I had flown into LAX and transferred onto a flight to Loreto on the Sea of Cortez coast of the Baja California Sur Peninsula, Mexico. My hosts Bill and Denise ran a Retreat centre 'El Santuario' at a coastal settlement at Ensenada Blanca. My friend MT and her 7 year old son Ze'ev helped out. I had planned to spend a week at the retreat and simply swim everyday, relax and get get used to the heat and sun. Prior to swimming off down the coast for a couple of weeks, wild camping.
In the morning, Bill asked me what I had planned to do that first morning. I replied "absolutely nothing an I had all day within which to do it". Bill told me later, he knew immediately I was going to have a great stay.
For the first few days, I swam out and visited a couple of nearby Islands and rocky outcrops. Isla Danzante looked much closer than it really was, and Carmen beyond, was just a little too far without proper supplies. I considered whether I would prefer to circumnavigate Carmen rather than simply swim down the coast. Even today, I wonder whether Carmen would have matched up to the reality of my coastal trek.
We took a day trip to the Pacific coast whale watching and came across a number of Grey whales at the beginning of their long swim North. Went out with MT and freedived in the lagoon. But mostly I spent the time chilling,walking, swimming and playing with Ze'ev. Eventually, the day came when I purchased some food, stocked up with water and loaded my raft for the first time. It hadn't occurred to me that it may not float, once the compartments were stored with supplies. It did. I looked down the coast to my right, dragged the raft into the Sea of Cortez and commenced the best journey of my life.
Day 1. I started to get tired after 4 hrs 45mins but carried on until 5 hours 30 mins and camped at a small beach. I hadn't seen anything apart from beautiful and rugged
coastline, blue sky and blue sea. I felt like racing for Coyote over the three weeks I had to spare, but could only guess it was about 300 miles South. Adventure is like this, no maps, no people, no directions, no plans. It was a risky thought to be unable to get back in time for my flight home. Once I had pitched camp, I had decided to simply swim gently for a week or so, down the coast and then swim back, rather than make the swim a tough challenge.
I am very thirsty and doubt I have sufficient water. I have twenty eight litres, enough for two litres a day for two weeks, and have already drunk 1.5 litres. I have half a litre left to cook and drink for the evening. I haven't really enough food either, but after some hash, peas and hot chocolate, I am not hungry.
I expect to be able to swim further and for longer each day, especially as my raft gets lighter (about 6 lbs each day) as I eat and drink the supplies. Funny really, the effort in the water doesn't seem to make any difference whether the raft is fully loaded compared to when empty, only the speed is different.
Day 2. Started late at 9am and swam for 5 hours. Took 30 minutes rest , but it was far too hot under the sun, so swam on for 2.5 hours more. I had planned to cut across to the point of an island, which after a couple of hours, looked too far. So diverted inland towards a headland. A kayak-er detoured from the coast and paddled out to me, interested in what I was. She gave me a power bar. After an hour I reached the shore of a beach opposite the island, which turned out OK for distance after-all.
The kayak group (all girls) were taking a two week trek to Punta Coyote, and I thought again to do the same. They were picnicking. They shared some food with me, a filled bagel, apple, orange, celery, sweets. They were really interested in my raft and swimming concept, having seen nothing like it. (of course they hadn't, it was my invention and was the only one in existence). They resumed their voyage after 30 minutes, and I packed up too and followed on shortly afterwards.
I had no plans for how long I would swim, after my rest. I felt great and just decided to stop after 2.5 hours. It would start to get dark and I was scared to swim in the dusk....sharks. I had swam over a large Ray (about 3 feet diameter), submerged in the sand. It took flight, suddenly, in a flurry of sand. Probably affected by the electronic Shark Shield device I was wearing. I didn't know whether to laugh or scream. It was great. It had a long tail and elliptical wings. I should have shouted for joy. I still fancy Coyote.
Day 3. 8 hours. It had been windy in the night and by morning I was able to use the sail. The sail did not add much to speed, but may have taken the weight of the loaded raft. I headed across a large bay. I was a long way off shore going from headland point to point. On shore I thought I could see the kayak group on the beach, but it was too far to be sure. The weather was very blustery and maybe a little r ough for them, although the wind and swell were heading in the right direction.
