wildwomanswimming

One woman's wild swimming adventures in the west country

Archive for the tag “sea”

Mothecombe

Dahab Ninja Wipeout

Egyptian Ninja Wipeout

Trying to avoid getting wet...

Trying to avoid getting wet…

A last-minute call to dip at Mothecombe, and boy is it worth the trip. It’s mid-flood and surfy, the spectacular estuarine break is at its peak, and a strong, chilly wind cuts through our prematurely spring-like clothing. Rachel, Linda, Honey and I make our way to the shelter of the disused tidal pool. Honey thunders off after a tall dark and handsome flat coat retriever while the three of us change.

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Failing to stay dry…

The rip drags at our legs as we teeter in, shivering, so we cross closer to the surfers and into the teeth of the wind. The water is muted turquoise and cold, but made icy by the wind chill. We contort into dance shapes to stay dry as we wade deeper; wild swimming oxymoronic behaviour if ever I saw it. Linda is resplendent in her Dahab souk hooded neoprene singlet, while Rachel is wearing a mini ra ra skirt and a purple flowered hat. As I float between Egyptian Ninja and Devon Cream Tea Lady a large wave breaks over my head, dousing the Dali dreamscape.

Devon Cream Tea Lady

Devon Cream Tea Lady

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WWS Book Review: Dr Rip’s Essential Beach Book

Dr Rip’s Essential Beach Book: Everything You Need To Know About Surf, Sand and Rips by Dr Rob Brander ISBN: 978 1 74223 097 9

Purple dye marks a rip current

Purple dye marks a rip current

The rip current is the bogeyman of the sea. The confusion engendered by its behaviour and what to do if you get caught has imbued this beast with a reputation such that swimmers fear its very name. This is partly justified; in both Australia and the USA around 100 people a year drown in rip-related incidents, while between 2006-2011 in the UK, RNLI lifeguards rescued 12,607 people from rips, around 11% of whom were swimmers. The biggest problem however is that people don’t understand rips or what to do when they’re in one. This book by coastal geomorphologist Dr Rob Brander (named ‘Dr Rip’ by Lifeguards in New South Wales for his habit of pouring purple dye into rip currents) is therefore an essential addition to the sea-swimmer’s library.

Dr Rip begins with a fascinating discussion of types of sand and the ways in which different sentiments collect in certain places and form different types of beach. This is important, because the type of beach largely dictates the type and size of waves, which in turn affects the formation of currents such as long-shore drift and rips, and whether these are fixed rips or unpredictable flash rips.

There are several categories of wave which Dr Rip describes in detail, along with specific dangers associated with each. From this section I now know for certain that the wave which wiped me out behind Burgh Island last year in twelve-foot swell and scared the bejesus out of me was a freak reflected wave combined with an incoming one, because there’s a description of how such waves form and a picture of a similar one in the book. You will also learn not to try body-surfing a plunging wave or a surging wave, and what to do when a big wave decides to break on top of you – a frequent occurrence for we year-round sea-swimmers and dippers.

There’s a chapter on currents with an in-depth analysis of rips. A rip current (it is a current, not a tide) is a ‘river’ flowing from the shore through an area of breaking waves. It’s a key way in which water from breaking waves returns to the sea. A rip won’t drag you under, it’s dangerous for a couple of reasons: firstly, they appear to be areas of calm in white water, and therefore attract swimmers; and because people who are not competent swimmers or who are not educated about rips get caught and are pulled out of their depth, or try to swim against them because they don’t know how to get out. So the first important point is how to spot a rip; there are plenty of handy hints and excellent photographs to help you develop this essential skill, along with advice about where, and where not, to swim.

One of the refreshing aspects of the book is that there are no absolute rules. Dr Rip simply discusses the various options which are of course different depending on your ability and fitness. So you learn a couple of ways of swimming out of a rip, or how to attract the attention of a lifeguard. Some rips will run you a mere 50-100m off shore and return you to the shallows after a couple of minutes, while others are monsters; one in New Zealand, for example, took Dr Rip a good 1km off shore, and while they are normally narrow, they may be up to 50m wide and travel at the sprint speed of an Olympic freestyler.

