Safe Outdoor Swimming #SOS

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by Maureen McCoy and Paul McCambridge

Outdoor swimming is a great year-round sport and growing fast in popularity, but this is not the controlled environment of the swimming pool. There are often no life-guards, the shore may be further away than you think and the water is much cooler; the average public pool temperature is around 27’ – 28’ Centigrade, the average sea temperature around Ireland ranges from 8’ to 18’C. Add to that, wind chill and water movement and in February temps can get really low (I have personally recorded swims at 3’C!) Lakes tend to warm up and cool down quicker, some getting to icy depths in winter.  

If you can swim, you can swim outdoors, just as with any other outdoor activity, wild swimming is only dangerous if swimmers take unnecessary risks. Common sense and a little preparation can make it safe and fun. 

Remember that outdoor conditions – rain, wind the tides, ambient temperatures – change all the time. You will never have the same swim twice. This is why swimmers keep coming back for more, because wild swimming is never boring!

NEVER SWIM ALONE

The number one rule of swimming; always swim with a buddy, it gives you each a safety back-up and it’s more fun as a shared experience.

BE VISIBLE

Wear a bright swimming cap to make yourself visible to any boats or craft in the area. All that will be visible is your tiny head, which any wave more than a few inches will hide, and your flying arms – unless you breast stroke, in which case only your head will be visible. This is where tow-floats come in handy – much more visible to craft. 

SWIM PARALLEL & CLOSE TO SHORE

You can get back to safety more easily if you swim parallel to shore than if you swim straight out to sea or to the middle of a lake. 

Swim Failure can happen to ANY swimmer, this is when the muscles are too cold to respond to the nerve signals and the swimmer can no longer keep themselves above water. If you stay close, in depth and swim with a buddy this will not end in tragedy.

GET OUT WHILE YOU STILL WANT MORE

Your body temperature will continue to drop as you swim and in cooler temperatures (below 10’C) you may soon risk Swim Failure (mentioned above). This starts to take effect in as little as 10 minutes. Add to that, the body continues to cool after swimming for a further 20 minutes. Get out wanting more and your whole experience will be a positive one!

WATCH THE WEATHER

Don’t try to swim in very rough conditions; no matter how strong you think you are the water is always more powerful. It is very difficult to breathe or navigate in choppy water. In FOG you will lose your bearings and will not be visible to others.

BE AWARE OF THE COLD

Recent findings state that around 60% of drownings in Britain and Ireland are due to Cold Shock Response the immediate physical response to sudden cold which causes involuntary inhalation. In waters around 15’ C it can be difficult for even strong swimmers to hold their breath when suddenly immersed. It takes an inhalation of only 1.5 litres of water to drown an adult.

The solution? DO NOT jump straight in – no matter how inviting the water looks. Instead follow the ritual of seasoned outdoor swimmers; get in slowly, wet your arms and face, lower yourself in gently, swim head up at first to acclimatise and control your breathing. Then, once you are no longer gasping or out of breath you may put your head down and speed off. 

Body temperature drops extremely quickly in the water and after swimming you may experience a further drop – after drop. Be sure to have warm clothes to change into, a hat and warm drink after your swim.

KNOW YOUR LIMITS

Know your own swimming ability, how well you can function in the cold and your knowledge of currents, tides and your ability to read the conditions. If you are less confident, swim with an experienced group or buddy, stay within your depth and close to an easy exit point. 

TOW FLOAT

Tow floats are NOT life-saving devices so do not rely on them for that purpose. They do, however, make a swimmer much more visible to other water traffic. They can also be used if you need a short rest on a long swim but remember that your temperature will drop very quickly when you are inactive in the water.

Again, the most important piece of equipment is yourself; your own competence and judgement.

ESSENTIAL KIT

A SENSE OF ADVENTURE! 

All outdoor swimmers have a little rebel streak in them. Celebrate that and enjoy the exploration of new places, or old ones seen from a new perspective.

#SWIMSENSE

It seems tedious to re-iterate but use your noggin! If your gut feeling is it’s a bad idea – then it probably is. Confidence is all very well but competence is key; know your own limitations in swimming ability and your capacity to deal with the cold. Seek advice from others and start gently, enjoy building your confidence, skill and power in the water.

DESIRABLE KIT 

SWIM SUIT

Essential at popular beaches but there are plenty more places where this is optional!… 

GOGGLES

Great for seeing clearly underwater, keep your eyeballs from feeling as if they are going to freeze and generally for seeing where you are going. They have a nasty habit of steaming up, though, so prepare them beforehand (with a smear of baby shampoo then wipe dry) or a generous amount of spit may be required.

CAP

Keeps hair out of your eyes, can help to minimise water in the ears (when pulled down enough) and provides a layer of insulation (there are times when you are glad of that few millimetres of silicone). Caps come in a range of types, styles and of course colours, if sea-swimming go for bright neon’s which are more likely to be seen. Silicone caps beat latex for thickness and insulation and are less likely to tear. Neoprene hoods tend to be favoured by triathletes and some winter swimmers, they give more insulation but swimmers used to caps may find the chin strap inhibiting.

