The Night Train Swimmers Tackle the Sea of Cortez

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The Night Train Swimmers AttemptOn June 3rd, 2014, six swimmers – Susan Moody, Mauricio Prieto, David Ogden, Richard Ernst, Shannon Navarro and Luane Rowe under the leadership of Vitto Bialla – departed from El Tecolote beach near La Paz in a continuous relay swim across the Sea of Cortez, a distance of approximately 88 nautical miles (163 km).

The Night Train swimmers, as the team was called, were hoping to become the first group ever to successfully swim from the Baja California peninsula to the Mexican mainland.  The swim had been attempted on 4 other occasions in recent years – but had been called off mostly due to severe jellyfish stings, threatening marine life, and dangerous weather conditions.

The objective of their swim was to raise $100,000 US for Worldreader. Worldreader is a cutting edge non-profit whose mission is to eradicate illiteracy by delivering the largest culturally relevant library to the world’s poorest people—digitally and inexpensively.

I had the pleasure of meeting Susan, Mauricio, David, Richard, Shannon and Luane the night before their swim at a downtown restaurant. They were in good spirits and ready to tackle the Sea of Cortez.  They had all trained for months, some of them years, and although cautious of sharks, jellyfish, squid and other sea creatures, they were excited to head out to the waters the following morning and complete their goal.

My friend Edna Llorens, who has trained and swam with Vitto Bialla, was also there that night with the swimmers and several supporters. We chatted about the training that is needed to take on such a huge swim, the mental preparedness that is vital to such a daunting task and how open water swimming is huge in Australia, growing in the Bay area and just a blimp on the radar in La Paz.

Edna, a huge champion of open water swimming, is the founder and organizer of La Paz’s only open water swim event, Por Ellas.

Edna and Vitto had both attempted the same relay swim in 2010 with 4 other swimmers in hopes of becoming the first group to cross the Sea of Cortez. Unfortunately, after swimming 63.8 nautical miles unassisted and only 63.8 kilometers from the shores of Sinaloa, the team had to call off the swim due to severe jellyfish attacks.

“It was amazing that swim. It was sad in the end to not complete it but the Golf of California, the sea, always has the last word,” she said about having to call off the swim.

I was extremely excited for the Night Train swimmers and wished them well on their monumental task.  To cross the Sea of Cortez, they estimated that they would be swimming potentially three days.

The next morning, I followed their progress at and waited for  updates on the site, as communication out in the middle of the sea was minimal.

However, by the second day, with 22 hours into the swim, my heart sank as I read a message from Edna, “They had to call it off.”

A few days later, Susan Moody wrote on her blog about the swim, “At 7:00 am on the second day of the swim, Vito called us to a team meeting. The weather was getting even worse and it was too dangerous to be on the boat. There was nothing in our favor – the weather and ocean were adamant. It was clear that this attempt was impossible; I felt humble and completely sure that this was the only choice. The Sea of Cortez wasn’t going to let us cross her this time. We had swum 22 hours and made it 48 miles—just shy of the halfway mark. And Mexico wasn’t even in sight.”

To paraphrase Edna, I guess in the end, the sea always has the last word.

Huge congratulations to the Night Train swimmers for taking on such a swim for a very noble cause. I have the greatest respect and admiration for every single team member. Attempting to cross the Sea of Cortez is no small feat.

I have no doubt that next year, I will be getting a call that a group of swimmers will once again attempt to cross the Sea of Cortez.  And I wouldn’t be surprised if it were the same six swimmers.



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