Enter the FunCat.

If you’re curious what and how a Jennifer-Parker Adventure Day unfolds, I’ve documented below an eight-mile nine-beach half-mile swim adventure. In Bermuda we hiked an averaged of 7.5 miles per day for a total of 29 miles over four days. (NOTE: At the end of this post, I’ve added some information about safety precautions we took prior to our excursion. Much of what we did was shot from the hip, but we did preparatory work to enable us to take the day as it came.)

We chose Bremuda for our #babymoon firstly because it had no Zika and secondly because it had been on Jennifer’s radar. Also we’ve been reading Horatio Hornblower, a novel series about a young British sailor who rises through the ranks of the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars. And Jennifer read the Master and Commander series with Captain Jack Aubrey. (I read the first one. Those are difficult reads!) These naval exploit novels relate to Bermuda because it’s a British Overseas Territory and because it’s steeped with naval tradition. It was a haven for pirates and privateers—Loyalist privateers stationed in Bermuda took some 100 prizes during the American Revolution. The island gave us a tremendous amount of context for our readings. From eating in a 330-year-old restaurant to walking the deck of a sloop, we set tactility to objects we’d only read about in novels.

The temperatures were in the mid-60s and low-70s while we were there, which, for Bermuda, is cool. And the water was cold—we saw reports that measured it anywhere from 60 to 68 degrees. Neither of these stopped us from adventure. On Saturday we swam from a beach out to a harbor buoy, and somewhere in the swim we crossed a warm current, which felt good; but we soon swam back to cooler waters. Later that same day we found ourselves caving, but that’s a story for another time. (Caving!)

Sunday was our most exciting day. We coasteered across nine beaches. Here’s what most of that looks like.

(1) We began at Horseshoe Bay, which lay next to our resort’s private beach.  

Horseshoe Bay.

Horseshoe Bay.

(2) Then we trekked north to Middle and Angle Beaches before we scaled a series of volcanic crags to reach the long pink sands of Warwick Beach. Much of the length of Warwick we swam on Friday to gather a feel for the roughness of the water. It faces the windward Atlantic with few breakers, so we pushed through powerful parallel waves rushing onto shore.  

(3) From Warwick we connected, again over rock and crag, to the Mermaid Beaches, which shouldered long and angular slabs leaning down toward the water, such that you might envision mermaids lying on the rock, basking in the sun while singing to inbound sailors. 

(4) After Mermaid were impossible cliffs, so we trekked inland into Astwood Park. We hiked through Astwood and a private resort-type area back down to shore.

(5) Next we found ourselves on Marley Beach. We hiked across and ran into a new series of steeper crags. Jennifer went over them; I went into the ocean and rounded them against crashing waves.

(6) We again walked through more oceanside villas and worked our way into Surfside Beach, which took us to a dead end, so we ascended onto a city road and hiked.

(7) Here, we needed to find a way back down to shore. The fastest route led through a private tennis club, the hyper-exclusive Coral Beach and Tennis Club. Up the inclined drive were beautifully manicured gardens and lawns set between large, beautiful tennis courts. Closer to shore were private villas of the same exactingly-manicured style. I wore a North Face duffle strapped to my back, rolled up climbing pants, and sand-covered canyoneering shoes. We ducked through trim lawns below large bay windows—I was almost to an army low crawl, which Jennifer found hilarious, before we found a road which led to a public access beach: “Act like you belong here, Parker.”

OF NOTE: To put this in perspective, to dine in the Coral Room of the Coral Beach and Tennis Club requires traditional Bermudian shorts, knee-high socks, and a blazer. This is were Mayor Bloomberg and Ross Perot dine—each have homes on the island’s exclusive Tucker’s Point development.

(8) We moved down to Elbow Beach and walked until we found suitable rocks to take lunch. I searched the internet for the exact location of a sunken World War I munitions ship. ( *****I’ve placed an important note about general safety and preparation at the end of this post.)

(9) I found the latitude and longitude for the wreckage, but they didn’t show up in a Google Maps search with any certainty relative to our location. A website showed pictures of people disembarking the ship in 1915 after she struck coral, so I tried to align the website’s picture’s landmarks to estimate the ship’s location by naked eye. Jennifer noticed buoys a few hundred yards out, and she suspected they marked the ship’s final resting place. I scanned the horizon before I saw little black balls bobbing near the buoy. We figured them for scuba divers surveying the wreckage, so we kept eyes on the area to see if they’d swim to shore.

(10) Eventually the black balls moved toward the beach; and, sure enough, they were a scuba team. I walked over to ask if they’d been at the wreck. I saw one fellow lecturing the others, which gave me pause. I didn’t want to ask about the wreckage only to alert him to the fact we had no wetsuits and were simply planning to swim freely to the wreckage. I turned back toward Jennifer who started laughing. At this stage of the Jennifer-Parker on-the-fly coasteering adventure, we determined to make some haphazard decisions.

