British Virgin Isles [25 miles]

Sat 13th March - Sat 20th March 2010

PLAN: A week of swimming with SwimTrek Swimming Adventure Holidays in the British Virgin Islands. Each day we'd swim 4 to 7 km, hopping from island to island. The organizers provided accomodation on a tropical island resort, and escort boats, and food.

REPORT: This was a fantastic holiday. The sun was hot and the water warm. In the evenings, after our organized swims, it was easy to just walk down to the beach in swimsuit and lazily paddle off for a few hours to an island. One of the swimmers was Charles Sprawson, author of Haunts of the Black Masseur: Swimmer as Hero, along to write an article for Conde Nast Traveller. One of the guides in an escort zodiac was Gary Emrich who has swum Alcatraz over 800 times.

I painted my toenails bright orange to scare off the sharks. It worked! We weren't attacked once.

New Orleans - Mississippi [3 miles]

Thursday 10th June 2010, midnight-4am

PLAN: Swim in the Mississippi from the French Quarter to the Convention Center and back again.

REPORT: We'd just finished a successful conference, the first time we'd shown our new invention "Async" to anyone outside the company, and people loved it. We celebrated with a fancy dinner in one of New Orlean's great old restaurants. Our waiter was a philosophy student who talked Nietzsche at us over the desert menu "When you stare into the abyss, the chocolate cake stares back at you", and Kant "It is a categorical imperative to eat this chocolate cake". We headed out to a jazz show afterwards. It finished before midnight, and I was still full of energy, so I hopped into the river for a swim...

I started at the French Market and swam against the current. Apparently the current is around 3 miles per hour in this stretch of the river. I stuck close to the shore so probably faced only 0.5 mph. Still, it was slow going, and there were places where I struggled to make progress. There were a few spots with fast-flowing retrograde currents near the shore. I had to swim under the piers, kicking off against each wood pillar, and sprinting to the next. I finished at 4am with some delicious beignets and hot chocolate at the Cafe du Monde.

Afterwards, I went on a weekend course with the Wild Bayou Survival School. The instructor explained that a "bayou" is a stretch of very slow-flowing river. That's important: it's not a lake; it has an entrance and an exit. That way, when you're swimming in a bayou with an alligator, the creator doesn't feel trapped and so won't attack you. (I swam for several hours but didn't see any alligators.)