Chalkwell Redcaps

Chalkwell Redcaps

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Why swim in the sea - By Ben Jaques

One reason I am doing the Southend to Kent to Southend swim is that I love swimming in the sea. Hopefully the challenge will encourage others to give sea swimming a try, maybe not quite so far but at least get in and have a splash about and take advantage of the great resource that defines Southend’s south and east boundary.
People often seem a little wary of sea swimming preferring to restrict themselves to the local pool. There is nothing wrong with pool swimming (I do it most mornings) but if that is the only place you swim you are missing out on some fantastic experiences.
The sea can provide an entire range of different conditions and opportunities. On a calm day it maybe mill pond flat tempting you to float lazily and simply take in the sights, sounds and smells. Another day it may show you its angry side, foaming white water from the crashing waves, great fun to be thrown about by and makes you appreciate its power (you vs the sea - I wonder who will win). And there is everything in between. One thing I particularly enjoy is being in the water whilst it is raining (maybe not hailing as happened one day last summer, that hurt). It feels somewhat illicit, playing in the rain enjoying the pitter patter of the drops on your swim cap and the little splashes on the surface rather than trying to rush through it to find the dry.
The sea does not have lane ropes so you are free to swim where you feel like going and do as you please (keeping an eye out for other water users naturally). One day you may indulge in that lazy float whilst chatting with friends where as on another have a hard, long swim against the tide with the wave and wind fighting you too challenging yourself to go a little faster/further. The choice is yours.
You may have noticed that it is currently winter but that does not have to stop you going in the sea. The water will be cold (measured at below 2°C at a recent visit) but that brings its own joy (honest). Plunging yourself in the icy water is immensely invigorating as your body adjusts to cope. You will not be in long and you may never do it again but do give it a try at least once.

Some people think the sea off of Southend-on-Sea is dirty (north side of the Thames Estuary for those who do not know where Southend is). In the past this would have been true but in recent years the Thames has become far, far cleaner. From what was considered a “dead” river not so long ago, the Thames now supports fish populations that had been missing for over a century and oysters sit on the mud flats (happy to cut the bare feet of the unwary as they walk and play on the mud). And there be seals, but more on them in another post. The water will never be crystal clear as being an estuary there will always be sediment. On a personal level I have never been ill after I have swum in the sea here (and I swim in it a fair amount) which is, sadly, not something I can say about the sea in other parts of the UK.
The estuary is tidal (with the water buggering off about every 12 hours leaving the mud flats) which means that there are currents to be aware of. If you swim close to high tide (you can find the tide times on the BBC or in the local paper) the current is not too strong and generally takes you along the shore rather than out to sea. If you stay close to shore although you will quickly be out your depth you will easily be able to get back to shore. Always do swim within your ability.

Give sea swimming a try, you may find you rather enjoy it.

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