Thursday, April 23. 2009
Saturday, April 18, 2009
Travel home day. Simeon does not prefer to hug, but I always like to try, anyway. He usually capitulates, and grunts something in some ancient tongue while slapping my back too hard and squeezing my hand until all my knuckles crack.
My experience with the Air Sunshine desk at the BVI airport was interesting. The woman behind the counter told me that my 12:30 flight was now leaving at 11:30. “OK”. I said. And we would be stopping at Virgin Gorda. OK. And she did not have change for my $20 bill for the $5 airport fee. OK. And she could not find her pen to write me a receipt for the $5 charge that she did not have change for, anyway. Fine. Off to the waiting area. Same woman leads us outside at 11:25. Wait here. OK. 12:00 I wake up, having fallen asleep propped against a concrete pier in a Dramamine induced lala land. 12:30 we board the tiny plane, do not stop at Virgin Gorda, and make it to San Juan with no further incident.
I arrive in my driveway at 1:00 a.m., having stepped off Promenade 14 hours earlier. Kiss the kids, Cortney, then stare at the ceiling for an hour thinking about what a great trip this was. Have I found my calling?
Wednesday, April 22. 2009
How is swimming in the Tennessee River you ask? Dam(ed) good I’ll say. Thanks to the TVA and their power generating stations, the river is now a series of lakes connected by few miles of winding scenic riverbanks with pools of slow moving water between them. In Chattanooga, the river banks are lined with herons, duck nests, fishermen, running/bike paths, parks and floating restaurants (including the Delta Queen). Without the benefit of boat travel, you would generally miss much of the beauty along the river.
Thanks to the Chattanooga Rat Race organizers, you can now enjoy the benefits of river travel without the cost, hassle and inconvenience of boat ownership. For a small fee (proceeds going toward a good cause) you can sightsee and swim this lovely section of the Tennessee River at the same time. While rare, you may even have the opportunity to dodge a river barge while it travels through the area as well. Where else can you have that opportunity?
The shotgun start for the 4.5-mile swim begins at the bottom of a boat ramp just below the Chattanooga Lock and Dam (Creating Chickamauga Lake). The bottom is a bit rocky but it doesn’t last long as you begin your tangent to the apex of the first bend in the river. Kayak support ensures that you do not veer too far in any direction, but while towing is not permitted, course sighting is. No fear of dragging your feet (or other appendage) on the bottom for the next 3+ miles until you reach the end of the 3rd green on the golf course above. [Close to the start of the 1.2-mile event] As you watch from the surface, a big sandbar will suddenly come up from below. It is only with this perspective that you will note the aiding current of the river. The sand bar lasts just long enough for you to realize that the finish is within sight.
As you sight down river you see all four bridges connecting one side of The Scenic City to the other. The second (one of the longest pedestrian-only bridges in the world) stands as your finish line. Swimming through the shadow of the first bridge is somewhat eerie but it prompts the urge for that “sprint to the finish” since people now line the river bank watching you arrive. As you catch your breath and lounge in the river you will be treated to a unique (water level) view of the fabled Mississippi Delta Queen paddleboat.
Once out it’s a quick rinse in the park fountain, change in the adjacent restrooms and into an enclosed pavilion for delicious and well deserved post-race food and drink. Unique awards with local flavor are always popular for those who need additional motivation to take-it-out-hard. In the alternative, take your time and enjoy all that the river has to offer along the way.
Tuesday, April 21. 2009
Simeon got the Promenade moving early to get us from St. John to Peter Island for our morning swim in Great Harbor. There is a fantastic stretch of coral here, although I am concerned about some algae-like growth on the bottom. Overdevelopment of Peter Island? Global warming? Too many yachts emptying their tanks in or near Great Bay? Naturally occurring anomaly? Maybe some critter will think it tastes great, and devour it one of these years.