I swam across Aqua Verdi bay aiming for the headland and decided to rest once there. The shore was rocky. I phoned Nicola and decided to abandon my rest as the sky was becoming a darkening gray. It was just a little overcast and moody and I didn't want to hang around in an uncomfortable spot. I decided to make camp in an hour or so. It took three hours to find a suitable beach. Ensenada La Baleena. A couple kayakers were also camped on the beach away in the distance.
Day 4. 6.5 hours. I was up early and continued, mostly past rocky shorelines. Saw a couple jelly fish that looked quite menacing. I freedived to take a closer look, and thought better of it. Although they were only plate size, the tentacles were really long. After 4 hours I started to tire and aimed closer to shore, so I could watch the rocks slip by. I eventually came ashore at a small deserted (as usual) beach, where I camped. After an hour ashore, the kayak girls paddled past. I have decided not to swim on down the coast too far, but have a day to rest. Then swim closer in to shore.
I put out the fishing line with a few hooks along its length, and left it out overnight and caught nothing.
Day 5. Spending the day on the beach. The night had been stormy and by morning the tent was virtually collapsed. It was only pegged into sand. I went for a hike into the cliff, sun bathed and relaxed .As I was laying down in the sun, I felt a little tickle on my toe . It frightened me as I worried it was a scorpion , spider or rattlesnake. I didn't want to move but very gently raised my head to look. A humming bird had touched down on my foot. As I looked, it flew off.
In the afternoon, I went spearfishing and spent too long just hanging in the water taking pot shots. I got cold. Visibility was poor at the surface, but once on the seabed it was ok. The views were fantastic at ten meters. Plenty of reef fish, not good for shooting.
I was hungry, having only eaten a tin of tuna mixed with a pot noodle. Certainly not a sustainable diet. I took the raft out, and nearly sank it as I had not closed up a hatch cover. A good days rest.
Day 6. .5 hours. I spent some time rigging up the Shark Shield so it could trail behind the raft rather than tied to my ankle. This way, I didn't expect it to zap me so often. The devise was battery powered and would attach to my ankle, trailing a 2 meter cable with embedded electrical wire. When switched on, it sent powerful shock waves into the water, which (according to the manufacturers videos) disturbed the electrical receptors on all sharks. I concluded that if I were to come across a shark in its natural environment, it would be a reason to shout for joy. But the Shark Shield was designed that it would deter a shark way before I even noticed it. The battery pack would work for up to six hours. But I mustn't grab the tail. In the end, I guess it was left to chance. I would ensure the devise was switched on at all times, and the batteries fully recharged. Then, if I got eaten by a shark, well, I supposed it only fair to be eaten by a fish, I had eaten enough of them in my time.
I mended the line on the spear-gun and slowly repacked the raft. . Being six days out, I thought to swim slowly back. I would swim a greater distance as I shall be hugging the shore, taking a more scenic route. Also against the prevailing wind and gentle current.
I got tired after only 3.5 hours and was cold and hungry. I got out to sunbathe but didn't get warm., so after 30 m inutes rest, got back in to swim and spent 90 minutes fining the raft to a really nice beach. There is no wind andI ate the same food as yesterday plus a little extra ration (thinking I had some to spare). It still isn't anywhere near enough food, but the extra ration felt luxurious. I could resupply in two days at Aqua Verdi. It is dangerous feeling weak. and I can tell I am getting thinner.
Day 7. 3 hours. I packed up slow and didn't fancy swimming, but I wanted to get back to the rocky headland and rest before swimming the few miles further along its barren length. I towed the raft for two hours then finned it for one. Past my old camp spot at Ensenada La Baleena and carried on part way along the headland.
I really didn't feel up to much and considered taking up a gentle sport rather than doing stuff that always tires me out. I got tired quickly and was unenthused. I set up camp and spent a couple hours spearfishing. Lots of reef fish, but nothing suitable to aim at. Visibility is only about six feet. A shoal of mackerel type fish keep getting close, but not close enough.
n the end, I shot a really pretty black/blue fish. About one meals worth. But after 'dealing' with it (which I didn't like doing), there wasn't so much to eat after-all. So I just cut it up in pieces and boiled it before putting it with a pot noodle. I had more food to spare and as Aqua Verdi was not far away, I eat half of what is left am am not hungry. I wish I hadn't killed the fish and decided I would have preferred being a little hungrier knowing it was still swimming happily among the reef.
