The Great Tit Weekend – Seabirds on Tour Part I – what to pack?

Some of us Salty Seabirds are off on an adventure. We are going to Wales. The weather and sea conditions look less than ideal but we don’t care. When you read this we will be waking up west. We are going to the Great Tit Weekend organised by The Bluetits, TYF and Celtic Camping. A weekend of swimmy celebration  with like minded souls from around the UK. The location is the Pembrokeshire coastline with plenty of swimming, eating, game playing, craft workshops, swim/coasteering and music.

The whatsapp group has been buzzing this week with what to pack. I am not quite sure why we are whipping ourselves up into such a frenzy when all we need to pack is what we take in our swim bags to the beach here in Brighton. But with the autumn equinox and storm after storm signalling the end of summer and our wild swim group growing significantly, may be it is time to consider the kit needed for cold water swimming.

This list is not exhaustive and really personal to me. I skin swim year round and fortunately don’t really feel the cold, so the neoprene accessories I pack are minimal. No wetsuit, no shoes, no gloves……..yet. It also does not include the cake, legwarmers and Uggs that accompany me in the winter. Also missing are the copious bags of crisps, red wine and middle age medication, that will be travelling with me to Wales but not returning.

  1. My woolly hat. I say that like it is singular but I have one in every colour of the rainbow. As a child my mum tried to force me to wear a woolly hat, which I did not consider cool, much like wearing a coat. Now I can’t wait to don one. The game changer is the fleece band inside which cover your ears. Bad hair days, which is every day when it has been in salt water,  are also very well dealt with.
  2. A sports cloak. Much like the vacuum cleaner being called a hoover, this product is more commonly known by the brand name dryrobe. And I have two. I swim outdoors a lot and I coach both open water swimming and surf lifesaving so having two does not feel excessive as they double up as work-wear. I have a short sleeved Charlie McLeod for autumn and spring and a long sleeve dryrobe for the sub zero winter temperatures. I use them as a waterproof cover to place over my dry clothes while I am in the water. When I travel I use the more compact Charlie McLeod. They are not cheap but they make a huge difference on a windswept beach and are roomy enough to get changed under. Are they worth it? If you get wet regularly and live an outdoorsy life, absolutely!
  3. A Towelling Robe. Although this is far from being a space saver in my kit bag, it is 100% cotton and so isn’t shedding micro fibres into the sea like other lightweight alternatives. It also protects my dignity and leaves my numb hands free to pull up my pants……if I have remembered them!
  4. Core Warmer. AKA Haramaki, which means ‘belly-wrap’ in Japanese where they originate from. After a cold water swim your core can take a while to warm up and this bit of kit is just the ticket. We have thick gloves and socks for our extremities but it is the core we need to focus on to prevent the ‘after drop’. The best thing about them is you can stick a hot water bottle in them!
  5. Flask. Another way to warm the core is a hot beverage. The only way to keep your drink warm is with an isothermal bottle or flask. My top tip is to take a cup with you as the flask keeps the heat in and so doesn’t warm your hands at the same time. Pouring your drink into a cup will transfer the heat to both your hands and your heart.
  6. Tow Float. I love my Puffin dry bag tow float. It’s main purpose is for me to be seen and keep my car keys in but it has been known to double up as a pillow when I take a float break in the sea and I fill it with disco lights when we swim in the dark. I am a Seabird so it makes sense that I am kept safe by a Puffin. Also it is the first biodegradable tow float to be introduced to the UK market. As the sea temperature drops it is so important to be seen if you get into trouble as time is of the essence.
  7. Swim Hat. This keeps my head warm and again is to make sure I can be seen. It is normally the only bit of neoprene I wear. I have a Zone 3 swimming bonnet (fastens under the chin) in bright orange to complement my tow float. I leave in on until the very last minute when I am getting dressed. It also covers my ears so helps stop water from getting in and the dreaded swimmers ear…….
  8. Earol Swim Spray. The key to cold water swimming is acclimatisation. I do this by getting in the water as often as I can. If you get an ear infection you can be out of the water for weeks. This spray prevents water from collecting in your ears, the main reason they get infected. Prevention is better than cure!
  9. Goggles. I have a small head so finding goggles is a tricky one for me. I recently got a pair of swipe goggles as market research for the Seabirds shop. They really are, and I am not just saying this because we sell them, the best pair of goggles I have ever owned. They were clear in and out of the water, didn’t leak, didn’t fog up, didn’t leave me with marks on my face. And you can get prescription ones for the same price. Being able to see stuff under the water on a clear sea day is one of my favourite things to do. I’d love to tell you it has improved my sighting, but it hasn’t. I can still happily head for the wrong buoy.
  10. Friends. I can’t fit them in my kit bag but swimming with friends, forming friendships in the sea, sharing experiences like this weekend with friends also makes you warmer inside.

