The Swift Swimmer is my 86 year old mum Eileen, who has loved swimming in the sea from childhood. Last summer she swam in the sea regularly, from our summer “bathing hut” – our tiny vintage caravan, parked by the beach. In September she was struck down by heart problems which resulted in 4 months of inactivity and ill health. She ended up being pushed around the house in a wheelchair, breathless and anxious. Happily she’s now on the mend and determined to get fit for the summer swimming season. With this aim she has started training gently in our local pool where they run a terrific hydrotherapy session, with skilled and attentive staff who are very encouraging and kind. She’s coming on slowly but surely and we’re very proud of her. Well done the Swift sea-going octogenarian Swimmer!
January – the grimmest month for winter swimmers is OVER! Having spent most of the month asleep I was pleased that I still managed to achieve 23 swims out of 31 days. This is the month when willpower really matters and teeth have to be well and truly gritted to get into the water. On the plus side we had some terrific storms swims, culminating in Saturday’s nutty Sound of Jura “sprachle” which involved taking Capt Duggie’s yacht out into the Sound of Jura and throwing ourselves off into 80m of green and white wave topped water. This was a new experience which required much forward planning (by the captain) and an immense quantity of neoprene, warm clothes and (of course) food. Seeing the yacht pitching and rearing up out of the water from close quarters was certainly eye-opening! Having practised getting back into the dingy before setting off, it proved to be slightly more difficult while being bashed by waves and I ended up getting clonked on the head and shoved underwater while righting the dingy (Duggie found this most amusing). I bounced up pretty quickly and we got back on board, had the usual battle with our wetsuits and swiftly moved on to my favourite part: scoffing hearty bacon sandwiches, hot juice and home made gingerbread cake. See a wee video here:
This week we welcomed Mark, a lone swimmer from our village, and here’s his epic account of his initiation into the exploits of the Sound of Jura Swimming Club:
I’d been sea swimming for 3 months – ploughing my lonely way back and forth across the sea loch in front of my house, charting the same course every day across flat, sheltered water between the village septic tank outfall to the east and the few remaining raw sewage pipes entering the bay to the west. It was still exhilarating; compulsive even; but not exactly fun. I’d heard of the crazy wild swimmers from the west side with their multi-person expeditions and brightly coloured hats, but was sure that my way was the best, in my elite club of one, over on the east side.
Then one day after I’d returned from another swim (or jobbie dodging as my family like to call it) I watched “Assault on Frothy Rock”, the video of the wild swimmers’ latest adventure in rough seas and white water out west. The water bore no resemblance to my sea on the east side; it was a wild, turquoise-blue maelstrom. It looked more like surviving than swimming. But the thing that struck me most was that, even over the banging music track, I could hear the constant sound of laughter; manic, joyous laughter. “Well” I thought, “this looks like…….fun!”
One phone call later and Lottie had generously invited me over to join her, Iona & Duggie for another assault on Frothy Rock.
And so a couple of hours later here we all are on Carsaig pier, Duggie and I in our wetsuits, Iona and Lottie elegant in their swimsuits and colourful hats. The wind is a brisk south westerly, with short choppy whitecaps lit by the low winter sun out in the bay, a world away from poo soup over on the east side. Adrenalin is present. And then we’re off, heading straight out west into the waves toward the reef at the entrance to the bay. My brain is in overdrive; breathe in, splutter on a mouthful of sea spray, stroke, breathe out, splutter, stroke, choke. Then after a while I begin to time the breathing with the waves and things calm down a bit. I look around to see Lottie, Iona and Duggie whooping with the exhilaration of it all, lost in a moving landscape of froth and sunshine. A little further out, starting to get the hang of it, Iona shouts and points upwards to the sky. A sea eagle is silhouetted black against the blue, its broad wings holding it above us in the stiff breeze. Perhaps we look like a disaster waiting to happen and it sees a potential meal! But a few seconds later and it’s away north up the coast in search of easier food.
Iona and Lottie began to feel the cold a bit sooner than the wetsuit brigade and after 20 minutes or so turn back to the pier. I follow a way behind Duggie as he continues to Frothy Rock. Once there, we stand on a kelp covered rocky ledge surrounded by calm white water as the waves pound the west side of the rock but leave us untouched. And then the journey back, the waves now urging us on, me wondering how many gallons of sea water it’s possible to swallow and still float.
It all goes in a bit of a blur but back at Duggie & Lottie’s house, over a cup of delicious hot chocolate held in shaking hands, we recount the journey and fix it in our memories. Thanks to you crazy people from the west side, poo soup may be missing a floater from now on.
Photos by Duggie and Lottie; text by Mark Smith (thanks Mark, for a great post!).
Our most exciting and arduous storm swim yet took place a few days ago when we swam out to Frothy Rock, fully wet-suited. I hadn’t realised how tiring it would be to swim in a wetsuit and was pretty tired out by the time I got there. With a full Westerly blowing in and big waves breaking, we were keen to get onto the rock; this proved almost impossible! It took all my energy to swim against the current, but Capt. Duggie advised a sideways approach and I managed it on my sixth attempt. Clinging on like large black limpets, we enjoyed the sensation of being in a car-wash, with lorry loads of water being dumped on top of us as the waves broke relentlessly. Ever resourceful, Capt. Duggie had fashioned a little boat to mount his Go-Pro on, which he towed behind him to get some great video. You can see it here:
Thanks Duggie for the use of the video and to Lottie and Duggie for chumming me on this fun swim!
