It’s Monday morning and the air temperature is -1C and it’s windy. Lovely swimming weather? Hmmmm. Worse still, the wind direction is from the North East, drawing air directly down from Siberia. This means that the ‘feel like’ temperature is said to be -7C. Isn’t that the temperature of my freezer compartment for goodness sake? (Apparently not, so Google tells me, as freezers should be more like -18C although that doesn’t feel so far off just now standing in only a swimsuit as we get changed post swim).
This is definitely a day for potentially wearing the wetsuit. I knew my practice would come in useful at some point. My husband loves to tell me all about the weather whilst we eat breakfast, pouring over a variety of websites in the comfort of his warm dressing gown and with perhaps a slight hint of smugness/concern/exasperation. I listen, I examine and then I take the practical approach and look out of the window to see what it really looks like. There’s definitely a dusting of snow in the garden and so I go upstairs and wrangle my way into the legs of my wetsuit and head to the beach anyway. Sea swimming has become part of my life and I have a sense of it somehow ‘completing’ each day, this means that the colder weather has been something to get around rather than run from. For so many of us, the pandemic has focused the mind on an order for each day and swimming is one of my personal anchoring points.
Stepping outdoors it does feel rather cold. There’s no definitive, official definition for wind chill but we all know that that doesn’t mean you can ignore it. “In the UK, a system called the Joint Action Group for Temp Indices is used to realistically measure wind chill” helpfully explains the Met Office “This calculates wind chill by measuring how much heat is lost from a person’s bare face at a walking speed of 3mph” I’m assuming that this is doubled for all those outdoor swimming?!
Here’s a nice man from the Met Office showing us his arm to explain wind chill – which quite frankly feels some way off cold water swimming but you get the idea.
The wind chill has been a factor all week. The weather did not improve over recent days and all of this week it’s been pretty darn nippy. The daytime morning temperatures have hovered below or around freezing, and puddles and ponds have remained frozen solid. But somehow, swimming in the sea when it’s this cold has felt sort of ‘acceptable’. The wind blowing from the East or South East most days has meant that the waters in Gurnard Bay are sheltered by the land mass of the Island. The sea has been almost smooth for us to swim in, where as across on the mainland we could clearly see the shore at Lepe was being beaten by substantial waves. If you’d asked us last summer if we’d still be swimming in wind chill -7C air temperatures and 5C water temperatures we’d have just laughed at you, but building up over the year to this point has made it much more accessible, and the current sheltered conditions at Gurnard have made it feel pretty comfortable, all things considered. What I’ve felt less happy about this week has been the temporary move into wetsuits which neither Karen or I feel very comfortable in wearing preferring feeling the water on our skin. The pay off however is that we can stay in and swim that little bit longer. It’s very much a balance. We’re both hoping that we can revert to less neoprene next week if the temperatures come up a little but we’ll see. There’s no competition for getting too cold and uncomfortable, and we need to ensure at least some giggling time after the huffing /squealing /gasping cold water entry period so we bob about in our added layer.
In a moment of cheery madness before Christmas (probably lockdown induced) Karen and I had joked that we’d love to be able to swim in the snow – laughing in the expectation that it rarely snows on the Isle of Wight we thought we’d be pretty safe in this happy go lucky comment. Oh how wrong we were! This is the year that it has snowed on the Island… typical. This has meant that we have indeed gone swimming this week in snow flurries… several days of snow flurries too. We feel rather proud to have done it, it felt adventurous, daring and ridiculous. So ridiculous in fact that it has already lead us to talk about swimming in ‘proper’ snow… but that’s probably for another day.
The cold has not discouraged many swimmers. We’ve met several intrepid women recently who have only JUST started swimming and we salute them for their determination and drive. I love how so many women (and some men) are embracing sea swimming and getting out there in the less favourable weather. There’s a spirit of ‘just go for it’ with smiles and giggles as the band of merry bathers grows in numbers with individual dippers and paired up plungers.
The cold is not for everyone but for those wanting to get in the water it continues to bring people joy (well, I say joy…). Let’s face it, by the summer it will be feeling like a warm bath and we might well be talking about how much we miss the invigorating challenge of the winter cold water?