Each hour long shift seemed like an eternity. Reaching into endless amounts of space I would gaze with wonder at the expanse around me. At first it was a rush and I felt like I had magical powers flying through a giant mythical aquarium.
I was acutely aware of the time as I swam, and I would watch the boat intently for any activity “out of the ordinary”; as long as everything seemed fairly routine on the boat, I had no concern.
With Joe standing watch at the stern I would do my best to align with the helm and watch the boat captain, developing an unspoken but intense connection. He was ultimately responsible for my well-being as we journeyed through the unknown. He was my protector. My guardian.
But as I became more and more sleep deprived, I couldn’t help but notice my heightened sense of fear. The aquarium somehow turned into padded cell where I was left with my “Self” and the thoughts that consumed me. The hours between each swim were a roller coaster of varying emotions: relief, joy and laughter and then fear and anticipation.
I became scared. Really scared. And my way of dealing with fear was to prepare and control what little I could control before the inevitable: literally jumping feet first into the unknown.
1 hour before. Change into swimsuit and begin applying the first of 2 thick coats of Safe Sea Jellyfish sting and protective lotion.
Sometimes I would look at Joe with desperation and fear. Time after time Joe would hold me and I would cry quietly. “It’s not brave if you’re not scared,” he once whispered in my ear.
I would sit with a cup of tea and obsessively check my watch. 35 minutes until jump. Apply more jellyfish sting protective lotion. Check my watch. 20 minutes until jump. Eat a carbohydrate Gu packet. Captain: “15 minutes” “10 minutes” counting down the time until my next swim shift as the time would suddenly blast by.
With 5 minutes to go I would put my goggles on and simply sit and try to calm my mind. For my night shifts, 7pm and 1am, I would carefully turn the red blinky light on the back of my goggles. And then ask Joe 2 or 3 times “is my blinky light on?” “Are you sure – my blinky’s on, right?”
And then Joe would open the door. The air outside was cold in stark contrast to the warm comfort of the boat cabin. With seconds to the count down, the swimmer was signaled. I made my way to the edge of the boat where in an instant I would plunge down into the cold darkness.