Water Feel: The Big Swim

Author Carrie Saxifrage writes of the physical triumph of a long distance trek in her environmental memoir “The Big Swim.”

  • Swimming
    “I belong, temporarily, to a vast, cold world where brilliant seaweed banners wave in exultation.”
    Photo by Fotolia/AlenaOzerova
  • The Big Swim
    Frequently touching, surprisingly funny and always thought-provoking, each of the stories in “The Big Swim” identifies possibilities for satisfying our deeply rooted longings, not least the desire to live in a manner that sustains the world.
    Cover courtesy of New Society Publishers

  • Swimming
  • The Big Swim

The Big Swim (New Society Publishers, 2015), is a compelling and unusual memoir, where author Carrie Saxifrage seeks out the places where science meets self-discovery. She explores significant subjects, such as sustainable forestry, nature-centered philosophy and First Nations culture to discover that the greatest adventure is learning to align how you live with what you love. The following is from Chapter One, “The Big Swim.”

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Water Feel

I pull myself through a tunnel of silk. The silk pushes on my skin, a light pressure surrounding my body. A billion microscopic bubbles burst against me and buoy me up. Suspended in water, I feel as though I am flying.

Swimmers refer to these sensations as the “water feel.” It’s the reason why people like me don’t wear wet suits or even swimsuits. Although, for this swim, the Big Swim, I have made compromises. My swim partner, Chloe, her father, Noel, and I are swimming from Cortes Island to Quadra Island. They nestle in the inner sea between Vancouver Island and the mainland of British Columbia, five miles apart as the crow flies.

In June, we studied the 70-page tidal flow charts that show current strength and direction day-by- day and hour-by- hour. August 11 was the only favorable day when we were all available. Slack ebb tide was at 11:30 am. We would be heading due west. If we started swimming at 8 am, we should be able to avoid the strongest currents that endlessly sweep the inner coast waters north and south.

The water temperature is between 18 and 19 degrees Celsius. All summer I have worried about the cold of this swim. My solution is to cut off sleeves from a triathlon suit to protect my fatless arms, and a neoprene swim cap with a chin strap. I have covered my body with lanolin, the heavy golden oil from sheep’s wool that looks and feels like ball-bearing grease. The net result of my helmet-like cap, shiny black arm warmers and glistening naked body is sublimely ridiculous. I look like a dominatrix who dropped her boots and crop into the sea and now has to dive in after them.

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