Friday, March 19. 2010
Sunday, March 14, 2010
Yesterday, going home day. I hate to leave, but am looking forward to getting home to my family. It’s the pesky goodbye thing that makes it so tough.
We hug all of our new friends, big squeeze for Rich and Lisa, and on our way. Cab ride, two planes, a bus and a car ride later, I’m home. It always amazes me how I can wake up on a boat in the Caribbean sea and go to bed in my own home in Maine.
Fortunately, Hopper and I were traveling together, which made a long day much easier. We talked about the week mostly - the swims we liked best, the challenges we faced, the great group of swimmers we have come to know. The thing we focused on the most is difficult to put into words - how all of our guests exceeded their own expectations and are leaving the BVIs stronger and more confident in their abilities. I feel so lucky to be a part of that.
Some notes about this awesome group of SwimVacationers:
Joyce just loves being in the water. She was always the last one out and spent hours rolling in the waves.
Tom gave us the gift of his smile by about day three - I even managed to catch it in a picture.
Emma swam farther than she ever has before on Friday. 2.4 miles through chop and swell and she never complained once. She just kept going.
Laird has a beautiful butterfly and amazing freestyle, and he is sneaky fast.
Leighann was somewhat new to open water swimming and tackled her fears above and below the surface. She always took the time to take pictures of me too - even mastering my underwater camera to do it! Thanks, Leighann!
Krista came to SwimVacation to train for another open water swimming event coming up in May - she’s about to tackle the Mediterranean.
Amy gave herself a chit to take one swim off if she needed to at the beginning of the week. She never cashed it in.
Jeff appreciated that so many of our group are also in life transitions - a bonding point for all. He and Amy also showed up to our first dance party wearing flashing head lamps - perfect ambiance for our boat deck disco tech.
Rob stretched his already seasoned open water muscles and proved that he’s just as smooth on the dance floor. He also swam through a personal loss and managed to stay in the moment through it all.
Chess has great style both in the water and out, loves to laugh, and can’t help but flash her bright smile when I’m photographing her while swimming.
Thanks for a great week you guys - it was an honor to be part of this adventure with you. Hopper and I will be swimming in the pool tomorrow. It will be a shock to the system after the week we just had.
Remember to keep your head down and dig deep. Keep it long and strong. Wishing you all great swimming until we meet again.
Woke up at Marina Cay and headed out to Guana first thing. Guana Island is one of my favorites (I think I have a lot of favorites here) because it is so unspoiled. I don’t think I ever remember mooring with another boat in Muskmellon Bay.
We anchored in the adjacent bay to start. Hopper plotted out a challenging course - around half the perimeter of our starting bay, around the point of land, and into and around Muskmellon Bay. All together, about 2.5 miles. And not an easy 2.5. Throughout the swim we had wind and surge, sometimes at our backs, sometimes not.
EVERYONE made this swim. And everyone went the whole distance. It was a long haul, and I know there were some doubts out there. But every single one of our SwimVacationers pushed themselves hard - harder than they might have thought possible. When it was done, I think they all felt an immense satisfaction.
As I approached the boat with Emma, I could smell it - breakfast. Pancakes the size of a 24 oz sirloin, with bacon. There might have been something else out there too, but I couldn’t even imagine putting anything else on my plate. After breakfast, free time. Some napped, some chatted, some simply enjoyed the sunshine. By one or so, we were ready to break out the water toys. A number of us waterskied, and a few courageous souls braved the Predator. I ache just thinking about it, but our guests thoroughly enjoyed being dragged behind the dinghy with evil Rich at the wheel. While people took turns on the predator, I did a photo shoot in the water with each of our guests - all superstars in the sea.
Lunch (seriously, i cannot eat again) was burgers (thank you Hopper!) on Lisa’s ridiculous home made buns. The bread this woman makes on this boat defies reason.
While some of the guests were napping or chilling out, Hopper and I went out for a little free diving. Neither of us broke any records today, but we both felt great at the bottom of the bay, unencumbered by equipment. It seemed easy. It felt just right.
