by Randall Beaird
I love to swim. On Lake Livingston, at Westwood Shores, on the tip of White Rock Creek, I wear my surfer shirt. It’s blue, kind of sparkly, and makes me look like a big minnow.
In Florida, I felt compelled to buy it; I grew tired asking strangers to reach the parts I couldn’t with sunscreen. It was too much to ask and the surfer shirt blocked the sun and jellyfish attacks.
Friends warn me about swimming with the alligators in White Rock Creek. There’s a ten footer in there and dogs have been eaten. I believe them. That’s when I tell them there have been two alligator attacks on humans the last twenty-five years in Texas. There’s been about 240 alligator attacks in the South the last 40 years or so–seven fatalities, all in Florida except one in Georgia. The fatality rate for alligator attacks is 3.4%; maybe a toothy indentation but I’ll make it back to shore. (shark fatality rate is 2%–for every 100 bitten, two die).
I don’t push it though. I try not to swim near unpopulated shorelines (nesting gators) and maybe I’ll wear a knife strapped to my calf. Or maybe I’ll wait until I’m the third person chomped on in Texas–hopefully not the first to be eaten completely. I’ve only seen a four footer where I swim.
Update: A few months after writing this I was swimming in the afternoons of July, but the shallow water of the creek made the water almost unbearably hot. So I started swimming before work, when the gators are still on patrol for snacks. I swam about 1/4 mile along the shoreline and turned around where they were building a house on the water. When I made it back home and had showered, while getting dressed, I was startled to see a 12 foot gator floating on top of the water about ten feet from the spot I got out. It was obvious that it had been stalking me, following me home. Later, the guys who were building the house confirmed they saw it over by them first, and they worried for me, but they didn’t see it following me. I put swimming on the back burner for a month or two after that.
Probably posing a bigger danger than gators is the bacteria resting in such a lethargic body of water. And then there’s the heat stroke problem as the surface temps soared past what I’m guessing was 90 degrees in the shallow water. All I do is put a little alcohol/vinegar cocktail in my ears afterwards and try to swim near the bottom when I’m about to faint from the heat.
Back to spear fishing in Florida.
I didn’t eat breakfast and vowed nothing would touch my lips unless and until provided by the sea. I could tell my shots were consistently high–the problem was getting close enough to worthy and legal species.
I had been warned not to shoot the Warsaw Grouper. It was a protected fish and very expensive fines waited for the shooter. I stayed up late memorizing the fish not to nail. I was already in the hole $31.50 for my fishing license and $10.00 for the little Styrofoam dive flag floatie sign that I had to pull around with me. Add my mask, snorkel and fins–we’re talking about an expensive fish dinner, or so I hoped.
I eased into the Gulf of Mexico about five miles north of Key West. I could tell right away the tide was going out and I was in the Atlantic Ocean in about 45 seconds. It was a deadly current if you fought it; I rode it like I was at Astroworld.
There was a fisherman near the bridge on the Atlantic side so I paddled like an angry penguin to stay at least 100 feet away. The law requires spear gunners to stay that far from the hook chunkers. Plus, whenever I saw a fisherman, and they saw me swimming with their dinner, there was always the evil eye staring me down. 100 feet was too close–I didn’t want to be the catch of the day.