Bonnie grabbed my shoulders….
She looked in my eyes, and she said, “Let’s find a way.”
And I took the leap. And we found our way.
– Diana Nyad, Generation Bold, 18 Nov 2018, 4:51
To guarantee the success of her Cuba-Florida swim, Diana Nyad needed to construct a system that, ideally, would:
- Overcome unfavorable currents at any time of the day or night.
- Be easy to deploy and remove.
- Be invisible—not only to outsiders (the press, curious boaters, etc.) but also to members of her team, most of whom would not be in on the plan.
Whatever method she settled on, she didn’t use it in previous attempts. She probably had not envisioned it yet, still dreaming that she could make the swim under her own power.
In the year leading up to the 2013 attempt, Nyad’s guide boat, Voyager, accompanied her during long practice swims. Again, whatever method she decided on, she had plenty of time during those swims to develop and test her system.
Evidence from the Base of the Boom
With all of that in mind, take a look at these details from photos of each of Nyad’s last four attempts. Click any of the images to see complete, higher resolution versions.
2013, leaving harbor
2013, in the strait
No photos from the 2011 and 2012 attempts—nor from the beginning of the 2013 attempt—show lines hanging from the boom’s base.
Photos from later in the 2013 crossing, however, tell a different story. To capture away-from-shore images, photographer Andy Newman of Newman PR helicoptered out into the strait a few hours before Diana finished. If someone intended to hide the lines, they may have been too startled and/or exhausted to think of it.
Let’s take a close look at three of Newman’s pictures—again, click on the thumbnails to see larger versions. In the first two, you can see a white line that hangs from the bottom right of the Secret banner, crosses the blue and white cable, then curves back in a V-shape to the boom. Notice also some of Nyad’s crew checking out the noisy intruder. In the third photo, you’ll find the bottom of the V in the upper right corner. (Below the three photos, I’ll explain what’s up with the Vs.)
In this detail from the first photo, if you follow from where the bottom of the V points, you can see a faint, broken white line in the water.
In this detail from the second photo, the V hangs a bit more slack, but there’s no visible line in the water. Or maybe there is—it’s hard to tell.
In this detail from the final photo, both Diana and the bottom of the V have moved closer to the boat. One would expect this to happen if Nyad and the V were connected, the line perhaps weighted like her directional streamer. Another faint white line descends from the V.
The idea is that when the current was behind Nyad and she could swim close to the boat, the line would lie slack. When the current flowed west to east—its typical direction—and began pushing Nyad right, the line would avert a trip to the Bahamas. “[I]t’s…simple logic,” Nyad explains, “that I am swimming way over to the east and then struggling to swim way back over to the west, time and time again….” (Find a Way, p. 268).
Here’s a brief animated simulation (not to scale!):
Where and how does the line connect to Nyad? I don’t know. But we can eliminate a few possibilities. She couldn’t grab onto a tow rope; that would be too obvious. She couldn’t attach something to her legs, or she’d end up getting dragged backward.
That leaves some connection under her arms or around her waist—maybe a belt. Maybe something that would leave impressions like these on her back:
Enrique de la Osa / Reuters, via National Geographic.
JP Carter/AP, via Deseret News.
Those marks could, of course, be wear and tear from however long Diana spent in the water. We may never know. And, given that all of the above is just speculation, I could be completely wrong about everything.
But here’s what’s not speculation: Diana Nyad tried and failed to cross the Florida Strait four times. If she kept coming back to reattempt the swim, the public would soon see her as a quixotic kook rather than a Homeric hero. Nyad couldn’t have that. So, on her fifth try, she found a way to make her crossing look like a success.
[Note: The above post borrows, sometimes verbatim, from an earlier description of Diana Nyad’s attachment issues: “I Got a Line on You.” ]
Update, 15 May 2020: Repaired broken image links and changed “Andy Newman of NewmanPR of Key West” to “Andy Newman of NewmanPR” because I learned that they’re based in Miami.