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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Surf Solace – an introduction to the South Coast’s newest charity

Over recent years a lot has been written about young people’s mental health. The teenage years are a challenging time for all young people as they struggle with changing bodies, hormones and establishing their place in the adult world. For some, due to family relationships, socio-economic factors, mental illness such as anxiety or depression, unique traits such as autism, or specific traumas such as bereavement, it can all become just too much. Moreover, in these times of austerity, the services that provide young people with the support they need to navigate these challenges are sadly, barely available.

Local Fire Fighter, Shaun Challis, has become all too aware of this during his time coaching young people in various aquatic sports and school enrichment programmes. Hence his drive to set up a new charity ‘Surf Solace’ on the shores of Lancing Beach in West Sussex. 1 in 10 young people aged from 5 to 15 suffer from a mental health problem (Mental Health Foundation, 2013). Factors that can influence this are apparent in this community and the Local Authority report ‘Adur and Worthing Community Profile 2014’ shows Adur to be the most deprived local authority area in West Sussex; with anti-social behaviour as the most common crime. Adur also has the highest percentage of 16+ year olds with no qualifications in West Sussex, over a quarter of the entire 16+ population – a shocking statistic by any measure.

‘Taking the waters’ for health and well being has a long history in the UK. There’s growing evidence to support the tradition of sea swimming, surfing, etc for health and well being; suggesting time spent in natural settings, like beaches is beneficial.  

Surf Solace aims to improve young people’s self-esteem and well being by using the sea as a resource!  They will provide six-week, sea-based activity courses for up to 20 children and young people aged 11-18, who are at risk of social exclusion or mental health issues. Sessions will be delivered with 1:1 support from volunteers within the local beach community; bringing both participants and experienced sea and beach users together. The idea being that the participants grow in self-confidence and learn new skills to help them navigate through life. Most importantly, the sessions are free of any pressure to succeed – participants can work at their own pace and achieve their own goals. To take part, clients must be referred by someone working with them professionally, such as a support worker, teacher, doctor, counsellor or similar. Best of all, there will be no charge for the courses.

The new charity has 3 Trustees; all local people, who advocate the positive impact the sea environment can have on well-being and recognise the need for ‘Sea Therapy’ in the community. Phil is a local sports enthusiast who runs his own water activity company and has regularly volunteered as a mentor to young people.  Mel manages the BHT Threshold Women’s Service & their Mental Health and Wellbeing Service. In her younger days she was an outdoor pursuits instructor and a competitive swimmer. She is an experienced  psychotherapist who regularly volunteers for local community groups that focus on the sea and well-being. Lastly Ferg is a dad that has learnt to surf in his middle age and gradually love the sea! (mainly as he is forced to spend most of his spare time in the sea with his wife and kids). Crucially, he is familiar with the third sector and gives up much of his time to support small, local charities.

However, setting up a new charity is no easy task; particularly in the light of the bad press many larger, well known charities are attracting. The first hurdle has been a chicken and egg conundrum. In order to gain approval from the Charity Commission you need to demonstrate cash in your bank account. In order to get start-up funds via grant applications you must be a registered charity. So, unless you have a wealthy benefactor, you’re rather up against it. Seabirds Brighton CIC have pledged our support for the fledgling charity in the form of unrestricted funds via the profits from our trading arm web shop and crowdfunding campaign. Sadly, this has not yet been sufficient to launch the pilot therapy course planned for September 2018 due to substantial set-up costs. Amongst other things, expensive public liability insurance is mandatory sea activity equipment such as wetsuits and surf boards don’t come cheap. Although this has been disappointing for all involved, the upside is that it has provided more time to concentrate on fundraising activities to ensure that everything is ready to go in Spring/Early Summer 2019.

What you can do to help

  • Donate – either your time, old equipment like foam surfboards, wetsuits etc or cold hard cash. You can also contact them to understand how you can make a one-off donation or set up a monthly standing order to support their aim of getting more kids in the water and improving their outlook on life.
  • You can contact Surf Solace  by following them on Facebook to offer your services as a volunteer, both in and out of the water, or drop off old equipment.
  • Buy products from Seabirds to provide unrestricted funding for the 2019 courses.
  • Attend events – throughout the year there will be events to raise funds for Surf Solace – the most imminent being Perch Beach outdoor cinema nights on Lancing beach.

