Hoof marks on the beach

I got out my bed at 9am phoned my back to back asked what was happening – we were not sailing until the evening- ya dancer.  My 43rd birthday. I headed for the peer I swam at the previous week, a 5km cycle. Low tide, over 3 metres meant peer was sticking out the sand.  I cycled round the headland past the ferry terminal and found an a magic Norwegian cove in the Bearing sea.

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Writing, equipment maintenance/failure reports,  job risk analysis, other safety documentation, personnel appraisals and completing logs of events, are a few of the writing tasks required on a daily basis. Restricting personnel feeling with safety and technical jargon. Writing has never been for pleasure until recently. When my swimming obsession began I started posting my swims on a facebook page, even though I had not met any of the members. I hoped they found my swimming adventures interesting, my friends must have be growing weary.  Growing up with a younger, perfect, princess sister and older academic, athletic brother with the ability to use vocabulary for egress and access to any situation, I was destined for attention whoredom. For some reason swimming feels different it is not a case of, look at me, look at me. I don’t know if it is blowing smoke up my own arse but it does not feel like showing off, more look what you can do, look what you can see. Writing about swimming helps when stuck on a vessel surrounded by water with no prospect of a quick dip to relieve the days pressures. My swimming has developed, the prime objective is still to get cold. Physically I became curious, exploring distances, speeds and technic. Mentality I enjoyed the constant battle with fears and the prospect of drifting off into a Zen like state. As my swimming ability and journey progressed I felt it deserved more than a thermometer in a loch, photo post on facebook.

Tapping away on my phone describing the battle’s of getting cold hands started six months ago using the WordPress application. Recently it has been suggested it would be easier with Mac book, super thin, super light, super expensive but I could not pull one out my pocket and capture an idea during five minutes of downtime. I wish I could blame the small screen for grammar and spelling mistakes, granted it’s not easy but I should have paid more attention in school.

I managed eight swims close to Hammerfest none of them being more than a few hundred meters. For some reason without my wetsuit when the waters cold I can not perform the front crawl for long. My head gets cold, I stop and breast stroke for a while, maybe it’s just my rubbish body position in the water and it’s to much effort. At home wearing a wetsuit, its easier, less effort it nearly feels like cheating. 12 Hour Shifts offshore don’t allow for hour long soaks, a quick 10-20 minutes is sufficient. Allowing time to heat up before the morning debrief meeting or heading straight to bed.

My first couple swims in Artic water were weird, unlike any water I have swam in, it was cold but not bitter, the water is clear like Shetland, not like the peaty murky lochs of Trossach’s. But it was thick, more viscous, like swimming through a gel. I had noticed it the first swim, but time restraints had not let me relax and fully immerse myself with a full sensory uptake. The water was full of jelly fish but not like the giant bright red monsters or the wafting transparent light blue centered jelly fish I experienced in Haughensund. These were similar to the transparent sealife seen in the deep waters round the world with the ROV used for work. These translucent things of wonder were on the surface not a few hundred metres below. They glide in the water, similar to transparent leaves falling from branches of an underwater forest. After my birthday swim I noticed a difference. It wasn’t that I could swim in bright day light at midnight or the fact when walking along the pavement reindeer meander across the road in front of you. I was describing my birthday swim to a work colleague,  showing him images of the small cove, the porcupine sea urchins, that covered the rocks and sandy seabed. When he asked about the temperature. I said it was really cold. His reply – what do you expect, it’s the Artic Circle. Local bears are called Polar bears not tropical Bears. I had swam in the sea a couple of times and in the lake just up from the the town Sentrum or centre.( That was another early morning mission.

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I cycled up the hill from Polar base then free wheeled down into the Hammerfest. Just past the town centre there was a 90 degree corner, up a steep short hill heading south. I cycled the full length of the lake and stopped in the camp site. A few hundred metre swim in the greyish blue clearish water that ran down the hill from the telecommunications tower.

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The water removed your breath but did not freeze you to the core) The water  would have been below ten degrees about eight degrees I’m guessing. But the water on my birthday swim was really cold alot colder than any water I had been in, up at the top of the world. We were looking at the photos when I noticed the seaweed. At low tide there was about 1 metre of seaweed visible then below was bare rock, there was no seaweed, was the water too cold at this depth for plant growth. The water was not voluminous,  it was not like looking through jelly it was clear you could see the bottom over a few metres water depth. It got us thinking may be during high tide there was a thermalcline  where the warmer water at hight tide sits on the  top of the colder permanent water of low tide. If only I had my thermometer and paid attention in the marine modules at University.

