Early Sunday morning November 5, I got a text from Devildog (formerly known as C) saying: How’s your resolve? It’s raining and it’s low tide…
Devildog was C’s nickname back in her youth for her might in arm wrestling and Herculean chin up competitions. It still suits her as I always think she’s a little Kamikaze, swimming further out, and always wanting to swim where the water is wildest. Devildog never bails, but this text was clearly a feeler.
My resolve as it turns out was holding steady, because once I’ve got my swimsuit on it would piss me off to take it off unused and unpack my massive swimming bag. The thermos was made, the hot water bottle was wrapped inside the towels heating them for later. Toque on. Seadog was minding the monkeys, I was ready for pick-up.
It was indeed raining, though not heavily, and a beautiful palette of greys and pale greens surrounded us at the Forty Foot.
Out of the water came a tanned, buff youngish man wearing purple, blue, yellow and pink floral Bermuda swimming trunks. A Pow! of colour that inspired us on this rainy wet morning as we shivered our clothes off, teeth chattering.
We shivered our way in and it was biting cold as usual. But after flailing about as normal, the giddiness kicked in. Lately when I swim I don’t want to get out, I’m blissed out and 10 minutes never feels long enough, but we know that hypothermia can set in and have the effect of making you want to stay in forever. The water was crystal clear and speaking of crystal it looked like the raindrops were landing on the sea and then rebounding in a stunning miniature water ballet. Water sprites maybe? No, it was hail.
Hail balls don’t sink right away, they bounce on the surface of the sea…
I was mesmerized by all this watery magic. Not wanting to get out, I was flirting with danger. It takes willpower some days to get out of the water, just like knowing when to stop drinking wine. Sometimes you just want to throw caution to the wind, party on and get messy, enjoy the high.
November 15, the day of my book launch was, as expected, a bit stressy. Seadog had to drive me around downtown on errands. Charming as downtown Dublin is, it’s also a quagmire of determined one ways. Seadog was well fed up by the end of it all and I needed to purify my diva self before my big night. No better way than a dip. It was 13 degrees Celsius outside and 10 in the water apparently and 4.4m high tide. It’s a new feature of our swim life that Devildog pays attention to the height of the tide as advertised on the tides charts. Until now I just liked to look up what time high tide was at on my handy tides app, ignoring the height stats altogether. Being Devildog she likes it super high. It’s true it’s nice and even helpful to be bobbed around up high on the water on a high high tide. I swam in some sunbeams and chilled myself out to prepare for the big night. It did the trick.
Another Sunday morning swim in November. 7:45 a.m. pick up. Sharkbait (formerly known as S) has multiple kid activities on a Sunday so it gets us out the door an hour earlier than I would prefer. It is sunny, but only 1 degree Celsius. Devildog has christened S Sharkbait because of her preoccupation with spotting imaginary sharks and other big watery creatures.
Speaking of water creatures there were two seals there that morning swimming languorously. Devildog and Sharkbait are aghast that I haven’t swum in the sea for 10 days. They are going almost every day. Devildog says housework is piling up. Hurrah for not doing housework I say!
I know by not going everyday I miss lots of stuff. Sharkbait and Devildog give me the highlights of the week, like the day they witnessed a crowd of twenty people gathered to celebrate the life of a fellow swimmer. There was a man in a boat to scatter the ashes. Or The Great Knicker swap. Sharkbait managed to forget her swimsuit one day and so Devildog very kindly gave her her swim bottoms and swum in her underpants herself. Swimming in jock bra and swim bottoms, that’s devotion. An old lady confided she’d done that hundreds of times. Meanwhile men swim naked around the corner and flap their willies in the wind.
Another day, there was a crew of three cute young bucks filming a promo video for something or other. Scarves wrapped tightly around their necks, looking smart in their Peacoats. The Forty Foot is so iconic it features in a few Christmas ads. Meanwhile 40 foot regular old grumpy guy, as I think of him, was doing the rounds with his bucket and broom bleaching the hell out of the cement, killing the slippery green seaweed algae and moss. It seemed like more bleach than he usually used and the stench gave the place an odd swimming pool atmosphere.
An older woman with a rainbow-patterned bathing cap blessed herself and did the sign of the cross with the sea water as she waded in. She swam up to us later as we were bitching about something. We told her we came here in part to vent about life’s problems.
The colder the better, right?! she said, knowingly.
Last November swim was on a sunny Sunday morning at Sandycove because it was too ferocious at the 40 foot. Minus 1 outside and 7 Celsius in the water. Devildog and I stayed in 15mins because we didn’t have our watches on. Shivered a lot. Frozen boobs and ladybits. Had gallons of chocolate afterwards to defrost our engines.
First December swim was on a Sunday again. Minus 1 again. 8:30 swim date. Pink sky. Freezing. There were two outraged women getting dried up after a swim talking about rudeness and injustice. I knew what they were on about: The Irish Times article the past Friday about the Sandycove Bathers’ Association upholding a ban on women from their club! And the one woman said, it reeks of the time of Charles McQuade (super conservative archbishop of Dublin). There had been a petition passed around to allow women in the club and they had voted against women 24 to 17.
It had upset me too because it’s such a magical and special place no one should claim any ownership or exclude others from any piece of it.
Here I had been thinking, at last winter swimming! no jellyfish, no bad algae, lots of parking. But there’s a new annoyance down at the Forty Foot. Old Codgers! Actually it’s not a new foe, it’s an ancient tiresome one rearing its Cro-Magnon head. Now when I see a grumpy old guy I wonder is he one of them? Can’t help but feel personal. Banning women from their club, The Sandycove Bathers’ Association make me feel excluded. I didn’t even realize they had their own changing hut with a kitchen inside, but it’s down right rude that I’m not allowed into it. Up yours, and your kitchen, Codgers! They’ll no doubt get an earful when they try to collect money for 40 Foot upkeep as they do sometimes.
In the Sunday Times that day some of the Sandycove Bathers’ Association were redeemed by board member Frank Kelly (Father Jack from Father Ted) saying he couldn’t understand how some members had voted women out…
Relations between sexes are interesting at the 40 foot. Historically it was a women free zone. I think now generally it’s very polite and gallant and for the most part equal. There’s no pervy vibe. Us three hairy sirens often outstay the men in the water. Not that it’s a competition… We notice men watching us, not in a predatory way, but rather in an are they crazy, it’s been 10 minutes kind of way? Most people this time of year just come to dip themselves and get back out, like human tea bags. Last year, I bowed to the knowledge of the regulars and thought maybe Devildog was being reckless by letting us stay in the water that long, but we all survived our winter swim season and it taught us that we can trust our own judgement. Even if Devildog does look seriously blue after the swims.
That Sunday morning , the women outnumbered the men. One older man showed up and right away, the two women said: “I hope you didn’t vote against us, Joe.”
“No,” he said, smiling charmingly, “I approve of women on principle!!”
Afterwards Devildog and I went to heavenly smelling Avoca for delicious berry scones. Then I got myself home and into a steaming hot bubble bath with the Sunday supplements. Bliss.
Friday afternoon Devildog called me to tell me if I want to swim it has to be extra early this Sunday. She leads with: It’s high tide at 7:30am!
Happy Christmas Everyone! Next swim: New Year’s Day (All Welcome!)
P.S. An article in The Irish Times today declares that research says that cold water swimming isn’t good for old people and that the sudden shock isn’t good for the heart. But the place is full of seniors and as one regular is quoted as saying loads of the bathers even have pacemakers. They wade in rather than dive in as a precaution. I think the article is wrong and these people are proof that the sea is in fact a fountain of youth.