An afternoon swim around the other side of Muskmellon, out and back. We capped off the swimming with a quick and fun medly relay race. Hopper, Jeff, Laird and me against Fitzy, Tom, Leighann and Rob. Our backstroke and breaststrokers were neck and neck, and Laird gave me an impressive lead going into the freestyle leg. I kicked like hell and swam so fast, but I could hear great big Rob storming up behind me. In a last ditch effort I grabbed his ankle. All it did was cause him to drag me across the finish line with him. Great fun. Our last swim. We had cocktails as we motored back to Harbour View Marina and had dinner - something else crazy good (who can keep all this fabulous food straight?).
After dinner a slide show of images from the week. Looking at the 300 + pictures flying past, it really hit home what an amazing week we’ve had. It seems impossible that we could have done so much, but we did.
We ate 12 dozen eggs and 8 pounds of butter.
We drank something like 30 bottles of wine.
We didn’t use very much water.
We made 3 never-done-before swims.
We swam about 13 miles.
Tonight I was talking with a few of our guests about their experience. They commented about how so many in our group are in a transition in their lives. They are looking for a place to land, and found themselves leaping into the Caribbean sea for a little while. But what so many of them did here this week transcends the miles they covered. Some of them came unsure about their metal. Unsure if they could go the distance. Unsure. But tonight, having swum hard, swum long, through wind and swell and current, and against the doubts lurking in their own minds, each one of them knows that they are capable of reaching the destination. We’ve over-come hurdles this week, many of them in our own heads. And the new confidence that comes with such hard work and faith in the process and our abilities will spill over into everything we do.
We came to the boat as strangers and will leave tomorrow, united by these efforts and the celebration of what’s possible. I for one hate to say goodbye. To my new friends, to the person i am here, and to this fantastic place and all it gave to us this week. As I let the waves rock me to sleep one more time, I promise to remind myself that open water will always be here waiting.
Hopper here. We swam the Baths today, a geologic/oceanic wonder on Virgin Gorda. It was an out-and-back swim, meandering through the massive boulders strewn in a crazy jumble along the shore. I have done this swim enough times now to remember the most fun routes without getting stuck in a dead-end, and I get a kick out of leading clients through the tight spaces. The turnaround point was one of my favorite places in the world; a white sand beach with super clear turquoise water. After the swim we hiked through the same boulder formation, but on land. Heather got some great photos here.
Our group this week is a hard-swimming, fun-loving bunch. I am once again reminded how great it is to have a job where I meet my clients for the first time, then live on a boat with them for a week. This has allowed me, Heather, and Fitzy and to meet really fabulous people, and get to know them very well.
The SwimVacation guides are sharing deckhand duties this week; dishes, helping to sail the boat, meal setup, general boat tidiness, etc. This has deepened my admiration of the Promenade and its crew, and has made me detest any dish in which cheese and the oven is involved (due to the fact that we have to scrape it from the pans afterward). The boat performs its job so well for us, and Rich and Lisa perform their jobs with incredible hard work and grace, even at 6’4”, 275 pounds (that’s Rich, not Lisa).
Happy AAAARRGH tonight at Marina Cay, then off to Guana Island tomorrow for our last day.
Crazy day. First, more sunshine. I think we own it now.
We all had a lot of fun dancing the night a way at Willy T’s in The Bight of Norman Island last night, so we got off to a bit of a slow start this morning. We decided to do a shortish swim to the beach and do a clinic on beach starts and finishes, which is always a lot of fun.
Hopper was demonstrating a good beach start and I was recording it when I felt a searing pain to the back of my arm. it was a Box Jellyfish, which are extremely uncommon in these waters this time of year, but we’d heard a few reports of them in the area, so I knew instantly what it was. The sting was stunningly acute, and within a few minutes I was very uncomfortable. Everyone stayed calm and responded perfectly to the situation. After a few very uncomfortable hours and a lot of benedryl and some other smelly substances, i was feeling much better.
The great news here is that our team was tested in a concerning situation and everyone did everything right, and with a cool head. It’s good to know that our crew is so efficient and level headed in an emergency. Swift action by Hopper, Fitzy, Lisa and Rich made a difference. Thanks also to Neil, the guy on the beach with a big jug of vinegar!
