Fuck me?? Yeah, that was the last straw for that asshole.
That was it. I pulled my knife and flashed it by his face before plunging it underwater. I unclipped, rather than cut, his buddy line then shoved him back and away from the formation.
We swam on as he drifted farther behind. I watched him, waiting for him to thrash his way back to the formation.
Jesus Paste… his black head was just getting smaller. Now it was too small; my plan backfired. I was livid — now I had to unhook, swim hard after him, then drag him back to catch up again with the formation. Right about that time I was going to have to rotate to the point. There is no way I was going to be able to accomplish all that extra kicking.
I did the strangest thing at that point, likely out of fatigue and raw frustration, I began to weep as I swam away from the formation. I swallowed mouthful after mouthful of seawater to the extent that I vomited it back up. Orion stood looming and pointing vividly with his sword back in the opposite direction, trying to urge my return… a thing that made me sob even harder.
“Sobbing?” thought I. “At what point along this swim was it beneficial to turn into a homo?”
Canis barked an alarm to guide me back while the Gemini twins stared down in motionless shock from their perch in the zenith. Splashing erupted to my front as my swim bro snapped back to life and pushed his way back toward us. He was on his way back finally. My weeping kept up, though now in relief; it felt great! We both closed in with the rear of the formation:
“My line… you cut my line — I can’t believe you cut my line!”
*hooking him back into the Budweiser main* “I just pretended to. You’re good — hooked back in.”
My swim bro was back to rocking on his side, kicking his fins and taking his pull back off of the mainline. For the first time in the swim, I just came to a halt and let myself be towed by the team. Floating and doing nothing was a divine sort of thing. I was positive I could have slept had I so resigned myself to. Yet my watch lamented that I had three minutes until my shift at the point.
TAKING THE POINT
Orion began to draw his sword at the top of 2100hrs to point me forward but I beat him to his indication, already swimming around the right rear of the formation to link up with House-guy. I slapped my hard-kicking swim bro on the arm:
“You’re killin’ it, man — I think you’re a real bad-ass!”
I noticed the formation had come to a complete halt right at 2100hrs as we planned. The men floated in the water keeping station in the Budweiser formation. I was impressed. When I got to House-guy he was already unhooked and waiting for me with some exposed teeth. I was impressed again. We made our way to the point. The team there was also already unhooked and grinning a very sunken grin.
“I’m from the rear left side swim station. The other empty is now the right side third swim station. They swam off and we hooked in though remained in a floating rest for 10 minutes as planned. I tried to calculate in my head how much distance we were going to drift in 10 minutes with a .5-knot flanking current. I came up with a figure, though I didn’t realize at the time that it really made no difference in the short final of the swim.
Time was up; I passed back the swim command to the team behind me:
“Swim or die!”
“Swim or die.”
“Swim or die.”
“Swim or die.”
“Swim or die.”
The command made its way to the rear of the formation and we pushed off again. From the point position, I felt a heavy drag on the Budweiser, but the drag slowly slacked off as the brothers got back in the kicking mode. It was rough shifting back into kicking gear after a 10-minute halt; a flurry of “mother-fuckers!” emanated from the swim formation.
Orion’s hunting dog replaced him as the go-to constellation, with Sirius painting serious light down onto our ocean bath. Any penchant to snooze was dislodged by the maniacal barking dog. I was actually rocking pretty steady for the first cycle when the former point man came swimming up from the rear to check-in. I knew he was coming because I could hear him chatting up the line as he swam.
“How’s it looking up here, man… you good to go?”
“Yeeaahh… House-guy is on his top floor design and I can see headlights of vehicles moving around onshore. I thought a couple of times I could distinguish an individual palm tree.”
“What’s your estimate?”
“I want to say 750 meters, but please don’t quote me to the men… there’s a for-certain boat loitering to the south; I think it is our boat but that means we have drifted a good bit north. I think we would kill ourselves trying to nose into the current to reclaim all that distance back to the south; we haven’t even hit the longshore current yet.”
“You know something, Sergeant Hand… at this point nobody in this formation gives a good Goddamn about some BLS — we just want some land!”
“Understood, and land is what we’ll get! Hey… how is my swim buddy doing back there?”
“He’s rockin’ and rollin’ steady.”
