I recently came upon a favorite poem, Dover Beach, by Matthew Arnold. You will see from the opening
stanza that the poet may very well have written these lines from The Channel Swimmers' Beach in Dover or
thereabouts ("Of pebbles, which the waves draw back and fling, /At their return, up the high strand.") I
believe the poem is about faith, and the loss of faith - how quickly the spirits in our mind can change from
angels to demons.
No matter how rough the Channel, I feel the stormy weather is within us.
Part II - Swim Journal
Prologue - 2006
Good luck, Orin. Believe in yourself, even when the channel monsters come out. Churchill said: "when your
going thru hell, keep going." it's not an easy swim; stay focused and think one stroke at a time. if you think
you can do it, you will. don't give up and dig deep to get the strength, it's there you just have to find it.
best regards, meryem
I am convinced it is principally in the mind. Above all, you have to have great desire, from which your
confidence and strength follow. "Desire is creation. A man can do anything if he wishes to enough." (Willa
I have been there before, so I know what I am looking for. If I don't find it, I will not be disappointed,
because the experience has been so beneficial and I have a good life. Look forward to swimming with you
As many of you have observed, this process is primarily mental, and this time after 9 hours I hit a wall I
could not get through. I just did not want it badly enough.
I consider the training I put in over the last year a real benefit and positive use of my time - and a base
from which I can continue to grow. Unfortunately I do not have that love for the sport that I have
observed in so many of you, and I have always believed deep down that you cannot achieve greatness in
any activity without a passion or joy for the activity, and that may be where my story ends and yours
But it does not mean the promise does not have enduring value, even in its broken state. It remains.
My pilot Mike Oram's view matched my observation - it gets harder mentally each time, as memory of prior
suffering is encrusted, layer on layer. Mike was clear I should call it a day, raising the issue of hunger
(desire) and skinniness.
Now there is Lynne Smith: she is convinced I should do it again, even after my conversation with Mike, and
she will crew for me. I asked her how she knows after only knowing me for two days, and she said, "You
are tough". Still, a difference between toughness and desire.
Lynne Smith swam The Catalina Channel yesterday - it was brutal. She described it as easily the most
difficult thing she has done in her life - and she has run numerous Ironmen, etc. At one point she turned
on her back and emitted a primordial sound, somewhere between moaning and howling. She was also at
times yelling at me, a novice kayaker. Later she recalled she did not do a "gracious swim", without really
apologizing. Thinking back, I should have said, "Lynne, shut the fuck up - and SWIM." It would have made
me feel better and perhaps helped calm her down. But of course I don't do those things. I don't act
spontaneously, and suffer delayed anger because of it.
This is the difference between Lynne and me: If had done Catalina, I would have had a gracious swim.
Everyone would have said, 'What a gentleman.' But I would not have finished. There was no question in
my mind of Lynne finishing. She went to a level of agony where graciousness had no place. She passed a
barrier and went deep, where to enter she had to kick off all the trappings of civility. I have never been
there. On my Channel swim my frustration with Evan made me want to yell at him, but I was constantly
aware of the unfairness of it. In the end my frustration made me quit. There is a question in most people's
minds about my desire - most people come to see me as the soft product of a good life.
Two comments on Lynne's character: On the afternoon after her swim, she was crying a little as she
recalled how painful it had been, and was thinking of deferring her Channel attempt. Then she said, "The
only reason I kept going was remembering how badly you and Mike Humphrey felt after not finishing, and I
thought it might be more painful not to finish than to finish." Of course she was projecting - neither Mike
nor I felt that bad. To a succeeder the pain of failure must be overwhelming, and the rare occasions of
failure produce a cold blue anger that focuses the mind.
Actually I was in that place once - my first Manhattan swim. The refusal to accept not finishing - the
ignominy of not finishing - kept me going. I have never been back there.
The Final Chapter
"How old would you be if you didn't know how old you was?" - Satchel Paige.
My swim buddy and training partner Jim Meier secured the third slot of the neap tide that begins August
30, 2010 with two pilots. That means we are number three in line, and, weather permitting, could swim as
early as September 1.
I will be 59. Jim will be 66.
Jim sent the deposits today for our Channel swim next year. Once more, up the hill. This time, no
First swim at Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. 1 hour. Water temp 56F. Next year expect the Channel at around
Swim Brighton Beach with Jim. 1 hr 45 min. Water temp 58-59F. Slow.
Southampton, NY - Swim 1 hour. Cold, rainy day, water at 55F. I was sick at end and unhappy throughout,
having trouble getting my face in the water. Felt trapped by English Channel commitment, lacking desire.
What am I doing? Who am I kidding?
