The fish that forgot how to swim – how this seabird forgot to practice what she preaches

It’s been days since I have been in the sea. Even for a paddle. My cossie lies unused in a heap on my bedroom floor. My googles are stiff and brittle from under use. I look longingly at the Seabird’s Facebook posts and Instagram feed of wonderful sunny dips in crystal clear summer seas. But I am missing.

I have long talked about the benefits of skin swimming all year round and will bore anyone who is willing to listen about how it has helped me personally. Please Note; I will also bore those that aren’t willing to listen. But I have stopped going in. Hardly an endorsement of my passionate belief that salt water and the Seabird flock can cure pretty much anything.

I haven’t stopped because I am scared. I haven’t stopped because it doesn’t work. I have stopped because I am busy. There I said it. I’m one of ‘those‘ people who wear BUSY as a badge of honour. You know the ones that tell you they work 16 hour days, 7 days a week. The ones that when you ask them how they are instead of replying ‘fine’ they give you their to do list or a break down of their social calendar. The ones that can’t take the two seconds required to reply ‘OK’ to your text yet their Social Media activity is ever present. You know the ones!

To be fair the busy I have been is all good busy. The eldest has navigated her way through GCSEs and Prom which I wanted to be very present for. The youngest has started heading for the hills after school on his mountain bike and playing cricket so lots of random last minute dinner time and menu changes. We are in the start up phase of Seabirds Ltd which has included the webshop launch and pop ups. A big learning curve plus a lot of marketing including writing blogs! Usual summer socials like Festivals, Fairs and BBQs. And I am free-lancing as a Surf Life Saving Instructor teaching 30+ local school kids a day some fundamental first aid and life saving skills before they break up for the summer holidays. So I am getting in the sea, but sharing it with 30+ kids isn’t exactly the salted well-being I need. Think less serene and more screams!

But it is exactly now, when busy becomes overwhelming, and the brain has too many tabs open that rest and respite is needed. For me this takes the form of  a sea swim. 10 minutes. 30 minutes. Dare I say it, an hour of sea swimming self care is long overdue.

TIME FOR AN INTERVENTION! (Of the swimming kind)

So today I have packed my swim bag! I have a ton of paperwork to catch up on today and then a Social Enterprise Start Up workshop to attend 5-8pm. (See there I go again telling anyone who will listen how busy I am!) But after that I am heading for the big blue. I have also figured out with a bit of organisation I can get in in the mornings before a load of excited school kids arrive and teaching begins.  I just need to be organised and creative with the times that I swim.  So I will be keeping a small packed swim bag with me on my travels all week and taking advantage whenever I can. There’s normally a seabird available somewhere for company but if not I am going to have to brave a solo swim. Not done one of the those before. Done skin swimming all year round. TICK. Done round the swim area buoys. TICK.  But never swum alone. I think it is time to give that one a TICK.

As Dory would say…………just keep swimming……………..

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am a Tidal Bore

My place in the seabirds flock has always been the one to work out which direction to swim in. Not only is this because I am bossy but because I am a science geek and am slightly obsessed with tides and waves. However, I get it wrong as much as I get it right. Follow me, when we swim,  at your own discretion. So a while back, whilst I was I was searching for my next read I stumbled across The Book Of Tides by William Thomson and hoped it may explain why sometimes the sea really wasn’t flowing in the direction I though it would.

I read it in a day. A cold wet Sunday spent on the sofa under a blanket with the most beautifully illustrated book you can imagine. Some of the information contained within I knew as it is included in my Surf Life Saving training, but much of it I didn’t. Ocean and sea occurring phenomenon like rip currents and  eddys are simply explained and accompanied by wonderful illustrations. By his own admission, the author is not specifically trained in Oceanography but has gained his knowledge through a passion for the coastline, the sea and reading, researching and chatting to other coastal dwellers whilst travelling around in his van. His Tide Maps are not just a visual explanation but literally a work of art – you can commission a tide map for anywhere in the world.

Once I had finished the book, I did what all modern day readers do. I posted a picture of it on Instagram . And received a reply from @TidalCompass the author’s IG persona, informing me that he runs Tide Walks and there would be one in Brighton in the coming months. Naturally I booked myself and another Seabird on!

Whilst we waiting for the date of the Brighton Tide Walk I kept swimming with the seabirds boring them all with my knew found knowledge. Hence the nickname Tidal Bore. Five of us spent a sunny Sunday swimming as hard as we could against the flow of a spring tide flow only to find ourselves stationary in the water. Due to the conveyor belt swimming it meant we could get out exactly where we had set off. An efficient use of the tidal flow.

