It goes without saying that I love swimming in the sea but it’s true to say I don’t comfortably call myself a ‘sea swimmer’. I haven’t ever lived close enough to the sea to spend a serious amount of time in and around it and to get to know and properly understand its nuances and mannerisms. Maybe one day that will change but for the moment I have to acknowledge that I always approach a sea swim in UK waters with a certain degree of trepidation.
I’m not entirely sure where this has come from, but it isn’t necessarily a bad thing in my mind. I swam in the seas off the Italian coast as a child without a moment’s thought… much warmer and with much kinder tidal variations that I was blissfully unaware of at the time. The more I have learnt, the more I have come to appreciate the power and danger of this body that lures me to its shores with its enchanting soundtracks and endless horizons.
The attraction has certainly led me to enjoy a number of swim adventure holidays, perhaps not surprisingly in somewhat warmer waters in Sicily, Sardegna, Croatia, Turkey and the like as well as some very special swims in the most amazing and unexpectedly stunning Scottish coastal water. I can wholeheartedly recommend a number of swim adventure companies should you be planning a swim trip! I have also ventured out to the sea for swim events like the Boscombe 10K... (fab swim despite resulting in the slowest 10K time I've ever posted... an out and back swim in between lockdowns and with a super fast 'out' and a super slow 'back' but better than a DNF!)
With all that in mind, it isn’t surprising that even a day at the beach in the UK will almost always involve at least one swim (pandemics, storms and injuries permitting). But deciding where and when to swim isn’t as straightforward as just rocking up and getting in! Outdoor Swimmer magazine did a series of features a year or two ago which went through in detail all the elements of planning a sea swim… tides, currents, wind, rips, local knowledge and heaps more and it was super useful and super interesting but it did imply an element of forward planning and organisation that I don’t always have!
What I do however always do is take time to watch the water and the weather and how it is behaving in front of me for a good long time before I wade in. Is the tide in, out, high, low? Is it too windy? Is there a steep entry/shelf? Am I going to be wading out a long way before I can actually get into water that’s deep enough to swim in? what will I use to sight/spot my entry/exit? Are there other swimmers? Is the weather changing? What’s the temperature like (in and out of the water)?
I last sat on the beach near West Bay around Easter weekend and before even getting changed, watched and took note …. Some body boarders, a fine day, good weather and relatively calm sea but a significant shelf/drop from the shallows into deeper water creating interesting waves crashing towards the water edge. I knew the swim would be fab but that I’d have to time my entry and exit carefully and decisively to avoid landing very ungracefully on my face! I also knew that my support crew (MBW Jo) on the beach would not appreciate me swimming way out or far off so it was always going to be a multiple of shortish ups and downs parallel to the shore… What could possibly go wrong?
Tow float safely attached I waded in, counting waves and timed my ‘here we go’ moment off the ‘shelf’ into the deeper water pretty well…. Fab swim up and down a small section of the coastline, keeping one eye on the weather which decided to turn on me about halfway through. The waves got a little bumpier, the skies got a little darker but nothing too ominous. I contemplated getting out but a dog on the beach had taken an unnerving interest in my tow float bobbing in the water and was standing guard on the shore.... I stayed put and thankfully the skies cleared as quickly as they had clouded over without causing any real issues.
And then I headed to the shore, time to get out. Or rather time to be spat out, very ungracefully by the sea who clearly had decided she didn’t want my company any more. In spite of my best efforts to come in with a wave (which I did) and get a foot down before the wave subsided (which I also did) I then lost my footing and fell unceremoniously forward onto a knee and then onto my face. Of course, once you’re on your face in the shallows with waves pulling you back and forth it’s much trickier to get up without looking like an uncoordinated newbie who’s never swum in the sea before! But I did manage to gather my senses and get up to run out of the water, costume full of sand and dust myself off… grateful that the beach was almost entirely empty so there weren’t too many witnesses to my exit!
The bruises lasted almost a month…. But brought a smile to my face every time I looked at them, the remnants of a fab swim and a reminder of who is really in charge and really in control when you head into the sea!
For more info on planning your sea swim:
I still have the original magazines with the aforementioned articles, and occasionally refer back to them…. Sadly, I haven’t been able to find the series on the OSM website but the essential info has been collated into this one