Island life

In April 2013 I started sea swimming after a bout of ill health. I'd read a lot about the benefits of cold water on the immune system and decided it was worth a try. I'd been a fair-weather swimmer over the years choosing hot days and picturesque high tides for my dips, but this was to be a different thing.

Every day since then I've started my morning with a brisk sea swim. No matter the weather nor the state of the tide, I love the challenge of stripping down to my cossie and getting wet. During the winter months it might be just a five minute dip, but in the summer I can happily strike out for an hour.

This year I'm in training for a marathon day of swimming between the group of islands where I live. Watch this space for more details.

My early morning swims are a bit of a solitary pleasure, but from time to time I have friends join me. Here's a few other crazy water babes (and guys).

1st June 2015
This is my swimming buddy Kate Clement. We're both in training for a big swim this summer. Kate is heading off to the Greek islands in July on a week's Swimtrek holiday with her brother and I'm entering an event in September which entails swimming between all the islands where I live, but is completed over the course of one day. We're both have a very strong breast stroke and are aiming to get our freestyle up to the same standard, but are suddenly aware how short of time we are. Kate has just told me about the Swim Smooth training program and I've bought the DVDs which include an 8 week training course. I'll keep you informed as to how this goes.

Anyway, here we are all togged up yesterday before we took to the water and swam about a mile, I think, from New Grimsby to Appletree Bay. The wind whipped up while we were out there and it was high tide and very choppy towards the end, so much so, that we had to battle to keep ourselves off the rocks. The sense of achievement at the end was immense as it was the roughest seas either of us had swum in.

Sea swimming can be quite dangerous if you're in a busy boating area (which we are) so a great bit of safety kit for us is the Chillswim bag. It's basically a dry bag, enabling us to carry our towels and flip flops with us as we go from one beach to the other, but more importantly it has two flotation chambers which turns it into this jolly little neon buoy that's strapped around the waist making us highly visible to passing crafts - brilliant! We wear bright yellow swimming caps too, so we really can't be missed.

Another Sunday training session

7th June
So here we are a week later facing very different weather and tide conditions. The tide was half way out and receding as we left and the wind coming from the East so we were sheltered in the channel as we set off. Kate and I both felt confident that this would be an easier session today without the rough seas to battle. We did, however, battle with a huge swathe of thongs (seaweed) at one stage where we did a strange mixture of doggy paddle and dragging ourselves across the raft of weed which neither supported us nor let us swim through it. And the ebbing tide presented us with a rather comical challenge of having to try to swim in chest deep water at some points until we eventually stood up and laughed at how ridiculous we must look dressed up for a great Atlantic challenge to swim in 10 inches of water! 

Sunday 14th June
Kate and I had planned another long swim together this Sunday, but an overnight stay on the mainland had been extended for her due to weather conditions. I'd spent most of the day watching things improve and then seeing the tide rise made me decide to go it alone today. I knew that having the safety kit in place would mean it was fine to be out in the boating channel alone, but it was the first time I'd ventured out over a long distance without company. The boys on the slipway gave me a few words of encouragement as I tested out my new goggles and then without further ado I was off.

The chill of the water is always a bit of a shock initially and really challenges my breathing. I can think of nothing else apart from gulping a mouthful of air every time I surface. Relax and breathe, relax and breathe, relax and breathe becomes my mantra. Gradually it doesn't feel quite as cold, the breath not so urgent. The new goggles are a bit steamed up as I didn't prep them, but am keen not to stop to adjust them. A couple of times I catch sight of a boat in the distance heading towards me. Don't panic, just veer slightly towards the shoreline in case it wants to cut through the neck on the high tide in which case I'll get a close encounter with a lot of wash. Both times, the boat alters it's course and moves back into the main channel away from me. Perhaps the safety kit is working, maybe I'm more visible than I think.

