At the twelve bays of Christmas ...
Spinoff essay, festive swims, fancy goggles, and wharf jumps
Gosh it’s been a busy and rewarding few weeks/months. In sea-related news:
I wrote a 2,000 word essay about mental health and wild swimming (or, more accurately, edited down my 12,000 word writing folio from my Master’s) which has just been published on The Spinoff. I’ve written personal stuff before but not for a while; everyone has been very nice about it and I’ve had some lovely messages through my (author) website.
I also had a job interview a couple of weeks ago that has resulted in a writing contract at NIWA next year (i.e. starting in a few weeks!). I’ll say more about that in January.
It has been a lovely few days of swimming, reading, eating leftovers, afternoon snoozes and family time. I hope you have been able to enjoy a break too, and some time in or near the water. Thanks for reading Waterproof this year!
The Twelve Bays of Christmas in Wellington was an absolute delight. I made it to many of them and it was such a great part of the Christmas countdown. I swam at beaches, bays and coves I’d never been to before, even though I’ve walked/driven past them a million times! One of my favourites was Balaena Bay, along the Greta Point coastline towards the city. It has a little brown shed for changing and a deck with stairs leading into the sea (stairway to heaven, in my world!).
There was a DomPost/Stuff photographer at one swim, in Island Bay. It was 8am, there was a southerly, and it’s not called the coldest beach in Wellington for nothing (it faces south into the Cook Strait). My hands were tingling! But it’s a nice sandy beach and near the Marine Reserve so lots of beautiful kelp swirling around. I’m the one in blue:
(Photo by Monique Ford/Stuff)
One morning in Seatoun it was cool and calm so I went for an impromptu solo dip and took my GoPro so you could be there too, in a sense. The world was silver above the surface and green below.
After a tip-off from a similarly vision-challenged friend, I bought these ‘corrective’ goggles from TYR for just $45 – they don’t match my prescription exactly but there’s definitely an improvement and everything is in high-definition now! (I’m short-sighted.) My primary goal is to see which buoy I’m aiming for in the harbour but this was a good test-drive.
As you can see, the water was pretty cloudy (partly from all the salps, which arrive in the warmer season) but it was lovely and still.
Barb’s advice for me during my most recent pool session:
If your head is up, your legs drop down and you look almost perpendicular. Shona, you are not a seahorse so don’t swim like one!
I said jokingly: “Barb, if I put my head down any lower I’ll be doing front flips!” I got a stern look in response. When did I become cheeky with teachers? Never as a child. Perhaps I’m making up for it now.
I’ve been enjoying jumping off the new Seatoun Wharf. Having never once done it previously in my life, I’m up to about eight jumps now. I’ve learned the trick is to not stand there on the edge dithering and fretting, but to just jump in. However, I’m not suggesting this as a catch-all metaphor for life because there are times to ‘jump in’ and also times to pause and check the depth and conditions :-)
Because I’m now familiar with jumping, I know what to expect: a brief, silent fall through the air, the splashing impact, a few seconds of continuing to plunge underwater before floating back up, breaking the surface, and enjoying the endorphins and satisfaction of having ‘done it’.
I do need to remember to hold my nose for the entry...
At some point I’d like someone to take an action shot. I’m always a bit envious of those photos you see of people leaping gleefully into the air with their arms raised, smiling and forever suspended in time above the water.
A couple of weeks ago I visited WUCEL, the university coastal ecology lab. This has been on my to-do list for a while so when an invitation came out for Friends of the Marine Reserve to have a tour, I RSVPed.
It was at the tail end of a hot summer’s day and as I drove around the South Coast the beaches were packed, there were people swimming, and someone was even on a paddleboard out on the flat water in Island Bay! This never happens normally; there’s usually wild surf and dog walkers staggering along the beach in puffer jackets.
The lab was really cool: it’s right on the coast, with giant windows overlooking the Cook Strait. They have interesting samples there from the deep sea, there’s a ‘wet lab’ with water pumped from the ocean to conduct experiments, and a dry lab for … the non-water experiments and wrangling all the data, I guess. They have a 360° underwater camera and they also showed me some of their diving footage of the Cook Strait, which looked like something out of a children’s fairy tale – you can watch it on Twitter.
Our guides were Valerio and Francesca, who are from Italy and doing their PhDs in marine biology. It was a great opportunity to ask them questions. I’m very interested in sea sponges, for example – they are quietly magnificent, ancient invertebrates.
The water has warmed right up (maybe 18-19°C) and lots of people are getting in the sea now. Funny how I forget what it’s like at this time of year – I can just put on togs, grab a towel and goggles, and head out the door anytime! I met a couple of swim friends at Worser Bay one evening and we swam around the buoys for about half an hour. It was lovely, the surface was so flat that even a dog swam by, but I always have to quieten my shark thoughts. Moving through the blue/green nothing, slicing my arms through the water, I start to imagine bumping noses with a great white. But that didn’t happen and soon I relaxed.
I also do more swims alone at this time of year (staying within my depth) which is great for just being in the moment, feeling the water, observing everything around me, dipping under the surface to see all the plump cushion starfish and reef starfish, the tiny hermit crabs, and immersing more in the sensory experience of it all. I always feel so peaceful and centred afterwards.
What I’m reading/listening to:
Chill by Dr Mark Harper. Good book about the science behind cold water swimming. Rather preaching to the converted for me, but I still enjoyed reading the case studies of people whose lives have changed from swimming.
Wild Wimmin – UK podcast about women dippers/swimmers/athletes and season two has just started, featuring an interview with '@everydayathleterach’ who makes YouTube videos about sea swimming.
Te Au o Te Moana – (‘Voice of the Sea’) some good stories in here from the Sustainable Seas Challenge about people who do ocean science and why they do it.
I love reading about your All Year swimming. For various reasons, I haven't been able to swim through winter/spring this year but started back in the water a month or so ago. It was like coming home! You also prompted me to pull out my go-pro (which I've never used) so that it's ready to film. Our Tasmanian waters are looking fantastic now after the Big Wet (not far off a similar latitude to you).
Happy New Year and keep writing on Substack.
Happy Xmas, loved reading the Spinoff story and congrats on the new writing gig! All the best for 2023 😊