Like love, open water swimming is part joy, part work, part ecstasy, part laundry. When we set out for a week of swimming in the sea, we make a commitment. For better or worse, in good conditions and bad, we’re here to swim. Sometimes the going is easy and sometimes the sea has issues we just have to deal with. But it’s always best when we don’t fight the awesome blue power supporting us, and just go with the flow.
I slept restlessly last night. I love Muskmelon Bay off Guana Island, but it just seems like lately, it hasn’t much cared for me. It’s been a few trips since I’ve had a descent swim there. The wind and swell has kept us from the western shore of Guana, and when we have gotten there, we’ve been chased out by invisible stinging sea lice. I’ve been dying to get back there – give our guests a taste of one of the best long swims I’ve ever done along Guana’s western shore. But the sea has thrown some speed bumps in our way. The excitement of yesterday’s night swim there was slightly dampened by sea lice – everyone felt it and poor Nicole came out covered in itchy bumps. So I tossed and turned in my bunk, wondering, hoping, that the bay would clear out by morning.
I woke up to the wind howling. Swell had built over night and was coming from the North, and conditions in Muskmelon were rough. It didn’t make sense to swim there, so we decided we would move and find a sheltered spot for our morning swim. But first – I had to get in. I had to know if the sea lice were gone – if Muskmelon would have me. I jumped off the stern and swam for about 5 minutes – a lap around the boat, a few hundred yards out and back. Not a sting. Ok. At least there’s that. But still, we had to go.
We rounded Monkey Point to look at the South East facing shore. It looked calm and beautiful. We all suited up and plunged in for a triangular swim. Five minutes in and it became clear that the sea lice had found us again. Sea lice are basically larval jellyfish – perhaps greater in numbers on a full moon, perhaps more plentiful because of I don’t know why. Regardless, their interference in a swim is something that drives me a little mad. I know it’s ridiculous, but I take it personally. Sometimes the sea gives a dolphin and sometimes a stinger. Sometimes she takes almost everything I have to give.
We climbed out and sat at anchor while Will, Chad and I came up with a new plan. Another run for White Harbour, Peter Island, our old stand-by and a damn good place to swim. Sometimes the sea just has us on the run.
But who doesn’t love a boat ride? Our guests have gotten really good at the relax portion of our program by now, and they fell right into napping, reading, snacking, sunning, watching the sea go by. I was discouraged, but I knew we could have a great big swim in White Harbour. I also looked around and saw that our swimmers seemed perfectly content and have been having a ball. What more could I want?
We dropped anchor in White Bay and plotted a course for our biggest swim of the week. Everyone has been working on stroke technique with instruction from Will, and it was time to put our new skills to work. We set out on the swim and immediately came upon a turtle, a big ray and two giant barracuda, cool and cruising. The reef was inviting – we pushed against a small current to a rock outcrop before turning around for a near total circumnavigation of the harbor. When we did turn, we lengthened strokes and felt the push. We cruised along parallel to the beach, visited the fabulous little nursery reef in the corner, swam along the rock cliffs clear to the other side of the bay. A puffer, a spotted eagle ray, another turtle. And us – we belong here too.
As I swam along, my frustration for this morning’s false starts began to slip away, and that’s when the love analogy occurred to me. Sometimes we don’t see eye to eye, me and the sea, and sometimes there’s a blissful moment with the tide at my back. Today’s 2+ mile swim was like the slow-mo finale of a romantic movie, where the hero and heroine re-live the highs and lows of their time together. In that way, this swim had it all: wildlife, blissful calm, distance and periods of slightly challenging chop. A little push, a little pull. A little give and take.
About 300 yards from the boat, I stopped Nicole, Natalie and Sonia who happened to be near by. I explained about the great energy you can tap into when you swim along side someone, stroke for stroke at exactly the same pace. The 4 of us lined up shoulder to shoulder and finished the swim, in sync and feeling a connection – to each other and the this great Caribbean Sea. Everything working together. Galvanized. It was a perfect way to finish the biggest swim of the week.
Towel off, it’s time for late lunch. We feasted on BLTs and everyone reported their wildlife sighting. We teased Sonia for a seemingly nonchalant spotted eagle ray mention…nice when you’re seeing so many cool things that you can point them out
without too much excitement!
After lunch, the rain. The first we’ve had all week. Kind of perfect timing, really. It was as if we finished our last swim and the weather let go of a held breath. Release. Everyone napped or went below to begin the bitter-sweet process of packing up for home.
Not so fast, SwimVacationers! Swimmer portrait time! The rain stopped but the sky stayed moody – a perfect backdrop to photograph our guests as the serious swimmers they have become this week. Nicole had never swum in open water before. I didn’t even know that till she told me yesterday. Welcome to something you’re very very good at, Nicole. Natalie went further in rougher seas than I think she thought she could. She lengthened and strengthened an already powerful stroke. Sonia, a gifted triathlete and running machine, worked on her stroke and got stronger, more efficient. She stuck out the night swim even after she thought she might not. Jenny was brave. Very, very brave. She was afraid at Pelican Island, and she did it anyway. That’s the definition of courage. And Mark? Well. May we all be swimming like Mark at his age (70!). And let’s not forget Alina! Our guest guide, a seasoned and powerful open water swimmer, but new to this thing we do on this boat we love. She picked it up in a nano-second and pitched right in. She made a great thing better and it felt like she’s been with us for years.
So i liked the ominous skies and cool light in White Bay this afternoon. The sea and I had battled this morning. We made up, slowly, over the course of 2.2 miles. The pictures we made after that were reflective of the kind of transformation that a real commitment to something – hard work, listening, tapping into inner strength and yielding to a need greater than your own – can make. That’s open water swimming. That’s love in the sea.
Look at these faces, these bodies. They’ve found home here.
Who would believe an adventure that was all dolphins and blue tangs? It’s not the real deal without a few stings and waves along the way. Is it worth it? Totally. Because when the sea is accepting of us, wrapping us in great arms of blue and weightlessness and light and magic…well. It doesn’t get any better than that.
Tomorrow I’ll say goodbye to the Caribbean Sea and we’ll resume our long distance relationship. But we’ve proven our commitment to one another this week, and she knows I can’t and won’t stay away for long. After the miles these swimmers covered, I doubt they will either.