Passing through the neck across the long weed is a marker in my progress as is the buffering about as the current pushes and pulls me. I feel like a cork bobbing about without much control. Gradually this eases and I'm out in the main channel between the islands, alone. I can monitor my progress as the shoreline drifts past me, familiar rocks and bays receding as I swim steadily onwards. My breathing is settled, steady and strong. I no longer have to give it my concentration and my mind wanders. My gran once swam the English Channel - is that a memory or a dream? Whatever it is, it acts as encouragement as I round an outcrop of rocks, the final milestone before I turn into Appletree Bay, the home strait. I had hoped to continue further around to Carn Near but the early summer evening traffic is still steady and the line I would take is too busy for me to feel confident on my own. As I near the beach I'm pleased to arrive and happy to have achieved my first solitary swim. The walk home is a time for reflection and pleasure at my small success.

Tuesday 14th July

My training has been erratic of late probably due to it being the height of the summer and the pressures of work encroaching onto my free time, but today I decided would be a me day. Once I was suited and booted I slipped into the water at New Grimsby and headed off. My plan was to swim further today than before, hopefully around the South end of the island and onto the Eastern beach of Pentle Bay. Pentle is an amazing sweep of beach where I've had many a leisurely swim over the years. With a view across to the Eastern Isles it's like something out of a movie set and has been used for many postcards, paintings and magazine shoots featuring these islands. 

So that was the plan as I struck out. The sea temperature is noticeably warmer now although I'm not sure what the exact figures are. When I think back to the mornings where I would be sandblasted in the icy North winds during the winter months these summer swims are positively balmy, with some spots akin to bathwater. The greatest difference of course is the fact that for my long swims I'm now covered in neoprene from neck to toes and fingertips. Swimming cap and goggles add another line of defence so really it's only the submersion of my face that is feeling the true water temperature. That said, it's not bitterly cold and after a while I'm acclimatised and breathing steadily. It's a source of frustration to me that I'm still using breast stroke when I thought I'd be well along with my freestyle training. Time is slipping away but the only way this will happen is by making the effort and putting some practise in.

These thoughts fill my mind as I swim steadily onwards enjoying the lack of boat traffic and more importantly very little wind nor sea chop. Although not exactly a mill pond along this Western edge of the island, I think it will be beautifully calm once I reach the other side. As I round the rocks at Appletree Point I can see a couple of small craft moored up along the water's edge. Picnic time on the beach - what could be more perfect? I start to cut across the bay heading South keeping an eye out for passing boats while noticing tiny figures playing Frisbee on the sand. I'm occasionally aware of a ripple of cool water present at the back of a knee or a trickle down my spine inside my wetsuit. As I swim across the shallow waters I sometimes see a crab scuttle shyly away under a clump of seaweed. The sea is a clear turquoise today under the bright, almost cloudless sky.

I set off before midday and have no idea of the time, but hope to miss the lunchtime tripper boats as I round Carn Near within the next 15 minutes. As I'm thinking this I'm suddenly aware of a speedboat slicing through the water ahead of me. Every time I surface to take a breath I check the boat's progress and can see it's cutting across the bay in front of me, probably to stop on the beach. I forge on but keep an eye out. A few figures jump off, then as the boat draws back, another figure dives into the water and something is launched after him. A donut. My biggest dread is being in the water in the middle of this type of water play. I worry that the drivers attention will be only on steering one moment and glimpsing behind the next to check if they still have donut and occupant intact. The fateful day when Kirstie MacColl was hit in the water by a speedboat after a scuba dive with her sons in the  waters off the island of Cozumel, Mexico has plagued my imagination ever since she died. I stop swimming and bob about in an effort to be as obvious as possible. The boat approaches slowly and on seeing me veers away before throttling up creating a whoop of excitement from the passenger atop the donut.

