Come on in, the Eastbourne water’s lovely!
I have never looked good in lycra. It’s like trying to fit 10lbs of King Edward potatoes into a five pound bag so we can safely say I am not a gym bunny.
I did however take up swimming three years ago and joined the throng of early morning swimmers at the Sovereign Centre. The routine of doing several lengths each morning more than set me up for the day and I discovered a passion for the sport that I hadn’t had since I got my Kellogg’s Frosties ASA 100 metres swimming badge back in the 1970s. It improved my stamina, helped me keep fit and did wonders for my mental health.
And then Covid struck, we went into various stages of Lockdown and our lovely community pool shut as the Sovereign Centre was turned into a mass vaccination centre.
I took up walking to replace swimming but then it struck me that living on the coast as we do, we are lucky enough to have our very own ‘pool’ right on our doorstep – the great English Channel.
And so it was that I found myself on a Wednesday morning in March taking my first dip of the year in the sea. Normally such adventures would only ever be undertaken in the balmy summer months when the sea temperature had reached double figures.
But with swimming pools potentially set to remain closed for some time, I decided to take the plunge.
As you would imagine, sea or open water swimming in this climate isn’t as easy as just jumping in the great ocean like you would if you were holidaying in the Mediterranean.
Open water swimming requires some forearmed knowledge and there’s no finer woman to put me through my paces than Dee Harmer, an Eastbourne water specialist, lover of all things water, sea and oceans and known to many as The Fish.
A qualified open water and pool swimming coach, scuba diving instructor, lifesaving coach and underwater photographer, Dee has her own business, Fish2Water, and has been helping people, especially youngsters, capture all the health benefits that come with open water swimming.
“The benefits of cold water swimming are phenomenal,” says Dee, whose mantra is very much for us all to love, respect and know the water.
“It’s not just about being outdoors and at one with nature, it gives you a massive sense of personal achievement, helps you sleep better, increases your metabolism and boosts your immune system and circulatory system. It also helps increase your positive mood.”
Like I said, sea swimming is not for the uninitiated. Dee recommends wearing a wetsuit as it gives you an extra layer of warmth in the sea along with bootees, gloves, a swimming hat and a brightly coloured swim buoy that you wear around your waist.
I have invested in a wetsuit and am fortunate to have another essential bit of kit – a dryrobe, a United Kingdom-based clothing brand designed to keep athletes and amateur sportspeople warm when regularly exposed to the elements. It was originally aimed at surfers, but has since branched out to be used by many sport and extreme sports athletes. And it’s worn by Team GB athletes so if it’s good enough for them, it’s certainly good enough for me.
If, like me, you have memories of wrestling with your swimming costume under a towel, the dryrobe is going to be your best pal as it’s designed to let you get your clothes on and off anywhere – it’s large and loose enough to pull your arms inside and get changed.
On the day of our swim Dee estimated the sea was about eight degrees and she was right.
That said, it was nowhere near as cold as I was expecting and although initially it takes your breath away, it felt wonderful to be back fully immersed in water.
We only did a few minutes swimming between the groynes mainly to get me customised to the cold water but there are a handful of hardy souls who are in the sea every day with many swimming between the Wish Tower and the Pier and beyond.
There is also the Eastbourne Sea Swimmers group whose members go in every day in the sea opposite the Langham Hotel.
Unless you’re a strong swimmer, the advice is to always try and swim with somebody or if you are going in on your own let someone know where you are.
And obviously if you come a cropper – and you have a mobile phone in a waterproof case – dial 999 and ask for the Coastguard.
I was in very safe hands with Dee, who has a natural affinity with the sea that is plain to see.
But don’t take my word for it. Dee has just launched Fish 2 Water Sunday morning group swims aimed at novice/completely new swimmers.
You can find out more by visiting www.f2w.co.uk, follow her on Facebook Fish2Water
Come on in, the water’s lovely.