Vanderbilt Y - Swim 30X100 on the 1:40. Now must go down to 1:35, and then 1:30.
This is from the Menlo Masters newsletter: "Enjoyment in swimming should always override speed,
efficiency, and talent… Enjoyment is the foundation to all our swimming. From that foundation everything
builds. With enjoyment follows consistency. And consistency is the backbone of improvement. Consistency
overcomes any and all training theory."
And this from the Australian open water swimmer Andrew Page, who will be my team leader next year:
"It is not so much the event that is the challenge but the preparation for it. It is really not a sideline but a
complete way of life.
"The will to prepare to win has to be as great as the will to win !!"
Swim 3hrs in Northwest Harbor, near Sag Harbor, Long Island, with Nancy in kayak. Water has already
warmed up to 68F.
Have arrived for vacation in Sargentville, just outside of Blue Hill, ME., a town Larry calls Shangri-La.
Swim from house to Stave Island, 57F, 1 hr - misjudged current coming back, pushed a bit off course. Felt
great going out, but cold - or psychology of cold - sets in very quickly. Perhaps should not look at watch
for temp. Hurried up hill shivering. Had heat on in car.
Swim from Bucks Harbor Brooksville to just shy of Center Harbor with Brian Tripp piloting his dingy - 4hrs
53m. 61-63F. Was pretty exhausted at end and began to lose my form. There is a curious sensation when
you feel you have lost it, and that you are going to drown.
Completed 8-9 mile swim of Lake Otsego in Cooperstown, NY (Home of the Baseball Hall of Fame.) Nancy
(in the kayak) and I learned the hard way that there are currents in lakes (if a river runs through it.) When
it took me a ˝ hour to pass a moored sailboat, Nancy started talking about "The Twilight Zone" (more like
"Groundhog Day".) Everyone in tears the last half mile as I attempt to swim directly into the current. ("This
is so UNFAIR. We aren't moving!") Unfortunately I flunked Sailing, or I would have started tacking, I finally
did remember, and so we landed. After landing, I was told, "The guy who got in the newspaper did it the
It took me 8 hours.
I had this dream. I am in Dover in the off-season, and the water is extremely cold. I get in and take a long
swim in it, swimming around an island and back to shore. I can feel the cold, but am absolutely content
and in control. The water is my friend, and I realize if I train properly I can swim the English Channel. The
scene shifts to the summer - I show up in Dover without a slot, and tell Mike Oram I want to swim any day
he is free. He is skeptical, but I get in the water and start swimming to France, so he has to catch up with
me. I am totally confident.
Spending Thanksgiving on retreat at Mepkin Abbey, the Trappist monastery outside of Charleston, SC.
I wrote this to Father Christian (the retired abbot of Mepkin) when contemplating my second swim around
Manhattan in 2001:
"It is difficult to describe to others just why I do this, but I have found this: swimming exposes me to the
spiritual and to whatever exists of a creative life. It is scary because it is real, and raises questions about
what the engaged life would really be like.
"I like to think of it, as you suggested, as an artistic act."
June 15, 2006
July 15, 2006
August 1, 2006
August 6, 2006
August 7, 2006
August 8, 2006
September 15, 2006
March 2, 2009
April 30, 2009
May 16, .2009
May 24, 2009
May 31, 2009
June 6, 2009
June 15, 2009
June 28, 2009
July 6, 2009
July 31, 2009
September 15, 2009
October 18, 2009
Brighton Beach, Brooklyn
November 23, 2009
November 28, 2009
After the crazy swim in Cooperstown, I am totally confident about swimming six hours in New York harbor -
Jim and I have chartered a boat. However, it turns out to be one of those mornings I cannot get up. I pull
the sheets over my head. Nancy says something funny. The morning depression begins to lift.
It would have been better to have stayed in bed. I am fighting myself from the moment I hit the water.
First there is a problem with the goggles. Then I swallow water. Four hours later, in an eerie fog, a tanker
rears up in front of me like a specter. Ill and disoriented, I climb back into the boat. Jim completes the six
What I do I do not understand. For I do not do the thing that I want, but the thing that I do not want.
October 10, 2009
Jim and I set out to do a 5K loop in Brooklyn. This means swimming from Manhattan Beach to the Coney
Island Pier and back. Water temp 56-57F. Weather is cold and rainy (44F), water pretty calm .
Swimming back from the pier, I notice two police SUVs on the beach, but think nothing of it. A few minutes
later, the vehicles are still with us. Then I notice the twirling blue lights. Must be an accident somewhere, I
muse. Never even consider they have something to do with us . Now a couple of cops are out of the
vehicles and walking along the beach. Swimmers' thinking is often muddled in cold water, but finally it
begins to sink in that maybe this does have something to do with us. I glance at Jim - he is apparently
unconcerned. I resume swimming - I figure, if they wanted us they would make some sort of motion with
their arms, like my mother used to do when she wanted me out of the water, not just…walk.