I head on toward the narrow neck of weed and rocks which will lead me to Carn Near. It's no longer high tide and the rubbery seaweed lies like a raft across the sea. I could swim further out but as this would put me more into the boating lane I decide to push on, and pushing is pretty much what I have to do at some points. I feel a bubble of laughter rise in me at how ridiculous this is proving. I make slow progress across the weed but it's strangely enjoyable to have a different challenge within the day's swim. As I round the neck I can see a tripper boat leaving the quayside. Great timing. I wouldn't have liked to be there as it was coming in. The majority of the quay is under water so I have to swim along its length until I reach the end and can turn back in towards the land. The next part of my swim is more of a puzzle as I know the beaches and land very well, but haven't much knowledge of the rocks and ledges here. I circumnavigate a huge outcrop only to discover when I get past it that I could have swum inland more easily.

The only sounds are my breathing and the odd engine in the distance, mostly boats but sometimes a plane overhead on it's way to land on St Mary's. Company in the water is scarce too, just the odd glimpse of silver as a fish darts away. I spot a white carrier bag floating in the current  below me and note that it's the first one I've seen this year. It reminds of the scene in American Beauty where a paper bag is dancing and skimming around in a gentle vortex of wind.  I'm nearing another clump of rocks which are unfamiliar to me from the sea, but which I do know have a lot of sea current running through them at certain states of the tide. I keep as near to the shore as possible and encounter a different type of seaweed which seems to throw bubbles up as I traverse it, causing my humour button to be activated again. This was more fun than I expected.

I round the next little sweep of beach then rocks and suddenly here I am on home ground, Pentle Bay. The sea is azure and I feel I could be swimming somewhere tropical amongst the eddies of warm water. I relax into the familiar territory and experience what I can only explain as a state of flow ; blissful swimming which required no thought to the breath or effort in the stroke. I had become a swimming machine, at one with my surroundings, relaxed, fearless and enjoying every moment of the rhythm. It was joyful, and being aware of the uniqueness of of the experience I observed it and locked it away to feed me during harder swims . From time to time a lilac globe pulsed past me, part of the host of jellyfish which had been washed up on my home beach. Their translucent beauty was easier to admire as they regally drifted by in the clear green waters.

Before long I had powered past Pentle Bay which I had planned to be my destination. The ease of the swimming led me on and I realised that there were only a couple of smaller bays to go and I could arrive at Old Grimsby within a short while. A family in a small punt and outboard skimmed past me and a second little boat approached from the other direction. We passed in a shallow bay and I was knocked out of my reverie by the wash of the boats slopping over my head and pushing me sideways. The humour of the moment never lost on me, I laughed and ingested a gulp of seawater which dampened me down. A cough and splutter and on I went. Blockhouse Castle revealed itself around the next cove and I knew I had almost arrived. Suddenly I didn't want the swim to end. It had felt like an epic event, separate from my normal life, like an adventure which I had amazingly created within a midweek day off work. By the time I arrived at Old Grimsby the state of the tide was my indicator as to how long I must have been swimming. It was no longer high tide but was clearly half tide. I must have been swimming for about 3 hours. When I reached the shore I stood up, or at least tried to and immediately fell over. Some children paddling nearby took no notice. I rolled onto my back and waited. Perhaps this had been a bigger undertaking than I had realised. After a few minutes I staggered to my feet and wobbled my way up the beach. I'd swum more that half way around the island. Time for a late lunch and a rest in the sun I think.

Monday 7th September

On December 19th 2014 I had the crazy idea to sign up for this challenge. Those of you who follow my blog already will know I like to splash about in the sea from time to time, but I've never undertaken an event like this before. It wasn't long before my partner in crime, Kate Clement, also signed up and so the training began. By the time this newsletter came through in August however, I didn't feel we had a huge amount of training in place. Hectic lives, busy jobs, family commitments, hey we had it all to contend with. Anyway, in the final few weeks we squeezed in what we could and then suddenly it was registration day with briefing, goody bags and the optimistically named acclimatisation swim. The 141 entrants were split into 3 pods according to ability and we opted, quite rightly, for the slow one.

