Monday, July 8, 2013

Currituck Sound Crossing - Todd & Larry

Todd and Larry battled wild sea life, and dangerous weather in an attempt to swim across the Currituck sound. Tales from their epic journey are below.

Larry out running bull sharks and sea snakes
Larry Bowers -

OK, first it was NOT a race but it was an organized annual event led by a group of nice people. Though I can’t recall all the names, I do believe the lead person/organizer was a former Navy Seal. That right there says things are going to get interesting real fast.
So here goes the race report.
It was dark and stormy night. Oh, not that crap again. Yes, it was. Anyway, read on.
Todd picked me up at 0600 and we headed south. After passing about 2.2 million cars going the “other” way (i.e., north) we make our way to our destination which was some neighborhood below the border and on the west side of the sound. People are gathering and I see boats and jet skis being unloaded. And kayaks. This was our support team, I soon found out. Other swimmers arrive.
The big lean and mean looking guy (i.e., former Navy Seal) calls everyone in for a safety brief. We go over distress signals (hand waving, flares, stroke lights, smoke signals, you name it) and then he warns us about the other boats in the channel (mid way across the sound), and the crab pot buoys (everywhere) and the porpoises (nice fishie) and the bull sharks. Todd and I look at each other and say “repeat that again?” Bull sharks? These stupid fish enjoy salt and fresh water, and they are dumb and go after anything that flaps in murky water. So, here we are getting ready to flap a mere 3 to 4 miles in murky water with potential bull sharks around. With lots of other swimmers around, I feel somewhat safe (they are the bait, not me … right?). Anyway, there were not many of us and we would quickly get stringed out in the crossing … so, so much for my self-preservation theory of “hey, bully shark, go eat that other swimmer 20 feet from me.”
We gather our goods and load into the boats for the trip across the sound. We arrive but not too close to shore because we are then told “Sea snakes, gotta stay away from the shoreline of this here island because of some sea (or grass) snakes.” OK, add that to my list of creatures you don’t encounter in the friendly neighborhood YMCA pool.
Almost everyone has fins but I don’t want to wear any. If I can’t swim 3 miles which I have done before, then I should not be out here (so was my mind thought). But I knew everyone would quickly get ahead of me. At least I had a wet suit on as did Todd, with both of us wearing bright green swim caps (to scare the bull sharks, right??). Of course, the side we launch from is calm but the side we arrive on is down wind and it’s a bit choppy. We all jump and start swimming toward the other side trying to keep the green water tower in sight. What tower I think? It is at least 4 miles away (1 mile further than the shore, almost). Most everyone departs well ahead of me so I keep an eye on their boat … which got further and further away. Other boats stayed with me and the other back pack swimmers. I quickly surmised that this would not be a 1.5 hour event. It was likely going to be, several hours at this rate. The chop got larger and the sighting became almost impossible. And my left goggle kept taking in water. I could see the storm brewing on the other side (our target destination). 30 or 40 minutes later, “the” storm rolled in. The waves were really large now and I felt as if I was back tracking a few times. First I was going due north, then due south, then who knows. It was Maytag spin cycle now. The rain arrived and then lightening and there was no way to see anything on the “other” side. Visibility was maybe 200 yards or 2 feet when a big wave smacked you in the face during a sighting maneuver. Oh joy. So I kept sloshing, I think, forward. Finally, one of the crew boats pulled up and yelled that it was lightening and this means you are coming on board. Crap. This means my first outing on the Currituck Sound is coming to an end. But it is the right thing to do. Both boats gather all the swimmers and kayakers and we slowly motor across the channel in the midst of the tempest. It was. We get back to where we started, almost, and the big lean and mean looking guy says something like “the weather is dying down so let’s go up the sound a bit and let you guys/gals jump out again and swim back to the dock (maybe a half mile). So we did.
I guess we covered about 1.5 mile today, all said. And BTW, Todd was leading the pack and he was just building up steam when they pulled all of us into the boats. I was wayyyyyy in the back swimming in circles or something.
As we finish our back slaps and Todd tosses down 4 Coronas (just kidding), we depart the area about 9AM. And recall those 2.2 million cars going north? Guess it was 2.2 million plus one as Todd and I cruised back to Chesapeake semi fulfilled. Next time, everyone from STC goes. And bring some shark repellant.
Todd Holwick

