Photo of Penny Palfrey courtesy of Spike, Cayman Islands.

In the open water, sensory deprivation is not an option…it is simply just a cold, hard fact.

Swimmers cannot see far in the water. Even sighting is tough, especially in turbulent conditions. At night, it is impossible. Most of the time with their eyes only centimeters above the surface of an unpredictably dynamic body of water, swimmer’s views are often blocked by the ocean swells, the sun’s glare, or the splash of someone’s kick in front of them.

And swimmer can hear even less. With ear plugs in their ears and a swim cap over ears, audio perception is limited.

And what they can see almost never changes once they get beyond the surf and coral reefs. In swims in tropical seas, the open water swimmer sees an almost endless blue below them with various hues and shades depending on the sun’s position. In swims in more temperature locations, the open water swimmers see a dark green or dull gray that often does not extend beyond 2-3 meters below.

What the swimmers hear most definitely does not change, the splish-splash of their rhythmic arm stroke, except for an occasional shout from a coach, crew or official or, if they are very lucky, the whistle or dolphin or whales. This is why a wink, smile, nod, wave, signal or any gesture from a kayaker or support crew during an open water swim means so much to an open water swimmer.

Swimmers and their relationship with their support crew and escort boats are analogous to the relationship between an infant and mother. The swimmer/child cannot exist without the crew/mother and all nutrition/direction/protection come from the boat/mother. This may be why the term, mother ship, has so much meaning for a marathon swimmer.

Copyright © 2008-2018 by World Open Water Swimming Association