Outdoors

Catalina channel swimmer, 66, undaunted by latest setback

A marathon swimmer's quest to swim across the Catalina Channel ended in failure recently, but not because 66-year-old Jamshid Khajavi ran out of steam.

The Lake San Marcos resident was forced to quit 10 hours after entering the water on Sept. 25 because the observation boat accompanying him on the attempt broke down in heavy seas.

Over the past 29 years, Khajavi has attempted solo swims across the choppy 20.1-mile channel between Los Angeles and Catalina Island nine times. Only four of the attempts – in 1990, 1992, 1995 and 1998 – have been successful under the rules of the Catalina Channel Swimming Federation.

Last year, Khajavi came close to finishing, but the federation didn't record the swim as official because he landed on a man-made jetty in Long Beach rather than a natural shoreline. This year, he felt confident he could achieve his goal. But from the very start, things went wrong.

Although the Catalina Channel isn't the longest marathon swimming feat, it is one of the toughest because the channel is known for its strong currents, high winds, choppy waves and heavy boat traffic. Most of those factors are lessened at night, so Khajavi started his swim in the evening. But even the nighttime conditions were unexpectedly treacherous, he said.

Although he swam with a glow stick on his head, the high waves kept the observation team on the boat from seeing him and there were several near misses and unexpected separations between the boat, Khajavi and his crew chief, kayaker Riley Robertson. Because the waves were so rough, the boat crew became seasick and weren't well enough to map the currents for Khajavi and Khajavi's watch broke, so he couldn't monitor his time. Finally at 4 a.m. Sept. 26, the motor on the follow boat broke down, forcing an abrupt end to the quest.

Khajavi, a retired grade school counselor, said he was so discouraged by the swim that he was ready to retire from channel-swimming, but that mood lifted after a few days. Now he has his eyes on a new prize. Next summer he would like to swim the English Channel. The last time he tried crossing the 21-mile channel between Samphire Hoe, England, and Cap Gris Nez, France, was in 1989. He did not succeed.

Khajavi said that if he's successful in crossing the English Channel, he'll be among just over 200 swimmers who have achieved the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming, which includes the Catalina and English channels and the 28-mile circuit around Manhattan Island, which he completed many years ago.

"I'll need to gain 20 pounds to insulate myself for that swim next year, but I think I could handle the cold better than I did before. I think I can do it," he said.

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