Smith, Eacret fight through current, kelp to win Semana Nautica 6-mile swim

If swimming six miles in the ocean isn’t challenging enough, the competitors who took part in the annual Semana Nautica event also had to deal with a strong current and heavy kelp in their journey from the Goleta Beach Pier to Hendry’s Beach on Sunday morning.

Those two factors reflected in the times. Seven swimmers last year finished under two hours, with winner Stewart Reid clocking 1:43.50. On Sunday, Ed Smith finished first in 2:29.14 and Valerie Eacret was the top woman in 2:38.42.

“It felt like a washing machine out there,” said Reid, who came in eighth in 2:41.12. “It’s hard to get rhythm when the ocean hits you from both sides.”

Smith powered his way through the current and kelp to win for the first time. He’s been a Semana Nautica ironman, completing the 1-mile swim (37th place), 3-mile swim (9th), the 15k road race (72nd) and 5-mile run-swim biathlon (5th).

“Ed did a great job,” Reid praised. “With all the races he’s done, that was a great effort on his part.”

“It just tradition,” said Smith of doing all the events. “It’s become my thing. It’s sort of the summer get-fit campaign.”

The warm water made the swim tolerable, but the current made it unbearable at times.

“It was probably a longer swim than it usually is,” Smith said. “It’s like swimming in quicksand. There was a period there where there was a lot of current.”

Smith said he pulled away with about a mile to go.

“You don’t like to be sprinting at the end,” he said. “It’s good to be clear and not worry about it. I made my break at five miles and tried to get a bit of distance and space and backstroked on the way in, so it was good.”

Smith was doing the race for the eighth time. He said he used to paddle it for a friend and started swimming it when the friend left town.

“I knew all these people and they talked me into doing it,” he said.

“It’s definitely not my favorite, Smith added. “It’s not enjoyable, it’s just one of the traditional races. You’ve got to do it.”

Eacret, a former Dos Pueblos swimming standout entering her senior year at Tufts University, was doing the race for the first time.

She said she decided to do it to prepare for her final season as a competitive swimmer.

“This will be the last summer I’m really going to train for competitive swimming,” said Eacret, a 2008 Dos Pueblos grad. “I knew I wouldn’t want to do it if I wasn’t in shape; I knew I wouldn’t want to do it if I didnt have friends doing it, and I knew I wouldn’t want to do it if the water wasn’t warm. And I had all three this year, so I figured I’d do it.”

Her friend, Santa Barbara High grad Isabel Dickinson, was the second woman finisher in 2:51.36. Tina Hill was next in 2:53:44.

The second overall finisher was Moby Coquillard, a masters distance swimmer from San Mateo in 2:31.48, and Chris Dahowski, who’s crossed the Catalina Channel, was third in 2:32.

Santa Barbara’s Chip Blankenhorn, who last year swam across the Strait of Gibraltar came in fourth in 2:36:15 and Kurt Baron of Ventura was fifth in 2:38.30.

Baron was part of the Ventura Deep Six, a relay team that last September set the world-record for the longest continuous open-water swim by a relay. They covered 202 miles, starting in Ventura, swimming to Santa Barbara and finishing in La Jolla.  Three other team members also completed the six-miler: Dr. John Chung (7th in 2:40.31), Tom Ball (17th, 3:05.59) and Jim Neitz (21st, 3:23.46).

Aaron Chang, who came in 23rd, summed up the feeling of the finishers as ran up the beach to the finish line: “Holy cow, that was a long swim.”