Countering the Currents

I have a theory about how Diana may have caught a ride during her Cuba-Florida crossing. Over the next month or so, I’ll make a case in support of that theory. Before that happens, though, we need to catch up on some currents.

From “SW Fla. group helps swimmer reach goal,” by Mike Braun, The News-Press, 5 Sep 2013.

Mike Braun’s article “SW Fla. group helps swimmer reach goal” appeared in the News-Press of South Lee/North Naples on September 5, 2013, during the interlude between the end of Nyad’s crossing on the 2nd and the infamous conference call on the 10th. You can also find the article on USA Today’s site as “Florida kayakers help swimmer Nyad reach historic goal.”

If you’ve seen my recent Facebook posts, then you already know about the article.  Please pardon the repetition.

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By the time of the call on the 10th, Nyad’s crew had gotten their stories and their currents straight.

But not so, apparently, by the 5th.

In the article, John Bartlett, Nyad’s navigator, all but declares that there was no magic current hurtling north. Nyad’s crew and supporters cite such a current as the reason that she sometimes moved more than three times faster than her normal speed and that she walked ashore in Florida far sooner than anyone imagined possible.

According to the article,

Bartlett, a boat designer and builder, said his biggest challenge during the voyage was keeping on course going so slow.

“[Nyad] was swimming about 1 mile per hour and the current was going 4 miles per hour, sideways,” he said….

In other words, no constant eddies droving Nyad north. Bartlett had to contend with the normal eastbound flow of the gulf stream. To counter that,

…[h]e had to use a vectoring method called crabbing to stay the course.

“We’d steer in one direction and combined with the current to go in a different direction,” he said. “We actually steered due west to to go north at one point. The course would change all the time.”

Here’s Elke Thuerling, Bartlett’s partner and one of Nyad’s kayakers. She increases Nyad’s speed a tad but otherwise reinforces the above statements:

“It was challenging,” she said. “When you’re going a knot and a half [about 1.7 mph] it is tough to go that slow and stay safe being right next to her (Nyad).”

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One final note: Bartlett often left the helm, entrusting the complicated navigation to others.

Bartlett said he worked on for 24 hours and then took catnaps, keeping an eye on the instruments.

According to observer Janet Hinkle, the crew even had a nickname for him:

Sat. 1:12 p.m.

Navigator resting. At this time, crew refers to him as “the napigator.”

But wait—Hinkle wrote that a little over four hours into the swim. In the same log entry, Hinkle indicated that someone else was driving the boat.

So was it 4 or 24? Was it north or east? Was it  90% or 95 or 99. Neptune only knows.

But it doesn’t matter. We can still show that Diana must have cheated, even if we assume that she had the Best. Current. Ever.

So stay tuned for “Attachment Disorder,” coming soon to the Diana Nyad Fact Check Annex. Here’s a preview (click images for full-sized versions):

Nyad somewhere between two and five miles out from Key West on 2 Sep 2013. (Andy Newman, AP Photo/Florida Keys News Bureau.)
Details from photo, left, showing a possible tow line.

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