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Pennock Island's Eight-mile Challenge, More Than An Adventure
By Nancy Coggins


October 17, 2005
Monday AM

Ketchikan, Alaska - And they all jumped in!

Into the 57° F. open waters of the Tongass Narrows dove 24 enthusiastic swimmers, who, on August 28, 2005, were accepting a challenge. They had chosen the demanding task of swimming in a pre-organized eight-mile race around Pennock Island for the American Diabetes Association (ADA) benefit. The circuit took those trained swimmers from 2 hours 36 minutes 2 seconds to 4 hours 16 minutes 4 seconds to complete the Pennock Island Challenge.

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August 28, 2005, Diversified Diving/Greg Harrison's start boat and swimmers at the start of the race. The swimmers were off when start boat's horn sounded at 12:10 PM.
Photo by Lisa Thompson ©2005

Sixteen of the 24 swimmers kicked off the event by eagerly plunging from Greg Harrison's 36' start boat. Lined up side-by-side in the water, these first 16 contestants -- 12 solos and four relay-team members -- were ready to start swimming south around Pennock Island counterclockwise from its northwest-corner reef marker. Greg gave the "Go" signal: "On your mark, get set" and the sound of his boat horn served to announce the start of the race at 12:10 PM. The swimmers immediately started stroking their way down the west channel of Tongass Narrows between Pennock and Gravina Islands. The race was on to get back to the Pennock reef marker!

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PIC ADA-benefit swimmers' racecourse, charted around Pennock Island, started and ended at its northwest-corner reef marker.
Illustration by PIC co-organizer William Schulz

The remaining eight relay-team members (from either the two two-member or four-member teams) stood ready to swim their half-hour legs of the race. After that, they would alternate or rotate with their other team members to swim successive 10-minute legs until one member of each team finished the racecourse.

Once again, a large group of volunteers in Ketchikan, Alaska, on Revillagigedo Island, (a neighboring island to Pennock) turned out to pull together toward one big goal. For the ADA, the Ketchikan group's twofold aim was to raise not only people's awareness of diabetes but also research funds, which ended up close to $15,000.

Whose brainchild was this PIC swim, anyway? It was William Schulz's idea to organize a multi-participant swim race around the island, which he had done solo the year before. Picking 12:10 PM as the start time had been a tide consideration because, in the Pennock Island area, the low tide was scheduled to occur at 2:45 PM with a sea of 3.5'. Technically, if the swimmers left the Pennock Island reef marker at 12:10 PM, they could ride the ebb down the west channel and at 2:45 PM ride the flow up the east channel. On the day of the race when all boats and swimmers were in place, and when Willie inquired of someone what time it was and received the answer "12:05 PM," he knew the race could be started on the dot of 12:10 PM. He would be able to follow his pre-planned timeline!

A safe environment. The term "open waters" might have elicited a red flag for some. However, assuring to swimmers was the pre-race information on the Pennock Island Challenge website: "The course is sheltered from large surf except for the first turn at the southern end of Pennock where Tongass Narrows meets Nichols Passage." As it turned out, when the swimmers were circuiting Pennock's south end, William reported, "The water was as flat as a stone," and they were able to navigate this area just fine.

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Escorts in kayaks and swimmers at the start of the race.
Photo by Lisa Thompson ©2005

During the swim, escorts in kayaks, boats and additional safety boats helped make sure the swimmers were safe along their routes. Each solo swimmer's own kayaker kept pace with him or her, and each relay-team member's individual boat skipper traveled alongside its swimmer. In all, there were 31 boats: The start boat at the Pennock Island reef marker, 22 kayaks (one for each of the 12 solo swimmers and 10 at-large); four boats (one for each of the four multi-member teams), and four official safety boats (one in the west channel skippered by Bryan Schulz, one at the south end of Pennock Island skippered by Eric Lunde from Baranof Skiff Excursions, one in the east channel skippered by Tom Schulz, and one at-large skippered by Debbie Catson).

In essence, this meant there were a minimum of 11 extra boats that could have been called on in unforeseen circumstances had a need arisen.

Watch the swimmers go! Sweating anyone? Yes, the swimmers' bodies kept warm automatically from their constant swimming motions, and they would soon work up such a sweat that their bodies, if not cared for, would become dehydrated. The solution: Either 12 ounces of a protein drink every 20 minutes or 20 ounces every 30 minutes. The first drink was the tough one because the body wasn't yet crying out for liquid, but everyone knew it was a necessary preventive measure. The pain was short lived. After that when the kayakers handed their solo swimmers a wide-mouthed cup containing their drink, some of them were able to down it in one gulp without missing a beat in their strokes. Fun, huh?

