With Jen and I deciding to swim through the winter without wetsuits, I have been on a constant search for information about cold water adaptation and hypothermia. Luckily I found The Lone Swimmer blog months ago, and have been reading it religiously ever since. It has tons of information about swimming in cold water and open water swimming in general.
Our plan is to try and extend our time in the water by a minute or two each week, eventually getting to the point where we can actually concentrate on a workout and not just focus all of our attention on our bodies and how they are reacting. We both know this may take some time and are willing to take it slow, keeping safety and health foremost on our minds.
Last Saturday afternoon I swam out to the tip of the islet at Whytecliff and then parallel along the shoreline until I reached 29 minutes, about 4 minutes longer than the previous Saturday. The water temperature was between 12 and 13 degrees C, as compared to 14 degrees C the week before. Well, at least that is according to scuba divers who exited the water around the same time I did.
On Sunday I finally purchased a GPS watch so I could time my swims and track my distance, as well as a small thermometer to clip to my bathing suit for more consistent temperature readings. Consistently logging time, distance, and water temperature should give me lots of valuable information.
This experience has been very rewarding so far and at the same time, intensely personal. I feel shy when people ask me why I want to swim without a wetsuit. The first thing that springs to mind is that I don't like having something between me and the ocean, I want to feel the flow of the water on my arms and legs. It seems a much more organic way of being in the water to me.
I remember that after scuba diving for years I was amazed at how "right" it felt to ditch the tanks and dive into the green on just one breath. Swimming without a wetsuit just feels "right" to me in the same way.
It's humbling, this literal and psychological stripping down. It is letting go of the illusion of safety or control that gear and wetsuits give, and accepting that when you are in the water, you're just one of many creatures in this vast pool of life. No more or less important. The stark and simple reality of exposure forces my focus to shrink to just one single minute at a time. Regular thoughts of bills and work and relationships disappear and I only have room for the immediate: the cold sliding over my skin, my body moving through the water, the overcast sky, subtle changes in the texture of the ocean's surface. It reminds me of why I was drawn to the ocean in the first place.
I don't know where this is all leading. I can't imagine doing all my races without a wetsuit. Certainly some, like the Bay Challenge, won't allow it. And others that I have been thinking about are just too daunting for me to attempt without the safety blanket of a wetsuit. But I would like to try at least some in a bathing suit. I know my times will suffer, but it would just be so much fun.