Though veiled by the pre-dawn inky water,  I feel the presence of the Dragon immediately. Careful not to wake him from his slumber, I move gently through the water towards the rocks. His breath feels so excruciatingly close, I anxiously expect an encounter. Yet he is blissfully unaware of me being here. With each rhythmic exhale from this giant, I am enveloped with an unexpected warmth. And with barely a ripple on the surface of the water, this strange new world - his den - feels oddly inviting and so peaceful. 

Despite the adrenaline surging through my body, I feel comfortable. Glancing at my arms mid–stroke, I check for goosebumps. My skin is smooth. Relieved I am not cold, I confidently approach the cluster of rocks at the base of the cliff.  Time slows and I watch with anticipation as the veil of darkness lifts before me, revealing the motionless silhouette of the Dragon. I have not heard any reports of this Dragon sleeping in for anyone. I know it is just a matter of time. I know he will wake up very soon. 

I reach out and place my right hand ceremoniously on the surface of the nearest rock. Ribbons of velvety yet slippery seaweed caress my legs as I am pushed by a gentle swell. Securing myself in position for the start of the swim, I hook my fingertips into the shallow holes that litter the exposed surface of the rock.

I close my eyes for a brief moment and wait for the Dragon to exhale. An endless march of seconds pass by before we both fill our lungs in unison with a single deep breath. Uplifted by the magic of this moment, I am now ready to begin my swim. I open my eyes and turn towards the lights of my two support boats, a few hundred yards away. Next I raise my left arm. A faint horn sounds in the distance.

As I push off from the island of Honshu, my right hand gently grazes the rock one last time. With my body set free into the Tsugaru Strait, I aim towards the main boat and swim up to the starboard side.