Monday, September 14, 2009

OWS..In the element...

..water that is, for over 2 and a half hours yesterday. With my loonie friend Emi, I waded through the shellfish carcasses on an overcast Sunday morning in September, and pointed my nose in the direction of the Barcelona bluffs. With our backs to the Cedar point lighthouse, the plan was to swim to Barcelona, rest a moment or two while treading water, then swim on to Sag Harbor's Havens Beach. A 3.77 mile swim, it was going to be a fun open water passage, and having done it the prior week in ine hou and fifty minutes, I figured we were going to have a similar, if not slightly longer time.
Rubber first. Emi tucks her car keys into a doble ziplock baggie, and stuffs the bag between her wetsuit and swimsuit. A short debate about the merits of an extra front bump versus a rear bump. The rear bump wins, more hydrodynamic. Not that it would matter.
Launch time. With the breeze at our backs, we paddle, paddle, paddle, then faces down, head for the bluff, Emi on my heels, slow, log strokes, even breathing, stretching out in the green-ish slightly murky summer water. Seaweed on the floor wafting.. towards Cedar point..Crap, I forgot to check the tide times.. I do some quick mental math, and even double checking myself, can't escape that we will be swimming into a perfectly ebbing tide, hence the seaweed pointing in the wrong direction! I turn after a hundred strokes to see Emi's pink head bobbing a ways away from me..I wait a while for her to catch on, and encourage her to swim in my bubbles, drafting for an easier swim. We continue for 25 minutes or so before we stop for the first time, keeping the Grace estate on our left, and the 60' tall sandy bluffs straight ahead.
Landmarks. From years of sailing in the waters around Sag Harbor and Shelter Island, I have learned to measure progress using landmarks while caught in current. Spotting a small sailboat on a mooring at "9 0' clock", I put my head down for a hundred yards, 300 strokes, breathing long and steadily, feeling the surge as I matched the snap of my hip roll and arm reach, watching every 6-9 strokes for the pink head astern of me. Emi comes and goes from my draft, disappearing for seconds in the open waters of Northwest Harbor, then bobbing into sight on course. We continue, heads down, breathing, pulling, steady in the water, pausing only to check on each others position. 15 minutes should be about 1000 yards, so I stop to tread water, check for Emi and check the coast to my left. Same boat. Same spot.Same position. We weren't making any headway. The bluffs loomed just as large and distant as they has 45 minutes ago, and Emi seemed tired, switching from crawl to backstroke, then a breaststroke that took her backwards in the current..We re-grouped and I kept her tighter on my toes, kicking stronger to increase the draft, and pulling less strongly to minimize the seperation. Stopping for a giggle at the murky moustaches that each other was growing (summer OW swimmers will understand), we relaxed into the routine, knowing that we could always turn around and have an easy return trip to the beach at Cedar Point.
Eventually, the boat fell off to our left, we began "to make trees" in sailing parlance, as we tucked in under the bluffs and into flatter, though no less tidal water. Chest deep at Barcelona point after 1 hour and 30 minutes, we waded against the endless-pool-like current for a while, giving shoulders and brains a wee break, while I recounted the Trudy Ederle story to Emi. The first female to cross the English channel, Trudy swam for 14 hours and 32 minutes, the last 2 1/2 hours completely against the tide, in 61 degree 19 years of age! We teleported to a different time, gathered some perspective and dove under again. The sun was coming out to play on the water, and as we passed the bluffs, we laughed recounting some unmentionable stories about my first summer on the east end, discovering the areas natural beauty. I am still amazed by it, and as many times as I have swam, sailed, paddled here, the shoreline and water make me breathless.
Not quite breathless, though feeling the heaviness build in my arms, I head for Havens beach, astern of the Mega-Yacht that we have pegged as our half-way buoy. Emi swims more steadily now, unimpededby the waves, though still against the current. I prepare mentally for Bermuda, feeling that as the fatigue sets in, it becomes almost easier to swim, letting go of the ego of swimming a certain speed, and stripping off the layers of effort, left finally with the bare bones of a stroke learned long ago. In different waters, on the other side of the Atlantic. Pulling right until we touch sand on the "catch", we swim to the feet of the clammers. 2 rubber-clad nymphs emerge 2 hours 35 minutes. I high five Emi, and arms around rubbery shoulders we wash off our OW beards and come ashore.