FROM A TO SEA: To suit or not, that is the question | #4

August 8th, 2022 10:00 AM

By Siobhan Cronin

Siobhán prefers to be suited and booted all year ‘round, if possible

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Siobhan Cronin is The Southern Star's editor. She's also an avid sea swimmer and in her regular blog 'From A to Sea' she documents her sea swimming journey. So get the wetsuit on, dive in and join her on her aquatic adventures


WELL I got over ‘the Covid’ but it took a few weeks for me to get my energy levels back again.

This time of year I am gearing up for the annual Gaddin About Garnish (shouldn’t that Gar Inish – the near isle?) swim.

The first one has already passed, but I missed the boat for the application, so I’m signed up for August 27th instead.

It’s a lovely swim over to, or around, the particularly gorgeous island just off the shore in Glengarriff. It’ll be a nice warm-up for the Great Fjord Swim on the Mayo/Galway border, which a few of us Westies are heading up to compete in, just over a fortnight later.

I’ll let ye know how they go.

The annual Union Hall swim for the RNLI was postponed recently due to poor weather so we are all hoping August 27th in Glengarriff will be a nice day to get us back in the organised swim ‘zone’.

If you haven’t partaken yet, you should check them out. Most of these swims – often for charity ­– have a beginner’s 750m route, and plenty of people take their time on those, many even doing them with just the breast stroke.

It’s a really lovely social event, and there’s always plenty of fun and frolics afterwards.

But on to more pressing matters til then.

This time of year the debate always rages – is it time to ditch the wetsuit or not?

There are several factors which come into play when making the BIG decision – what is your normal level of tolerance of cold water/how long will you be in/how buoyant are you/can you dare the shame and … most importantly (for me, anyway) … are there any jellyfish about?!

I ditched the gear for a swim in Lough Hyne a few weeks ago and came back with an itchy little number across my mid-riff.

I suspect it was the result of a close encounter with a nasty little bugger I had also had intimate relations with a few years back – known commonly as the ‘barb wire jellyfish’.

Barb wire jellyfish: nasty little blighters that are hard to spot

These little demons are not as sore as other jellyfish but they can still leave a fair itch and an unsightly rash for a few hours. I have no idea what would be the result if you had an allergy to them and I’m not sure if an allergy to them is even possible.

But the really annoying thing about them is that they are one of those little blighters that masquerade as something else – so they are hard to spot. They are pretty similar, especially when you are gliding through the water, to a string of seaweed, and so you are convinced they bear no threat.

But after my little dalliance with these skinny divils, it didn’t take me long to regret my moment of wild abandon – in abandoning total skin coverage, that is.

Many swimmers these days are far braver than I and are happy to be seen in nothing more than a tight speedo outfit and a high-vis float.

Even at my most adventurous I will still have a swimming cap or bonnet, a float, a pair of cosy socks and I might even be persuaded to wear my lighter gloves.

Not forgetting the ear-plugs and the goggles, which I never delve into the deep without.

Wetsuit on, no fear of the jellies

But back to the wetsuit debate. The real rule of thumb, I guess, is the amount of time you are going to spend in the water.

If you are in our bracing Irish waters this time of year, you will probably do pretty okay in the skimpiest of outfits for about thirty minutes – if you possess an average, or above average, tolerance of cold water. And you are not dipping for the first time this year.

Anything beyond that and you could really start to feel the effects – maybe not in the water, but certainly when that inevitable – and potentially dangerous – ‘drop’ takes place about 30 minutes after you arrive back on dry land.

My own personal bellwether is the 25-minute mark. That is really all I can tolerate comfortably without reaching for the flask and wishing I had my trusty microwave hotpack with me, five minutes after exiting the sea.

And that is probably why I much prefer a slightly longer swim these lovely (almost balmy) summer mornings and evenings. Heading off with your mates for a 1.5km or 2km spin around a lake or along the coast is a great excuse to cover up without looking like a total wuzz.

‘Are we out for an hour, or 90 minutes?' I am often heard to shout to my girls as we take our first tentative steps into the water at a busy location, lest anyone think we are totally wimping out in the 25 degrees of what we call an Irish summer heatwave and all togged out just to go jumping waves or having a quick dip.

You would think at my age I would stop caring about what people think, but my own hesitation in purchasing an undeniably cosy DryRobe just in case people think I’m ‘up myself’ or ‘one of those bloody sea swimmers’ is testament enough to my vanity I guess.

Yes, I’d rather die of cold of an icy February morning while attempting to get dressed than to give in to my desire to be warm in … shock! horror! … branded gear!

Of course, the other area where a wetsuit is probably wisely worn is during any of the aforementioned popular organised swims which are popping up more often than a happy seal off Garnish island these days.

Some of these group swims insist on wetsuits – with others, it’s your own choice.

Personally, I think they offer great protection – from jellies, from seaweed, from the cold, from the feel of some stranger’s flesh rubbing against yours (it can happen, especially during the initial rush leaving shore) and they also make you seriously more buoyant, making the swim easier and more fun.

The only disadvantage really is that you need to be accustomed to the feel of your swimming wetsuit before you undertake any lengthy swims or organised outings. They take a bit of getting used to, for sure. Oh, and they are fragile, so mind your nails when putting them on.

The bottom line is – if you want to dress from head to toe in neoprene in June, July or even August – there’s nothing to be ashamed of. Let it rip. Or, well, try not to. But do make a splash. No matter who’s watching.

Read Siobhán's previous blog entry by clicking here

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