The cure for anything is salt water

Guest blog from Salty Seabird Rowena about her sea swimming experience with us.

Guest blog by Seabird Rowena

I’ve started throwing myself into the sea… in the UK… in spring… and it’s wonderful!

Bear with me…!

 

There is something about it, when the water is around 10 degrees, that brings you uncompromisingly into the here and now – both physically and mentally.

For the first few minutes, there is little you can do but be in the moment, focus on your breathing, finding it again from where it’s been whisked away from you; experience your flesh and nerves being first bombarded with cold and then numbed by it; feel the adrenalin flowing.

For some (me included) the first minute seems to be accompanied by surprisingly guttural sounds from deep within them. It’s a different way to use your voice, a different way to express yourself, one that has no filter to it.

You know you’re completely safe, that you’re going to become comfortable, but you feel on the edge of it, outside of your comfort zone physically and maybe mentally. It’s a good place to put yourself on a regular basis.

And as you acclimatise, a smile spreads across your face. Your system settles, but the exhilaration of it remains. You’re proud of yourself for jumping in. Your body is making decisions that you feel more acutely aware of than when you’re sedentary. Your capillaries have opened up and the blood is flowing. Your limbs are abandoned in favour of preserving your core, your essentials. The non-essentials are stripped away.

You feel whole. You feel solid. You are surrounded by water, as in your most formative state.

You clamber out: connected, grounded, a little bit brave.

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Wild swimming is having something of a renaissance in the UK, and around the world. The positive impacts on our mental and physical health are moving from anecdotal to researched and evidenced.

As well as being bloody fun, and perhaps a little terrifying, it’s about moving out of your comfort zone; trying new things; stripping away the non-essentials; being brought into the present moment; the euphoria and achievement afterwards; (and getting to feel a little bit smug that you did it).

Joining a group is a great way to get yourself out there! I’ve joined one here in Brighton called The Salty Seabirds . As well as being lovely, welcoming people, their conversations about ‘arctic flaps’ (I’ll leave you to figure that one out for yourself) drew me to them! 🙂

We’re not all fortunate enough to live by the sea (I count myself very lucky), but lakes and rivers are just as exciting. There is any number of websites to inform and inspire, including www.wildswimming.co.uk

If you’re not able to swim in, or get to, an outdoors space, swimming or floating in any capacity is great for your body and your mind. Local authority swimming pools are one of the many things we can be grateful we have in this country.

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I invite you to bare with me!

You can read more of Rowena’s blogs on her site

Modern Day Martha Gunns

To Brighton came he,
Came George III’s son.
To be bathed in the sea,
By famed Martha Gunn.

Today, March 8th 2019, is International Women’s Day and what better way to celebrate than to look back at local hero Martha Gunn!

Martha Gunn was  Brighton Dipper. That does not refer to her dipping in the sea but rather operating the bathing machines that allowed Victorian women to enter the sea without being seen by their male counterparts.

The Dipper would be standing in the water, take her client in her arms as she descended from the Bathing Machine, and “dip” her vigorously into the sea water and pushing her through the wavesThe Salty Seabirds have a gentler approach to entering the sea although we have been known to push each other through the waves.

The similarities are many though. Many people flocked to the seaside and particularly Brighton in the 18th Century to swim in the sea to improve their physical and mental wellbeing. In 1750, Dr Richard Russell published a book which detailed the health benefits of drinking sea water and highly recommended sea-bathing. He encouraged his patients to swim in the sea to cure a whole plethora of ailments. This is true of today as academics research the benefits of cold water swimming and wild swimming is the fastest growing ‘sport’ in the UK. The Salty Seabirds formed just over 6 months ago and we are nearly at 500 members.

Life for Martha was not easy – standing in the sea all day sounds idyllic but in reality it took a strong constitution.  From a young age she started her own business as a Dipper taking visitors into the sea. A strong female entrepreneur. The Morning Herald referred to her as ‘The Venerable Priestess of the Bath”. She died at the ripe old age of 89 – clearly the salt water preserved her. Martha was laid to rest in the graveyard of Brighton’s oldest building, St Nicholas Church. She is still remembered locally and has had buses and pubs named after her. The Seabird Arms – now there’s an idea….!

Seabirds want to maintain the sea swimming legacy that made Brighton what it is today. Modern day Martha Gunns. So come swim with us………….

Author: Seabird Kath

 

The question everyone asks about Cold Water Swimming…..

People always ask me how cold the water is. I don’t know and don’t care….or do I?

