Before I learned to open ocean swim in the Navy, I entered a 2.5 mile civilian swim race across the bay in Newport, Rhode Island, back in 1990 (Save the Bay Foundation). The Navy SEAL swim instructor, Senior Chief Snow offered to give me some pointers before the race, but I was the fastest guy in the pool, so I said, “Na, that’s alright. It’s only 2.5 miles.” Then he gave me a look I’ll never forget – it said, son are you really that stupid?
Yes I am! After only 6 beers the night before, I soon learned that swimming in a pool wasn’t nothing like swimming in the ocean.
Not only did I come in dead last in that race, I wound up swimming an additional 2 miles in a wide arc because the tide was going out – quickly – me along with it. And it was very choppy that day. The Coast Guard cutter assigned to the race was following me around with a bullhorn begging me to climb onboard. They couldn’t break off station until every swimmer was out of the water. You can imagine the scene. Everyone else had been out of the water for an hour. Of course, I was going to finish the race – no matter how many people had to wait for me – trophy ceremony and all. (That was the only thing I got right that day, although no one clapped when I got there, not even my girlfriend who was hiding in her car)
Here are the tips Senior Chief Snow wanted to impart on me, advice the professional swimmers already knew: Set up a range on the launch shore, so your safety/guide boat will row a straight line. (Every swimmer was required to provide his own rowboat for safety) Use a thin skulling craft as your guide boat, not an antique rowboat from an ocean liner, which is brutal to row and impossible of maintaining a straight line. (I actually bought an antique rowboat that came off an old ocean liner and talked a US Marine friend into rowing it. Don never spoke to me again after the race – go figure. He didn’t wear gloves and had to go straight to the ER. Skin was dangling from his hands like spaghetti) Have the guide boat drag a milk jug on a string so the swimmer can guide off it – this way the swimmer can also make a straight line. (The swimmer should follow the guide boat, not the other way around. Don was constantly looking over his shoulder for me, then correcting his course – into what became the wide arc) Wear a wetsuit so you’re buoyant, and put Vaseline under your armpits so you don’t rub your skin off. (I was blood raw from my elbows to the bottom of my rig cage – my uniforms stuck to me for a month and a half) Had I known all of this, maybe I could’ve won the race – maybe. But that was hardly the case.
That was a long morning, and when I told the story to Senior Chief Snow, he had to sit down he was laughing so hard. A guy informed me two years later that Senior Chief Snow told my story to every incoming class at OCS. (Evidently, I had become a legend, a legendary dipshit, and much more would follow) Again, the moral to the story – never launch into an extreme activity halfcocked. Get educated first! That’s how people get themselves killed.