The biggest spring tides are always a few days after the full moon or new moon with those after the new moon being slightly bigger due to the summation of the gravitational effects of sun and moon. And for reasons not entirely clear to me the spring tides in February are the biggest of the year (answers in a comment please). Today I have arrived at St Mary’s Bay almost spot on low tide and the magnitude can be gauged by the fact that there is barely a 3m wide strip of water separating the sand from Mussel Rock and the water is little more than a few inches deep at that.
As I walk off along the surf line razor clams disturbed by my footfalls draw speedily down into the sand sending up jets of water as much as 18 inches high and leave only a shallow depression rapidly filling with wet sand. Squirt, squirt, squirt squirt squirt; it is mildly amusing to say the least.
The tide however is turning and as I change to swim the sea is creeping wave upon wave further across the sand. The sea is chill, I’d guess till close to 8°C and having been jogging I’m a little cautious that I may get chilled faster than usual. Nevertheless I’m soon settled in and tracing a wide triangle out and across the bay.
I am however stalking a bird. This one, or one similar was here last week and I didn’t get a close enough look to tell which it was and I’m not going to get close enough today either. It’s an auk of some kind but as I swim along casually in its general direction, pretending I’m not looking, it swims nonchalantly in a spiral in the opposite direction. It’s all about the beak shape and with the swell of the sea I really can’t see that clearly. Bird, I know where you live and I will be back.
Meanwhile it’s back to the beach for me. It’s been lovely in the clear green water and not too chill, but the clouds are sweeping in, there’s a hint of rain about the place and it will be a lot colder on the beach than in the water. It’s best to quit before I regret staying and anyway that’s been my second polar bear challenge swim for February, and then some.
The full moon from last night still hangs in the western sky and is sufficiently bright that there is only a false dawn as the sun brightened eastern sky meets the moon half way. Nevertheless beneath the tight lattice of tree branches darkness temporarily holds the field and I have to tread carefully down the pathway strewn with the slippery remnants of autumn leaves. There is not a sound, breathless, the trees stand still and cut out any sound from the distant road. Mine was the only car in the car park whilst the dog walkers remain in their centrally heated havens, but who can blame them as it is bitterly chill and even the birds cannot raise a dawn chorus.
It is high tide at Watcombe and almost imperceptible waves ripple against the base of the sea wall leaving not an inch of sand exposed. The sky meanwhile resembles an accident in a paint factory with reds, oranges and yellows splashed over blue fading to purple and a few grey clouds. Sunrise is still 10 minutes away but I hurry into the water and push hard into open water to see the sun at its best.
Even when I can see it the seal’s head is dark against the rocks, it must have been some 6th sense that made me scan the water in its direction. However after I splash energetically with my arms and legs; a signal that seems to mean ‘I don’t want to play’, it is content to roll on its back exposing a pale mottled belly to watch me swim by.
The clouds across the horizon are now lined with gold and pale rays rise into the sky whilst the softly swelling surface of the aquamarine water is smeared with colours that flow, melt and reform. Meanwhile the windows of the houses along the cliff top of Babbacombe Bay shine out and are answered by pinpricks of light stretching around the coast past Exmouth to Budleigh Salterton and beyond.
I’ve been pootling about and admiring the view and the current has carried me across the mouth of the bay and now the headland is closing up the view of the beach, I’ll be in Exmouth if I’m not careful. I am also now coming to realize exactly how cold the water is, about 8°C at a guess and over the past weeks and months my guesses have been pretty much spot on.
It’s a full on 10 minute swim back in and it looks like I have had the best of the day for the time being at least as there’s a bank of thin cloud across the sun turning it hazy. What’s more it has turned noticeably chillier as I stamp back up the steep slope to the car in the hope of stirring some feeling back into my toes.
I do suffer extreme beach envy when I see photos other people post of white sandy beaches stretching unblemished to a sun bleached horizon under a tropical blue sky, where the sea is crystal clear and packed with aquatic life, but here has its moments too, count that as a great start to February’s polar bear challenge.
I heard this quote attributed to David Bowie on the radio this morning
“Always go a little further into the water than you feel you’re capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth. And when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.”
I have not been as active with the blog as I could have been for 2 months. The swimming has not stopped but there has been a lack of motivation to go home and write about it. I hope however to cheer things up a bit.
Today however was a perfect swim day if you could find a sheltered corner and Elberry Cove fitted the bill exactly. At high tide the sea covered the smooth, rounded, white pebbles and as it deepened beyond a few feet the water took an aquamarine glow, deepening and darkening beyond the rocks. And at the same time with barely a hint of breeze the surface was almost mirror like, half in the sunshine, half in the shade of the hillside.
I wasn’t really sure how far I wanted to swim though. One option was to head out beyond Silver Cove, to the rocky point that hides Brixham, but it’s ¾ of a mile there and back and once you’re committed you are committed. Instead it was a simple case of swim up and down under the beach and the watchful eyes of walkers who react like they have never seen anyone swimming before, and just out of range of those who throw balls for dogs (sometimes I throw the balls back).
