New Zealand woman overcomes high winds, jellyfish and other challenges to swim Kaiwi Channel

Kimberley Chambers climbs out of the water at the China Walls swim spot in Oahu after successfully completing a 26-mile swim across the Kaiwi Channel. Following international rules, Chambers could not wear a wetsuit and could not be assisted entering or leaving the water for the swim to officially count.

A New Zealand native, Kimberley Chambers successfully swam the Kaiwi Channel earlier this month. The 26-mile crossing from Molokai to Oahu is one of the top seven open ocean swims in the world, collectively known as “Oceans Seven.” The Kaiwi Channel was Kimberley’s second crossing after accomplishing the Cook Straits swim in New Zealand this past March. Here is Kimberley’s account of her harrowing journey.

By Kimberley Chambers

Living in San Francisco I knew I wanted to swim this channel but I didn’t know where to begin. My good friend and Hawaiian local, Rachel Ross, connected me with her friend, Linda Kaiser. Linda Kaiser is the only woman in the world to have swum all nine major channels in Hawaii, eight as a solo swimmer and one as part of a relay team.

Chambers had to battle high winds and large open ocean swells during her crossing.

Through Linda Kaiser I was able to assemble a team to support my crossing, which included Matt Buckman as the boat pilot, Steve Haumschild and Sheila Lee as kayakers and Hawkins Biggins as a sports photographer.

On the afternoon of Nov. 8, 2012 I departed Oahu by boat for Molokai. We were forced to travel by boat to Molokai because there were no flights available. The four hour journey over was bumpy but as we approached Molokai, the winds died down, the seas flattened and it appears as if we were going to have a gentle easterly wind, pushing me towards the beaches on Oahu.

I entered the water at Kaluakoi, Molokai, at about 8 p.m. Thursday. Initially the seas were calm and conditions looked as if they would be optimal for the swim. But after a couple of hours things changed dramatically. Winds began to pick up from the north and swells increased, often with white caps. At times, winds reached speeds of 20 miles per hour.

Chambers boyfriend Joe Locke comforts and congratulates her after a successful swim across the Kaiwi Channel that took more than 19 hours.

It became increasingly difficult, if not almost impossible to feed from the boat. Steve and Sheila battled the wind and waves in the darkness to make sure that I had the food and liquid needed to keep going.

In addition to the high winds and rough seas, I also encountered many jellyfish and suffered over 50 stings all over my body.

Following traditional English Channel marathon swimming rules, I was not allowed to use a wetsuit and given the high salt content in the water, patches of my skin were worn off due to chaffing with my swimsuit.

This was harrowing and the waves were just massive. I had to fight against the current most of the night to make landfall on Oahu. I spent a large portion of the swim battling choppy seas and winds that reached close to 20 miles per hour, making the swim increasingly harder. The rough waters also made it tough on my escort crew who were made very ill during the night.

My boyfriend Joe Locke who was managing my feeding schedule was particularly seasick. However, he had some respite in the morning when he jumped in with me six miles off the coast and escorted me into shore.

There were also truly wonderful moments. I had dolphins swimming with me at one point. Also, when I was about five miles off of Oahu, I heard whales communicating deep in the ocean. The rising moon was spectacularly bright to the point where I initially believed it was a boat right behind me.

I actually swam farther than planned, when rough seas and strong currents caused me to overshoot my original destination at Sandy Beach. I pulled myself out of the ocean at the China Walls swimming spot at Portlock nearly 19-and-a-half hours later, crying tears of relief after finishing what may have been the hardest thing I had ever done in my life. I’d been crying all the way around the corner, just overwhelmed knowing that I was close, as I swam the final few yards.

My finish at China Walls had its own set of challenges. I had to climb out of the water without help for the effort to count. Basically, the rules state you have to start on land and you have to finish on land. I successfully swam across the Kaiwi Channel, finishing the roughly 26-mile journey at just before 3:30 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 9.

Next year I’ve got the Catalina Channel and the English Channel on the calendar. The Kaiwi Channel is the second channel of the Oceans Seven challenge I have completed. The first was my successful crossing of the Cook Strait in my home of New Zealand in March of this year.

People ask me why I do these swims. My answer is that you get to push yourself beyond your wildest dreams. It’s painful, but you come out the other side and it’s just surreal.


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