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Escort kayaker hands swimmer a drink.
Photo by Carl Thompson ©2005

While waiting their turns at swimming, however, the remaining team members on the escort boats did face the challenge of keeping their bodies warm with the hot water provided. That was not all. The team members, especially of the four-member teams, had the additional challenge of keeping their "heads in the race" and not "glazing over." Waiting an hour and a half for their turn was no joke! For most, it took a conscious mental effort to focus on getting ready for his or her turn. Somehow, they met that challenge too!

During the nine months following January of 2005, when the ADA benefit swim was envisioned, 21 local sponsors came forward. Along with monetary donations, they provided the "gifts" that are indicated in parenthesis: - Adolph Kiefer & Associates (a 20% discount on wet suits to Pennock Challenge participants) - (the hosting of the event's website, - Alaskan Aquamarine Experience Inc (the advice given to the co-organizers' re compliance with Coast Guard rules) - Best Western Landing Hotel, Restaurant and Pub (a 15% room discount; a meeting room for 60 people with munchies for 1 - hours at a nominal price; and a support boat on the racecourse) - Cape Fox Lodge - EC Phillips & Sons Inc (the coho salmon for the banquet) - Eagles Fraternal Order No 162 - First Bank - Food Services Of America (the banquet salads, bread, vegetables and dessert) - Gilmore Hotel (a 5% discount to Pennock Challenge participants) - Ketchikan General Hospital - Ketchikan Lions Club - Ketchikan Ready-Mix and Quarry Inc - Madison Lumber & Hardware Inc - North West CruiseShip Association - Rainforest Web Design (the creation of the event's website, - Southeast Alaska Pilots' Association - Southeast Aviation - Southeast Sea Kayaks (a 20% discount on kayak rentals, and three staff kayakers and one guest kayaker for the race) - Steamers at the Dock (the preparation of the banquet food) and - Wells Fargo.

Both the two colorful kayakers, near Pennock Island, with two cruise ships at the Ketchikan, Alaska, dock, in their foreground, added a touch of drama to the PIC scene.
Photo by Lisa Thompson ©2005

And as if that wasn't enough, there were five companies who provided raffle donations for the ADA cause: - Adolph Kiefer & Associates (part of the third prize, a Kiefer backpack and towel) - Alaska Airlines Inc (the grand prize of two round-trip tickets) - Cape Fox Lodge (part of the third-prize, a $100 gift certificate for dinner at Cape Fox Lodge) - Southeast Aviation (the second prize, a flightseeing trip for four people to Misty Fjords) and - TYR Sports (60 pairs of goggles).

Therefore, with the twenty-six sponsors and donators who rose to the challenge, there was one for every single swimmer-plus two left over! If you've ever organized a happening like this, you appreciate how great it is to win the support of so many businesses. The magnanimous company response certainly gratified all the volunteers, including the largest pledge-getter, Elizabeth Einset, and raffle-ticket sellers like Amy and so many others. And the grand-prize winners were Ron and Evvalynn Barnes, who had bought their raffle ticket at the dock on race morning!

Think of how many volunteers there must have been before the race, working like busy beavers, cleaning company- or family-owned small and large boats to accompany each swimmer. It's about time to mention who were the other as-yet unnamed boat skippers for the solo swimmers and the relay teams: Laura Baker, Harold Carson, Tristan Dwyer, Al Flury, Hardcastle, Joe Hasibar, Erin Jakubek, Carl Jones, Kim Kirby, Christine Lyshol, Allegra Machado, Charlie McLeod, Gayle Nixon, Tara Prosser, Mike Schuler, and one other skipper. And then there were 10 other skippers in the kayaks at-large. All the skippers contributed mightily to making the participants' ocean-swimming day go smoothly and safely.

Organize, organize, organize.

Along with laying out the racecourse and planning the check-in and timing procedure, there were many other unmentioned arrangements that had to be made. And there was much information to get to the swimmers such as: Rules and regulations (including individual eligibility requirements), an official entry form, a liability release form, the course map, and sponsorship confirmation. If the swimmers hadn't already taken it from the website, they could get all this information at The Landing during the scheduled day-before-the-race orientation meeting. At the meeting, the swimmers also met each other and their escorts. So much to do and so much information to disseminate. Enter, computers.

World class champion Sean Seaver (next to yellow kayak)
took first place in the 8-mile Pennock Island Challenge.
Claiming second was Olympian class Klete Keller (swimming next to blue kayak).
Photograph by Carl Thompson ©2005

How long did swimmers train for the race? William's answer, "From 1 to 3 months." Ninety percent of the swimmers had never swum in open water, he said. And once there, they were soon considered "regulars" along with the 10% minority who had been regarded as "regulars" from the start. All went to the ocean and increased their yardage and open-water swimming time. Swimmers were delighted in their changed venue in open water as they experienced a "whole other look at the world," seeing many kinds of marine animals and fish.

