Bill Welzein Swims Around Key West 96 Times, Aiming for 100

Photo Courtesy: Bill Welzein

Bill Welzein completed the 12.5-mile circumnavigation swim around Key West, Fla., on Nov. 2 for an unprecedented 96th time. Over the next year or so, the 66-year-old will aim for No. 100.

Welzein, who is the race director for the annual Swim Around Key West, has swum around the island nine times this year alone and 15 times last year as he builds towards his 100th, which could come some time in 2018. The 96th swim took him six hours, 11 minutes to complete.

He explained in a post for The Daily News of Open Water Swimming that he generally swims during full or new moons because of the better tidal conditions at convenient times and that he prefers warmer water — meanign the 74-degree water on Nov. 2 was colder than he likes.

Welzein had one of his daughters in a nearby kayak for his two most recent swims: Abigail White on Oct. 18 and 19-year-old Jane Welzein on Nov. 2.

Read Welzein’s own account of the swim below:

At 6:36 a.m., I had breakfast on the beach, a bottle of strawberry flavored Hammer Perpetuem and a mint Clif Bar. I then led us in prayer and we headed into the inky black water in the dark. I could only see my start pole as I approached it. I touched the pole and then I took my first official stroke at 6:44 am. The sunrise was schedule for 7:34 am. 

As I swam west in the dark, my reference point was the lights at White Street Pier (Knight Pier). That pier is a tad more than half mile from the starting point. I knew the sun would be rising. I would have some twilight and then the dawn. The dark was not as disconcerting to me as the chill of the water. Again, I reasoned, as the sun rises the water and I should experience some warmth. I was sure my situation would improve.

I knew this swim was to be called No Lollygagging. I wanted to get out that water as soon as I could. I was clenching my jaw. My body was like a stiff board. I just kept moving my arms. I kept telling myself to relax and not be so tense.

My first few miles were about 30 minutes each at 32:04, 30:26, 30:27. I got past the radar dishes on the Base (mile 2) about 1:02. Sadly, before I got to mile 5 my Garmin Forerunner 920XT GPS watch stopped recording my splits and distance. This must be bout the fifth time this happened. Is this because of the radar on the Navy and/or Coast Guard bases? I swim right past each. A call to the Garmin appears to be in order.

Since the wind was out of the northeast at about 7-10 mph, it played little part as I swam toward the harbor. In the harbor, there was a little chop. The one cruise ship was scheduled to dock at 9:30 am. I was well past the piers for cruise ships by that time. One less concern. I was swimming under the Fleming Cut Bridge (mile 5) at about 9:05 am. That was about 2 hours 20 minutes into the swim. This was heartening. The sun was well up. But, I was still cold.

Funny how the mind works. I set my sights on certain markers and aim at them. These are my little goals to accomplishing the big goal of finishing. The first one was the Knight Pier lights, then the radar dishes at mile 2, then in the harbor there is a square concrete piling near mile 3, then the edge of the pier that leads into the Fleming Cut, then the clump of trees jutting out on the north side of Sigsbee, etc. As I face the next, I think I past the other milestones, this next is just another. I reflect at how many times I passed those very same milestones in the past 95 swims. I proceed on. The chilliness of the water and the thought of getting warm again drives me on.

I finished this swim with a better time than the last two. My Swim #94 time was 6 hours 41 minutes 57 seconds. Swim #95 was a 6 hours 35 minutes 40 seconds and now Swim #96 was clocked at 6 hours 11 minutes 16 seconds. The high tide with #96 was not much higher than swim #95. Yet, my time was some 20 minutes quicker. Why? Perhaps the desire to get out caused me to speed up. 

I must admit my dismay at not having my splits recorded for each mile. I only fueled up a couple times. I had no desire to stop and a big desire to finish. 

The wind factored only minimally. We hit it as we left the Fleming bridge heading to Sigsbee and coming out of Sigsbee heading toward the Cow Key Bridge. I knew the closer I get to that Bridge the less effect the wind would have on my kayaker and me. As I swam under the Cow Key Bridge and looked at my elapsed time, I guesstimated a 6 hour 15 minute finish. I was close with my 6:11.16.

I finish by touching the start/finish pole and then hit my watch. I feel the ache in my shoulders. Then slowly, and thankfully, make my way back to shore doing back and crawl strokes. I stand up in the shallow water at the edge of the shore. I was happy to get out, cold and eager to warm up. A good look at the Victory Photo indicates I am chilled. 

Welzein previously provided an account for Swimming World of his swim across the Sea of Galilee.

Read more from The Daily News of Open Water Swimming here.

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Author: David Rieder

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David Rieder is the host of Swimming World TV and a staff writer for Swimming World. A contributor to the magazine and website since 2009, he has covered the NCAA Championships, U.S. Nationals, Olympic Trials as well as the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio and the 2017 World Championships in Budapest. He is a native of Charleston, S.C., and a 2016 graduate of Duke University.

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