ChillSwim 2014 is Here

This weekend ChillSwim Windermere is happening.  The next big event on the UK cold water swimming calendar after PHISH 10 days ago takes place in the beautiful Lake District.

Chill Swim Course 2013

Chill Swim Course 2013

Why’s it called ChillSwim I hear you cry?  Because it’s chilly.  Also the organiser of the event and the ChillSwim company owner is Colin Hill, cold water swimming celebrity.  ChillSwim organise quite a lot of events during the year at various OW venues, but this is arguably the flagship winter event.

There are a number of events, some of which are very short, including the 60 m head-up breaststroke.  I am entered into the ‘Endurance’ event, which is 450 m, 15 lengths of the 30 m pontoon-to-pontoon course.  They make you do a witnessed qualifier for this event of > 900 m in less than 6C water.  This seemed like a bit of an overkill to me, given the event is only 450 m but hey ho – who are we to argue?  Luckily I did more than that up and down the Nene a month or so ago so all is well.

There’s also a 1 km event introduced after the initial call for participants, which will take place on the Sunday, in a more open course on the lake rather than the closed pontoon course.  I kinda wish I was doing that one now.  I wonder if it is too late…….

There’s a huge participation this year, 580 entrants across all events.  I can’t wait to revisit Windermere, which I swam the length of in August at 18C.  This time it will be between 5 and 6C, with snow in the forecast.

Oh Crikey – The Forms Have Arrived

Today the forms arrived in my inbox from Kevin Murphy, Honorary Secretary of the Channel Swimming and Piloting Federation (CSPF).  This means several things:

(1) I have some forms to fill in and send back to the CSPF, along with some money.

(2) I need to get a medical – booked for a few weeks time – £95 – I am in the wrong game clearly!

(3) I need to plan my 6 hour qualifier.  The CSPF rules stipulate that you need to have completed a 6 hour open water swim under Channel Rules in water at 16C or less.  I would hope to have done quite a few of these before the big day, hopefully including some back-to-backs, but part of me would like to get it out of the way early (San Diego, Portugal?)

(4) I really AM swimming the channel.  I am one of those people who tends not to worry too much about stuff ahead of time.  This is a very helpful trait in that I don’t really get nervous about stuff, at least not until the last minute.  It also means that I do have a tendency to be blase about stuff, avoid planning, leave things rather late.  Concrete signs like filling in forms and having medicals start to make things a little more real.  It is now this year – only 6 months of actual training left!

I was also interviewed by the local paper yesterday, who are going to run a story on my crossing.


Something PHISHy is Going on in North London

The weather in the UK has been unusually mild for the time of year.  Most people are happy to read such a sentence, but not the cold water enthusiasts that gather at Parliament Hill Lido yesterday.

Could Have Been MUCH Colder!

Could Have Been MUCH Colder!

Everyone was in a great mood though for PHISH (Parliament Hill Icy Swim Hootenany), the brainchild of John Donald, North London cold swimming celebrity.  He did a great job of getting the word out to the winter swimming community, and organising a great bunch of volunteers to officiate and support the swimmers.

There were 4 events on the day, 122 m (2 lengths), 244 m (4 lengths – obviously), a relay (4 x 1 length), and the Endurance event (6 circuits of the pool – somewhere around 1 km).  Helen and I were both entered in the 244 m event, for which there were 10 heats.  There were some seriously fast swimmers around (including Helen who qualified for the final with the second fastest time – 3:13).  I unexpectedly snuck into the 8th qualifying spot for the final with a qualifying time of 3:32 (I think).

All above photos courtesy of Mr Tom Reed!

Before the final came our relay.  Our team comprised me in the lead off position, Julie, Helen L, and Helen G.  We swam valiantly, but came in last in our heat.  It was fun though!

Soon after the relay came the final of the 244 m event.  The competitors lined up in order of their qualifying times across the pool, me as the slowest qualifier.  I changed my tactics for the final, taking it out a little harder from the beginning, and breathing only to my left from the beginning.  I was feeling really at home in the water.  Strange how the third time getting in to water that would make most people gasp it felt totally natural, and not shocking in any way.  The human body is a wonderful thing.

