- Ha, ha… look at the sun —
- sad, pouty ol’ face. You can always tell Mr. sun is tired by that droopy face of his; he always gets that same goofy look late in the evening. You can even see it through the haze of sea mist at dusk. Poor Mister sun; heavy eyes, sagging corners of his mouth… boo-boo lip! It was about to get dark at sea.
Our boat was a flat-bottomed ACU-type Navy vessel. Such a hull made for a rough ride at sea for it didn’t slice neatly through the water like a boat with a keel does. It favored a transit with constant pitching and diving, rolling, and yawing. Most of the men were full-caliber seasick or at least leaning that way. I faced my super-human self abeam and longed for a horizon to stare at to stave off nausea… there was none to be found.
We headed to a point 7,000 meters from shore to launch a tactical team surface swim connected to a double Budweiser line; that is, two nylon strap configurations that hooked in six men each, like a six-pack of beer, and then the two six-pack lines were to be clipped end to end. The whole matter seemed like disenfranchised madness to me, though my role wasn’t to question why; it was to swim or die.
“The forecast calls for hell tonight, boys,” one of my team’s senior sergeants said, “but we’re going to suck it up, that’s just how it’s going to be. You know the deal: let him who ain’t got the stomach for the fight… give him money ‘n shit and let him go — Isiah six whatever.”
“Sergeant, that was actually The Feast of St Crispin’s Day speech from Shakespeare’s Henry V.”
*lengthy pause and motionless stare*
“Henry the what? Shake-spear?? Water-U… some kinda homo-sexyool faggot?”
And so it went.
That what was coming not going to be enjoyable was an über understatement. Three nights ago we had swum 1,000 meters, two nights ago we had swum 3,000 meters, last night 5,000 meters, and tonight… Three thousand meters seemed like the edge of what we could endure swimming as a 12-man team, 5,000 was the very vortex of insanity and tonight…
Our boat was very slow, just not hydrodynamic to speak of. The diesel fumes from the engine hung with us refusing to waft away, a thing that aided the seasickness most of us felt. A man shot a stream of vomit over the port gunwale into the sea.
“Quit that chummin’ the Atlantic, Mister!” a Sergeant half-joked, “it’s going to be bad enough down there in the drink without bull sharks sniffing around us, ya danged fool!!”
Our prep-work before the swim revealed that we were to expect first a north-flanking tidal current that was going to go slack and then pick back up into a south-flanking current: we were going to get pushed around all night. Then, closer to the target Beach Landing Site (BLS) there was a longshore current flowing south-to-north parallel to the shoreline that was going to be an industrial-grade bitch to penetrate through with appreciable accuracy.
Man o’wars were a concern on these swims. They sported bubble-like sails inflated with CO2 that allowed them to be propelled across the surface of the water by the wind. Winter winds drove them close to shore in December. Their sting could kill a fish and the occasional human. We just didn’t know how everyone would react to an eventual sting. One of the weaker expedient remedies for a sting is urine.
“Ain’t none of you bushwhackin’ Yankee mother fuckers pissin’ in my face, Goddamnit!” One of the Sergeants thundered.
The unfortunate irony, of course, was that the likelihood of a sting to the face was high on a surface swim where only the face was exposed, the hands being covered with gloves.
“Well, Sergeant… we’ll just wait and see how much pain you’re in and you make the call.”
“Don’t you wish, you homo-sexyool faggot!”
“Hey, Sergeant… how do you piss in someone’s face while floating in the ocean anyway?”
“Don’t worry about it, Mister… what you need to worry about is not gettin’ yer dick bit off by no bull shark — then you’d be a tunic in charge of one-a them-there harlems!”
“A eunuch, Sergeant…”
“What the fuck did you say, Mister?!?”
“A eunuch in charge of a harem, Sergeant… he’d be a eunuch in charge of a harem — not Harlem.”
*lengthy pause and motionless stare*
“A tunic is a sort of a blouse, and Harlem is a neighborhood in the Manhattan borough of New York City…”
*lengthy pause and motionless stare still*
“Mister, you got any more dad-blamed enlightenment you wanna shed on me?”
“No, Sergeant… no more enlightenment.”
And so it went.
I felt the thing in my pocket. It was a snack cake my girlfriend had given me to eat on the swim. She was upset that I was back in the water for the night and wanted to make some gesture of comfort for me. She took a Little Debbie snack cake and put it in a plastic baggie. It wasn’t even a sealable baggie, just one that you folded the closing flap over and tucked it in. She had no concept of the sea and waterproofing, but it was the thought that counted.
I couldn’t eat it due to my nausea, though I wouldn’t leave it in my pocket for five hours and end up with a pocket full of salty chocolate beverage. I fished it out (no pun) and tossed it to the bull sharks abeam the port gunwale. I took my turn climbing down the cargo net hanging off of the starboard gunwale and into the salty drink.
The lead two-man team of pipe-hitters climbed down into the water, hooked into the Budweiser line, and passed it back to the team behind them. When all six mean were hooked in, the next group of six men climbed down into the water and hooked into their Budweiser line attaching both Budweisers end-to-end.
My swim bud and I were the last to hook into the line; we were tasked with bringing up the rear of the swim team. There wasn’t much to us bringing up the rear, though it did call for me to unhook myself at intervals and swim up the line seeing to the men on the one side. I would have to check the status of the lead team responsible for the navigation and movement of the team. Then I would have to swim the opposite side of the line checking on the men on my way back to my station in the rear of the formation.
We swam west to east. I could see the light cluster onshore that we were steering for, but I chose to take my fix from the eastern star constellations as they ascended. The belt of Orion and red super-giant Betelgeuse were my go-to features for most of the swim until they were just too high above the horizon to be practical. Gemini with its twins Castor and Pollux, Taurus with its red eye Aldebaran, and Canis Major with the brightest star in the sky — Sirius the Dog Star — came up with Orion giving me a solid bearing to my objective.
All the men had a blue chemlite on their collars marking their lives. We carried M-16 rifles and some essential Load Carrying/Bearing Equipment (LCE/LBE). We worn neoprene swim boots jammed into our Rocket Swim Fins to propel us under the power of our legs, already fatigued from the long surface swims of the past days. I felt sorry for the guys in between bouts of (somewhat) feeling sorry for myself.
Morale was doo-doo at the onset. I made a few pallid attempts to steal some chuckles and boost spirits… but I was really sporadic and working without a net in the condition I was in. Even Sergeant Heil with his golden pipes robbed us of our nightly rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody.
My watch tapped me on the shoulder indicating it was time to swim the line and check-in with the lead team. It occurred to me that on this night’s particularly long swim they might need to be rotated out; they resided in the position of stress making sure the team was steering in the right direction and keeping abreast of the expected tidal shift in the ocean currents. I had a plan to swap out with them when that time came.
I quite frankly was far more excited about the inflamed boil on my ass than taking the point.
(continued in part II)
By Almighty God and with honor,