On Thursday morning, Karen and I and our respective partners got up before dawn to share in a very English event – the annual Bramble Bank Cricket Match between the Royal Southern Yacht Club, Hamble and the Island Sailing Club, Cowes. The match is held at the lowest, late summer tide when the infamous Bramble Bank is fully revealed in the middle of The Solent for just a brief hour or so. The flotilla of small boats gathered in anticipation of the big reveal and the waves began to appear, lapping over the sandy ridges. And suddenly they’re off, stumps set up, score board erected and two teams in cricket whites leap from ribs and sports boats. The clunk of the ball on willow, the encouraging cheers and polite clapping. Small islands of soft sand appear around us like rising sea creatures and the surreal scene plays out. And then, all too briefly, the tide is flooding back in to reclaim the pitch and we are forced to return to retiring boats. The last to leave the disappearing sands are the Cowes RNLI Lifeboat…. they were also the first to arrive before dawn!
. It’s all too easy for people to forget that the crew are volunteers – caring, highly trained, supportive individuals who choose to put themselves out there to help others no matter what the conditions. So many members of the general public don’t know, or can’t believe, that RNLI crew members selflessly put themselves in danger to help others with no payment or return other than the satisfaction of a job well done. They are quite extraordinary individuals.
Many think of the RNLI rescuing people on the water but they are also the people championing safety in the water. As sea swimmers this is something we should all celebrate. There is superb advice and guidance on keeping safe in open water on their website. There are some basic points such as considering a health check before embarking on cold water swimming, telling people where and when you’re swimming and of course pointing out the benefit of sharing the experience – “Open water swimming is much more fun with someone else”!
The advice is broken down into issues to consider. Firstly, how to choose your spot to swim and details from the Coastguard and RNLI on how to identify rip tides.
Next there are details on what you might need – having the right equipment is so important even for brief swims. We’ve talked much about it before but can’t say enough how important it is to check the tides and weather, especially if you’re swimming on coastlines where the tide is particularly strong such as we are here in The Solent. There is then a section on acclimatisation to cold water (including specific information on cold water shock) and finally ’float to live’ advice should things go terribly wrong. It might feel a little doom and gloom with so many things potentially to go wrong but that’s exactly what you’re trying to avoid – remember it’s meant to be fun out there but will only be fun and relaxing if you know you’re acting as safely as possible!
We started wearing our orange hats to ensure visibility during the summer months when there are more boats and jet skis sharing the seascape, and we continued from there to keep being seen. We might laugh and joke about our sea swimming experiences but we’re serious about staying safe.
It was an absolute pleasure to meet the Cowes RNLI Lifeboat crew out on Bramble Bank but with every respect to them as individuals, we’re hoping not to meet them again too soon. However we are really pleased that they very much recommend wearing highly visible swim hats! Go orange!