Well just got back from 3 days on the water with Diana Nyad and her team. If you don’t know who Diana Nyad is she should be all over the news right now for swimming from Cuba to Key West in about 50 hours. Its a feat of physical endurance that is almost next to impossible. She swims the whole time straight through, no getting out the water, although she is able to eat and drink in the water while swimming.
Anyways I was part of her shark team, along with Jay, Niko and Cal. It was our job to jump in the water if there were any sharks and poke them away from her. We were also to get in the water with the Jellyfish Queen Dr. Angel and collect samples of box jellyfish, probably the most dangerous of jellyfish. Sounds like a pretty easy gig, but I have to also mention that Diana swims all night, so much of the jumping in the water is the in the middle of the night, in the middle of the Gulf Stream, many miles from land.
My mind is still kind of out of it from lack of sleep so not sure if I will be able to write this while it’s fresh, there is supposed to be a press conference in like 10 minutes.
Trip Over to Cuba
Anyways we met everyone and left from Key West Thursday night. The shark team’s boat was going to be the Kinship, a trawler, who was captained by Marlin Scott the owner of fish monster magazine and his son Austin. Also joining us on the boat was Marlin’s wife Diana. We left from Oceanside Marina and at around 5 o’clock. The boat we were on only does around 8 knots and in the morning Havana was in sight. We had hit a northbound current outside of Cuba and the boat was only going around 3 knots for hours and we ended up making it into port at around noon.
Then we hit Cuban customs which is basically where a bunch of semi official Cuban people come and shake down the boat for tips. They come in little groups like a pair of doctors, agriculture people, etc . The best one was the police guy with the drug dog. He came on the boat in sunglasses and asked Cal and I if we had any Marijuana or cocaine while dragging along this baby Cocker Spaniel, which had to be the fakest looking drug dog ever. He actually took one of Cal’s shirts along with his other bribes, which was kind of funny but maybe not that funny for Cal.
After that we went into Marina Hemmingway and there was a press conference and a meeting about the different protocols and what we would be doing. Niko was made into the shark diver team leader because the other guys who were supposed to do the job went to the Bahamas and didn’t show up for the swim, and Niko was on the trip last year. We also had some pretty good pizza at the little pizza place in the marina. This is where we first met the Jellyfish Queen AKA Angel Anne Yanagihara, Ph.D .
Once the meetings were out of the way we got into a group along with Marlin and his family and tried to catch a cab into Havana. Luckily Angel speaks Spanish and apparently this young guy and his girlfriend happened to have a van parked at the marina and offered to give us a ride into town . Angel secured us a ride for $20 and we were off. When we got into the city Angel and Marlin and Marlin’s family wanted to go to this nice restaurant on top of the Habana Libre hotel.
The other shark divers and I wanted to see some of the real city in the couple hours we had so we headed out onto the street. There was some kind of festival going and and there were people all over. It had just gotten dark and numerous characters appeared out of the woodwork offering to procure all kinds of stuff for us . We wandered around a bit and and could not find much to get into. The stores were already closed and the area seemed to have a bunch of restaurants but no real bars. There was some sort of park we went into but we had no clue where we were going and the lack of light in the streets was not super encouraging. Probably one of the funniest moments in Havana was when Niko tried to redeem this Cuban money he had picked up in the states for a deal and they turned out to be no good. Apparently his friend’s grandmother had this Cuban money she had been sitting on for years and gave it to her grandson who in turn sold it to Niko. Unfortunately the money was a bit old only good under the previous regime . The waiter he tried to give it to laughed and asked
“who is this guy on the money, Fidel’s grandfather?”
After that we slept on the boat in the marina and woke up early the next day and had to go sit at customs again for a couple of hours while a different set of people shook us down.
The Swim Begins
Finally we got out on the water and watched Diana get in the water. Apparently the water drops off very fast off of Cuba and there are guys that fish off the dropoff on pieces of foam. Anyways they had a little ceremony on the beach and some news crews and flags. Jason took my under water camera and took photos of her jumping in and swam with her for a little ways.
Then we were under way. We did four hour shifts at first: Cal and I, and Jason and Niko. We would get ferried by Austin from the Kinship (our boat) to the Voyager, which was the boat Diana swam next to . Then from there we would watch for sharks and do whatever little things needed to be done, like pulling weeds off the streamer.