PORTUGUESE MAN O’WAR STRIKE
It was not long after the check-in that I got what I can comfortably describe as the sting of a lifetime high on my back below my collar. It was a veritable sleep-be-gone jolt if ever I felt one — a man o’war had got me. Wow, that was monumental! In minutes I felt my face flush hot and sweaty. This was followed by acute nausea that prompted me to vomit immediately. My back felt like there was a red-hot steel rod lying on it, and my left armpit felt like someone was trying to drive a blunt rod into it.
“Swallowed a bit of saltwater did ya — hang in there, bro!” House-guy encouraged.
I didn’t want to admit to him that I was hit by a man o’war. I wondered how many of the other bothers were stung and quietly keeping it to themselves. Nobody wanted to be a burden.
The brunt of the discomfort faded somewhat after a quarter of an hour, but not before I had to vomit a second time. I promptly swooshed the vomit off and away from the formation so the men behind me didn’t have to swim through it. The odd pain in my armpit kept my arm jammed tightly up against my body as if involuntarily locked there. It was as awkward to my swim posture as it was painful.
THE RESCUE OF SERGEANT HEIL
The rear swimmer looped around again looking weary:
“George, two of the guys have stopped finning; one of them needs to come out of the water ASAP.”
“I have us at under 500 meters but the longshore is pushing us farther north. That boat loitering to the south I’m convinced is our boat watching for us at the BLS.”
“Agree. We gotta get Sergeant Heil out of the water so I’m sending up flares.”
Both of us pulled out pen-guns and each fired three red flares at staggered intervals. The boat to the south switched on a floodlight and made a dash to our position. One of the Sergeants presented a constant red light to help vector the hardshell vessel to our location. It came to drift within talking range of our formation. The crew aboard shined a floodlight down on us:
BACK ON COURSE
“You guys are pretty far off course to the north of where you need to be!”
“Well, we saw a squirrel and end up chasing it for a while. We got a casualty that needs to come out of the water right now!”
The hardshell boat crept close and pulled Sergeant Heil out of the water; he was looking like a rag doll. The vessel pointed its bow south and one of the mates slung a line with a Budweiser hook at the end of it.
“Hook up to the Budweiser main; we’re going to tow you guys south to the BLS!”
I admitted that that was a welcome concept as I snapped in. I then gave the boat a signal to motor on to the BLS. It was a heavenly feeling being propelled through the water at some five knots without moving a muscle. When the boat cut power next the mate at the stern of the boat signaled me to unhook the ship’s tow line from our Budweiser. I did so and immediately steered the formation toward the BLS that was not more than 50 meters away.
TIDAL FLAT QUAGMIRE
I smelled the unusual methane stench of low tide when the falling water level uncovers mud and the rotting of sea dregs along the coast. That smell meant something, though I didn’t pick up on it immediately.
Once our bellies scrapped the shore bottom, House-guy and I unhooked from the Budweiser and stepped forward into a knee-deep sink into rotten stinking mud — that explained the smell!
“Hooooly shit George… we’re trapped like scurvy bilge rats!”
“Head for that closest vegetation to your right — we gotta get out of this mud!”
It took him 15 minutes to travel the 20 feet, post-holing the whole way to the vegetation that held salvation for our team. Once there, House-guy stripped down the longest branch he could find and passed it over to where I was still trying to pull my feet out of the mud with both hands. I took the branch and extended it to the men working their way through the mud; it helped them advance to the vegetation.
When the last man was there I pushed the branch toward the vegetation so they could pull me in. There was a final movement of only 150 meters overland to intersect with a terrain road where transportation was to pick us up for a return to our base of operations. We formed up with a little bit of dignity and pushed our way to the road.
On the road, there was no transportation yet so we all flopped down on the roadside to wait for trucks and expel the remaining “mother fuckers!” from our systems. The same Sergeant who had announced the “forecast” just prior to the launch on our death-swim piped up with his next assessment:
“Boys… five hours ago the forecast called for hell, and I’d say that was a pretty accurate assessment. From here out for the weekend the forecast calls for beer!”
*salvo of “hooahs!” peels off from the formation*
“Yeah fellers, I’m gonna try me some-a them dark Guinness Snouts!”
“Stouts, Sergeant… you’re going to try some Guinness Stouts. A snout is a pig’s nose…”
*lengthy pause and motionless stare*
“…uh… well, enjoy your Guinness Snouts, Sergeant — Cheers!”
By Almighty God and with honor,