I enjoying diving into water though I have no desire to do it from a great height, 5 or 6 feet is about my limit and I’d rather do that 5 or 6 times than go for one big one. And diving even if you are already stood a foot deep in water is fun too.
I find it helps to pick a spot on the water to aim at, a leaf or a little bubble, about a body length and a half away and then it’s just a case of trying to hit it with your fingertips and it all seems to happen quite naturally.
Hesitation is what ruins it and makes it hurt. You have to keep your arms out, head tucked in and legs straight. If you try to peek at what you’re aiming at your head will tilt back and you’ll smack your face in the water. Similarly if you don’t keep your legs straight there is a tendency to bend them at the knees, especially if you feel you’re slightly out of control, it’s almost like trying to use your feet as brakes, only that doesn’t work when you’re mid-air but what does happen is you smack your calf muscles into the water and that hurts.
Obviously it goes without saying that you should:
1) Make sure the water is clear of obstructions. There may have been nothing there yesterday but something may have gone in the water since, check every time. Unless you are absolutely sure of the depth keep your dive shallow.
2) That said, make sure that there is enough width of water that you can come back to the surface before hitting the far side be that a river bank or rocks.
3) Be extra careful when diving into an oncoming flow of water. I did that once at a place I’d dived often before only there was a bit more water flow and as I hit the water the flow tilted my head down and I hit the bottom and broke 2 fingers.
If you are in any doubt, DON’T. The water will still be there tomorrow, so it is best to make sure you are too.
With the Polar Bear Challenge laid to bed it’s on to something new.
Swim Bingo has only two things in common with the PBC: a 200m minimum distance and swimming, obviously.
There are 35 challenges which spread over 7 months is a challenge a week give or take so I have put a line through the rules that you can claim no more than “2 challenges per swim and no more than 5 per day” and modified that to only claim 1 challenge per swim. This is not a race.
It cannot be a race anyway as one set of challenges is a swim per month and October is not going to move about the calendar any time soon. And as with the PBC there is nothing to say you have to claim a challenge simply because you did it. For the PBC it was 2 swims per month and I probably did 15 each month that qualified, but I claimed on swims that were specially notable or enjoyable.
With that in mind I made up my own bingo card and after considerable juggling came up with an arrangement that places one more tricky challenge into each line and column. That should serve to draw the process out, but also forces some forward planning. No doubt the planning will be different for other people but what I will have to keep an eye on is the night swim (because I can’t be bothered with swimming when you can’t see anything) and the lido swim (because the nearest is in Plymouth: Tinside Lido). There are ‘jokers’ to cover those but that seems to be a little bit of a cop out. It’s supposed to be a challenge, if you can’t do the challenge, don’t legitimize cheating.
I did my second for March and therefore final qualifying swim of the polar bear challenge back in the first week of the month and there have probably been 10 or more since. However, it has been a poor swim month due to the weather, notwithstanding swimming at Sharrah Pool in the snow, another qualifier. However I claimed the first official swim of the 2017/18 challenge just after dawn on 1st Nov and figured I’d try to claim the last with a sunset and blue moon swim. Again the weather had other ideas.
It had been blowing and raining pretty much since Thursday and all the while I’ve had a nasty cold too. Some people say you shouldn’t swim with a cold, but both running and swimming I qualify that by saying just so long as it’s only a head cold you’ll be fine. You may feel awful, but you’ll be fine. I feel awful, but the clouds are clearing a little and awful is not going to stop me.
The beach beneath Hope’s Nose is of course deserted though the fresh boot marks in the mud of the path tell a tale of someone coming and going. The shore is sheltered from the breeze and the water slides softly on and off the pebbles and rocks. I’ve walked to the far end of the beach and have begun a pick up of plastic bottles and other trash when I spot the boat fender. And it’s a nice one, nearly new, in a dark blue jacket with new rope too, someone is wishing they could tie proper knots; this should be worth an exchange for a bottle of wine.
I soon have a bag full of rubbish. The clouds are obviously not going to clear but the skyline over Torquay is a brightly glowing yellow band which leaves Thatcher Rock as a striking silhouette. And thankfully the seal that was lazing just off the rocks appears to have gone.
