Slug swim team braves cold, jellies in eighth annual bay crossing

Members of the UCSC swim team exit the water in Monterey after completing a 26-mile transbay relay swim. (Photo by Payam Saljoughian)

Neither jellyfish nor sharks nor the stinging-cold waters of the Monterey Bay deterred the UC Santa Cruz swim team from spending a recent Sunday completing the eighth annual transbay swim--a grueling, 26-mile test of endurance done without the benefit of wetsuits.

The swim, held on September 30, was a fundraiser for the Slug swim team, raising more than $7,000 for travel and equipment costs. But the event has also become a remembrance for the late UCSC swimmer Ian Carney, who competed with UC Santa Cruz from 2002 to 2004. Carney participated in the transbay swim all three years he was on the team. He died in a glissading accident on Mount Tallac in Lake Tahoe in 2004. He was 20.

Carney was "one of those kids who didn't have any fear about trying stuff," said UCSC swim coach Kim Musch.

That spirit came through during the swim, in which 12 hearty members of the team swam in two relay teams, taking individual 20-minute intervals from Santa Cruz to Monterey. They gathered on the cold sand of Seabright Beach before dawn and started as first light peeked over the Santa Cruz Mountains. The first team finished in 10 hours, 30 minutes; the second team finished in 11 hours, 13 minutes, according to Musch. The rest of the swim team--which consists of 60 members total, as well as seven divers--was waiting to greet the transbay swimmers on the beach in Monterey.

The water temperature hovered between 50 and 51 degrees. They encountered some serious wind chop and some serious jellyfish. Payam Saljoughian, one of the team captains, was stung on his left arm by one of what he said were "hundreds" of jellies that make their home in the bay.

The sting shocked Saljoughian more than it actually hurt, he said. But the cold was a constant factor.

"When you dove in, you lost sense of direction and gravity--it was overwhelming," said Saljoughian. "But as our bodies warmed up, we got more accustomed to it."

For safety, the swimmers were surrounded by three other swim team members paddling kayaks. There were also two support boats, where each swimmer could rest and warm up between swimming shifts.

Getting out of the water and onto the boat was the hardest "because you were shivering so much," Saljoughian said.

You realize you're on your own when you're way out there, said Musch. The feeling may be a bit spooky, but the sunrises and the sea life make the journey worthwhile, he said.

"We've seen whales, seals, otters, sunfish, and blue sharks," he said.

What about--gulp--the "man in the gray suit"?

"We've never seen any great whites," said Musch. "But two humpbacks trailed one of the boats last time. You hear them breathing first before you see them."

Getting a spot on the transbay team is a coveted position. Seniors get first dibs, then juniors, then sophomores, said Musch.

"But we generally don't get any freshmen or sophomores who get to swim. They haggle over it," said Musch. "It's one of those things that's just so hard--just to say you can do it, there's a certain sense of pride that goes with that."

Donations to support the swim came from parents, alumni, faculty and staff, said Musch. In previous years, the university matched the total funds raised, but it stopped doing that last year. Musch hopes to get university-matching funds reinstated this year.

The Slugs' next home meet is at noon on November 10, against the University of Denver.

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