And here we are on on Saturday 5th September aboard my husband's boat with my dear friend Bo Lemm who has travelled with her husband, Dave, all the way from Portugal to be our personal support team. It was just before 8am and the morning was grey and overcast, with a stiff Northerly wind. We were huddled up against the breeze as we set off for Bar Point, St Mary's the starting point. As we turned the corner around past Carn Near we were more exposed to the wind and a passing shower kindly doused us as a welcome to the day ahead. I felt guilty that I had rounded up my supporters without much thought as to how they might or might not enjoy their day, and this didn't seem to be a very good start. We were slightly ahead of schedule and bobbed about, exposed to the elements while we waited for the canoes, safety boats and other craft to arrive. Gradually they all hove into view so Kate and I started to peel off our warm outer layers to reveal our wetsuits. 

I tugged and tweaked one last time at my gloves trying to spin out my preparations for as long as possible. But eventually there were no more delaying tactics left and we said our goodbyes.

Thumbs up and a brave face. Off we go! The water was a cold as ever. A tiny break in the cloud was all we had hoped for, but that was not to be. Grey and bleak salty water greeted us, and the challenge had begun.

During the briefing on the previous day we had been told to keep ourselves warm and dry right up to the last minute. Arriving on our own transport had seemed like a good idea up until then, giving us an extra hour in bed, but now we were wet and without the extra layers the others were snuggled into. We resorted to some gentle jogging up and down the beach and before long things started happening. Flags were erected so that we could gather into our pods. We were the Greens and I'd told Steve to follow the green swimming caps and that Kate and I would be at the back doing breaststroke. A last minute glitch meant we all ended up wearing last year's caps, all of which were orange. 

This was time now for our final registration where we gave our numbers and waited to be given the go ahead. The Red pod was the elite swimmers, many of whom had already swum the Channel or were in training to do so. They were set off first and as we Greens stood watching them swiftly disappear nerves set in. One lady competitor had taken fright and decided she couldn't face this leg of the challenge. It was hardly surprising really. We were going to swim directly into the wind which was creating a lot of sea chop, and this was not a welcoming sight in the least.

Next it was the turn of the Amber pod to go and we stood on the shoreline watching. Each pod had four canoes to accompany them: one to lead, one at the rear of the group and one on each outer edge. The idea being that we were all contained and had easy access to help if we needed it. On the outside of each set of canoes was a safety boat on either side of them, and these had ladders and first aid kit at the ready. And so it was finally our time to get into the water. I had told Kate to swim her own swim, not to look for me or wait, just to keep going. We waded into the sea and I decided to keep on the far outside on the left so that I could also see Steve in his boat. Earlier however, I had looked on in dismay as Steve and said vessel had slowly disappeared into the distance as he followed the lead group of swimmers. The plan for the slow group to leave the beach first had changed, but my lovely support team weren't to know that, and off they went following a green capped swimmer performing a fluid freestyle at a fair old rate!
In the centre of the picture you might be able to see Kate in line with the Eastern Isles.

From the moment I got into the sea, I knew this was going to be a massive challenge. In the lead up to the event it had all seemed a bit abstract, maybe even a little romantic (aka naive) to spend a whole day in balmy September swimming from island to island, making friends and being part of something different, exciting. On this chilly autumn morning, as the graphite sky brooding above us turned the sea dull and threatening, I realised I was in for a mighty shock. Head on chop is my worst nightmare. Swimming breast stroke and trying to catch your breath as you rise up into a faceful of sea is difficult at best, scary at worst. I'd suffered nerves all morning since I got up at 6. I had dosed myself up on Rescue Remedy in the vain hope that it might transform me into a calm, self-assured swimmer. Now my body was awash with adrenalin as I battled to find my way. One plus point was that my goggles didn't fog up so I could see where I was aiming for. We were told to aim for a white roof to the left of Higher Town quay and I was managing to sight it well whenever I needed to.