There’s a chapter on tides which, Dr Rip explains, are a type of wave. We also learn that tsunamis are surging waves which accounts for their huge destructive power; there’s a fascinating discussion on the reason the 2004 tsunami caused barely any damage in the Maldives, despite running straight over the islands which are almost entirely at sea level. Other considerations, such as weather, erosion, and the problems associated with thoughtless and poorly-informed shore development are also included.

There’s so much information in this book, all illustrated with wonderful photographs from around the world, that it’s probably necessary to read it two or three times. I grew up (or rather survived my childhood) on the Atlantic coast of Devon, and there is plenty here that I didn’t know. Dr Rip has a life-long fascination with the subject (he collected several hundred jars of sand over his youth which were confiscated by customs when he moved to Australia) and is an expert in the science of beaches and how they work. He writes in an accessible style while also managing to explain some fairly complex processes in an easy and entertaining way. There are some lovely touches of humour. You will even learn how to survive a shark attack (swimming with a friend immediately reduces your chance of attack by 50%!) There’s also information on fossicking on a beach, rock-pooling, and where and how to build a decent sandcastle.

My only criticism is in the sometimes confusing format where summary sections are placed in mid-paragraph rather than at the ends of the relevant chapters, but it’s such a great book it’s well worth overlooking this minor annoyance rather as you would a sand fly bite. By the way, before you warm yourself up on your nippy winter sea swim, did you know that sharks are attracted by the smell of wee?

Dr Rip’s Essential Beach Book comes very highly recommended for anyone who swims in the sea.

Watcombe Beach to Bell Rock

Bell Rock

Bell Rock – Too Slim by Far

You might have noticed the dearth of blogs recently; it’s partly due to being busy and partly to a smorgasbord of injuries that appear to be roaming from joint to joint like a hen night. Anyway, I had my pesky shoulder injury injected with hydrocortisone almost two weeks ago, and since we’re supposed to be taking on the beast that is the Gulf of Corryvreckan on 15th August and I’ve not swum properly for well over 6 months I thought I’d better give the shoulder a try out.

Allan and Carole

Allan and Carole

So off we went to Watcombe Beach.  I lived in Watcombe from age 3 to 7, and have many happy memories of the beach and the steep walk down to it, but I haven’t been there since…1968. It’s a gorgeous little cove surrounded by red sandstone cliffs and woodland. The end chunk of cliff sports a considerable crack down half its length, so it won’t be long till that tumbles down into the sea.

WWS Snapping at Starfish (photo Allan Macfadyen)

WWS Snapping Starfish (photo Allan Macfadyen)

We swam out stroked by kelp on a low spring, in sea that was misted and coloured shades of aquamarine. Constellations of starfish were scattered across sandy patches, and once we reached the caves they multiplied to a veritable milky way.  As ever on this piece of coastline, the colours of rocks and sea zing in a perfect Matisse palette. Although the sea was flat calm, it sucked and soughed through the cave, cooler than outside and stinking of seal breath. Layers of life forms meshed on the rocks to form a collage of mineral, plant and animal, so that it’s hard to see the divide between life and death.

Starfish!

Starfish!

I swam across to Bell Rock, but felt too cold to sidle through the slim gap. I also suspect after months of limited exercise that my capacious arse might have caused me to wedge fast in the narrows where I would probably stay till the next low tide. So Nancy and I headed back, leaving the rest to forage and exclaim. I managed I think around 300m of front crawl, with little in the way of pain. Here’s hoping…By the way, the beach cafe at Watcombe is a top place with fantastic, crispy thin chips. Hardly conducive to shrinking the bum.

Cave...

Cave…

Swimming Round the Point

Swimming Round the Point

Hartland Quay

Hartland Quay

Hartland Quay

The plan today was to swim from Hope Cove to Thurlestone, only with a pesky southerly blowing we thought it might be a tad frisky. So we went instead to Hartland Quay where we found the usual crashing and foaming around the rocks; it’s almost always wild around here.

