The staff at the Island School/ Cape Eleuthera Institute all wear a lot of hats and have to be flexible. Clare and I headed to the boathouse for our 5 am rendezvous with Ron, and learned that Scott would be taking the first shift on kayak. Rachel (who was supposed to take the first kayak shift) was up very late taking care of a student needing medical attention.
Our boat was loaded with kayak and supplies for the day… We only needed to board with our personal items and head for Lighthouse Beach. Ron held a course about 1/2 mile off shore. Traveling around 20 knots was smooth, and the ambient light of the full moon somehow made the air feel warmer. When we arrived at Lighthouse, Ron dropped anchor about 100 yards from the beach. There are some shallow coral formations that were hard to differentiate from the dark areas of turtle grass from topside, but once I goggled up, I could see quite clearly as I swam to the beach accompanied by Scott. It was now about 6:45… A few minutes later than the 6:30 start goal, but with my back to the low cliff, I was facing a full moon; bright white, beams shooting through the scattered clouds and striking the ocean in the distance. Behind me, and out of sight, I could sense the orange-red glow of the soon to be rising sun. What a production. The lighting crew here is top notch!
I stood atop a plastic milk crate that just happened to be lying on the beach, raised my hand, lowered my arm as Scott blew a whistle to signal the boat that we were off. The low level of atmospheric light appeared to be magnified under the waters surface, and the features were quite clear as Scott and I pass through the narrow channel which (see figure 1) is very shallow, and separates the first detached rock from the island proper. Turn right…. Continue.
We hold a steady course at what feels to me like a quarter mile from shore on my right; Scott kayaking steadily along at my ten ‘clock; Clare and Ron in the boat… A 22 foot center console inboard-outboard with a t- top canopy. The bottom remains clearly visible in water that I guess ranges from 15 to 30 feet deep. The features alternate between clean sandy bottom, sea grasses, and coral heads. I see turtles, lobsters, tube sponges, sea fans, sting rays, friendly little colorful reef fish, etc. It’s a moving picture show I’ve become familiar with, so… Nothing really distracting, and no strong urges to interrupt the swim for a free dive to the bottom for a closer inspection. Onward. Before my 3 hour feed I notice the sea grassed bent acutely towards us. The ebb has begun a bit earlier than I guessed it would… But it was purely a guess, as the tide data locations are each more than thirty miles away, one on the east of the island, and one on the west of the island. From east to west there is about a 2 hour difference, so the theory is to calculate the distance from one of those points and take your best guess. Example…. Midway between the two: add an hour from the east or subtract an hour from the west. Yes, it’s crude, but since we are heading in a westerly direction, I expect the ebb to be longer than 6 hours. Still gives us plenty of time to finish with a flood.
Hour 4, and like clockwork, the transfer boat arrives with Charlie and Rachel. For a couple of minutes I swim ahead while Scott and Rachel switch out on kayak, but soon, Rachel paddles up to my left, Charlie and Clare keeping watch from “Dave and Di”, and Ron and Scott are heading back to the dock where I’m sure other duties await them.
I’m only marginally familiar with the distances and landmarks along the course on this stretch and I ask Rachel if we are approaching Bannerman Town. She lets me know that we are coming up on Davis Marina… Bannerman Town was way back. Davis Marina is 10.8 miles from where we started… half way at 6hrs 40mins. Two miles beyond Davis is Plum Creek. I vaguely remember swimming to a small wreck during a previous Total Immersion Swim Camp visit to Plum Creek, and Rachel confirms… We will be going right over it. Plum Creek is at about 13 miles from Lighthouse… Another mile and a half and we are passing Deep Creek. This is the last settlement we pass from Rock Sound until we arrive at the Island School. A few faculty members live here, and there are a couple of favorite establishments at the crossroad… Friendly Bob’s bar and liqueur store and Sharil’s Restaurant…No Swearing: No Hustling. http://www.discover-eleuthera-bahamas.com/sharils.html
I’m not sure where we were when the next team change occurred, but I do remember that Jai was kayaking and Rob had taken over at the wheel while the ebb was still going strong. I recognized Diel Point by the monument standing tall. Things were starting to look familiar now as we were approaching the stretch favored for our early morning ” coach’s swims” from camps past. From Diel Point it was easy to see the Chub Point rock pile memorial. Up to this point, we have been moving through shallow water… Less than 40 feet, but now, Jai and I were at the edge of the canyon. To my left was the abyss and we traveled the knife edge for a bit before going deep. The sun was now pretty low in the sky, and the synchronized change in atmospheric light and my view to black was intense. Three silver trigger fish bumbled by… From a distance, i thought they were sunfish. I stopped to watch them pass. Large groups of pink moon jelly fish were bubbling up from the deep. Occasionally bumping into me and then tumbling away.
We passed Chub Point wide, and it felt like things were flooding now, but without a visual lock on the seagrass, I really had no point of reference. The shoreline here is very familiar and soon we would pass High Rock and Fourth Hole Beach. That iconic photo; fisheye lens of Terry Laughlin and me was taken right at High Rock. This one is at Fourth Hole: http://www.totalimmersion.net/open-water-camps
Scott and Rachel were heading out from Fourth Hole to join us for the home stretch… Scott swimming, and Rachel kayaking. I didn’t see Scott until he was right next to me, but I was able to anticipate their arrival as Jai was waving and raising his paddle as they approached. The green lights that I attached to the deck lines of the kayak were again visible to me, and I assumed that the green strobe on my goggle strap was equally visible. Night had fallen, but the bottom was again visible. It was hard to differentiate between the streetlights, marina lights and headlights. A large welcoming crew was waiting for our landing, and two of the school vans had driven close to the beach with their headlights lighting the finish. The flood was ripping around the point. We shot past the intended finish by about a hundred yards.
13 hours 41 minutes 55 seconds… A beautiful journey!
My exit through the rocky strip was surprisingly graceful… I had warned everyone not to be alarmed by what would almost certainly be a spastic-stumble-crawl to the beach. Better to prepare for the worst.
Rather than swim back to the boat, I opt for a van ride thinking I could probably be showered, dried off ,and dressed before the boat docks and unloads. Ron gives me the shirt off his back and the hat off his head for the ride. Karen delivers food… some delicious wahoo and pasta. I’m too tired to eat, but wake up early the next day and devour it all.
I got a bit burned. Perhaps the sunscreen was a bit past its best by date. Clare wants to go for a swim, and a little cool down swim sounds like a good idea. We do a few laps around the reef balls outside of the dining area and then swim north toward the CEI dorms. We swim into a group of 12 spotted eagle rays in four feet of water. They divide and swim around us… one bumps Clare and they swim onward. It’s a lazy day for us that goes by quickly, and a celebratory dinner at Sharil’s was the perfect way to gather all those who made the swim possible and talk about future plans to introduce this amazing place to more swimmers.
So many thanks to an amazing crew!
Team coordinator: Karen Knight
Pilots: Ron Knight, Charlie Sandor, Rob Lloyd
Kayakers: Scott Aland, Rachel Shapiro, Jai Leal
Mixologist, observer, better half: Clare
…and to those responsible for introducing me to the amazing swimming world of South Eleuthera: Terry Laughlin, Justin Dimmell, Andrew Farrell, and Chris Maxey