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Brrrrr! Woman to swim ‘unassisted’ from Bremerton to West Seattle Sunday

A Washington State Ferry sails toward Seattle, from Bremerton, Washington, with Mt. Rainier in the background.

A Washington State Ferry sails toward Seattle, from Bremerton, Washington, with Mt. Rainier in the background.

BREMERTON, Wash. (AP) — Erika Norris intends to swim from Bremerton to Seattle on Sunday in quadruple the time it takes a ferry to get there.

Norris, from a group that’s trying to repopularize Northwest marathon swimming, expects to cover the 10.4 miles in four hours. She’ll dive in near the USS Turner Joy at about 10 a.m. in just swimsuit, goggles and swim cap. Marathons must be unassisted, and a wet suit would assist by providing warmth and buoyancy.

Norris, 31, is accomplished in the pool. She was a six-time NCAA All-American at New York University, which last year named her to the school’s hall of fame. She has never stroked this many miles in freezing Puget Sound, however.

“I really like swimming outside and in the open water,” said Norris, of Seattle. “In the pool it’s very competitive and you time yourself. If I want to enjoy swimming, I go outside.”

On Sunday, she’ll attempt the Amy Hiland Swim, named after the only person to ever complete the route from Bremerton to Alki Point. That happened in 1959, three years after she became the first woman to swim across the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Norris will be joined by two escort boats. Aboard one will be Andrew Malinak, co-founder and president of Northwest Open Water Swimming Association. The 29-year-old mapped out Norris’ swim to capitalize on currents and keep her from getting mowed by ferries and freighters.

Norris, who’ll be swimming freestyle, will take scheduled “feeding” breaks. About every half-hour, she’ll be thrown a bottle of water with electrolytes and calories in it.

She and Malinak chose the Bremerton-Alki swim because it’s one of the shorter ones the organization sanctions. Others include the Strait of Juan de Fuca (a difficult 10.4 miles), Bainbridge Island circumnavigation (25.5 miles), Seattle to Tacoma (18.8 miles), Kenmore to Renton (18.4 miles), around Mercer Island (12.5 miles) and Maury Island circumnavigation (14.2 miles).

Malinak, who completed three of the swims this year, has no doubts that Norris can go the distance and handle the cold, but it’s better to start short to experience the “eating” and how it feels mentally after hours in the water.

“It’s still over 10 miles,” he said. “It’s still a four-hour swim and the water’s very cold, but for someone of her ability it’s a perfect swim to test what she’s capable of and find out how much she likes it.”

The two are among a group that swims Saturday mornings at Alki Beach. Norris, a web and graphic designer, tagged along on most of Malinak’s training swims and a few weeks ago swam 6 1/2 miles on the west side of Bainbridge Island.

The Northwest was a magnet for marathon swimmers in the second half of the 1950s. Then interest died. Malinak and the organization seek to revive the open-water experience.

“It’s beautiful out there,” he said. “The water is clear, it’s clean, it’s never turbulent and terrifying. It’s a beautiful place to swim and enjoy the great scenery, even if it’s just 10 or 15 minutes at your local beach.”

Sunday’s swim can be tracked at track.rs/nowsa/.