The boat drags a streamer in the water while it’s underway and Diana orients herself by swimming over it. There were also two kayakers who stayed with her making sure she stayed on course and also dragging “shark sheilds”. Sometimes the sargasam weeds get stuck on it so I would go in and get them off. Then every time we stopped for her to drink water or eat, I would go in and swim around in circles and make sure there was nothing around. Cal decided to rock just a speedo, a buff, and a baseball hat. I could not really tell if the rest of the crew appreciated it or not, although the photographer took a bunch of photos of him. The first shift he would mainly hang out on the op of the boat and look for sharks. A couple times when I jumped in while Diana was swimming I was actually pretty amazed at how fast she was going. Even with my longfins it was hard to keep up with her for long distances and once you got behind her it was quite difficult to catch up.
I did not see much life, occasionally a moon jelly and bunch of small jacks, although Niko said he saw a dolphin.
We did not see anything, and after a bit were replaced by Jason and Niko. That first night I got rotated out early and Seth, one of Marlin’s sons got rotated in . Then the seas picked up and I ended up spending the night on the kinship with Cal, Niko and J stayed on the Voyager. Because of the heavier seas they did not want to ferry anyone one around in the night.
The next day was more of the same watching for sharks and pulling the sargassum off the streamer. We got into an awesome northbound current which we had seen coming across from Key West. Then as the sun set Angel came and we worked on catching jellyfish specimens. To do this we would either hang on ropes off the boat while it was moving and wait to see one going by and then let go and try to catch it in a ziploc bag, or we would wait until the boat stopped and swim around with a zip lock bag trying to catch them. There was a shortage on lights so once the sun set, Angel had the only good light so basically I would just swim around and try to help.
The best part of the night diving was the bio-luminescence in the water. If you moved around in the water it was like tiny greenish stars would fly off you like sparks and swirl away in the current. That with the red jellyfish lights was pretty amazing. If someone was a little ways away from you, all you would see if the “sparks” coming off them.
So right at the end of our night shift we could see the lights of Key West on the horizon and everyone started getting pumped up and then a storm appeared and it was time for dreaded “squall protocol”. The waves picked up and Niko and J showed up on the Voyager with their wetsuits. I had to find another light to put on my snorkel because Diane’s light had broken off and she had to take mine. While I was getting my light Cal was drifting off into the night with Diana. I jumped in and swam to them and was shortly later followed by J and Niko. We formed a circle around Diana , and Austin followed us in the rigid inflatable and all the big boats pulled back as the winds and waves picked up. For an hour and 20 minutes we swam with her in the dark with just the lights on our snorkels and the bio-luminescence to see. This is when Diana started hallucinating and saying she saw the Taj Mahall. Since we could see the lights of Key West we kept her swimming in the right direction. Finally the storm died down and boats came back and mine and Cal’s shift was over. We went back to the kinship and I fell asleep immediately.
The next morning we could see Key West. Niko and J had taken the night shift after the storm protocol. At this point Angel was in hanging on a rope looking for jellyfish and Cal had come up with the idea of swimming with Diana to look for the moon jellyfish and steering her away from them. So once he got tired I jumped in and would swim ahead and look for jellyfish. At some points I would come back and get Diana to swim left back towards the streamer. The vis was awesome so this was way better then sitting in the boat, and Diana had slowed enough so it was not hard for me to keep up with her. I swam for a couple miles like this , the jellys were here and there but every time I followed them back to where Diana was they missed her. Diana was swimming slower now and it and it was not hard to keep up with her.
I was having a great time swimming instead of sitting on a boat, but then Niko came back and the camera crews showed up. Niko tried to swim with her but couldn’t keep up so he basically went on top of the Voyager and yelled orders at people. After a minute he pulled me out of the water and sent Cal and me back to the Kinship.
From there Cal and I had lunch and then caught a ride on the inflatable to the beach. When she came a ashore, she landed further east then we thought and the huge crowds made a huge push to the east to greet her. I got behind the crowd and did not have the desire or energy to push to her. That was basically it, the women is a machine.
It was kind of disappointing that once I got home, for all the blogging and social media stuff that was going on, there wasn’t one photo of me that snuck in there somewhere. My mom and girlfriend looked at all of it, but I guess that is true of pretty much all the support staff so whatever.