The Rest of the Story–Roy Webster Cross Channel Swim


Monday, September 5, 2022
by Diane Peterson

Route of swim--The map of my route, from my Garmin watch. Total distance was 1956 yards and it took me 40 minutes due to the rough conditions

Route of swim–The map of my route, from my Garmin watch. Total distance was 1956 yards and it took me 40 minutes due to the rough conditions

This swim event was canceled for 4 of the past 6 years.  Due to smoke from the Eagle Creek fire in 2017; rough water in 2018; and then Covid restrictions in 2020 and 2021.  It was nice to finally have it back!  It is not a long swim (only about a mile or so), and not a timed race, but a fun event.  It’s a bit of an adventure to swim across the Columbia River, especially if you’ve never done it before.  I recruited 3 first-timers to join me this year, all experienced open water swimmers.

This was the second year they swam from the Stevenson, WA, area to Cascade Locks.  2019 was the first year, and conditions were perfect – sunny with calm winds.  This year was also sunny, but the winds were not so calm.  Still, it didn’t look too bad on the Oregon side, so, after a bit of delay, presumably for the Sheriff to check the water conditions, the stern wheeler left the shore and headed to the Washington side of the Columbia.  Once anchored there, we waited some more – it was obviously much windier and rougher!  There were definite whitecaps, so we waited for them to tell us the event would be canceled again.

They announced that the oldest swimmer was 88, the youngest 14, there were only 323 participants (the event is capped at 500), and the water temperature was 71°.  Finally, they announced that the Sheriff had decided to allow everyone who wanted to, could make the swim.  If people did not want to swim, they could ride back to Cascade Locks.  My 3 friends and I all chose to swim.  I’m not sure if anyone stayed on board or if anyone started the swim, but then could not finish and was picked up by a support boat.

Looking across from the finish to the start, but the sternwheeler is further to the right, out of the photo

Looking across from the finish to the start, but the sternwheeler is further to the right, out of the photo

This was the roughest open water conditions I have ever swum in, except for swimming in the ocean.  The waves were 1 – 2’ high!  This made swimming freestyle very difficult.  Breathing to either side usually resulted in inhaling water.  I have never done heads-up breaststroke for such a long distance!  I tried backstroke several times – mostly to “rest” from the breaststroke – but waves would then crash over my head and into my nose & mouth.  Finally, maybe 500 – 600 yards from shore, the waves were smaller, and freestyle became much easier.

The sternwheeler - the windsock and flag are indicative of the wind on the OR side. that transports swimmers to the WA side.

The sternwheeler – the windsock and flag are indicative of the wind on the OR side. that transports swimmers to the WA side.

My friends and I are all happy that we finished.  It was the first Roy Webster swim for all of them, and I am not sure how many I’ve done – at least 5, maybe a couple more.  My friends are not sure they’ll do it again.  But next year will be the 80th swim, so I’m hoping for a big celebration – as well as calmer waters.

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