The initial flurry of leaving the beach en masse had been a new experience to me and I presumed that if I kept to the outside of the pod and clear of the guy ahead I would be fine. I hadn't taken into account the fact that swimmers might barge into me from behind - yes, naive is actually my middle name. I don't know what swimming etiquette there is for this type of run-in, but I turned around to say sorry and caused even more of a collision. Shut up and forge on quickly, seemed to be the answer. We began to spread out and I was in the back of the group, not exactly happy, but surviving. I couldn't see Kate, but neither was I really looking. The battle was just to keep afloat, moving forward and not swallow too much sea water. I must have swum about a mile when my right calf seized into cramp. I stopped in shock at the sudden onset and tried to stretch my toes up as I treaded water. It eased just as I was scanning the horizon to see where the nearest canoe was. Kate appeared then too and asked if I was OK. She said she was going to swim alongside me and off we went. It was only about 5 minutes later that it happened in the same calf again and this time a canoeist was quickly beside me asking if I wanted to stop. I considered my options and decided to get out and try the next leg once I'd sorted the problem. Kate carried on and we met up again on the quay where she was greeted with rousing applause. She had done so well considering that her goggles had steamed up so badly that she had to take them off, which meant swimming into seawater which stung her eyes until they were red and sore. That girl is so gutsy, that's why I love her.

We'd been instructed to get dry and warm as quickly as possible and this is what we did. For one day I had to give up any notion of being a fashionista and just layer, layer and layer up until I looked like a Weeble. Food and drink were the next priority and that was all laid on at the cricket pitch only a stone's throw away. Burgers and hot tea were the order of the day and everyone was happy. Bo had brought my own supplies and I ate some tuna and beetroot followed by two bananas and an electrolyte drink. Hopefully this would replace the salts which were lacking and had given me cramp. Soon it was time to pack up and move on.
The cloud had moved away and the sun shone silver onto the sea

For Kate, Bo and I this was the first walk of the day. The sun had come out and the islands looked idyllic. This was how I had imagined the event to be and I enjoyed this aspect while I could. Everyone seemed to stop at some stage or another to photograph the view or the brightly coloured crocodile of amateur athletes and enthusiasts heading to Lower Town. The walking created a camaraderie with an easy drifting from group to group to share a story or pass on a tip or two. Nearing Lower Town beach the weather seemed to change with a big bank of cloud drifting over us once more. As we clambered onto the tiny beach by the quay we were facing the wind again.
Tugging at the sleeve of my wet wetsuit, yuk.

We were given a briefing before getting into the water. The current between St Martin's and Tean was ripping through the channel and we were advised to head straight across and then we would be able to drift down to head on towards St Helen's. This time the Greens were to go first so we were a bit apprehensive.

This is the flurry as we battle towards the mast ahead. You will be able to see the riptide just beyond the first swimmers. Myself and a group of about 8 other swimmers were quickly washed to the left in the current which took all of us by surprise. We knew it was going to be a lively crossing but the tidal current was much stronger than we expected.
The Amber pod waiting to get going
We arrive on the sand spit of Tean
The Amber pod thrashing out into the fast flowing channel

