On October 11, I swam across Gibraltar Strait, with TI colleagues Lennart Larsson of Orebro, Sweden and Tommi Patila of Helsinki, Finland. We swam 18km (11+ miles) in 5 hours 18 minutes. Water temperatures started at 18C (64F) near the Spanish coast, rose to 19 in mid-Strait, then dipped to 16C (60F) as we approached Morocco.
Those are the basic details of our swim. The International Marathon Swimming Association adds other qualifiers such as no wetsuits; you may not touch your escort boat, or be assisted in any way—anything that could make the swim easier. We also observed those rules.
I’ve taken almost three weeks to chronicle our swim partly because I’ve been traveling almost nonstop through Spain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, England and Sweden since then–visiting TI coaches and leading workshops.
But also because I hadn’t found an adequate way to express how uplifting an experience that swim was for the three of us. Until I got an update from Barry Shore, about whom I’d written in August 2011.
Barry ‘s story and personality are as inspiring as anything I’ve encountered in 50 years in swimming. In 2004, he’d been left completely paralyzed by Guillain Barre syndrome. Over the next several year, he used the combination of water and TI as a source of psychic energy and physical rehab to resume living an active—and joy-filled—life.
Barry ‘s message said: I just completed 4,000 miles . . . all due to the genius and love of the Total Immersion system . . . the yoga of swimming. I’ll celebrate this milestone by writing a short essay on the joy and ecstasy of such an amount . . . and in process to the larger goal of 10,000 miles. Being at one with the water is a marvelous experience and the ability to be ‘totally immersed’ in the aqua world for 3+ hours daily is a truly out of body experience.
While our route map says we swam from Spain to Morocco, in reality it was a Journey to and through Joy because of it was a collaboration rather than an endurance test.
Swimming with Friends
In Sept 2012, during a TI Open Water Camp in Turkey, Lennart proposed that we swim Gibraltar together. I agreed and he proceeded to book our slot with the organizer Asociación de Cruce a Nado del Estrecho de Gibraltar (Gibraltar Strait Swimming Association.)
Several months later when we were again at a TI Open Water Camp at Maho Bay on St John, USVI, we began talking to Tommi about joining us. What I enjoy most about those camps is that for hours each day I get to swim with dozens of fellow enthusiasts–including Tommi and Lennart that week.
I’ve done numerous solo marathons, swimming as much as 9 to 12 hours (and up to 28.5 miles) next to a boat, nearly always feeling solitary. But because my greatest source of pleasure in open water is interacting with other swimmers, the attraction of such swims has paled for me.
However I’ll happily swim almost any distance with companions. And not only do the swim but share in the preparation and anticipation . . . even if they happen to be in Sweden and Finland.
The one thing that takes my enjoyment to its highest level is synch swimming, which provides both a rigorous skills challenge and deep satisfaction when you get it right.
At Maho Bay, it occurred to us to attempt the first-ever synchronized swim from Spain to Morocco. Open water synch-swimming takes special skill because swells and chop make it harder to keep a constant course and maintain a visual on partners
But synch swimming in open water brings a unique reward too—the satisfaction of adding man-made artistry to a setting of great natural beauty.
People who have seen groups of TI campers swimming in calmly-ordered packs at Maho Bay have commented we look like a ‘school of humans.’
This post from a year ago, Creating Beauty—Getting Speed in Return describes such an experience during a 3k swim at a TI OW Camp in Ciralu Turkey. It includes this video:
While crossing Gibraltar we swam three abreast in close ranks about 90 percent of the time. I recall these aspects most of all:
It was timeless. Our 45-minute intervals between feeds sometimes felt more like 15 minutes so complete was our absorption with being in synch. And all of us admitted to feeling reluctant to interrupt our reveries to feed.
It was nearly effortless. Though I swam only 9km per week for two months prior to our swim–exceedingly light preparation for a marathon swim–I felt fresh for nearly the entire 5-plus hours and 18km. This is partly due to effortless TI Technique. But even more I felt I drewg energy from Lennart and Tommi when we were almost touching and in synch. They felt the same: Synch-swimming seemed to recycle energy among us.
Magic Moments Each morning before the sun had quite risen we swam for an hour on the Atlantic side of Tarifa—protected from the prevailing (often howling) Levante winds. We swam the entire time in synch, changing positions from right to middle to left. As the sun rose, if I happened to be on the far side, I could see Lennart and Tommi as backlit silhouettes. Their TI form created beautiful sleek lines.
As we approached the Morocco shore, the current turned against us and the water turned colder, requiring us to dig deeper to make it to shore. However, I was fortunate to be swimming on the left side, meaning the sun was setting behind them. Once again I got to observe the beautiful lines of their backlit silhouettes which kept me in a state of intense joy even as we were faced with greater challenges.
In the coming days and weeks, I’ll share other insights and transcendent experiences from this swim, but Barry’s message gave me the impetus for the first post I wished to share about it.