“There is a pleasure in the pathless woods, There is a rapture on the lonely shore, There is society, where none intrudes, By the deep sea, and music in its roar: I love not man the less, but Nature more”- from Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage by Lord Byron
And now, for something completely new and fun
My First Interview!
I know! I actually stopped talking and listened too.
B.D. & S.P. in Portugal.
My dear friend Bo Derek who, at the age of 56 (and may I add, a wee slip of a thing is our Bo, as you can see!) decided she was going to compete in the “Hellespont Swim” from the shores ofTurkey to Asia.
The Hellespont (or Dardanelles, as it’s now called) is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. Every year, on the 30th of August, National Turkish Victory Day, the straits are closed to all vessels for just 90 minutes, allowing approximately 600
crazy brave humans to attempt this iconic swim.
I was so inspired by Bo’s feat that I asked if she wouldn’t mind sharing her story here with all of you dear Slim Paley readers.
So off we go!
SP; I remember when you first told me you’d decided to attempt the Hellespont Swim and I thought, well, ALL my friends can’t be sane…but truly, WHATEVER possessed you??!
BD; It’s all Slim Paley’s fault and that June 2012 post called “Swim”. As I scrolled down thru all the gorgeous images, I remember thinking “I used to be a water person. Where did she go?”
BD; I was especially taken by the pretty blue cover of Lynn Sherr’s book “Swim-Why We Love The Water”, downloading it right then and there. As Lynn writes so beautifully of our relationship with water and swimming, she recounts her own experience swimming the Hellespont. Now called the Dardanelles, this stretch of water from the Black Sea to the Aegean separates Europe from Asia. Rich in history, famous for the battles of Troy and Gallipoli, Greek mythology tells us Leander used to swim across the Hellespont every night to visit his lover Hero, who would light a lamp to guide his way. (Leander drowned one night, btw) Lord Byron was so taken by Leander’s love story that to prove the crossing was possible, became the first known person to make the swim (on his second attempt) in 1810.
So “what possessed me?” you ask. I was certainly moved by Lynn Sherr’s book and suppose I was ripe for a mid-life adventure. When my girlfriend, Shehkar, agreed to do the swim with me I was well and truly committed.
SP; I seriously think I’d have taken one look at the extraordinarily choppy sea that day and made a dive for the nearest bar. Did you have even a moment where you thought “I just can’t do this”?
BD; Yes! In case of bad weather, as happened in 2010, (but really, what are the chances that would happen again?!) our back-up plan was to sit in a lovely Turkish cafe and drink Raki and welcome in the “strong” swimmers. In the days leading up to the 30th the weather was just gorgeous, the water still as glass. Shehk and I had a couple of practice swims, relaxed and made some new friends. Then, during our orientation on the night of the 29th, the organizers informed us the forecast for the race was “rough” advising anyone with any doubts about their abilities to reconsider and not attempt the swim.
But…Shehkar and I decided that after a year of training, we should at least get our toes wet.
The day of the swim I woke before dawn and heard the wind before I saw it. Oh shit. No way. White caps on the water and wind whistling thru the windows of our modern hotel room. The Perfect Storm!
SP; Amazing that you both were still determined to go for it! How about once you were swimming-the distance was so much longer than expected, due to the conditions-was there any time you considered raising the white flag so to speak and be pulled to the safety of a fishing boat?
BD; At least a dozen times! What have I gotten myself into? As we stood at the start of the race looking across to the Asian side, it looked so far away….impossible for a human to swim. But the “brochure” said “the swim is 2.7 miles-with the aid of currents, equivalent to a 1 1/2 mile swim”. I glanced over at Shehk. We both knew we were over our heads and undertrained for that vast expanse of nasty water.
SP; Lord Byron, well known to be an excellent swimmer despite suffering from a club foot, purportedly described his swim as more meaningful than anything he’d achieved, whether “political, poetical or rhetorical” Did you think about Lord Byron and all the attendant history in the crossing while you were swimming, or were you just concentrating on staying alive?!
BD; That was the plan. As a Slim Paley pioneer, I have, over the years acquired a new appreciation for Byron. I’d memorized the “I love nature more” bit from Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage and some Led Zeppelin songs, because other open water swimmers had shared they have their favorite sonnets and playlists to get them thru the tedium. Never got the chance. Stroke, stroke, breathe. Stroke, stroke, fuck! salt water instead of breath. Start over. Stroke, stroke, breathe. For one hour and fifty four minutes, that’s all I remember. That and a tweet my neighbor Jimmy Connors sent me the night before the swim; “Go for it Bo. Remember your training.” Simple, but the single mantra that kept going through my mind as I put one arm in front of the other. So much for poetry. Honestly, I think the only reason I finished is because I didn’t think I would. This attitude allowed me to relax and take it one stroke at a time. I thought, I’ll just keep going until I hit a wall.
SP; Lord Byron & Led Zeppelin-both ‘Mad, Bad & Dangerous to know’- I love that!
Bo’s beau, John Corbett cheering her on
(J.C. ended up pulling 6 struggling men out of the water)
BD; All of a sudden, Corbett shows up along side me in a rescue boat, screaming, “You can do it love. You’re doing great! I’m so proud of you! Go!”
