Byron & Bo

tempestuous sea

“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.

BD & SPB.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.

Bo Derek

 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?”

Swim Lynn Sherr

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.

Lord Byron

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!

JCBo’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!”

John Corbett & Bo Derek

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 & Shehk

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 derek 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.

bathing caps

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.

Bo & Shehk

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


Benefits of Swimming

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

Keep Calm, Go Swim

Post mentioning Byron HERE


“Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog” by Casper David Friedrich, 1818

Uncredited photos via Pinterest.



  1. Bo and Slim, thanks so much for sharing. Am planning my own Hellesport. Every day I try to emulate one of those women I admire, like you guys.

  2. Impressive!
    Seriously she is still a 10!

    We were wading through some serious rain on our walk today, got soaked through to the skin and as luck would have it are dry and sitting by a fire sipping a cocktail.
    Great to read your post Slim.
    Hope you are warm and dry, snug and cozy too.

  3. Yes BD – invent those goggles. My sister and I (67 & 70) are off to do our little mile in Lake Tahoe this week. We swim in the lake all July – and then go back in October for one last swim before the snow. W may not make it this year – it may be just too cold!

  4. Fabulous blog Slim. Thoroughly enjoyed reading and recapping B.D.’s amazing swim. Still a total 10, with no doubt about it. Loved the pic of you two lovely ladies.

  5. Everything is soooo full circle. I am really into swimming but please the HELLESPONT. I am impressed By the way, I buy Bo’s dog products. . . they smell so good. . . and I bought a few Hostess gifts during the Kings Lane sale. There
    is a synchronicity about this. . . .hmmmmm I also was in Positano recently, near Capri and have THE handmade sandals in multiples. . . . I’ll stop now BFF at a distance, lol

    • Hi Distant BFF!
      Yes, I saw that you bought a few items in my One King’s Lane TasteMaker Tag Sale. Thank you!
      The last time I was in Positano I was heavily pregnant-not the most romantic state to be in, but it was lovely just the same…

  6. Thanks for this particularly wonderful post. I will think of Ms. Derek as I make the annual switch from open water swimming (all summer and early fall) to pool swimming. (I am happier in the water than on land, but boy, it’s hard to enjoy long swims in the confines of a chlorinated pool after months of doing them in a pure, clear seemingly-endless lake or river.) That Bo coped with and succeeded despite the strict time constraint posed by heavy water traffic and the challenges of the weather, much less the distance becoming more than double what she had planned, is a real tribute to her strength of body and spirit…BRAVO, Bo!!

  7. Yowzers! what a fantastic story! I have a friend, Jennifer Figge who just swam ANOTHER CHANNEL! (lots of channels she has swum!!)

    In a shark cage! But she has swum (is that a proper word?)

    It is all just something I can admire from the side!

    I LOVE this post! I love Bo Derek! and I love both of you for being courageous and lovely, and feminine women!

    what a great example you are for my daughters; and my granddaughters!



  8. Thank you for sharing this Slim. She is an inspiration on many levels. It goes to show us that setting goals is so important and fulfilling. My idea of a swim would be a few laps at the community pool.

  9. This story about Bo was quite a shocker.
    But what was not shocking is that she is as beautiful as ever & like fine wine is better with a little time.

  10. Bravo to BD, my heroine, and to you for such a lovely narrative. And I know, Slim, that the moment they announce a Chanel Swim, you’ll be in the lead, slogging your way through little black dresses, chic handbags and numerical fragrances like a pro 🙂

  11. thank you for this post! love “you go, girl” stories…wonderful achievement–doubly sweet that BOTH women finished…I wonder if either one of them would have bailed when presented with the current conditions if they had not had each other for support?

    • What I forgot to mention Susan is that Bo & Shehk were training on different continents- Bo in California and Shehkar in the U.K.- so even more extraordinary that they finished only 5 minutes apart!

  12. A big WOW! YIKES! and Congratulations!!! As I became more immersed in the post, I really just felt that the image of all these people adrift/swimming/floating/gasping was a metaphor for the whole human soup of life….we are all in this together and touch each other when we don’t even know it. In that vein….Mama needs some goggles, but will wait for the new version;)

  13. What an amazing accomplishment!! Congratulations Bo, you are inspiring. Your dog products are very cool too. My husband is still shaking his water logged head over how many laps you did at the Y to train for this event:-)). Thanks for sharing this interview with us, SP. You’re always inspiring.

