Like Mother Like Daughter

An extract from a Seabird mum’s diary from 1980 – wild swimming is not a new thing!

The Diary of Ann Steward

This week I received a letter in the post from my mum. There is nothing unusual in that. I often receive letters, cards, newspaper cuttings and books in the post from my mum. She is fierce in her protection of the analogue and unless I put pen to paper, literally, she will never read any of these blogs. Which is a shame as this one is about her!

So the letter I received was short and to the point. That is my mum in a nutshell. “Dear Katharine, Looking thro’ my many ‘diaries’ I came across “A Selsey Summer” written in the 80’s? I thought you might enjoy this extract. Obviously you have inherited your love of the sea and swimming from your Sainted Mother! Lots of Love.”

To put the extract in context – my mum was a school teacher – and every school holiday we would relocate to Selsey, West Sussex and live in a converted railway carriage on the beach, called Nutshell, with all manner of foster siblings, cousins and anyone else that my parents swept up into their very un-nuclear family.

“We’d swum everyday – to begin with there was time to get in two swims – one before lunch and one after, but for the rest of this week we’d have to wait until 6/7 o/c for deep water unless we cared to try for a swim early morning. 

I was better than ever at ‘getting in’. I still needed that preliminary paddle up and down to knee height, then up to the middle and a pause before a step or two to reach my armpits when I could bob down and launch into my school girls breast stroke.

It was always worth it – even if on a chill, sunless day you didn’t stay in too long. What a feeling of wellbeing – superiority and freshness it gave. Half a dozen strokes towards the breakwater – half a dozen back, bob up and down and repeat. 

The most important purpose of the daily swim was to timetable the day. It set an immovable hour in the day – for it took that time on a chill day and twice that on a hot one, to follow the ritual of gathering the party – pulling on costumes, finding towels and in the case of adults forcing feet into still damp plimsolls as protection from the shingle. 

What time’s high tide? Then we must have breakfast/lunch by such and such. before our swim we could do this and after the swim we’ll do that. And so our day was mapped.”

I remember my mum wrote diaries. I remember our endless summers swimming in the sea. I remember days dictated by tides. I remember how bloody long it took her to get in – but she always did – eventually. And still does. But, I’d forgotten that this life that I live is not new to me. It’s always been my life, me and the sea. All I’ve done is remember and come home.

Author: Seabird Kath

3 generations of Seabirds

mum2

The extract goes on to say ” A couple came to look over ‘The Summer House’ next door which is for sale. They have left their large expensive motor outside Nutshell while they have the guided tour around the quite extensive grounds. How well I remember it years ago when the old gentleman lived there as a recluse. The garden overgrown – little of the house visible, fruit trees laden in the Autumn, banks of primroses in the Spring. We’d dreamed of it being ours.” It never ended up being theirs but they have a beach hut and home on the Isle of Wight now – which I am sure comes a close second.

 

 

Floating

Floating – an essential pastime!

All I have done is float for the last couple of months. With trapped nerves caused by knotty and gnarly trapezius muscle I can’t do much else. Whilst I love to float by choice, when it is enforced, it’s not only my nerves that are trapped – I feel trapped!

I have never been good at resting for recovery. Being active is my therapist couch. As the seas began to warm, and after some technique coaching at Sea Lanes I was looking forward to a summer of long lazy point to point sea swims. But it just wasn’t to be. Instead I have been coaching our Women Wellbeing and Water courses and reading for relaxation. A good distraction but it all keeps coming back to floating. On our confidence courses I have been encouraging participants to relax and float on their backs. My relaxing reads have included re-reading “Floating – A Life Regained” by Joe Minihane. I cannot get away from floating………..

Teaching people, new to open water swimming, to float allows them to experience the buoyancy of their wet-suits or their body and the salt water. It provides them with reassurance that if they feel scared, panicked, unsure, they can flip onto their back and take some timeout to adjust to their surroundings and situation. We create, what I like to call, a Selkie Circle or a Mermaid Ring, where we all float in a round at the beginning of the session. It’s a really good way for the swimmers to become comfortable with each other, with me and their environment. It also looks pretty cool.