Then I hear the static of a loudspeaker to my right (I am breathing to my left, towards the shore). I turn in
time to see a blue police boat bearing down on me. "PLEASE GO IMMEDIATELY TO THE SHORE," says the
loudspeaker. "You want me …to go…to the shore?" I say, idiotically. "GO TO THE SHORE, NOW."
As Jim and I wade ashore, there are four cops lined up in a row at the water's edge. "Jim, have you ever
been arrested before?" I say lightly, but Jim is not amused.
Their spokesman, a youngster of about 23, is apoplectic: "Didn't you hear me yelling at you to get out?"
"Didn't you see the helicopter?!" Helicopter?
"I'm sorry, Officer," I say, " I can't hear anything, I'm wearing earplugs" (not to mention two swim caps).
The policeman gives me one of those Are you disrespectin' me? looks, and says , "Show me these
earplugs." So I take the earplugs out to show him. Meanwhile I can feel the wind, and I am starting to get
cold. It is 44 degrees.
We are at an impasse. Jim has pointed out that we swim here all the time. "Yeah, well, a complaint was
made." A complaint? I am trying to imagine the Coney Island resident who has nothing better to do than sit
by the window and report swimmers trespassing in the ocean - what an eyesore.
I am getting worried - our clothes and towels are over a quarter of a mile away at Brighton Beach. "Officer,
I'm sorry, " I say, "We're at risk of getting of getting hypothermia, I've got to go."
"You're not going anywhere, " the young man replies. "You're coming with us.
We have to give you a FINE. It's illegal to swim in the ocean."
That was clearly out of the question. To go with them would be lethal. I was focused on only one thing -
getting to my towel. "I can't do that, I'm going to get hypothermia. I've got to run."
Jim said later, "When I saw Orin running, I started running too." I ran as hard as I could, to try to get some
warmth into my body.
Of course they did not give chase. How could they have? Four policemen in full battle gear chasing two
naked swimmers down the beach? Discretion is the better part of valor.
I am 59 today, sitting in a motel room off one of the ubiquitous highways that criss- cross Tampa and St.
Petersburg, separating the bungalows from the shopping malls. I am here to do a 4-6 hour swim, with Ron
Collins in the kayak.
I really do not like Tampa.
The water temp is 62-63F - ideal. Nevertheless I am out of the water in two and a half hours, and it is a
nightmarish experience. I have thoughts of dying. At one point I say to Ron, "This is not fun." And he says
to me, "Then why are you doing it?"
This is my third unsuccessful attempt to complete a six-hour swim.
I have no real desire to swim the English Channel, only the desire for desire. The lack of real desire is like
the loss of a limb. No amount of desire can bring it back.
There is the dream - what I would call the desire for desire - but it dies at daybreak.
The cold becomes everything my dreams are not.
"Many things cause us to walk away from what we have started, and we seldom do so without some loss.
The path a person takes does not lie within himself." -Thomas a Kempis
I can't go on. I go on.
Not giving up is the final statement of hope.
February 6, 2010
January 22, 2010
As reported in the "Daily Scallion"
October 19, 2009
The question I am most often asked - why are you doing this? - is one that I, and probably most Channel
swimmers, never reflect on. Nevertheless, once asked, you are challenged to answer.
I swim the English Channel because I can. I have a peculiar gift, which is taking me on a strange journey. I
am going to follow the gift. What a person decides to follow rather than ignore is inexplicable. Louis
Armstrong said, "If I have to tell a person what jazz is, they'll never know."
There is a sense, if you shade your eyes from the shore, that you are staring into an unfathomable ocean.
This is what I was doing when I said out loud, "I am going to swim the English Channel." There is no way to
describe this, other than as a visitation.
The decision is made without reflection. It is unfathomable. Reflection becomes the process of talking
yourself out of it.
The path a person takes does not lie within himself.
To anyone who does not dwell in the language of gift and journey, this continues to make no sense.
Several people have said to me, "I do not understand what you are doing, but what you are doing is
incredible." This is a different way of explaining it. I want to do something in my life that is incredible.
"Literally anything can happen in our lives as long as we do our job, you know, and take care of business."
- Ellen Burstyn
"Never give up; and never, under any circumstances, no matter what - never face the facts." - Ruth
February 12, 2010
February 18. Ash Wednesday.
From dust you have come,
And to dust you will return.
O Lord, make me good, but why is it taking so long?
February 18, 2010