For over a year, swimming in cold water has been an obsession, two cold showers most days, and when I was unable to get a swim in a loch, a cold bath would suffice. Walking about my street only wearing shorts on cold frosty mornings, bare feet, tap’s aff, was not look how much weight ave lost, but let’s get freezin. Increasing my body’s cold limitations, making my body last longer in the cold was the goal, getting the shakes from mild hyperthermia was part of the buzz and a extra bonus. Would I be able my increase my exposure levels to take part in chill swim and when I got my ambition and abilities mixed up, I dreamed of ice miles.
Rocky’s boxing montage included drinking raw eggs, chasing a chicken and punching slabs of meat then running up the steps in Philladelphia. My swimming montage would have Daft punk’s song – harder, better, longer, colder as the music. It would start with a calm, still, loch in a misty atmospheric Glen, then have shots of me lurching out Loch Lomond unable to talk because my lips were numb, falling and stumbling about on the shallow slippery rocks in the middle of the Loch Lubnaig trying to embrace the lone Saltire, racing up the hill fully wetsuited from north third reservoir making sure I could get the key in the van door before my hands started shaking, it would have me walking about Shetland resembling a crazed junkie after a skins dip at one of their many amazing beaches, then conclude with me sitting with a drink, attempting unsuccessfully to keep the contents either in the cup or off my clothes as my uncontrollablehands went off on one.
This year I received mug for my Christmas with the following quote wrote on the side – I might look like I am listening but I am thinking about swimming. – It summed up the last year and a half.
A few months ago I was offered a job, it seemed to good to be true. A dream job, I was sure everything would fall through in the end and normal life would carry on, I didn’t get excited because jobs like this didn’t happen to blokes like me. Recently, I watched a short film about a friends business. He was filmed talking about work, he had always considered a job a way to make money, it was toil and struggle, never to be enjoyed. He continued, describing his company and how he is supporting his family by doing something he now loves, he feels blessed, basically living the dream. Find a job you love and you never work a day in your life, type thing. My two jobs since leaving school have been enjoyable. The first was a carpet fitter, after 3 years training, and with a loan from the prince’s trust, I purchased a van. Carpet fitting, what’s not to love, gaining a specialised knowledge of snack vans around Stirlingshire, a cup of tea and chat at a several different houses a day, getting involved in the finishing touches of weeks, months even years of hard work, completing a room or the whole house and leave with a tip, if the jokes and stanley knife performed their job. Four years flew in, until spending the next 40 years racing about Scotland with a van full of carpets seemed daunting to my knees, back and brain, I packed up and moved to Plymouth to study at University. A degree got me a start in ROV’S. What’s not to love about ROV’s, for eighteen years I traveled the world, playing real life Sony play stations, building subsea oilfields with a big remote control underwater toy, and with 6 months off a year. Best job in the world.
Well that’s what I thought until the facebook messenger sprang into life one Friday morning. Just as redundancy from ROV’S looked imminent and a return to wool twist and a van full of underlay was on the horizon. It became apparent pretty early during the training I would have to stop cold water swimming if I wanted to continue with the dream job. I had to work in pretty warm conditions and look a wee bit in control. A bloke sweating profusley does not look in control. Increasing my cold exposure was easy when working in Scandinavia and Shetland. I now had to increase my heat exposure, a reversal of all my hard work. Hope it doesn’t take as long.
Imagine being ten years old again, with a rampant imagination and a view of life not yet jaded by the establishment. What would your dream job be? Not the real job aspirations like fireman, vet , IT systems analyst, but a dream job. When standing in front of the mirror having a Walter Mitty moment. Astronaut, rock star, professional snow boarder. Was submarine pilot ever on the list? Am not talking about a wig wearing Russian with a Scottish accent, James bond style Hunt for red October.
A six inch thick, transparent, sphere, big enough for three adults to sit comfortably for hours. A 360 degree view of reefs, ship wrecks and subterranean life. No need for diving decompression stops after visiting one thousand metres below the surface. We’re talking science fiction and the reason, why, I am giving up swimming regularly in Scottish lochs.
Would you feel at ease sitting next to a soaking with wet sweat bus driver especially when the bus is at 850m water depth?
You want the guy in charge of your life to be cool, calm, appearing to be in control, that might not be Sean Connery style but I can do a Scottish accent and I could hunt for October, November and given enough time December. Giving up my passion might be considered extreme and even unthinkable for most of the friendly bunch with warm hearts and freezing extrimities of the cold water swimming fraternity I met along the way.