Floating is a  vital life saving skill. Drowning can be prevented in lots of instances if the swimmer relaxes to conserve energy and float on their back as per the RNLI Float to Live campaign. As the sea warms up and the sun continues to shine the masses are flocking to the beach. Unfamiliar water and not being used to sea temperatures can result in poor choices and people getting into difficulty. In Brighton and Hove we have a number of drownings every year. The RNLI advice is;

5 steps to float

1. If you fall into water, fight your instinct to swim until cold water shock passes

2. Lean back, extend your arms and legs

3. If you need to, gently move them around to help you float

4. Float until you can control your breathing

5. Only then, call for help or swim to safety

Floating on your back is also a really good way to acclimatise to prevent cold water shock. Nothing like that first trickle down your back! If you spend time floating before you start your swim you are able to acclimatise, regulate your breathing and get used to your environment in controlled way so hopefully the RNLI advice will not be needed. I include it as part of the warm up. There are stretches on the beach first before entry, then a few dolphins dives and front crawl stroke before flipping onto your back to catch your breath and get ready for the swim ahead.

Floating is a great way to feel the tidal flow, experience the impact of wind strength and direction, find a static sighting point and consider which direction you need to swim in. I am famous for swimming in the wrong direction even after studying the various apps that tell me which way the flow should be going. I blame mother nature and the moon. Although it could be my sighting as I aim for one buoy and arrive at a completely different one on a regular basis. After doing everything at pace and being particularly crap at going slow I have learned, the hard way, to take my time and float before I set off on a swim. Having earned the Salty Seabird nickname of Tidal Bore due to my obsession with tides and flows, floating allows me to practice what I preach.

Finally floating is the best way to be one with your salty environment. Ears just below the surface and eyes to the sky you become part of the sea in tune with its sights and sounds. Taking time to really appreciate being in the sea, looking at the colour or the water, feeling the energy of the swell and listening to the shingle being dragged around on the seabed. All of these experiences write your swim story and wouldn’t be possibly without floating.

And the best thing is….everyone can float!

Author: Seabird Kath

A little farewell note on floating.

“And out floated Eeyore.
“Eeyore!” cried everybody.
Looking very calm, very dignified, with his legs in the air, came Eeyore from beneath the bridge.
“It’s Eeyore!” cried Roo, terribly excited.
“Is that so?” said Eeyore, getting caught up by a little eddy, and turning slowly round three times. “I wondered.”
“I didn’t know you were playing,” said Roo.
“I’m not,” said Eeyore.
“Eeyore, what are you doing there?” said Rabbit.
“I’ll give you three guesses, Rabbit. Digging holes in the ground? Wrong. Leaping from branch to branch of a young oak-tree? Wrong. Waiting for somebody to help me out of the river? Right. Give Rabbit time, and he’ll always get the answer.”
“But, Eeyore,” said Pooh in distress, “what can we–I mean, how shall we–do you think if we–“
“Yes,” said Eeyore. “One of those would be just the thing. Thank you, Pooh.” 
― A.A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner

 

July Book Club Read

July’s Seabird Book Club Read. Floating

It’s been less that a month since we re-launched the Seabirds Virtual Book Club but it is already time for July’s book.

This month we move away from the science of Tristan Gooley to the memoir by Joe Minihane. “Floating: A Life Regained” sees the author follow in the footsteps of Roger Deakin and swims in the locations described in Waterlog. As a Seabird my favourite type of swimming is floating so the title immediately appealed. Joe is also based in Brighton so there was another tenuous link. He probably won’t remember, but I met him swimming in the sea once in front of the bandstand with his friend Seabird Laura. I went all a bit star struck and he just smiled.

As for the book – I know it will appeal to the seabird flock. It’s acutely honest and touches upon topics we regularly consider when swimming in the sea. Our joyful love of being outside and experiencing nature first hand. The warmth of the friendship we have found within our flock. A story of acceptance of his anxiety and how to live with it is also a common theme in our clan.

