Melissa Blaustein of San Francisco, 29, will attempt to swim across the Strait of Juan de Fuca on Saturday morning, weather permitting. In June, she completed the Amy Hiland Swim between Bremerton and Alki Beach. This photo was taken before the swim. (Melissa Blaustein)

UPDATED: Swimmer begins long-distance Strait swim

PORT ANGELES — Three and half hours into her swim across the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Melissa Blaustein felt “very cold, but pretty determined,” her support boat pilot Andrew Malinak said.

Blaustein started the swim at about 8 a.m. today on the west side of Freshwater Bay, Malinak said.

Although it’s difficult to estimate, he said, Blaustein appears to be swimming “faster than expected” and could arrive at Vancouver Island by 2:30 p.m., give or take an hour.

A member of her support crew and friend Simon Dominguez began pacing with Blaustein at about 11:30 a.m.

The Strait treated Blaustein well early this morning with “flat, beautiful” waters, Malinak said, but winds could be picking up this afternoon. Water temperatures averaged around 48 to 49 degrees when she started, he said.

“Still, it’s a very good day for swimming.”

Our earlier story about Blaustein’s preparation:

PORT ANGELES — She’s been preparing for this swim with daily, bone-chilling cold showers — and, of course, hours upon hours of pool and open water training.

At about 7 a.m. Saturday, Melissa Blaustein of San Francisco will attempt to swim across the Strait of Juan de Fuca, starting from Freshwater Bay.

And she’s determined to walk onto the shore of Vancouver Island in British Columbia victorious.

“If I don’t do it, it’s going to be because of dangerous conditions or something out of my control,” Blaustein said.

Blaustein, 29, will depart from a public access beach on Freshwater Bay at 144 Striped Peak Road, said Andrew Malinak, who will pilot her support boat. She’ll aim to finish around Beechy Head in East Sooke Park at the southern tip of Vancouver Island.

The Northwest Open Water Swimming Association sanctioned the swim and will post updates to its Facebook page from the association’s observer, Melissa Nordquist of Tacoma.

Malinak of Seattle has crossed the Strait several times and chalks its challenge up to the cold.

“The temperature [around 50 degrees Fahrenheit] is what makes it so much more challenging than other swims in the 10-mile range,” he said.

But Blaustein possess the rare combination of passion, ability and aptitude for braving cold waters, he added. Malinak also expects “beautiful” weather Saturday, with mild winds.

Last year, Blaustein watched her friends compete in the Race to Alaska and thought to herself, “If they can sail this, I can swim this,” she said.

Around the same time, as she trained for her first marathon swim, she learned about Amy Hiland, the first woman known to swim across the Strait.

Now, Blaustein has been “Chasing Amy,” setting out to complete as many of Hiland’s swims as possible as a tribute to the late marathon swimmer. In June, she completed her first: the aptly named Amy Hiland Swim from Bremerton to Alki Beach in Seattle. Blaustein beat Hiland’s time of five hours and 59 minutes by about 37 minutes.

On Aug. 18, 1956, Hiland swam across the Strait in 10 hours and 51 minutes.

“I’m not sure I’ll beat Amy’s time for the Strait,” Blaustein said, laughing. She hasn’t set a goal time; finishing the feat will be reward enough.

What will get her through 10 or so hours?

PB&J, Michael Phelps and perhaps “Hamilton” or “The Little Mermaid.”

Breaking up all those hours becomes a little easier while anticipating the next feeding, she said. About every 30 minutes, Blaustein’s support crew will give her warm water, gel packs and maybe peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for solid sustenance.

“Lately, I’ve been craving real food while swimming, so maybe [I’ll eat] peanut butter and jelly sandwiches,” she said.

The night before, she’ll fill up on pasta and brownies, closing out a week devoted to “yummy carbs.”

“What won’t I eat before the swim?” she quipped.

The morning of, she’ll probably meditate and watch the 2016 Under Armour commercial that depicts Phelps training in a dimly lit pool and ends with the words, “It’s what you do in the dark that puts you in the light.” (She admits this begrudgingly.)

“I know I’m not Michael Phelps,” she said. “But it pumps me up.”

During the Amy Hiland Swim, she played the soundtrack to the musical “Hamilton” on repeat in her head for five hours and 22 minutes. Other times, “The Little Mermaid” provides her motivational music of choice.

“I’m not sure what it will be this time,” she said.

“There’s no stopping me when I’m in the zone.”

In addition to sharing Hiland’s story, Blaustein hopes to raise money for the Coalition for the Homeless of Houston, an organization that has been active in Hurricane Harvey relief efforts.

She created a GoFundMe page, Chasing Amy for Houston, which requests, “Please contribute today so I can carry your support, and warm thoughts, throughout my swim.” As of Thursday, the page had raised $600.

Blaustein also encourages people to donate to trusted organizations providing relief to people impacted by Hurricane Irma.

“If you donate to another hurricane relief effort, I will be thinking about it when I’m swimming,” she said.

To track Blaustein’s location as she swims Saturday, visit track.rs/nowsa.

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Reporter Sarah Sharp can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56650, or at [email protected].

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