Attachment Disorder, part 2: Everything’s All Right

Early in her pro swimming career, Diana Nyad learned the benefits of hooking up. Her later mono-directional meandering provides strong evidence that she caught a ride from Cuba to Florida.

part 1 – part 2 – part 3

Carpe Funem (“Seize the Rope”)
Banana George showing how it’s done. (Julie Fletcher, Orlando Sentinel, via LATimes.)

In her first memoir, Other Shores, Diana Nyad lists the rules of a 1975 race in Argentina:

The swimmer must wear only regulation suit, cap, goggles and grease. The swimmer must swim to the side of his boat, not behind it. (Greta Andersen was once passed in a race in the Nile by an Egyptian with a wide grin on his face; he had a tight grip on a rope tied to the back of his boat, and was eating a banana.) The swimmer may not at any time touch the boat, the shore or another person. (p. 35)

The boom Nyad used for her directional streamer gave her an artificial stern. Swimming behind it allowed her to break the rule without breaking the rule, no banana required.

Andy Newman/AP via The Daily Dose

Maintiens le Droit (“Uphold the Right”)
Maintiens le Droit is the official motto of the RCMP.

Nyad developed her streamer — essentially a portable lane line — because she has trouble swimming straight.

A former Nyad crew member told me that Diana usually veers both right and left. However, all extant descriptions of the 2013 swim — the observer logs, Nyad’s memoir, and two crew accounts — describe Diana veering only right.

That’s just what you’d expect from someone attached to the starboard side of a boat pushing through a strong current flowing east. Nyad implicitly acknowledges such a current when she writes:

[I]t’s…simple logic 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).

Further examples of Diana doing the right thing
B-side of “Blowin’ in the Wind,” from August 1963. Via Wikipedia.

From John Duke, captain of the Phat Dolphin, one of Nyad’s five vessels:

Diana’s course towards the end of the swim became a constant battle to keep her directed towards Smathers Beach in Key West. She would slowly veer clockwise. (“The Xtreme Dream Team: A Record Breaking Operation”)

From Ben Shepardson, one of Nyad’s shark divers:

…Cal [another shark diver] had come up with the idea of swimming with Diana to look for the moon jellyfish and steering her away from them. So once he got tired I jumped in and would swim ahead and look for jellyfish. At some points I would come back and get Diana to swim left back towards the streamer. (“A Shark Diver Story…“)

From the observer logs of Janet Hinkle and Roger McVeigh:

Shift 5 (McVeigh):
…[Sat.] 9 pm shift has started…

Very easy for Diana to drift away from boat, kayakers have a tough job keeping her close to Voyager

Mon. 1:37 am (Hinkle)
Diana is always veering right, away from the boat and many voices direct her back to the light and the boat. More confusion than I’ve witnessed before. Everyone constantly bidding her to swim toward the red rope light and nearer the boat.

Mon. 4:45 am (Hinkle)
…Lots of encouragement from kayakers trying to keep her on course. “Go left Diana, swim to the light.”

For some reason, she swims to the right and she must return to the boat on her left to stay on course…

From Find a Way, pp. 267-68:

I am drifting in and out of hallucinations these early-morning hours of Monday, September 2. The paddlers, each shift of two, are now yelling out at me to go “LEFT, LEFT, LEFT!” I am drifting far out to the right of Voyager, sometimes as many as a hundred yards away from the boat. The Handlers, Divers, and Kayakers are frustrated at my being so far from the boat, for safety reasons. But it’s also simple logic that I am swimming way over to the east and then struggling to swim way back over to the west, time and time again, instead of staying on top of the streamer and heading north, toward our destination….

Sometimes I just can’t understand why the paddlers are so insistent on yelling “LEFT!” What’s the urgency?

…[Head shark diver] Buco knows he’s incurred my wrath, but he doesn’t care. Hours of their yelling “LEFT!” has not kept me from zigzagging far right, back left, far right, back left again. 

Deus Ex Machina
Deus ex machina: A power, event, person, or thing that comes in the nick of time to solve a difficulty; providential interposition, esp. in a novel or play.
— Oxford English Dictionary, via EDITORIAL ANONYMOUS

Nyad and her team say that she completed her swim because she had perfect conditions, including a magical current.

No one on Diana’s crew mentioned this current during the swim. John Bartlett, Nyad’s “genius navigator” ( Find a Way, p. 8) seemed unaware of it in the days after the crossing.

For the moment, however, let’s assume that the magical current existed—at this late date, it may be difficult to prove otherwise. We can further assume, then, that the swimmer hooked onto this aquatic conveyor belt, and that it dragged her at remarkable speed in an almost straight line from Havana to Key West.

Such a current would explain the success of the operation. Such a current would not, however, explain Nyad’s speed during the storm. In no way could she have maintained her pace without divine or mechanical intervention.

God’s plans being inscrutable, we’ll become scrutineers of human machinations in the final post of this series.

How might Diana have hitched a ride from Cuba to Florida? That’s up next in Attachment Disorder, part 3: You Get a Line, I’ll Get a Pole Well-Connected.

Update 30 Mar 2022: Linked to archived version of “The Xtreme Dream Team: A Record Breaking Operation.” The original page no longer exists.

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