The first crossing involved quite a lot of huffing and puffing against the 9°C chill but once I was settled in the third and fourth crossings were a doddle. Each crossing is 160m give or take so 6 makes a long ½ mile and swimming briskly was keeping me warm, so much so that for the next 2 all my clothes fell off. I’m not big on skinny dipping but every now and then.
And the reason I’m not so big on skinny dipping was walking down the beach to sit on the rock as I turned at the far end of the beach to swim back; 2 people walking their labrador. And of course the rock was where my swimstuff was. Move along please, nothing to see here. They didn’t, oh well, as they were probably still trying to come to terms with someone swimming in January, how much worse could things get?
That in the end was a long ¾ mile with hardly a shiver afterwards, but just as well to swim now as tomorrow it rains!
I was reading a little piece the other day about what to do if you find yourself swimming with a seal. The advice was that they are mostly non-aggressive but as a general rule leave them be. That is not my experience.
In my experience, and I got nudged by one again last week at St Mary’s Bay, you most often do not know they are there until they swim in behind you and bite at your legs or feet, it’s just their way of deciding if you are friend or foe or food. At St Mary’s last week I was in the surf in only waist deep water and the seal swam straight into me from the side.
Most often if you create a lot of splashing with your feet and then swim away breast stroke they figure you are not something they want to get involved with, but it’s not fool proof and often they will shadow you especially if you swim crawl which seems to attract them in.
Other times they simply will not leave you alone and I have been chased out onto the rocks at Elberry Cove by one that not only bit several times at my feet and legs but repeatedly swam in under me coming up to hit me in the stomach and tangling itself in my legs making it almost impossible to swim away.
Wetsuit or swimsuit doesn’t make a difference. Summer or winter, no difference.
To date I have got away fairly lightly with only nicks in my wetsuit or surface cuts to my skin but I have heard of other local swimmers being deeply bitten and needing stitches.
My honest advice is do not swim if you see a seal and get out of the water as quickly as possible if you encounter one. Not all of them turn nasty but would you take the chance?
I swam into a piece of plastic waste today. There are often bits in the surf but this was way off the beach and an unusual event especially given the miles of open water swimming I do.
Plastic waste is everywhere, look around. David Attenborough in the Blue Planet 2 series has undoubtedly brought to a wider audience the plight of the oceans, but it is something that some of us have been aware of and battling with for years. Martin Dorey established the #2minutebeachclean some years ago and that provided a banner under which those of us who take an empty bag each time we go to the beach and inevitably return with it full could muster.
But are some people taking it too far with their ‘plastic free’ lifestyle claims? No-one is plastic free. You may go to the fruit stall and buy only loose goods and put them into your cloth bag, but how do you think they got to the store? They were picked in the fields into plastic crates, shipped in plastic crates, delivered to the shop in plastic crates and very possibly along the way wrapped in disposable plastic covers. That’s burying your head in the sand not living plastic free. And please, please, stop taking photos on your phone (mostly plastic) and blogging on your computer (mostly plastic) and posting on the internet (down plastic phone cables). Think it through!
Plastic is essential to the world in which we live though we do not value it sufficiently and should be more responsible especially over ‘single use plastic’. However, the aim should not be to stop using single use plastics as, for example, hypodermic syringes are ‘single use plastics’ and for very good reason. Many ‘single use’ plastics offer significant benefits to our lifestyle.
If the fiscal value of plastic was adjusted in line with the practical value then plastic that is intended to be thrown away would decline.
Nevertheless we should stop throwing plastic away. There is a finite market for recycled plastic at present but only because people want shiny looks like new items and will not accept recycled which may not have the same presentation. If my PC was made of recycled plastic would it work any less well?
I am a fanatical beach cleaner, but it is like closing the stable door after the horse bolted. It would be far better to stop it getting in the sea / river / hedgerow / environment as a whole in the first place.
Is cold water swimming good for you? I don’t know. Better than doing what by comparison?
My throat cough has now turned into a nose cold and sitting indoors this morning watching the rain cascading off the shed roof was not doing anything for me. So as soon as it looked like there was going to be a break in the weather I obviously jumped in the camper van and set off to go swimming. Under the same circumstances I would not have gone for a run so clearly swimming is better for me than running. Stand back the blue touch paper has been lit.
I chose a great spot under the sea wall out of the wind but in the sunshine which was as well because I then got cornered by someone who wanted to ask where else I swam, how far, how often and I was stood there about 10 minutes in my swimwear and didn’t freeze to death. I then swam the 600m round trip to the rock whilst watching the stunning light show provided by sun and clouds, bouncing up and down a fair bit in the waves once clear of the headland and resigning myself to the fact that though I had stuffed all my clothes in my waterproof bag the towel was pushed in at the top and I had not rolled the top down and it was now raining rather a lot. 600m is not so much but hit the spot perfectly.
Since my swim I have not been coughing and spluttering anything like as much as I was this morning. However the paperwork I was supposed to be doing on my extra day off work has not done itself in my absence. So in that respect going swimming was not good for me.
On balance though I think I am up significantly on the day.