It was a beautiful but horrifying sight: huge jellyfish hovering about eight feet below the surface of the water off Scotland, where Ed Reynolds was swimming.
Reynolds swam the first leg of a six-person relay last month across the frigid North Channel, which separates Scotland from Northern Ireland, and about every half hour passed over one of the lion's mane jellyfish. They are nearly transparent creatures with hard cellulous shells about two feet across and menacing tentacles hanging below.
They looked a bit like ghosts, Reynolds said, especially through swim goggles that magnify objects 25%.
"It was like swimming in the Long Beach Aquarium," Reynolds said. "I was thinking, 'Oh my God, I hope I don't run into one of those.' "
Turns out it would have been a blessing if the 39-year-old Cowan Heights resident bumped into only one during his time in the North Channel.
The relay team, made up of Californians, finished the 21-mile swim through waters averaging 58 degrees in 13 hours 11 minutes 37 seconds. But the last three hour-long swim legs were quite tough.
When night falls, the jellyfish flip over, with their tentacles up, and rise to the surface. Every 10 yards or so, the swimmer would run into one.
"You are literally swimming through them," Reynolds said. "There are hundreds of them, so it's like a constant stinging."
Two of Reynolds' teammates were hit the worst. Catherine Moore of Gardena had to be hospitalized overnight, and Peter Urrea of Vista suffered respiratory problems that prompted him to cancel a planned solo attempt a few days later.
Reynolds also was stung over his entire body and, despite liberal use of antihistamines, the pain lasted about 1 1/2 days. He had grown a beard, so the lower half of his face was spared; little else was. He was even stung on his tongue. "When you turned your face back in after taking a breath," he said, "you'd go right into them."
Reynolds hadn't planned on battling jellyfish on his vacation. His father, Frank Reynolds, a longtime long-distance ocean swimmer from Tustin, had put together the relay team expecting to take part himself.
But two weeks before the trip, a doctor told the 67-year-old Reynolds that because of a disk problem in his neck he would be risking his health to swim that far.
So Reynolds asked his son, a former Foothill High and USC swimmer, to fill in for him.
Coincidentally, the younger Reynolds was planning to be in England on a short vacation with his 11-year-old daughter at the time of the swim.
Said Ed Reynolds: "First he told me the water was going to be cold. I said, 'That's OK.' It took him awhile longer to tell me about the jellyfish."
Ed had started serious ocean swimming about three years ago, following in his father's wake. Frank, an All-American swimmer at Michigan State in 1952-53, swam from Santa Catalina Island to the mainland in 1987 when he was 55. At the time, he was the oldest to have completed the 20-mile feat.
In 1986 during his first attempt, Reynolds passed out 200 yards from the Palos Verdes shoreline and was unconscious for four hours, his body temperature dropping to 12 degrees below normal. After he finished the next year, Reynolds promised his family he would limit himself to three-mile swims.
You could say he ducked the commitment. Since then, Reynolds, a retired civil engineer, has completed the 10-mile Huntington Beach to Seal Beach swim six times and swam the 28 1/2 miles around Manhattan Island, the length of San Francisco Bay and the Dardanelles in Turkey.
In 1991, he drafted another son, Mike, and a son-in-law, Joe Schertler, for a relay swim across the English Channel. Reynolds had been training for a solo attempt but decided conditions weren't right to go it alone.
This time, Ed got the call and the experience reinforced his love of ocean swimming.
"I'm the owner of a small, growing business and the water is the best stress reliever you can imagine," said Reynolds, who owns an environmental consulting firm in Tustin. "You get out in the water and your mind is totally cleansed."
Reynolds came home from the United Kingdom as part of the fourth team to conquer the North Channel, the first to finish in Northern Ireland. Dave Clark of San Diego, Steve Frantz of Cardiff and Bob West of San Diego were the other members of the team, the first from the United States to make the crossing.
Ted Keenan, a legendary Irish swimmer who has made solo crossings of the English, North and Bristol (from England to Wales) channels, was on the support boat during the Americans' swim. After Ed got into the boat after his final one-hour leg, Keenan told him he was a natural.
"Ted said, 'Ed, this swim has changed you. This will have a profound effect on your life,' " Reynolds said. "I said, 'OK, Ted.' So I've been thinking about what to do next."
Reynolds said he has no firm plans, but he's got ideas. And he knows who he wants in the boat.
"My dad can't swim the English Channel, but maybe he can help me across."