Posts Tagged ‘open water swimming’

P1070015

The Seacliff beach hotel which overlooked the swim and hosted the presentation

There is an open water series of swims in my new adopted home and this was the first one. I was looking forward to competing even though my swimming has been a little poor of late. The event was a 1.6km (1 mile) sea swim. In past years it had been along the coast to a buoy near the jetty and back.

When we set out from hone the weather was looking a little unsettled. There had been storms over the last few days and the forecast for today wasn’t too promising. When we arrived, the sea looked a bit choppy and we were told that there quite a strong current running southward. It looked like my ideal conditions. The current would take me to the buoy and then I could fight my way against the wind and wave to the finish. It would also slow down some of the pool swimmers that only ever swim in flat calm.

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The conditions looked either good or bad depending on your view

After registering we went for a little pre-race nutrition or as it’s usually known a cup of hot chocolate and a walnut muffin. As we passed the time of day looking out to sea we noticed that the buoy near the jetty was being moved. What was going on. We could only speculate and all our speculations lead to one thing, the course was being changed.

The truth became known at the briefing. We would now be doing two loops, starting off against the current. I felt slightly cheated by this. I would have much preferred an out and back rather than loops. The rationale was that it would help the weaker swimmers complete the course. I had to reluctantly agree, not that I had a choice.

P1070019

Somewhere to hide from the wind

The water felt warm to me but others felt that it was nearly arctic. Water temperature is such a subjective thing. We all bobbed around in the water trying to find the idea starting position. I wanted the shortest route but I didn’t want to be caught up in the fast swimmer’s melee.

All of a sudden, we were off. I didn’t here a gun or hooter, there was just a fast surge forward. The swim was on. I started pushing against the current and climbing the waves. This was fun. This is what sea swimming is all about. Every now and then I looked up for the buoy and corrected my tendency to veer to the left. It took a while to get there but eventually I rounded the yellow blob. The sea conditions changed instantly. Now the current was pushing from the side but I was still climbing waves. The next buoy and the next turn came quickly. Now everything was pushing me down the beach. It made things far to easy. I felt relaxed and cruised down to the next buoy ready for the next lap.

The folly of my pre-race nutrition regime hit home a little way into the second loop. One moment I was happily fighting the current and climbing the waves, the next I had the taste of hot chocolate in my mouth. More worryingly I could feel little bit of walnuts as well. I had no desire to make this the first time I’d thrown up in the sea so I swallowed hard and concentrated on making progress. I now had the taste of salty hot chocolate and walnuts in my mouth. The harder a swam the more the feeling rose. It all disappeared as I rounded to buoy. The feeling passed, I felt relieved

P1070020

The finish, a good place to end.

The final leg went well, the weakening current pushed me all the way to the finish where the only hard decision to make was where to stop swimming and get to my feet. Despite the feeling of rising nausea I really enjoyed the swim. Hopefully the rest in the series will be just as enjoyable.

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Moonlight (3)

Henley Beach at dusk

It seemed like a simple idea: gather at dusk on a full moon and then have a short swim around the Jetty before retiring for refreshments. I couldn’t believe that no one in my new group of swimmers had done it before. There were objections, some said that the fish with large teeth feed at dusk, others just felt intimated by the whole thing. There was intrigue as well, this was something new, something slightly out of the ordinary and more than that it was a chance for a little get together afterwards. With a bit of persistence and persuasion I managed to amass a small group to make the inaugural (and potentially only) Henley moonlight swim.

A moonlight swim needs to be done with moonlight and the brightest moonlight is on the full moon. I was lucky as the next full moon was on a Friday. It is always easier to pursued people to do something silly on a Friday. The next problem was that despite the moonlight It is still quite dark. This was solved by a visit to a superstore to acquire glow sticks. I left the store feeling like a teenager going to a rave.

Moonlight

Be safe, be seen

We gathered outside the surf club as dusk fell. I’d checked the moonrise time and it was about now. What I had failed to consider was that the hills in the east would obscure the moon for quite a while after the moonrise. Undeterred I renamed the event a twilight swim and we all carried on regardless.

