Turning towards the dark moonless aquatic expanse, I take a moment to locate the Mother Ship. A handful of other boats are nearby, each lit with numerous lights and in varying intensity, making it difficult to decipher which is my own. This causes a momentary jolt of panic trumping all fear and nervousness percolating within every cell in my body. Alone on the beach, hundreds of yards from my crew and unable to communicate with them to double-check my instructions, I operate on blind faith; silently focused - teeming with adrenaline - I take a deep breath and raise my right hand. I just hope my crew can see me. Seconds later I see a distant yet bright light flash on and off. Lacking definitive confirmation that the flashing light was in fact my crew communicating with me, I step towards the water's edge. Worried I will fall, twisting or breaking an ankle, once again I crouch down on my hands and knees, carefully pick over the slippery rocks and slip into the abyss.
Submerging my face in the inky cool water, I steady my body on the surface, and begin to swim. Lifting my head briefly to determine the correct direction, I proceed into nothingness, except for the few lights now blurry from my goggles that are regretfully already fogged up. I arbitrarily choose one set of lights and hope this is my Mother Ship. Keep swimming towards the light, I tell myself. Your crew will find you. These hundred yards seem to take forever. Bathed in the gleam of a very bright light, I know someone is watching me. Thankfully, I locate four blue glow sticks alongside a boat. Swimming towards them a gentle wave of relief swathes my body. This is my Mother Ship, the Louise Jane! I yell a jubilant "WOO!" as I line up parallel to the hull. I am tremendously grateful for having instructed the boat crew to decorate the starboard side of the boat with blue glow sticks. Originally I planned for the glow sticks to help me navigate alongside the boat as I swim across the Channel before daylight. The added bonus of being able to decipher my ship amongst an unexpected group of other ships makes me smile. Kiwi ingenuity at its best and my late Grandfather would be particularly proud. One of my crew responds with an equally enthusiastic "Woo!" I'm pretty sure it's Melissa. Though alone in the water, we are in communication. Houston, I can hear you.
I continue swimming, trying my best to get in sync with the boat. I don't want to be too close for risk of getting lost under the hull or caught in the motor. And I want to be just close enough that Andy, my boat pilot, can see me clearly from the helm. This delicate dance is made more challenging with the unexpected swell in the Channel.
I focus on my pace. Gently releasing the floodgates of adrenalin I constantly adjust my speed. Earlier segmenting my swim into manageable pieces, I now remind myself that the first 3 hours is my "warm up." Hopefully this will allow my muscles time to stretch and settle in for the long haul. I do a mental body scan. The water feels cool across my skin, but tolerable.
Seemingly out of nowhere, an orange light plunges into the darkness before me. It's time for my first feeding of a carbohydrate drink. An orange glow stick attached to my feed bottle allows me locate the bottle in the darkness. Grabbing the bottle, I begin to guzzle the homemade carbohydrate concoction. My crew synchronously countdown from 10 to zero, to help keep my feedings as short as possible; concerned with getting cold, I need to keep moving.
Every 30 minutes I will orbit through this grand expanse of blackness, only to return to the Mother Ship for sustenance. Soon, the sunlight peaks out from the bow of the boat. The warmth and comfort of the day is near.