To wetsuit or not to wetsuit

Malaig waiting for the train
Malaig waiting for the train

I have taken great delight in jumping in water from various heights in all my 43yrs. But swimming for fun never really fired my passions. Maybe it was Redbull’s fault it, it had to be full on or not at all. Waves over my head surfing in Cornwall, surfing in Point Noir, Congo, Africa with a really bad hangover, scuba diving at the Great Barrier Reef, cage diving with sharks in South Africa and jumping off the Blue banks on the river Teith outside Stirling. I only feared for my life once and that was swimming in Loch Lubnaig.

I have removed sugar from my diet, maybe if I was still on Redbull then swimming would have passed me by. I had been trying to find new ways of keeping slim and on a second reading of Tim Ferris’s book The 4 hour Body the chapter on swimming grabbed my attention. Much to my wife’s amusement, the black speedos which were bought in France a few years before, (the French have rules of no board shorts in campsite swimming pools, think  it’s something to do with chlorine and cyclists shorts.) The French are mad, but you can’t argue with their onion soup or wine or cheese or cider or bread or pate or confit duck…….mmm I think this might be my next post – “Getting fat close to Bordeaux”.

Anyway, the black speedos were dusted down and the Total Immersion swimming book and videos were digested. My pool session evolved from doing 1 pool length front crawl & 1 breast stroke followed by 3 bombs, 4 dives, 1 splash fight and back to the showers to 40 continuous lengths front crawl. I went to pool when the weather did not allow for mountain biking or running. It was something to keep fit not wake up every morning wondering how and where can I fit a swim today type of activity. A few years pass and during a walk into wilderness of Knoydart

Camping from tent on Knoydart
View from tent on Knoydart

I was jumping into rivers, from piers and swimming from the beach. I was basically taking every opportunity to get wet. It wasn’t the swimming but the cold sensation and then the shivers, the shakes and uncontrollable hands. I got a real buzz from what transforms steadily into a tranquil pond effect on your soul. I craved it. After Knoydart getting cold with uncontrollable hands completely took over my life. The kids school holidays consisted of picnics and camping where we could go swimming round Scotland. Working in Shetland I managed a few small swims around Lerwick and managed to have a nervous swim with seals at Banna Minn Bay.

Camping on Mull
Camping on Mull
Banna Minn Bay Shetland
Banna Minn Bay Shetland

Swimming was great fun and I was fearless, constantly pushing how far I could swim and not really considering the consequences, but Loch Lubnaig really brought home safe swimming rules and how easily it went wrong.

From East to West it is only 300m and is easily swam. The water temperatures were not considered. This particular day, I rocked up to north car park (it has a great wee shop and toilets now and the place is kept rather clean unlike a few years ago, when it was similar to every small flat campable area beside a loch in Breadalbane, where the weekenders turn up, tune out of normal day life,  set everything on fire and leave their shit behind and will be the cause of the disintegration of the Scottish right to roam.) Anyway, I digress, again….. black speedos were on showing off my glorious Shetland tan. The only way I could look more of a mad Scotsman for the tourists and day trippers parked up was if my trunks were tartan, I had a pet hairy cow, & there was a piper blasting old Scottish tunes as I tried not to show pain from standing on the sharp stones entering the shoreside.

loch Lubnaig -its not that far
loch Lubnaig -across and back in time for tea

The swim from East to West was easy, unremarkable, even enjoyable but on turning around to swim back I was faced with the English channel. The distance had somehow transmognified into a chasm, my head collapsed, my breathing increased and to try to cool the sweat on my forehead my arms started flailing about like those big turbines on the hillside. I was not going to make it. This was bad. I was gasping for breath. Aawwh no no no no. This was not how I planned for my 15 minutes of fame to make the Daily Record – “Loch Tragedy” – would translate to – “Dafty drowns on lovely September afternoon”. That old cliché of your life flashing in front of eyes, too much to live for stuff went on and somehow in the panic and bedlam I kicked onto my back and took a breath, then a deeper one until the tunnel vision widened and I started laughing which started me nearly choking again. My new found intelligence in the face of adversity still mistifies me. I had a nick name Biscuit once when I went to crumbs under stress.

A week later and swimming not far from the shore side, a chance conversation in the Plockton Inn with a bloke from Falkirk convinced me, actually it more convinced my wife, that I required a wetsuit for buoyancy and safe swimming. My only argument against this was I like being cold, but this was ignored by all.

A few weeks later, I was bobbing about in my new wetsuit close to the wee islands on Loch Chon in mid autumn with the Loch side trees turning more shades of red than an auburn haired girl, with a ruby ring and pastel rouge nail polish, painting a scarlet rusty car with a large Coca Cola sign in back ground….(you get the picture….). The water temperature was close to 9 degrees so was quite comfortable with no need for boots or gloves. The sky was grey overcast, the leaves on the trees were still there was not a breath of wind. I remember the scene vividly floating with my chin in the water and my mouth above. My arms and legs resembled the tree limbs by staying stationary. I was marveling at the perfect buoyancy of the my new wet suit. It was like the time we visited one of my friends in hospital and we spent an hour adjusting the neutral buoyancy of helium balloons to float in circles round her bed. It started raining large drops like small pebbles falling straight down, they were bouncing higher than my goggles, the soft put popping noises like a watery glockenspiel with expanding circles of ripples all combined to feel like an aboriginal blessing. (I stole this phrase from really nice guy we met in the Olgas, I offered the wrong couple the spare bed that night and would like to apologise to him.)

20150324_095652 I still want to push my limits, find out how far and how cold I can get, but as the temperatures increase I will take off my boots and glove but I think I will keep my wet suit on when swimming solo which is 98% of the time. I would take the “aboriginal blessing rubber suit bloke” to “natural panic drowning feeling of trunk boy” everyday. It might be because I have to much to lose or I’m just to old or I really do enjoy my life so why fling away it for uncontrollable hands.

3 thoughts on “To wetsuit or not to wetsuit

    1. Just spent some time in Shetland.
      Got a few swims in trunks and was constantly aware of my mortality but with each swim I got a wee bit further out. Today I swam 4.2km in Loch Lubnaig furthest I have swam. I was relaxed and suitably cold after an hour and 1/2. Never tried shorty but will consider it
      Many thanks


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