And then, as if we didn't have enough problems, a nasty thunderstorm blew up; we could see the wall of rain and lightning moving toward us. I had no desire to turn poor Christine and her kayak into a lightning rod, so we got out and waited out the storm under an old pavilion-slash-tiki bar that just happened to be within easy reach. (Some swimmers apparently stayed in during the storm, but that was a dangerous move - the wind was insane, rain was blowing horizontally, we could see nothing but white, and the thunder and lightning were right on top of each other and very violent, if shortlived - so I think we made the right decision, despite the fact that that invalidated my swim.) Later, we heard that a couple of kayaks had actually capsized during the storm and had had to be rescued by a tiki boat, not even part of our race. Pretty funny.
Anyway, after the 35-minute storm, we looked out at the water, and it was like glass - better than it had been all day. I had been fighting wind, current, and big waves for four and a half hours before the storm, and this was a complete 180, and a welcome sight. The rescue boat informed us that we'd made it past the hard part and the current would be with us for the remainder of the swim, so I said, "Who cares if it's not official - we can at least finish." So we got back into the water... and had maybe five good minutes before the wind was back, and stronger than ever. The captains kept insisting that we'd be with the current, but Christine and I didn't believe them - when she stopped to get me a drink of water, her kayak got pushed twenty feet backwards in the blink of an eye, and whenever I tried to say something to her, I had to break it into two-word increments to allow for the waves (caused by the wind) that were constantly smashing me in the face. ("I feel like a salmon swimming upstream!" I laughed at one point.) Whatever current there was - maybe a half-mile an hour - was being more than overshadowed by the wind, because we found out later that it was blowing at almost thirty miles an hour!
When the rescue boat came back, around mile marker 8, we decided to just get out - my swim was already invalid because of our decision to get out during the lightning, and we were both tired of fighting wind and water and waves and never getting anywhere. Not two minutes after we'd pulled Christine's kayak up onto the rescue boat, another boat came by and asked our pilot, Dave, "Are you taking them back to the start?"
"Yeah," said Dave.
"Don't," warned the other guy, shaking his head. "Have you seen the waves on the other side of the island? They're like this." And he held his hand up, nearly twice as high as the side of his boat. "They're 300 yards out and they're breaking."
"Are you serious?"
"Wow. Okay, then I'll just take them back to the marina. Thanks, man," Dave said.
"No problem!" And the other boat roared away.
Dave turned to us. "I can't take my boat out there; we'd capsize," he said. "Sorry. I'll take you guys back to the marina, and you can call a cab."
"Looks like we picked the right time to get out," Christine and I muttered to each other, wide-eyed.
Anyway, believe it or not, some swimmers actually did finish; most were fast swimmers who were close to the finish when the big weather problems started and just couldn't bring themselves to give up, but a couple were bound and determined to fight through the weather no matter what happened, and after eight and a half hours (!) they crawled up onto shore. (Those are the crazies who stayed in during the storm.) There were a lot of others, however, who got stuck like we did; there was a definite 'dividing line' as to who finished and who didn't, based on swim speed, and I believe it was drawn right in front of me, because as far as I know, I was the fastest of the non-finishers, stopping at mile 8 instead of 5 or 6 like the rest. And judging by the slow finishers' times (all of whom were still in front of me), if I had pushed through it, it would have probably taken me a total of about ten hours to finish. However, judging by the amount of time I spent in the water, I think I swam the equivalent of about 11 miles, which is almost the full race distance anyway. So I didn't do too badly - I did what I could with the cards I'd been dealt. It's always disappointing not to finish, but sometimes you just have to cut your losses.
Christine and I went back to the starting line to watch the last few people come in, and it was almost as miserable for us on the shore as it was in the water. The wind was unbelievable; you had to speak in raised voices, and innumerable grains of sand were stinging our legs like so many sharp needles. The best part, however, was the birds: they couldn't fly. The wind was so strong that it was the equivalent of a birdie treadmill; the birds that tried to fly into it couldn't make any headway. They'd flap helplessly in the same spot for a few seconds, then give up and go the other way. It was really pretty funny to watch.
Ah, well. Next year can't be any worse, right?