Here’s the thing: The sea is a wild place, and it doesn’t belong to us. We visit, but we always remember that this place is home to other species, and we are subject to their rules. Considering the number of people who go in the oceans of the world every year, the odds of something bad happening are pretty low. The sea that gave me a box jellyfish today is the same sea that gave me two spotted eagle rays yesterday, and a Manta ray the day before.
We’re all here because we’re passionate about swimming, and about swimming in the open water. The challenges that come with that - surge, current, distance, and yes, the occasional jellyfish - are the means by which we push ourselves. We trust in our abilities and fitness that we can make it from point A to point B even though we may never have done that before and may have natural or psychological hurdles before us. And when we arrive, we are better than we were before. This thing we do builds confidence and trust within each of us, while honing our fitness and body awareness. And all the while, the sea treats us to dynamic sights and experiences. How can we be anything other than grateful for our time here?
We sailed from Norman across the way to Salt Island, where our swimmers had a snorkel on the wreck of the Rhone. We lunched on burritos and salad, before which i think i saw a guest abs workout lead by Emma! How they have any more energy for exercise I’ll never know. Perhaps we should work them harder! Later, while some rested on the boat, others went to shore for some hiking, running and beach combing. We planned a short but ambitious island to island swim - from Cooper to Salt. Rich dinghied us to Cooper and we all swam back to the Promenade anchored at Salt. It was good to get back on the horse for me, and everyone proved to themselves, yet again, that they have embraced the challenge of swimming open water.
Cocktails- the bushwacker. It has too many ingredients to mention but they sure do go down nice and easy. Fantastic steak dinner with potatoes and gravy (thank you Lisa!) and into the boat salon for our stroke clinic. Hopper did an expert job discussing our digitally recorded strokes, and the process was really collaborative, with everyone contributing to the discussion. There is nothing like seeing yourself swim from underwater to help you make adjustments to be more efficient.
Hard to believe we’re on the back half of our week. It’s been another special SwimVacation day - I think our guests and crew all feel like a family tonight. We are bonded by this thing we love to do and all that the sea has to give us in the process.
Today: The sun.
At long last she came to us, warmed us, blued the sky, reminded us that we are in the Caribbean. Thank you, Sunshine!
We woke up in our new secret spot - White Harbour off Peter Island - around back, in the lee.
The sun was coming through, the water was flat. We had explored half of the bay last night and had another half waiting for us. Into the blue we dove. We all swam 30 minutes out and back along the cliffs. For some that came to about one mile, for others, more like a mile and a half. On the way back we saw two huge spotted eagle rays (my favorite creature on the planet) feeding in the eel grass. They hung around beneath us for maybe 5 minutes - a thrill.
Before we got back on the boat we did a buoy turn clinic and explored the reef nursery near by. Breakfast was that of champions - our crew ate 35 eggs, i don’t even know how much bacon and over a loaf of toast. 35 eggs!
After breakfast, some napping in and out of the sun, and a sail to the Indians. There some snorkeled and I took Leanne on her first dive in a few years. She had a great dive and surprised herself by keeping her cool and taking it all in.
Lunch of quiche and salads and more relaxation. Joyce thinks instead of “Swim. Relax. Repeat.” our motto should be “Swim. Eat. Relax. Repeat.” Hopper is taking this into consideration.
We charted the course for our afternoon swim - a circumnavigation of a small island near the Indians called Pelican Island. The swim came to about 3/4 mile but promised big swell and significant wind. Some weren’t sure they could or would make it all the way around. But we took off, and every one of our swimmers made it around the island. It was tough, and there were times that each of us wanted to quit and request a helicopter rescue, but everyone made it, and discovered strength they didn’t know they had.
Cocktails were margaritas and hummus and veggies while we moved the boat to The Bight of Norman Island, where we left the boat for a little crazy fun at Willy T’s (sticky). We danced and danced and danced some more.
While we were gone, sneaky Rich and Lisa planned a birthday party complete with balloons and fancy table cloth. Rob’s birthday is today and Joyce’s in Sunday, so we decided to celebrate (as if we needed an excuse).