Julianne had also thought about lighting, she had placed a lamp into her yellow tow float to produce an eerie floating orb. The rest of us were decked in glow sticks.

Moonlight (1)

Preparing the celebration of the golden orb

We wandered down to the sea ready to start our swim under the eyes of a few curious passers-by on the jetty. We must have looked like some weird cult following a golden orb into the sea. The water was cool but not cold, it didn’t take much getting used to. The sea was calm and still and so very pleasant to swim in. Heading out to sea was a beautiful and surreal experience. Every now and again I would see a glow stick rise and fall. Away in the distance the glowing yellow orb showed the way.

Moonlight (2)

The orb leads, the others follow

 

As we rounded the jetty the lights from the shore illuminated our way back to the beach. We could all feel the current pulling us slowly towards the Jetty. One of us actually swam into it. We all gathered on the beach. Some felt that they had had enough whist others felt that it was so good they wanted to go around again.

 

Nearly everyone asked when will we be doing it again, I count this as a success.

Murray View

We are going to swim across there

A lot of the border between Victoria and New South Wales is marked by the River Murray, that’s why it’s such a wiggly line on the map. The idea of swimming to another state appealed to me and that was the main reason that I was in Mildura. I was there with a group of masters’ swimmers who were taking part in a swimming gala. They had a tradition of swimming across the river to mark the end of the event and the start of the party.

We started by slipping into the water from the back of the houseboat. For those that had been in a swimming pool all weekend the water was freezing. For those of us who had been standing on the pool deck guiding swimmers to the start and eating junk food it was refreshingly cool.

Murray Setting off

Setting off

The water wasn’t particularly clear, it tasted slightly of mud and dirt. I tried not to think about how much the pelicans had added to the organic matter in the water. We wanted to land on the small bank opposite the house boat so someone did some complicated maths with white boards and rulers to work out that we needed to head slightly upstream, to a clump of trees about ten meters from our landing point. It all seemed to make sense.

Have I mentioned that I’ve not swum for a while and that I’d spent the weekend eating and drinking? Well this was the point where the chickens (or possibly pelicans) came home to roost. For the first few strokes I thought it was just getting used to the water; for the next few I was sure it was something to do with my lack of fitness. Then came the acid indigestion. It felt like lava rising from my stomach and burning in my throat. I was struggling.

Murray Other Side

For a crossing to count you must wave at the photographer

I know when things as going wrong and they were going wrong now. I was lifting my head too high. I was pulling on the water to no effect. I was in the middle of a river, I was crossing a state line. Eventually I reached the other side and stepped into the soft mud. It oozed between my toes and generally felt unpleasant. As this was a crossing we had to follow official crossing rules and touch the other bank. I now faced a quandary. Should I take the four kilometre walk back to the boat by land wearing nothing but a pair of trunks or should I swim the one hundred and fifty meters across the river. I opted for the swim.

Murray Coming Back

Coming back to hot showers and tea

What should have been a pleasant swim back was made hard by complete lack of physical conditioning. This should have been an easy swim but it turned out to be a bit of a mare. I was so thankful to reach the back of the boat, get a hot shower and be handed a cup of tea.

Would you like to see a video of the crossing

 

cuck 1

Birling Gap Beach, looking west to Cuckmere Haven

This is a serious swim, this is a committing swim, this is a swim that I have wanted to do for a very long time. It starts at Cuckmere Haven and follows the coastline to Birling Gap. On one side, the Seven Sisters rear up and on the other side is the English Channel. Once you start there is no going back and there is no getting out. The cliffs plunge directly into the sea for the two-mile length. At low tide, there may be a small beach but the swim has to be done on a rising tide in the three hours before high water. This allows the water to cover the chalk bar and ensures that the current is running with you.

