At long last it looks like Spring is on its way. The sea temperature seems to be moving in the right direction, the air temperature has become milder and the icy Siberian east wind has gone back to Siberia where it belongs.
My Seabrook Seal swimming buddies and I have been desperate for one or more of these things to happen for about six weeks now because the perfect storm of seasonal low sea temperatures, a badly-behaved jetstream and that east wind has made wetsuit-less winter swimming horrendous. The sea temperatures are always at their lowest in February and early March, but usually by March the air temperature has started to improve and that can help you to tolerate the cold water for a little longer and makes getting dressed afterwards less unpleasant. This year we just haven’t had that luxury.
To show you what sort of difference the sea and air temperatures can make, here are the details of my last few swims:
Sunday 24 March 10 mins 3.5°C water 0-2° air temp – not much wind
Monday 1st April 6 mins 4°C water 2°C air temp – strong, cold east wind
Sunday 7th April 11 mins 4-5°C water 2°C air temp – strong, cold east wind
Sunday 14th April 21 mins 7.9°C water 10°C air temp – 17mph southerly wind
I think the main difference between the 1st April and 7th April was psychological. 1st April was Easter Monday and we were all mucking about wearing bunny ears and tails for the annual Seabrook Seals Easter Bunny Swim. It was a social occasion and there were lots of people who got out after a couple of minutes and, clearly, it was hard to stay in the cold water watching so many others get out. So I did the same!
The Sunday 7th April swim was the coldest I think I’ve ever felt in the water – Cold Water Swimming Championships included (the water was 2°C, but I was only in for about 40 seconds). I told myself I didn’t even have to put my face in after it was so hard to do so on Easter Monday and was pleased to manage 11 mins swimming either backstroke or head up breast stroke. The wind was so viscious it was hard to swim into it because of face-freeze. Also my neoprene boots that normally fill up with water that stays fairly warm, heated by my feet, were freezing so that wrenching them off was the first thing I had to do when I got out.
To be honest I was starting to lose patience with it all. Driving for an hour to swim and freeze for 5 -10 minutes then be cold and uncomfortable for two hours. I think we all felt the same frustration because sometimes the pre-swim mood was a bit pensive and silent as we contemplated what was coming. Or maybe that was just me…
But on 14th April it was all different. The cold sting was absent and the wind was relatively warm. We all got out of the sea having swum our longest for ages and with huge smiles on our faces. About time! It’s reignited my enthusiasm and all of a sudden, the temperature holds no more fears for me because I’ve survived the coldest swimming I’ll have to do this winter. And the water was still less than 8°C. Imagine what it’ll feel like when it’s 12. Or 16.
As one of my fellow Seals, Lucy, said, it feels as if we’ve beaten winter. We’ve won. And we can tell ourselves that if we can survive winter swimming this winter, we can survive just about anything.