Swimming on The Bay

By Kate Nickerson-Crowe, summer resident of West Carling and proclaimed island-hopper and water-lover!

My daughter and I have been startling kayakers and boaters alike for the past many summers. Likely it is difficult to detect us on windy blustery days in the troughs of waves, when white caps disguise our propulsion forward through the clear cold waters of Georgian Bay. This past summer we were regularly swimming 4-5 kilometres several times per week; one fateful day we reached 6 kilometres. This swim included circumnavigations of several islands; Bonaire, Middle and Snug Island.

I grew up doing what my family called “island-hopping”.  As a kid my favourite destination to partake in this made-up sport was the Umbrella Islands, which offered many close hop skip and swims, as well as longer challenges. We would flatten ourselves against the pink granite of a leeward rock, then plunge back into the chilling water and on to the next foreseeable island. My own children now enjoy doing the same on the west side of the Snakes, the Mink Islands and this past summer even the Limestones. I swam the full perimeter of the South Limestone, which was unbelievably beautiful on the eastern side. The shallow waters make the white limestone rocks and pebbles pop with brilliance on a sunny day. I will forever have images of my kids gleefully launching themselves out of the boat, swimming for the first available island where they skitter up the steep sides of the rock and across the top, sun bleached heads disappearing, stopping only to wade through a rainwater pool in a crevasse or to lay flat, hugging the warmth of the ochre coloured rock of the Snake Islands. I also enjoy watching them as they catch frogs, or taunt water snakes on the way by a pond made by juts in the rocks. I’ve seen them work for great lengths of time on their journeys to set a bass free from a landlocked puddle of rainwater. I hold these images close in the dreary months of winter.

You may wonder why we swim such lengthy distances. My daughter is a competitive swimmer and we do joke that her feet are webbed and she appears to be developing gills. She spends more time in the water than out. It was a natural fit this past summer for her to accompany me training for the Swim Run World Championships, which I unknowingly qualified for in my first race in over a decade. Canada sent two women and two men to this open event, held in the Adriatic Sea in Italy this past September. I was unprepared for the currents and tide, but I was pleased that we swam in all kinds of inclement weather in the bay, as I was strong through the uncommonly enormous waves at the event this year. Swim Run is a popular sport in Europe. People tune in all over the continent to watch the world’s best perform over the challenging course beginning in the historic city of Grado. I am learning that the event always includes elements of natural awe, and danger.  Competitors swim with their running shoes on and run while holding swim paddles. And you must finish the event with all the equipment you begin with or you are disqualified. I did receive many quizzical looks when I ran down Nobel Road in the summer with a swim cap and googles on my head and swim paddles in my hands as I prepared for the event. The race in Italy was 25 km of running on beaches and wading through sandbars, canals and about 7 kilometres of swimming.  It was run between 5 historic and beautifully uninhabited islands which are part of a biosphere reserve. Competitors are not allowed to throw their race gels, or toss cups listlessly aside as they do in marathon or even triathlon events. It is a sport that celebrates the beauty of the natural environment and takes care not to disrupt it. This year’s qualifying race in Canada is fatefully being held in Parry Sound on July 26th (Canaquasports.com). Perhaps we can inspire a few more distance swimmers to join us in the bay, or perhaps to come out and watch the fun. There will be clinics in different areas around the province to inspire people to try this relatively new to Canada sport.  I will be running one with my team-mate at the Flatwater Centre in Welland, Ontario.

I am in part sharing this with you as- West Carling residents or part time residents- to alert you to the fact that we are out there in the water from May to October. Wetsuits prolong our season and despite the bright yellow buoy I attach to myself you need to be aware as we are not readily in peoples’ sight lines. I feel like the road bikers of the sea and I am constantly on the lookout for boats or distracted drivers who may come too close or not see us at all. In the water is the optimal position to enjoy the beauty of Georgian Bay. We know when the bass are laying eggs, when the gobbies are less plentiful; we know when there has been a storm or when one is coming by the temperature of the water; we know when the giant snapping turtle is back to hunt at the dock. There is lots to be learned from the feel of the water.  We can’t wait for the summer.


To read more and to download a PDF, please visit the WCA Spring Newsletter April 2020