Across the bay and back, that’s the plan, considerably more than the 200m required of the challenge (about 5x more), but if you are going to get wet you may as well get decently wet. At first the water is dark beneath but once the sea bed falls away the water infuses with a clear green tint and though the wind is in my face I’m soon nearing the far headland. Two seagulls are perched on a rock and I have decided that when they fly off that’s me done. The first takes to the air whilst the second shuffles its feet nervously. I’m looking at the people silhouetted on the next headland I guess with my bright pink Swim Secure tow float they can see me too and then the gull raises its wings, lifts off without a wingbeat and glides past me with an angry squawk.
Instead of just turning around I swim out a little towards Thatcher Rock to see the fading sunset and I spot a bird I don’t immediately recognize. It lets me swim quite close before diving under the water. It’s a shag, with a very pronounced crest of feathers, that’s what threw me. I am mid-way between shore and Thatcher Rock and seriously contemplate swimming out but the light is already fading from the sky.
With the breeze behind me it is a more pleasant swim back and I go a little faster which is just as well because my left hand has got very chilled. I swim in to the rocks and wade up the inclined slope of one large flat boulder to my clothes. That was a great way to finish the challenge, roll on November, but not too quickly.
It turns out the fender costs about £45 new and the jacket £25 so even with a little hole in the jacket, the unblemished fender must be worth more than a bottle of wine. Ebay it is then.
The last few feet onto the beach are the trickiest down a steep slope of solid packed mud with a veneer of loose gravel flakes poised to slip away from beneath a foot which would send me tumbling into the rocks. There used to be a much easier way but that bit of hillside slid down to the beach a few years ago. But I’m there and it is worth it every time.
The beach is small and the warm sand has that sea salt smell whilst a scent of pine drifts down the hillside from above. It is the dark pines that give this bay its Mediterranean feel and I know of no place else along this coast that matches this distinct appearance. I strip down to my swimming kit draping my clothes over a sand polished tree trunk whilst squinting out over the blue water to the banks of billowing clouds.
Into the water and I swim out past the headland. There is more breeze out here and the water whips into my face whilst the swell flings gouts of foaming water into the gaps between the jumbled boulders. A yacht is sailing into the River Dart estuary, heeling over, slowing righting then being battered down once more by a fresh gust. That lurching I know from experience is not pleasant sailing.
I swim in the clear green water across to the far side of the bay where two oyster catchers come circling low over the water making their piercing cry before swooping down into a nook between the rocks. Maybe they have a nest. That reminds me that I should try and get a look in at the cormorant nest at Elberry, the hen bird was sat on eggs a few weeks ago and I am guessing there should be chicks now.
Drawing my swim out far longer than I actually have time for I zig-zag a course back towards the beach until finally the water becomes cloudy with stirred up sand and the swell lifts be onto my feet and onto the beach. I grab my shoes and clothes and dry and change on top of a rock where I can dangle my feet into the waves to rinse the sand from between my toes.
Finally I stuff my bag with litter, mostly torn and shredded plastic bottles but with a few chunks of polystyrene too and I’m on my way again.
On the beach beneath the high cliffs the air is almost completely still and when the sun breaks fitfully through the clouds the temperature rockets and then crashes as the cloud sweeps in again. The headland shelters the beach, but out there where the rocks poke through the surface an occasional white topping of foam gives a hint that elsewhere there is a bit of a swell.
I find Long Sands a fascinating beach, always changing. Today it lives up to its name a full sweep of sand except at the far end when the surface is a jumble of flat rock slabs. But at other times the sand can vanish completely exposing the smoothed bed rock or the beach can become an endless field of hard pebbles. And the beach level rises and falls. There is a little crevice in the rock where I have sometimes tucked driftwood or finds when I’ve had too much to carry. Sometimes it is above head height, other times at knee height.
I wade into the still, clear water over sand that feels spongy beneath my feet and set off towards the rocks at the end of the headland. As I approach I begin to sense the rise and fall of the swell and I can see into Scabbacombe Beach and the other way up the coast the headland that shelters Mansands. I head that way and then back in. It has been little more than a 10 minute dip but sometimes that’s enough and now I can sit in the sunshine and brush the sand from between my toes in complete isolation.
In summer when the temperature all around is higher I don’t mind setting off to swim at sunrise, but in winter when it’s 6°C in the water and there’s frost on the beach I am less keen. And this has been a very drawn out winter. But the clocks changed last night to summer time moving the hour on by one and with sunrise effectively jumping forward too I’m down at the beach just a little after sunrise. Sadly however the clouds have formed a grey and even blanket overhead.