Some people ask how to acclimatise to cold water swimming. Others ask how to warm up afterwards and beat the after drop. There are lots of technical questions about various pieces of kit, where it is safe to swim and how long you should stay in for. Cold water Swimming is of the moment and there are lots of people taking to the water to improve their mental and physical health which invariably begs the question how is it good for you. BUT the question that is ALWAYS asked without fail is “What’s the water temperature?” (Normally asked by people who don’t even swim in warmer months so I am always left a bit unsure as to why they have asked!)

And do you know what? I have no bloody idea and I don’t bloomin’ care. Or do I?

The Outdoor Swimming community is growing and so is it’s presence on Social Media. My feed is full of the most beautiful photographs of idyllic wild swims. But it is also full of  photos of the thermometers. The colder it gets the more I get! There are discussions on the best thermometer to use to measure the temperature of the water. My ‘lick my finger and hold it in the air’ thermometer does not measure the temperature in degrees Celsius or Fahrenheit. In the summer the sea can be as warm as a bath, my internal thermometer measures this as ‘barmy bathing’. In the winter it is cold enough to take your breath away, which shows on my internal thermometer as ‘bloody baltic’ . Anything below 5 degrees requires a profanity and is as ‘f@?$ing freezing’.  In the winter you would think our flock would migrate to warmer climes but in fact as we drop out of double digit sea temperatures our numbers increase as locals look to improve their wellbeing by partaking in cold water swimming.

It is hard to actually measure the temperature of the sea in Brighton.  In the summer, Brighton’s Beach Lifeguard Posts and year round, Brighton Sea Swimming Club regularly display the temperature of the sea on beach front boards. But it doesn’t always reflect how the water actually feels. The energy of a ground or wind swell that create waves and chop can make it feel a couple of degrees warmer.  Underground fresh water streams empty into the sea all along the seafront which causes the temperature to vary considerably. If there has been significant rainfall the river Wellesbourne increases the cold freshwater entering the sea at Poole Valley. Even in the summer months you can find yourself in a really cold spot.

This is my second winter of skin swimming. Last year felt much colder and seemed much harder. There are lots of reasons why this may be the case. i) I have a significantly larger layer of brown fat! ii) I have an ever encouraging wonderful flock of Seabirds to swim with making the whole experience easier, iii) I have spent a ton on money on kit for warming up afterwards, iv) I am much more in tune with my senses and know exactly when to get out pre swim shakes. OR is the sea just warmer than last year?

For the majority of the Salty Seabirds, this year marks their first year swimming in the sea year round. They have been told tales of the 2018 Beast from the East and have been longing to swim in sub 5 degree temperatures. We have enticed them with stories of how cold it gets in March only for false Spring to arrive and temperatures almost reached double digits again (according to my internal thermometer). Many have researched the effects of cold water swimming on mental and physical wellbeing and are chasing the elusive cold water cure. Adaptations like duck diving, wave jumping and full stroke with head in, are made to ensure that vagus nerve gets the shock it needs. Fortunately being with the flock can also make you smile on a bad day whatever the water temperature.

Although rivers and lakes are significantly colder than the sea and the further north you go, the colder it gets, I wonder if they have experienced warmer water this year. The Scilly Isles haven’t left double digits but I do not know if this is their norm. We have fresh water field trips in the pipeline – The Seabird Sussex Swimble Series – over the coming months to ensure our junkie habit is fed as the sea temperatures increase. We are looking for our skin to burn, our breath to be taken away, our fingers to fumble and for the post swim high to last all day! As long as this happens I do not care what a Seabirds watch, baby’s duck thermometer or aquarium thermometer say the temperature is. As long as I squeal as I get in, shake as I get out and share the swim love, I am a happy Seabird!

Author: Seabird Kath

Marine Life

Ten years ago Charlotte swam in the sea. Ten years later she has returned to her salty roots. So what has changed?

Guest Article by Salty Seabird Charlotte

Ten years ago I belonged to a different outdoor swimming group. It was a group (of mostly men) who prized distance and speed and endurance above all else. How many times you could swim round the Palace Pier. How rough the waves were. How much you had to battle the current to stay on course. I went through the winter with them (just). I didn’t enjoy it one bit. Once I had to climb up onto the barnacled struts of the Pier to find my breath again, overcome with cold, fatigue and my own overarching ambition. The last time I swam with them I actually had to be dragged out of the sea by another swimmer after I lost my goggles and a contact lens being tumbled in massive unswimmable waves. Nothing like shame to stop you suddenly in your tracks.

