Sunday, March 17, 2013

Swimming Lessons

A FAQ (frequently asked question, for those of you who have only used a computer for a week) we get when people hear that we are going off on a one to three year ocean sailing trip is “Do you know how to swim?” Well, the truth is that I've just sent away for a 10 lesson, self-coaching, learn to swim program. But not because I think that swimming is going to save my life if I accidentally fall overboard or if the boat sinks. First of all, if you go overboard in a storm, say with 50 knot winds and 8 foot seas, no amount of swimming is going to save you, even if you are Mark Spitz. Second, if you fall aboard while, say, using the rail to save a trip below to the head, as males are wont to do, you won't be able to swim fast enough to catch up to the boat, and you'll be too far from shore (think 10-200 miles) to make it that way. So the way you prevent that catastrophe is to wear an inflatable life vest at all times that a trip overboard is even remotely possible and, in extreme conditions, keep yourself tethered to the boat. Besides, though I am a lousy swimmer, I'm not afraid of the water, and I can keep myself afloat almost indefinitely by turning myself into a jellyfish (try it in a pool sometime) and raising my head out of the water only for taking in each breath.

Knowing how to swim won't help you here!

So why the swimming lessons? I grew up around the water, a few miles from Lake Michigan, and a mile or so from Mona Lake, near Muskegon, Michigan. Both were frequent destinations for me and my brothers and friends, and sometimes for the whole family, when I was a kid. I loved the water, but never mastered enough swimming technique to do more than the 20 yards or so to make it to the swim raft. As I recall, my two older brothers were quite good swimmers. I think they got their technique in the swim classes we were required to take in high school. That didn't work for me. Maybe because we had to swim in the nude, and my outstanding memory of that was my swim instructor, a typical (for that era) overweight ex-jock, asking me, as I was getting dressed in the locker room after swim class, why I thought that I needed to wear a jock strap. Needless to say, though I remember his name today, he didn't become one of my favorite teachers.

So what's a (nearly) 77 year old guy doing trying to achieve something that has eluded him for almost three quarters of a century? Well, for one thing, age doesn't deter me. I was well into my fifties when I became a proficient white water paddler in an open boat canoe. I was just shy of my 60th birthday when I learned to ice skate (another skill that my older brothers picked up, but that I somehow missed out on), and I became a pretty decent skater. I kept that up until a two foot high kid tried to skate between my legs in a crowded ice rink and sent me crashing to the ice. It was a year before the pain in my hip was gone, and that may have been why I needed physical therapy to strengthen my leg muscles now. The kicker was that I ran across a reference (in a book on cooking, of all things) to the Total Immersion method of becoming a competent swimmer. It promises to show you how to swim efficiently without tiresome drills and roadblocks like flutter-kicking a board from one end of the pool to another, in 10 easy lessons. I've bought my swim cap and goggles and tomorrow I hit the pool. We'll see how it goes!


  1. Um - this is Jim writing, I hope. Otherwise the jock strap thing makes even less sense.....

  2. Jim,

    The very idea that you guys will be "out there" for 1-3 years makes you an inspiration.

    WOW + YIKES!

    Sounds like you know what you're doing — very smart to train seriously for The Adventure! Good luck with your cool swimming program. I could use something like that. On second thought, being terrified of water and all ... forget about it.

    ~~ Stan

  3. I admire you for not letting age get in the way of learning how to swim. I’ve read that it’s a recommended physical activity as there’s less strain on the joints compared to activities like running and other high impact sports. I hope the lessons are going well for you this time around.

    -Mathias Michelakis

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  6. That program sounds promising. How did it go? Swimming is not only a life skill, it’s also a way to keep you fit and healthy. I hope the session turned out well for you, and that it gave you great results in all aspects. Have a great day!

    Sue Mckinney @ Aqua Tots Swimming School