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Friday the 13th: Rules for visiting swimming pigs

Rule 1: Take food. Lots of food, whatever scraps, and leftovers you have. These freckled pigs are hand-fed by lots of boaters and they’re greedy. As soon as they hear a dinghy engine, they’re primed.

Rule 2:  Let the pigs swim out to you. Preferably in water deep enough so they can stand. They may stick their big ole snouts at you to beg and open their mouths to show off lots of sharp teeth, but they can’t climb into your dinghy or step on your feet. So you have the upper hand and can make a fast get-away if necessary.

Rule 3: Arrive in a group of boats. You will have less attention paid to you and that’s a good thing. Being descended upon by a herd (or whatever a bunch of pigs are called) is definitely intimidating, even if most of them are still piglets. Even one sow outweighs most anyone and they don’t move easily.

Rule 4: Get your camera out only once you’ve fed them. Anything in your hand is food according to pig perception and a hungry sow does not discriminate.

We broke all the rules. This wasn’t our first time to go to Big Major to visit the pigs. I mean, how many places can you go and be met by swimming pigs? We had a perfectly fine day to take this on again, so we hauled our dinghy out of the cockpit locker, heaved it onto the dock, inflated it with the foot pump, and slid it back in the water. This part took an hour. Then we proceeded to load it: life jackets, plastic zip-lock bag with camera and cell phone, towel, paddles, motor, spare battery (we have an electric outboard), water bottle and crackers for our consumption.

We were the only dinghy approaching the beach and as soon as a big sow saw us she got up and started for our dinghy. That’s when we realized we had forgotten to bring food for the pigs. Rather than wait for her, we beached the dinghy and I jumped out and pulled it onto the beach. I wanted photos. Then what looked like a big sandpile unfolded into a dozen little and medium sized piglets, jogging toward us. The sow got aggressive. Guess she wanted to make sure she got her share before we were so caught up by the cute little piggies that we ignored her. We know these pigs get aggressive, last visit one tried to climb into the dinghy to steal our red gas can thinking it was eatable. Our main concern then was having a hoof stab the inflatable and we’d be without transportation back to the marina. Like the baboons in Africa, these pigs are opportunistic.

This time, as I was trying to get the dinghy further onto the beach, this big sow stepped on my bare foot. I now carry a hoof-shaped bruise. Pushing a sow must be like cow-tipping; it usually doesn’t work. This gal weighed a lot more than me. I remembered our cheese crackers and I quickly tore this open and threw them as far onto the beach as I could. It wasn’t enough. She came back with a vengeance and bit my arm. I think she thought the camera I had in my hand was food and she wanted it. Our saving grace was the arrival of two more dinghys.The pigs and mamas took off in search of more food, swimming out to meet the boats. I wrapped my bleeding arm with Ed’s handkerchief and all the way back to the marina, I was thinking of all the things pigs put in their mouths. My injuries will heal but the scar on my forearm will be a reminder to be armed with a big bag of food scraps and to stay in the dinghy and make them first swim out to us. I mean, after all, what’s as unique as swimming pigs!

Ed and Janet Howle

Ed and Janet Howle are avid adventurers and authors embarking on a 14,000 mile journey.

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