And now ten years later, post spinal surgery and at least two stone heavier I have found my love of the sea again thanks to the Salty Seabirds. The last ten years of my life have been about finding boundaries to protect my highly sensitive nervous system. I have realized that I do not like swimming out of my depth. I do not like big waves. I like calm seas. I like splashing about and feeling the sun on my face. I no longer feel the need to push myself to near death experiences in order to feel alive. I do however like connecting with the natural environment and I like the cold. Anything that makes me concentrate on my breath whether it be yoga or sub zero waters brings me into presence. The elusive present. And what a gift for an overactive brain that is. The cold sea brings me resolutely and immediately into my body. I have spent so much of my life not liking my body. My miraculous body that walks and eats and sleeps (most of the time) and dances and has given birth and is infinitely stronger than I think it is. Here again is a way in which the Salty Seabirds has been liberating for me. For our Seabirds come in all shapes and sizes, as diverse and beautiful as gulls and gannets and petrels and shags. And how glorious and released are their bodies in their natural habitat. I never thought I would rejoice in the thought that I am increasing my body’s brown fat (whatever that is). But I do. It is a kind and accepting group. It is community functioning at its best- everyone joined purposefully in a sole pursuit. Our tangential lives intersect for brief moments of escape.  The same faces. New faces. No questions asked. But always the same shared euphoria afterwards. For me I love the sweetness of the post swim walk up the beach. As the cold sinks through my heavy amphibian limbs, as analgesic as that first Friday night gin and tonic. I like sitting among the flotsam of our belongings. Feeling the earth beneath me, looking out to sea, thinking “I was in that”.

Note from Seabirds: We receive such wonderful positive feedback from the Salty Seabirds that affirms the need for a Swimming community group that is fluid and free from constitutions and committees. The Seabirds swim free and cannot be governed by rules and regulations. The Seabird Community are kind, compassionate and inclusive –  the sum of our parts is what makes it work. Charlotte’s experience is all too common but when the time was right we all found each other – our flock. 

 

How do you get in?

With the rise in popularity of Cold Water Swimming, how do you get in?

The sea is a force amongst the Salty Seabirds that brings us together. We share a love of cold water swimming and as such our shared experiences of joy, respite and faffing is what notably makes us the same. But we all get in the sea differently.

We noticed this when we swam to the east of the Palace Pier to have a morning of celebration in the Beach Box Sauna and cold sea as we introduced some new Seabirds to our swimming pod.

Patrick McLennan, is the the co-director  of a new documentary called The Ponds, about Hampstead Heath Ponds. In a recent article written for the Guardian by Tim Lewis McLennan explains “Outdoor swimmers tend to divide into “divers” and “creepers”, with the latter group easing themselves into the water more gradually. There are also “tea-baggers”: people who jump in and get straight out.”

When the Salty Seabirds visited the Ladies Pond last year we were definitely divers as the jetty and steps only allowed for that form of entry. How we get in the sea on Brighton’s beaches, all depends on the conditions and state of the tide. If the tide is high you have no choice but to submerge yourself at speed as after three steps and you are out of your depth on our steep shingle. However, the length of time you faff,  get changed or observe your swim area can vary considerably. At low tide, particularly a spring tide, you maybe walking for what feels like miles across sand to get anywhere near swimming depth taking gradual acclimatisation to the extreme!

Outdoor Swimming Coach, Rowan Clarke has the funniest video parody on her Instagram account that charts the 10 ways people get in. When I watched it I associated each type of entering the water with  Salty Seabirds. The types are;

  1. Just Get On With Itthis is definitely me
  2. Faffthis is a favourite amongst the Salty Seabird flock – our super power is forgetfulness and changing bags are emptied and repacked quite a few times on the beach before we realise the swimming hat we are looking for is on our head
  3. Inch by Inchmany a fledgling Seabird starts off this way, but after a few dips and possibly an encounter with Brighton’s infamous shore dump, they soon join the rest of the formation and get in as quickly as they can.
  4. Swearyep lots of it. In fact the swearing normally starts with the faffing and just continues into the water. Swearing helps you to regulate your breathing – FACT
  5. Huff and PuffI love chatting to the Seabirds that huff and puff as they get in as they are completely unable to talk back and I get the opportunity to waffle on uninterrupted. 
  6. ScreamYep again and lots of it. It is a Seabirds primal call to nature
  7. Splash and SlapI am yet to spot a Seabird doing this but the more serious swimmers that migrate for the winter and return in the summer have been known to partake in this activity. On a serious note, it is a good way to acclimatise before a distance swim.
  8. Heads Up – So last year! Once we’d listened to Dr Mark Harper’s informative talk on the Health Benefits of Cold water Swimming hosted by iSWIM we have all been obsessed with stimulating our vagus nerve and stick our heads in as much as the ice cream brain will allow.
  9. Recklessly – definitely a ‘don’t do this at home kids’. Unfortunately as a tourist city by the sea the Seabirds often witness people making poor choices. We don’t and move to safe swim spots when it’s stormy or just wave bathe on the shingle shoreline known locally as “pilcharding”.
  10. Just Don’tthis applies to lots of our family members so we have created a new swimming family that ‘Just Do’

