January Wild Swim – Carnlough
The 8th month of my wild swim microadventure challenge has taken me to the North Coast of Ireland on a frozen Saturday afternoon.
The sign at Carnlough Beach read that all sightings of whales, dolphins and porpoises should be reported… our eyes were peeled for this wild swim!
A small group of friends had made the short hour and 20 minute drive to Carnlough Beach this afternoon in the middle of January. The drive isn’t usually that long, but we were tied to the beautiful yet slightly longer Causeway Coastal Path due to snow on the mountains. Rated as one of the top five road trips, the Causeway Coastal Route is an awe-inspiring road which winds its way along parts of Northern Ireland’s coast, from Belfast to Derry.
Carnlough is a small town, nestled in on the coast between two glens. We pulled in to the carpark just before the town. Five of us made the trip north to make a day of it, with the 6 year old heading straight to the playpark. We played here for a while, enjoying the dry day in amongst the snow-covered Glens of Antrim.
It was time to stick on my wetsuit. Mark G insisted on setting up a few cameras before I got in. I also wanted to be sure I could get warm quickly when I got out. I had my towel and dry clothes ready. I also packed a hot, sweet drink in a flask and an emergency foil blanket, just in case.
I slowly made my way into the sea, taking the time to get used to it. The water was OK, my hands were cold but with my wetsuit and wetsuit socks, I felt fine. I swam out a little, aware the tide was going out so being sure to stay within my depth. I swam parallel to coast, resting often not wanting to become out of breath.
Cold water shock
According to the RNLI, cold water shock is responsible for many deaths around the shores of the UK and Ireland. It can kick in at around 15°C, this doesn’t seem that cold, today I’m swimming in 8°C water (Sea Temperatures). Cold water shock, the body’s automatic response, can be so severe – causing soaring heart rates, gasping for breath, hyperventilation and aspiration of water – that many, particularly those with underlying health conditions, die within minutes.
These are the RNLI guidelines for minimising risk.
If you enter the water unexpectedly:
- Take a minute. The initial effects of cold water pass in less than a minute so don’t try to swim straight away.
- Relax and float on your back to catch your breath. Try to get hold of something that will help you float.
- Keep calm then call for help or swim for safety if you’re able.
Planning and checking conditions before you set out, wearing a wetsuit and using a flotation device is the advice given if you are planning on enjoying the water.
I took my time getting into the water, this minimized any surprise to my body. I was wearing a very buoyant wetsuit which made it easy to stay afloat. I also took regular breaks floating on my back to ensure my breathing was calm and relaxed. Seeing as I’m still a novice with sea swimming, I stayed in my depth and limited my time in the water to around 5 minutes.
First of all, I don’t believe I was hypothermic during this wild swim. I read a little bit about hypothermia before my December Wild Swim in Ballyholme so I took a few precautions before my swim today.
What is hypothermia?
If you haven’t read anything by Paul Kirtley, you should look his website and videos up. They are invaluable source of information for everything from canoeing to bushcraft and in this case, cold weather injuries. This is an excellent and informative article about hypothermia and I recommend you give it a thorough read.
What I took away from it though was his primary rule;
PREVENT FURTHER HEAT LOSS
I mentioned above that I had a few things in place for when I got out. I wanted to make sure I was able to get warm and dry and body refuelled as quickly as possible when I got out of the water.
The car was warm; I had two towels ready to dry myself and warm dry clothes ready to get into, and; I had a hot, sweet drink in a flask. Paul explains in his article that your body needs fuel to generate heat and that a sweet drink is better than a hot drink. I also had a hat and an emergency foil blanket but I didn’t use these. Limiting my time in the cold water and employing these pre-emptive strategies I successfully kept myself safe. Watch the video below to see how I got on!
Before the drive home, we thought we’d see a little bit more of the small village of Carnlough. We had a delicious lunch in The Londonderry Arms. I was served what was, perhaps, the nicest chicken fillet burger I’ve ever had. Maybe I was starving!
I am not an expert in either cold water shock or hypothermia. I implore you to study these conditions in full before you decide to start your own winter wild swimming micro-adventure. But don’t be put off, if you take a few simple precautions and plan ahead, you can have just as much fun as I did on the North Coast of Ireland. Even if we didn’t see any whales, dolphins or porpoises.
For my February Wild Swim, I’m hoping to get a swim in Donegal. Hopefully I won’t be alone that time!