PORT ANGELES — It was the currents — not the cold or distance — that prevented Port Angeles native Rob DeCou from completing his swim across the Strait of Juan de Fuca over the weekend.
Currents Saturday forced DeCou to swim 31.25 miles instead of the planned 18.3 miles and as he came within 670 feet of the Canadian shore currents swept him back.
Still, DeCou said he met all of his goals with the swim, aside from reaching land. He said the swim pushed his limits but he now knows he can more than swim the distance and that he can swim for at least 17 hours.
“Safety is always No. 1. I feel good about making the call,” DeCou said Sunday. “Even though we came up ever so short of landing on solid ground, I feel like we were successful in our efforts and have no regrets of making the calculated decision to call it a night.”
DeCou started his swim from Dungeness Spit at about 6 a.m. Saturday and at 11:30 p.m. he was still in the water well past dark fighting changing currents. His team attempted to find alternative landing sites but decided to call off the swim.
The 37-year-old athlete graduated from Port Angeles High School in 2000. He taught business and entrepreneur classes through Peninsula College at the Clallam Bay Correction Center from 2012 to 2014, and is now an executive producer working with video and animation in Los Angeles.
DeCou said he didn’t understand the tides and currents as well as the thought he did, something he’ll look at closer before crossing any other bodies of water.
“I was swimming for hours and I would look up and I wasn’t any closer than I was before,” he said. “It was the current pushing out … and your effort is holding you in the same position from land.”
DeCou said he had ideal conditions for the crossing, with flat water almost the entire way and that he appreciated the encouragement he had from the community.
He said the water was about as cold as he expected, but at times it felt like the temperature would drop about 5 degrees. He said his wet suit kept his core warm, though his hands and feet were cold.
“Emotionally this is the best I’ve done on an ultra, just getting my head in a good positive space,” he said. “There’s times when you’re cold and you have to start thinking about positive things.”
DeCou said this will prepare him for the Uberman ultra triathlon next year.
“For me, this swim was a training swim for an event next year,” he said. “After the swim yesterday, I feel I can swim the channel.”
The ultra triathlon includes swimming 21 miles from Catalina Island to Palos Verdes, a 400-mile bike ride that climbs 20,000 vertical feet and a 135-mile run through Death Valley.
DeCou, wearing a wetsuit, would have been the 14th known person to swim across the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Nine people have swum across the Strait without a wetsuit, eight of whom are recognized by the Northwest Open Water Swimming Association.
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.
DeCou sought to raise funds for preventing human trafficking. As of Sunday afternoon, his Facebook fundraiser had 193 donations totaling $9,719.
Simmons of Victoria said Sunday that she is planning to attempt the swim again without a wetsuit this coming weekend as part of the “Salish Sea Three.” Whether she attempts the Strait of Juan de Fuca this weekend depends largely on weather.
Simmons completed the swim in 2017 and attempted to swim back and forth last year.
On Sunday, she swam across the Haro Strait between Vancouver Island and San Juan Island. in August, she expects to attempt the Strait of Georgia between Sechelt, a small town northwest of Vancouver, to Nanaimo, north of Victoria.
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].