Whatever the time of year, outdoor water temperatures in the UK are cold. Even if you are wearing a wet-suit you will be susceptible to ‘Cold Water Shock’. Your breathing speeds up along with your heart rate and blood pressure – which in itself can lead to panic and gasping. The secret to over coming the cold water shock is to swim often and resist the urge to panic. The Outdoor Swimming Society has tips for cold water immersion written by the late great Lynne Roper of Wild Woman Swimming fame. She writes ‘ Much of the acclimatisation process is mental – knowing the moment of immersion will feel cold, and embracing it anyway.’ The RNLI ‘Float to Live’ campaign is aimed at people falling into the sea in British and Irish waters where the average temperature is 12-15 degrees. Low enough to cause cold water shock. The campaign promotes the lifesaving technique of fighting your instinct to swim until the cold water shock passes.

I have a unique style of entering the water. I am what Patrick McLennon would refer to as a ‘diver’ and Rowan Clarke a ‘just get on with it’.  But the first thing I do, after getting in quickly, is to roll onto my back and just float. It’s not a conscious considered decision based on my lifesaving training or an attempt to be in the moment with nature. It’s just something I do without thinking. What it does do is allow me to relax and my breathing has time to regulate without plunging my head through waves or respond to the physical activity of purposeful swim strokes. The urge to start swimming soon arrives as I realise I need to move to keep warm.

However you get in – do it safely and JUST KEEP SWIMMING…….and eat cake afterwards. Copious amounts of cake.

Scribe: Seabird Kath

Footnote: An Our Screen Viewing of The Ponds is scheduled in Brighton on Thursday 28th February at 20:30 but has SOLD OUT!

For the love of Swimming….

A Valentines Guest Blog by Seabird Didi

In her own words “here is my loved up offering post swim….warning….it’s gushy as I’m still high on endorphins……feeling the love!”

Managed almost 7 minutes in the sea today….although a good amount of that was me squawking and backing out and just splashing my face to try and acclimatise. Because this is the thing….I have always hated cold weather and cold water….but I know how amazing I feel when I have been in………and actually I have always loved the extremes of sauna and cold water……….but it’s also more than that…..there’s something in me that just feels the pull to swim outside and dive through that cold shock and I can’t put it into words but it feels as vital and important as breath. I can happily swim for ages in warm water…..dreamily and no effort…..I’ve always considered myself a strong swimmer, very much at home in the sea. But the WINTER cold sea; that’s a fairly new and challenging experience for me.

For for about 10 minutes before I go in I am getting anxious and then feeling stupid for feeling anxious about a self imposed activity that’s meant to be fun……..everyone else is smiling and excited whereas I am gritting my teeth and trying to squash down my fears. Butterfly nerves make me jittery and a little ungrounded. Then I am standing there with my hefty frame, in just my swimsuit, feeling ungorgeous, unglamorous and quite frankly ridiculous. I’m the biggest I have ever been and NOW is the time I take this up?

At this point some beach walkers usually clock us and stop to have a look. Sometimes they take photos. My private humiliation not quite complete….I then venture down to the sea’s edge and take quite a while dithering and flapping and shrieking…….watching my friends leap and dive in with confidence and joy.

My breath catches sharply, alarmingly and I feel like I have forgotten how to breathe out. FOMO wins every time though and VERY reluctantly and in a sort of disbelief I submerge myself….I practice my long out breath…..I steady my nerves…..I find my focus and then suddenly my arms and legs are paddling like crazy and I’m properly swimming…….in the winter sea with no wet-suit…..I feel like I’m crazy wild woman and I love it…..after 2 minutes of biting, painful sensations on my skin I can feel my physiology waking up from its domestic slumber and finally I feel THAT joy. I feel like a kid again.

My body remembers ancient and primal skills and starts activating clever responses to cold stress and physical challenge that I didn’t know it had. I feel euphoric and clever and strong and free and happy. I gurn like a loon to my swimming companions and blabber a lot at them about all sorts of nonsense. I marvel in the wild untamed beauty of the sea…….I coo at my clever swim socks, that delay that numbness just enough. I look back at the shore my perspective changed and my eyes feel soothed by the vast space and innocent beauty of it all. It feels like we are protected from the busyness, out of the spinning hamster wheel for a wonderful and precious little moment.