Next weekend’s blog will be full of stories of our adventures in wet Wales. Right off to pack now!

Swim Yourself Happy

I was recently approached to write a piece to be included in a book. An anthology of personal stories of how a range of activities and hobbies help people manage their depression and mental health. The brief was to focus on why sea swimming helps my mental health and how it helps me. So, whilst I was incredibly flattered I was also incredibly nervous. My thoughts normally dictate what I write and  they are very much my anecdotal ramblings. Now there are rules and a format! Anyway, here is the first draft, I hope you like it. 

Picture this; A cold crisp winters day on the beach, wind whipping along the shore, foreboding pewter coloured waves and …….a bunch of scantily clad people smiling and squealing in the sea. I am likely to be one of them.

I swim in the sea, all year round, to keep my anxiety and depression at bay.  When I looked to understand how this works for me,  I first had to consider how my mental health moods manifest themselves. Everyone with a mental health diagnosis or individuals struggling to manage their well being experience very unique moods, feelings or thoughts, although there are themes that resonate with many sufferers. Here are some of my most common ones.

Most of the time I see the world in black and white, devoid of colour, devoid of joy. The flip side to this, is when I occasionally experience joy it is so completely indescribably wonderful – it’s like the moment when Dorothy lands in Oz and suddenly there is colour. I can be happy and content but unadulterated joy is very rare and only happens when I am completely present and in the moment. When it happens I find myself scrabbling around for ways to recreate it, which as you can imagine is counter productive and pushes me into the waiting arms of the “mental monkeys”.

The “mental monkeys” is the name I have given to the constant internal dialogue in my brain. They don’t miss a trick and are very rarely quiet. Any opportunity to chatter about situations out of my control, inconsequential self enforced deadlines missed, what people think about me, did I say or do the right thing. You get the idea. They have no concept of night or day and will happily fill my brain with their negative opinions and questions 24/7. When I am tired or overwhelmed and my resilience threshold is low, there is a veritable chimps tea party going on in there, one which I am not enjoying!

Being overwhelmed is my normal state du jour.  At times, self inflicted, as I chase the elusive joy by filling my life with lots of things to do. Accepting every invitation to prove I can be ‘normal’. Self destruction button well and truly depressed. If I do not get the rest and respite I need,  I am liable to shut down. This doesn’t happen quietly like a worn out battery, it will be accompanied by a lot of angry noise before I lock myself away for varying lengths of time depending on how tired I am. Just acting like a ‘normal’ person can leave me shattered by around teatime.

This list is not exhaustive, but just indicative of how I feel most of the time. So what does sea swimming do for me to keep anxiety and depression at bay?

Sea swimming, as a pastime, is joyful. Instead of constantly trying to orchestrate feelings of pleasure and elation, the sea provides it. I swim with a great bunch of people a few times a week and we play in the water. Literally play like children.  We connect as community and we laugh hard and long. Even on the bleakest of days, I never regret a swim, and there is always a warm welcome. The post swim high can last for hours after the event and knowing that the sea is a constant and therefore I have a constant supply of joy,  it buoys me up. 

When I am in the sea, the endless negative internal dialogue is silenced. The sea overloads all of my senses, silky water on my skin, salty tastes and smells, shingle sounds,  blue sights. The sound of the mental monkeys is quite literally drowned out. Repetitive activity of stroke after stroke gives me space to collect my thoughts. I used to shy away from mindfulness exercises and meditation, too afraid it would give the mental monkeys free reign. What I have discovered is the exact opposite happens – I have my best thoughts and ideas in the sea. The cluttered brain fog clears with the sea breeze.