On the day of the Tide Walk, we met at Brighton Beach Bikes to the west of the Palace Pier. It was fully booked with 20 participants, many of whom were regular and local sea swimmers.  We walked west and stopped every few hundred metres for William to explain various bits of sea knowledge. He explained how a tide wave travels around the UK and that it’s peek and trough creates High and Low tide. This was visually demonstrated with a length of rope.  Details were shared on slack tide, frequency of spring tides and the phases of the moon. Again props were used to enhance the transfer of information. Swell and wave formation. Rip tides and eddys. And lots more including the effect storm surges and perigee phase of the moon can have on the height of tides.

It was a brilliant 2 hours spent on a sunny Saturday. I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about their local coastline. Future walks are scheduled for  various dates across the South East and South West. I have since downloaded the Imray Tides Planner app  so that I have a better idea of tidal flow before I set out swimming. Although I may skip it sometimes and just go with the flow……………………………

 

 

 

From wet behind the ears to wet behind the ears!

The Seabird’s natural habitat is the sea in Brighton and Hove. Not behind a desk struggling with software, Social Media and suppliers. As the weather (and sea) have warmed up this is where we have found ourselves more and more. Why? Because after many conversations over post swim cuppas and cake, three of our flock decided to set up a Social Enterprise.

The company name Seabirds was chosen as it reflects the three Company Directors and how the business was conceptualised. Seabirds are a group of women that skin swim in the sea all year round on Brighton beach. Seabirds was born of the sea (and in the sea, literally).

Over the last 6 months we have registered Seabirds Brighton as a Community Interest Company with two aims:

  1. To run a successful trading arm that generates an unrestricted and alternative funding stream for local community groups and small charities. Our beneficiaries must meet our objectives and funding priorities of i) local/community based, ii) sea/beach centred iii) aims to improve well-being and the environment.
  2. Deliver regular women’s water confidence programmes in the local community

All of this sounds great doesn’t it? Being you own boss. Working around family life and other work commitments. And it is, but who knew we were so green.

When setting up the business we thought that the experience from our previous lives, that we bought to the table, ticked all the boxes. Backgrounds in Project Management, Design and Retail. Even so the learning curve has been a very sharp arc. Sometimes a vertical climb.

We navigated our way through understanding which legal structure was right for us. Wrote a Business Plan. Applied for a bank account. Bought domain names. Launched a crowdfunder. Attended webinars and workshops on Marketing and Finance. Lot of lovely friends have helped us every step of the way, providing guidance and expertise.

Today we launched our website and online retail business. This is where the learning became steep. Every supplier we deal with wants our in-house designs in a different format from .ai to .png. Their lead times vary from 2 days to 2 months. We are still waiting for some stock to arrive. Our website host Customer Service team are super friendly and helpful but many of the things we want it to do, it just doesn’t do, or we can’t get it to do. Then we decided to launch the webshop at the same time as GDPR was being rolled out. All the while we are trying to understand twitter.

But we’ve done it! It’s Live. It’s launched. And we’ve had some sales. And we couldn’t have done it without each other. For every wobble there was a cuddle. For every frustration there was a voice of reason. For every ‘I’m going to throw my laptop out of the window’ moment there was company and cup of tea. We doff our caps to every sole trader and entrepreneur that has gone before us. The utmost admiration for people that do this alone without a supportive network of seabirds.

The next few weeks will be spent analysing google analytics and researching meta tags. Not standard language for a seabird. Nothing comes without a hashtag. Everything is a marketing opportunity. All of  it is outside of our comfort zone. But it will also include a return to our habitat. Time to take our own advice and Get In The Sea!

Seabird Book Club

The next best thing to being in the sea is getting lost in a good book. Preferably on a beach. But if not, a bed, sofa, cafe or pub will do. Whether you download audio books, use an eBook Readers or stick with analogue paper copies, reading is good way to unwind and rest for a few minutes or hours every day. During our sea swims we often find ourselves talking about the last book we read or which book is next on our list. So we’ve decided to open up the discussion to the wider seabird community and launch our Book Club alongside our webshop.

