These old men know how to part the sea. A six-man team comprised of octogenarians proved age was just a number when they swam a 22-mile stretch from Catalina Island to the California mainland Aug. 20. “The Old Men and the Sea” relay team, led by Sun City West resident Don Baker, completed the journey in 12 hours, 15 minutes when they reached land at Portugese Bend in Rancho Palos Verde, Calif.
They are the oldest known team to complete the challenge with an average age of 82. The overall age record to swim across the Catalina Channel was previously held by a team of men in their 70s, set in 2013.
The “Old Men” began their swim at 11 p.m. Aug. 19 from Doctor’s Cove on the north end of Catalina. The nighttime launch was planned to avoid afternoon winds. The team also encountered warmer than normal water temperature due to the increasing El Nino pattern with an average reading of 72 – 5 degrees warmer
The relay team included three former NCAA swimmers and two Olympians.
Baker, who put the team together, swam for Oregon State and said he carefully selected his teammates from the U.S. Master Swimmers program. Baker, 84, has been a swimmer since high school but set the swim trunks aside for 40 years while he concentrated on family and his pharmaceutical career. He joined the Master’s swim team at age 62 and has won 10 individual and eight relay gold medals.
Robert Beach, 85, has been a USMS member since 1993 and is a retired circuit judge. He has won numerous state, national and world age group competitions. He nearly completed a swim across the English Channel, but could not finish due to a change in tides.
Bill Best, 82, has been swimming for the USMS since 1986 and holds six national records. He swam for Iowa State as well as the 4th Army Swim Team at the All Army Championships during his service years in the mid-1950s.
Graham Johnston, 84, came to the United States from South Africa on a swim scholarship where he was a three time All-American. He represented South Africa in the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki, Finland. He has set 129 UDMS national records and 94 world records and is a member of the Texas Swimming & Diving Hall of Fame.
Dave Radcliffe, 81, was a member of the University of California, Berkeley swim and water polo teams. He earned All-American honors in the 400 and 1500 freestyle and made the 1956 Olympic team, competing in the 1500-yard freestyle in Melbourne, Australia.
Bill Spore, 80, like his lifelong friend Radcliffe, swam and played water polo for UC Berkeley.