Recently I treated myself to a winter swimming cap from the Outdoor Swimming Society.
Swimming in the sea at Branscombe Mouth a couple of weeks ago felt like enough to qualify for one.
I love the bright red colour (the go to choice for outdoor swimmers) and the motto ‘E Frigore, Robur’ (from the cold comes strength).
But I’ve made myself a promise to keep swimming outdoors throughout this winter, so it was time to check out a new spot and properly earn my new hat!
Vobster Quay Diving Centre has been on my to do list for a while. There’s plenty to make it worth a visit, not least a 750m marked course, which is the longest I can find locally. It also has great facilities, with a cafe, dive shop, hot showers and so on.
Even better, the water is supposed to be super clear. As someone who’s swum in some very murky waters, the thought of a crystal clear spring fed lake was seriously tempting.
Happily, my visit on Sunday confirmed there is much good here. The long course could do with a couple more buoys on the final leg. But the water is just as crystalline as promised, even at a chilly 12C/53F. Yikes!
I’ve been swimming outdoors this year since April but this was the first time I’d really felt cold since I braved the Med in only a shortie back in May.
My hands immediately went numb and I thanked the swimming gods I’d had the good sense to invest in a new wetsuit this summer, plus neoprene socks and swim hat. I almost wished I’d been wearing a dry suit like most of the divers there. But hey, streamlining isn’t something I can let go of easily!
My plan had been to do four or five laps, but when you’re swimming in cold water it pays to listen to your body. I checked myself regularly for signs of early hypothermia by counting backwards or saying the alphabet backwards in my head. As you get colder and blood is drawn to your core your brain becomes much less functional. If you’re feeling foggy it’s time to come in!
My thoughts were still pretty clear and I got the usual feeling at the end of my second lap that I could probably keep going. But I could also sense my breath getting a bit ragged and my stroke becoming a touch erratic. Time to stop. I’d been in the water for about 35 minutes by this point (including a few minutes splashing about to acclimatise), so I thought that was pretty respectable!
Warming up again in the amazing hot showers my hands felt like they were on fire and I realised that this had probably been most of the problem. I’d been planning to invest in some neoprene gloves this winter anyway, so, as there was a handy shop right there I parted with just over 20 quid for a pair of Oceanic Pioneers.
Given the name I think I’ll have to test them out at Clevedon Marine Lake next weeken. Here’s hoping the weather holds. E frigore, robur my friends!
- If you’re contemplating any open water swimming this winter, I highly recommend checking out the many articles on cold water swimming over on the Lone Swimmer. Hypothermia is basically inevitable if you swim in sub 15C water for long enough so read up before you wade in. This article on acclimating is a great place to start.