CHANGING TOWEL

Keeps you decent on busy beaches and provides something of a windbreak. There are many on the market and budget is your only limitation – I still love my trusty hand-crafted version, modelled on the ones mum made for my brothers and me when we were small.

HOT WATER BOTTLE

Part of my essential winter kit, either already filled with my socks tucked inside the cover (heavenly!) or a spare flask of hot water ready to fill it when I get out. 

FLASK OF HOT BEVERAGE

Smooth, creamy and indulgent hot chocolate is a popular choice but any warm drink is a great way to warm up after a swim. Most will accompany this with a sweet snack.

THERMAL UNDIES

Not the most flattering but they are simply great. 

VERY WARM BOOTS

For after the swim, especially winter swims, a fleece-lined boot you can pull on is oh so nice – I’ve been known to stuff disposable hand warmers into my socks too!

BEST REASONS TO SWIM OUTDOORS

“Going swimming” now means a day trip to the beach or lake or mountains with a warm-up drink and scone after, or better still the pub where you can cosy up to the fire sipping Guinness. (Let us hope those times return!)

Boosts the immune system; this is not yet backed up by medical evidence but any year-round swimmer will tell you when they swim through the winter they simply don’t get a cold. (Since time of writing there has been increased research into health benefits of cold water swimming.)

Feel good factor – undoubtedly the best reason for doing it is that it’s fun!

Excerpt from Wild Swimming in Ireland 2016, ISBN 978-1-84889-280-4

Still to come

Tips for Winter Swimming

Tips for Night Swimming

Tips for Front Crawl 

‘The Towel Run’ – Sandycove Island Swim 2019

 

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media 28th Sept 2019, Sandycove Swim

Words Maureen McCoy, Photography Paul McCambridge

 

Ned, as is his usual want to goad me whenever he sees me, for not having swum Sandycove Island. This July at the Lough Erne 17k he “upped the anti” by brandishing a large white towel with a list of names adorning it – English Channel Swimmers who’ve done a lap of Sandycove…

“You have to do your lap to get your name on this.”

 

So here I am, almost two months later, signed on the dotted line for the Sandycove Island Swim, along with 200 plus other swimmers – the draw of the towel proved too strong!

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media28th Sept 2019, Sandycove Swim

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media 28th Sept 2019, Sandycove Island Swim

The forecast was not promising for the day with rain and wind due to drive in in the afternoon, around the time the race was scheduled to start.

Arriving in Kinsale with half an hour to spare for registration I collected my cap and time-chip from the organisers stationed at Hamlets and then caught up with some of the swimmers from the 7 Lakes challenge the previous weekend.

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media28th Sept 2019, Sandycove Swim

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media 28th Sept 2019, Sandycove Island Swim

4pm and the rain was lashing down! Umbrellas up as sodden swimmers gathered at the bottom of the road. Two Myrtleville Turtles vainly tried to stay warm zipped together into one dry-robe…

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media28th Sept 2019, Sandycove Swim

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media 28th Sept 2019, Sandycove Island Swim

During the briefing Ned announced that the course would be brought inside the island – with the wind making it “quite lumpy” and a fog rolling in it would be unsuitable for many swimmers to do ‘The Lap’.

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media28th Sept 2019, Sandycove Swim

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media 28th Sept 2019, Sandycove Island Swim

My fears of a mad crash of swimmers all vying for space were alleviated when it was clear that we’d set off in waves of 30 – fastest swimmers first. “So if your number is 185, you will be waiting around for ten minutes or so. Stay as warm as you can…Ha!”

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media28th Sept 2019, Sandycove Swim

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media 28th Sept 2019, Sandycove Island Swim

4.30pm and numbers 1 – 30 were called to line up and ticked off the list as they ran onto the slipway. The horn sounded and they were off as the next 30 lined up. The starts were quick, smooth and well executed.

The course; out towards the island, rounding the first large yellow buoy and then along the lee of the island, turn at the farthest buoy and return to the unmissable bright orange FINISH line.

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©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media 28th Sept 2019, Sandycove Island Swim

After standing about in the pelting rain the sea was welcomingly warm, a short tussle on the way to the first buoy and then, after the turn, the field opened up and I could relax into my stroke across the bay.

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media28th Sept 2019, Sandycove Swim

©Paul McCambridge / Sandycove Island Swim

On rounding the far buoy my latent competitive urges piqued as I was flanked by two swimmers – one “skins” and the other wetsuit. I tried not to drop too far behind as the three of us raced our way in.

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media28th Sept 2019, Sandycove Swim, Mo

©Paul McCambridge / Sandycove Island Swim.

The rain was still pelting down as we hit the time check and climbed up the slipway, no hanging about – we each grabbed our gear and ran back to cars or vans for shelter.