We had studied the tide tables and identified a suitable day. We needed time to get there and to sort ourselves out, so we looked for high tides in the afternoon. There were only a few weekends that met our requirements. The first possible weekend had been called off for various reasons and that left just one weekend when the tides were right and everyone was available. Plans were made and times set

cuck 9

Five swimmers to take on the Seven Sisters

It started badly, Amy missed her train and then missed the next one by being on the wrong platform. That ate into the contingency I’d allowed. Three of us headed down to Birling Gap and hoped that Cate and Amy would drive like the wind to meet us there. We sat in the café and fortified ourselves with tea and cake. We’d taken a look at the sea and it had looked a little lumpy. Cate arrived ten minutes later. I’m sure that speed limits were used as targets on her journey down. We all piled into her car and headed over to Cuckmere Haven

Three of us were already changed but Cate and Amy needed to do the changing dance in the public car park for the amusement of the passers-by. Once ready we started the walk to the coast. We must have looked a little odd dressed only in swimming clothes as we joined the Gore-Tex clad walkers and Sunday strollers. Time was ticking on and high water was getting closer. I had no desire to swim against the current.

We stood at the end of the beach and shed our outer layers. Cate and I had brought tow floats to carry a few clothes and shoes to the end of the swim. I stuffed mine full of discarded clothes, sealed it and headed for the water.

cuck 2

Strolling down to the beach trying to look inconspicuous

Getting in was fun, the waves were rearing up onto the beach making my usual practice of getting progressively wetter redundant. It was just a case of plunging in and getting on with it. Once we were all in we started heading East. The swimming was fantastic, once my body got used to the temperature I just relaxed into the stroke and enjoyed the surroundings. On one side, the cliffs dominated the sky line. Every now and again I would spot a small dot on top of the cliff that was a person looking down; on the other was just endless rolling sea. I’m sure that I had a huge smile on my face. Every now and then Sue and Pam would stop and take photographs. They seemed to be enjoying it.

cuck 3

Starting the Swim

We had to make sure that we kept away from the cliff, the waves got quite large as the water got shallower. It was wonderful to only see a wall of water at one point and then be on top of our wet world the next. Amy was loving the waves, I could see the big grin on her face every time she got to the top of the wave. This is what makes sea swimming. I was not so sure that Sue was enjoying it as much.

cuck 4

Swimming on top of a wave

It started to go wrong for Sue after about a mile or so. She was not used to swimming this distance in water of this temperature and she had recently lost some weight. She had started to get cold. Once the cold starts to get a grip it is very hard to shake it off. The colder she got the more worried she became. The more worried she became the colder she got. She had started on the vicious circle of hypothermia. She was getting slower, Pam stayed with her and tried to let the rest of us know that Sue was suffering but to no avail. It didn’t help that the swim was taking a lot longer than we had estimated and the chances were getting quite high that we would soon be swimming against the current.

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Bobbing along quite happily

From sea level, the Seven Sisters look remarkably similar if you are not familiar with then. Sue had convinced herself that she was not making any progress. She was in a bad way. We tried reassuring her that the we were getting closer to the end, at this point we could see the steps down to the beach in the far distance, but she didn’t believe us. The coastguard helicopter passed overhead, I’d forgotten to inform them that we were doing the swim so I have no doubt that someone had reported five idiots in the water. I half expected Sue to start waving for help.

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Up close and personal with the Seven Sisters

The beach starts long before the steps that give access to the cliffs, despite this we all felt that the official end of the swim would be the steps. I have a feeling that Sue hadn’t realised we were close to the beach and an escape from her torment. I was at the top of a wave when I spotted the start of the beach. It was directly below a big yellow spot on the cliff. This gave us a target and gave Sue something to aim for.

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Marching Sue to the car at the end of the swim

I made it to the beach first. The plan was for me to get sorted out so that we could deal with Sue as quickly as possible. Pam escorted Sue in a few minutes later. We had her wrapped in warm clothes in an instant and marched her off the beach in double quick time. Having the car sol close to the beach was a wonderful thing.

There was only one thing to do after an epic swim and that was to sit in a warm pub.