I am still impressed by the fortitude this group has. Even after all of this swimming, most put in about 2 miles this morning, playing on some water toys at the Oceans 7 Club for a at the ½ way point. Fitzy led a hike on Peter Island, Hank sweated out another run, and some of us tried free diving again. It gets addictive, seeing how deep you can go.
In trips past, I have always had our last swim across The Bight (a large bay) on Norman Island to Willy T’s, a floating bar. This time I decided to lead the group (actually, Fitzy led) along the Norman Island Caves, then along the shore to Willy T’s to avoid any conflicts with drunken dinghy captains. It worked well; the caves were fun to swim into, and we all wound up at Willy T’s for a few rounds of Painkillers. I spoke with Al, the owner of Willy T’s for awhile, he remembered meeting me during my 06’ trip with Hodding Carter, he sent me off with a bottle of paint thinner, I mean Willy T’s rum.
Kerry made a great dinner and slide show for us, then we had a night sail (motor) back to Road Harbor, as we had to get Amy off for an early flight. I put on my dancing bathing suit and played some dance tunes, and a few guests joined in.
Saturday, April 18. 2009
Jam packed day. Wake up at Sandy Cay, swim to Jost Van Dyke, and hike to the bubbly pool. This is a frothy, fizzy part of the island where waves crash over a succession of boulders, filling a pool with clear water. I take a mental picture every time I'm there, as well as a few real ones, for later use in Maine in the middle of the winter.
Afternoon: several guests spent some time at Foxy's, others napped. Some of us did some free diving with deckhand/divemaster Simeon. Then a nice sail to Great Thatch Island. Tom went scuba diving and several of us went for a hike to some 18th century dutch ruins. Deckhand Brent led the hike, maybe "led" is being too kind, as we stumbled through brambles and cactus trying to find our destination. We did manage to get there; lots of really old bottles, a small graveyard, i'm really into that stuff. We brought back a bottle that had "R. Copper & co, Portobello". I believe this was likely a beer bottle from the portobello section of London. More research required.
Quick motor to St. John's Waterlemon Cay. I picked out a swim route that would end up at a nice little cay. I played it up by talking about how nice the starfish were at the finish of the swim; I had seen them there 6 months ago. What I forgot is that starfish move around, duh. Still, a nice swim, margaritas back on board, dinner of chicken and pasta, dark and stormys to wash it down, early to bed for most.
I really really like this group of SwimVacationers. They're easy going, but keep challenging themselves in the water. Only one day left. Urg.
Friday, April 17. 2009
I haven't talked much about this boat. Each time I come down here, I am reminded about how perfectly it suits our needs on SwimVacation. Promenade is a 65 foot long, 35 foot wide trimaran, built in England specifically for Caribbean cruising in the early 70's. It's roomy enough so that the 15 people aboard right now live quite comfortably. It has a lot more charm than newer boats, with lots of real wood and custom built furniture and cabinets. There are 5 guest cabins, 3 crew cabins, 5 bathrooms, a full kitchen, a big saloon, trampolines for napping, a huge cockpit with awning. The platform on the stern is ideal for us to swim from and for getting on and off the dinghy. She sails so smooth, especially on a spinnaker run. The spinnaker is so big I have never gotten a picture of it from top to bottom.
Just as importantly, Promenade's crew is amazing. Kerry and Bazza, who have owned and operated her for seven years (is that accurate Kerry?), are amazing people to work with. Kerry comes out of the kitchen with amazing meals and comes out of the water with amazing photos. Bazza knows the BVI like the back of his hand, and can sail the boat with his eyes closed while giving you a history lesson and soldering some piece of electronics, all at the same time. Simeon and Brent are our deckhands this week. They silently keep the boat clean, put the sails up and down, make drinks, get supplies, entertain the guests, a million other things, and help me keep guests safe while swimming.
Everything clicked today. we had a 2.2 or so mile swim in muskmelon bay off Guana island, then got pulled around the bay at high speeds on a variety of inflatable toys. a spinnaker run to sandy cay off Little Jost van Dyke, another swim of perhaps a mile, steak dinner, then a stroke analysis clinic in the saloon. I keep it really low key; anyone that pretends to know all the answers about swimming is full of beans. There's such an opportunity to improve your stroke down here; you float better, and you're swimming twice a day.