I was showing photos to locals working on the vessel during the intrem mobilisation of the small beach I cycled to on the North East of the Island. They mentioned that over the hill there was a much bigger beach. We sailed later to the field, away from my chance to discover the bigger beach.
The next port call was only short and allowed for myself and two ROV lads the same dude from OZ that accompanied me on my first swim in Hammerfest and a dude from Louisana in the states but stayed out in Thailand where scuba diving was performed in sea temperatures of over 20 degrees. We jogged round to the small cove I had visited on my birthday.
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I had prewarned them about the porcupines and either jog back in wet  trainers like myself or take a second pair.The big Ozzy dude got marks out of ten for adaption
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Two pieces of rubber and half a roll of electrical tape.

There was not much swimming but a lot shouting and laughing. The American shouting and me and the Ozzy dude laughing. The American’s fingers froze stiff. It was the coldest he had ever felt he still managed to submerge himself fully in the Bearing sea. Good effort.

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Reindeer are owned by the Samni tribe you are not allowed to make sausages and jerky with them. If they meander across the road, causing a collision, the driver has to pay the tribe for thier loss and pay for the damage to the car.

We arrived at the start of July and it was now, the middle of August. I had been concentrating on more subsea tasks and hadn’t noticed the nights drawing in. When we first had arrived, you noticed it got lighter at 0130am not that it was getting dark. now it was getting dark around 10 pm it was not completely dark at midnight but another week it would be. This felt like walking home from the Bridge of Allan games at the start of August in Scotland. The games mark the end of summer for most people. They realise its dark at 9pm and the opportunity for sitting outside on long nights are reduced.

I managed another mammoth bike ride over the big hill past the Airport in Hammerfest heading east.  The road takes you over a reindeer grid and up into rocky barren lunar landscape devoid of trees and most plants. It’s nearly free wheeling 3km into Forsøl from the top of the hill. I secured the bike to a telegraph pole beside the school. Then started the rocky assent. The path was mostly rocks and it was just as easy to find the  path as to loose the path in the dusk light.
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The path leveled out the started dropping down off the shoulder toward sea level. From the first glimpse of water it was possible to see a rocky pebbley beach. My heart sank a bit I could have got a pebbly beach and been back in my bed by now if I had went south instead of north east.
The path narrowed and continued down over three large boulders like the protective scales on the back of a giant sleeping dragon or dinosaur.

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A flat white sandy area came into view. I hurried down over the rocks onto a small flat grassy area  surround by towering grey walls. Clear torquaise blue water gently lapped against  200m of golden sands. There was a large plastic sign indicating evidence of  past  settlements from stone, bronze and iron ages, there was a few scattered burnt rock circles indicating more recent activity.

It was now closer to 2am the sun was causing red and yellows hues over islands in the distance. The water was shallow with no evidence of prickly sea porcupines. I left my training shoes dry on the beach.
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The water was cold not bitter more refreshing, it was clear, no thickness reducing visibility. I bought a pair of googles in Lerwick a couple of months back, they have blue lenses, they make the water look amazing but they hinder red light. The goggles were more on the top of my head watching the sunrise than over my eyes looking in the water. I was only ten minutes, it was enough, I was making sure I had sufficient energy to complete the rest of the Hammerfest triathlon, getting back to the boat, I returned to my merino wool base layers. There was a rustling behind me as I toweled off the Artic waters. A couple of reindeer were munching on grass. This place is crazy. Leaving the beach before the romp over the hill I noticed reindeer hoof marks.

If I had’t started nearly drowning myself nearly a year previously, I might have got off the boat went to the polar bear museum but never got to this hidden away swimming ampitheater. My hands were controllable for a couple of seconds taking a photoie.

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Swims are now saved digital and mentally, aspects of a swim are analysed, thinking of different ways to record it for my blog. Will this lead to a situation similar to a chef, who only cooks at work, never at home leaving their partner to only eat unwanted efforts from a hard day in the kitchen, or the food critic on a constant search for a new dish, a new flavour, a new heavenly smell, eager to share the experience. Will the blog end up the main reason I swim or will I keeping swimming because I love every aspect of it. Or just may be I could go on a pot noddle and hot dog diet void of taste and texture and stay out of the sea and lochs.

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