The swimming was beginning to feel easier now, my breathing was more settled and the familiarity of the area was helping to calm me into a good rhythm. For time to time I looked around to find Steve in the boat, but it's not easy when there are so many boats around. He later told me how comical it is to watch some of these goggled swimmers periodically pop their heads out of the water just like blurry-eyed moles. Being so low in the water you have no idea of the effect the current and tide are having on your swim. I thought I was travelling in a straight line, but was in fact being washed slowly South well off route. At one stage a canoeist appeared to my left and held his paddle out in front of me pointing up North. He said something to me too, however wearing earplugs and two swimming caps whilst being half submerged in seawater isn't great for the hearing! I got the message and turned right to head up towards Northwethel island. Finally I was redirected left past the Small Islands and on to Old Grimsby. I sighted a small cluster of swimmers in front of me and suddenly had the confidence to strike out and see if I could catch up with them. Gradually I made headway and by the time I was coming into the shore I had passed three swimmers meaning that I wasn't last out of the water on this leg. On my final few strokes I could hear someone calling my name and as I rose to my feet saw Kate leaping and whooping on the sand. She greeted me with a hug and I felt relief to be on home territory. Kate, Bo and I walked the short distance to the community centre and plonked ourselves down on the cricket field. Another quick change and I was warm again. Soup and egg mayonnaise with more bananas and another electrolyte drink made up my lunch. However, after about 10 minutes I suddenly got cramp in my thigh - it was the same leg as before. I yelped at the onset and thumped and rubbed my thigh vigorously. It eased and I relaxed, carried on eating and drinking. But it soon returned and Bo heaved me to my feet so that I could try to walk it out. Kate suggested I get some advice from the medics. We found the doctor and she quizzed me on my food and drink intake. It turned out I hadn't been drinking enough water. In fact I hadn't taken any water on board since I'd left home at 7.30 which was about 6 hours ago. I quickly drank a bottle of the vital H2o and before much longer we were being rounded up to walk across the island to New Grimsby.

Exactly one year ago I had stood at my kitchen window and seen a human raft of wetsuited swimmers surge down this road and make their way onto New Grimsby beach before setting off en masse in a shark-like frenzy towards Bryher. The light bounced brilliant white off the water and at that very moment my desire to take part was born, and I knew I must not miss out again. The scene looked like something from a Steven Spielberg movie, one I wanted to be part of. However, that particular day was a perfect summer's day, the sea calm as a millpond with brilliant sunshine all day long. I had the opportunity to speak to one entrant the following day. He is a cross Channel swimmer and has even swum across the straits of Gibraltar, so is very experienced. He had loved the inter island swim, but told me he would never do it again because he wanted to keep the perfect memories intact, saying he knew it couldn't ever be so easy again. How right he was.

The swim from New Grimsby to Bryher was brief jaunt (ha ha) and therefore we were not split into our pods but allowed to enter the sea together. Amidst a flurry of arms and legs splashing furiously I tried to find my spot and off I went. Our timing wasn't very good as we happened to be leaving the quay just as the Firethorn was heading towards us around the quay head. There was a momentary stand off until a safety boat ushered us wide of the boat to head out, around and across the narrow channel.

I met up with Kate on Bryher beach where Bo joined us with the bags of supplies. We were immediately led off to the church where the famous Bryher cakes were awaiting us with mugs of steaming tea. I heard that this was a highlight of last year's swim too. The sun had come out and we camped on the grass, enjoying a bit of carbo-loading. It was here that I spoke to Kate and told her my plan. I had decided not to try to finish the whole challenge. She and I had previously swum from Samson to St Agnes so I felt no desire to complete this leg again. I would do the last and shortest crossing from Bryher to Samson and call it a day. The final leg from St Agnes to St Mary's was, for me, a challenge too far and not one I felt the need to complete. Kate was keen to continue and said she would like to attempt the St Agnes crossing but not the St Marys' one. 
The very patient boatmen waiting for the swimmers to reach Bryher

