It is something of a case of clouds and silver linings depending on where you stand. For the most part the South-West of England receives wind off the North Atlantic that keeps us a lot warmer than we should be at this latitude all year around. Torbay is doubly blessed and both sea and weather temperature generally are several degrees warmer than other places as little as 10 miles away. It has to be said then that whilst others attempting the Polar Bear Challenge have been braving water temperatures as low as 1 or 2°C, the sea here is still 7 or 8°C. But then in February we usually get a run of colder easterly winds.
The cloud side of that is that the wind is colder than expected and blows onshore and this last week the sea has been unswimable in any meaningful sense. Paddle and bounce about like you are in a washing machine maybe, but a proper swim has been out of the question. The silver lining side for a beachcombing obsessive like me is that there are unusual finds amongst the litter. On Tuesday it was a lemon, absolutely nothing wrong with it so it probably had not come far but nonetheless. On Friday it was Lego bricks, plural, finding a single brick around here is almost unheard of, but 2 on one tide!
A few years ago the easterlies were strong and went on almost solidly for a month and the beaches were strewn with driftwood, another great find. This year however it seems to be a day or three here and there.
Today once again there is not a breath of wind and at dawn there is not a cloud in the sky so I am up and off to Watcombe once again. It’s low tide at the beach, the sun is a finger width above the horizon and the water is flat. Even when people say the sea is flat calm there is often an underlying swell but not today it has been pressed so that even the creases have been ironed out.
I swim full tilt straight out from the beach. The solitary cloud that spattered me with icy drops as I changed has drifted out to sea and covered up the sun giving an eerie light that only adds further to the unsettlingly flat sea. This cannot be right.
I’m 15 minutes out from the beach which is worth about 600m. A solitary gannet flies overhead, the colony of 100+ birds that were a daily feature 2 weeks ago seems to have dispersed. I stop swimming; this has finally got to me. The sea is flat. Of course lakes and reservoirs are flat too but that’s expected, this is not. There is genuinely not even the slightest swell and the ripples made by my swimming and those by the slight breeze criss-cross. It looks like the sea has been tiled.
The water however has a stunning aquamarine tint that I associate with Watcombe as with nowhere else. Flipping on my back I turn and kick shore wards throwing up great gouts of water against the sun. It is however a little too chilly to spend too long messing about I’m a long way from the beach. Far, far away on the beach a solitary figure muffled against the chill is leaning on the railing watching their dog on the sand and very possibly me.
Enclosed by the bay once more I swim in to the beach and try to get to my feet. The sand is shifting where I step and I have no feeling in my feet at all, the rest of me is fine, but not my feet and I stagger and lurch in the shallows and weave drunkenly up the beach. And now the partner of the cloud that rained on me earlier is back and spattering me with icy drops again.
Hmmm, no where’s the silver lining in that?