A map showing the distance between Avalon Bay and La Jolla Cove.
A map showing the distance between Avalon Bay and La Jolla Cove.

A team of swimmers attempting a 76-mile relay swim from Catalina Island to La Jolla Cove in support of wounded veterans abandoned the swim after multiple shark encounters, organizers said Sunday.

The group of eight swimmers, three kayakers and a support boat left the city of Avalon on Catalina Island about 4:10 p.m. Friday and planned to arrive at La Jolla Cove sometime this morning, group organizer Will Miller said.

But the group abandoned the swim for precautionary reasons Saturday after swimming 44 miles because of multiple encounters with sharks, Miller said.  One shark followed about 20 feet behind a swimmer at one point and the group spotted a total of eight sharks nearby. They were about 20 miles offshore from Camp Pendleton when they decided to stop.

“After 44 miles, safety takes precedent over ego and wanting to finish,” Miller said. “At night it was pitch black, and our concern was we would never see the shark at night until it was too late.”

The group swam a ceremonial final leg from the La Jolla pier to La Jolla Cove about 10:30 a.m. Sunday.

The team called the swim “Beyond Avalon” and was swimming to raise awareness and benefit the San Diego-based nonprofit group Warrior Foundation Freedom Station, which helps wounded veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars who are currently receiving medical care at Camp Pendleton and Naval Medical Center San Diego.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re in favor of the military or not,” Miller told City News Service. “We’ve all benefited from what these wounded soldiers and their families have sacrificed.”

Miller, one of the co-founders of the “Beyond Avalon” team, said he chose the Warrior Foundation Freedom Station as his charity of choice because it is a volunteer-run organization that helps all branches of the military.

“I’m not a fund-raiser, I’m a guy who works and swims,” Miller said. “But Warrior Foundation Freedom Station is such a great cause.”

Miller, an attorney from Poway, said the “Beyond Avalon” swim was a grassroots effort to raise awareness and funds that would help injured veterans like Mark Zambon, a retired Marine Explosive Ordinance Disposal technician who lost multiple fingers and both legs while on tour in Afghanistan, and Dana Selles, a Navy pilot who suffered a broken back in Afghanistan. Both Zambon and Selles were members of the “Beyond Avalon” team attempting to complete the swim.

“For every person like Mark and Dana, there are thousands of others experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and whatever else who we can never repay,” Miller said.

Nobody on board the support boat was able to tell what kind of sharks were in the water, but Miller said the support boat’s captain and commercial fishing boat captains said the most common sharks in that area are the great white and the mako.

The team swam with an electromagnetic device designed to repel sharks for part of the swim but decided it was too dangerous to continue even with the device, which needed to be recharged every few hours.

“You have to respect the power of the sea and the power of the creatures in the sea,” Miller said.

City News Service

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