Andrew, Plum and I got in fairly easily off the sheltered slipway and began to bounce in glowing, aquamarine sea. Earlier we’d been on the more reckless side of a Facebook debate on the dangers of being struck by lightning while swimming, so of course we were interrupted by a crashing rumble that I initially took to be a big wave dumping on pebbles; obviously it was thunder. We laughed in its face and continued with our swim, reasoning that there are plenty of high rocks and cliffs around here to attract strikes and we’re barely breaking the surface. Anyway, nothing short of death was going to get us out of this slightly nippy lushness.

Andrew Leaps

Andrew Leaps

The geology here always takes my breath away. Reefs like crashed wafer biscuits point out to sea, overwhelmed by cliffs layered and snapped into jagged points like petrified storm waves. We swam over, then back to the big rock from where Andrew climbed and jumped while Plum and I bobbed, pulled this way and that by the crazy currents from waves surging through and around rocks.

After around three quarters of an hour we walked back up the slipway and sniggered at the potential irony of being struck by lightning before we got to the pub, but survived to order a pint of Tribute each. Inside in a dark corner slouched a young couple watching movies on an iPad. Two hours later they were still there, Skyping their friends about the lovely weather. Really.

With thanks to Plum for the photos.

Stunned by Geological Marvels

Stunned by Geological Marvels

Sunrise at Wonwell

Sunrise at Wonwell: Honey & WWS. Photo Karen Lubbe.

Sunrise at Wonwell: Honey & WWS. Photo Karen Lubbe.

I’m never at my best in the morning, and today I’ve only had a couple of hours kip in TrannyVan after a housewarming party. It’s 0530. Wonwell is a small, isolated beach at the mouth of the river Erme, more or less opposite Mothecombe. The tide’s out and it’s almost light as we walk down and dump our stuff. There’s a delay before anyone gets changed; I always feel cold when tired, and there’s a chilly wind. Finally we trot down to the sea which feels considerably warmer than the air, and wade in through long, low waves that break on the sand bar as the tide begins to flood. I can’t swim fast because of my back and I’m really noticing the lack of exercise-generated heat.

There’s a grey-green-blue coolness to the water, then it starts to transform as the sun peeps over the hill. I’m floating with Honey maybe a hundred yards out and there’s a moment when warmth begins to suffuse me that must be purely psychological.  A peachy tinge ripples then dissolves through the surface and the water beneath becomes bluer. I swim back to shore with Honey who is swamped by a couple of waves. By the time we return to the rocks I’m shivering, and the sea is a good hundred yards closer than it was when we arrived. Joh’s crutch meanwhile has been swallowed by the incoming tide, and will no doubt intrigue the person who finds it washed up one day.

We set up our camping stoves and cook tomatoes, eggs, bacon and eggy bread for breakfast. I’m ravenous. Steph, being German, eats a sacrilegious combination of crumpets fried in olive oil with jam. We threaten to call UKIP. Carole has made bacon and egg cup-cakes, including some with veggie bacon for me. We light a fire and warm and smoke ourselves. I give Honey her ball, which somehow ends up in the fire. Luckily someone notices and kicks the ball out shortly after Honey has attempted to extricate it with her paws. Then I see her lying on the beach breathing smoke like a dragon; she’s holding the hot ball in her mouth. I grab it and cool it in the stream, but she doesn’t seem to have suffered at all…

This was the inaugural swim of our new wild swimming group into the fish dimension... which has an artistic and environmental ethos. The swim was organised by our friend Carole Whelan. Thanks Carole!

 

 

Three Dips and Four Full Moons

Bugle Hole

Bugle Hole

 

Erme Estuary as the Tide Begins to Flood

Erme Estuary as the Tide Begins to Flood (photo Helen Sargent)

Fiona, Joe and the Urban Fox Terrier are visiting from London. Today we plan a three-pronged attack on Fiona’s attempt to swim in 60 new locations in her 60th birthday year: The Erme estuary; Bugle Hole; and Mothecombe beach, a triumvirate of Devon swims within a single meandering mile or so of each other. Since my back has given out, I leave the first swim to Fiona, Helen, Honey and Boswell while Stef and I natter on the beach. Luckily Joe saves us from being cut off by the incoming tide which we’d rather embarrassingly failed to notice. A rapid swoosh up the river with the flood is one of the wonderful adventures described in Roger Deakin’s Water Log and it’s high on our list for the summer.