The rest and respite I need to counter how overwhelmed I can feel  is easy achieved at the beach. You cannot take your phone into the sea and you cannot hear it beeping on the beach when you are in the water. The constant scrolling images and high pitched sounds are replaced by a never changing horizon. I swim year round, in freezing temperatures and challenging sea states. Putting myself in these situations on a regular basis I am exposing my body and mind to stress. Getting into wavy cold water is stressful for your body and mind, but I cope. I have adapted to deal with this stress and it helps me go on to deal with every day stress. When I am swimming in these conditions I can only be concerned about myself, in that moment, in that situation – there is no room to be concerned with anything else. 

Other people think you are mad for swimming in the sea, all year round and I own that label! Being in the sea reminds me that my depression and anxiety is transient, it ebbs and flows like the tide. It provides me with the opportunity to check in with myself, to see if another episode is on the horizon. Although dark times are part of the disease, sea swimming can provide a break in the clouds.  I did not chose to feel this way, but I have chosen how I deal with it on a day to day basis. I have found a safe haven when my seas are stormy. 

Author: Seabird Kath

N.B. I was asked to write by the founder of The Recovery Letters website www.therecoveryletters.com . They have already produced a book entitled  ‘The Recovery Letters: Addressed to People Experiencing Depression’ published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers

There has been a huge increase in the popularity of wild swimming. We live in strange times, that humans were not designed for. Many of us have founds ways to escape, to be our unaffected selves for just a moment, recapturing those feelings of possibility. If you want to give wild swimming a go to the Wild Swim website to find a group to join near you.

A birds eye view

Guest Blog by Seabird Anne as we transition from summer to autumn

This weekend’s blog is an extract from a post that Seabird Anne wrote in our closed Salty Seabird group. She wrote it last Saturday afternoon whilst wearing her new sports cloak! It made us all smile as we anticipate the transition from summer to autumn swimming. Seabirds don’t migrate to sunnier climes – we just wrap up warm!
As the days grow shorter and the people found on the beach in summer snuggle in warm jumpers to keep out the biting sea breeze you may be lucky enough to watch Seabirds evolving into their winter plumage.
Seabirds were once quite rare but in recent times groups have formed on the beaches of Brighton, Hove and as far as Rottingdean and Worthing. They have also been spotted on rivers and lakes in smaller numbers or alone all over the world.
During the summer it is difficult to spot seabirds on the beach as their plumage is usually similar to other beachgoers. Occasionally if you are keen of eye you may spot a canvas “Gertie” cup or bag nestling among a heap of clothes and shoes and that will usually signify a seabird is around.
The first clue that the seabirds are about to change into winter plumage is that the beaches begin to empty of sunbathers and the end of the lifeguard season is looming near.
The change can, for some seabirds, be instant and swimsuit and aqua shoes overnight can transform into neoprene hat, socks and gloves for swimming and fleecy changing robe, fluffy socks gloves woolly hat and the essential flask/cup of hot beverage.
Others take more time and add a little more warmness each time the temperature drops a little more.
Eventually it becomes patently obvious where the nearest flock of seabirds are gathering as you look along the seafront a group of people nearly all wearing the ubiquitous woolly hat and an assortment of warm outer clothes in every colour of the rainbow.
If you are quick you might even see them descend to the beach, lay their plumage on the pebbles and enter the sea singing the song of their people…” oh wow it’s &^%$ing chilly” or the eternal favourite” aaaaggggghhhhhhhh” followed by a high pitched squeal.
They will then exit and wrap themselves up and drink that important hot drink all the while smiling and enjoying the companionship found in the sea and on the pebbles.
See you on the shore Salties xx
Thank you Anne! It’s wonderful to see the flock through the eyes of other Salty Seabirds. 
Copy of sharing the swim love Seabirds Brighton Blog (1)

Magic Seaweed explained for Sea Swimmers

Brilliant Blog by Freyja Hunt – how to read magic seaweed to aid sea swimming choices

This is a brilliant blog by Seabird Freyja. Everyone has a different favourite forecasting app that they use to see if it is safe to swim. The most commonly used app is Magic Seaweed that was designed for surfers see what swell was approaching but it can be used to look at sea swimming conditions too!