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Waiting for hot coffee and cold beer

3 rivers (3)

Don’t you just love a friendly welcome

I have a frequent day dream that I’ll open a letter from an unknown source after a chance encounter and that would lead to a life of adventure. These days of course it would be by e-mail but that doesn’t detract from the dream. The invitation came from Helen via Facebook and was due to an encounter in Estonia, it was for a day of adventure in three different rivers, Cate had been invited as well so we headed north with a tin full of cake and a car full of towels ready for a day of wild swimming.

3 rivers (5)

A killer Swan in the first bloom of youth

We met up with Helen and a few others in a car park by the River Great Ouse. The “No Swimming” sign looked a little ominous but a few of the gathered crowd were decidedly scathing about this addition to the riverside. More worrying was the adolescent swan that was very keen on protecting his patch of the river from anything that moved. He hissed at ducks, dogs and would be swimmers in equal parts. Eventually he bowed to the pressure of numbers and went downstream to terrorise smaller prey.

3 rivers (4)

So nice, so tranquil, so swim!

We slipped into the water by the bridge. This is the bit I never like. I try to explain to people that I don’t like getting wet but I’m happy being wet; no one seems to really understand this concept, either that or I’m unique in this regard. The water was pleasantly cold. It was cold enough to know it river water but not so cold to require a rapid and instant exit. We headed up-stream against the gentle current past one or two boats and a campsite. A few Swans watched our progress ready to pounce if we got too close. I was loving it, being in a river is so different to being in the clean, clinical environment of a pool. I could taste when the mud was disturbed, I could feel the flow of the river and I could see the ever changing scenery of the river bank. I felt that I could carry on swimming upstream for ever. Eventually though we had to turn round and head back. What seemed like a gentle current on the way up was now giving me a massive push on the way back. I took long strokes and waved at a few passing walkers feeling invincible whilst swimming with the flow. It was almost a shame to get out.

3 rivers (9)

Cate: dressed for a warm spring day

Wild swimming is a breakfast and cake sport. It should be either preceded or succeeded by one of these. In this respect it’s a lot like cycling. There was a café a stone’s throw away that served a proper breakfast: Fried slice, fried egg, sausage, bacon and beans. This is exactly what is needed after a swim like that; Muesli just wouldn’t enhance the experience.

3 rivers (6)

The River Cam and not a punt in sight

Our next stop involved an encounter with naturists and the River Cam. We got changed for the second swim on a private area by the side of the river. One side was inhabited by naked people and the other by swimmers struggling under dry robes with swimming costumes. It was an amusing juxtaposition of naked men watching people getting changed without exposing themselves.

3 rivers (7)

Helen, who organised the day, rising majestically from the Cam

There where steps into the water that made the whole getting wet with slightly more civilised but no more pleasurable. Everyone was saying that the water was colder than the last river but I couldn’t feel it myself. They may be more attuned to the minor variations or this may be part of the wild swimming rituals that I’m yet to be initiated into; I just don’t know.

3 rivers (8)

River beasts

We swam up stream past fields of picnickers enjoying the warm spring day. Every now and again we passed punts and canoes being inexpertly guided down the river, All they had to do was keep the boat in the wet bit but a lot of them felt compelled to hug the bank. We turned at the three willows after a bit of debate as to whether one had been chopped down. The way back was litter with Saturday punt traffic. I did wonder if the young couple appreciated moving through a bevy of swimmers, it rather shattered the pre Raphaelite splendour of the scene. A bit further down we came across some juggernaut punts. They were huge and carried many tourists, some of which wanted to ask us questions like “What are you doing in there?” I enjoyed this swim but felt a little chilly as I got changed under the watchful eyes of the naturists. We idled on the grass for a while to warm in the sun. The day could have ended there and I would have been content.