SP; Were you aware you were staying so in synch with Shehkar or were you both shocked to find you’d finished only 5 minutes apart?
BD; We started the swim together and my plan was to come out if she did. I kept my eye on her for the first 20 minutes but then I got caught in the melee at one of the three buoys that must be passed to our right-or be disqualified. ‘Melee’? I was mowed down by the other 500 swimmers trying to starboard the buoy. Let me take a moment to make one thing clear. I am not a group activity person. Or, for that matter, a touch a stranger’s body parts person. All of a sudden I’ve got legs, arms, boobs and, er, speedos in my face! I slammed into the orange ball and tried to set off over and over again, until I finally found a couple of big boy swimmers, rolled over on my back, wedged myself between their lengths and kicked like hell.
SP; Hmmm…a Bo Derek sandwich…I wonder if they had any idea who they were escorting!
BD; I never saw Shehk again until the end. I’m so happy we both finished for all the reasons you’d expect, but also, as Shehkar put it; “Imagine if one of us didn’t finish and for the rest of our lives we’d have to say, “Oh, I’m just so glad that she made it…I’m so happy for her”. Instead, I can say Shehk made it 5 minutes before I did, even while helping a panicked swimmer to safety.
Bo & Shehkar moments after the race.
SP; So, let’s get real; After decades of being one of our most universally famous icons of beauty-how much pressure, if any, did you feel donning a swimsuit (and horror of horrors) a bathing cap on the world stage again?
Bo, then & now. Whatever!!
BD; Swimsuit? No problem. I’m 56 years old so expectations are set pretty low. And by the time you’ve trained for this swim, you’re more concerned about making it to the other continent than about how you look. And frankly, you look pretty good. Not perfect. Not a “10”. But strong-a trait I personally find very attractive in swimmers. I wore a black rash guard,for sun protection, of course. We were given a strap-on ankle device that times your effort. I fancied it gave my ensemble a bit of a navy seal look. Swim caps have a tightening/pulling effect that can work in your favor.
BD;But oh my! Those friggin’ swim goggles are not made for the skin of 56 year old eye area. They caused bags, bruises and even something called supra-orbital neuralgia that sends shocks of severe pain to your face. For training I usually swam with a goofy looking scuba mask, but on race day, because of the cursed conditions, I had to use proper goggles. I expect my retirement fund will come from inventing swim goggles for a certain age demographic.
In the end, our swim turned out to be 4 miles and because of the weather, we swam against or across currents the entire way. When I made it to the finish, hobbling up the ramp with a pulled a groin muscle (just like real athlete) I wanted to curl up in a ball, cry a little and and vomit (swallowing that much saltwater makes one very sick) but the news cameras were there, so I grabbed a stranger’s sunglasses to cover the goggle damage and babbled on to the press about how great the experience was.
SP; I know how hard you’ve trained all these months and I’ve been truly inspired by your determination and commitment. There were many men, twice your size, that didn’t see the finish line. Has completing the Hellespont swim sparked your desire to set even more challenging goals for yourself?
BD; I gave! Shehk and I both gave. We are one of the ‘strong swimmers’ now. Forever redefined. I hope this makes sense, but I feel like one of those women I would like to be like. I even suspect my stride has changed as I enter any pool or the sea because I swam the Hellespont.
The Strong Swimmers celebrating their success
BD;Meanwhile, Shehk and I are both discussing a swim next year but I’d never attempt those conditions again. Do they have a swim around the island of Capri?
SP; As a matter of fact, yes, with little stops along the course where you can buy sandals from boats!
BD; And does it matter that 40% of the swimmers, especially big, strong men twice our size and strength didn’t make the swim? Hell yes!
The morning of August 31st (the day after the Hellespont Swim) 64yr. old Diana Nyad commenced her 5th bid to swim from Havana, Cuba to Florida, a distance of 110 miles (177 km). Accompanied by a 35-person support team, without a shark cage, but protected from jellyfish by a silicone mask, full bodysuit, gloves & booties, Nyad successfully reached Key West, aprox. 53 hours after she began her epic swim.
SP; Wasn’t it just the coolest that the incomparable Diana Nyad accomplished her history making 100 mile swim only three days later? Were you and Shehk in great company or what?! BTW, are there no jellyfish in the Hellespont? I’m afraid of jellyfish in my pool for God’s sake.
BD; Yes, I did get a jellyfish sting on the face during our practice swim, but nothing race day, thanks to the gods. It was amazing that Diana took off from Cuba to make swimming history so soon after our effort and my little 4-miler made me feel I could almost identify with her suffering. When you consider that after the Hellespont, I had a victory dinner & drinks, slept well, drove 4 hours to Istanbul, had another very chic victory dinner & drinks with friends, tucked into my bed at the Pera Palace Hotel (one of the 1,000 places to see before you die) and thought-all this time…she’s still swimming.
Pera Palace Hotel, Istanbul
Many, many thanks to B.D. for sharing her adventure with us.
I hope you are as inspired as I am!
Bo talks with Entertainment Tonight about her swim HERE
A fun account of the 2013 swim by a male swimmer (fyi-he didn’t succeed!) HERE
Post mentioning Byron HERE
“Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog” by Casper David Friedrich, 1818
Uncredited photos via Pinterest.