Arriving in Tarifa, Spain in the afternoon before our swim, there was little time to worry myself with the usual cacophony of nervous thoughts punctuated with self-doubt and concern. No time to follow my methodical routine of carb-loading and hydrating. No time to harass Joe with silly questions like “do you think I’ve eaten enough carbs?” No time to even dip my toe in the water and get a feel for the temperature. Ah, nothing quite like ripping the Band-Aid off…
Standing at the bow of the support boat, though a crisp 48 degrees, I couldn’t help but notice there was barely a breath of wind. The conditions were indeed perfect. “Ladies first” joked Joe directing me to jump off the boat knowing I wouldn’t jump first. “Not this time,” I replied with a grin. Joe obliged. As his head emerged from the inky pre-dawn water, I watched intently for an indication as to how the water felt. But my body was ready - in auto-pilot – and, before I knew it, I was pressing my goggles to my face as I plunged into the water. Surprisingly, it felt good. Cool, but totally manageable.
Without wasting any time, we stroked gingerly across the shallow water exposing massive partially submerged rocks towards the shore about 15 feet away. Careful not to scrape our legs on the jagged edges of the rocks, and mindful of the gentle swell, we placed our hands on the rocks to officially signal the beginning of our swim.
“Are you ready to do this?” smiled Joe. Amped up and heart beating I replied a confident “Yes!” “Let’s do this.” At approximately 7:20am, with the sun beginning to rise in the East, our hands left Europe and we began our tandem swim to Africa. Our support boat moved ahead and the smaller zodiac boat aligned next to us, gently motoring forward.
Last night Rafael had warned us that we would need to swim as fast as possible for the first 2 hours in order to make it halfway across the Strait. The timing of our swim this early in the morning was planned to take advantage of minimal wind and also a few hours later an easterly current was expected to rev up pushing us towards the shore of Morocco. If we didn’t make it far enough across the Strait by the time the current strengthened, we would risk being slingshot out into the Mediterranean Sea, missing land altogether and unable to complete our swim.
Joe set the pace and I swam as fast as I possibly could - almost synchronously – as together we pushed our hands through the salty water and gasped for air every three strokes.
As I breathed to my left I marveled at the glorious sunrise gracing us with its presence; a golden glow pierced through the horizon and radiated a comforting sense of warmth and goodness through my mind. This was a magical sign.
However, my heart raced and my breathing labored, as I wasn’t entirely confident I could maintain this pace for much more than 10 minutes. Somehow I settled into a purposeful rhythm and enjoyed feeling my body moving at this quite respectable clip into the Strait.
Every few minutes or so, with a hint of disbelief, my mind turned to the realization of what my body was actually doing: swimming to Africa!