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media28th Sept 2019, Sandycove Swim

©Paul McCambridge /  Sandycove Island Swim

Waiting for the traffic to clear we watched as the last of the organisers and boat crew were leaving and one lone swimmer came past on her bicycle. Through the pouring rain, water streaming down the road under her wheels, her black dry-robe flapping in the wind like something out of Harry Potter, she disappeared over the brow of the hill.

It was at that moment I realised – I still hadn’t done a lap of the island – I wouldn’t get my towel!

Link to results… Cork Masters Results

Neddie Irwin… 1st swimmer home

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media28th Sept 2019, Sandycove Swim

©Paul McCambridge / Neddie Irwin –  Sandycove Island Swim

That evening the celebrations took us from Hamlets to dinner at Cru restaurant and then onto a local bar with live music and dancing!

Waking on Sunday morning to bright sunshine streaming through the windows, I was glad to see a complete turn-around of the weather having arranged to meet Ned for my lap of the island.

As we walked down the beach the tide was fast on its way out and Ned asked; “Have you ever swum around the island?”

“Yes.” I replied, “But you didn’t believe me and said it had to be witnessed!”

“Sounds like something I’d say.” he laughed.

“We need to go now though – soon there won’t be any water to swim!” Adding, “Whatever you do don’t walk on the rocks – your feet will be cut to pieces”

As we paddled in it seemed this would be more walk than swim and soon we were using a mix of crawl, sculling and good old crocodile crawling.

At one stage Ned managed to get completely stuck in the shallows – 6foot 6 of legs and arms “turtled” as he rolled about trying to find some water! As I giggled at the sight, I promptly ran aground myself and had to wiggle my own way across trying to avoid scrapes!

Finally outside the island we made it to deep water and a lively swim to the far corner. Here the breaking waves allowed us to surf in before returning to the slipway – my official lap done!

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©Paul McCambridge / Ned at Sandycove with bloodied knees – thanks for the guided swim and lunch!

Back at Ned’s we enjoyed the craic and a tasty lunch of steak and mushrooms all served up on Syrian bread and washed down with creamy hot chocolate – lovely, thank you Ned.

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media 28th Sept 2019, Sandycove Swim,

Thanks also to all the hard working and drenched organisers and volunteers for a super event.

Links to Sandycove Swimmers + Cork Masters

Salthill, Galway – Boards and Ice Bucket Challenges

300814-Swim edit Salt Darragh 072a

Words by Maureen McCoy

Photography by Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media

The wind whistles through the metal rails flanking the boards. The waves wash the concrete structure and a queue weaves its way up the steps, spilling out onto the top board. Squealing youths launch themselves into the air, legs kicking as they approach the water, to land with a great splash. A rush of sea water and bubbles as they each claw their way up to the surface, gasp for breath against the cold and exhilaration, then, shaking the sea from their hair, race back to the steps and climb to the high board again.

Mere minutes from Galway City along the Salthill promenade is where you will find these famous diving boards and this traditional sea bathing area. The yellow walls of Salthill, built at various angles to create shelter from the wind, invite one into the inner sanctum where white painted benches, strewn with towels and little mounds of clothing, run the length of each wall. A community of sea-swimmers thrives here, coming from all walks of life.

Early morning sees the business folk taking a dip before their commute. Mid-morning and the retirees club share swims, stories and cups of tea and after school and throughout the summer, the youths congregate.

Following the traditions of past generations, the high boards have become a rite of passage. On the last day of school the leavers flock here in uniform to storm the sea, a release before exams begin. Encouraged and guided by the veteran divers, they progress from the lower and middle boards. Finally making their way up to the double-sided high platform. Egged on by each other and the older divers, they gain confidence, throwing themselves, twisting and somersaulting, towards the ocean.

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Now taking the ice-bucket challenge to new heights, a group of teenage girls arrived. Each clutched a small white bucket, pink fluted pinnies worn over their swimsuits. They giggled as they milled on the steps, each pushing another forward, none wanting to be the first, while the on-lookers smiled in amusement. They nervously followed the stream of boys up onto the high platform. The boys shouted as they leapt while the girls, one by one, edged to the front of the board, looking back for re-assurance, then, with courage plucked, a deep breath and a scream, stepped out.

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Squeals of delight as they re-surfaced, the girls joined the boys again in the race back to the top.

300814-Swim edit Salt 121a

Salthill; Sea Swimming area and Boards

Easy to find along the promenade and show-cased around the world in film, including Brendan Gleesons “The Guard”, the area is a hive of activity.  Bicycle parking and toilets.

Flanked by banks of steps, the near-side bathing area forms an amphitheatre above the sea stage, behind the double-ended boards soar up.

Seamus Heaney wrote several poems in this area and along the promenade you can find quotations of his scribed on the sea wall.

Here is the place to meet swimmers and find out about the local history, people will share with you the hidden beaches and will recommend the entertainment spots in the city.