I also concentrated on actually doing some kicking right from the start as well.  Normally my legs dangle around behind me, occasionally performing a desultory flick; in the first heat I had only turned them on down the last length.  This time, my kick, and the increased oxygen from breathing every stroke propelled me faster, and I gave it my all.  I am still unsure what my actual time was, but Bojan and Helen said I came in 4th which I was pleased and surprised to hear.

Better still, Helen came in second, and gained a podium spot.  Well done Helen!

The last event of the day was the endurance.  Swimmers went off in six (I think) waves, with the speed of swimmers increasing nominally as each wave went in.  All swimmers entered at one of the corners in the shallow end, and swam six circuits of the pool, with buoys at each corner.  1 km at 7C is not ice mile territory by any means, but is definitely not something to be taken lightly, and needs some serious preparation.  Everyone did amazingly well, with one man doing butterfly all the way (sorry I don’t know his name, but it wasn’t Sylvain Estadieu, the first male to swim the channel butterfly last year).  One by one the swimmers came out, ranging from completely untroubled to being in a bit of a state (you know who you are!).

There was a warm tent for getting changed in, and an even a warm portable sauna, some of the many nice touches to this lovely wintertime event.  Thanks to the organisers and volunteers.   Well done to everyone who got wet!!  See you next year I hope.

Only one cold event left in my season – Chillswim in Windermere in 2 weeks time.

Winter Training – Roughing It In Egypt

It’s great jumping in the rivers of East Anglia from time to time; feeling the burn of the chill waters; sticking your head down and swimming; ignoring the ice-cream headache till it goes away; feeling your various extremities blink out of life one by one; feeling the warmth getting sucked out of you; trying to maintain swimming form and mental composure.

It’s also great to go to Egypt, in a dismal English January, and swim in the crystal clear, balmy waters of the Red Sea, where none of the above apply.

Helen and I booked ourselves on a 5 night break to the Egyptian resort of Sharm-el-Sheikh to get some OW winter training on board.  Helen had even more reason than me, as she is swimming Rottnest Island in February, a 20 km ocean race from Perth to Rottnest in Western Australia.  The water will be pretty warm in Perth, so getting some warm water training was doubly useful for her.

The first couple of days were disappointingly windy.  A brisk wind powered its way down the Gulf of Aqaba, creating some pretty choppy conditions, especially out past the reef break.  We contented ourselves with the odd mile in the sheltered water, and a little pool swimming, while enjoying the great food at the all inclusive resort we had chosen.

On the third day, conditions were much improved.  We swam out past the break and were greeted with all the glory of the Nabq reef.  The drop off was stunning.  Visibility was officially ‘epic’, at least 20 m.  The coral and fish were beautiful, some of the best I have seen, and I have dived on the Gt Barrier Reef.  We managed a nice swim that day, 50 minutes up the coast with the current, then an hour and a quarter back against it.   While I have done some long swims in pool, and a decent 6 hours in Windermere last August, this swim, at a little over 2 hours equaled my longest sea swim ever, which was the last time I swam in La Jolla Cove with Dan Simonelli.  Slightly worrying given I am swimming the channel later this year!

The next day we did less swimming again.  The conditions were still great, but we had booked ourselves a day trip from Sharm out to some local dive sites.  Most people holiday making on the Red Sea are not swimmers.  Many are divers, and some are casual snorkellers.  We booked ourselves on a boat taking people snorkelling.  There were three swim stops on the schedule for the day.  The Egyptians were casual enough with their Health and Safety to let us swim off up the coast of Tiran Island while they took the group snorkelling, arranging to pick us up on the way up to the next stop.  There was some good coral and some pretty fish, though there were a couple of not so great points about this site: the first was that there were quite a lot of bits of plastic and debris floating in the water.  The second was not a biggie, but there were quite a lot of jellyfish.  I have no idea what sort they were, but they were quite small, almost transparent, and had a nasty habit of finding themselves down Helen’s swimsuit.  They weren’t stinging though.

