After more than a month out of the water, I had a swim date for a Cinco de Mayo midnight full moon swim. I was excited and nervous all day in anticipation. I’d heard the water had gotten much colder in April. Plus, apparently there had been sightings of seasonal jelly fish already.
Here in Dublintown we had a freakish summer spell in March when Mancub was parading around the garden nude, picking dandelions and jumping on the mini-trampoline, or bounce-aline as Little Chief calls it. I even bought LC and him both some sandals so hot and sweaty were their pudgy little feet. Since those blissfully sunny two weeks, it has gone all wintry, interminable wet weather, no sun, icy winds, and temperatures stuck below 10 Celsius and not a single outing of those sandals. Summer in March. Winter in April, and May so far, more winter with never-ending rain showers. When the sun did come out one day, my eyes couldn’t cope with the novelty. All this to say it was cold.
We had been planning on going on the previous month’s full moon. But it was so wild out, our plans were thwarted by the gale force winds and small craft warnings on the news. We were, after all, small crafts ourselves.
Lots of anxious texts were exchanged the evening of Cinco de Mayo. My swim date with C was for 11:35pm. Everyone else had bailed and C seemed willing to bail if I said the word. I was feeling so excited though about this wacky endeavour that we agreed after much back and forth that we could at least go on a reconnaissance mission. We decided though to go earlier. Night time is night time and the moon would be out well before midnight.
She picked me up at 10:40. Everyone was in bed. Seadog said he’d keep his phone on beside him. In case I die? I asked. No in case you have hypothermia, he said patiently.
C and I were both wearing our swimsuits optimistically. The car temperature gauge read 4 degrees Celsius. But I was instantly relieved that I could actually see the moon. I hadn’t been able to catch sight of the supposed Perigee moon out of our windows at home without ridiculous neck contortions. Plus some full moons are never even visible because of dense cloud coverage, which is not an unusual state of affairs here in Ireland; it’s not big-sky Alberta.
I’m 40 years old and I don’t do dope or take mushrooms or ride motorcycles or party that hard: half a bottle of wine or three cocktails, one episode of the Savage Eye and two re-runs of The Wire and that’s as wild as I get these days, and that’s been the case since going down into the parenthood bunker. And I certainly don’t leave my house at 10:40PM!! That’s nuts. And neither does C. I’m guessing our demographic may stay up late sometimes, but we don’t start our night out that late. Like Spaniards going out for dinner.
We were giddy from the sheer feralness of leaving our cozy homes at this hour. C was quite worried there’d be scary freaks out and about. Seadog had warned me there may be drunks. My instincts told me not to worry about that unlikelihood and instead had me focussing on the freezingness and darkness of our mission. Water strikes me as even more engulfing and otherworldly when it’s black.
We arrived and no one was there. Not a single person. We parked and went walking up to the 40 Foot. It was empty, dark and foreboding—nothing like the cheerful aquatic institution of the daylight. The uneven cement path down to the water was slippery in the dark. Visibility was poor but I could see and hear the sea crashing up on to the changing area. The tide was pretty high. The moon looked good, but it didn’t look like a Supermoon particularly. I guess we were too early for that. The later in the night, the closer to the horizon it would get and closer to the sea, the bigger it would look. I have to admit I don’t know much about the specs on the moon. All I know is that sometimes, totally unplanned, I have seen the moon look absolutely massive and best of all, really yellow. I think that’s what’s called a Harvest Moon. Given the name Supermoon, I was expecting it to be like one of those if not better.
So I was a little underwhelmed. Don’t get me wrong, it was coot as ManCub likes to say, but not hooge as I was expecting. Still, being out at this time of night in the dark was thrilling. I tried to take some photos. Turns out I have a lot to learn about night-time photography. Namely that you’re supposed to hold the camera still for a long time. We shivered in the wind.
On our way back down to SandyCove we spotted a sweet looking, middle-aged woman who looked like she shopped at Marks and Spencers. We knew she was a swimmer from the telltale towel poking out of her bag. Big relief to see one of the tribe. Sure enough a whole gaggle of people then showed up, as if on cue.
It’s the kind of community you would see in a quirky art-house film. So sweet or charmingly eccentric you can’t quite believe they’re real. But this community is real. Old people. Young’uns in wetsuits. Dog named Dog. More females than males. They arrived with their crate of tea cups and post-swim treats. And a big jolly lantern. Some old guys were even designated torch holders, acting as human lighthouses.
Not a hooligan in sight. In fact if there were any, they’d be posh ones in this neighbourhood. There were even a handful of ten-year olds. And there were loads of over-sixties and just a few of us 40-ish year olds. It was the usual type of band of merry bathers. We chatted with an older woman who had walked up from her house up the road in her bathrobe, with her dog keeping guard.
And so we disrobed and got in the water in a big, polite queue with a volunteer shining a path for us. I still can’t say enough good things about my beloved swim boots! Thank you rubber trees.
I got in and howled away at the moon immediately from the cold and for the theatrics of it, presuming others would join in a chorus. Surely that’s what you’re supposed to do on one of these pagan gatherings. But it was probably better they didn’t or the residents may have gotten pissed off. My howls tailed off as I flapped about in the bouncy, dark water.
People say the water is warmer at night because it stores the heat of the day. It’s true it didn’t seem so freezing. C and I swam about, busily checking out the scene around us, all the swimmers looking at each other as if to say, what are we doing? Are we unconsciously following some maritime ancestral instincts, are we driven here by the ancient watery forces of sea-god Poseidon? I don’t think anybody really knew why we were doing what we were doing except that swimming during a full moon makes perfect sense in a totally oddball way. We probably all need more earthy, hippie, pagan nights out like this as a detoxifying ritual to bring us back to our true feral selves, to delight in the sweetest, simplest pleasures.
I was impressed to see one swimmer had a head torch. Like a caver. It was definitely hard to see even with the moon and the street lamps.
Everyone cheered the nervous young girl for finally getting in the black water, or the drink like another swimmer called it.
C and I dunked our heads underwater once before getting out.
Drying up, the moon tucked itself in under the clouds and all but vanished. We had unwittingly experienced perfect timing; again maybe it was those old watery forces pulling us there for that perfect moon window.
We dried ourselves up and stood on our hot water bottles in warm clothes. Hot water bottles, perfect simple technology. I ate a banana. Had some tea from the thermos and was delighted to be offered a delicious dark-chocolate-cluster desert.
That night I slept terribly. I was too excited and uncomfortable, sleeping in my fleece and toque because I didn’t want to get the chills or wake up the house by turning on the shower. It was such a bad night’s sleep that the next day I felt like I was actually hungover from a major party. And just like all good parties, I relived the best bits and replayed them in my mind the next day in my sleepy dry land life.
The Whole Of The Moon ( a great moon song)