Heres the thing. I don’t work on a prison anymore. To have a walk on my last boat it would be round and round the helideck like a hamster in a cage or fully PPE’d up, glasses, hard hat, gloves, full length overalls. The ports we went to were like visiting Grangemouth or Grimsby in countries with oil around the globe, well Equatorial Guinea was poor but never as rough as Grimsby. I saw Jesus in Rio and whales from the beach in Angola but never thought I would be going for a snorkel before dinner on a shallow reef at the tropical paradise of Moorea close to Tahiti.
I don’t feel the need to spend all my time at home outside anymore. For years, when I returned from work, I would spend hours on the golf course, this progressed to, full days in the hills, walking or on a bike. Swimming was my newest reason not to feel held captive until I went back offshore. These days I have more freedom at work I don’t have the same urge to spend the day or whole week immersed in a recreational activity.
I have had ROVs down to 2.8 km water depth, I have seen a great deal of the world’s sea floor through a camera lens, the odd shark maybe, off the coast of Nigeria we had unforgettable mantra ray show waiting for a pipe to come over the side of the ship, I have seen octopus, wolf fish, shoals of Tuna. But nothing could have prepared me for the first time I took the submarine down to 250m. When the sub flew over the reef, we were followed by a couple of black tip sharks but not for long, as we dropped down the volcanic wall keeping a safe distance of 20m. The acylic sphere gives the allusion of being a few feet away. We floated down getting pushed east along the wall then back to the west in the ocean currents, the wall started leveling off just after 200m water depth, at 250m the descent was halted, I altered the sub’s buoyancy and we started drifting gently to the surface, it was possible to move sub closer to the wall without the possibility of landing on unseen subterranean dangers.
A couple of meters from the wall, the sub’s lights showed delicate coral and brightly coloured yellow and purple fish. I was speechles, similar to the feeling of awe that grasps you in a large cathedral, head back, neck cranked, jaw open, not knowing where to look at next, it takes several seconds to accept the magnitude and scale of the structure, that was close to being submerged 250m, but not even close. I have tried many times to describe it but couldn’t do it justice, these empty words got deleted. During my training, the first dive it felt like sensory overload as the water washed over the sub as it angled down to dive, we chased rays and turtles over the sandy sea bed, the 3 dimensional flying sensation was enjoyable but the wall dive was different, addictive, I yearn to be in the sub again looking up at the faint glow of the suface. I don’t feel clostrophobic, six inches of clear plastic is all that there is between never returning but I don’t feel that water pressure bearing down, I feel safe, like driving a volvo. It’s up to me to bring the sub back to the surface. In some ways its like open water swimming. It’s dangerous, life could end in the blink of an eye, a gulp of cold water. Taking risk assessments of the waterways we swim in, I have walked away or turned round half way through a swim on many occasions, pride never gets in the way of the situation or my abilities. Laughing and joking is fine, With ROVs some of the most serious guys I worked with were the most dangerous and when we’re enjoying, laughing the job was performed the most professionally. Relaxing, keeping calm, covering all the bases making sure the sub will return to the surface. I think the hardest thing about flying the sub will be containing my excitement in front of the clients. If Heineken made jobs this would be it.
Getting bored, relocation, the arrival of bambinos, lack of time or concentration on greater priorities are some of the reasons our hobbies can be postponed or stopped, letting our passions drift off as our belly’s size increase. If I was told that my job required stopping cold water swimming, I would considered my options. It helps that in the short time I have been Sub training, I have seen two sharks a couple metres away while snorkeling at a reef close to Papaeette in Tahiti, I have been wake boarding and revisited my scuba diving history with my first dive in 15 years. I can swim most days at work, without the constant fear of hyperthermia. When put like that I think you will agree not swimming regularly in Scottish lochs does not seem such a bad sacrifice and I get paid.
The decision to leave Technip was not taken lightly. We had a good many laughs and I will miss working alongside a good number of colleagues, I hope I can call friends. It’s also with a heavy heart, I close the cold water swimming chapter in my life, I discovered more of Scotland and different beaches through out Europe because of it, I enjoyed swimming with Wild West and Trossach Swimmers and wished I could have joined the community more in the water, every member always gave me friendly welcome. My golf clubs lie under an inch of dust, my mountain bike is used to get messages from the shops, looks like my speedos, goggles and tow float will end up discarded with them.
But you know what they say –
Never say never