As part of preparing for the swim, I gathered a 'bag of tricks' with delicious treats that could be used if, and when, my world began to crumble. All of these treats: Moro bars, Chocolate Fish, Jet Planes and L&P (a lemon soda drink “world famous in New Zealand") brought back a flood of gloriously carefree memories of my childhood.
The plan was put good fuel in my “tank” for the majority of the swim using my carbohydrate drinks and only consider the 'bag of tricks' when things were falling apart AND I was close to shore.
7 hours into my swim, cracks began to show and my world was beginning to crumble. FAST. The excitement of the dolphin encounter was now a distant memory.
I could see land, and I knew I was close, really close, but it was difficult for me to gauge exactly just how close. The North Island seemed to take forever to appear just a little bit closer, and that was because it WAS taking forever. Pushing me away from land and out into the Pacific, the water current was nothing short of supernatural.
The water swirled furiously around me, like a washing machine, and I was just an old cotton shirt getting pushed and stretched during the wash cycle. It was relentless. Joe was no longer filming and taking photos. He and Philip were hanging on for dear life as their little inflatable boat got equally punished by the waves.
Breathing on my left exclusively, the choppy waves slapped against my face, and, unable to decipher a rhythm, I couldn’t help but inhale the salty seawater. GALLONS of seawater came in through my nose and mouth. Infiltrated with water, my lungs began to rattle when I breathed, making it excruciatingly difficult to get enough oxygen as I swam.
I swam back to the boat. Winds were now gusting 30 knots and I could see Joe and Philip were soaking wet. I wasn’t sure how I could continue. Philip told me I was going backwards. “At the last feeding, you were 3 kms from shore. Now you’re 4 kms from shore.” That meant, for the last 30 minutes I had made absolutely no progress. I could see my goal of finishing slip through my hands, and I was terrified. I was shocked and defeated. “SWIM!” urged Philip. "You're going to miss this last bit of land. You need to just swim!"
I put my head in the water and try concentrating on moving one arm at a time when suddenly the water feels like popcorn popping – mini explosions of water as the cold water surged up from the deep and met the shallower warmer water. This section of water, approximately 52 degrees, felt absolutely freezing. And, at that precise moment, the support beams of my world buckled, and down came the roof.
Again I swim back towards the boat. I was beginning to feel strange. Really strange. My ears were ringing, I was struggling to breathe, and I was concerned I might pass out. The water had been far too rough to continue with my regular feedings, and because I was so close to shore, Philip and Joe just wanted me to swim. But I desperately needed something.
Swimming up the boat, Philip immediately hands me a bottle of L&P. As I pour the soda in my mouth, my tongue tingles with delight. It was the most amazing thing I have ever tasted in my life. Amazing. “I bet that tastes really good, doesn’t it girl,” encouraged Philip.
I was a hostage and my captor had finally rewarded me for giving away my country’s classified information. I imagined myself strapped to a wooden chair in a dark basement, hands bound behind me, mouth taped shut with duct tape, and sweat pouring down my forehead, soaking the blindfold. Lit only by the light filtering through the floorboards above me at this undisclosed, secret location, I was so grateful for the reward. I was relieved to think the pain was over. But it wasn’t. Philip reached over the boat and snatched the soda from my frozen grasp.