I jumped in the river with my buddy Ryan on Saturday for a training swim. It was his first open-water swim, and my first swim in a long time. We’re lucky to have a perfect spot to swim at his parents’ condo with no boat traffic and a loop course that’s about 400 yards or so. The water was nice and calm, except for the occasional manatee poking its nose up to get a whiff of whoever was manning the paddle board. I think they were pretty curious about what we were doing. Ryan bumped into them a couple of times during his session, and I got bumped by a few when I was in the water before we started.

Here’s the thing…manatees feel like sharks.

Not that I’ve ever felt a shark in the water, and I know manatees are really gentle. But when you can’t see exactly what it is rubbing up against you under the water it’s kind of freaky; lots of incentive to swim fast and try to avoid them. It’s actually good race training in a way. It simulates getting bumped into by other swimmers without getting punched or having your goggles kicked off.

Just as we were getting out of the water a couple of dolphins showed up. As fun as it sounds to swim with dolphins, those things are freakishly strong, and they aren’t nearly as gentle as manatees. And while I can out-swim a manatee that’s leisurely goofing off in the water, I’m not quite as fast as a sleeping dolphin…yet. Getting unexpectedly bumped by a dolphin would not only be a little alarming, it would actually hurt.

We’re going to try to do this swim at least once a week, and hopefully we’ll get some choppier water next time to change the conditions up a little bit. And hopefully the critters will keep their distance.