I feel so so so grateful to live here, to have this on our doorstep and even more grateful that I have a shared love of this with friends and now a growing community of Salty Seabirds, Sea Sploshers, Kemptown Kippers and of course the amazing iSWIM crew and most of all my lovely mate Laura without whom I would not have dived in at all.

Love (and friends) and the sea is all you need

💖💖💖Happy Valentines Day Salty ones 💖💖💖

The Rock – Swimming with my Spouse

My rock in stormy seas. Introducing Mr Seabird

The final part in the family swim stories trilogy.

Part I – Libby in the Lakes – swimming with my Daughter

Part II – Monarch of the Glen – swimming with a Laird

My husband and my depression, have been constants in my life since I was teenager. We met when I was 12 and he was 13 and we got together when I was 15 and he was 16. Right about the time when my teenage brain was experiencing it’s first incidence of poor mental health, and seeking out new risky experiences, resulting in lots of poor choices. He watched the poor choices from the wings, without partaking himself, often clearing up the debris.

Over the years, like any couple we’ve had our ups and downs, as my mental health has had it’s up and downs. Sometimes the two things are intertwined. My choices have improved with age and so has his support. He doesn’t always agree with my choices, decisions and ideas but his support is unwavering. When I let him get a word in edge-ways, he has been known to give bloomin’ good advice. He is the rock I cling to in stormy seas.

My choice to skin swim in the sea year round is also watched from the wings. He loves that I do it, but he neither has the time or inclination to join me. He enjoys being at the beach or in the sea but he prefers gentle beach breaks or small hidden coves and warmer sea temperatures. Our holiday choices are easy. It has to be by the sea and the car is filled with neoprene, SUPs and surf boards. He will get up early for solo surfs and be the first one to suggest a sunset swim before bed. Finding a beautiful secluded beach in Cornwall a couple of years ago and forgetting our swimsuits meant a skinny dip was inevitable. The teens are yet to forgive us.

Our holiday choices match but the type of swims we like can differ. I have been bought up on steep shingle shelves and long shore drift. Brighton beach is my favourite place to swim. It’s familiar, although ever changing. It’s my safe space although sometimes precarious. He only likes it local when it’s warmer and when it’s slack tide. He hates the, sometimes unstoppable, strong tidal current that can be like swimming on travelator going the wrong way. A couple of hard swims home when I’ve encouraged him to swim with me didn’t help lessen his hatred for fast moving water.

On special occasions I can convince him to swim with me on home territory. The featured image above show the pre-swim smiles of my 45th birthday. Early on a Sunday morning in July he accompanied me for a swim out to the buoys in front of the King Alfred. There is no post swim photo. There was no post swim chat. There was only post swim sulks, from both of us. The cross shore pull that had made reaching the buoy relatively easy was making the swim back tough. As I swam beside him giving advice on where to aim for to exit the sea safely and where we had left our bags I infuriated him more as I was able to talk and swim and wasn’t in the slightest bit concerned about getting back to dry land. We ended up having a row in the sea that resulted in me swimming off in the direction I had suggested and him the other. In hindsight I realise I had taken him out of his comfort zone, then emasculated him with my nonchalance in the water only to abandon him when he was feeling vulnerable. The salt in the wound being the walk over sharp shingles at the end of his ordeal. He is so confident in every other aspect of his life it didn’t enter my mind that this was something he was doing for me and not necessarily something he wanted to do.

It really is the pull of a current that he hates. In a warm non-tidal Mediterranean sea he would regularly take the children out to depths and distances that left me watching from a sunbed in horror. Fortunately, a couple of bad experiences haven’t put him off swimming with me…..just not in Brighton. This year’s birthday was spent swimming the Somerset Levels together. Pull of the water panic was replaced by pike panic. There was our trip to Scotland. The glens and waterfalls are hands down, the most beautiful place we have both ever had the pleasure of swimming. The peaty dark brown lochs provided a very different swimming experience as he confidently entered the water I splashed and stayed in the shallows put off by the murky water and what could lie beneath. He also joined my sister and I when we swam in Bude Tide Pool in April in armed only with his swim shorts. But he is at his happiest in a Cornish cove in the summer.

I call him a fair-weather swimmer but he is really not. He just doesn’t enjoy some of the same swims as me and there is nothing fair-weather about being married to me. All the while I wish to skin swim, year round I have the company of the Salty Seabirds. Absence makes the heart grow fonder after all!

Scribe: Seabird Kath

Footnote: I am reading and editing this in bed pre-publication and he is snoring to the point of punching his face in! It ain’t all hearts and roses.