3 rivers (10)

A small reach of the River Nene

Our third river was the Nene, we arrived mid-afternoon and made our way down to the river past a chocolate box church. A small crowd of safari swimmers had gathered on the bank next to the platform ready for some aquatic fun. Some jumped in, I really don’t know how they do that, I have to slip into the water slowly, making as much fuss as possible. Three of us headed up stream in search for a bridge that we didn’t find. The current was stronger here and that made to going harder but much more satisfying. The gentle push of flowing water heading is a constant gentle reminder that this is living water and not a sterilised indoor puddle. The fast return swim was a joy, one stroke seemed to last for ages and the river bank flew by in a blur. I could get used to this. It was almost a shame to get out, but if I hadn’t I would have missed out on the fabulous chocolate cake that someone was handing out.

3 rivers (11)

Here Be Cake, all hail the Cake!

We finished the day back on the Great Ouse. The river bank was dangerously close to a pub and the will to swim was sorely tested by the proximity of beer. In the end I thought that I’d just have a small swim, maybe though one arch of the bridge and back by another. Once I’d done that my enthusiasm was renewed so I headed off up steam leaving the rest of the party behind. Soon I was happily moving through still water watching the dabbled evening sunlight through the river side trees. I was in a personal heaven. It was everything I loved, solitude, scenery and swimming all in one beautiful moment, this is why I swim.

3 rivers (1)

Not a ripple in sight

 

port-1

This was the first time in nearly fifty years that there had been swimming in the Port River. At some point in the sixties swimming had been banned because of the pollution, since then the port has fallen into decline but as a consequence the water has become cleaner. As part of the redevelopment of the area recreation has been emphasised and North Haven Surf Club had taken up the challenge.

We arrived early as everything was being set up and were the first to register. We had a wander around the impressive array of stalls in the start area and wearily watched the approaching dark clouds. Half an hour before the start the rain came down dampening the parched ground. The rain finished as quickly as it started and in time for the race briefing.

Soon after we were all gingerly stepping into the water ready for the start. The water wasn’t cold but it definitely wasn’t warm. I was so wrong slightly at the start but that went as soon as the hooter went to start us all off.

The first part of the course was across to the opposite shore. Bearing in mind that the previous day I’d flown half way round the world and I’d only had six hours of sleep I was amazed that I was keeping up with everyone around me. There was no doubt in my mind that this was a swim and not a race.

port-2

We turned at the buoy and headed up the Port Adelaide river. It was heavy going. Either the current or the tide or both were against us. However, my thoughts were more occupied with the wall to wall jellyfish that I was swimming through. The water was thick with these translucent slimy blobs. At times, I felt that I could probably get up and walk on them. Everyone and again the water would be clear of them but they would inevitably reappear.

It seemed to take ages to get to the next buoy. I had hoped that this was the turning point but when I got there I realised that the route went under the Birkenhead Bridge. The water under there tasted of diesel fumes and was distinctly unpleasant but at least the next buoy was in sight.

At the buoy the route crossed to the opposite bank and headed back down stream. The swimming got distinctly easier but I was definitely going slower. I could see lots to people in front but whenever I took a sneaky glance behind there was no one. This didn’t surprise me. I passed under the bridge once more only this time I tried to hold my breath to avoid the fumes.

I’m not good at swimming in a straight line at the beat of times but my route to the last buoy was distinctly wobbly. For most of the way I was shadowed by one of the water cover people on a paddle board. This convinced me that I was at the back of the swim and inspired me to swim even more slowly. I was quite surprised when someone passed me as I rounded the last buoy.

After the swim, we feasted on pork sandwiches and nearly hot tea and reflected on being the first people in a very long time to swim in the Port River.

 

 

B2B (1)

Just in case you didn’t know what you were doing

Silly o’clock is not my favourite time on a Sunday morning but sometimes the rewards far outweigh the short term pain of dragging my body from the safety and comfort of the duvet and into a harsh cold world. Today’s reason was to swim the Thames Marathon (or the bridge to bridge as everyone but the organisers know it). I’d packed the night before and followed the satnav so getting to the event required very little thinking. This was good.

The swimmers gathered in the grounds of the Leander club, on the banks of the Thames in Henley. The bacon rolls and tea diverted my attention from being nervous for a little while, then people watching took over. There were all sorts of people gathered. Some were looking confident, some were looking quietly nervous and one woman with a loud voice and east European accent was being very loud.