The second stop was in the middle of the Gulf of Aqaba, 1/2 way between Tiran Island and Nabq, on a mid-channel reef.  Again, we went off swimming round the reef while everyone else snorkelled, and had some time to take videos as well (see links).  The last stop was at a nice cove between Sharm and Nabq, with some very pretty coral formations.  We swam to and fro in the cove a couple of times, but made a sharp exit when the jellyfish started to grow pretty tiresome.  They were slightly bigger at this location and had a mild but still not pleasant sting.

On the last day we were due to be picked up at 2.30 to go back to the airport, so decided to make the most of being in Egypt, and get a decent length swim in.  After a hearty breakfast we hit the reef by the hotel beach, and swam north a couple miles.  Distance was measured by the jetties that jut out from the various hotels and served as landmarks.  The current was decent again, s it only took us about 40 minutes to cover that distance, and more like 1 h 30 to get back.  The good news was that you could tailor how much current you wanted to swim with/against, by positioning yourself out from, or over the drop off.  The current got faster the further you were away from the drop.  This meant that Helen and I could easily maintain the same pace (she is roughly 10% faster than me).

For our 2 hour feed we had left some maxim made up on the beach with our towels and some Cadbury fudge bars Helen had packed from the UK.  We stopped for a minute or so I guess, before getting back in, and swimming north again, this time taking more maxim in a bottle down the back of my jammers, and more fudge bars stuffed down the front of Helen’s, ready for our elevenses stop.

The swim finished after about 4 h 7 minutes, and felt great.  I can barely imagine anything that could be much more pleasant than essentially spending 4 hours swimming in an enormous tropical fish tank, and can heartily recommend this venue  for anyone wanting a bit of winter swim training.

Info for People Planning a Swimming Trip to the Red Sea

When I was planning this trip with Helen, I looked quite a lot for information on swimming in the Red Sea.  There was precious little out there, so here are a few tips.

  • Sharm-el-Sheikh is a 5 hour flight from London
  • You do not need a visa if you have a short stay, and you are not leaving the area
  • There are MANY hotels – we stayed at the Sea Garden and it was excellent
  • Nearly all hotels are all inclusive – all food and drink is included in one (low) price
  • If you stay at the Sea Garden, you can swim North for quite a few miles along a straight reef – it’s great!
  • In the winter, you can bank on the air temperature being in the low to mid 20’s C
  • The sea will be in the mid 20’s C too!!

PHISH Preview

PHISH is on Saturday.  Otherwise known as Parliament Hill Icy Swimming Hootenany.  The event, organised by John Donald comprises a series of races of 2 lengths (122 m), 4 lengths (244 m), a 4 person relay event, and an endurance event.  The endurance event sounded quite challenging and of unspecified distance, which will depend on how much above 0C the water is.  I chickened out and went for the 244 m event.

PHISH_BannerThe venue is the same unheated lido that hosted the OSS December dip, and will probably be at a similar temperature, maybe around 5c.  This, while moderately nippy, shouldn’t be too much of a challenge for the 244 m distance.

In addition to the solo race, I am entered with Helen G, Helen H and Julie in a relay race.  Our team is cunningly titled ‘Chillin’ wi mi biatches’.  Do you see what we did there?

Many of the great and the good of winter swimming will be there.

Look out for a match report soon!!

Winter Swimming – 3 Rivers in one Day

There is a rich tradition of festive dips around the UK, with short sea swims on Boxing Day and New Years Day being particular favourites.  While I didn’t get to swim on either of those days, I did have a lovely day out on the 29th with the lovely Helen Gibbs, and a good number of other cold water swimming people.