The Seabird’s Book Club is virtual.  So, if you can’t make the first Thursday of every month in the Mermaid Pub then you can still be a member and join in! You also won’t get publicly named and shamed for not finishing the chosen book. If you don’t like the chosen book….you don’t have to read it….or you can wait for the review the following month to see if it’s worth a punt. All of these things have prevented me from joining any sort of Book Club in the past. I can’t stay up later than 9pm and I certainly can’t go out past 7pm. And the sort of people I associate with Book Club’s tend to be PTA or academic types, both of which intimidate me. I’m also scared someone will choose Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. This is probably not true in the slightest. But I have convinced myself it is for many years. But I like reading and I love talking about a good book. So a virtual Book Club it is.

Benefits of a Book Club

  • Helps you to focus on finishing the book – makes you put aside ‘me’ time.
  • Reading reduces stress – fact!
  • Book Club book discussions aren’t English Literature exams. Members aren’t expected to analyse the language used or know what a simile is. It’s an informal chat about a book and what you liked or disliked about it.
  • You become part of a reading community and make make new friends

Here’s how the seabirds virtual Book Club works;

  • Once a Month a new book is chosen for the Seabird virtual Book Blub members to read.
  • It will be announced on Social Media.
  • Ideally the book chosen should be water, sea, swimming, well being related.
  • Anyone can chose a book or write a review – just comment away on social media or here.

JUNE BOOK

The Salt Path by Raynor Winn

From the inside flap:

Just days after Raynor learns that Moth, her husband of 32 years is terminally ill, their home is taken away and they lose their livelihood. With nothing left and little time, they make the brave and impulsive decision to walk the 630 miles of the sea-swept South West Coast Path, from Somerset to Dorset, via Devon and Cornwall.

Carrying only the essentials for survival on their backs, they live wild in the ancient, weathered landscape of cliffs, sea and sky. Yet through every step, every encounter, and every test along the way, their walk becomes a remarkable journey.

The Salt Path is an honest and life-affirming true story of coming to terms with grief and the healing power of the natural world. Ultimately, it is a portrayal of home, and how it can be lost, rebuilt, and rediscovered in the most unexpected ways.

Hope you enjoy it. I am 4 chapters in and gripped (and an emotional wreck!)

 

Blue Sea Thinking

Using Skin Swimming to beat the dark clouds of depression

Blue Sky Sea Thinking

I have had depression and anxiety for as long as I can remember.
I have also loved being in, on or around the sea for as long as I can remember. It’s only been over the last few years that I have used the big blue as a therapy for my dark days.
Last year, when life threw me a gut punching curve ball, I recognised the familiar dark clouds forming on the horizon and took to the sea with what would become the Seabirds.
Two friends who had also been bashed around by life came with me. We bobbed, we splashed, we squealed, we cried, we laughed, we drank buckets full of tea and the clouds stayed on the horizon.

We formed a plan to skin swim all year round, build a community of like-minded seabirds, which we did, and the clouds stayed on the horizon.

As the temperature dropped our support and encouragement for each other did not. The sea didn’t disappoint, the endorphins flowed, the self-doubt retreated, the mental monkeys were silenced and the clouds stayed on the horizon.

I know the clouds are on the horizon. But as long as my frazzled brain gets some respite from my constant internal conversation from bobbing, surfing, swimming, paddling in the sea, they stay there as part of the view. Part of my world, but not the centre of it, as it has been at times.

There is lots of science about how and why salt water wellbeing works. In 2009, Prof Michael Depledge and Dr William Bird, from the European Centre for Environment and Health, based out of the University of Exeter Medical School, proposed a notion called the “Blue Gym” – the idea being that the sea can be used as motivation to exercise outdoors to influence health and wellbeing.

They found that regular contact with natural environments provided three major health benefits: reduced stress, increased physical activity and created stronger communities. They also found that people who lived 1km from the coast had much better self-reported health than those who lived inland.

Over the years, I have tried a more main stream approach to managing my mental health. I have tried various prescription drugs, had counselling, attended CBT courses, stop taking hormone contraceptives and the like. All of them have had an impact, to varying degrees and I am certainly not saying anyone taking prescription medication or therapy should stop. I am a seabird, not a doctor. But I would recommend Vitamin Sea as a complimentary approach.

Taking time to be in the salt water does work. The constant horizon is respite from screen scrolling. The sound of shingle moving under the waves is a welcome relief to traffic noises. The cold water gets your heart pumping and your endorphins flowing making you happy to be alive. It is a free and safe way to manage your clouds.

So what’s stopping you? Get in the sea!

………….The next Seabird challenge is a Mile in the Morning. It is exactly what is says. Now we have mastered the art of getting in all year round it’s time to swim further and for longer. Keep checking back to see how we are getting on!