DISCLAIMER: Open-water swimming is inherently dangerous. Open-water swimmers risk drowning, hypothermia, hyperthermia, heart attacks, panic attacks, cramping, jelly fish stings, fish bites, boat or jet-ski collisions, collisions with floating or submerged objects (including other swimmers), and other calamities that can be injurious, disabling or fatal! The "West Neck Pod" is an informal association of open-water swimmers who swim "outside the lines" with no lifeguard protection, it has no formal membership, organizational structure or legal identity, and its participants, including the author of this blog, make no representations and assume no liability with respect to its group open-water swims. All swimmers who participate in West Neck Pod group open-water swims do so at their own risk. Be careful out there!

Monday, September 10, 2012

"I Need The Sea Because It Teaches Me"...

Carole Wickham's photo from our whale-watch tour
...and then of course I needed to buy the ridiculously expensive tee-shirt on which that message was inscribed, because it was so ineffably true, as this weekend had once again proven....Carole and I were in Provincetown visiting friends for a long weekend, the highlight of which (after the whale watch on Friday afternoon) was intended to be the 25th Annual Swim for Life and Paddler Flotilla in Provincetown. I had first participated in this annual 1.4-mile open-water swim across Provincetown Harbor (a fundraiser for AIDS, women's health and the Provincetown community) some four or five years before, and had found it both challenging and enchanting....Aside from its quaint town and picturesque harbor, Provincetown is renowned for its quirky and creative inhabitants, and it was a unique and memorable experience to be welcomed ashore by hundreds of gaily costumed (ahem) supporters shouting encouragement and waving pom-poms and feather boas!  I was looking forward to repeating the experience and sharing it with Carole (who had been a spectator the last time around). But when I walked into the living room a few weeks ago and found Carole mesmerized in front of the TV, watching -- of all things -- "Shark Week," everything changed.  I, too, found myself riveted by the gripping scenes of massive sharks leaping from the water and tearing apart seals and other hapless victims.  Helpless to resist, I plopped myself down on the couch beside her, unable to stop watching the horrors that were unfolding on the screen....Most horrible of all was that the program was focusing on recent (i.e., July 2012!) great white shark sightings in the waters off Cape Cod -- where we were shortly planning to join our friends!  Familiar place names like "Truro" and "Chatham" and "Race Point" were now linked in my mind with ominous aerial video images of enormous sharks plying the coastline feeding on the unprecedented numbers of seals that had recently taken up residence in the area. 

From "Discovery"
As the day of the Swim approached, of course I could not get the thought of sharks out of my head -- which, as every open-water swimmer knows, is where most of our "monsters" live.  News of a late-July great white shark attack on a man swimming 75 feet off of one of the Cape Cod ocean beaches only deepened my anxiety -- this shark threat was no longer just "in my head," but real!  By the time we were packed and ready to leave for the Cape, I had lost much of my enthusiasm for participating in this year's "Swim for Life" -- or would it be "Swim for Your Life"?!

It was Friday afternoon's "whale watch," though, that helped set me back on course.  Together with our friends Chris and Chris (I know!), Carole and I boarded The "Dolphin IV" an hour or so after we arrived at the Cape, and within an hour had sighted our first pair of humpback whales.  Shortly thereafter more than a dozen more came into view. These massive, majestic creatures seemed aware of but unperturbed by our awed and respectful presence, and their gentle, unhurried surfacings and graceful turns and dives communicated a sense of peace and serenity shared by everyone on the boat.  From time to time we saw a seal's head break the surface of the water, and once or twice saw a dolphin slicing by...but we saw no sign of sharks, and somehow in the vastness of the ocean, my fear of them dissipated...I remembered that this is their home -- as it is the whales', and the seals', and the dolphins' -- and in some small measure, mine...

Provincetown Harbor is a relatively protected harbor within Cape Cod Bay, and reasonably distant from the ocean beaches where all of the previous great white shark sightings of the summer had been reported.  Carole and I were mindful of this, and of the fact that 402 other swimmers would be joining us in the water, making the odds pretty good that an errant shark would not choose us for its breakfast.  Still, we made record time (46:25!) "Swimming for Our Life" from Long Point to the Boatslip in Provincetown...!

See you in the Salt!

On the boat, approaching Long Point Lighthouse

404 swimmers wait for the signal to start

The reception committee

Carole and I, approaching the finish


  1. Wow, beautiful beach, but seems a little crowded !
    Thanks for sharing