A Swim to Remember

Winter morning sunrise: Brrrrr... !

It was the kind of morning that made me wonder why our government hasn’t yet (to the best of my knowledge) drafted legislation outlawing this kind of weather. Everybody makes a fuss about it, complains about it, shudders at the thought of having to brace against temperatures that dip to -17 (really, -32 with the wind chill); but nobody takes action to nip it in the bud. Where are the politicians when you need them? So here we are still sweating it out, submerged in our sub-arctic down-filled coats, staring out of car windows at scenes such as this.

But honestly: Where else could I have been heading to, at this meditative hour of 7:30, on a Saturday,  except for the pool? It’s the magical quality of the water that draws me back every time, even on days like today. I awoke with unusual vigor – for a midwinter’s morning – and eager to slip into a bathing suit. Off I drove to the pool.

Just a shade past 8:00 am, when I’d barely started to register my laps, a deep baritone voice alerted me to the presence of the Russian duo; two babushkas hashing it out in the deep end. Two laps later, a third appeared; followed by a fourth, effectively creating an aquatichoir of 4 robust – and robustly-voiced women, suit-straps cutting deep into their shoulder flesh. Every time I swam by this posse, I’d overhear smatterings of a language no longer so foreign-sounding: niznaya, kharasho, nye rabota. Since my sojourn across the motherland a number of years ago, when I soaked up many Russian words and phrases, I’ve come to revel in the eavesdropped segments of conversation that I now comprehend without a guide book in hand.

Suddenly, one of the Soviet-style bathers broke away from the pack, and started dog-paddling towards me, heading for a straight-on collision. I marveled at her gumption. What on earth is she doing, I wondered? As our paths were about to collide, my not-so-innocuous pastel-pink bathing-cap-wearing opponent stared straight at me, shifted ever-so-slightly over (still close enough that our arms touched as we passed) and gave me her best Cheshire-cat grin. Score!, read the thought-bubble floating above her head.

The Russian aquati-choir somehow reminded me of beached dolphins – mostly because of the way they lolled about. And just like that, out of the blue (maybe into lap 18?), I was transported back to a documentary I had watched last week, and some of the most horrific scenes of animal abuse and killings. Called The Cove, the film is a haunting depiction of the relentless slaughter of dolphins in a hidden, off-limits, Japanese bay. I would have liked to list The Cove as one of the better thrillers I’d seen in recent years. But it was a shockingly true account, and I was left saddened and outraged at the heinousness of the Taiji fishermen’s actions.

At the end of the film, a diver rises out of the cove’s blood-soaked waters, flips over and dives back in, his feet strapped into bright yellow fins. The juxtaposition of those brilliant primary colors, amidst an otherwise stunning natural landscape, brought tears to my eyes.

Image from The Cove

The stark image of those yellow fins resurfaced as I swam (perhaps I’d started my 22nd lap by then?) with a yellow flutter board stretched out in front of me. Among the documentary crew were a couple of free-divers who, under the cover of night, had secretly placed underwater cameras in strategic locations, to capture footage of the slaughter.

That scene and the uni-fins they wore – in the shape of whale tails – reminded me of blue holes… especially Dean’s.

Blue hole is a name which often is given to sinkholes filled with water, with the entrance below the water level. They can be formed in different karst processes, for example, by the rainwater soaking through fractures of limestone bedrock onto the watertable. The maximum depth of most other known blue holes and sinkholes is 110 metres (360 ft), which makes the 202 metres (663 ft) depth of Dean’s Blue Hole quite exceptional.

Dean's Blue Hole, Bahamas

Dean’s Blue Hole is roughly circular at the surface, with a diameter ranging from 25 to 35 metres (82–115 ft). After descending 20 metres (66 ft), the hole widens considerably into a cavern with a diameter of 100 metres (330 ft).

As if that wasn’t enough, some water-filled sinkholes are deeper than Dean’s Blue Hole, Zacaton in Mexico (335 metres (1,099 ft)) and Pozzo del Merro in Italy (392 metres (1,286 ft)) among them. But Dean’s Blue Hole is the deepest known sinkhole with entrance below the sea level.

Free-divers are known to hold their breath long enough to dive deep into those holes and emerge – unscathed – with no fins, no air apparatus, no vertigo. Pretty much intact. They engage in sports with names like Constant Weight Apnea Without (or with) Fins, The Blue Jump and others. They hold world records and are surrounded by more blue in one dive than many of us encounter in a lifetime.

Dean's Blue Hole: Where the water goes on and on and on...

See Guillaume Nery base jumping here or in his Free Fall film on YouTube (filmed on breath hold by Julie Gautier) here.

Watching these spectacular scenes of deep diving naturally made me wonder where the deepest swimming (diving) pool in the world was to be found. Voila: Nemo 33, in Brussels.

Did you think for a minute that all I do when I go to the pool is swim…?!

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