Awesome! The feeling I had as I saw how calm the sea was as we drove to our loading point. I had been a little nervous leading up to this swim. Team Captain and number one swimmer. It was time for me to step up into these roles and give the team a great start with a good first swim leg.
We had been briefed the night before about the start procedure. We would be taken by the boat to a point off shore and I would have to swim to the beach completely clearing the water line before giving a signal that I was ready to start. I was kindly, and a little over enthusiastically, greased up by Denise. The idea was to have a Lanolin grease and Vaseline mix (known as swimmers grease) around my neck and under my armpits to reduce the chafing effect of the salt water as I swam. I ended up with grease all over my chest and even in my mouth and all I could smell was sheep! (from the Lanolin).
The time came for me to jump into the ocean, I was aware of teammate’s words of encouragement but was already ‘in the zone’ I couldn’t make out the words they were saying. As I plunged below the surface I was suddenly surprised to taste the salt water. I thought to myself “ Oh yeah, we are swimming in the sea not the lake. I reached the shore line only to be greeted to mussels and barnacles covering the rocks. It was both painful and awkward to walk. I felt the barnacles slice into my feet. “Jeez I’m bleeding already and I’ve only gone 100 metres!” I was soon joined by one of the swimmers from the Victoria team that had challenged us to a race across the Strait. She too struggled to walk into shore. I wanted to be a gentleman and help her but could feel the barnacles slice deeper into my toes as I stepped towards her.
The time came for me to signal my readiness. I raised my arm, the boat’s horn sounded to mark the start of the swim and we were off! Well actually we limped and faltered back over the encrusted rocks until we were deep enough to start swimming. “Trust the boat to find your course” They were the last instructions I was given from navigator John. I swam out to the boat and immediately felt it pull away from me.
“What! Do they expect me to keep pace with the boat as it travels that fast?” It was going further away from me. I was swimming strong and felt already that it wasn’t enough. Soon I was alongside the boat and I passed right by it and was in front of it. “Surley I wasn’t swimming faster than the boat?”
“ Shit! Where is the boat? It is supposed to be leading me in the right direction and now it is behind me.” “What is that shape behind my right shoulder? HOLY SHIT the boat is coming down on top of me!” “ Are they try to kill me?” I was so angry I kicked out at the boat. I don’t know if I was trying to move this huge 36 ft sailing boat out of my way or trying to push myself to safety.
“Oh my god now I’m on the wrong side of the boat and the wind and waves are hitting me full on.”
THUNK. “What was that? Jeez now I just swam right into the side of the dingy being towed behind the boat”
All this was in the first 30 minutes of my swim. Or so I thought. You see I had asked to be fed every half hour. So when Mike threw out my drinks bottles it was a welcome relief to know I was half way through this nightmare. The swim continued in much the same way as it started and I was getting angrier and angrier with myself, the boat and the rest of the team, that appeared to be watching me go through the worst swim imaginable. I could see them sitting along the side of the boat and felt like I was on dying on stage and they were the front row of the theatre.
“What’s this? Mike has my drinks bottle ready again”. “Why am I getting another feed? Do they think I am swimming so badly I need extra nutrition?”
Mike threw in my bottles and I grabbed them. “You’re doing great Paul. You’ve been going 40 minutes and have 20 left to do”
“What does he mean 40 minutes?” “Didn’t anybody listen to me when I asked for 30 minute feed intervals?”
The last 20 minutes lasted an eternity. Eventually I became aware of Brent constantly looking at his watch and glancing to the back of the boat. “This must be it. This must be the first hand over. Where is Leora? Come on Leora over take me quick and get me out of this nightmare”
I felt her tickle my toes to let me know she was behind me. As I climbed back onto the boat Tracey helped wipe some of the grease off me and people asked me how I felt. My answer was straight to the point. “Don’t speak to me”. I was angry. Angry with myself, angry with the boat, angry with the sea, angry at everything. I had been angry all the way through my swim. I had read so many times that long distance swimming was more mental than physical and here was the proof. I had started off badly and let that effect my whole swim. I couldn’t let this happen again. I had to figure out a way of dealing with the frustration and move on from it.
As we worked through the first rotation of swimmers we made great progress. Everybody seemed to be having good swims. As Tracey began hour four her family appeared alongside in her brother’s boat. Perfect timing. It must have been a real thrill for her to have them with her during her swim.
I think it was part way through Denise’s first shift, hour five, that the announcement was made that we were over half way. It looked as though we would break the ten hour mark. As Phred took over for hour six I could tell he was nervous. The usual chat and jokes were gone and he looked deadly serious. Leading up to the swim he had been dealing with severe tendonitis in his elbow and I could tell it was playing on his mind as he took a dive into the sea to start swimming. He swam great though. Possibly the best I have seen from him. Before I knew it, it was time to get ready for my second swim and to start the second rotation for the team.
A rotation that would become really serious as we encountered shipping, wildlife and strong currents that would force the other swim team to abandon their own attempt….read about it in The Salish Sea Swim part two | Now the fun really begins.