I swim out in the flat calm water as the clouds brighten little by little. This is a dramatic coast of cherry red cliffs, caves and clear green-blue water when the sun shines but right now it is as limpid as damp newspaper. I’m far enough out that I can see into the next bay, drifting that way towards the headland on the off chance that there may be something that needs to be salvaged but the beach is a clean sweep of dove grey pebbles and on that note I head back in, now forcing my way against the current until I’m in the lee of the other headland.
My feet have barely touched the beach when sunlight breaks across the beach as the sun lifts above the distant receding clouds. It would have been nice if it had happen 20 minutes ago but now is just perfect, I’m cold and it is amazing how much warmth there is in this early spring, early morning sun, I’m happy with that.
Summer is coming, but to be honest though it is the equinox and first day of spring in these parts tomorrow you could be forgiven for thinking this is still mid-winter. We don’t get much snow in South-West England, well not in recent years anyway and it is possibly as much as 40 years since there has been snow on this scale locally. Then twice in 2 weeks, but I am not complaining.
I have long harboured a whimsical notion of swimming at Sharrah Pool on the moorland section of the River Dart when there is snow on the ground. The problem has been not only a lack of snow but, as 3 years ago when there has been snow, by the time my pathetic car will tackle the roads the warmth in the river has seen off the snow in the valley. These conditions are however perfect for whilst there is 12 inches of snow in a “deep and crisp and even” layer across my garden it didn’t properly settled on the roads and I get to the New Bridge car park without difficulty. Nevertheless as I rush along the riverside track as fast as possible given the abundant photo opportunities and following a solitary set of footprints all around there is a steady drip, drip of thawing winter.
Turning from the track onto the side path I have that joy of making the first footsteps in virgin snow and I know I’m grinning like an idiot and I’m photographing every twist and turn of a path that I have taken 100s of times in the past as if it was my very first outing.
Yes! The footprints I rejoined on the track have got to Sharrah but then for some inexplicable (but much appreciated) reason gone off through the trees. The river bank is pristine. And the day is improving second by second as the holes in the clouds over head coalesce into gaps, into rents and then it is blue sky all the way, just dotted with the fluffiest white clouds. I’m photographing everything with 2 cameras just in case.
Careful not to make tracks I dunk the thermometer into the river as I get changed. It nudges up from an air temperature of -1.7°C to 3.7°C in the water, this is going to be a full on polar bear swim. A few selfies on the big diving rock whilst trying not to slip off, which would hurt a lot, and then I wade into the water. There is clearly something very wrong with anyone who wades into water this cold and thinks ‘oh, that’s not so bad’.
I am now using camera number 3, taking advantage of the wide angle perspective and I tread water repeatedly as I swim up the pool to the swoosh. The river is moderately high and the swoosh is swooshier than usual. I feel for the rock I know is there under the churning bubbles, pause, click, click, click, and then I launch myself into the flow.
It is a well known fact that people have just about neutral buoyancy in fresh water, but when a substantial part of the water has been replaced by bubbles that no longer applies. I vanish under the ‘surface’ (it’s hard to be exactly sure where the water filled with bubbles becomes air filled with splashed water) and of course lifting my arm holding the camera up high to get a record of this madness only serves to lower me further under the water. With my free arm I push myself around the corner, not wanting to get caught beneath the overhang, and then I am shot down the pool and back to where I started, not so much swimming as ‘floating with style’. I ‘float’ on down to the shallows, click, click, click and then swim back to the diving rock (not today). I dash through the snow, switch cameras and I’m back in the water to do the whole thing over again.
Now I stumble from the water. The chill has caught up with me but only in my left hand which is as painful as a very painful thing indeed. I’m grinding my teeth as I strip and dry (ankle deep in the snow) and then begin to fight my way damply into layers of clothes. My left hand is as good as useless, why did I wear a shirt with buttons? The hell with the buttons! Layers, put on more layers: fleece, scarf and hat. Well that’s the top end covered up and I’m sure anyone watching would find that very amusing.
Finally, but my hands are refusing to cooperate and tying the laces of my boots takes 3 attempts for each foot, which is frustrating when I know what I need to be doing is getting going and warming up. But even when I’m finally ready to go I can’t help myself and progress is again punctuated: click, click, click.
I don’t actually notice when the shivering stops but I am exactly half way back to the car when all of a sudden my hands warm up, a moment that is almost but not quite the best part of the whole outing. And tomorrow it’s spring. Hmm, we shall see.