I have to swim better tomorrow to get more food, or I won't have enough proper food to get me back to the retreat. Breakfast will be a piece of chocolate coated Kendal Mint Cake.
I had hoped being away from work for a month, the change would make my heart behave itself, but it messes about just the same. I had noticed the problem whilst actively freediving. Whilst I was pretty good, I was rubbish at holding my breath. My heart seemed never to settle and just greedily consumed my oxygen at low revs. It worked better with a higher rate. My heart was suffering from an acute arrhythmia and atrial fibrillation. It eventually took two operations to fix it. The final fix worked, but had a complication as the doctor froze part of my Phrenic nerve, which paralysed the right part of my diaphragm, leaving it in the elevated position. My breathing was weak, but eventually the nerve repaired and my diaphragm returned to pretty much proper efficiency within six months.
Day 8. Very windy throughout the night and day, with white horses and the tide going the wrong way, all day. I stayed camped and relaxed until 2:30pm.
I needed about a three mile swim to get into Aqua Verdi, but the first two miles were rocky headland, then one mile into the crescent of the bay to the shore. The headland had a couple of points and I made the first one and was half way to the second, within the hour. But now, I was swimming but getting nowhere.
I spotted a rock on the cliff and for 15 minutes of hard swimming against the wind, it hadn't moved an inch. All the time, the waves and current were pushing me closer and closer toward it. I was minutes from being washed against a cliff face that had no landing point.
This was true adventure and the adrenalin was pumping. But right now, I wished I had taken up stamp collecting and stay safe. I could see a small shore about 25 yards ahead and thought I could try to get washed up onto it, if only I could swim a little faster. It didn't work. I simply couldn't make an inch towards the safe shore. The rock and cliff face were now less than ten feet away and I reckoned I would hit it in about two minutes( or sooner if I relaxed). One thing was certain, I would hit it in an exhausted state.
I knew it would take about twenty seconds to stop swimming , turn around and put up the sail (hoping the wind would help me swim away from the cliff). The voice in my heart was loud and clear. Do it now. I felt blessed to hear a safe warning voice and I knew it was right to 'obey'. There is no point in having prayer to be kept safe and knowing loved ones at home were praying much the same, and then ignore feelings when you are prompted by them. I knew I was being guided at that moment, I would be kept safe and yet not be robbed of true adventure. Twenty minutes of hard swimming had passed and I had progressed not an inch. I may have had 30 seconds before the conditions would cause me to hit the rocks ( if I stopped swimming). I was being told to stop swimming and turn around.
I popped the sail, the wind spun me around and in an instant, my raft edged away from the cliff, exactly down wind. It wasn't fast, but it had authority. The raft was getting me out of trouble and I sailed back to the beach I had left 90 minutes earlier.
It was great fun lying on the raft. I watched the cliff go from ten feet away, to twenty , then thirty, soon I was off the cliff by 100 meters.
Swimming ashore, the breakers pitch poled the raft, end to end it rolled and was thrown onto the pebbled beach. Denting the bow tip. I felt sorry for my raft, it was my fault. I phoned Nicola a nd made an early dinner. I had saved four deserts for a moment like this and ate one that night. It is still windy.
I have food and water for five easy days without spearfishing. Tomorrow I will only try again if the weather is much improved, otherwise I will stay put.
Day 9. The wind has settled a little and although the tide is still running against me, it is a lot calmer and the water less urgent. I decide to have another go. It was immediately apparent the sea was no longer angry and I continued slowly along the cliff. I recognised I didn't really like experiencing the tough times and looked forward to taking up a gentler past time. Anything easier than this extreme stuff.
I had progressed about one mile in two hours. I could now stop at the small beach or continue, or go back. The weather was calming down, but I was weary and the effort still hurt. After 4 hours I had rounded the final point and headed in shore and a sheltered cove. I was too tired to swim the final mile to Aqua Verdi, so I stopped to rest. I knew I would not re start, so camped.
