It’s finally started to warm up round here. Whilst the weather’s been a bit grotty here this week, the lovely hot weather we had last week combined with longer days and shorter, milder nights has lifted our local water temperatures. It topped out at 13C last week. We’re still doing the odd skins dip but since the start of April we’ve been donning our wetsuits again to try and get a bit more distance in.
With our summer solstice challenge only 8 weeks away we need to make sure we can transfer our dull, but productive winter in the pool to open water. That means we need to make friends with our floaty rubber suits again! As much as we’d love to be able to swim for hours in just our cozzies in 10C water it’s just not possible. We’ve had to get used to the restrictive nature of a wetsuit again but it’s been lovely to get in for some longer swims. Proper, heads in, stretching out front crawl. We’ve comfortably got back up to 1.5km again and can’t wait to get our distance up further.
Today however, was a reminder to never get complacent about the cold. We’ve discovered a new, top secret swimming spot. It’s remote, there’s no sailing club to dodge and very few onlookers. We went in at the weekend and loved it so we went again this morning. It’s slightly higher in the hills than our usual haunts so it’s a bit colder. It’s rained here all week as well which always drags the temperatures back down again. The air temperature was only 6C this morning too.
Because neither of us had other plans today we’d agreed to try a longer swim, 2km, maybe more. So, togged up in our wetsuits off we went. Basically a there and back of our new spot. We could tell it was nippy when we got in but it didn’t feel any colder than the weekend and our hands and feet weren’t instantly painful – always a good sign. My hands started to lose a bit of feeling but not to the point that it was drastically affecting my swim. We’d stopped about three quarters of the way down to check we were both OK. We agreed we were a bit nippy but would be fine to do the full length before we turned back.
I’d stopped a few times on the way there to enjoy the view and check The Short One was OK. I was cold on the way back, so aside from a quick glance to make sure The Short One was still swimming, I just headed straight back. I knew she was lagging behind a bit but not long before the get out I looked back and she was breaststroking. Now, The Short One never breaststrokes. She’s a head in, let’s get this done kind of girl whereas I’ll often stop for a nosey around. Uh oh, there’s something wrong I thought!
I met her in the middle and sure enough she was very cold. Not shivery, but she could tell the cold had crept in from her extremities to her core. Quick as we could, I swam slightly ahead, got out, grabbed her dry robe in readiness for her getting out. Sure enough by the time she got to shore she was struggling to stand upright and speak. I knew she wasn’t in a delirious state of hypothermia, it’s really common for your face to go numb and to get dizzy when you go from lying down in the water to suddenly having to stand up on dry land and it’s always exacerbated by the cold. By the time we got back to the car she was shivering violently. A quick change, pile on all the blankets and clothing I had in the car, heating on full blast we headed off home. Her teeth chattered for the full 15 minute drive back.
Her state improved on the drive home and she was back to her usual chatty self by the time we got back. But, by her own admission that’s the coldest she’s been after a swim and certainly the coldest she’s ever been during a swim. Apparently the dizziness and disorientation had kicked in whilst she was in the water which is why she’d breastroked for a bit, to get her bearings back.
The Short One’s started wearing a sleeveless wetsuit this year in an attempt to alleviate shoulder problems. It’s working but obviously there’s slightly less warmth. Combined with today’s low air temperature that lack of extra coverage didn’t work in her favour. On every arm stroke her arms got colder and colder until the cold seeped into her core and started affecting more than just her arms ability to move around. We realise now that we should have called it when we’d stopped at the three quarter mark rather than pushing on to the end. That extra 10 minutes in the water had tipped her over the edge onto the verge of hypothermia.
So, good lessons learned today. I’d read it before but it drilled it home to me today, always get out before you are properly cold. As soon as you feel the cold creeping further in than your hands and feet, as soon as your arms start to lose even a little bit of function, make the call to head back. Depending on how far you have to swim back, make that call even sooner. I suppose it’s getting to know your own body and working out what it can deal with but if there is any doubt in your mind, don’t risk it. Cold water can be incredibly dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing and you’re not used to it.
Once we got back I headed into the shower with my bowl of soup. And I thought we were beyond that!
P.S. I should add The Short One is fine, she fully warmed up after a shower and some hot food.