There is a certain perverse unity that comes from cold-water swimming and my English Channel training has introduced me to many tight knit groups that love the extremes.
Swimming in the Serpentine Hyde Park London this morning (see above) was like swimming in gazpacho garnished with duck droppings. The water’s cold but the people of the Serpentine Swimming Club at the Lido could not have been warmer in their reception. Their club is 150 years old and Serpentine Rod, head swimmer left the water three times to make sure my friend James and I had use of the amenities, a cup of tea after our swim and a chocolate biscuit reserved for special guests. Their signboard of club etiquette reminds swimmers to say good morning to each other.
The Polar Bears in Perth have similar amenities and offer the same hospitality. I swam with them after my last Rottnest Channel crossing, an important milestone on my way to Dover. The water is cold in winter and their course runs parallel to the drum line for the controversial western Australia shark cull. The greatest objectors to the cull are the open water swimmers of Perth who happily and respectfully share the most dangerous waters in the world with these magnificent creatures. That said when you swim with the Polar Bears you get a free nail buff off the sandy bottom, you swim so close to the shore.
The hard-core stalwarts of cold-water swimming in Australia are the Black Ice and Icebergers of Melbourne. They are feuding groups that love cold water but there’s nothing warm about their relationship. I swam with them for my English Channel qualifying swim on the Anzac day weekend, an eight-hour swim in 15-degree rough water. Despite their differences they have special respect for softies from Sydney that can handle their conditions.
Ironically the water I am expecting this afternoon when I get to Dover may not be as cold as my preparation, but the warm greetings have been priceless.