Day 10. An early start. The water was calm and the wind had died. I swam slow front crawl, towing the raft and letting the swim take an hour. Ashore, with my raft, I met a local fisherman, and in broken Spanish asked "Donde este Agua"? He took me to a small shed in a ladies house, full of food, tins and supplies
I bought some food from the shed. Three apples, three bananas, three small tins of veg, three pot noodles and six biscuits, enough to support my dwindling supply, but not enough to scoff willy nilly.
Spent an hour towing the raft and three hours fining it slowly. I am weak, no energy, Not enough food and calories. The wind and tide were slightly in my favour and I followed its direction across the bay to set up camp.I hear a splash but am too slow to notice, by the time I get the camera ready I have missed all the action. I reckon I missed a close encounter with a very large mammal. I give chase, in the wrong direction but give up after ten minutes or so. Tomorrow I will stop at the hot spring.
Day 11. I fin slowly out of camp and feel lethargic. I listen to Supertramp and come ashore after two hours to phone Nicola and rest for 30 minutes. Rays were flying out of the water . I swim off towing the raft and become aware of a small inflatable boat motoring alongside. It is George, my favourite hippie. He and Laura had set up camp at Hot Springs and I arrange to meet up with them in the few hours it would take me to swim there.
Having made the plan with George, I no longer had the luxury of stopping anywhere I wanted. So, I just kept swimming past the headland and into Hot Spring bay (at least, that is what I called it). A sailing yacht was anchored and as I swam closer, I could see George's inflatable tied up to the yacht. I was being hailed to the yacht where hot chocolate and supper was waiting for me. We nattered into the night and it came time to leave , I swam ashore and set up my camp a short way from George and Laura.
Day 12. Hot Springs, only 10 miles from my base 'El Santuario' at Ensenada Blanca. Still a tough distance at one mile per hour. I decide to have a rest day with George and Laura. Hanging with Hippies has so much going for it.
I first met George when I had just arrived at the Retreat. George had set up camp on the beach at Ensenada Blanca and spent his day going about doing whatever hippies do. He was about 50 years old and wore the obligatory scruffy sun bleached beard, tatty tee, shorts and sandals. He had sold his business in USA and now lived 'under the radar' on the Baja coastline. Moving every couple of weeks further up or down the Sea of Cortez coast as the fancy took him. Living with Laura on about $1 a day.
Talking about everything and nothing over a camp fire.I asked if he missed business, the TV, doctors and such. He simply looked out to the horizon and I knew there would never be a program ever filmed that could hold an audience better than the view we shared in the warm evening sun. Or the stars in the sky , or the spirit, peace, beauty and freedom of his life.
Eventually in the early evening, the sea goes out sufficient to reveal the natural hot spring pool. I had previously heard of it spoken with some reverence as the best part of the coast. No entrance fee, simply a long days swimming or an afternoon kayaking from the nearest settlement.
I scramble through the shallow rocks and gently lower myself in the warm water, still being flushed by the remains of the retreating cold tide. The moments pass by,and the hot spring feels warmer while the tide no longer flushes the naturally heated hot water, seeping up through the sand. The tide would return within 45 minutes and flood the hot spring, ultimately to about 2 meters depth.
George and Laura arrive. Somehow is was perfectly natural as they stripped off their tees and shorts. Without a word they nakedly dropped into the water. I smile to myself, a good Mormon boy sharing a natural hot spring with a couple of naked hippies. But somehow it felt so perfectly appropriate and I felt way overdressed in my Speedos.
We soaked in the lovely luxuriousness of the hot spring, under a blue sky whilst gazing peacefully out to sea. We were soon joined by another couple who arrived by kayak and who repeated the now less surprising quiet strip off, as they too sank into the spring. I kept quiet about wearing Speedos, kind of hoping they thought I was naked too. I felt it so unnecessary wearing a costume but hindered by principles of modesty, which at this place, no longer mattered.