He writes; “In swimming I found the only thing that truly broke me out of my anxious cycle for longer than a few moments…I swam to fix myself.”

It’s on my list to read again, and again, and again. Joe is a Seabird. Enjoy Salties

xx

 

Seabird Summer Reads

With summer on the horizon. or at least the hope of summer, it’s time to get out a pile of books to read!

With summer holidays on the horizon and the wild swim group continuing to grow it feels like the right time to re-launch the Seabirds Book Club

The next best thing to being in the sea is getting lost in a good book. During our sea swims we often find ourselves talking about the last book we read or which book is next on our list.

Here’s how the seabirds virtual Book Club works;

  • Once a Month a new book is chosen for the Seabird virtual Book Club 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.

This month’s book is ‘How to Read Water: Clues & Patterns from Puddles to the Sea’ by Tristan Gooley. It teaches you how to read the sea and forecast the weather from the waves. It also includes how to read the water associated with ponds and rivers as well as interpreting the colour of the water and understand wave patterns as they break on the beach.

There are lots of references to wild swimming in Sussex so it should prove to be a Seabird’s favourite. It also builds on some of the sea behaviours we touched upon in the Safe Swim Q & A series at Sea Lanes. But our best tenuous link is that the author attended Sandhurst Royal Military Academy with Salty Seabird Jo – apparently he was asked to leave after turning up naked to parade! For that reason alone it must be worth a read.

Here are the links to previous reads;

June 2018 read – The Salt Path , Raynor Winn

July 2018 read – The Last Wave,  Gillian Best

August 2018 read – The Whitstable High Tide Swimming Club by Katie May

September 2018 read – Wild Woman Swimming, Lynne Roper

October 2018 read – I found my Tribe, Ruth Fitzmaurice

November 2018 read -Swell A Waterbiography by Jenny Landreth

 

 

 

A Seabird Singing The Blues

The ramblings thoughts and wonders of why being in, on or by the sea chases the blues away.

It’s Mental Health Awareness week in the UK. The Salty Seabirds have had a great week of activities and sessions all aimed at improving wellbeing and all centred around the beach and sea. This is how we manage our blues. By Blue Health, Blue Science, Blue Space, Blue Gym, Blue Mind.

Evidence from around the world continues to grow that being in, on or around the sea and ocean has a positive impact on our mental and physical health. In a world of instant and virtual the constant and real is respite.

There is a lot of science and studies centred around how this works and why. I am no scientist and  haven’t studied for over 25 years but the beach is my happy place and I have spent time wondering why. Here are my thoughts on how and why the big blue can stave off my blues.

One of my thoughts turns to human biology – we are made up of 70% water, and salt water at that, like the sea.  The sea covers 70% of the earth’s surface. So going into the sea is like coming home. Think of it like osmosis – when we return to the sea we gain balance.

I think that things that are certain in the world around us, ground us, make us feel safe. I know that the tide will come in and go out every day. So although the state of the water is not constant the moon’s pull on it everyday means the sand will appear and disappear, much like worries. As the tide ebbs and flows so do my cares and concerns.

I find the sound of the sea soothing. I remember arriving in morocco, some years ago, in the dead of night and being shown into a cool white room with windows wide open to a pitch black vista. I had no bearings, no idea where I was, what was outside the window, in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar faces. But I had the best night sleep, soothed to sleep by the sound of the sea, the waves steadily meeting the sand. Better than any lullaby.

In fact, it is all I can do to stay awake when I am on a beach. When I left full time work due to ill health we spent a week in Cornwall for me to begin my recovery – I slept on the beach every day. Another trip west, I had a badly infected leg which prevented me from getting in the sea. I would regularly be found slumped and snoozing when the family returned from surfing or rock-pooling. On top of the cliffs by Godrevy Lighthouse there is a particularly soft spot of sea pink and grass by a sheltered stone wall for anyone looking for a secluded snooze.

