This is the 6th year I have worked open water swim camps with Terry and Total Immersion, and every year, the roster expands, and the experience is more rewarding. Celeste St Piere directed this camp as well as an all women’s camp the week before bringing together more than 80 swimmers in one of the most beautiful and accessible places in the world to swim in.
The Maho Bay eco-tent Village functioned as our home base. A large majority of campers and coaches also took residence here, so during swim breaks, there were opportunities to chat with swimmers in some of the other groups over a beer or a meal… at the dining pavilion or just under the shady canopy of a few trees (beware of falling iguana poop)
St John is sparsely populated, as a great majority of the island is national park. A network of hiking trails lead to ruins of sugar plantations and beautiful panoramic views. I broke a toe on the second day, so with a pass on hiking, got to log more aquatic time.
With nearly 50 swimmers ranging from OW beginners to well seasoned, we divided into small groups spending our morning sessions working on OW specific skills and afternoons applying those skills to longer group swims. There was an informal early morning “coaches swim” for those of us looking for a little extra credit. Terry circulated among all the groups and offered us some challenging focal points to carry with us as we explored Maho and the nearby bays.
Willie Miller and I had the honor of working with a rather ambitious group of swimmers, and our afternoon swims were consistently between 5 and 10k. I’ll describe a couple:
Maho to Waterlemon round trip
We started at Little Maho Bay and followed the buoy line through Francis Bay to Mary’s Point. Things were always a little bumpy here, and tarpon and eagle ray sightings are common. We continued into the wind east, and then south-east to Waterlemon Cay where we met up with a group of swimmers that hiked out to Waterlemon. after a brief chat, we swam into the beach at Leinster Bay where we fueled up with a snack and some water before swimming back to Maho. Six of us swam to Leinster Bay, two would hike back, but we picked up another so the five of us set out for the swim back. At Mary’s Point a school of 5 to 6 foot megalops atlanticus paraded by. Since we seemed to be making good time now with a tail wind, we decided to take a detour around Whistling Cay… counter-clockwise and then head straight back…. 12k. We swam much of this in sync.
Maho to Trunk Bay and back – Again, the start was at Little Maho with a heading south west to America’s Point. We continued along the buoy line staying on the outside of Cinnamon Cay and hugged the shore line around the point between Cinnamon Bay and Trunk Bay making a bee line to the small sandy beach at the west end of Trunk Bay. Water break and back this time taking the inside tracks around Trunk Cay and Cinnamon Cay…. 7k.
The shallows of Maho Bay abound with schools of tiny anchovy-like fish under constant assault from schools of palm sized fish from below, and dive-bombing pelicans from above. At times the attacks are so coordinated that many of these little guys beached themselves to escape the head on assault… the next wave bringing them back to the brine, disoriented, they now fall easy prey to the opportunistic juvenile tarpon cruising by. This is our daily show. We become familiar with the preferred territory of the turtles and sting rays (Big Maho) and giant red starfish also abound. A visiting manta ray with a 7′ wingspan cruised with coach Dave Cameron one afternoon, and barracudas would pop up anywhere.
I purchased an inflatable stand-up-paddleboard for this week, http://www.seaeagle.com/LongBoard.aspx , I spent almost as much time on the board as I did in the water, and rigged up a towing belt for some of the longer swim when we wanted to take along food, drink, cameras, etc… I also kept a phone and marine radio on board. The advantages of a board over a kayak are many; in the chop, standing is more visible to boaters than a kayaker, in heavy wind, the board remained easy to tow while swimming, in an emergency situation, it would be easy to put a swimmer on the board, on a long one way swim, the board could be folded up for the shuttle ride back to the camp.
I tried to find a pilot that would escort a small group of swimmers to Jost Van Dyke (BVI) 10k…but due to customs technicalities, couldn’t convince anyone to do it. Instead, on the day after the camp ended, Lennart Larson and I decided to swim to Cruz Bay. Much of the route was already familiar to us, but we would be going past Hawksnest, Caneel Bay and finally into the very busy Cruz Bay. We loaded up the SUP with a few gels and sports drinks and set off at 12:07. We had a bit of a tail wind for the first half and seemed to be making good time. This came to an abrupt end as we came around Hawksnest Point. At Turtle Bay, a strong rip was moving us northeast… into the narrow channel between the point and Henley Cay. This was not good, as many boats use this short cut to get to Cruz Bay. I told Lennart that the only chance I thought we had was to head into Turtle Bay and hug the shoreline into Caneel Bay. We took a hard left turn and swam around the point in very shallow water, our bodies just inches above the reef. It was easy to see that we were making steady but painfully slow progress… each stroke gaining only a few inches. We did persevere, and finally we were past the rip and back to a cruising speed. One more point to swim around and Cruz Bay was in sight. We swam from moored sailboat to sailboat looking both ways and timing things carefully to avoid any “conflict” and as we approached the beach on the north side of the ferry dock we could see Clare, Celeste, Andy, and Todd waiting for us… Dry clothes! It was 2:47. Lunch and a shuttle back to Maho. Tomorrow back to the snow in NY.