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Magic Seaweed (MSW) surf report provides a seven day forecast of sea conditions. Here’s a guide to understanding the data so you can get a better idea of what to expect before heading down to the beach.

msw4

 

Surf

This is the first column in blue. In Brighton and Hove, this is essentially the height of the shore break (or the white bits that can knock you over). This will give you an idea of how difficult it will be to enter and exit the water. MSW is designed for surfers so the measurement used is that of the surfable wave rather than the total wave height. For us sea swimmers it might be worth adding a little extra on to this measurement.

It is worth noting that the value given is the average height. 1 wave in 23 is likely to be twice the average height and one in 1,175 is three times the average height. Therefore, it is worth taking this as a rough guideline and always be on the lookout for larger waves when getting in and out.

In terms of height of the shore break, my rule of thumb is anything above waist height is capable of knocking me over.

 

Swell

Swell – listed in the second column – is the height of the waves once you are past the shore break. A big swell can be a lot of fun as you bounce around above and below your swimming buddies.

The next column gives an indication of the wavelength, or the time between the crest of each wave in seconds. The longer the time, the gentler and more undulating the waves will feel. Conversely, shorter times between each crest means the waves will come more frequently and you may be more likely to get a mouthful of sea water.

wavelength

The black arrow to the right is an indication of the direction the swell is travelling. If you are doing a point to point swim, this is worth bearing in mind – if the swell is travelling in the same direction as you, it will feel like it is pushing you along. If you are swimming into the swell you will again, be more likely to get lung-fulls of sea water.

 

Wind

Wind is the main factor influencing how rough the sea is going to be. The stronger the wind is and the longer it has blown for, the larger the swell is likely to be.

The right-hand number column denotes wind speed. The larger number being the steady wind speed, and the small number being the gust speed. The arrow shows the direction the wind is travelling in. In Brighton and Hove the prevailing wind is South Westerly.

msw1

 

It is worth considering that MSW doesn’t factor in local sea breezes. Sea breezes are caused as the land changes temperature faster than the sea. For example, in the morning the sun heats up the land quicker than the sea. This triggers the air on the land to rise up and and cooler air is drawn in from the sea to replace it. Sea breezes are generally onshore in the afternoon (as the land heats up and air rushes in from the sea) and offshore in the morning (where the land falls below sea temperature overnight and air moves from land to sea).  You might therefore expect the wind to be slightly stronger in the afternoon than denoted on MSW.

 

Tidal Information

Magic Seaweed also shows the times and heights of the high and low tides. In Brighton and Hove, low tides generally vary between 1 and 2.5 meters and high tides between 5 and 6.5 meters above chart datum. The difference between the two is the tidal range. The tidal range has an effect on currents – the larger the tidal range, generally the stronger the currents will be. The tidal range during spring tide in Brighton is around 6 metres.

tide

 

In a nutshell

The first column is the height of the shore break and gives you an idea of how difficult it is to enter and exit.

The second column is the height of the swell and tells you how bouncy it will be once you are in and past the shore break.

The third section tells you wind speed and direction – or the best direction to swim in to avoid getting a mouth full of sea water.

The box below informs you of the times of high and low tides and the tidal range. From this, you can have a go at working out the direction and strength of the current.

 

See, didn’t we tell you, a brilliant blog. Thank you Freyja for allowing us to host it on our site. I use Wind Guru, Nautide and Imray too!

Sharing the Swim Love – the Salty Seabird Way

What is the Salty Seabird sea swimming community group and how does it work?

“Sea swimming has become part of my regular routine now. It gives me equilibrium. It never fails to shift a black mood. I am outside in all weathers, enjoying life and feeling alive.”

Swimming with the Salty Seabirds has brought fun and laughter into my life on a daily basis. Having FUN and JOY as a routine part of my daily life is SO MUCH BETTER THAN BEFORE. This has made me realise how previously days/weeks/months could go by before, where life was mainly job and duty, no scheduled FUN, much less laughter and playfulness. I have re-discovered my inner child doing handstands in the cold water and found my tribe having a laugh about forgetting my pants again with other Salties drinking tea on the beach.  This is why we started Seabirds Ltd and then the Salty Seabirds. To share the swim love and enlarge the group of like minded folk who relish dicking about in the sea in all weathers! We all deserve fun and laughter and to play – it is the antidote to many, many things I have found.