My swim buoy, goggles, and canyoneering shoes.

My swim buoy, goggles, and canyoneering shoes.

About a quarter mile out is a sunken WWI munitions ship.

About a quarter mile out is a sunken WWI munitions ship.

(11) We disrobed to swimsuits. I inflated my flash-yellow swim buoy for safety. Before we entered the cold water, we reviewed ground rules. Jennifer suggested she set the pace as she’s a more experienced and better swimmer than I am. My open-water swimming experience is slim. Also we talked about communication. She was clear I needed to speak up if I felt uncomfortable or thought I needed to turn back. Added to this was her comment that if I cramped up to relax, roll on my back, and work the cramp out.

(12) We waded into the water. COLD. Nearby we saw another scuba team emerge from their depths. To this we chuckled. Jennifer dove head forward and I followed. The waters had excellent visibility, which I disliked. We found ourselves gliding over what seemed like randomly formed coral as we swam. At this stage of my open-water swimming career, I’ve decided I don’t like seeing under what I’m swimming over. It’s mysterious, unknowable. We pressed farther out at an even pace. A few times I had a wardrobe malfunction in the form of leaking goggles, so I rolled onto the swim buoy until I found the right fit. Before we knew it we were upon the shipwreck:

J: “Do you want to explore the shipwreck?”

P: “No. Absolutely not. Underwater scares me.”

J: “Okay good. I don’t want to either. And there’s an awfully big wave rising farther out. We should head in.”

P: “Let’s go.”

Author’s aside: Last year Jennifer swam the Escape from Alcatraz race, which is an incredibly dangerous swim in cold, shark-infested waters with strong currents—wetsuits and rescue boats required. She also swam the Hellespont, which I’m super jealous about because Byron swam it. I say this so you know I trust her instincts on these matters. And trust is important when taking adventurous risks. I also say this so you know that she doesn’t shy away from a challenge. Instead, she charges toward them. The known unknowns of the wreckage, the water, its temperature, and the time—these factors led us to return to shore.

(13) As we got closer to shore and at about the same time, Jennifer and I stopped and alerted to a rock formation that jutted up from nowhere. I almost swam into it. She took the lead and navigated us through this but small little treachery. When we reached shore, I checked my watch and saw we’d swam about half a mile. Now, I cover around a mile at the Wichita Swim Club twice per week in around 30 minutes, and I can assure you open-water swimming out into the ocean with nothing but a swim buoy and goggles is an entirely different experience. There’s an eerie surrender to it followed by a survival instinct of cautioned self-propulsion. We have other swim excursions planned for the future, so I have more training to do.

We’d hiked eight miles and swam half a mile. Instead of walking back, we took a taxi. We rolled into our resort covered head to toe in dried saltwater and sand. To the pool! And as we settled in, we saw several of a cast of characters who had been at the pool when we started. Earlier they’d asked us where we were going all geared up for the day, and I said, “We’re going to go play.”

WAIT! What’s a FunCat, you ask? I mean that’s how I titled the post, ya? On Saturday afternoon we were looking for hydrobikes, which, to our dismay, only operate during peak season; so we rented this silly thing called a FunCat. It’s a battery-powered catamaran that you drive out into the water. We looked ridiculous under electric power. I took command of our charge and couldn’t help but spin it around in the slowest, saddest circles ever formed at sea. We had it docked in less than 20 minutes. I think, in part, the embarrassment of the FunCat drove us to push hard on Sunday. And push we did. It was one of my favorite adventures to date. Lest you forget, Jennifer is six months pregnant. That’s dash.

****Another author’s note: On Friday we walked along several of these beaches surveying the territory. We saw no restaurants, so we knew we needed to pack lunches, plenty of water, and snacks. And because it was the offseason, most of these beaches were deserted. It felt at times like we had the island to ourselves. I share this so you know we didn’t just leap into the day with zero planning. Much of it was shot from the hip, but we prepared for the things we could prepare for: food, water, warm gear, towels, goggles, and a swim buoy.

I should note too that because of the water temperature and distance involved, we set a time limit of 30 minutes to stay in the water. One of the reasons we pulled up at the shipwreck was because we were at the 15-minute mark. We figured staying in the cold water longer than 30 minutes could prove dangerous. If something went wrong, we knew we’d have body heat and energy to last us for a while while we solved the problem. But if we swam for 30 minutes before turning around, we might exhaust our energy stores and body heat with a 30-minute swim yet to go.


Parker McConachieComment