After dinner, more Willy T’s. More dancing and a bunch of pictures you will not see on this blog.
It’s late and morning swim hour will be here before we know it. Off to bed for this exhausted bunch. It’s great to have a day so full - two great swims, overcoming challenges, wildlife and a bunch of dancing. And cake! Don’t forget cake.
Monday, March 8, 2010
We woke up to a sun struggling to be seen, working so hard to break through. It peeked through more and more through out the day, giving us all the hope that we might actually go home something other than pasty white.
Great Harbour has always been my favorite swim here in the BVIs and gosh darn it all if it didn’t rise to the occasion again. We woke up to steady winds but no rain. We dove in for a big swim around the periphery of the harbor. We cruised through schools of silversides so thick we could barely see through them. Tarpon patrolled in platoons. Pelicans punctuated the action. A sea turtle here, a sting ray there. The swell was large and we all dug deep. It has become our custom to end this swim at the water fun park crazy blow up toys thing. There’s an inflatable iceberg for climbing, 20 feet tall, and of course, the floating trampoline. How can you not love a floating trampoline when you’ve just swum over a mile to get there? Suddenly we’re all 8 years old bouncing around. It was, as always, a great swim.
We came back to eggs benedict and fresh fruit. After breakfast our swimmers headed to shore for a hike across the island headed by Fitzy. Hopper got some “work” done, and Lisa and I colluded on an excuse to go for a dive.
Backstory: Last November I lead the swim here in Great Harbor with swimmer Chris Matava close on my heels. My mind was blown with a most incredible sighting - a Manta Ray - very very rare in this part of the world. Chris got a super close up view of it, and Keith caught a quick glance. I knew this would never happen again - a once in a lifetime. Right?
Wrongo. Lisa and I were cruising around at about 60 feet, when out of the blue comes my pet Manta. And this time I had the camera to come back with the evidence. Amazing. Mind blowing. A Manta.
So now SwimVacation has a secret - we have a pet Manta Ray in Great Harbour. Don’t try to see it unless you’re with us. Cause he won’t show up for anyone but us.
The group on shore had a fantastic hike - some ran, some walked, they all enjoyed the view and chilled on the beach until Rich went to collect them in the dinghy.
Lunch - crazy good pizza. A respite for our bunch, who enjoyed the few minutes of sunshine we had with naps on the trampoline and bimbo mats.
We sailed around to the back of Peter Island to a spot not often visited by boats, and plotted a pioneering swim there. We kicked off the swim with an underwater video taping for later review, and launched into a 20 minute out, 20 minute back swim along a beautiful and pristine cliff face. The reef was so beautiful here - undisturbed by boat activity. After the swim Joyce and I explored another little reef nearby and found it to be a spectacular reef nursery loaded with juvenile fish of a bazillion colors.
Back to the boat for naughty cocktail hour gaming, nachos, and dinner - ribs and potatoes followed by chocolate cheese cake (enough already! I can’t fit in my suit any more!) After dinner I came down here to blog, but was dragged up to a dance party on the deck of Promenade. Emma and Hopper got into a DJ spin off (I declare it a draw) and we danced ourselves into exhaustion. One by one our swimmers have been trickling off to bed. Hop’s finishing the dishes and I’m typing away. There’s so much to tell - how can our days be so impossibly full?
We’re hoping sunshine awaits us in the morning, but come rain or shine, we know we’ll fill the day with one of a kind experiences.
PS. Thanks to Chess for some great pics today!
Sunday, March 7, 2010
In the deluge they arrived, two by two (more or less) to our luxury yacht, The Promenade. We boarded and everyone settled into their cabins, unpacked and came up to a welcome beverage. We watched as they each unwound, relaxed, settled in with that “ahhhh I’m finally here!” expression.
The wind blew and the rain came down, and Hopper, Fitzy and I were relieved to see that it didn’t seem to matter much - our guests were just happy to be aboard.
We sailed to Little Harbor, Peter Island, where we lunched and had boat and swim briefings.