Erme Estuary 30 Minutes Later: with Honey, Boswell, Helen and Fiona

Erme Estuary 30 Minutes Later: with Honey, Boswell, Helen and Fiona

Around tea time we return to the car park and load up with food before wandering down to Mothecombe. Four of us amble along the coast path to Bugle Hole with the aim of hitting it at high tide. The sun has just departed and it feels far colder than it is. Once in, I regain my mojo and allow myself to be coddled by the magnified Bugle swell. The last of the sun hits at the far end of the passage where we float in a sparkling wonderland of rocks and aquamarine sea. Honey joins us but I have to help her back through the magic cauldron where we’re gliding through the water one moment, stationary in the centre of the pool the next, and then flung into the barnacled cheese-grater rock with a partly peeled body part to finish.

Back at Mothecombe flames gutter through Alison’s driftwood fire and we begin scoffing as the sun drops and the colour leeches from sea and sky leaving a watery, diluted metal effect in shades of shell pink and wishy blue. Gradually people depart, leaving me, Fiona, Helen, Joe, Honey and the dogs on the beach. We wander across to the western end of the sands as the light granulates into darkness. There, above the headland dangles a splendid full moon, a watery track melting across the sand and the receding wavelets.

Sun Drops at Mothecombe

Sun Drops at Mothecombe (photo Helen Sargent)

Helen and I have decided not to go in again, while Fiona is keen. The moon goddess of course works her magic so we strip for a skinny dip making a full four full moons. Although the sea is still nippy at between 10 and 11 degrees, it feels delicious; who could ask for more than the creep of sea on bare skin, a water-stroked body, and the scent of salt and the whoosh of the waves and the shimmering magic pathway to the moon. We are studiously ignored by the two bonfire loads of teenagers swigging beer and toasting sausages on driftwood sticks.

We clamber back up the track in moon light and moon shadow on numb feet, and are greeted by a transcendental view as we reach the top of the headland. Below us the Erme and the ebb tide rush out to sea while waves run inland over the top. The summit of each breaker gleams silver, and the various eddies and wavelets where water fights over sand bars shoal into visions of fish. We stand transfixed at the curves and waves and ribbons and the witch moon.

Moon Rise at Mothecombe

Moon Rise at Mothecombe

Witch Moon Over Estuary (photo Helen Sargent)

Witch Moon Over Estuary (photo Helen Sargent)

 

Whitsand Bay

Whitsand Bay

Whitsand Bay

It’s a real shock this – a sunny day! Sadly our plans to swim at Tregantle are foiled thanks to Second World War beach defence ironmongery that’s been uncovered by the recent weeks of extreme storms. So Stef and I pootle down to the middle of the bay and descend the cliffs with the dogs. It’s low tide and we’re concerned about the recent doggy deaths from eating boulders of palm oil washed up on local beaches, particularly since both of our dogs have the word ‘labrador’ in the title. Luckily there doesn’t appear to be any here. Instead, there’s a gingery heap of ripped kelp, alive with flies, and a hail of plastic scattered across the sands. Mist veils the rocky reefs and razor shells lie smashed like little car crashes, spilling pale sausage shaped bodies the colour and texture of clotted cream. And there’s the sound of the sea, soothing and enticing…

By the time we wade in the sun is glaring at a winter angle. The water here pulls and swirls in several directions between the outcrops, and there is a diagonal wave and a nice big rip feeding out from the near reef.  As I pop up from a wipeout I see white puffs of cloud on the horizon that echo the foaming white water perfectly. It’s beautiful, exhilarating, invigorating. We chat about Stef’s daughter and her travels in Cambodia while the cold seeps and slaps and sand churns. The waves dump from eight feet, silky walls of water that rise and curl suddenly before crashing down. Sometimes three or four catch up and we’re in a sea of bubbles. Small fountains erupt from the surface like the ghostly fingers of wrecked sailors.