Just seeing the sea lifts my mood. As a child, crammed between siblings, my mum would try to distract us with ‘first one to spot the sea’ wherever we were going. And I still play along now – even if I am the only one in the car. The excitement of discovering a new beach and possibility of new surfing, swimming, snorkelling, walking, rock-pooling, coasteering, kayaking and possibly sleeping adventures. Being physically tired from a wet activity, and mentally tired from focusing on a new environment is the best kind of tired. It is a clean childlike exhaustion caused by good clean fun and happiness, not day to day stress. I realise that new beaches cannot be a daily occurrence but the changes of the local seascape can be enough escapism to create a similar satisfactory tiredness and happiness.

I never tire of the sight of the sea. The blue goes on forever. The constant horizon, never changing allows the brain to recover from constant screen scrolling. The blue light from our gadgets suppresses the production of melatonin, the hormone which is responsible for inducing sleep. The natural light at the beach has the absolute opposite affect on me – it quietens my brain and invites rest (and sleep!). So just being by the sea, looking out to sea can be enough. Drifting while you water gaze. Mindless mindfulness.

My relationship with the sea can be described as a ‘healthy respect’. I am a safety first kinda girl, know my limitations  and only go in when I know I can get out. I have many of the same fears as others about deep water and what lies beneath yet I am still drawn to it’s vastness. It is bigger than us yet it does not overwhelm me. I think, it is because it is so big and so vast that I become part of it when I am in it. I am diluted along with my anxiety and low mood.  I am cognisant that this sounds very new age and evangelical but I am not trying to covert the world via baptism. I just feel that the significance of the sea,  washes my worries into insignificance.

The sensation of the sea is a funny one to wonder while we are in the midst of may bloom. The sea is like a thick pea soup while the algae ferments. It feels slimey and smells awful. So to times of clearer waters….. The waters off the UK coast are always cold and although you can acclimatise and it warms up during the summer months you can still feel the cold sensation on your skin whatever the time of year. In the winter months it bites and burns making you aware of every part of your body. Making you feel alive. In the summer months it cools and soothes, no movement is required to to cope with the cold water, but instead you can float. Oh how I love to float – as soon as I can, I flip onto my back, sight to the skies and immerse my ears in the water. Many a seabird has researched Cold Water therapy, Total Immersion and the Wim Hof method. For me a good head dunk re-sets and re-calibrates – I have no idea why – it just does. And doing handstands in the sea is fun!

So today it is a Blue Moon and and I will be swimming under it’s shine tonight with lots of other salty seabirds. The perfect end to a week of chasing the blues away in, on or around the big blue. However it works, I just know that it does, for me it’s the sea.

Author: Seabird Kath

I can confirm that absolutely no controlled research was conducted to support the ramblings, thoughts and wonderment contained in this article. It is all anecdotal. A Seabird singing the blues

I can also confirm there are many other places you can swim outdoors other than the sea that may or may not chase the blues away – but I am a seabird and I am salty and cannot comment on regular swimming in lidos, lakes or rivers. But I do like a good waterfall!

 

 

It’s all in the timing – making time for a swim.

When will you have your swim today? It’s a bank holiday so the usual routine is out the window with kids and husband at home. It’s unlikely they will come with me so I need to find the balance between a lie in ( my son has promised me breakfast in bed) and swimming before the beach fills up with day trippers. I have opted for 10am at Costa Del Brunswick so it doesn’t eat into the day but the beach is still quiet as this is a city that sleeps, and it sleeps until late morning.

But what is your usual swim time?

Do you have dawn dips to start your day salty? There are a few salties that have been in, showered and started work before most of our alarms go off. We like their swim smile social media posts from the warmth and comfort of our beds. Then there is the early bird 8am crew that fit a swim in before the school run. The land has yet to warm up so there is no sea breeze and a natural off shore wind make perfect swimming conditions in the morning. The crowds are also yet to descend providing swimming solitude for those that seek it. It’s a great way to start your day. But be mindful when you are being mindful, there are no lifeguards and less people at this time of day with winds that push you further out to sea………..

