My wife, my nine-yr-antique daughter, and I were swimming for nearly an hour, circumnavigating a reef off a Bahamian island with the rest of our ten-person organization, when our guide, Mia Russell, treading water, waved us over. “Guys,” she said in her singsong South African accent, “there’s a bunch of barracuda following us. Maybe twenty.”
I dipped my head underwater, and sure enough, there has been a line of the silvery, torpedolike fish stretching again into the shimmering aquamarine curtain of liquid as a long way as I could see via my goggles. “If they get too near, I simply deliver them a bop at the nose,” Russell said cheerfully.
I was puzzled about how I felt about this. I had seen lots of barracuda earlier than, however, no longer in such numbers. In my rational brain, they weren’t threatening; barracuda frequently trail divers and snorkelers out of a simple hobby. My spouse and daughter’s presence but had placed me in a state of man-dad hypervigilance, with my limbic device on excessive primordial alert. Only later, while trawling through the net, might I see words like “not often” and “loss of tissue” crop up in conversations approximately whether a barracuda may mistakenly insert you into its food chain.
The battery of barracuda (yes, en masse, they may be called that) soon shifted route, and we have been left to our languid strokes. Scrolling beneath us became an enthralling, diaphanous landscape of rainbow parrotfish and blue angelfish darting inside and out of the reef. A sea turtle munching seagrass on the seafloor placed us comfortable again.
Later, swimming near shore, our lone little swim-capped organization—we by no means noticed any other swimmers—passed a low-slung yacht bobbing peacefully within the afternoon breeze. A woman in a Lilly Pulitzer dress, roused from cocktail-hour serenity using our presence, sauntered to the deck and asked, “What on this planet are you doing?” It seemed a now not unreasonable inquiry.
A 12 months or so ago, I changed into searching to interrupt what had ended up a type of family deadlock. These days my idea of an excellent ride is one in which I collapse on the floor of a hot shower in my sweat-stained biking jersey, beer in hand, after a punishing day at the motorbike. My wife could, as an alternative, fall apart into the chair of an artwork-museum café, petits fours in hand. My daughter splits the distinction: she appears equally tempted to use a spa go to with mom as a browsing lesson with dad.
What unites us is that all of us prefer an active holiday. We want to come domestic feeling now not rested but in want of relaxation. I wondered if there has been a way to keep away from the frequently inevitable feeling that a circle of relatives holiday is a sequence of dreams curtailed and compromises made, wherein all and sundry wins through by hook or by crook simultaneously losing. (“Why sure, honey, I would like to take you to that fetid microbial sump that you call a water park, as long as you compromise to go along with us to this charming exhibit of put up-Soviet conceptual artwork.”)
But cycling becomes out. My spouse and daughter weren’t geared up to head whizzing down Tuscan roads in a peloton. I questioned if I should get the delight of the feat that came with my bike trips without the guilt of taking a holiday from my own family.
I tried to consider something we should all do and enjoy doing. One afternoon, as I waited for my daughter to finish her weekly swim magnificence, it dawned on me: swimming. My daughter, trained by her aggravating dad and mom for the reason that age of three, become able. My spouse seemed to enjoy churning out breaststroke laps every time we determined a pool. And I relished being within the water, although within the past few years, this had commonly been on a surfboard. But you don’t forget the way to swim, do you?
For some time, I had been vaguely aware of the growing recognition, largely in England, of what’s referred to as “wild swimming.” Boosted in element by way of books like naturalist Roger Deakin’s iconic Waterlog and a flood of next swimming-changed-my-existence memoirs—from Floating: A Life Regained to Leap In to Swell—Britons have been increasingly returning to lengthy-left out lakes and rivers, partially for a spot of workout but in the main justification for the unmediated pleasure of the experience.
Meanwhile, a developing quantity of swim-particular tour operators had emerged, providing journeys in locations like Croatia and the Maldives. These are like motorbike excursions; however, inside the water, with daily swims of varying distances (frequently depending on winds and different situations) damaged up through meals and supported through a safety boat, there to fill up swimmers with sugar (gummy sharks have been famous in the Bahamas) and maintain a watch out for watercraft that could pass our path.
I was given in contact with SwimQuest, an operator based in the UK. After making sure that everybody changed into cool with our daughter being there, we quickly determined ourselves on Mathraki, one of the small Diapontian Islands off Corfu, Greece, in a myth-tinged nook of the Ionian Sea. (Odysseus changed into said to had been held captive by way of Calypso nearby.) The island’s tiny population seemed to consist nearly completely of antique Greek guys sporting New York Yankees caps. Many Mathrakians, it turned out, had made their odysseys—to Queens—before returning to live out their dotage in this quiet, pine-scented outcropping.
The journey was a revelation. Whatever uncertainty I’d had approximately the water—you may locate “Corfu and sharks” in my browser history—or my preference to swimming via tremendous swaths of it right now evaporated as we entered the nice and cozy, clean, extremely buoyant sea, watched over with the aid of Russell. We could swim two times a day, now and then hugging the shore, once in a while embarking on crossings of deeper, rougher channels.
One day we swam miles to our resort from a tall, barren slab of rock our publications called Tooth Island that beckoned mysteriously at the horizon. Sometimes we would swim in and out of coves, looking for colorful fish or elusive crustaceans, exploring tiny, secluded beaches. Midday, we might restore to the taverna for a Greek salad. At night we ate fresh fish, drank bottles of Mythos lager, and played Bananagrams.
Nothing you could do in nature is as immersive as ocean swimming. “You are in nature, element, and parcel of it,” wrote Deakin, “in a miles extra entire and severe manner than on dry land, and your feelings of the existing is overwhelming.” Our affinity for water is natural; Lynn Sherr writes in Swim: “We have been fish ourselves masses of thousands and thousands of years ago.” Our bodies are more often than not water; our blood courses with salt.