Chasing The Swimmer, part 2: Key West ♡s Diana Nyad

Before Diana jumped in the water off Havana, she knew exactly where she would land: A Key West beach perfect for a statue. The Swimmer tells all.

part 1 – part 2

All quotes come from the Audible version of The Swimmer: The Diana Nyad Story unless otherwise indicated.

What’s Left?

Diana Nyad (presumably) making some adjustments. Via CNN/diananyad.com.

Nyad’s almost through the second night of her Cuba swim, but she’s in trouble. A few hours ago, she waited out a storm, treading water for about an hour and a half. The sea has stopped churning, but her stomach hasn’t. She retches again. Bits of vomit stick inside her jellyfish mask.

At about 5 a.m., John Bartlett—captain of Nyad’s escort boat, Voyager—declares that Diana’s “running on fumes.”

And she can’t swim straight. She hasn’t been able to since she entered the Gulf Stream two days ago. East, east, east, she swings. “Very easy for Diana to drift away from boat,” wrote Roger McVeigh, one of Nyad’s two observers, on the first night. “Kayakers have a tough job keeping her close to Voyager.”

Over and over, her team must reel her back in. Early on that final morning,  Janet Hinkle, Nyad’s other observer, writes:

Diana is always veering right, away from the boat and many voices direct her back to the light and the boat. More confusion than I’ve witnessed before. Everyone constantly bidding her to swim toward the red rope light and nearer the boat.

Nyad veers east in The Swimmer too:I guess I’m drifting way out to the right side of Voyager again” (3:25). Later, Stoll yells, “Diana, pick it up. Left. Left” (1:09:37).

As a matter of fact, during her entire Cuba-Florida crossing, Nyad never swings west, only east, exactly what you’d expect of a swimmer tethered to a boat pushing north against the relentless Gulf Stream.

<°))̂)̖)><    ><((̗(̂(°>

In the days after the swim, Bartlett, whom Nyad calls her “genius navigator,” explained that this was all part of the plan: Head Voyager northwest in a strong current heading northeast. Voilà, you’ve got a 1.5 mph swimmer now careening northwards at double or even triple her normal pace.

Click the image for a complete version. Via an archived version of “Navigator’s Log – John Bartlett” from diananyad.com.

In the diagram above, Bartlett assumes a current running 51° from north. But during Nyad’s swim, the Gulf Stream often flowed closer to 90° or more from north.

Here are current diagrams from August 31 through September 2:

Also, see this low-resolution video of the currents during the entire crossing or download this high-resolution version. Many thanks to Ron Collins for the lower-left image and to Dr. Jiangang Luo for the other images and the video.

For most of the swim, the Gulf stream flowed east or slightly north of east. An eddy formed as Nyad approached the Keys, but by then it would have been too late to help. Had she not somehow bound herself to Voyager, she’d have found herself halfway to the Bahamas.

<°))̂)̖)><    ><((̗(̂(°>

During the squall on that calamitous final night, Nyad’s team races to invoke what they call “storm protocol.” To avoid collisions, they scatter their five vessels far apart. The shark divers lead Nyad a safe distance away from the boats where she can safely tread water until the squall passes.  After 90 minutes or so, the skies begin to clear, and Nyad gets back to stroking toward the Keys.

According to Nyad’s GPS coordinates, though, the storm did not slow her down. During the storm, she traveled directly towards Key West at 3 mph. That’s the same pace and direction that she maintained in the hours before and after the squall.

In other words, John Bartlett, Janet Hinkle, Roger McVeigh, and the rest of Nyad’s team witnessed a miracle.

Unless, of course, she had help. “Maybe,” Nyad wrote in her 2015 memoir, Find a Way, “I’ll be the one who, by virtue of having the chutzpah to go back there a fifth time, will finally deserve some luck” (229).

But luck had anything to do with it, and here’s why.

After the storm, Bonnie worries. Or at least she sounds worried in The Swimmer:

Bartlett, if we can get her back to a normal stroke count, how much time do you estimate to Smathers?  Fifteen hours!  Are you serious? (1:09:27)

Smathers Beach, present home to a Diana Nyad plaque, ostensible future home of her statue. But, given Nyad’s wild swings eastward, how could Stoll and Bartlett know, with an estimated fifteen hours to go, exactly where they’d land?

