Jay Kauffmann Survives "the Narrows"


MSA English teacher and Department Chair, Jay Kauffman, competed in one of the world's most prestigious open-water swimming races, Bente Weber Memorial Cross Channel Swim. Mr. Kauffmann raced 2.5 miles from the island Nevis to the island St. Kitts in the West Indies. 

The race attracts the world's best open-water swimmers to a grueling test of mental and physical endurance. In addition to the 2.5-mile distance, swimmers must navigate high surf and unrelenting currents as they swim from one island to the next. Furthermore, the crystal clear waters allow racers to see sharks, stingrays, and other ocean predators swimming only meters away. 

In addition to finishing the race in 13th place, Mr. Kauffmann found time to write about his adventure. His travel essay, "The Narrows," was published this month in Expeditioner Magazine.   



Below are a few excerpts from his story. 

A dark shape glided by beneath me, a manta ray, its great wings undulating. It moved with such grace, at such a leisurely pace, I had half a mind to slow down and linger. Meanwhile, on the surface, I thrashed away in the throes of competition—a fifty-five year-old man somewhere between Nevis and St. Kitts—on the verge of oxygen debt.

Between the two islands, the Caribbean (to the west) and the Atlantic (to the east) meet like two vying forces, guaranteed to create rough water. When she heard I was doing the race, the resort’s owner smiled and said, “Well, let’s hope it’s not like last year. We wouldn’t want you to end up in Nicaragua.” Apparently, a number of swimmers dropped-out in 2016, floundering in the giant swells, pushed woefully off course.


As I neared the center of the channel, known as “the Narrows,” the water turned rough—big cresting waves rolling east to west—throwing off my stroke. For moments, I found myself hanging in midair, with nothing to sink my hands into, before plunging down the face of the wave.

The waves lashed, buffeted against me, lifting then dropping me a full story. For some moments, I had no idea where to go and began to panic. Where were the other swimmers? Had the current pushed me so far off course? And where in God’s name was the shoreline?

And then it hit me: I was alone—utterly and horrifyingly alone.