As any sailor knows, you’re meant to spend your time trying not to go for a swim!
It all changed for me on a family trip to the Frinton when I had a swim in the sea and felt my all the pain in my joints go. The sea had helped me in a way that doctors hadn’t managed. I wanted to repeat this pain relief so went in search of a local places to swim. I live in muddy Maldon so while we are surrounded by water, it’s a little tricky to get to (and no I don’t fancy the Maldon Mud Race)!
I found my local wild swimming group, The Basin Bobbers and headed out for a swim. As a sailor married to Zhik’s Product Manager, I have a lot of wetsuits at my disposal. It was the start of November, so I wore my 3mm wetsuit and top, a buoyancy aid and my wetsuit socks (I’ve stuck with the wetsuit and socks but ditched the buoyancy aid!). I’ve found that while there are lots of specific swim wetsuits out there, I haven’t felt the need to buy any because my gear has been great for the job. Any sailor looking to get into wild swimming already has a head start if you already have a wetsuit.
I’d also noticed the swimmers had brightly coloured tow floats to make sure they can be seen in the river, so undeterred, I tied one of my daughter’s pink armbands to my buoyancy aid. I could definitely be seen!
The group were fantastic at making me feel welcome. They were keen to point out that their name is the Basin Bobbers so if you want to just bob around, that’s fine!
I’ve now been open water swimming for just over a year and it has improved my life in many ways. The benefits of cold water swimming have been widely reported. Sometimes it feels mad but I’ve never regretted a swim.
I’ve seen the Blackwater Estuary in a way that I hadn’t appreciated before. It’s hard to be stressed when staring out at the sun rising or setting over the sea. I’ve enjoyed many cups of tea sitting on the sea wall, watching the water, at peace.
It’s not all sunshine and roses though. We are all aware that the sea needs to be respected.
Lucie’s top tips for staying safe:
Wear what makes you feel comfortable. Even if the hardest are wearing swimsuits, it's ok to wear a wetsuit. Swim your own swim. No one cares!
Wear a bright hat. In cold weather, a bobble hat is perfect.
As with sailing, start off against the tide so if you’re pooped the water can bring you home. We often say that this feels like a conveyor belt bringing us back to the shore. The tide is certainly strong on the River Blackwater.
If swimming in open water, do wear a tow float (or an armband on a string!). Not only are they great to keep you seen but they are also very comfy to hold onto and float if you’re feeling tired. Lots of them have pockets for phones/keys. When swimming in the dark, I put a torch in my tow float and it’s like a lighted beacon. This did let me down once when I went for a nighttime skinny dip with a friend. I didn’t realise that the tow float, attached around my waist by a strap highlighted a glowing bum going into the water!
Wear neoprene gloves and socks as soon as you feel you need to but certainly when the water is below 10 degrees.
What you wear when you get out is more important than what you wear in the water. Lay out your clothes in the order that you will put them on. Get dry as quickly as possible and get your top half dressed first. Have lots of layers, a hot water bottle and a hot drink. After drop is the term used for your body temperature continuing to drop once you leave the water. It’s no joke so getting dry and warm is a priority.
Don’t swim alone. There are some fantastic groups out there and the company is always enjoyable and even confident swimmers get into trouble sometimes. This happened during a Christmas Eve swim for me. One of my fellow swimmers couldn’t fight the tide which was particularly strong that day. Luckily, someone had spotted this, and we helped our friend get to the shore.
Ditch the undies. Of course, this is optional but when your fingers are cold, fiddling around with anything is a pain. I soon joined in with my fellow swimmers ditching the bra and going commando. I’m just realising that this might be why I like swimming so much!
Be prepared to be addicted. There’s a rush after swimming in cold water. For me, I feel strong in a way that I hadn’t felt for a long time. I won’t be stopping anytime soon!
I’m sure that Tristan would like me to tell you the Zhik gear that I use the most.
I love my hooded change towel. It's great to pop on and get dry underneath.
I wear Superwarm socks most of the year when swimming and they have been fab.
In the winter I wear my Superwarm skiff suit wetsuit and then on very cold days, I wear the matching top as well.
I have a big change coat that I “borrowed” from Tristan quite nearly 7 years ago. I don’t think that this is made anymore but Tristan tells me that they now have a Broadside coat.
I do moan to Tristan fairly often that Zhik doesn't do more swimming gear. It’s hardly surprising as they are a predominantly sailing brand but I’m really pleased that the kit that I do have has been so versatile.