March 21: Day 3

Day 3:  Inter-Species Interaction
We started the morning with no clear plan for where we were going to do our morning swim. We had a few places in mind, and Captain Bazza checked the weather forecasts and made the decision to try the backside of Prickly Pear for the morning swim. Despite a strong wind, we hopped into the water and headed for the point. The lead group hit the rocky outcrop and turned around to see that not all the swimmers had come the whole way, so we swam back to meet them. A few swimmers headed in the other direction—going with the wind—and a few of us swam up to the beach for a quick beach combing session.
That’s when Fitzy met the goats.
We had heard a squawk from the island that sounded like a wounded toucan, but not quite. I asked Mary if she could identify it, but she wasn’t sure what it was either. We shrugged and continued our impromptu snorkeling session near the beach. Next time we came up to chat, we noticed a momma and baby goat scampering along the tumble of boulders at the edge of the water. They appeared to be catching fish or drinking from the tide pool. I quietly floated toward the beach to snap some pictures of them, and they saw me coming and nervously moved down the beach, not realizing that behind the rocks stood Fitzy. Looking for seashells and totally unaware that he was about to receive cloven-hoofed visitors from the other side of the island, Fitzy was as surprised by the goats’ arrival as they were at finding a lone swimmer standing in what’s probably their living room. Both parties, standing on either side of the species divide, screamed and the goats ran up the rocks and into a strand of trees. Fitzy hightailed it into the water to tell us all about his encounter.
After the swim, most of us clambered into the zodiac for a quick dinghy tour of Necker Island, home of Sir Richard Branston’s erstwhile mansion that fell victim to a lightning-ignited fire a few months ago. Captain Bazza narrated a tour of the private island and its environs, including a sandy spit fitted out with a pair of plastic palm trees to replace the natural ones that kept getting ripped out by storms.
Shortly after we got back on board the Promenade, it was decided that Fitzy and Dan would attempt to swim the 300 yards to the sandy spit into a blowing wind. They got there in no time and zipped back in less, pushed by the winds preceding an incoming squall. They got back on board just as the first rain drops started to fall. We were in for a lashing of rain.
  
Dan and Fitzy jump in for an upwind swim to Branson's Sandy Spit (with fake palm trees)
After brunch, which included perfect Eggs Benedict prepared by Kerry, we got under weigh — under sail for the first time on this trip! Bazza and Felix raised the jazzy red-and-white spinnaker, and off we flew toward Guanna Island.
Guanna Island is named for an unusual rock formation that looks like a pond-colored Monet brush stroke from one side and an iguana’s head from the other. The Promenade dropped us off at Monkey Bay and we began our epic three-mile swim into Muskmelon Bay.
  
Relaxing on the trampoline. Mary hoists the spinnaker with a little help from Felix. Promenade on our Spinnaker run.
 
Another interspecies interaction - Dolphins riding the wake during our sail!
This long run involved swimming strong and steady along the shoreline in Monkey Bay, around the point where the iguana’s head juts out, and along the entire shoreline of Muskmelon Bay. The conditions were good, and seven of our eight SwimVacationers began three-mile swim—our longest scheduled for this trip.
The first half-mile went smoothly with a nice tail wind nudging us along Monkey Bay’s scenic coastline. We had just about hit the edge of the roped off swimming area of a seaside resort when the jelly fish started stinging. At first we all thought they were sea lice, since we had encountered them this morning at Prickly Pear. However, the lashing sensation of the stings pointed to these being full-grown, albeit small, jellyfish with long tentacles that had likely broken apart in the surf. Not a common occurrence in the calm waters of the BVI. Suddenly, three miles seemed far longer than it had at the outset.
Clearing the Iguana Head corner.
Most of the swimmers were able to power through the swim and reach the Promenade where it had anchored in Muskmelon. A few of us are more sensitive to jellies than others and sagely chose to get out of the water a little bit before the boat. Felix was riding in the Zodiac, sweeping the back of the course and keeping a close eye on the swimmers’ safety.
Jori in particular hung in there long after the novelty of the swim and the jelly fish had worn off. She overcame an early bit of panic over seeing a handful of tarpon feasting on a “bait ball” of silversides below us early in the swim, to conquer the iguana head point. She did great in today’s swim and has come such a long way from that first day when she nervously stepped off the swim platform into the wild blue yonder of open water swimming.
And at the risk of sounding like I’m playing favorites— given my post yesterday about Walt’s great swim— I would like to call out his performance today; he had something of a breakthrough, jellyfish be damned. He had started the afternoon suggesting he might not do the whole swim. Maybe he would stay onboard the Promenade and jump in when the boat reached Muskmelon Bay instead of starting in Monkey Bay. We talked it over and Walt conceded that he should at least try to make the whole distance. This was before we knew about the smattering of jellyfish and filaments of stinging cells waiting for us in the water.
As soon as we got going, Walt opened up and started cruising. He barely complained about the jellies while I was swearing up a storm, and good-naturedly powered through the tricky spot at the point between the iguana’s head and the beginning of Muskmelon Bay.
When we finally reached the Promenade, Walt decided that he wanted to swim to the far side of Muskmelon, instead of stopping at the boat which was anchored about 400 yards from the edge. Despite the stings that reminded me of my own history with jellies—their stings halted my attempt at a 50-mile swim in Narragansett Bay this past July, a defeat that still smarts— I agreed to swim the last bit of the bay with Walt so he wouldn’t have to go it alone.
Dan, always up for a challenge, decided to join us for the last 400 yards of swimming to the edge of the Bay. When we got there, we decided to go touch a rock at the edge of the water to make it official. On our way over, Dan noticed a sea turtle bobbing along about six feet below us and I dived down to try to snap a picture of it. That’s when I noticed the spotted eagle ray.
I swam with skates—cousins of rays and sharks—when I was lifeguarding on the New Jersey shore years ago and always thought they looked like flocks of birds soaring along the faces of breaking waves. To see a single, enormous spotted eagle ray calmly gliding below me, remora in-tow, was one of the most amazingly beautiful things I’ve ever seen. I snapped a bunch of pictures, and thankfully both Walt and Dan saw it, too, so I know that I didn’t dream it up.
 Fitzy leads a few back to Promenade, at anchor in Muskmelon Bay.
It was then that I realized just what a cool journey a SwimVacation week can be— I’m really proud of what Walt and Dan achieved today. They’re both great swimmers with bright open water futures ahead of them. And getting to experience both that long swim and the huge payoff at the end in the form of one of nature’s most glorious evolutionary experiments was incredible to say the least.
Making that last bit of the swim was one of the best decisions I ever made; it provided me with one of the most amazing moments to add to my “Lifetime Highlights” reel. I have Walt to thank for that. He says he couldn’t have done it without me. I say I wouldn’t have done it without him. I think that’s the definition of teamwork right there.
Thanks, guys, for a day I won’t soon forget.
- Elaine

.