In cycling or running, you are protected inside the pack. The leader is the windbreaker, and the slipstream pulls the pack along. Staying together conserves everyone’s energy
Open water swimming is a different story.
Water is very similar to airflow. When planes line up to land or take off they need a safe following distance, or they get caught up in the turbulence from the plane in front of them. The same thing happens in the water. If you get too close to someone in front of you, then it can get bumpy and confusing as you get caught in their wake.
It’s comforting to have other bodies around you, but it’s also pretty bumpy if you bunch up. There’s strength in numbers, but pack swimming slows you down, and you might get a foot shoved in your face.
Some activities like cycling or yoga are about finding a rhythm, controlling your breathing, and getting into the zone. A crowded open water swim can sometimes be the opposite. It’s chaotic – you find a good pace and settle in, then suddenly you are getting squeezed in by two swimmers on either side of you, or you need to power past through a gap or slam on anchors because the only way through is to wait for a gap. The release and relaxation I feel after a swim is because of that chaos. It sounds like a contradiction, but as they say, there are many different paths to the same well.