Wednesday, November 26, 2008

In the first week of boot camp we were required to pass the Navy’s swim test. Actually it was a several separate tests. The first test required us to climb to a platform 10 feet above the pool. In pairs, we jumped off and into the deep end of the pool feet first.
After surfacing we had to swim the circumference of the pool. When we returned to the deep end we had to tread water for ten to twenty minutes, depending where in the line you were. Those who went in first had to tread water longer than those who jumped in last. Next test was to swim under water from one side of the pool to the other and back. Another test was to make a floatation device with you trousers. While treading water you had to remove your pants, tie the open ends of the legs into a knot near to the end as possible. Then you positioned the pants behind you, holding the waist up with the legs hang in the water. You then quickly pulled the pants up and over your head and pulling the waist down to the surface of the water in front of you, there by filling the legs with air. As long as you kept the legs wet they would hold the trapped air and be buoyant. We were required to float on this device for 5 minutes. Lastly we did a similar air trapping trick with our white sailor hat and made a smaller floatation device. If a person failed to pass these swim tests they would come to the pool every night, after chow, for swim lessons until they could pass the test. I passed first time. Treading water for 15 minutes after my perimeter swim was my punishment for thinking that if I went first off the tower I’d get it done and over with early.

You would probably think it odd for someone who is afraid of the water to join the U.S. Navy. It’s equally likely that you’d find it odd that someone, who grew up on the shores of a major river, would be afraid of the water. I’ve been thought odd more than once in my life. Yes it’s true; I grew up afraid of the water. I was OK with water that wasn’t over my head and the current was relatively mild. And, I joined the Navy; twice in fact.

When I was a young lad, or even younger than that I think, my dad took a Red Cross life saving course in swimming. His purpose, since he was already an accomplished recreational swimmer, was to teach me, his pride and joy and, at the time, only son, how to swim. He failed to teach me to swim but did teach me a terrible fear of the water.

My parents took me to Mr. Simpson’s camp to learn how to swim. Mr. Simpson was a local pharmacist and fuel oil customer of my dads, who ran a swimming lesson program during the summers at his camp along the St. Lawrence River. It would have been at about the same spot where Dr. DeTorres currently has his home on route #37. While my memories of that trip are very fuzzy, I’m reasonably sure that both mom and dad were there. I still remember the horrendous fear I felt when they let go of me out from shore and told me to swim in to the shore. I’m sure it wasn’t too far and I think I had some preliminary form of today’s arm swimmies on. Still, I recall the fear and screaming and uncontrollable crying emanating from my mouth. I remember a sense that my dad was pissed at my prissiness and I don’t think mom was too pleased either. From that point on whenever we went on picnics at the beach or to friends camps I always stayed in the shallows, never venturing out past waist high water.

When I started working on the farm with my friend Donny, I was around fourteen or so, and I decided that I was missing out on too much teen socialization. Growing up in a river community, much recreational activity centered on and around the river. Everyday after haying Donny and I would go down to Pythian beach, the public beach at that time. It is directly across from where the United Helpers Home is currently located on the route #68 extension where it meets Rt. #37. To help me gain confidence, I’d wear those flippers that scuba divers wear. With the added propulsion they provided I could swim quite well, and fast too I might add. Anyway, with that I conquered my fear somewhat, not entirely but some what. By the time I reached the summer after high school graduation I would go swimming off the oil docks, right at the city limits, without the aid of the fins and the water was in the 50 to 60 foot deep range to accommodate the oil tankers that would dock there to unload their cargo.

Remnants of my emotional fear of deep water are still present to this day. Through sheer will, I overcame my reluctance to shy away from deep water. I decided to join the Navy just to prove I could overcome and conquer my fears and not let them prevent me from wearing the Navy uniform.

My computer is acting in a very unprofessional way and so the part two of this post will be delayed.

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Blogger Catch said...

Im 60 years old and I still try to stay in the shallows! Isnt it funny how well we remember experiences around the water?? We had a public pool not far from my home and I can still remember some boy jumping in on me and causing me to go underwater!!!I was so pissed and I was just a little girl!!!!

11:38 AM  
Blogger Churlita said...

I've always loved water. I don't know why, but it's hard for me not to go in when I see a river,lake, pool or the ocean.

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope your computer starts behaving itself soon.

4:10 PM  
Blogger Elisabeth said...

I love, love, love those posts! Great stuff Rel. I was very afraid of water as a kid, and my parents forced me to take swimming lessons when I was either 10 or 11, while we were on vacation in Talloires, a resort on the Annecy lake in the Alps. I remember crying constantly before my lessons, and praying that it would rain, so that the lesson would be cancelled. My instructor, a man in his 60's named Monsieur Schebbel, had a thick Alsatian accent, and used the "sink or swim" method. I eventually learned how to swim, became a decent swimmer and diver, which absolutely enhanced my summers.

My boyfriend, who was in the Navy in the 1970's, told me about that swimming test. The thing with the pants is absolutely wild!

5:58 PM  
Blogger Epiphany said...

My Grammy was terrified of the water because - having grown up in Kansas and Texas - she had never had cause to learn to swim. She had me in lessons at 3 years old. Because of that I have always been a strong swimmer.

Good for you for overcoming your fear, Rel. That's the true measure of a person, I think.

7:25 PM  
Blogger Kay said...

I'm with you on the water thing ... your memories make great reading; I enjoy the chatty, informative style. Thanks!

11:26 PM  
Blogger paisley said...

we did that same exercise,, the pulling off of your pants and quickly whipping them over your head to fill them with air and use them as a flotation device in gym class in high school...

fortunately i have never been in a position to use it,, but i still remember how,, and would be able to in time of need i am pretty sure...

haooy thanksgiving my friend... i am ever so thankful to count you among my blogging friends.....

5:51 AM  
Blogger Jellyhead said...

Just catching up here on what I've missed whilst being caught up with work & family....

It's wonderful reading, Rel. I can especially relate to your fear of deep water. Although I am a strong swimmer, I still remember my father taking me out deep into the surf, and how I ended up getting rolled over & over in a 'dumper' wave.... terrifying. I still dream of big waves & even tsunamis!

6:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting. I agree with you totally. Furthermore I have another point to add. I think its essential that children today have a friendly and good swim instructor to guide them along. So that they will take to the hobby with delight, rather than find it a useless skill. But then again, most kids always love swimming afterall.

1:32 AM  
Blogger Tammy said...

I'm very impressed that you did so well being afraid of deep water. I lost my mom at 44 to the benz in a scuba accident (she was a nurse). She hated water that was not clear, but she did it that time. The warrior spirit helps us overcome our fears. I, however, will never scuba dive. ;)

I enjoyed that Thanksgiving prayer. XXOO

12:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ahhh how I love swimming so much. Don't you just find it so relaxing. Everyone should learn how to swim. If not you might want to consider taking swimming classes.

2:11 AM  

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