustafson Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.

One thought on “Eel Lake. Where We’ve Been. Where Are We Going?