The day I took my swimming test, it was cool and overcast. I had followed directions and wore the clothes I would have worn if we were going out on the water. Rather than toss me from a boat, I simply jumped off the dock. I hit the water with sweater and shoes.
I was instructed to swim to the farthest mooring, about 20 yards, touch it and tread water until given a signal, at which time I was to swim to each of three other family moorings, touch them and return to the dock. I made it to the first check point and waited. The water was cold and my body was tingling on the way to numbness. I puffed as I struggled to keep myself and all my saturated clothing above the surface or at least at the surface. I found I couldn’t float without kicking so I held onto the mooring buoy and floated on my back, kicking around in a circle. Several small row boats hovered near by, ready to grab me should I falter.
We grew up summering at the ocean. This was harsh rocky Maine coastline, not sand and surfing. My uncle ran a boys camp during my formative years. He took them and sometimes his collection of nieces and nephews on grand adventures on his large lobster boat. We visited the round smooth rocks of Brimstone, climbed cliffs at Spectacle and endlessly circled tiny Calm Island. We would race each other around the small island in either direction. The going was tougher on the western end, particularly when the tide was high.
My greatest shame the previous summer, my 10th year, was not passing this swimming test and being forced to wear a life jacket for the entire summer. The dreaded orange never-sink was a fat tube of flotation that went around your shoulders like a bloated scarf and cinched in around your waist. It made everything difficult but nearly prohibited entirely the circumnavigation of the western end of Calm Island.
My kicking slowed and I was getting tired. I splashed around a bit regaining buoyancy and looked over where my uncle and the campers and other family members were assembled on the dock and pier.
Brad whistled and I set off swimming. Close to exhausted, I envisioned myself climbing down the narrow ledge on Calm and sidling my way to the bow of the Dirigo without the bulky orange scarf. I imagined myself in the life raft on the roof of the Dirigo’s cabin, just behind the radar, singing James Taylor and Carole King. I imagined laying on my stomach on the bowsprit and watching the boat slice through the water. I could feel the boat’s rumble in my chest. I tagged the dock. I had passed my swim test.