And soon it was time to pack up and head up the hill over the top of Bryher and along the grassy banks towards Rushy Bay. Once we arrived there was another briefing and an update for all the swimmers. The organisers had decided as we were running late that the next two swims were to be combined, effectively making this leg Bryher to St Agnes. Slower swimmers and those who weren't confident about this, the longest swim, were asked to consider skipping this leg and taking the followers boat to St Agnes where they could then take part in the final swim to end on St Mary's. A group gathered to be ferried onto the support boat and notes of their numbers taken to readjust the figures. At this stage I made my own plan clear and warned the organisers that I would only swim as far as Samson and be collected from there. I wished Kate luck and we hugged goodbye. The Reds set off first and were soon thrashing their way across the short stretch of water to the mound of Samson beach. Ambers followed in a similar fashion. This short swim was a good morale boost after some of today's longer slogs. And then it was our turn. I held back waiting for my space on the left as usual. A gap appeared in the melee and I set off one last time. As I swam I felt a wave of relief wash over me. I was so happy to have found my own level within this very personal challenge. I hadn't really been drawn into the competitive nature of the swim. Much as we had been told repeatedly "It's not a race", I think that if you put a group of people together like this, it will look like a race, and feel like a race, and inevitably be a race. For me, it didn't work like that. I was in my own little world, trying to achieve as much as I could. I saw Kate swimming ahead, looking strong as ever. I felt proud to watch her and know that she would carry on until she could do no more - she's a true fighter, tenacious and so strong willed. I admire her strengths, love her weaknesses too. She was swimming with Rachel Lewin a swimmer from St Agnes and I could see them making easy progress towards the shore. They were on their feet now and wading to the beach. Soon after I reached the sand and stood up. I heard a huge cheer and whoops of delight from behind me, and as I turned around there was Steve in his boat with Bo and Dave and Rachel Young our additional supporter. I had made it. My Scilly Swim Challenge was over and I was so happy!
Joy and relief!
The best feeling ever to climb aboard and be done.
Happy days!

So here it is, my own Scilly Swim Challenge. Pink marks the entire route starting and finishing on St Mary's. The solid black line is what I managed on the day and the broken black line is what I had already swum previously. It's a huge achievement, massive, and I'm so proud to have done it.
X marks the spot where I finished.

Sunday 6th September

Kate and I donned out tee shirts and posed for my blog. Kate had persevered with the St Agnes swim while all around her swimmers were being taken out to the water with exhaustion. Eventually cold got the better of her and she too had to be taken out. She was well on her way to completing what was to be her last swim. Soon afterwards the canoeists had to abandon the challenge as it was too rough for them to stay upright in the choppy Atlantic swell. Everyone was removed who hadn't made it to land. The final leg to St Mary's was rescheduled for today. Neither Kate nor I wanted to take part. Our challenges were complete and we don't think we'll be on the start line for next year's event.

PS I'd just like to say that I'm aware that my nutrition and fluids may well have been less than adequate for this kind of undertaking and would ask that anyone considering this kind of challenge take professional advice on the correct balance and amounts needed. Likewise, Kate and I acknowledge that much more training would be advised. Our experience of these waters proved to be lacking and our only advantage was that we were already acclimatised!
I also want to add that it was a privilege to share the water with some very elite athletes, who are at the top of their game, at the peak of fitness. I stood on the same shores as them, looked out onto the same challenge and like them I gave it my best. I'm proud to have been one of the 141 who faced the Atlantic Ocean and forged their way to their own goal. I give thanks for the opportunity to stretch myself and find my own true value through sheer effort and drive.

Friday 1st April

I just thought I'd pop this extra post onto the blog today. Firstly as it's not one of my regular blogging days I don't feel obliged to deliver the usual content. And secondly I like to cover all aspects of my life, and do realise that for some, the fashion is all they want to see. By sneaking in this extra post I'm pretty much pleasing myself, yet may just entertain one or two of you which would be a bonus. 
Over the years of living on this little holiday island I've come to know so many of the visitors, and some gradually have become friends. Kate falls into this category - a friend who I may only see a couple of times a year, but whose company I really enjoy. One thing we chat about is sea swimming. Kate was here a few days ago while the Isles of Scilly were being battered by storm Katie. The morning after the storm was just leaving our shores I invited Kate to join me on my early morning swim. Kate prefers a warm summer's day for her dips, so this was a bit of a push out of her comfort zone. However, being the utterly charming and polite lady she is, Kate agreed with only a slight note of hesitation in her voice. I ambushed her cottage some ten minutes after throwing down the gauntlet, to find Kate and her friend Gill gathering up towels, hats and blankets ready for the fray. Without further ado, we headed through the back garden and down onto Green Bay. 

do think we're so brave - not for sea swimming, but for being photographed in swimsuits without a scrap of make-up either!

