Buoyed by yet another otherworldly and memorable encounter with dolphins, I focus on the final part of my journey. My body feels surprisingly good, and, for the first time since beginning solo swims last year, I am experiencing the rewards of my disciplined training regimen. Grateful for paying more careful attention to applying lanolin and Vaseline prior to getting in the water last night, as my usual trouble spots for skin chaffing are gloriously unscathed.
With the marine layer long gone, and the sun shining, the blue sky is unveiling its glory. The water, with diminishing visibility as we approach land, is still marvelously clear and its magical green-blue hue glistens innocuously.
Breathing to my right, I spot Melissa sitting stoically in the bright yellow kayak as it peaks over the occasional wave. Kayaking tirelessly alongside me for this entire journey, I am in awe of her commitment to me. "Woo!" I yell as I smile.
As I breathe to my left I watch the boat intently, trying my best not to look at the shore. Yelling another "Woo!" is the best I can do to share my joy and appreciation for being right here – swimming the Catalina Channel – supported by my attentive crew.
My attention on the boat and the activity on deck, provides me with an odd but satisfactory distraction as I continue swimming. My vision is so focused, I am careful to note anything that might look less than routine. I zero in on facial expressions, hand gestures and body language. Brett is taking photos, Lynn is waving her yellow scarf, cheering me on. Dan is walking out of the cabin, Nancy is sitting near the bow, and the Captain is looking out at Melissa and me.
Indeed, with each breath to my left, I take a quick study before returning my face to the water, logging my observations in my imaginary notebook just in time before the next breath. To my delight, everyone looks happy. No concerned looks towards shore, no checking of time in a huddle discussing how slow I'm swimming. Nothing. Completely unremarkable. Everything looks reassuringly routine.
Suddenly, I see two of the boat crew-mates scramble to a lookout post on top of the boat. Panicked, there are too many details for me to write in my notebook, as I attempt to capture these observations in my mind. Thankfully, time seems to slow as I watch the captain leave his post and pick up a pair of binoculars. Three people peering intently - discussing and even swapping binoculars – and my support crew and observers all looking in the same direction towards the stern of the boat. As this drama plays out in slow–motion, all I can think is this scenario might be one my top five "experiences you don't wish to have as you are swimming alone in the ocean, miles from shore."
Yet nobody says a word to me. Probably best I think. Besides, as a scientist, I'm not supposed to interact with my subjects.
(Later at the conclusion of my swim – when safely on the boat – I inquire as to the cause of this commotion. "Oh, we saw a fin about 100 yards from you. Don't worry, we're pretty sure it was just a swordfish.")