I transfer from the mother boat, Tangaroa, to the IRB (Inflatable Raft Boat). We motor quickly towards land. I have to be done in 12 hours. 12 hours. “Its time, girl. Off you go...” says Philip.
I slip carefully off the IRB into the water and swim 50 yards to the shore of the South Island for my beach start. The water is so clear. It’s absolutely beautiful. As I swim closer to the beach, I notice all the granite stones beneath me, reminding me of Dover. Philip instructed me earlier to wave when I got there, signaling the start the swim. I stand on the beach and wave.
I dive into the water. This is the first critical part of the swim. I need to get as far away off shore to avoid the current pushing me South-East. I’m so amped up on adrenaline. Surprisingly, the water doesn’t feel too cold. In his earnest efforts to calm me before my swim, Joe reminded me that it’s quite normal to dive into the water at the beginning of a swim and think “oh, shit, this is really cold. How the hell am I going to do this?” I was expecting the worst.
And, while the water certainly doesn’t feel warm, it doesn’t shock me and I power through the waves. The sun is shining and as I breathe to my left, I see Philip encouraging me with a clap of his hands and Joe sitting on the edge, giving me the thumbs up. Oh, this is so good. SO GOOD.
I can’t help but think of something truly special. Today I am the only - THE ONLY - person in the world swimming the Cook Strait. I’m home, and this is my water. This is my very own Cook Strait. I find my rhythm and swim across the surface of the water. Beneath me lies thousands of feet of water and I wonder, as I always do when I swim in the ocean, what creatures swim below. And every time I fantasize about which ones might pay me a visit.
A couple of days earlier, Joe joked that he had ordered dolphins for my swim. I knew both sharks and dolphins were a distinct possibility in the Cook Strait and I was very grateful that he had chosen to order dolphins. I wondered if these dolphins “worked” 7 days/week because today it is Monday in NZ, and I really hoped the dolphins hadn’t decided to take a long weekend.
And so as I swim I’m constantly on the lookout for my dolphin friends. I gaze into the crystal clear water and wonder what (friend or foe) might visit from the depths below and swim up to say “hello.” Philip and Joe are in the IRB and just a couple of feet to my left. I feel incredibly safe. But the visibility of the water is both a blessing and a curse. Honestly, I’d much rather be surprised. I simply don’t want to see what’s coming. But each time I jump into the ocean for a swim, I purposefully surrender to nature, knowing that NOTHING can be controlled.
I notice the rubber underbelly of the IRB. I run into random pieces of kelp that catch me by surprise. But most of the time I just see the beautiful blue water surround me. When suddenly, 2 ½ hours into my swim, I see a big black shadow zip right beneath me. No deeper than 10 feet below. Thank GOD my eyes catch the tail fin. Almost immediately I notice that this creature has a horizontal tail fin. HORIZONTAL!!!!!!!! And that, my friends, can mean only one thing.
“DOLPHINS!!!!!!!” I yell as I take my next breath.
Seemingly out of nowhere I’m joined by a pod of about 12-15 dolphins. As I breathe I yell “WOW!” to Philip and Joe. The dolphins are EVERYWHERE. EVERYWHERE!!! I can’t believe it. I just can’t believe it. They’re underneath me, beside me, in front of me. They’re so close I can almost touch them; I’m literally inches away.
I pick up the pace and try to touch them. I wonder if I grab onto a dorsal fin if that counts as a swim aid, and instant disqualification from my swim. But I don’t care. I’m having a ball.
The dolphins crisscross and zip below me like little rockets. They’re definitely teasing me because just as I think I’m about to touch them, they step on the gas. I feel like I’m watching dolphin TV. Wow. Wow. WOW. As they come up beside me I can see their eyes. I can see them look at me. It’s a connection I simply can’t put into words.
What is truly humbling and utterly magnificent, is that these wild animals TRUST ME. They know I’m not a threat. They know I’m a friend. And they’re having a blast. We’re sharing and enjoying the same experience. We’re swimming. Together.
I can feel their wake as they cruise in front of me. As I breathe, I yell “WOW!” to Philip and Joe. With my head in the water I hear them squeak. I make my own little squeak as I swim in the hope of keeping them around. I want to thank them. I want them to know the absolute delight and magic I feel because of them.
As I write this, tears well up in my eyes. I feel so incredibly blessed. The day after my swim I discover that these dolphins were Maui dolphins. There are only about 150 of these beautiful mammals left in NZ. 150 left in the entire world. On March 5th 2012, for about 40 minutes, 10% of their family decided to join me for a little swim.
And, for the rest of my life, I will never EVER forget these precious 40 minutes.
P.S// I hate to think how much Joe paid for those dolphins…