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Cape Cod Bay swim, part 3

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Cape Cod Bay swim, part 1

Cape Cod Bay swim, part 2

Around midday the jellyfish that had been our companions from the start of the swim disappeared. Now all that was beneath us were the murky depths. I swam along from feed to feed, without much to look at besides the constant presence of the boats and my fellow swimmer. My attention turned to how the water felt. From sunrise on, a gentle trailing wind created rolling waves that carried us along with them; when I stretched out the glide at the beginning of each stroke I felt as I were surfing. Occasionally we would hit a patch where the water felt chaotic or unsettled, and I felt that interesting currents I didn’t fully understand were taking place around me. The water around us seemd to have something to say, and I tried to listen attentively as it buoyed me along to our destination.

That water is doing interesting stuff down below! (Photo credit R. Davies)

There did seem to be a current pulling us to the south—several times when the boat on that side was maneuvering and got ahead or behind us we would drift in that direction and have to correct course. When planning the swim, it was currents in the other direction—north—that most concerned us. Greg, who had studied the tides and previous attempts at the crossing, predicted that by 4pm strong outgoing currents would be whipping around Point Race, the spit of land near where we were headed. We had planned our nighttime start with an eye towards finishing before these currents made the swim too difficult. But we weren’t sure how the tidal cycle in the middle of the bay would or should affect navigation; part of the excitement of being part of this pioneering swim was charting an untested path.

In any case, after making good time at the beginning of the swim, we seemed to hit some slower water with around 8 miles to go. After halfway, Rondi would sometimes tell us during feeds how many miles remained. I wasn’t paying much attention to the numbers—I just knew there was water left to swim in, and I was still having fun, so whatever! But Dave was listening, and once when he and Rondi discussed our slowed progress I worried a little bit that we wouldn’t make it to P-town before the tides shifted. But at each feeding stop the monument visible on the distant shore grew bigger, and deep down I was confident that we would finish the day by wading out onto those sands.

At one point when we were swimming along I sensed something ahead of me, and pulled up short to see what it was. A seagull was floating on the water, right in our path, glaring at us with its beady eyes. Dave stopped to see what I was laughing at. The bird was scarcely a meter away. We both edged a little closer. The gull stood its ground. We detoured around it.

Soon we were close enough to see the Herring Cove beach quite clearly ahead of us, and I began to be able to discern the rocky bottom. It seemed like we were getting very close. The next time I stopped for a feed I told Rondi and John that I could see the bottom. John looked at his instruments and reported that we were in 150 feet of water. I thought it looked more like 20 feet down--I guess I’m not used to swimming in such clear water. Rondi told us we had 3 miles to go. I had put down my head and started swimming again before that number registered. The shore had looked so close. Maybe she said 0.3 and I misheard? I decided that must be the case, and I began to feel a little wistful that we were almost at the end of our swim—I actually wished it would last a little longer.

Almost there, no? (Photo credit R. Davies)

This was definitely a case of be careful what you wish for. It was indeed at least three miles to the beach—that sand looked so tantalizingly close for the last couple of hours. So close that at the next feed I requested Coke instead of my scheduled milk. Why Coke? The answer requires a little history. Although the Plymouth-to-Provincetown crossing had been tried numerous times from 1915 on, it had only been successfully completed once before, by Russell Chaffee back in 1968. Chaffee reportedly fed on Coca-Cola and sugar cookies during his swim . . . so I had planned a tribute feed of flat coke and a sugar cookie towards the end of my own swim in his honor. But I had scheduled it for the eleventh hour of my swim, and with the beach looming so seemingly close I was worried that we would be done before then. So I requested the Coke early to make sure I got it in, and discovered that flat Coke tastes really wonderful after ten hours in the water!

Now that we could see the bottom I looked for fish—sunfish, jellyfish, any kind of fish—but saw no sealife of any sort below. But as we finally, actually, neared the beach I did notice one large shape swimming beside me. I did a double take and saw that it was Rondi, swimming the final stretch into shore with us! The bottom lightened and became partly sandy. We swam until our fingers touched, then walked up onto the sand. Done! Eleven hours and forty-five minutes after walking into the ocean at Plymouth, we walked out of it at Provincetown. I looked back towards where we had started, and tried to take it all in.

We all hugged briefly at the finish, then swam around in the offshore water for a bit. Rondi suggested that I select a pebble from the beach to commemorate the swim, an open-water tradition. Then we headed back to the boats for a brief ride over to the harbor to unload. We saw Greg on his boat—he had started nearly an hour after us and completed the swim a bit further north—and found out that Eileen had also been successful. I was glad to hear of my friends’ success, and a little dazed by my own.

We met up at the dock, unloaded all our stuff from the boat, and was picked up by Mo, who kindly took us to his place for showers, a marvelous dinner, and a good night’s rest. I slept very well that night!

The next morning we had a fun boat ride back to Plymouth aboard Agent Orange. I kept my eyes peeled for sunfish, or seals, but saw neither—maybe my next big swim will have to be in a place where I have another opportunity. It was nice being out on the water again, and even though it was a fairly calm day there was considerably more chop than we had encountered. It seems we really lucked out with nearly perfect conditions for our swim—flat water, trailing wind, comfortable water and air temps, some cloud cover for most of the day.