Afterwards we change slowly, soaked in the warmth of the winter sun; or perhaps the heat is generated by the young couple canoodling in the cave entrance behind us…We have lunch and tea in TrannyVan on the cliff top. Today, instead of running the heater on full we sit with the side and barn doors open. This allows Honey and Boswell to revolve through playing and looking for tennis balls and doggy snacks. Stef’s treat pocket is slick with dog flob.

Honey and Boswell Seek Balls

Honey and Boswell Seek Balls

Foaming Clouds

Foaming Clouds

Wadham Wander

Michele Wimping Out

Michele Wimping Out

Sophie’s idea again – Wadham is a secret cove accessed via a precipitous track, and it’s normally frequented by nudists. Rain tips and pours downhill and it’s January, so we  allow ourselves the luxury of layers of fleece, woollies, waterproofs and wellies.  As we pick our way from the cliff top we notice there is a patch of light over the sea, and sure enough the deluge stops.  By this time Honey, who has been groomed to within an inch of her life by her Gran, has transformed from a beautifully fluffy cream puff to a mud-bespattered, drenched mop. Of course she’s found a tennis ball. We scramble the last bit which is more of a mountain-bike drop than a footpath, and spy Richard on the beach waiting for us. His family have refused to leave the car.

Sploshing

Sploshing

The rocks are Dartmouth slate according to Richard who’s done some research. The slate is layered and striped in shades of turquoise-bruise and purple-bruise and small bodies of it pop up from the shingle beach like the undulations of Loch Ness monsters.  We change and plunge into bouncy water, which is stained with mud yet still maintains a blue-green tinge to the predominant battleship grey. It’s not too cold, and being engulfed feels like heaven. Michele and I pootle out towards the end of the  reef where waves are waterfalling and sucking. In the end I go fairly close and allow myself to be pulled over rock wards for a while. I swim some of the return in backstroke and when I turn over I can see Jackie’s customary flower bobbing up and down; a summery, bright pink splurge among the hundred shades of grey.

Backstroke

Backstroke

Sophie and Bun

Sophie and Bun

Happy Wet New Year

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

Finally we managed to swim today after endless storms and flooding. I’ve been hammered by a cold and cough over Christmas and was desperately in need of some chilly, frisky water. So off we went to good old Wembury where the forecast 7-11 foot surf wasn’t too bad at low tide, and the water and air temperatures were both conveniently 10ºc.

Landwards

Landwards

We frolicked in the surf, bobbed around and chatted. Low sun gave two totally contrasting views; one (out to sea) in shades of mercury and the other (towards shore) in technicolor. The seabed resembled a yarn shop at sale time with heaps of ankle-grabbing, tangled, ripped up weeds and the water was khaki, opaque with pulverised sea life.Screen Shot 2014-01-02 at 17.44.16

Afterwards we loitered around Tony’s fire, ate, drank Teri’s mulled cider and shoved hot rocks from the wind-break up our jumpers. An effective way of warming up from the inside. Thanks for reading in 2013 and may you have a wet and wild new year.

Bottoms Up!

Bottoms Up!

Wonderful Wembury

Leaping

Leaping

Waves from Above

Waves from Above

Met the gals for a wonderfully wild swim at Wembury today. It was shortly after high tide, and the breakers were perfectly-sized; large enough for some proper fun but not so big as to cause us problems with getting back in, nor indeed for a repeat of Teri’s ‘stunned sea bass’ impression. Wintery sun seeped through whispy clouds and forged the surface of the sea into molten aluminium.

WWS Ascending a Wave

WWS Ascending a Wave

The messy waves peaked in points, backlit as we leapt to beat the breaks like aquamarine stained glass windows. Chilly water, but nowhere near the freeze of the weekend. I felt a glow of cold radiate from my body, but ice cream neck lasted only briefly as water slapped and walloped us from above. We played and bobbed and marvelled in the light show while we chatted and laughed. Small rafts of seaweed swept past. There’s nothing to beat a wild winter sea. Thanks to Sharon Nicol for the photos.

Hamming it Up

Hamming it Up

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