Hopper put on a show for us in swimming the stern line to a rock on shore. We plunged in for a paddle around - the water was so warm compared to the unusually cold air. We poked around and marveled at the schools of silversides and tarpon who didn’t disappoint, pelicans diving from 100 feet in the air, gulping at the plenty below. Laird had the wildlife siting of the day with a lovely Scrawled Filefish (Aluterus scriptus).
We got out, chilled for a little bit, and prepared for our first swim. Hopper plotted a course along and then across Little Harbor - about 1 1/2 miles. No matter the weather, no matter the swell, our SwimVacationers jumped in and got to it. Chess saw two spotted eagle rays, and Emma and I saw a fat barracuda.
I love when we swim in bays where other yachts are at anchor. As we swim by them, the people aboard always stop and stare. They can’t imagine doing what we do here. It makes us feel pretty bad-ass.
We trickled in after the swim - all except for Joyce who loves the sea so much she stayed in and poked around for another half hour or so.
We came up to hot chocolate (with Bailey’s, thank you) and freshened up for cocktail hour. Mojitos with cheese and crackers (Lisa went easy on us today) and then a fantastic dinner of tuna steaks, pea pods and garlic bread. Wine, wine and also some wine. Dessert - chocolate fondue (stop it! we’ve barely worked out yet!).
Now we’re hanging in our new sea home, getting to know each other, completing the transformation from regular life to SwimVacation.
We don’t know what the weather will hold for us this week, but apparently and happily, our swimmers are up for whatever the sea can throw at us. We’re anchored now in Great Harbor where we will swim first thing in the morning. This has been one of my favorite swims, and I can’t wait to see what’s waiting for us tomorrow.
Sunday, March 7, 2010
Picture it. It’s dark, stormy, wind howling, rain pouring down. Two people, looking for adventure and some intrepid companions, set out from a tiny Caribbean airport.
They walk. Destination Loose Mongoose. The rendez-vous point can’t be too far, right? So what it’s raining! They can get wet - after all, they’re swimmers!
It rains. It pours. And still, they walk. Through giant puddles (they almost lost the little one) and over huge swaths of cold, wet sand. Dragging their luggage, leaving tracks on the beach. It can’t be much farther...
They climb over a jetty (the little one almost blows away) and into the welcoming arms of a polished gentlemen who says “You’re with the Promenade? Yes! Your group is right over here!”
Around the corner and there are the bright, excited faces of 4 SwimVacationers and Guide Fitzy, all delighted to see the soggy two, Guide Heather and Leader Hopper, squish up to the bar to join them....
So, we’re here, and it’s wet. But we’re here to get wet!
Last night we met Laird and Emma, Rob and Chess, we raised a glass and downed some burgers before dragging our soggy selves to the Promenade where three dry bunks were ready for us.
The wind howled all night, but that and the patter of rain on my hatch lulled me to sleep. I always sleep so well on a boat, and last night was no exception. We’ll catch some breakfast this morning and then prepare for the official start of our SwimVacation adventure. Our guests will be here at noon.
It may rain, it may pour. But what we know about the folks who come to swim is that they are usually up for anything. No doubt we’ll make the most of everything the BVI has to give us this week.
PS. Seeing Captain Rich and Admiral Lisa this morning is better than any sunrise could have been!
Friday, March 5, 2010
Hi! I’m Heather, SwimVacation Guide, Photographer and Marine Naturalist! Let’s talk about our wildlife sightings on today’s swim! Hopper found a lovely example of Alopecia truncatus, and later I found its larger cousin, Alopecia rotundus. Good eyes! These two species in the freshwater hair ball family are common in most public swimming pools...
Tomorrow, we will no doubt see various forms of wildlife as we come from all corners of the nation, traveling through various airports, on our way to the sunny BVIs for our next SwimVacation adventure.
Oh but Sunday, Sunday. We will plunge into the Caribbean blue sea, stretch our muscles, and swim. And when we swim, we will see all manner of things - sea turtles, rays, huge schools of fish above lovely coral reefs....just a few things this week will hold for us.
So enjoy your last pool swim, my friends, and rinse off that chlorine. Tomorrow, you leave for SwimVacation!
Travel safe and we’ll see you in the bright blue BVIs!