We’ve been keenly anticipating this “Weather Bomb”, forecast widely for the past few days. Scary looking graphs and diagrams indicated massive waves and terrific squalls of wind. During the night the wind increased to a howling gale and so, mid morning, the hardy group gathered for our Weather Bomb Dip. The Polar Bear was the only un-wet-suited swimmer – full marks to him for bravery. We were lucky to get a superb sunny spell, with white wave tops and spray and deep green water and we spent fully half an hour in a sort of giant washing machine type situation, shrieking and yelling with exhilaration. Capt. Duggie disappeared almost out into the Sound of Jura, and returned only when the rest of us were back at the house, dressed and half way through a giant box of biscuits won by the Polar Bear at the local Co-Op. Just before dusk Iona and Lottie (both on a sugar high) crazily decided to take a second dip, which was dark, dramatic and ever so slightly daring!
Fortified by porridge and an extra hour in bed, and undeterred by the wind (well that was the reason for today’s swim!) or the rain (an unfortunate by-product), Iona, Lottie and Martin met at Danna this morning to enjoy the brisk south westerly wind. It was mid-tide but the springs and the surge from the recent high winds meant that the water was still quite high, and there was a big pile of seaweed further up the jetty, left over from yesterday’s high water.
As we walked down the jetty to check the swell, Lottie in her DryRobe was almost lifted off the ground like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, but just about managed not to be whisked away. As we stood on the jetty we were treated to the sight of a small otter swimming through the waves. Oblivious to our presence, it dived under for another crab and up again, moving effortlessly through the choppy water, and continued past the jetty, just 6 or 8 feet away from us. The perfect inspiration for our own swim.
Off came the coats and hats and in we jumped to the turbulent water. There was a good swell as we swam across to the middle of the bay, massaged by the moving water. Iona went swimming off in search for the otter, while Lottie and Martin admired the dark shapes of Jura. A brief shower while we were in the water enhanced the quality of the surface, and as we swam back round to the shore, we were greeted by Dannach the Dog, powering through the water to join us.
Was it fun? Yes. Was it bouncy? Yes. Was it cold? Only briefly … in fact, the water is still pretty warm … so, we’re already looking forward to the next one! Then it was off to Mid Danna to warm up and replace the burnt-off calories.
Photos courtesy of Ewan and Iona.
Guest post by Martin aka “Danna Dooker”
Our first autumn storm arrived today! Things kicked off early with a “pre-storm swim storm swim” by Lottie and Iona. While having our pre-storm swim cuppa we were able to watch a speedboat break its mooring and head for the beach, where it was intercepted by my intrepid cousin Hans, fully dry-suited, who bravely held the boat’s bow to the wind, while the local farmer whizzed down to the beach on his tractor and the boat was dragged to safety. Whew! The next dramatic event unfolded before our eyes, as, still gobbling coffee and tea, we watched the unbelievably intrepid Captain Duggie stride down the jetty, fully doubly wet-suited, and plunge into the foaming waves. He swam out to his yacht Wild Rose, climbed Tarzan-like up onto the deck and set off into the maelstrom with a handkerchief sized sail up. As he disappeared from sight we shot down to the jetty and, wearing our “bouncy suits” as Lottie comically describes them, jumped shrieking into the breaking waves. Whooping and laughing we played in the waves and surfed ashore, high as kites and feeling as if we’d drunk several glasses of bubbly. There followed a short pause in which we consumed several thousand calories, before it was time for the “actual storm swim” for which we were joined by three keen but possibly slightly nervous chaps. By this time Duggie had sailed his boat 16 miles, swum ashore at Tayvallich and jogged 2 miles home in his wetsuit! He was dispatched to the shower while we headed once again (fully wet-suited this time) into the waves. Despite a tentative start, the lads quickly gained confidence and soon we were having the time of our lives plunging and surfing, yelling and screaming, as the huge waves thundered down on us. Everyone bounced up like corks, with huge beaming smiles – happy lucky swimmers!
Once again a super-exciting swim was suggested by Duggie, who took the Tuesday swimmers out in his beautiful sailing boat into the middle of the Sound of Jura, to race the flood tide round Ruadh Sgeir. This is a dangerous reef with a lighthouse upon it, within sight of Barnhill, the house on Jura made famous by George Orwell, who wrote 1984 while living there.
The expedition was carefully planned by Duggie; the swimmers would head from the boat to the rock and gather there, before swimming close to the shore, rounding the south end where a huge eddy sweeps towards Jura, and shooting with the tide up the west side, scrambling round the north end and battling the current back up to the starting point. Lorna and Rob volunteered to row the safety boat, while I (being a rather feeble swimmer) decided to be the photographer.
The current was tremendous and at first even the strong swimmers really struggled to make headway; often the only way to get round was by grabbing onto rocks and pulling themselves along. After rounding the south end the swimmers had the tide with them and shot along like corks out of a bottle, and in the last stretch, against the tide, the safety boat had to be pushed through a narrow channel (by Duggie of course!).
This swim was a tiny bit scary for some, as the prospect of being swept into the jaws of the notoriously terrifying Gulf of Corryvreckan was indeed a faint possibility! Everyone managed to get round and all agreed it was the highlight of our swimming season. Many thanks to Duggie for planning the trip and taking us all out there.