August 29, 2006


The 40-Year-Old Virgin Swimmer: In a (completely misguided) bid to make the 2008 Olympic team, ex-NCAA swimmer W. HODDING CARTER is training like he did in college. And that means spring break. Only this time our party frogman is cruising the British Virgin Islands under his own power. (W. Hodding Carter, October 2006, Outside)

IT'S A LOT HARDER THAN YOU MIGHT THINK to swim from island to island across four-knot currents, gargling salt water hour after hour, getting chased by sharks, and towing your worldly possessions on a five-foot surfboard while flying the British flag. (It's even harder when you're told on your very first day in the British Virgin Islands that your British naval flag is actually a Swiss flag.) What with the jellyfish, hecklers, and excessive rum intake, you might even think twice about swimming your way through the Caribbean.

But that's what I did for spring break.


PREPARATIONS WERE SIMPLE. I chose the British Virgin Islands because they looked close to one another on a Web site's cartoon map. The southeast trade winds dictated a southwesterly route: Virgin Gorda, Ginger, Cooper, Peter, and Norman. Ginger Island was uninhabited, so I'd have to camp, but the rest was resort splendor all the way. Twenty miles of fun-filled Caribbean waters, if you could put out of your mind what the St. John–based kayak guide told me:

"Oh. Ginger, huh?" Arawak Expeditions owner Arthur Jones said when he heard my plan. "I don't know—it's pretty sharky. I remember hearing about someone else who tried that off St. John a while back, and she had to stop halfway through because of a shark. It just started following her and getting closer and closer. But I don't know. Maybe that was just a rumor."

Let us take this opportunity to recommend both Mr. Carter's book and a film which appears to have snuck in and out of theaters without leaving so much as a ripple, On a Clear Day. In the latter, Peter Mullan plays Frank Redmond, a recently laid-off Glasgow ship builder who finds himself at loose ends and decides to swim the English Channel. He's a classic older male WASP with survivor guilt, so closed off emotionally and distanced from his son, and to some degree from the viewing audience. But his odd group of friends and his wife, played by Brenda Blythen, more than compensate for how quiet he is and offer us an entree into his persona. The plot holds few surprises, but is so well played it hardly matters.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 29, 2006 4:57 PM

When I was a mere youth at summer camp in upstate New York, one of my couselors, who was a high school swimmer, used to get someone to go out with him in a rowboat during his break time and follow him as he would butterfly across the Hudson about two miles north of the Rhinebeck Bridge. Since the Hudson is roughly as wide there as it is between Manhattan and New Jersey (also also has oil tankers headed up to Albany to watch out for), this was a pretty impressive daily effort to the young'uns, who at best were allowed to swim between the floating platforms just offshore.

Posted by: John at August 29, 2006 8:37 PM

This fella does a little long distance swimming. I met his crew after one of his unsuccessful attempts to cross Lake Superior. Seems he was somewhat tired as he had done a marathon or something just as crazy shortly before entering the water.,1607,7-193--147468--,00.html

Posted by: JimBobElrod at August 29, 2006 10:16 PM