Could there be only 2 full days remaining? Ouch.
Wednesday, April 15. 2009
Hi. My name is Ashley Ellis and last year I competed in my first open water race ~ The La Jolla Rough Water Swim. This event takes place in beautiful southern California. The water clarity is fantastic as the La Jolla Cove is known for snorkelers and divers ~ most likely seeing seals, unique fish and even a leopard shark! I highly recommend this race for people not only locally but people who want to experience a fantastic city. La Jolla is only minutes from San Diego and Del Mar. Being the home of thousands of Tri-athletes and other elite athletes you will find people constantly enjoying the amazing weather and environment. I recommend planning your trip for a long three day weekend. On Friday night you will find TONS of people swimming in the cove while on Saturday take a hike in Torrey Pines. Also depending on the date of the race you might be lucky enough to see a Horse Race at the Del Mar Race Tracks. You will find TONS of great restaurants too all along the coast.
Last year I competed in the 1 mile where this year I plan to tackle the Gatorman. These races feature some of the best open water racers where as a spectator you will enjoy watching the race from the CLIFFS.
This morning we woke up at Mountain Point at the north end of Virgin Gorda. our morning routine consists of 2 breakfasts. the first one is continental; most of us have pb and J on toast, coffee, some fruit. then we swim. then we have breakfast again, this time made to order, lots of eggs, bacon, etc.
We started our first swim with a buoy turning clinic. this is an important skill in open water competition, and my assistant guide Fitzy does a nice job explaining/demonstrating. after the clinic, we all did a buoy turn at the same time, and it got rough; lots of jostling, all fun. the swim brought us over some of the best coral around, then to a white sand beach, then we completed the triangle back to the Promenade.
Mid-morning - back in the water to explore the Moon Pool. it's a cave with no roof that you can only enter by swimming underwater 4 feet down, then about 8 feet through a large hole in the rock, then up into the cave. Got some good photos here. some of us explored a really narrow cave nearby, the surge made a thunderous boom at the end of the cave, very dark, very loud, very exciting.
Afternoon - sailed with the spinnaker up to The Dogs, a group of uninhabited islands northeast of Tortola. I had never been here before, but quickly saw a good route for a swim. It turned out to be a little bumpy, so we swam as a tight group along the shore, snaked through a reef, then onto, you guessed it, a white sand beach. Everyone seemed quite proud of their efforts, rightly. We celebrated at Michael Beans Happy Aaarrrgghh at Marina Cay, feasted on mahi mahi, and went to bed.
Tuesday, April 14. 2009
This morning I kind of screwed up our swim for the second time, heading us into the wind and the sun, making for slow going (1 hour for the 1.2 or so miles) and tough navigation. but by the time we reached Cooper Island, everyone was exhilarated, to the point where 4 of us swam back (35 minutes) sun and wind at our backs.
Kerry made great hot breakfasts to order, several guests commented on the delicious omelets. Mid morning for many was spent exploring Salt Island, collecting ancient sea glass, napping was popular today (i took one too).
A quick sail to The Baths on Virgin Gorda, where we explored the natural grottos formed from massive boulders. Then we took some stroke videos for later analysis. our evening swim was an out-and-back through these great rock/coral formations. I had a great time with guest Tom; we swam like sports cars through Rome through narrow crevasses, feeling fast and maneuverable. ended at a white sand beach, saw a cute turtle in a coral garden on the way back.
Kerry made some 5 or so liquor "cool aids" that went nicely with a great sunset before presenting an excellent chicken dinner. I made a big dark and stormy for myself after dinner, then checked out the amazing starry sky with deckhand B and Fitzy. I might sleep better tonight; I'm quite sure my guests will, the group is jelling nicely.
