I conquered the North Sea in February

I conquered the North Sea in February

“Alexa add a pink neoprene swimming hat to my shopping bag”

Living within such close proximity to the beach (a 50 second speed stroll), I often admire hardy sea swimmers, who year-round wade tranquilly into the water. Island life unsurprisingly involves countless discussions about the sea. From fishing to sailing, water sports and swimming, islanders have been utilising the sea for pleasure and for work for centuries.

Bathers have been basking in the Mersea waters since time began. Prior to world war two, islanders enjoyed a diving tower, and various platforms which floated at high tide. However, during the war, the beaches surrounding the entirety of the island were mined, leaving swimmers no choice but to pack away their bathing suits for the foreseeable. World War Two ravaged another historic island swimming hotspot. The boating lake at Shears Meadow, located in West Mersea, housed a large swimming pool, which failed to survive the conflict.

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West Mersea beach. The diving board can be seen – it was off the end of Alexandra Avenue and lasted until WW2.

Despite the destruction that WW2 cost bathing facilities on the island, a hardy community of devoted open water swimmers survived. The summer of 2020 saw Mersea Island Boating lake open its doors to local water sports fanatics. Rife with excitement, I dived straight onto their website and booked an introduction to open water swimming session. Hosted by Vicky Malmsjo, an open water swim coach and owner of my Swimspirationl Open Water Coaching, maiden open water swimming voyage would be under the watchful eye of a trained professional. The session provided me with invaluable safety information to consider prior, during and post an open water swim, as well as introduced me to a Facebook group of “Swimspirational Buddies.” Founded by Malmsjo in July 2020, the groups aim is to unite her clients, enabling them to swim alongside likeminded individuals.

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Boating and Bathing Pool, West Mersea. A view looking across the Shears Meadow Boating Lake and along the beach to the east. Postcard by C.F. Williamson, Newsagent, Yorick Road. Another copy of this card was posted August 1937.

Mersea winters can be unforgiving, with high winds and stormy seas ravaging the coastline, causing devastating erosion. However, an eccentric cluster of resilient swimmers gather at high tide on West Mersea beach to jump collectively into the bitter North Sea. Whilst recently filming Malmsjo and her Swimspirational buddies Michelle and Penny for a TV package on open swimming, they confessed their guilty pleasure, a winter sea swim. Often braving sea temperatures of 1 degree Celsius, Malmsjo stated that the cold water often eases physical pain, aids mental health, and boosts overall mood. Intrigued by this euphoric claim, without hesitation I booked a cold-water sea swimming introduction with Malmsjo.

On the sunny morning of the 25th February 2021, I took the 50 second speed stroll to West Mersea Beach clutching my neoprene armour, sporting Birkenstocks and tortoise shell sunglasses. After conducting a 45-minute thorough safety briefing, I gathered the extensive kit (wetsuit, tow float, goggles, swimming hat, neoprene hat, neoprene gloves and neoprene socks!) and began to dress accordingly. Clad head to toe in thick, unmalleable, hermetically sealed neoprene, I waddled towards the shoreline, and began to question my sanity. Calmy, under the instruction of Malmsjo, I entered the 9 degree north sea slowly, beginning to acclimatise my body by gently ushering the icy seawater down the neck of my wetsuit. We began a few short laps along the shoreline and before long my cold-water dip had concluded. Venturing out of the sea to clapping spectators, I felt triumphant and noble; I had conquered the north sea in February.

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Anna Fox swimming in the North Sea.

With thanks to Tony Millatt of the Mersea Island Museum for the historical information about swimming on Mersea Island and for the images of Shears Medow and the diving tower.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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