So if you want to start, how does the Salty Seabird Swim Community work? Firstly it is SELF SERVICE so if you need a swim set up every Wednesday at 3pm for example – you can set one up. Our current regular swims are: Mondays 10:45, Fridays 13:30 and Saturday 9:45 (all Hove Lawns/Dolphin 5) were all set up to fit with our work/life routines.  Regular swims are in the events section in the Facebook group. So are event swims like the monthly full moon swims.

So there are the regular swims, and then the daily random/spontaneous swims posted in the group. This of course takes a bit more Facebook hovering. Anyone can post and if it is posted in the group any member is welcome and can turn up. Unless stated otherwise (ie the rare ‘who will come around the West Pier with me type invitations’) dipping and messing about, head out breaststroke or head down crawl swimming round the buoys all welcome. I for one am a parallel breaststroker and happy with that. You don’t need to be a confident or ‘strong’ swimmer to stay in the shallows and swim parallel to the shore. No wetsuit or wetsuit on. Whatever suits you best. No judgement, all welcome. The experienced Salties are all very friendly and kind, you will be welcomed and glad you came along.

If you would like a bit more information and advice starting to sea swim or are thinking about trying to go through the winter for the first time we are putting on some introductory sessions in October. More information available on the Seabirds website.

Author: Seabird Cath
N.B. To join the Salty Seabird closed Facebook group you will be asked a couple of questions to ensure you have read about us and understand how our group works and if it is the right group for you. Happy Swimming!

Sink or Swim

What is achievement?

This blog had a very different working title when I started it and then I watched Channel 4’s Stand Up to Cancer series Sink or Swim. Keri-anne Payne and Ross Edgely have 12 weeks to get non-swimming celebrities ready to be in a relay team to cross the Channel. I was lucky enough to spend three days with Keri-anne, back in June, as she facilitated my Level 2 Open Water Coaching award course. Since then all of the participants and Keri-anne have stayed in touch providing each other with overwhelming levels of support. So when we knew the Keri-anne was involved in the SOS programme we naturally all tuned in.

 

I undertook the Open Water Coaching course so I would have the relevant skills, knowledge and qualifications to run courses to encourage other people to try wild swimming. I swim for my mental health and am an advocate of it’s wellbeing benefits. Doing something on my own, away from home, is something I am not always able to do. Sometimes my anxiety wins. Sometimes it is all I can do to leave the house to walk the dog. (This is the very reason I have a dog!) I am not even always able to to head down to the beach for a swim. Fortunately this is rare but it does happen. So turning up for the course was a massive achievement for me.

Initially I felt like a fish out of water amongst my fellow course mates. They were/are swimmers extraordinaire. But they soon had me at ease and we’ve all stayed in touch since the course providing each other with advice and support. Some of them have gone on to achieve incredible feats. One has relayed around the IOW, one has relayed across the channel and another has relayed there and back across the channel, to name but a few. Things I could never dream of achieving. But I have achieved, in my own way and their cheers were just as loud.

I’ve been thinking a lot about achievement lately. I am surrounded by people I admire who have achieved impressive feats of human endurance. But also other, smaller but just as significant achievements. Achievement is something very different for every individual. I can swim and I am relatively fit for my age yet I would never consider swimming the channel. Yet swimming without a wetsuit all year round in sea temperatures as low as 3 degrees with snow on the beach does not faze me. Entering a rough sea does not concern me (not life threateningly rough). Not knowing what lies beneath the surface and being touched by a creature of the sea does not bother me. My friends and family see this as an achievement and I brush it off. Not arrogantly, it’s just I know it’s within my limit and therefore I can achieve it.

I know that swimming the channel is not within my limits of attainment. I would not be able to swim in the dark, I would be distracted by jellyfish and try to catch them, and I would be risking my mental health by spending that much time alone in my head. So I stick to doing things that push my limits outside of my comfort zone but are achievable. And what that looks like for me is something very different to what it looks like for other people.

I watched Sink or Swim already in awe of the celebrities that had signed up to do it as I wouldn’t ever consider it. Some of them couldn’t swim, couldn’t float, had previous bad swimming experiences, had physical challenges and mental challenges. Yet they agreed to give it a go. What an achievement. They had just 3 months to learn to swim and train for it. Can you believe that? What an achievement. As I write this I have no idea if any or how many drop out, or if they make it, as the swim is scheduled for next month. But because even contemplating it is beyond my limit I already see them as achievers.