Day 13. 8 hours. I awake early to feed and pack away . I Say my goodbyes to George and Laura and swim out across the bay. It is beautiful and I have plans for a gentle 5 mile swim, and take all day about it. Then, after about two hours of gentle swimming across the bay and about 400 meters off shore, a fierce wind blows off the land straight out to sea and I am swimming directly across it. I angle inwards towards the coast to compensate and pay no further attention. I breathe to my right and see only the horizon.
After about 30 minutes I stop to have a good look around. I get a real shock. I am now about a mile out to sea and no longer inside the confines of the bay. The headlands are way inside my track and I am swimming in open ocean. The wind is fierce. I change my heading thinking I could still manage to reach the headland about two miles ahead and slightly to my left. I monitor my progress and realise after another 15 minutes, that I am now even further out to sea. The open sea to my right and and Carmen Island about 6 miles ahead. I knew I would not reach Carmen before the wind would have blown me passed its most Westerly point, and then towards the Mexico mainland 50 miles further West.
I choose to head straight into shore directly into the teeth of the wind. About one mile, I guessed. I swim hard for twenty minutes thinking to get half way back in, and take another look. The shore still seems just as far. I put my head down again, and work as hard as I can for as long as I could. Another fifteen minutes and I can start seeing the detail on the land, but am still too far out. It takes an hour to get within 200 meters of the shoreline before I am comfortable again to swim across the wind and head on towards the point.
So much for having a gentle swim. I swim on a little more over rocks and a sea bed full of reef fish and corals. It makes a lovely end to a hard swim. I am mesmerised and keep going until I am tired. I realise I am nearly back at El Santuario Retreat, maybe another hour or so. I keep on swimming and start to recognise the underwater features I had become used to whilst preparing for my trek.
I arrived back at the Retreat a week early for my flight, but having eaten all my food and still hungry, it was well timed. At a push, I guess I could have loaded my raft with more food and water from the outset, had I used the deck space on the raft and lashed down a few boxes. A few days more could have been spent eating the extra things. But somehow, in the poverty of the place, it seemed wrong to bring my Western appetites of having plenty to eat. Nobody else had plenty, but they all had sufficient.
I lost 20 lbs.
The last few days after the swim were difficult.I swam around a bit, went for long walks in the sand and wanted to stay forever.
The ocean embraced me today
Her wilderness places my new companions
My aloneness now comforted.
No longer do I stand unclothed in nakedness
She has dressed my Spirit with music forever to be heard in the silence.
May her song always be sung.
I breathe. Again I swim, I stroke.
Ripples rolling onwards, sent out and are gone
Even yet they continue
Not to nowhere ness
Nor to nothingness
Inviting a journey with her they always entice.
Like my eternal lover
I caress her
I dress her in silk
I hold her hand with my heart
Sunshine and happiness surround her
She sleeps in my arms
I am made whole and renewed.
In her, hot tears we shed are washed away
She is my life and my song
And if I can never visit with her again?
I will sing of her beauty forever.
I choose to swim with her the morning I die.
Let us go down then, together into the ocean
Let’s dance unnoticed, sing unheard
Make ripples unseen.
We always wanted, no needed a longer cuddle.
I tear myself away.
How on Earth did I pack so much into my raft ? It was so heavy I couldn't pick it up and could barely drag it over the sand. But it still floated even when I sat on it to rest.
My swimming Raft "Nicola". I designed the concept on a scrap of paper and gave the idea to Jamie Fabrizio of www.Global Boat Works.com. He hand made the raft from Carbon Fibre. Empty weight 28 lbs. Fully loaded as in the picture approx 120 lbs. Floating bow heavy. I stored items in the bow, that I might need during a swim. If I finned the raft by laying on it, the bow raised up. On this particular day, the wind was sufficient to inflate the sail and drive the raft at about one quarter swimming speed. Nevertheless, it was still spooky watching it slowly sail away from me. It could only sail properly down wind but could just about manage 10 degrees either side. If I was fining the raft, I would generally use the sail, even if the wind was too light, as long as the sail inflated I reasoned I was at least more visible. If I towed the raft, I packed the sail away. Upon my return to England, I asked Jamie to modify the raft with a proper mini windsurfer type sail, I thought it would be great fun and get me out of trouble, but it never worked.