As a seagull did something less than appropriate on my swimming bag when I left it on the beach earlier it needed a wash so I tipped the contents out. Of course what an individual carries in their swim bag is personal to each of us, some carry more, whereas I try to travel light. It is however now decidedly chilly both in and out of the water so I am stepping up to the challenge of a mile a day by carrying a little extra:
Fleece hat, neck buff and gloves,
Foam changing mat,
Bags for wet swimwear,
Swimwear, back-up swimwear, extra back-up swimwear,
Karabiner and hair bands
Goggles, noseclip, ear plugs,
No more tears (for anti-misting goggles),
I read a post by someone the other day that said something to the effect of ‘it’s a really rough beach, all pebbles, and footwear is essential’. Which is odd, as I swim at that same beach a lot and whilst it is pebbles they are all smooth. When it comes to what is seen as necessary kit then some of it is highly personal and is about boosting self-confidence.
Thoughts at this time of year with the temperature falling turn inevitably to winter essentials. I have never felt the need for any sort of footwear irrespective of temperature, duration or conditions underfoot (though on that score I have cut my feet so many times I think they are now mostly past it).
I do sometimes wear gloves but that’s not about temperature it is because of a long standing problem from broken bones in my hand which from time to time comes back to haunt me and means something like picking up a coffee cup is quite painful (I keep straws handy just in case) and the repeated push of water on my hand can be very painful, the gloves just give support, though actually, as today, strapping my thumb to my forefinger with a hair band does just as well if not better.
I will swim on as the temperature drops, managing about 30 minutes at 7-8°C before reaching for the wetsuit, but around our bit of coast that is about where the temperature bottoms out. And I will continue to swim shorter times, much shorter times, without the wetsuit in the river which can get down to zero C.
Nevertheless it is personal preference but if you feel footwear and/or gloves and/or woolly hat and/or anything works for you then it works for you there is no universal right or wrong.
A good Article on Hypothermia appeared in my reading list recently. The single most important point in this article is that hypothermia takes time a message I have been pushing for years. However, time and again alarmist and misleading information is put about by reputable organizations up to and including the RNLI that suggests hypothermia can set in or kill you in just a few minutes.
As the article explains there is a gasp reflex (cold shock reflex) from sudden immersion in cold water (walk into a cold shower if you want to try this) and clearly if your face is underwater that can be almost instantly fatal.
Hypothermia takes time, though the exact time will vary with water temperature, alcohol consumption, natural body insulation, and simply how warm you are to start with. Nevertheless as the article points out, long before full hypothermia sets in ability becomes impaired so that you may well be unable to make even a short swim back to safety.
Perhaps the most relevant part for cold water swimmers concerns the description of the ‘recovery’ stage. It is all very well to say “wrap up, do not move, get warm”, but that is a luxury swimmers do not have. Arriving back on river bank or beach the imperative is to get warm as quickly as possible because the immediate problem is ‘afterdrop’.
After the exertion of swimming for a few moments all seems well, but removed from the water the response of the body is to once more circulate blood from the core back to the extremities that have been experiencing reduced blood flow in order to retain heat in the core. Now of course cold blood is circulating back into the core and the shivering and discomfort of afterdrop sets in. There is perhaps barely time from exiting the water until shivering becomes so severe that it becomes a challenge to tie shoe laces.
This is the point at which following the advice in the article one would sit still, drink warm tea and wait the shivers out. Some people do indeed go in for wrapping up in a swimming robe and/or hugging a hot water bottle or get in their car with the heater going. My problem with the latter is that all the layers just put on are as effective at keeping warmth out as warmth in. Besides recovering from the shivers can take an hour and who has that long to sit and warm up? Whilst driving with the shivers would I imagine be as dangerous as driving whilst drunk.
Therefore there is little choice left in the matter; if sitting still is not an option then getting moving is not a choice it is the only option. It is my preferred option. I am not suggesting attempting a half marathon, not wearing all those clothes anyway, but a good stomp certainly gets the warming up process started.
For local swimmers here in Devon this is a timely discussion. The temperature of the river water is down almost 5°C on just two weeks ago; 8.5°C yesterday afternoon in the sunshine but only 7.5°C this morning after the frost. The sea temperature has also started to drop, though it has stayed unseasonably ‘warm’ through October it is now sliding down past 15°C and will probably reach 5-6°C by mid-February. Meanwhile the river can get to minus figures. People will keep on swimming though so it is important to separate fact from fiction and focus on the real dangers and not hypothermia which is simply a word most people recognize but few seem to understand.