Do you have dusk dips to end your day salty? After a hard days graft a sea swim can wash away the cares of the day. It is also a really good way to avoid bedtime if you have small children! The madding crowd have returned up the M23 or jumped back on the train to London. Many people have bedtime routines that include switching off gadgets or reading a book but my favourite way to wind down before bed is a swim in the sea, Better than a hot lavender bath and a horlicks. I love falling asleep salty but only really seem to manage this on holiday. Which is a good thing really as my hair the next morning should only be shared with strangers.

Then there is the daytime dippers. We are the envy of the 9-5s. We post our swimming smile pictures whilst they are chained to their desks. We are the self employed, the flexible working arrangements, the stay at home parents. We swim in between appointments, meetings and errands at the strangest of times. 10.45am on a Monday anyone? Up to 25 swimmers take you up on the offer.

I am all of the above, I swim solo early in the mornings, in large groups in the daytime and in the evenings with my husband whenever we are away. I change my swim times to suit my mood and my needs. But I always swim. Whether it’s your wake up call to start the day or your wind down after a days labour just GET IN THE SEA

 

 

 

Safe harbour when you’re swimming for your life

Many of the Seabird blogs focus on the positive impact sea swimming has had on the wellbeing of some of our salty swimming group. Whether it be depression, anxiety, chronic illness or a difficult period in life, there are points in people’s lives where they need support to build resilience and to make improvements to their wellbeing. Again whether it be the sense of community, the respite from day-to-day or the cold water immersion that brings relief something about sea swimming seems to be part of the solution for many.

I have spoken and written about my personal mental health experiences many times. It’s not an easy thing to do. I am a talker. It’s how I deal with ‘stuff’. But admitting you  struggle at times is a challenge. For me, the challenge isn’t only the ability to open up it’s getting people to believe me. When I am at my worst, you won’t see me. I retreat to the confines of my castle and wait for it to pass before venturing out again. You may feel the warning shots being fired over the parapet as my depression marches at an attack force and shows itself as a sharp snapping tongue or an unmasked facial expression. But most will interpret this as me just being a moody bitch. And sometimes that is all it is –  but not always. If hot oil is poured over the castle walls and then a siege ensues you can be sure depression has won that battle. Especially when anxiety joins the fight.

So sea swimming has become my drug of choice. I think about why it works for me a lot. Logically someone with depression who can struggle to leave the house shouldn’t be  found striding across the shingle to meet up with people they have never met to swim in the sea. Again when we add anxiety into the mix, and in my case social anxiety, surely swimming in the sea with a bunch of strangers isn’t conceivable. But it is possible and I do do it. Whilst I love the cold water high and the break from ‘real life’ that’s not what draws me to the beach. It’s experience. My experience overrides my frazzled brain and reminds it that not only will it be okay, but that I will experience joy and happiness, calm and respite.

Never ever have I experienced a bad swim. They are different every day but they are not bad. Never ever have I regretted a swim. The deadline may have been missed and the kids ate pizza again but no regrets. Never ever have I met an unfriendly outdoor swimmer or Salty Seabird. Eccentric or reserved yes, but never unfriendly. Never ever have I ever felt more part of something, more of a sense of belonging, more acceptance and kindness. From borrowing gloves, sharing tea, crying, cuddles and throwing your head back guffawing – I am me and I swim in the sea.

Some of the Salty Seabirds have become friends – not just ones I swim with – but salt of the earth (or the sea) friends. I told one the other day she was my lighthouse – she is always there guiding me back to safety when I am in the midst of a storm. These are the people that see me regularly, because no matter what I will always swim. Their smiles, energy and strength are infectious. The feeling I get after a sea swim is as much to do with connecting with nature, the certain horizon and the lull of the waves as it is being with these people.

I will always come back to the harbour where the water is calm and there is a protective wall surrounding me. I am lucky to have many light houses that guide me back there when they can see I am struggling so I can continue to swim safely. And many anchors that keep me there when it’s rough. The best bit is, I get to swim with some of them and stay salty!

Author: Seabird Kath