ALL-SEASON SEA SWIMMING

Rari nantes in gurgite vasto

What follows is from my own personal experience on the South coast of England. While they suit me, my conclusions may not be for everyone. Take note! Some of what follows should be modified in the light of A Salutary Experience but I leave it as originally written the better to exemplify shoddy thinking!

Since summer 2010, I have been swimming in the sea roughly every week off or near Orcombe Point, Exmouth. By ‘swim’ I mean total immersion; dry hair is paddling. As a rough guide, the sea temperature in summer reaches about 16° C (or higher if you're lucky), and in winter drops to about 7° (or less if you're unlucky). In summer I run 4 to 8 miles before swimming. This winter [2010/2011] I have taken to driving to Queen's Drive, adjacent to the sea front, and parking there so I don't have too far to go when cold and wet. Winter runs are 3 to 5 miles. Distance back to car after swimming is about ½ a mile. Given the chance, I run and swim only on ‘nice’ days. A 'nice' day = not raining - don't want to get wet after all! Attire; trunks, no rubber. I swim alone.

Time in the water in winter is about 5 minutes. Winter swims consist of 50-100 strokes for France before realizing I'm not going to make it and turning back. The beach off Orcombe Point is ideal as it slopes gradually. If you chose your spot with care there are no sudden surprises - like barnacle-encrusted rocks. After 50 strokes I am barely out of my depth - usually. (See A Salutary Experience etc.) For those who don't know the area, Orcombe Point is a sandstone buttress jutting out of the coastal cliffs slightly east of Exmouth with lovely sandy beaches to east and west. It is the western end of the World Heritage 'Jurassic Coast'. Why wouldn't you want to swim here?

A Salutary Experience 7 March 2011

Having a list of rules is all jolly fine (see end of Sea Swimming) provided they are adequate and you abide by them. Otherwise 'Abide With Me' becomes a distinct possibility! With hindsight I could have ticked all the boxes in ‘Pratical Considerations’ except nos. 1, 2 and 7. Failure to tick nos. 1 & 2 nearly made 7 an irrelevance.

7th March 2011 was a great day; high pressure, nearly cloudless with an easterly breeze. Out of the wind it was warm. Back home, daffs and tulips were out. Water temperature 8.3° C. Quite a big spring tide, two weeks before the equinox. I swam in the middle of the ebb, about noon. [High water ca. 0800 hrs 3.8m; low water ca. 1400 hrs 0.4m] The Rule of Twelfths states that the rise or fall of tide will alter by approximately 1/12 of the total in the first hour, 2/12 in the second, 3/12 in each of the third and fourth hours, then reduce to 2/12 in the fifth and 1/12 in the final hour. So the least amount of water is shifting at the start and finish of ebb and flood and increases to a maximum in the middle.

It was choppy rather than rough, with two to three foot high waves coming ashore. The tide was already quite far out. It seemed to take an age to wade far enough to swim, so I ducked down well before I was even waist deep. For the first ten or twenty strokes I could still feel the bottom with my hands as I swam. “Right,” I thought, “let's get cracking. Fifty strokes - GO!” After about 30 strokes I decided to check for depth only to find I could no longer touch the bottom even with my feet. I turned around and headed back to shore, taking a bead on a transit shore mark but found, to my alarm, that I was still going backwards. France was on! and in reverse gear.