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How to Swim With the Sharks? Get a Head Start

Charity: San Clemente relay's 60-mile route crosses fishing contest that uses blood and guts as bait. Swim's been moved up, but must finish on time.

July 15, 2002|DAVE McKIBBEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When Craig Taylor and his five teammates set up this week's relay swim from San Clemente Island to the Orange County coast, they knew the grueling 60-mile course might include swift currents, nasty weather and choppy surf.

They didn't know it included water filled with bloody shark bait.

Organizers of the charity swim for the City of Hope cancer center were surprised to learn their ocean relay coincided with the third annual Mako Shark Tournament, which will be launched out of the Dana Point Harbor.

Shark fishermen are expected to chum the water with gallons of bloody fish guts near the final leg of the relay swim, which ends at the San Clemente Pier. "That's something we didn't even think of," said Taylor, 48, who helped organize the fund-raiser for the cancer center's pediatric division. "We checked on a lot of different things, but a mako shark tournament didn't cross our minds. None of us are fishermen, so we weren't even thinking that way."

Fortunately, relay swimmer Jim Fitzpatrick heard about the shark-fishing tournament. He found out the chumming festivities are to begin Saturday morning at 6 and conclude Sunday afternoon, about the time the swimming relay was expected to finish at the pier.

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Danger Researched

The swimmers, all with years of experience in deep water, had researched the shark danger through the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla. They were told blue and mako sharks might be in the area, but that they usually weren't aggressive.

But then they learned the water off San Clemente was being chummed and that they could become breakfast.

"The guy basically said all bets are off when you start putting fish guts and blood in the water," Taylor said. "That stuff filters down and brings the sharks in, and they can get irritated."

The group decided to move the swim up to Friday morning and take its chances.

Now, swimmers will board boats for San Clemente Island on Friday about 2 a.m. The relay is expected to begin at 7 a.m., and swimmers should pass shark-infested waters off the coast a few hours before the fishermen begin chumming Saturday morning.

"Theoretically, if we could make it past that point by then, we'd be in and finishing at San Clemente Pier about 8:30 or 9 a.m. [on Saturday]," Taylor said. "If we're not past the area by then, maybe we can we skirt them and go around. If the current is going south to north, maybe we'll go to the south. This could be quite conceivably be the biggest single issue that keeps us from doing it."

Swimmer Scott Zornig, 42, knows about swimming with sharks. Three years ago in a Maui channel relay he got out of the water just as a 15-foot tiger shark closed in. His team and 15 others pulled out of the race.

The six members of this week's relay team will swim one-hour legs. A support crew will stand by. At least two teammates will act as observers on the support boat, looking for sharks and other dangers. At least one kayaker will paddle alongside, acting as the swimmers' guide.

If Taylor and his group complete the swim, they will be the first known to do so. It's a long trip from San Clemente Island and the water is treacherous. In addition, shipping lanes must be crossed.

So far, organizers have raised about $60,000 for the cancer center.

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