Life In The Water

Do you ever get that sinking feeling? William Chapin looks back on learning to swim.

| June/July 1995

Long before I knew how to swim I knew how to float—and it's just as well. Wouldn't be here otherwise. I was a Floater Supreme, although I admit that sounds like a weird concoction dreamed up by an old-fashioned soda fountain in the hinterlands of America.

When I was about six months old (I do not, of course, remember this but it became part of oft-repeated Chapin folklore), my dear mother, tired of carrying me, settled me down on a big smooth rock that overlooked a quiet stretch of Otter Creek near Pittsford, Vermont.

While she was contemplating the view, I suddenly started to roll, and rolled right into Otter Creek. I floated downstream quietly and confidently, face up. Apparently unnerved after a minute or so, though, I began to squall, shattering the peaceful summer day. My mother couldn't swim ...not a stroke. Faced with the prospect of a water-logged baby, she showed great presence of mind. She found a long pole, reached out with it, and gently guided me to shore, where she fished me out and dried me off.

The maternal instinct can do anything.

A few years later my dad was lucky enough to get a job in the Tropics, giving me an unbeatable opportunity to learn how to swim. I honed those swimming skills at age eight by going to Pera Beach on the eastern tip of Jamaica. Employing a choppy crawl, I headed straight for the coral reef and kept going until spoilsport grown-ups overtook me and hauled me back, suggesting all the while that if I'd been allowed to swim 10 feet farther the barracudas would have got me.

Ever since, I have had a matchless swimming record, as I will now proceed to demonstrate.

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