Bruckner Chase swam for 14 hours across Monterey Bay in Central California on Tuesday to raise awareness about the fragile nature of the local marine environment.
Ironically, some of that environment's more bizarre-looking denizens made the swimmer pay dearly for his 25-mile traverse of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.
"I'm, like, 'Come on guys, I'm trying to help here,' " he said of an enormous jellyfish swarm that rose to the surface and threatened to end his epic odyssey.
Chase persevered despite relentless stinging that began an hour into his swim from Santa Cruz to Monterey. As the jellies became more dense, Chase donned a wetsuit handed to him by those aboard an escort boat.But that only protected his torso, arms and legs. "I got stung on my tongue, inside my mouth, on my neck and my feet and hands," he said during an interview Wednesday morning, while parts of his body still itched and contained welts. "After the sun came up I did not take a single stroke in which I did not at least see a jellyfish."
Chase, 44, who scheduled the event earlier than he would have liked to help kick off this week's Blue Ocean Film Festival, became only the second person to have swum across Monterey Bay.
Cindy Cleveland, a Southern California lifeguard, remains the only swimmer to have accomplished the feat without wearing a wetsuit, which is the manner by which long-distance swimmers prefer. But Cleveland did not experience a jellyfish swarm of the magnitude Chase endured, as his wife and two sisters watched from the escort vessel while cringing as Chase slogged through the gooey, tentacled creatures.To underscore the difficulty of this swim, there have been seven failed attempts since Cleveland made it across the bay in 1983. Chase, who lives in Santa Cruz, was stopped after nine miles last year by jellyfish, as he swam without a wetsuit.
Patti Bauernfiend of Northern California tried last week, without a wetsuit, and made it halfway before jellyfish stings forced her out of the water.
Chase, an endurance swimmer who has swum the length of Lake Tahoe and tried or attempted numerous other "adventure swims," put on the wetsuit reluctantly after his wife, Michelle Evans-Chase, told him he had no chance to make it without one.
"We had a bigger mission in doing this, in connecting the two cities and spanning the sanctuary," the swimmer explained. "I would have hated to let pride and ego keep me out of the wetsuit when we had so much potential to reach so many people by swimming across."
As for the jellies, several species abound in Monterey Bay during much of the summer, but they're not always so dense at the surface. During the last mile, Chase felt them oozing through his hands with every stroke and realized "that had I not been in a wetsuit, I would not have been able to physically survive."
-- Pete ThomasPhotos of Bruckner Chase during and after his marathon swim courtesy of his sister, Babs Chase
-- Editor's note: This post also appears on the GrindTV.com outdoors blog