New to sea swimming, Steve McDonald explains the lure of the bay
DON’T get me wrong, I like the sea.
It’s why we swapped West London for West Cork in the first place, but I never saw me getting up-close-and-personal with it, not at my age anyway.
I never ever thought of myself as a swimmer either, even if my body shape suggests that I’d be rather good at floating.
Coming from a big city I never went to the swimming pool. I couldn’t be bothered with all the faffing around with, tokens, changing rooms and lockers.
I’m in my 55th year too, and normally try to resist new stuff, never mind literally taking the plunge -especially when that involves a frigid dunk in the beautiful but bracing Bantry Bay, Snave Harbour or any one of a dozen beauty spots in and around where we live.
You get the picture?
Did I mention I do it in the winter too?
My name is Steve McDonald and I’m an addict.
Sea swimming is my guilty drug of choice and I’m not alone in my saltwater sojourns – there’s a whole socially-distanced gang of us. Let me try to explain.
I grew up in Glasgow where the water was mainly used for building dirty great big ships and I spent my adult life working in London where I never had the time, energy or inclination.
No, for me, ‘swimming’ was something that was usually done in the Caribbean, and then only to justify several drinks at a poolside bar. But now I’m like John the Baptist, eulogising to friends and neighbours about the salvation to be found in the sea and swimming.
So every week and often daily, to get my precious lockdown exercise, I drive down to The Abbey and walk myself across the gloriously cold “Slipway” and square-up to Poseidon. My togs are kept in the back of the car and there’s usually a range of semi-dry towels at hand, if I’m lucky.
Gloves and a hat my only additional defence against my watery adversary – no wetsuit for this disciple of the deep, although I did splash out on a fancy swimming robe to get changed in – this year’s must-have accessory, apparently.
The fitness habit reluctantly grabbed me five years ago when I was at a low ebb and the much-missed Dr Dennis Cotter warned me to shape-up physically or face the inevitable consequences of age and lethargy. You never argued with The Doc, so I started walking and running with the park runners of Glengarriff and that was the slippery slope that saw me go off the deep end and begin a weekly and often daily love-affair with the sea and swimming.
I’ve never looked back.
Over the Christmas break I swam every day, a challenge dreamt up by my swimming buddies – thank you Cathal, thank you Padraig!
The thing is, for me, it’s not so much about the swimming itself, although I love it and I’ve improved my fitness since starting. For me, it’s more about the bigger benefits of getting into the water and testing myself against the challenges of elements, the weather and the tide. I now have a healthy respect for the sea and a better appreciation of my own health, physically and mentally.
I find the sea swells are bigger and more urgent than any earthly issues I wrestle with and any pressures from work are immediately becalmed by the waters support and the buoyant camaraderie of my swim buddies.
After a swim it feels like I’m reset and ready for anything the day might bring. I find that the closeness to nature balances the mind and body in a way that helps put life in perspective.
Nothing clears the head like it.
When I tell people that I’m a sea swimmer, they usually say I must be crazy – but this is the most sensible thing I’ve done in my life.
Come on in, the water’s lovely.