First stop of the day was Coneygeare on the River Great Ouse.  I had swum here a couple of times before with Helen and the River Swimming Gang, but this was to be my coolest dip yet in the ROD (River of Death).  Most of the rest of the gang have swum through previous winters while this is my first, so new personal lows are being tested quite regularly.  It was COLD when we arrived at 9 AM, and boy was I not feeling it.  The air temperature had struggled its way to around 2C , and a sharp frost remained on the ground.  Furthermore, the river was in spate after recent heavy rains, so the usual entry point adjacent to the car park was not possible.  Instead, a short walk up the riverside path led to an upstream entry point.  This was to be a fast, cold, downstream rush of a swim, pushing over to the river bank past the bicycle bridge, before pulling oneself out onto the bank before the current whipped you away downstream.

This was cold, but wildly exhilirating.  While we were probably only in a few minutes, it was VERY cold on the extremities as we got out and got dressed.  Every degree below 7C is hard-earned and not to be approached lightly.  Also to be considered is the sum of the air temperature and water temperature.  Those with previous experience of swimming through the winter will tell you that AIR + WATER < 10C will feel cold.  The ROD was at an invigorating 4.6 C.  The air was around 2 C.  2 + 4.6 = 6.6 C.  A 20 minute swim would have been challenging on that day.

As is customary, swimmers had breakfast at Ambiance (sic) our reward!  Unusually there was no shivering to speak of, due to the short duration of the swim.  The hot food and cups of tea felt great though!

Purveyor of Fine Fry-Ups

Purveyor of Fine Fry-Ups

The second river of the day was the Cam.  It’s odd, but the second swim of the day is never such a shock to the system, as the mind and body appear ‘used’ to the water, despite maybe a couple of hours elapsing.  This day was no exception.  The Cam was modestly warmer (4.7 C) than the Ouse earlier, but felt warmer.  The customary for the time of year swim up to Deadman’s corner and back felt great, taking only 7 minutes or so.  Some nice chat afterwards, as the hardcore group of me, Helen Gibbs, Helen Liddle and Tom Reed were joined by Sarah Tunnicliffe (EC, 2013), Phil Hodges and his daughter Poppy.  Maybe others too – getting old – memory failing…….

The third swim of the day was back to the Nene at Tansor, and was an absolute treat.  This was to be the first time swimming the Nene from the RMEP.  The RMEP (Reed Martin entry point, eponymously named after pioneers Tom Reed and Dan Martin – fittingly Dan was back from Saudi Arabia to try it out) is about 1/2 a mile upstream from the boat club at Tansor.  It involves climbing down the side of a small road bridge, then launching yourself into a fast flowing mill race. which sends you away at high speed with a bit of an undertow, before popping you up just downstream.  I admit I was slightly worried about this part of the day.  I wasn’t worried about the 1/2 mile in icy water down to the exit point, as there was a healthy flow helping us out.  I was concerned more about the presence in the same thrilling jump of 4.9 C temperatures, racing water, and an undertow.  There something about that word undertow that gives me the heebeegeebees.

Needless to say, all was well.  It sure was fun, and it sure was fast, and somehow the cold failed to register.  I don’t have any photos taken on the day, but this was put up on Facebook by Dan Martin from a day or so earlier, and gives you the general gist.  I didn’t dive by the way, I bombed, which seemed much more sensible at the time…..  In the photo that is Dan ‘committed’, and Phil Hodges praying for his safety, or something.

This Appears Like a Silly Thing To Do, and Probably Is

This Appears Like a Silly Thing To Do, and Probably Is

All in all, a fab day out on the rivers with some lovely people.  Like the Famous 5, Helen and I returned home, tired but happy, and around to fight another day!

Swimming Hattage

I’ve been picking up quite a few new hats over the last year.  One of my favourites I got from Dan Simonelli in San Diego.

La Jolla Cove Swim Club

La Jolla Cove Swim Club

The Christmas period was a complete bonanza though….

My boys gave me a Wales hat (despite sounding like a BBC newsreader I am a proud Welshman); SuperHelen gave me a CSPF hat (I will be swimming the Channel with Chris Osmond, who is affiliated with the Channel Swimming and Piloting Federation, the CSPF).  Soon after Christmas I also got my OWUGSSS hat.  One of the Ss stands for Secret, so I shan’t dwell on that one…..


Happy days with new hats!