Gibraltar

October 4, 2016

"We are thinking of signing up to swim the strait of Gibraltar from Spain to Morocco" said one of my friends after a cool dip in the waters of Aquatic Park in San Francisco.   We were warming up with Irish Coffees at the Buena Vista.  Emboldened by the beverage, I said without hesitation, "I'm interested!".   Cut to seven months later, our group of swimmers is boarding a small boat that will take us to the jump point, and then escort us across the strait.  We will swim under English Channel rules: goggles, swim cap and a non-insulating swim suit are allowed.  Wetsuits, fins or any other aids are not.  We are allowed to take drink and food from the boat.     Touching the boat for support will result in disqualification.    After a ten minute boat ride, our captain points to a rock and tells us to jump in, swim to the rock, and wait for the horn to begin the swim.   At first the water feels cold, but after a few minutes it feels comfortable.  It is about 70 degrees, 10 degrees warmer than San Francisco Bay, 10 degrees cooler than the average swimming pool.   At our captain's request, we swim the first hour without a break to escape the strong current at the entrance to the Mediterranean.  There after, we stop every 30 minutes for a gulp of energy drink, GU blocks, or a fruit cocktail.  The water is glassy smooth, and after an hour or so, we take an extra moment to look out in the distance to the rock of Gibraltar.  

  My wife Katherine is on board as my support crew.   I average a bit less than two miles per hour in open water, and so monitoring our progress becomes like watching grass grow.  I'm surprised to see Katherine pointing excitedly from time to time on the boat.  I learned later than pilot whales passed within 25 yards of our boat.  In the water we were completely unaware of their presence.  In addition to occasional dolphin sightings, the other excitement was provided by the huge oil tankers passing through the strait.   They appeared for awhile to be heading right at our little boat, but thanks to coordination with our captain they adjusted their course to give us a wide berth.  

  People ask me what I think about during a long swim.  I swim with the master's group at Rinconada pool, coached by Carol Macpherson.  I thought about the tips she gave me to swim efficiently and save energy.  I also thought about my good friend and skilled open water swimmer Dowain Wright, who passed away unexpectedly this past January. I dedicate this swim to his memory.  

  After four hours, the water became colder signaling that we were in the shallower water close to the Moroccan coast.  We tried to avoid looking up for the shore.  Like a watched pot, if you keep watching the shore it never gets closer.   After shouting several times "are we ever going to be done?!" , the captain circled the boat around and told us, "I'm as close as I can get.  Swim to that rock and you are done."  It was actually in Spanish, but that is what I think he said. We touched the rock, high fived each other, and swam the butterfly stroke back to the boat.  It took five hours and fifteen minutes to swim across.  We travelled 9.5 miles.  By boat it took about 45 minutes to return.  Humbling.  

 Jeff Everett <jeff.everett@gmail.com>
 Oct 4, 2016

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777 Embarcadero Rd, Palo Alto, CA
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