B2B (2)

Pre-race nutrition

When I was young my next door neighbour built a bird table that collapsed if a cat jumped on it. He really didn’t like cats. I have a feeling that he had a hand in the design of the start pontoon. Once the critical number of swimmers had been reached it tipped over and deposited then into the water. This is great for people who like jumping into water but for those of us with a totally irrational fear of jumping into water it was a little unnerving.

The first problem was knowing which way we were meant to be going. I’ve not done this event before and just assumed that we would go under the bridge. I really couldn’t feel the current so I had no idea if the bridge was up stream or downstream. Eventually I gave up guessing and asked. They pointed me down stream. We wouldn’t be going underneath the bridge.

B2B (3)

From this bridge…

I was, for some inexplicable reason, in the fast group. I knew that I would be at the back of that group so I hung back a little. My race plan was the same as usual, start slow and maintain the pace. The hooter sounded, I found myself a patch of water and started with the long slow strokes. I tried successfully to relax into the swim. I wasn’t in any hurry. The speedy people had disappeared into the distance, I didn’t look behind. Slowly the field thinned out until there were just a handful of people around me, Now I felt like this was a real expedition.

It felt like I’d finished the first section really quickly. I’m sure the current had something to do with that. I was helped out of the water and ushered to the table of sticky delights. I did think briefly about staying here and stuffing by body with all of the goodies on offer but that would have been unfair to those behind. Reluctantly I walked on past the lock and started on the longest of the sections.

There was a lot of scenery to gaze at on the way down the river. Boat clubs mingles with massive riverside properties. I looked at them each time my head broke the surface to breath. It is an odd way of seeing the world. First stroke: look into the grey brown depths, second stroke: look into the grey brown depths, third stroke: admire some passing scenery on the left hand side, fourth stroke: look into the grey brown depths, fifth stroke: look into the grey brown depths: six stroke look at the scenery on the right hand side. When I wasn’t sightseeing I was thinking about my stroke or I was just drifting off into a world of my own; a place where spurious thoughts meet. I could smell roast meat, it was a very strong and mouth-watering smell. I had no idea where it was coming from. It lasted far too long for it to be someone’s breakfast.

I had no internal map of the river so gauging distances was beyond me. I could have spent hours poring over maps and pictures but there would have been no fun in that. Instead I had decided to start at the beginning and take long slow steady strokes until the end came into view. The end of the section appeared more quickly that I had imagined. A man helped me out of the water and had a little chat. He was either being friendly or assessing me for hypothermia, I’m not sure which. The tables of unearthly delights were laden with tasty morsels to replenish my energy stores. I didn’t feel that hungry but as I was here I indulged in chocolate and malt loaf. A tasty yet unusual combination that I wouldn’t recommend due to the malt loaf’s ability to stick to my teeth.

B2B (4)

Swimmers being chased by orange jellyfish

The bulk of the swim was now behind me, there were just two sections to go and the next was the shortest. It started with a quick swim across the lock and then a walk through some trees to the river’s edge. The marshal reassured me that there would be more food at the next stop. He didn’t see me trip over in the shallow in my eagerness to get to the last of the treats. This time we had to swim on the left hand side and past boats of all shapes and sizes. I swear I went past an ice cream boat (think ice cream van on water, complete with a large ice cream cone mounted in the top). It didn’t take long to get to the next stop.

The final section was just a cruise downstream. At this point there was no doubt I was going to finish and the field had thinned out enough that there were very few people around me. Very few to share the experience of the boat passing and turning the water black. One moment it was clear and clean, the next it was as if black out curtains had been pulled over my goggles. It was quite disconcerting. It only lasted a few strokes but that was enough. Further on down I passed a beautiful church. Just after the church the riverbank was decorated with a wonderful balustrade style wall. At regular intervals there was a pot of brightly coloured flowers on top.

All too soon I could see a bridge in the distance, this meant the end of a beautiful swim.

B2B (5)

…to this bridge