It is February, which usually mean summer and the middle of the ocean swim season in Sydney. Each weekend from the beginning of January to the middle of April there is a swim on somewhere in or near the city. In late January and into February the following swims are usually held:
-There is the Big swim from Palm Beach (where Home and Away is filmed) to Whale Beach http://www.thebigswim.org.au;
-the Australia Day swim in Farm Cove next to the Opera House http://www.greataustraliadayswim.com.au;
-the North Bondi Classic which starts at the northern end of Bondi Beach and traverses south across the bay and back http://www.northbondisurfclub.com/oceanswims/classic/;
-the Coles Classic at Manly which was for a while the undisputed largest swim in Sydney but is now under challenge http://www.colesclassic.com.au;
-the wonderful Murray Rose Magic Malabar swim which raises money for a worthy charity http://www.malabarmagicoceanswim2015.gofundraise.com.au;
-the annual swim at Bondi Bluewater Challenge which starts and finishes in the middle of Bondi Beach http://www.bondibluewater.com.
For a complete calendar of these and other swims and results you have to go to the http://www.oceanswims.com site which plays a unique role in the swimming community linking swimmers to events.
I have swum all these, but this year I am not doing any of them. Now that is not because I have been there and done that, as I have done several of these more than once over the years, and no two years are ever the same due to the impacts of the surf, the wind and the tide. I am not doing these events because I have decided to give cold water swimming a go in that mecca of open water swimming of Scotland.
The weather forecast for Sunday was for a mix of cloud and sun, light winds from the south and a top temperature of nine degrees C. In other words close to perfect for this time of year. I had learnt from my swim on New Years Day at Luss and had purchased some gloves and boots to keep my hands and feet warm.
I joined a small group of intrepid fanatics from wild west swimmers who were fresh from competing in the Big Chill Swim in Lake Windermere in the Lake District where they swum in either the 450m or 1km event without a wetsuit in water around 5c.
For this adventure we had driven to Milarrochy Bay on the eastern shore of Loch Lomond just north of Glasgow. I noticed when we arrived that the water level was around 1m lower than it had been three weeks ago, apparently because it had not rained much over that period. There were five of us braving the fresh water today, and as the only male it was up to me to don the wetsuit, gloves, boots, surfcap and swim cap; while the others made do with their swimwear, boots and caps. I was feeling a small amount of trepidation as the water temperature in the shallows was around 6 C, but quickly got colder as the water deepened. This was my first serious attempt at having a swim in cold water, rather than just mere plunges like I had done on New Years Day 2015 and 2014. I was pleasantly surprised as I waded into the water that my fingers and feet were staying warm thanks to the wonderful layers of neoprene.
Sure there were no waves, no surf, no sharks, no tides for this swim. But there was another danger for this swim, and that was the water temperature itself. After wading into the water until it was up to my waist I eased myself in and floated on top of the water waiting for the wetsuit to warm up the water next to my skin. This was not too bad I though. And then I started swimming, and after ten strokes my face was numb, and after twenty my cheeks hurt. Time to stop and get my face out of the water to warm it up in the weak Scottish sun. How are these others swimming without the protection of a wetsuit I wondered? I know that it is a matter of getting the body used to the colder temperatures so over time it can adapt. Sure I expect it will always hurt, but once the body knows that it will be easier to push through it all.
I am not sure how long we stayed in the water, perhaps it was 15 minutes, maybe 20. But it was fantastic to be swimming outdoors again, knowing that I had taken another step on the path of meeting a new challenge. I was full of admiration for all those people who regularly swim in cold water year round.
I had been reading about the effects of cold water on swimmers, particularly when after they have put on all their clothes after swimming. After we all got dressed and did the universal thing about talking about our swimming adventures, I noticed the others were shivering. I was assured this was a totally natural outcome, and as they had several layers of warm clothes on, had drunk a warm drink, and eaten a snack they would be fine. Sure enough after a short while they all stopped shivering as the blood in their bodies moved back from the core to the extremities.
All in all a wonderful swim in Loch Lomond, helped in no end by the nice meal and conversation afterwards at Drymen (which I thought was pronounced dry men, but was actually pronounced drum men). A big thanks to Emma for giving me a lift from Balloch station.