When you look around from wherever you are reading this, whether it’s an office, at home, on a train, you can’t see The Deep. Even if you are sitting at the coast. The words have no weight. The Deep doesn’t exist. It’s a fairy-tale with which to scare yourself. You imagine it.
Step off the ladder, and swim out. Away from the pier or the rock or pontoon or boat.
Not so much away from a beach. Beach are emotional crutches for swimmers because beaches have a slope. Your mind holds onto that slope, makes of it what you require, stretches it out, raises it up and so the beach supports you still and allows you to avoid the idea of The Deep. So you must go off an edge.
Can you get far away from what I think of as the horizontal emotional gravity of these objects? Get away so they lose their hold or their ability to provide you safety and a quick ready exit? Can you separate yourself from them?
Can you make it out a hundred metres? Two hundred?
Can you make it out to four hundred metres? It’s not a swimming ability question. Four hundred metres is nothing for you if you are a swimmer. Six, seven, eight minutes swimming. Less than two hands of time.
Yet four hundred metres puts you out away where you are starting to disappear.
If the water is flat, at around hundred metres you are on the edge of the edge, the outside of the littoral zone, skirting a swimmer’s offshore waters. Most of the world will never be there and of those that are, most will be on some kind of craft. At four hundred metres you are on the swimming equivalent of the upper slopes of Everest, and yet, there’s your swim gear, just over there, where the people are just walking around.
If there is chop or wind, if any observer doesn’t have the long learned skill of learning to watch water, learning to see without looking, if they haven’t visually followed you out, then they have almost certainly lost sight you. If they never saw you go, then unless the water is flat, you do not exist. You have never existed.
Do you swim out there? Do you go out beyond four hundred metres? Do you go alone?
Out there you are not so much a swimmer. You are a boat. Your hands and forearms are the sails, your shoulders are the sheets and yards. Your confidence is the wind and your experience is the crew.
Under you is The Deep.
If you are not an offshore swimmer, and maybe even if you are, you will think about void, maybe about blackness. You imagine the pull of The Deep is so ineluctable that you can feel it pulling you in, pulling you down.
The gravity, the emotional weight, of the horizontal distance between you and your safe exit and the number of swimmers present is inversely proportionate to the pull of The Deep.
If there is only you, and you are far off, the pull of The Deep is cosmic.
Swim out. Feel that pull. Swim back.
Could you go again. Go further?
Go to four hundred metres? Go to five?
Go out a kilometre?
When I was a teenager I read that singer Jimmy Cliff used to claim that he would swim out to sea every day until he could swim no further. And then he would turn and swim back. I wasn’t a swimmer when I read it.
It’s a good story. It’s a great claim. Now I know it’s utter bombast and nonsense.
Out there the ocean drains eternally beneath you into the abyss that is bowel of the world and you know that it will drag you down. You are a mote. You are no more than plankton on the skin of The Deep and it is the maelstrom of maelstroms. It is a black hole and its boundary radiation is fear.
But the fundamental nature of The Deep is not what you may think it is. It’s not its literal measurement of depth. Nor is not what is in it. It is not void or blackness, nor cold nor silence, nor screaming into the water until it fills your lungs.
The Deep is an idea.
The Deep is you in your own physical body of a boat, your sheets and sails and crew and wind.
The Deep is being utterly invisible and therefore not much different from being lost.
The Deep is something some people carry inside and it’s the same and different, and knowing one Deep makes me indifferent to the other Deep.
The Deep is not void, but is The Void and its inhabitants are Leviathan, Kraken, and mostly your fear, but maybe also your pain.
And because of all this, when you ask me how to swim in deep water, you are not understanding me, so I can give no answer that means anything to you.
The Deep is not the water beneath you. You do not swim in The Deep, you swim in yourself.
The Deep is imagination.
The colour of The Deep is not black or blueblack or greenblack because they are colours of water and it is more and less than water.
The colour of The Deep is eigengrau. It is the colour you see when you close your eyes.
11 thoughts on “The Deep”
Wow. I’m both scared and excited reading that Donal. Just beautiful writing. Venturing out on my first OW night swim this summer so it will be a battle between my imagination and my sanity!
Brilliant writing. Then there’s the Deep at night—where there are even fewer places to hide from my fears. I always return to shore a little bit changed.
Thanks Chuck, very kind. One article I wrote about nightswimming, and what can seen in the depths I reaim quite happy with, it is here, if you are interested.
Yes. This. So much this. I swim in Lake Erie and also hunger for those perfect surfaces, those very early mornings when, looking north, the stars reflect back to themselves. Thank you.
Dang. I wrote a comment and my crap web browser ate it. Let’s see if I can remember it…
Fab post. Reminded a bit of the first time I came upon your work: the Glendalough Swim, and Balor of the Evil Eye, and they way he might look at ya. It encouraged Saoirse and I to tip out and have a (much shorter) swim. Speaking of which, we have to head down to the Guillamene this Summer; she is still raging she didn’t get in the last time we were there, so I’ll give you an idea of that’s happening.
But thanks again for a wonderful post. I got the shivers just reading it. The Deep. Where we find stuff we didn’t know we’d lost.
Disco Stu, like SamKrohn, you are always too kind with your words, and make me feel undeserving. And your succinct last sentence is perfect. Looking forward to taking you out this year.
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It’s easy to feel confident and motivated at the waters edge with the latest gear. It’s easy when the sun is out and the sea is calm. It’s easy when your friends are there beside you. We can all feel motivated under these conditions. The deep amplifies everything and that’s not a good place to be. At some point you’re gonna realise that your alone out there. Being alone in your head in rough seas and cold water no sun nothing or in life. That’s when your ability to deal with the shit life throws at you will count the most. That is where growth is.
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Thanks Sam, I never feel I live up or dererve to the clarity of your comments. Hope to see you over the summer.
Thanks Donal, the Loneswimmer blog has been a part of my cold water swimming and adventures now for almost 10 years. If we can go back to the cave then I’m in!
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