  14. As a “senior citizen” I always hate it when I hear somebody say “I can’t do (fill in the blank) because I am too old.” Saying that is what MAKES you old! The past week I have had a decision to make about whether or not I should get involved in a certain project as I am already “too busy.” This blog post has helped me to decide to go for it. I don’t want to be lying on my death bed thinking “I should have…” We can’t all swim the Hellespont and we can’t all look like a movie star (wow, BD is truly better looking now than then!) but we all have something we can get out there and do with a little effort! Thanks for an inspiring post!

  15. Enjoyed this post so much. Fun interview, Slim, and thanks to Bo for sharing her story. It’s inspirational and so encouraging {and a little daunting!}.

  16. What an amazing thing to do! Congratulations, B.D.! I think I’m something if I aqua-jog in place for 30 minutes in a protected warm salt-water pool, and you’re off braving the waves! Kudos to you for your spirit of adventure, willingness to try, and courage to endure.

  17. Great account, almost feel like I was there {and therefore I don’t need to do it myself}, but If JC were telling me I could do it “love”, I’m sure I could!! Beautiful story from two beautiful inspiring women! Thanks for sharing.

  18. Holy Shit, I am so not worthy, I have always adored her cheekbones, (smooth forehead and eyes) quiet voice, her statuesque physique, her way with men and horses,……. her swimming stamina is so alluring i am contemplating a “girlmance”. I am exhausted after taking a shower…………….xo

  19. What a nice woman Bo is, I really liked her after reading your great interview ..many years ago Susie Maroney a young Australia swam frm Florida to Cuba , Castro was so impressed he invited her to dinner!

  20. Inspiring to say the least. Being back on the east coast I’ve sadly given up my mile-a-day swim and save it for random summer exercise efforts. Though there was a time when I lived in NYC that I trudged off to the Y every day at lunchtime–even in the winter–& swam my requisite mile. All that RE-blow drying–RE-everything–it exhausts me to think but I never felt better. I was extremely thin but strong; had great arms and slept like a baby. Added bonus: it’s quiet and meditative and I’d usually enter the shower with a number if problems sorted out! I am fully planning on resurrecting this exercise form this winter–started last weekend. Felt great; eyes looked like hell for the rest of the day!! Bo still looks amazing, as do you!

  21. OMG!! That was beyond inspiring ( and a little depressing quite frankly.. 56? Come on !!!)
    I am starting my training tomorrow.. For WHAT I am not quite sure as of yet… but I have 12 hrs to think about it!
    Thanks to you SP for your always thoughtful and HI-larious voice, and to BD for her tenacity of spirit.. I LOVE it!

  22. Slim, congrats to you and Bo in that choppy water..great post. I retired at 65 and took swimming classes at the Y to get over fear of water. I do laps now but cannot swim over a mile…everything you said about swimming is so true…I luv to jump in the water …because at 68 I can.

  23. Did you know the very fabulous Patrick Leigh Fermor, similarly inspired by Byron swam this age 70! yikes … pretty impressive too methinks. I am in awe …10 laps of the pool over summer and I am rosé ready.

    • A superb feat Bo!! Warmest congratulations to you and your friend! And thank you Slim – your posts open up so many horizons. It’s wonderful to discover how brave, strong and adventurous Bo Derek is at the age of 56 – till now hadn’t thought about her for such a long time. And what a gorgeous partner she has in John Corbett. I’m sure this post will inspire many women to step outside their comfort zones and try something more adventurous, even if we don’t venture quite so far as swimming the Hellespont.
      As a great Paddy Leigh Fermor fan, have recently read the book of letters between Paddy and Debo Devonshire, his books about his walk across Europe and his autobiography by Artemis Cooper. He was amazing as well! When almost three score and ten, Paddy struggled with the current and the chop, about a mile or so south of where Byron crossed, and like Bo, persevered and against the odds made it to the other side.
      Best wishes, Pamela

  24. All your life pleasures are coming back to you in your full circle.
    Bravo! to Bo Derek on your great accomplishment.
    Bravah to Slim Paley to your Inspirational blogs.
    Both of you are gorgeous, too!

  25. What an inspiring post! I love how Bo is living her life, and teaches us through her own zest for life, that only our self imposed limitations keep us from doing what we love. Great interview, Slim! I hope to see more interviews from you!!!

  26. Hello Slim, just a technical issue to raise for your FYI. But have you noticed that your blog on everyone’s blog roll including mine isn’t updating and is stuck on some post in 2009? Just thougt I’d let you know! Have a great weekend.

  27. Pingback: Whatever Happened to Bo Derek ??

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