Thursday, February 25, 2010

Swimming With the Sharks

"Oh, the shark, babe, has such teeth, dear,
And it shows them pearly white...
When the shark bites, with his teeth, babe,
Scarlett billows start to spread."
Mack the Knife - Bobby Darin

Getting up Wednesday morning, wife Salome looks out our bedroom window at the glass flat inter-coastal water and announces, "We should go for an open water swim." Going for an open water swim this time of year is always tricky. We are not yet getting the warm currents coming up from the Caribbean, and, with successive cold fronts coming through the area, the waters tend to run rougher. On top of that, Salome has been fighting the cold she started this weekend, so I was surprised she wanted to risk cold water. However, we have an Olympic distance triathlon in less than three weeks and a cold front was expected starting Wednesday night that is expected to last through the weekend. I can't argue with that logic. Opportunity knocks.

We head down to the ocean. It's not glass flat like the intercoastal, but swimable. Some large rolling waves, but not the rough choppy action I saw a couple of days prior. The skies are clouded, letting us know that the cold front is on its way. As we slip into our wetsuits for the first time this year, we wonder aloud to each other how we stupidly signed up for an early season triathlon that leaves little good training time prior to race day. Triathlons are ideally for the Summer months. February and March are better for skiing.

As we enter the water, I note the water temperature reminds me of the chilly waters I swam in at IMAZ in November. After gingerly wading into chest deep water, I realize the best solution is to get swimming quickly. As I head south along the shore, I note the churning waters of the last couple of days has left the Atlantic a natural garbage dump full of drifting clumps of seaweed. I occasionally dip my arm into a floating clump and hope that its not full of the sea lice that bit me up last September.

The dark skies make the water somewhat darkish and with the flotsam bring to mind a Nature special I saw a few years back about the seals in Northern California and how the sharks attack the seals in this near shore environment. I think further about how the various shark attacks on surfers in California are theorized to be wetsuited surfers mistaken for seals. "Wow," I think, "I bet I could be mistaken for a seal by a dim witted shark. I wonder if all this seaweed brings in small fish...which brings in bigger fish....which brings in sharks.

Yes, shark attacks are rare, but they do happen. There was a newspaper report just a couple of weeks ago about a shark attack on a kite boarder in nearby Stuart Beach, Florida. Now, sharks don't mean to try to eat us, but if they mistake us for a delicious fat laden seal, they will take a bite just for a taste. Anyway, this guy, who was mistakenly bit, died. You read about these kinds of incidents about once a year. Very rare, but they do happen occasionally enough that it does cross the back of your mind. It also crosses your mind that if a shark were to attack you, you probably wouldn't see it as it would probably come up behind you. They may dim witted, but they are shrewd hunters. The large wave crests don't help as it feels like you are in large open waters far out to sea.

You never realize how big the ocean is, and how really isolated and alone you are, than when you think about sharks while you swim a couple hundred yards from the shore dressed like an F'ing seal. It's at this point that you realize that the wetsuit companies use words like "Orca" to name their wetsuits to make you think you look as large and safe in the water as a shark killing whale, when in fact they make us look like delicious fat laden seals. Not that I look fat laden. At least I hope not. No, I'm a lean muscled triathlete.

I figure I'd better lift my head and look for Salome. Now, I'm historically a faster swimmer than Salome, but she has been taking lessons from a swim specialist who goes by the moniker "The Stroke Doctor." For some reason that name brings to mind Dan Aykroyd as a college professor turned pimp in the early 80's movie Doctor Detroit. "Hey baby, what's up! You can just call me....the Stroke Doctor." In any event, Salome has been working on her swim form. I look back for her and notice her pink swim cap off in the distance.

I look at my watch and notice I've been swimming all of 5 minutes. That's the other thing about open water swimming. During the first 5 to 10 minutes of an open water swim, I get a 2X factor of perceived time. The same thing happens on the treadmill. I'm not sure why this is, but as I swim longer, the time distortion goes away. I decide to forget about the cresting swells, the seaweed clumpage I keep digging my arms into, and just swim. Of course, there is no sign of sharks, but I do wonder if I'm getting stung by those pesky sea lice. For the uninformed, they are not actual lice, but the larvae of sea anemones. The larvae is small enough to get under your wetsuit and sting.

As I finish my 30 minutes, I come out of the water to find Salome, in bathing suit only, waiting for me on the shore. Turns out, just after I saw her, she swam into a school of jellyfish which stung both of her feet. Ouch! On realizing she was stung, she let out a scream. Of course, I was too far away with my head in the water to hear her. Her feet are red and look painful. As we jog back along the beach, I notice several small washed up jellyfish. When we get back to our friend's beachfront house, I call my doctor who advises cortisone cream. About what I would have expected. As we rinse off, Salome requests that we stop by our usual lap pool so she can at get in at least a small swim workout. How can I deny her this request. As she swims her laps, I give her what little advice I can. To her and the Swim Doctor's credit, her form does look better. As she emerges from the water, she tells me her feet don't sting anymore. Apparently, the chlorine in the water neutralized the poisons from the stingers. Her drive to get in a swim workout provided the cure to what ailed her.

I did end up with a small irritation on my wrist. I figure I brushed up against something in one of those seaweed clumps. It just goes to show, it's not big things, like bears and sharks, that will get you; it's the little things, like viruses, jellyfish and sea lice.

1 comment:

  1. I'm stupid scared of sharks, I hate open water swimming!! When I go, Matt rides in the kayak right in front of me, it makes both of us feel better. And, yes, I go by the whole little fish bring in big fish that bring in sharks! The last OWS, there were bait fish everywhere, flying over and under me...totally was freaking me out. At least it makes us work on relaxation while out there, right?

    PS: I think you should stop insulting the sharks...I wouldn't piss them off!