The first triathlon I ever did was in what was called the Discovery distance. This is a super short distance just to allow people to see what a triathlon is all about. The swim in this is only 400m but when you’ve never done that before, especially in the open water, that’s quite daunting.
The thing I remember most about that swim (besides the guy I nearly sank when I accidentally breast-stroked over his back) was the curving line of buoys in the water. This buoy line was made up of many small yellow floats and ended with one large red one. But it arced hard to one side, following the current. The red end-buoy was presumably anchored to the bottom, so it more or less stayed in one place. This gave me a clear idea of what the current was doing.
In addition, farther out to sea, all the giant cargo ships waiting to dock were all pointing in one direction. Their bows were pointed into the current, with their anchors holding them in one place. This was an additional way to read the current.
It had me wondering: Should I try to cut a straight line from shore to red buoy, or should I arc the opposite way of the current to try to compensate for any drift? I had never considered the current, having only swam in the pool at my condo.
I ended up zig-zagging all over the place, totally unable to control whether I was arcing one way or going another way, so that decision ended up being moot.
But what I learned that day was that you can quite easily read any current from the shore, either using the buoys or ships, and this is a good way to prepare for the swim.
Now if only I could swim in a straight line…