If this were a legitimate endeavor, they couldn’t. But it was never going to be legitimate. Let’s start with how real crossings look from above compared to Nyad’s crossing:

Top: left—Rob Lea (Carolyn Gleich/Nat. Geo.); right—Sarah Thomas (Jon Washer/Miami Herald)
Middle: left—Nyad (Ramon Espinosa/AP); right—Nyad (Andy Newman/Florida Keys NB/AP)
Bottom:: Nyad (Chester Kalb)

Now here’s how legitimate crossings look from below compared to Nyad’s:

Top: left—Mike Tyson (by permission of the swimmer); right—Beth French (Ghislaine Couvillat).
Bottom: Nyad (via Ben Shepardson’s “A Shark Diver Story: Cuba Swim with Diana Nyad”).

I suspect that Nyad, Stoll, and Bartlett knew long before Diana left Cuba exactly where she would finish in Florida. “Where will we land?” writes Janet Hinkle, quoting Bartlett in her log on the second day, too early for him to show his hand:

Thinking Sombrero Beach in Marathon but will know better 10 miles out (from the keys). If tide is coming out, we will steer away from the cuts and bridges. If the tide is coming in, we will take advantage of the cuts and bridges and bring her in. (Sun. 12:14 p.m.)

Red dots denote Smathers Beach in Key West and Sombrero Beach on Marathon Key. Distance between the two is 44 miles (straight line) or 50 miles (by road). Detail from “East and Gulf Coasts, Florida” map via the University of Florida’s George A. Smathers Libraries.

At 5 a.m. the next morning, Bartlett updates the media team.  He estimates that Nyad has between eleven and thirteen hours to swim before she finishes. At this point, he has no doubt where that will happen:

Smather’s Beach in Key West, which is 1 1/3 miles east of White Street Pier.

Local knowledge from teammates tells us it is an ideal landing spot for Diana. (Archived blog post, 2 Sep 2013)

The tide turned at about 8 a.m. and began heading out. But, with the help of a Gulf Stream eddy and what appeared to be a very well-rested swimmer, Bartlett brought her in anyway.

See also complete, higher resolution version and chart at NOAA site.

Three years later, Diana gave the definitive version in Find a WayHer genius navigator accomplishes the impossible, even against the tide. “He’s done it,” she cheers. “We are going right for Smathers Beach, dead center of the beautiful island of Key West” (270).

Bonnie Stoll and a miraculously spry Diana Nyad ride past Sloppy Joe’s Bar in Key West, Florida September 3, 2013 (Rob O’Neal/Florida Keys News Bureau/Reuters)

Of course he’d done it. They never intended to land anywhere but a beach named “Smathers.”[1]

    1. An archived version of “Navigator’s Log – John Bartlett” links to charts from before, during, and after the swim. All show Key West as the endpoint, though Bartlett includes a Marathon Key option, probably to keep up appearances.

An archived version of “Navigator’s Log – John Bartlett” links to charts from before, during, and after the swim. All show Key West as the endpoint, though Bartlett includes a Marathon Key option, probably for the sake of appearances.

But it had to be Key West. Diana had dug herself deep under its skin. She called it her “home away from home.” Her two observers and at least fifteen other crew members lived there in 2013. Many worked with or owned—and still own—businesses in the city. For instance:

    1. In 2008, the New York Times profiled the Hopps/Scotts in “Trail of Bad Loans Leads to the Couple Next Door” (reprinted in the Palm Beach Post). As far as I can tell, Hopp/Scott businesses never stay at one address for longer than two years. The Hopps filed for bankruptcy in February 2015. In the image above right, Dianne Scott graces the cover of the August 2015 issue of Island Jane magazine (via Island Jane’s Facebook page).

Nyad’s two observers, Roger McVeigh and Janet Hinkle, have served on the boards of local non-profits. Photographer Andy Newman (see aerial shot of Nyad above) is the  Media Relations Director for the Monroe County Tourist Development Council. He also serves as president of NewmanPR. NewmanPR’s Senior Account Executive, Carol Shaughnessy, lives in Key West and oversees, according to the NewmanPR website,  “the agency’s longest ongoing account — the Florida Keys & Key West tourism council.”

The city gave Diana Nyad a plaque and a parade. And her swim gear lives on in the Key West Museum.

I am not saying that everyone on Nyad’s crew helped her cheat. On the contrary, I’m certain that only her inner circle knew the plan: catching a ride, or subbing in another swimmer, or whatever else she did to make her miracle happen. What I am saying, though, is this: A lot of people have a vested interest in ensuring that Diana Nyad continues to bring glory and cash to Key West.

