The wind blew 20 miles per hour out of the north. Waves, 4 to 6 feet high, broke over the bow of the flats skiff, nearly filling the boat with water.
It was not a good day to be on Tampa Bay.
"I was having a great time, but the boat was about to sink," recalled 67-year-old Carl Selles. "So I had to stop."
So much for rules, the swimmer thought. If only he wasn't required to have a support boat escort him on last year's 24-mile swim from the Sunshine Skyway Bridge to the finish line at Ben T. Davis Beach.
"I wanted to keep going," explained the masters' swimmer. "But they have to think about safety."
The annual Tampa Bay Marathon Swim, now in its 17th year, is one of the most challenging open-water events in the world. It started in April 1998 when local waterman Ron Collins decided to try something a little different to celebrate Earth Day.
Collins called some friends to witness the spectacle, put a few beers on ice at the finish line, and hit the water — covering the 24-mile course in 9 hours and 52 minutes, the last 100 yards or so butterfly.
Word spread quickly and Collins started receiving inquiries from other open-water enthusiasts hoping to duplicate his epic swim. So he started a website — distancematters.com — and a race was born.
On Saturday, Selles and more than a dozen other extreme athletes will take to the water again. Over the years, competitors from across the United States and Great Britain, Guatemala, Italy, Mexico, Australia, Japan, Argentina, Dominican Republic, Germany, India, Canada and the Cayman Islands have turned out hoping Florida's unpredictable spring weather won't send them home disappointed.
"The thing about this swim is you really never know what to expect," Selles said. "You just have to show up race day and hope for the best."
Despite his age (he will set the record as the event's oldest swimmer this year), Selles, a former college swimmer, should be one of the faster contestants. "I'm all about health and nutrition," he said. "I don't really do anything but swim and paddle."
The former history teacher spends his summers in Colorado but winters in St. Petersburg. "I came down here 12 years ago after I retired," he said. "I fell in love with North Shore Pool and had to stay."
Selles, who was forced to stop after 8 miles last year, said he knows he can go the full distance. Last year, after failing to complete the Tampa Bay Marathon Swim, Selles went on to swim a 27-mile stretch of North Dakota's Red River in 7 hours, 42 minutes.
Most competitors in Saturday's swim, which begins at 7 a.m., should finish in 10 to 14 hours. But seasoned veteran Samantha Simon should swim much faster. She did her first Tampa Bay Marathon Swim in 2008 when she was just 18 years old.
Not only did the Wisconsin resident complete that challenge in 8 hours, 59 minutes, she went on to swim the English Channel (13 hours, 11 minutes), around New York City in the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim (8 hours, 10 minutes) and across the Catalina Channel (9 hours, 22 minutes) at age 20 to become the youngest person to complete the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming.
Selles, meanwhile, is leaving nothing to chance the second time around. "This year," he said, "I'm bringing a bigger boat."