The hungry sea

Does time fly or does time swim? Flying, from a human perspective at least, seems inordinately full of imminent danger; wild gusts of wind, failing wings, stalling motors, peregrine falcon predators, banks of cloud, human error. Time flies because it goes so fast whether you’re a bird or in a plane – the faster it goes surely the greater chance of an almighty crash. So what if time swims? Yes the sea is full of excitement too; those grizzly sharks and all their Spielberg teeth, huge crashing waves, wild currents, a rum & coke too many before falling overboard. But the pace of swimming at least gives us the time to reflect on life as we paddle along stroke after stroke. Distance swimming though is notoriously boring both for the participant and the viewer (if you’ve ever succumbed to losing a couple of hours of your life watching an Olympic 10km. swimming marathon that is). However open water swimming puts a completely different perspective on training your mind. I am now resigned to never training in a pool again – ever! My last attempt just before the second lock down prompted me to get out of the water after 1,800m. because I was so BORED. I’d been bored before of course. The 40,000m. I did in 3 months in my 13m. pool at home during the first lockdown was tedious, boring, a chore, but at least I had the distraction of the occasional glimpse of sky, the squawk of a bird, my spaniel would wander up to the edge of the pool and stick her snout in to cajole me along, my children would jump in recreating waves in the sea (“get real daddy!”) and I enjoyed afterwards the satisfaction of completing a goal while sitting in my garden with a cool drink watching the clouds scud overhead.

Halfway through the gruelling ‘Sherry swim’ last month – 4,000m. with a 3k head current to battle against, no space in my head for anything other than determination. Photo © Jose Anies.

Last week I managed to get my head down for 3,500m. without a single breather or spotting stop. A bunch of us swam in the friendly annual Barbate to Los Caños ‘travesia’. I started off slowly as ever, lost the group straight away but our first distant stop was such a huge landmark rock that I hardly needed to look up to keep myself in a straight line. The sea was a touch wavy so it was impossible to see anyone, I ploughed on with a mild wind behind and a slight head current. The sea was sadly a bit cloudy so the fish I’d been hoping to spot were invisible but the sandstone cliffs, the stone pine forest and the squalling gulls helped me pass the time. Stroke after stroke, breath after breath I ploughed on lost in my own world. I was shocked to see I’d done 2,000m. after a glance at my watch. I’d somehow slipped in to a zen state of separation of mind and body and lost complete track of time. 40 minutes had passed in the splash of an arm. I wondered to myself if I could repeat the feat for the second half but to my great surprise when I got to the regrouping rock I was the last man in! Perhaps I’d fallen asleep while swimming I thought to myself?? 

Being of a mildly competitive nature I wasn’t to be outdone so for the second 3,500m. leg so I scorched off taking the straightest line about a hundred metres off shore. One thing all swimmers know is the better your technique the faster you go. Instead of letting my mind wander as in the first leg I focused hard on getting my body in alignment, stretching my arms, breathing calmly, focusing on relaxing my heart beat while upping my stroke rate. Again I found myself on my own, just vaguely conscious that my swimming partner Ignacio would definitely be far ahead… Passing the ‘punta’ where the reef rises up and you’re swimming in only a couple of metres of water I slowed down at our final regrouping spot. Where was everybody? This time I’d made it almost to the front of the group.

Refreshment stop with Chris Keightley – Pew

So I’d really learnt a lesson, the second leg was a triumph of concentration whereas the first leg was a triumph of water borne meditation. Which of the two would I recommend to myself? I reckon for our 16km. Africa swim probably the first, I reckon at that pace I can swim forever. However I dropped below the 3km/hour speed we need to make the crossing. What does that mean for me? More training I guess – yawn.

All that water – I seem to have shrunk!

Strait of Gibraltar swim update – Morocco is still closed to land and water traffic other than freight. If you want to get to Morocco these days you have to fly there unless you’re a lorry driver carting tomatoes north. Swimming is out of the question. The political deadlock and COVID-19 restrictions may well be resolved soon. Whether we will be able to complete the swim this year remains to be seen as the backlog of other teams also waiting to do the crossing is ever increasing.