Nyad fans awaiting her Cuba-to-Florida finish at Smathers Beach, September 2, 2013. Via Key West Real Estate Now!
More Signs

Speaking of money, why did Bartlett help Nyad make a beeline for the Conch Republic? I don’t know for sure, but I suspect he did it because Nyad paid him.

With Diana, repetition signals deception, and she often repeats that she does not pay anyone on her team. From The Swimmer:

“Not one of these team members has ever been paid a dime for years now.” (5:22)

From Find a Way:

“None of these friends ever got paid a dime.” (167)
“Not one of these Teammates was paid a dime.” (189)
“Nobody gets paid.” (234)

From the How to Be Superhuman podcast:

“Not one person on this team through all the years ever got paid a dime.” (31:31)

From the article “Diana Nyad: My Ocean”:

“[F]or each of the five attempts we made, not one team member was paid a dime. They did receive expenses.”

Here are some other things Nyad repeats a lot:

“It’s a sign.” (Via “Sleepless in Seattle.”)
  • “I was the first woman to swim around Manhattan.”
  •  Most people “touched by a [box jelly] tentacle die instantaneously.”
  • “I became, in the 1970s, the best ocean swimmer in the world.”
  • “I was only 600ths of a second behind third place…,” so missed making the Olympic trials.[3]
    1. She was the seventh woman around Manhattan; most people survive box jelly stings; she never came close to being the best ocean swimmer in the world; to qualify for the Olympic Trials, an athlete must meet a time standard—place has nothing to do with it.

We can assume, then, that Nyad did more than reimburse some of her crew members.

We know that she paid at least one of her kayakers. Within days of the end of the swim, Darlene Meadows told the Naples Daily News, a community paper in Southwest Florida, that…

…she got the paid staff position with Nyad’s Extreme Dream Team after filling out an application and submitting her credentials.” (Paddling into History, 5 Sep 2013)

Beyond Meadows, who else? For his unabashed support, I suspect she paid Steven Munatones even though he ultimately didn’t make the trip.  But I also suspect that she rewarded Bartlett with a tad more than expenses.

Here’s what makes me suspicious: Nyad and Munatones probably lied about John Bartlett’s death.

I know, I know—that must sound like I’m about to put on a diaper and drive 3000 miles to liberate captive marathon swimmers from the basement of a chowder house in Maine. But please bear with me.

Three months and eight days after Nyad walked ashore at Smathers Beach, John Bartlett passed away. According to his obituary, he “died in his sleep at home on December 10, 2013.” Neither the obit nor anything Bartlett’s wife—Elke Thuerling—wrote at the time suggest that his death was unexpected. “For those of you who may not have heard,” wrote Thuerling on Facebook three days after her husband’s passing, “John died in his sleep on December 10.” (Thuerling, by the way, kayaked for Nyad on the 2013 crossing.)

During the swim, Janet Hinkle noted that Bartlett’s frequent naps earned him the nickname, “the napigator,” an indication that he may have had health problems.

But here’s Nyad in The Swimmer, talking about that same crossing: “The only ones who never leave, never sleep, are Bonnie and Bartlett” (5:16).  Why would she say that unless she didn’t want us to suspect that she knew Bartlett was ill?

Nyad is one of only two people who go out of their way to paint Bartlett’s death as sudden and unexpected. I’ll bet you can guess the name of the second.

Steven Munatones, writing just a day after Bartlett’s death, declared that Bartlett “unexpectedly and shockingly passed away 2 days ago” (Archived: DNOWS). Note that Munatones posted the article the day after Bartlett’s passing, not the two days he claims. He may have wanted to squelch speculation about the expectedness of Bartlett’s death. Were Nyad’s admirers to learn that she coerced a sick man into helping her commit fraud, her pedestal might start to wobble.[4]

    1. Would Munatones, one of the most prominent individuals in marathon swimming, risk his reputation to do something this odious to aid Diana Nyad?  Before you answer, consider this: For years, he claimed to have swum the first and fastest  Tsugura Strait two-way in 12 hours and 50 minutes. He left out the 41 hours he waited between crossings. Munatones also made false claims about Nyad’s 2013 Cuba-Florida endeavor, he aided and/or instigated vandalism on one of his own websites, and he has engaged in plagiarism. For details and examples, please see All About Steve. (I am indebted to a Friend of the Annex for pointing out the contradictions in Steven’s Tsugaru claims.)

Two other people—Nyad crew member Don “Woodkayaker” McCumber, and  Bartlett friend and business associate Camille Klingele—posted that Bartlett died suddenly. But McCumber got his information from Munatones. Klingele likely did too.

