About a year after beginning this blog, I got interested in open-water swimming, and it's been my passion ever since. Here's a list of some swims I've done.
Today I enjoyed a very fun swim in the gulf. It was an overcast day, with a brisk wind out of the southeast, and air temps in the mid-50s. The gulf had been calm in the morning, but was developing some rolling wind-induced waves as I was getting prepared to swim in the early afternoon. I got ready up at the condo, then wore just my suit and parka down to the sand. Once there, I quickly put on my cap and goggles and headed into the surf.
One of the difficult things about swimming here on cold days is that you have to go past the first sandbar to swim at all. So you head into the cold water, brave it up to your thighs to chest, depending on where the tide is, then reemerge into the cold blustery air as you walk over the sandbar (usually less than knee deep) before getting to water that is reliably deep enough to swim in. To top it off, that first water you hit is usually quite cold—I’d estimate mid-50s or so today. Once past the sandbar, though, the water gets deep enough to plunge into and swim, and is also warmer as well (the shallower water is more affected by air temps). So the getting-in portion of my swims, which is drawn-out and tortured enough at Brighton, is probably even worse down here.
But once I was out past the sandbar and stroking along, the water was fairly comfortable—probably low- to mid-60s. I swam east towards the nearest beach flag, a little over a half-mile away. At first, swimming into the wind, I felt like I was being battered by chop, and resigned myself to a difficult trip out. But after about 100 yards I relaxed and began to enjoy the ocean tossing me around, and eventually felt like I was playing with the water rather than swimming against it.
Often I get skittish down here swimming by myself. Today I sometimes felt uneasy, but I did a good job of telling myself to just put my head down and swim, and of minding those instructions. The water was very clear, and I could see the white sandy bottom the whole way. It sloped off to the right, and I alternated between wanting to swim further out to see what was there (nothing but more furrowed sandy bottom, as it turned out), and longing to head closer to shore where I felt more secure. (Further out also meant warmer and less bumpy water, so there were multiple incentives to conquer my skittishness.) I think I zigzagged more than usual out to my turnaround point.
The way back was easy, with waves pushing me from behind, although I had to be careful they didn’t push me too far in. I could see people walking along the beach, and watched the familiar buildings pass by as I headed back to my starting place. I saw no signs of wildlife other than the funnel-shaped outcroppings that mark the entrances to tunnel shrimp burrows. At one point when I had gotten a little close to shore I spotted something odd ahead, and stopped and walked carefully around it. It was a stray buoy, about 20 yards from shore, anchored by something buried underneath the sand—I didn’t dig down to see what. The buoy was bearded with algae, and at first glance I was worried that it was a dead bird floating in the waves. I’m glad it wasn’t.
Soon I was back at my starting point. I floated a bit, and looked around, happy to be surrounded by the green-blue water that was reflecting the grayness of today’s sky. Then, feeling a bit chilled, I headed back up to the condo, where a pot of hot tea and a warm shower awaited.
A couple of hours after my swim I walked the same stretch of beach, and found a single man-of-war washed ashore. I hope he’s not the advance scout for an invasion! I only see them when there’s sustained wind from the south, which there was today. Other wildlife sightings today included a great blue heron that flew in and perched on the beach right in front of the condo this morning. I love watching those ungainly creatures take off and land, and then delicately work their way along the strand..
Tomorrow is supposed to be very windy and stormy—I’m not sure if I’ll get to swim at all. That’s probably just as well, as I have a lot of cooking and prep to do for Christmas dinner. My relatives’ increasing age and frailty means that we’re no longer able to celebrate the holiday at the beach, but I’m proud that they still let me cook for them, even though that means hauling a dinner’s worth of food up to Alabama Tuesday morning. Today I cooked the eggbread for the dressing, and tomorrow’s weather looks perfect for finishing up the rest of Christmas dinner prep. Cue the carols!