Monday, April 13. 2009
Sunday, April 12, 2009
Big First Day
Snippets might work best.....
3:00 a.m. - wide awake after dreams about SwimVacation responsibilities.
7:30 am. - this hotel (Hilton Caribe) is posh. take a fancy rainshower.
9:25 a.m. - San Juan Airport - Cape Air terminal - even though flight is supposed to leave in 5 minutes, no
signs of life at the counter, which is typical, here. Finally, a woman appears, mumbles something, and 6
of us make out way to the tarmac. Pilot walks past us going the other way, cursing something about "the
wrong plane". We hang and watch our luggage get switched from one plane to another.
10 a.m. awesome flight over PR, Vieques, St. Thomas, St. John - I can tell from up here the winds are light.
The turquoise waters are really clear. Good signs.
11a.m. It's only a mile to the marina from the airport. should i walk? too hot, roads too narrow. take a cab.
11:30 a.m. meet with Promenade owners mostly about the next charter (SwimVacation is rolling!)
Now the fun part. New friends, old friends. 6 guests show up by noon. we have lunch, motor to beef island, quick swim. Back to marina to pick up remaining 3 guests. Now everyone is here, This is a list of all 15 souls onboard -
Kerry - owner, admiral, cook
Bazza - Captain, historian, fisherman,
Brent - Canadian Deckhand, Disco Dancer
Simeon - Scottish Deckhand, freediver
Hopper - Me
Fitzy - My assistant
Bill - PA
Hank - SC
Amy - Switzerland
Tom - NYC
Samantha - NYC
Yvonne - AK
Reneee - AK
I really enjoy overhearing the getting-to-know-you conversations. Hank built a 40' steel sailboat. Yvonne rides a snow/mt bike hundreds of miles in 20 below temps for fun. Traci is undergoing an inspiring reinvention. Renee ultramarathons. I'll get to know them all much better over the week.
Sail across the channel
Our first swim: Salt Island: Manhead rock to the wreck of the Rhone. Thought I had everything figured out until I realized we were swimming into the sun, making for some tough navigating, but we made it in about 40 to 50 mins.
This invigorated the jet-lagged crew, and we settled into painkillers then seared tuna, Oreo cheesecake. More conversation. A fun group brewing. Sleep.
Thursday, April 9. 2009
We’re just a few days from the start of our next SwimVacation trip to the British Virgin Islands. We’ll have 9 guests; swimmers from such far-flung places as Alaska, Switzerland, and New York City. I have plans for us to swim in some new places – around Sandy Cay near Jost Van Dyke, perhaps from Dead Chest Island to Deadmen’s Bay on Peter Island (much less dangerous than it sounds, unless you’re a non-swimming pirate from the 18th century), and the waters between Ginger and Cooper Islands, an endlessly blue experience.
This is the start of SwimVacation’s April 2009 pass-around trip blog. I say pass-around, because I hope to pass the laptop around the boat and have SwimVacation guests and guides all participate. Failing that, you’ll be stuck with me.
I just finished my packing list. I have copied it here in its entirety. I think it shines a light on what SwimVacation is all about.
2) Bathing suit for swimming
3) Bathing suit for dancing (keep checking back and you may get to see this in action)
5) SwiMP3 player
6) Shorts, t-shirts, sweatshirt
7) 6 pairs of Goggles, all different styles, for sharing
9) Go Phone
10) 2 prs Sunglasses
11) SwimVacation banner to display on the boat
12) Swim Caps – day-glo orange and green
13) Paperwork: guests itineraries, etc.
14) Ironman watch (I only wear a watch on swimvacation)
15) A hat
16) Underwater camera
17) A Monofin, which turns people into mermaids and mermen.
1 Contact lenses
19) General toiletries: toothbrush, etc.
All this stuff will fit in a carry-on, except the monofin, which I am still not sure about lugging along. Simeon the Scottish Deck Hand would really like to try it out while free diving, so I’ll likely attempt to bring it. It’s on loan from FINIS, a swimming stuff maker.