Every Labor Day there is a swim across Lake Waccamaw. My 14-year-old son and I had read about it and he decided he was up for the challenge. It is a little over 5 miles and this particular year the water was rough, especially when you got near the middle with white caps very apparent. The sky was overcast with 15-20 MPH winds out of the northwest. For safety, each swimmer had to have a support boat. Never having been there, I borrowed a friends 17' Coleman canoe. Everyone else it turned out, had motorized boats of every description. At the time I thought that was a bad thing, but it may have been very fortunate for my son.
The swimmers were every size and shape both young and old, male and female. Because the air temperature was around 60 everyone was anxious to get into the water. Once they started it did not take long for the field to spread out. My son on the High School swim team was holding his own. They had large marker buoys that looked like 5' balloons placed about every mile or so. As I found out the following year, when I was the swimmer you can not see the shoreline for most of the race, if you are in the water. All the surrounding area is flat. Because of the wind at times I would have to point the bow 20 degrees to west and when the bow would be about 20 degrees to the east of the marker I would correct again.
Needless to say my son noticed how our distance from other support boats in the area seemed to constantly be changing. He decided it might be best if I followed him for awhile and he would either guide off the marker (if he could see it) or another boat that was running parallel to us keeping a much straighter line. No problem. Because of the wind I had to keep up my same pattern following him.
Since this is a relatively long race, after awhile I became distracted looking at other boats, swimmers, or perhaps just a little day dreaming, but I hit something. I heard the distinctive thump then constant thumping as I continued to go over it till it passed out the stern. Could not imagine what I could have run into in 12' of water - although on nice days you do see alligators basking in the sun along the bank.
This turned out to be my not-so-happy son though. I apologized.
Because he was able to swim in a much straighter line, we decided it was still best for me to continue following him. About a half-hour later, I heard the same sickening thump. This time I knew what it was, but it was too late to do anything. In an effort to get over him as quickly as possible, I dug deep with the paddle and caught his arm.
My son, ever the diplomat, said he thought it might improve our chances of winning this race if I would, "...go help someone else." Since this was against the rules I was not able to take him up on his suggestion, but while not winning he was at least able to finish.
As mentioned I swam the following year, but asked a friend to go along with my son in the canoe just to help him stay focused, so he would not run over anything or anyone unintentionally. I finished the swim without being bumped once.
Sometimes you can trust Friends more than Family.
Written by: Bill Miller - North Carolina
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