The almost "Swim Across the Currituck" report
With the crappy weather forecasted all week, I am wondering if the swim is actually going to take place. Scattered thunderstorms seem to be in the forecast all week. The night prior to the swim, the forecast is for rain in the morning. We will just have to wait and see as the forecast seems to change constantly. I get to bed at a decent time and the next thing I know it is 03:30 in the morning. I am wide awake and ready to go. I try to go back to sleep, but I find myself fighting it until about 05:30. It is now finally time to get up. I eat and check the radar. It seems that all of the storms have past through the area and it should be clear until about noon. I jump in the car and head out to pick up Larry at 06:00. On the way down Rt 168, we are amazed at the North bound traffic. It is as if the entire State of NC is traveling north on Rt 168 at 06:15 in the morning. If it wasn't for a traffic light at our turn, it would have been impossible to make a left hand turn.
We arrive at the location with plenty of time to spare. The support boats, etc are being launched and we are called together for a quick safety meeting by the lead person/organizer. Larry describes this guy as "The big mean and lean guy." He is a very nice guy, but does have the "Terminator" build. This guy looks like he could snap your body in half with his bare hands. During the safety brief, we are informed that there have been several dolphin sightings and not to be too alarmed if we see any fins. They are probably just the dolphins. At this point Larry's eye get real big. He informs me that he is not real excited to be swimming with any big fish, friendly or not. Then, someone points out that there are also Bull Sharks in the sound as well. Now, I am getting a little concerned. I don't mind swimming with the dolphins, but not a real fan of swimming with Bull Sharks. Especially after watching "Shark Week" on TV with my kids and the "Bull Shark" comes in as #1 for the most deadliest shark.
On with the safety signals. One arm, "I need some assistance", two arms, "come get me real fast." The organizer reminds us that this is a memorial swim. Can't remember what the memorial was for. After the swim, we are also asked to do 28 reps of something, jumping jacks, pushups, etc. This is to remember the 28 victims of some other event that I can't remember.
We grab all of our gear, jump in the boats, and off to the other side. As we cross the sound, we turn around to identify the land marks needed to sight for the swim. There are patches of blue sky, and I am excited that the morning is clearing up a bit. There is a strong SW wind, so for the swim, we are told to aim just to the left of the water tower, as the wind and current would keep pushing us to the right. When we reach the other side, we stop short about 100 yards from the shore to start the swim. I ask why we don't go all the way and I am told that it is because there could be water snakes present around the shore. Larry is now even more excited; dolphins, sharks and now snakes. What else??? People start jumping in the water and commenting how the water temp doesn't feel too bad. Larry and I still decide to put on the wetsuits as many of these guys are SEALS or ex SEALS. Who knows, to them 55-60 degree water might feel good, but not to me. Turns out the water was probably in the mid 70s. Once I jumped in, I thought I might get too hot for the duration of the swim. Maybe the wetsuit was a bad idea. Well, too late now.
Well, we all line up, and off we go, swimming towards the water tower, that is a tiny dot on the horizon. The water is a little choppy, but not too bad. I settle in to a good pace, and quickly find myself and one other, leading the pack. About a half mile into the swim, I feel great. I am wanting to pick up the pace, but I know I have a long way to go. I just keep pace with this one other guy and keep heading towards the tiny water tower. I knew the water would get a little choppier when we approached the shipping lane. Once we crossed the shipping lane, my plan was to open up the throttle, when the water smoothed out a bit. I was feeling great. My plan, however, was busted as I approached the shipping lane. Out of nowhere, a storm moved in and our visibility dropped from being able to see the other side, to a couple hundred feet. Before I knew it, the swim was called off and the support boats came around and plucked us out of the water one by one. The rain picked up, then thunder and lightening. A good call to cancel the swim.
Once we passed the shipping lane and were about a half mile from the shore, the weather was starting to clear. We all jumped back in to continue the swim. This time, without the wetsuit or fins. I completed the swim, exited the water and did my 28 jumping jacks. We said thank-you, and good-bye and then Larry and I packed up and headed home. Of course, with the rest of the 2.2 million cars on the road heading north.

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