I swam in Salford Quays yesterday evening which was my first ever venture into open water, and I found the whole experience much more enjoyable than anticipated.
Salford City council’s Watersports Centre offers open swimming sessions through the warmer and lighter months of the year. There’s a 400 metre circuit marked out around the Ontario Basin but I opted for an hour long lesson learning the basics required for open swimming. There were 8 of us in the lesson and I was the only one to have never swum in open water. One lady had done 2 Great North Swims in Windermere but as the second took longer than her first she thought she needed some guidance and fairly early on we learnt about ‘sighting’ which is picking a fixed point to aim for in the absence of following lane markers or seeing regular shaped tiles at the bottom of a pool.
I’m not very good with cold water and even struggle to push myself under a cold shower (I’ve been trying and wussing out during the last week). They don’t let you swim until the morning water temperature reaches 11 degrees celcius. It was 10.3 last Monday so that session was cancelled but yesterday it had risen to 11.3 and with a day of non-stop sunshine (a rarity in Salford) the water must have been a bit higher by 6pm. Apparently over the next month the average temp will rise by 4 or 5 degrees, so next time should be easier.
It took 30 seconds or so for me to talk myself into jumping in but I was determined not to be the last in. Two guys who had swum there last Thursday were already going through some drills. I studied the reaction of one of the remaining six as he plunged in and when I didn’t hear any gasps or swearing so after what felt like an age on the pontoon I leapt as far forward as possible in an effort to stop myself going as far under as he had done. I was expecting the cold to take my breath away and for confusion to reign for a few seconds in a similar manner to when I did a parachute jump many years ago, but the water was far from an icy cold and our instructor had given us a few things to think about on entering the water in order to deliberately distract us from the shock. I took 20 strokes to test my movement in the suit and check that it fitted well when wet and then also noted that my breathing was becoming more controlled again as instructor Rob had predicted. There wasn’t too much water making its way into the suit and the little that was there soon warmed up
Everyone at work seemed very concerned about how dirty the water is in the Quays, as many colleagues walk around them in their lunch hour. I had worked myself into a bit of a state about this (together with the temperature) in the preceding few days and yesterday lunchtime I read of the daring deeds of local hero Mark Addy in order to gain some sense of perspective. He received the Albert Medal for rescuing over 50 people a couple of miles upstream in the Victorian Irwell in the days of more primitive sewerage ‘systems’ and without the benefit of neoprene mind you he did die of consumption eventually but didn’t most people in those days? I had arrived at the Watersports centre 20 minutes early and patrolled the basin seeing swans and geese paddling serenely upon the millpond like expanse (though noting a few discarded feathers floating around). There was some litter that had collected by the quayside but Ontario basin was far cleaner than any of the others. There were young lads fishing in an adjoining canal, now I could see this in one of two different ways: Yikes there’s fish in there! or Yippee the water is clean enough to sustain life! I didn’t see them catch anything anyway. I avoided taking in any significant amount of water but the fact the it wasn’t full of chlorine made a pleasant surprise. I’ll never forget one Monday morning when there was ‘smoke’ rolling off our school’s pool because someone had got the critical measurement out by a factor of 10 or 100 or 1,000. We didn’t swim that day. I didn’t encounter any debris at all and both Stretford and Bury’s pools have left we wanting to gag after close contact with hair and plasters in recent weeks.
All in all it was a very enjoyable experience. I was in the water for almost an hour and briefly considered doing a lap of the 400m circuit before sense descended upon me and I knew I’d made the right decision because I felt very tired as I fought to remove a wet wet-suit for the first time. It took almost 10 minutes to take it off so I must spend some time in the back garden being hosed down by the kids and then practising my swim to cycle transition phase. I’ll go to a second lesson next week then the following week I’ll be on the Costa del Sol (volcanoes permitting) so I’m hoping to find space to pack the suit and do some early morning sea swims. Then on returning I’ll do a couple more sessions in the Quays including a 800m swim + 5K run ‘aquathon’ which will leave me 10 days until the Liverpool triathlon and the joys of swimming with the Scouse jellyfish. Lovely!