Marathon swimmer Kathleen Wilson’s next feat: New Zealand’s Cook Strait

Kathleen Wilson will attempt to swim New Zealand’s Cook Straight in March. Buy this photo

Coming off of her most grueling swim to date — Hawaii’s Molokai Channel Swim last September — 49-year-old marathon swimmer and Charleston City Councilwoman Kathleen Wilson is aiming her sights on New Zealand’s Cook Strait in the first week of March.

Want to help?

What: Charleston Crab House and celebrity Chef Brett McKee will host an “All You Can Eat Oysters & Chili Cook-Off” to raise funds for Kathleen Wilson’s attempt to swim the Cook Strait.

When: 5–8 p.m. Sunday.

Where: The deck of the Crab House at Wappoo Creek on James Island.

Tickets: $25. Available at the Crab House.

Details: Event will feature steamed local clusters of oysters and McKee’s “Award Winning” chili. Bring your own chili for a “Taste Off” against Chef Brett’s chili and win $100 gift card to local restaurants.

More info: www.CharlestonCrabHouse.com, call 843.795.1963 or Facebook (Charleston Crab House) or Twitter(@ChsCrabHouse).

Q: Why Cook Strait? Why now?

A: The Cook Strait is the southern hemisphere’s English Channel. The biggest difference is that the English Channel is open to any swimmer who books a pilot and over the last decade has become quite a business.

Cook Strait swimmers are very few, and like the channel, this remains one of the world’s greatest swims. There are only a handful of swimmers accepted each year to come to New Zealand for a swim attempt and it is based on resume and swimming speed ... It is a very tricky body of water requiring a high level of performance from swimmer and crew.

My tide window runs from March 4-9, so I will be on call and ready to go. We need the right combination of tide and weather to make an attempt. Winds are the primary weather concern just as they were for the English Channel, Strait of Gibraltar and Molokai Channel.

Q: What are the basic challenges of this swim — water temperatures, currents and wildlife?

A: This Strait is a majestic and intimidating place. Water temperatures will be between 60-63, a few degrees colder than my English Channel swim. That swim was 63-64. The Cook Strait currents are very fast, the water can be rough and choppy and it takes a great deal of experience in understanding how everything works and how to best assist a swimmer ... Marine life is plentiful and numerous swimmers have had the local dolphin population escort them for a period of time. There are known orca pods around New Zealand and of course, sharks. In this case, there are great whites as well as other species, but as a swimmer, I have to reconcile that long before attempting a swim. It has been the case before with almost every ocean swim I have done.

Q: You finished Molokai about six months ago. This is a quick turnaround for you for a follow-up. Why now, instead of say a year from now?

A: I actually gained acceptance into this swim over 2 years ago so it has been in my book all this time. Molokai was the swim that crept up and was a very sudden go. Many people forget that the seasons are reversed so it is summer in New Zealand now; their summers are much like English summers. Mid February to mid April is the time period for swim attempts. I was assigned a tide window and took whatever I was given. I feel certain that this will be my one and only chance to complete this swim. I simply want the chance with a day of good weather, calm-ish winds and I’ll do the rest.

Q: How much is this trip costing and how much do you hope to raise?

A: We are hoping to raise between $8,000 and $10,000. This is an extremely expensive swim due to travel and my pilots’ fee. I believe that I will have two boats out there with crew in each one. That fee is $5,000 but between crew, boats, time spent, fuel and knowledge, the pilots earn every dollar. The total cost of the trip is probably about $12,000.

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