LEDUC, Alta. — A long-distance swimmer's sudden disappearance on Okanagan Lake shocked his support team, but perhaps equally startled was the caretaker who answered a knock on his cabin door in the middle of the night and found a dripping, grease-covered man in a swimsuit.
Wayne Strach, 61, set out from Vernon, B.C. on Aug. 8 and planned to swim 135 kilometres in an attempt to break the record for the world's longest open-water swim.
Wayne Strach, pictured about 11 kilometres into his swim across Okanagan Lake. (Photo: Wayne Strach)
About 40 kilometres and nearly 16 hours into the attempt, in darkness, things were going well. Strach switched from freestyle to backstroke for a change, but didn't realize the switch made the strobe light on the back of his head invisible to his friends who were following along in a boat.
From their vantage point, it looked like Strach had disappeared under the water.
"I didn't hear the commotion because my head was in my swim cap and my head was in the water, so I didn't hear the boat honking. I didn't hear the shouts of the support team — three of them. I wasn't really looking for their floodlights, either, because at that moment I was just kind of looking up at the sky and enjoying the stars and the constellations,'' said Strach, who's since returned home to Alberta.
Strach was enjoying the stars so much that he didn't look up to check for the boat for nearly 20 minutes.
Realized he was alone
He got a shock when he did. In that time, he'd swum close to a kilometre and couldn't see or hear anyone. He called out, but got no reply.
He didn't panic. He said he's not afraid of Ogopogo, the lake's mythical monster, and he knew he could swim as far as he needed to. Last year, he swam the English Channel. The question was what direction he should swim.
Strach saw lights of what looked like a subdivision on the east side of the lake, but they appeared to be more than five kilometres away. He opted instead for what looked to be a brightly lit dock on the west side.
He reached the dock in about 20 minutes. It was a large estate, and Strach walked up to the steps of what turned out to be the caretaker's residence. It was 3:17 a.m. when he knocked and Strach was covered in grease to protect him from chafing, as well as from the sun in the daytime.
Wayne Strach was covered in grease for the swim across Okanagan Lake. (Photo: Wayne Strach)
"He was greeted when he opened the door by a rather large, white, pasty-coated lake monster wearing nothing but a Speedo,'' Strach said. "I must have looked pretty scary.''
"I said, 'There's been an incident on the lake. Can you phone the police?'''
The police and the fire department were already looking for him with a helicopter and boats. Everyone was relieved he was safe.
"I must have looked pretty scary."
The following day Strach returned to the cabin to thank the caretaker with a bottle of cognac.
Strach is a little disappointed that his record-breaking attempt was unsuccessful but realizes it could have gone worse.
He said he's not planning another attempt next summer.
"I think next summer might be a good time for a family holiday instead,'' he said.
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