We drove back to the city that afternoon. Upon my return to NYC I was greeted not with a ticker-tape parade, but with something even better—a pool party hosted by the Parks Department, and attended by many of my closest swim buddies. I was even presented with not one but two trophies! The occasion had nothing to do with the Massachusetts swim, however--it was the end-of-the-season party for lap swimmers in NYC’s public pools. Those who swam the most miles at each session at each pool were presented with customized awards. So, just one day after swimming 20 miles in Cape Cod Bay, I marched up and proudly accepted a trophy for swimming 8 miles—over 7 weeks--in the Crotona Park pool. (My morning mileage was somehow split among the morning and evening sessions, and I ended up getting awards for both).

The party also featured relays—I managed to sprint a semi-credible 50, and actually felt good doing it—along with music, various speakers (including 70s distance freestyle ace Bobby Hackett!), a synchro routine, and much much more. A very loud and enthusiastic woman tried to get us all to sing along to “He’s got the whole world in his hands,” with scant success, and my in-the-know pal revealed which of the night’s speakers had been kicked out of their pools for fisticuffs. I was in such a tired and giddy state by then that I was just happy to sit back and be entertained by it all. It seemed a fitting end to an adventure-filled three days.

I’m grateful to my four fellow swimmers who dreamed up this P2P swim made it happen—Greg O’Conner, David Barra, Eileen Burke, and Mo Siegel—and am very glad to hear that MOWSA (the Massachusetts Open Water Swimming Association) will be offering the crossing as a sanctioned solo swim sometime in the future. Greg is currently comparing data from our different routes so that future swimmers will have the best info available when they take up the challenge. I was also very lucky to have such wonderful companions for the swim—Dave in the water, Rondi crewing, and boat pilots John and Dan always nearby. They all helped keep me feeling happy and confident throughout the long day.

And those four goals I set? I met them all. I lasted through several hours of night swimming, handily beat my previous time-in-the-water PR by over 5 hours, did a fairly good job of identifying and fixing things that were causing discomfort during the swim, and did indeed exit the water with a list of 5 notable things about the swim:

5. The ever-changing movements of the water dancing around me
4. That moment of not seeing land in either direction in the middle of the swim
3. The looooong finishing stretch
2. The sun-road that we followed
1. The magical glowing jellies during the night swimming

What an amazing and glorious experience it all was!

Boston Globe article
Daily New of OW Swimming

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  1. Waternixie's Avatar
    What a wonderful series you have written! Just as you were sad the swim is over, I'm sad the story of this swim is over. But it has a happy ending! And much luck with your upcoming swims in September.
  2. The Fortress's Avatar
    Beautiful write up, pics and swim. Kudos!
  3. jaadams1's Avatar
    Very nice job!! You are an amazing person!
  4. aztimm's Avatar
    Great conclusion to such a wonderful swimming story! I really love the pictures, the water looks so magnificent!

    And congratulations on the trophies from the NYC Parks Department!
  5. gregoc's Avatar
    I love that you had a coke and sugar cookie in tribute to Chaffee. I wish I had thought of that. It should be required of everyone that follows his feat. Congratulations on meeting your goals. One of my of my favorate songs is "Swim until you can't see land", by Frightened Rabbit. I always take note when I do just that.
  6. eric.carlson's Avatar
    What a delightful write-up! I too am sorry that the story is over - I have been checking the forum every day looking for new installments.

    Congratulations on the swim, what an accomplishment!
  7. Medicine Woman's Avatar
    Thank you for sharing such a wonderful story. Congratulations!
  8. That Guy's Avatar
    What a horrible--no wait, this isn't James' blog... this is completely awesome! Great job!
  9. jaadams1's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by That Guy
    What a horrible--no wait, this isn't James' blog... this is completely awesome! Great job!
    You're just begging for a drowning in Lake Chelan, aren't you?
  10. knelson's Avatar
    Great writeup! So how long (distance) was the swim altogether?
  11. swimsuit addict's Avatar
    Thanks so much everyone! I had fun remembering all the cool stuff about the day as I wrote this up!

    Greg, I didn't know that song, and now I do. Thanks for mentioning it! I think a mandatory coke-and-cookies feeding would be a hilarious requirement for future crossings!

    Kirk, the point-to-point distance is right around 20 miles--also a PR for me (but not by as much as the time PR, since most of my past long swims have been current-aided). Thinking of doing it?
  12. knelson's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by swimsuit addict
    Thinking of doing it?
    No, not exactly, but it does make a long open water swim sound tempting!
  13. qbrain's Avatar
    Congrats on a great swim and yet another write up!
  14. ViveBene's Avatar
    A beautiful and thoughtful writeup! Glorious day, wonderful companions in the water, surprise visit from a Nereid, the sun-road, and a cookie! I'd love to have a permanent compilation of swim accounts from your pen, Dave's, Rondi's (others').