No one gives a cause of death—except Diana Nyad:

The one heartbreak suffered since the swim has been the loss of our genius, John Bartlett. Only sixty-six, John died of heart failure three months later. (Find a Way, 283)

Needless to say, we can’t believe anything Nyad says. A relative of Bartlett’s told me that he (Bartlett) had been very ill in the year leading up to the swim. At one point, he spent a week in the hospital but seemed better by the time Nyad asked him to help her with the crossing. Bartlett initially declined Nyad’s request. Still tired from his illness, he wanted to spend time working on his boat.

So Nyad flew to Florida and begged him to help her. He agreed to come along, and the rest is marathon swimming history.

Why did Bartlett change his mind? Nyad gives us a hint in The Swimmer. In her play, Nyad pleads with Bartlett to join her on the adventure-of-a-lifetime, whereupon Bartlett gives in. “How can I refuse you?” he declares. “I can’t get any more broke” (57:14). So I suspect that Nyad offered her genius navigator a substantial sum over and above expenses. Since chronic illnesses can devastate both bodies and bank accounts, Bartlett may have desperately needed the cash.

However, the relative I talked with assured me that Bartlett would never do anything underhanded. It’s possible, then, that Bartlett didn’t know about Nyad’s plan. After all, he said of Nyad that she “is the type of person that would never cheat at anything.” Maybe he believed that. If so, he would be far from the first to fall for Nyad’s wiles.

The Big Meet

One of the first to fall for those wiles was Jack Nelson, Nyad’s high school swim coach. “Diana Nyad is going to be great at something,” he told Sports Illustrated in 1971. She already is as a human being.”

At the time, the positive feelings were mutual.  A few decades later, though, Nyad began saying that Jack Nelson had molested her. She repeated those accusations in The Swimmer:

Age 14, there was a big meet in my hometown. I hadn’t lost in the 100-meter backstroke in the state of Florida for two years at this point. (21:54)

I lost that night. (22:37)

As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, none of the above can possibly be true. Nyad hadn’t won a 100-meter backstroke in the state of Florida until May 2, 1964. She was 14 years old. She swam in one more meet that season, on August 14, and won again. Eight days later, she turned 15.

I went to the bottom of the diving well 17 feet underwater and I screamed. (22:54)

Nyad swam in two important meets at two different pools in her home town that year. Neither of those venues included a diving well (see “Location, Location, Location“).

Why is this important? Because her “big meet” story underlies all of her abuse tales—including the ones she told in the New York Times, The New Yorker,  her memoir, and in at least one police interview.[5] Yet not a single detail in her “big meet” story stands up to a shred of scrutiny. Obviously, neither the Times, The New YorkerAudible, nor the Fort Lauderdale Police Department gave it any.

I see only two possibilities. Either Nyad got the date and most of the particulars wrong, in which case she has had over twenty years to correct her mistakes. Or she’s lying.

She’s lying.


5. I recently discovered an exception to the Big-Meet-In-1964 fabrication. Though I wrote about this anomaly in my last post, it bears repeating here: In a 1997 presentation in Missouri, Nyad alleged that Nelson molested her once, in 1967, when she was a senior. Nyad gave no indication that it ever happened again.

Within a year of her Missouri presentation, Nyad backdated her allegations to 1964, her freshman year, and kept them there. So she did revise her story, but not to correct it. Rather, she wanted to make her coach appear as monstrous as possible. In the new version, Nelson assaults a much younger girl, and Nyad has four years to inflate one alleged attack into “years of covert molestation.” 

 

One thought on “Chasing The Swimmer, part 2: Key West ♡s Diana Nyad”

  1. This is an astounding and truly commendable account that needs to be turned into a video documentary on 60 minutes or some similar expose. What Nyad says and does is unfair to other truly talented swimmers and athletes, and promotes and rewards fluff rather than truly hard work and talent.

    Especially in these times of mistrust of corporations, governments, media and, in general, anyone who says or claims anything, we need to hold people like Nyad accountable for what they say. More importantly, they need to held accountable for what they might unethically encourage others to say or do with the hope of “getting away with it”. It should be as much of an ethical responsibility as it is a legal one.

    Until it is more publicly exposed, charlatans like Nyad denigrate legitimate swimmers and athletes worldwide.Unless there is accurate, independent research and corroboration for world records and “unbelievable” claims like hers, all sports activities will lose credibility and slip into a downward, possibly never-ending spiral of suspicion.

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