I have been able to achieve my year round skin swimmer status by getting to know my limits. This wasn’t initially a conscious decision, I just didn’t put my wetsuit on one year when the temperature began to drop. However, it did allow me to really reflect on what my body is capable of and get in tune with what it was telling me without words. In the sea you are able to really focus on yourself, your whole self,  and start to see what it can do. I soon knew I would be able to skin swim all year round –  my limit was how long I could last in the water. This I was able to push, within a limit of being safe, and soon my body just adapted to the cold.

It’s hard to see achievement when somethings are comfortably within your limits. I can run. I am one of those annoying people that can talk while they run and can run substantial distances with little training. I have done a couple of marathons and although one year I was plagued with IT band problems I didn’t find the training or event too arduous.  So I made the decision to never sponsor anyone, unless they were doing a marathon or more. If you wanted sponsoring for a 5km you could jog on. I completely failed to see that running a 5km could be a massive achievement for someone that had only started running 2 weeks ago, was recently bereaved, had no childcare, had agoraphobia, had heath issues, the list goes on. I wasn’t intentionally being unkind or  dismissive, but I was, because running is comfortably within my limit.

What was interesting on Sink or Swim were the number of athletes taking part. Linford Christie was was once, the fastest man in the planet, but he couldn’t swim for toffee (Sorry Linford). Then there is Greg Rutherford and Tessa Sanderson. All achieved huge accolades at the pinnacle of their careers but struggled to swim 500m in the open water. Yet they have signed up to swim the Channel. What an achievement. Georgia Kousoulou, is a reality TV star, who suffers from anxiety and panic attacks. She is on TV without make-up, in a swim hat and unflattering neoprene, which for me is no big deal, but for someone like her, who, by the nature of her fame needs to always be insta-ready this is an achievement. Her experience resonated with me in others ways though, as she struggled to regulate her breathing. Controlling your breathing is the best tool in your toolbox if you suffer with anxiety. It’s also the key to being able to swim front crawl. Having you face in the water means you cannot decide when you are going to breathe. Yet she still signed up to do it. What an achievement.

Since swimming in the sea with a huge variety of people, I no longer have a fixed idea of what an achievement is. We are all unique individuals so it makes sense that our achievements would also be unique. One individual’s 500m swim is another individual’s Channel swim.  According to the Oxford English Dictionary, achievement is; a thing done successfully with effort, skill, or courage. Using this definition,  many things individuals do in their day to day is an achievement. Some of the people I have coached with acute anxiety have turned up, that took effort and courage. Putting on a wetsuit for the first time, that took effort and skill. Swimming in the open water, that took effort, skill and courage. Therefore, by it’s very definition, it is an achievement.

The toughest battle most people face is with their own mind. We all have that voice that sometimes tells us we can’t do something. If the voice shouts loud enough, some people don’t even bother to try. I know there are a lot of things I do not do because my head tells me I can’t. But those that do, despite the internal dialogue, even if they ‘fail’, have achieved. They tried and sometimes this is the only way to push your limits to know if it something you can achieve. The difference between try and triumph is a little ‘umph’.

The all or nothing approach to achievement is something I always have to keep in check. I am, by nature a sink or swim person. I either swim 1km as planned or I have not achieved. This can be really detrimental to my wellbeing. So I have had to adjust the way I view and approach achievement. I now count every step forward towards my end goal as an achievement. I am still trying to achieve, but to remain positive and engaged in the process as I am able to celebrate each incremental step in the process. In this way I am able to maintain some semblance of resilience if things do not go according to plan as the smaller steps of goal setting allows more flexibility.

What I have learnt through my consideration of achievement is that I need to be kinder to myself and kinder to others and recognise achievement in all it’s forms.  I firmly believe that if at first you don’t achieve, try, try again. Being afraid is OK, but it shouldn’t stop you from striving to achieve. Just by trying, you have achieved.

Author: Seabird Kath

NB a significant achievement for me was being able to spell achievement by the time I had finished writing this blog! I before E.