The bay below the Blockhouse castle is out of the wind today giving us a perfectly calm sea for our swim.

One more glamour pose and we're off!

Kate rose to the challenge and is positively euphoric! The sea temperature was about 10 degrees.

And that, boys and girls, is how you do it. We're both flushed with success, ruddy with the rush of blood to our skin and ready to take on the world. Well done, dearest Kate. You've cracked the mind game that is sea swimming and discovered the joy of the afterglow. Next time Gill, bring the camera, but don't bother with those blankets!
Kate's swimsuit is by Sunflair, a German brand, mine is a Speedo.

Stretch, roll, Popeye...
1 March 2017

What on earth? you're asking yourself. Well, this was my mantra for cracking a smooth freestyle stroke with bilateral breathing. OK, switch off now if you're bored of my swimming saga. And for those of you who remain, here's the location where I've spent my mornings for the past two weeks. 

Our local spa with indoor swimming pool has been my playground for the duration and it's been such a contrast to the sometimes wild, but always very cold, sea where I've swum all winter.

But let's rewind a bit to explain how why I suddenly changed tack and chose the soft option last month.

My new found passion for swimming freestyle was ignited by the top two books which I recently read. Previously, all my swimming has been using breast stroke, albeit a strong one, but I've been aware of the fact that it's the least energy efficient of all strokes and therefore I've been working harder than I really need to. Like the author of Leap In, Alexandra Heminsley, I've wanted to achieve the graceful, languid stroke that's performed by long distance swimmers. After first of all hearing her talk about the book on the radio, and then reading the story of how she moved from one to the other, I decided that it might just be within my grasp too, to improve my ragged breathless front crawl into something sleeker. The record breaking swim undertaken by Sean Conway in his book Hell and High Water was further inspiration for me. Longer swims now beckon me, although nothing quite as epic as his.

And so it was just a week into my month's staycation that I ordered Championship Swimming and at the same time I resurrected the Swim Smooth DVD that I've had for a couple of years without viewing. (When I say without viewing, what I actually mean is that at the first attempt I fell asleep after the first 10 minutes, I'm embarrassed to admit.) After successfully watching it all the way through it soon became apparent that I wouldn't be able to perform these drills in the sea for obvious reasons, the main one being the current temperature of about 9 degrees. I joined the spa for two weeks and the hard work began. Inspiration was in place, perspiration and dedication came next.

At 10 o'clock every morning I was to be found poolside with earplugs, goggles and cap in place. The book became my Bible with notes scrawled all over to remind me what I'd seen on the DVD. Swim Smooth proved to be transformational; the basic mechanics of the stroke are broken down into drills that are to be repeated until they become second nature. Hence, stretch, roll, Popeye, the three counts that make up the stroke. We all remember Popeye of course and that's the best way to suck in a good breath whilst lying on your side. In fact, I'm not sure why front crawl is named such, as the stroke is mostly performed rolling from one side to the other with the minimum of time being spent on your front. 

Yesterday I posted a snippet of my freestyle on Instagram which made me very proud indeed. I don't know when the stroke came together, but I do recall moments where, like a dance step that suddenly clicks, I felt the stretching roll become a steady rhythm that made time for the breath without gasp or panic - I was indeed swimming smoothly!

The spa offers all sorts of diversions apart from the pool - a sauna, jacuzzi, steam room in addition to a gym, relaxation room, shop and treatment rooms for massage and beauty treats. My own particular reward for an hour of swimming was to retreat to the steam room for 15 minutes of bliss. I will miss the soft option when I stand on the beach this morning facing the chill Atlantic ocean. Wish me luck!

Hell And High Water by Sean Conway see here.
Leap In by Alexandra Heminsley see here.
Swim Smooth DVD see here. 
Championship Swimming by Tracy McFarlane Mirande see here.
Island Leisure Spa see here.


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