 

Seabird’s Book Club – July Book

So I finished the Salt Path. It was a wonderful read. I know many of the places referred to on the SW Coastal Path so it was very familiar to me. The situation the main characters found themselves in, is not. It left me heart broken at times, especially knowing that this was NOT a work of fiction! A read for the bedroom or the sofa rather than a public beach unless you are wearing a huge pair of Jackie ‘O’ glasses to hide the tears. I really warmed to Raynor – a survivor in the truest sense. If you haven’t read it yet – DO!

This month’s book is The Last Wave by Gillian Best. Her debut novel. I am already nearly finished and is an easy read. The story is told by the main characters – each with their own perspective on events that happen throughout their lives. Always in the background is one woman’s love of sea swimming and the escape from day to day drudge, responsibilities and worries it provides. The main character, Martha, is clearly a Seabird. I hope you enjoy the July read.

Here’s the blurb: A beautifully rendered family drama set in England between the 1940s and the present, following the life of Martha, a woman who has swum the English Channel ten times, and the complex relationships she has with her husband, her children and her close friends.

The one constant in Martha’s life is the sea, which offers an escape from her responsibilities as a wife and a mother, consolation when she becomes ill and comfort when her husband succumbs to dementia.

The Last Wave is a wholly authentic, tragicomic portrait of family life as it is buffeted by sickness, intolerance, anger, failure and regret. This mature and compelling new voice offers a novel soaked in empathy and salt water.

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.

 

 

The Fish that remembered how to swim…the sequel

Solo swim around the buoys. Feeling very proud of myself as I am not a solo swimmer. The other seabirds opted for a parallel groyne run but I was desperate for a long 'proper' swim. After a quick moon dip on Tuesday night and  sharing the water with 30 kids yesterday and wednesday I actually welcomed the solitude and only got spooked once  by a fish.  As is usual I obviously chose the wrong direction to swim. Really hard leg home against a current pushing me out and west when I wanted to swim in and east. Took what felt like forever. Sandy bottom view was beginning to get monotonous.  Lovely welcome home crowd. Lots of teeny tiny jellyfish attracted to the movement of my hands. Took a while to see them as so translucent and super speedy. Think they may have been stinging me which felt like tickles. (Swim robe available @seabirds_ltd)  #justkeepswimming #soloswim #swimbuoys #swimbetweentheflags #swimsafe #jellyfish #swimrobe @booicorestore #skinswim #outdoorswim #iloveorange #swimyourselfhappy #getinthesea #saltedwellbeing #stillsmiling
There has been progress since the Fish that forgot how to swim.
Today I did a solo swim around the buoys.  I am feeling very proud of myself as I am not a solo swimmer. Seabirds swim in flocks. The other seabirds opted for a parallel groyne run but I was desperate for a long ‘proper’ swim. I was going against the formation.
I was provided with lots of Seabird support and encouragement to give it a go. The Sea Front Office boat was patrolling with a crew and helm that I knew. In reality it’s no different to swimming with others. You can’t chat when you have less than a second to take a breath. But something about knowing there is a Seabird nearby gives you confidence to venture further away from the shore.
So after a quick cheerio, I set off! After a short moon dip on Tuesday night and sharing the water with 30 kids yesterday and Wednesday I actually welcomed the solitude and only got spooked once by a fish. I was quickly in a one, two, three, breathe hypnotic peaceful rhythm.

As is usual, I chose the wrong direction to swim. Even after my Tidal Walk lesson. In my defence, the Lifeguard on post went for a swim during her break and swan the same way….so I just assumed she had opted for hard start and easy finish.  Obviously not. It was a really hard leg home against a current pushing me out and west when I wanted to swim in and east. Took what felt like forever. Sandy bottom view was beginning to get monotonous.

There was a lovely welcome home crowd. A couple of Seabirds frolicking in the shallows but also lots of teeny tiny jellyfish attracted to the movement of my hands. Took a while to see them as so translucent and super speedy. Think they may have been stinging me which felt like tickles. Wikipedia tells me they are baby moon jellyfish. I was transfixed for ages watching them.

So 4 hours later and I am still smiling. Smiling because it was a lovely swim in crystal clear turquoise warm water. Smiling because the jellyfish were so cool and I felt like I was in an episode of Blue Planet. #doitfordavid. But most of all smiling because this seabird swan solo. She broke the flock formation, came back and it reformed on the beach post swim with a cup of tea and a picnic. I can do it!

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……………………………