Returning to the swimmers in action alongside their boat escorts, here's what happened at the end of the race. Thanks go to Angie Taggart and Kathy Schulz for recording the timing precisely down to the last second of each swimmer's swim at the moment he or she either touched or kissed the Pennock Island reef marker. The whole day went off like clockwork!

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Results chart by William Schultz

The last of the splash was the swimmers' celebration Banquet at the Ted Ferry Civic Center, and Steamers' owners Katie and Timothy Montgomery prepared the food. Guest speaker, Anchorage's Phil Petrie, Board Chair American Diabetes Association of Alaska, made the donation acceptance speech. As you will see in the photo, along with Phil Petrie, there were four more people who played very important parts in this fund-raising extravaganza: William Schulz, Gretchen Klein, Janet Hanna, and Bertha Hansen.

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Here are five pivotal people of the PIC who attended the banquet extravaganza that night at the Ted Ferry Civic Center. Left to Right: William Schulz, PIC co-organizer; Gretchen Klein, PIC co-organizer; Janet Hanna, Ketchikan General Hospital Diabetes Educator; Phil Petrie, Board Chair American Diabetes Association of Alaska; and Bertha Hansen, widow of Svend Hansen, in whose name a Ketchikan, AK, ADA event has been held since 2000.
Photo by Alex Chavarria ©2005

The day had been perfect. Though at the beginning there was a little rain, the day progressed into one with an array of beautiful broken clouds. All the planning that had gone on for this undertaking had been worth it and had made this swim race a great event.

Arriving on time at the banquet were the 24 heroic swimmers with voracious appetites! Was the priority to feed the distinguished guests or the hungry swimmers?

Then someone at the banquet had a last-minute thought, "Oh, a slide show!" So, during dinner, thanks to the youth in attendance, there was a continuous show of the day's Pennock Island Challenge actions and activities. The images had been dumped into the system so fast that a few times one had to turn his head to a horizontal angle to see the pictures! No matter. The evening was packed with great fun.

On hand (and at hand), before, during and after the banquet, Ketchikan's USA Swim Club, Killer Whales, helped sell raffle tickets, set up the banquet tables, served the food, and cleaned up after that hearty meal. Debbie Patton coordinated the four shifts of Killer Whales. Among the 7- to 16-year-olds were Grace Anders, Alissa Bezenek, Jennifer Chaudhary, Karl Chaudhary, Erin Doherty, Elizabeth Jagusch, Tess Jagusch, Emilee Johnson, Matthew Johnson, Amber Junker, Ashley Maioriello, Aidan McCleary, Sean McCleary, Amy Meck, Laura Miller, Leland Miller, Kiera O'Brien, Cassidy Patton, Paul Raymond, Janelle Stacy, Kendra Standley and Matthew Standley. Their parents pitched in as well to help in the kitchen, man the door, assist the people coming in and check off names.

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After swimming in the Pennock Island Challenge, eating a hearty and welcome meal, and receiving their awards, all 24 heroic swimmers posed at their banquet. Left to Right, Front row: Bill Elberson, Don Mitchel, Fred Jorgensen, Shannon Titzell, Britta Christensen, Bo Meredith, Mike Elerding, Rocky Elerding, Sean Seaver, Cheryl Elliott, Jennifer Castle, and William Schulz. Back row: Klete Keller, Glyn Seaberg, Larry Pullin, Mike Spence, Loren Prosser, Greg Styrk, Dawn Allen-Herron, Mark Monticino, Gary Stysick, Chris Wilhelm, Elizabeth Einset, and Debby Spence.
Photo by Kathy Schulz

Hooray for USA Swimming, the Killer Whale's parent organization, and yea in advance for all these youth who may join the Pennock swim in the not-too-distant future. And thanks to all the sponsors, donors, and so many volunteers (both named and unnamed) for making this event a huge success.

This swim was the first of its kind to take place in Alaskan waters. And, speaking of its future, its organizers see a 2006 Pennock Island swim challenge for mid-August, which could accommodate at least twice as many swimmers. So, get in there, live a healthy lifestyle, and you'll be in line for a great race! And if your enthusiasm is at all like swimmer Don Mitchel's, you might just catch the "swimming bug!"


On the Web:

Pre-race "Pennock Island's Eight-mile Challenge"

Seaver Claims First in Pennock Island Challenge Photo by Carl Thompson

Pre- and post-race "Pennock Island Challenge"

Post-race "Water World" at Capital City Weekly


Nancy Coggins is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.

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