Despite my happy go lucky, devil may care outward swimming persona I do have rules. Quite a lot of rules but they are not in any order as they take priority depending on time and place. For simplicity let’s say they are all rule #1. Rule #1 for today is swim into the current first, that way if you need it you have a free ride back.
Then again, today I am not sure there will be any swim into the tide at all. The rope tied off to the rail at the foot of the steps is stretched taut, snapping against the current as the buoy it is tied to ducks in the flow. All the buoys are laid hard over and each trails a long finger of troubled water. The water is otherwise flat calm, sparkling in the strong sunshine and very clear. In I go, out of the seclusion of the inlet and whoa! I’m going upriver and that is not the direction I intended: swim harder.
Ooh, ooh! There’s a square rigged sailing ship. For a brief moment I assume it is at anchor. Doh, that’s the fairway into the river and Sir Francis Drake moored his fleet in secret way up the river where it is 30 metres deep and it is possible to bring a large naval vessel in to moor at the college, you can’t moor out there. The ship is underway, but when you see a square rigged ship and it has a gentle following breeze to bring it into harbour with the tide you’d hope for sails, even just a main would give it enough steerage. It’s running on engines. Boring! I swim out to snatch a few photos and my word the current is fast.
This swim may not work out, but if I’m right.
There’s a new book out ‘How to Read the Water’. I should definitely read it, but equally I have been doing this for some time and if I’m right about the river, the tide, the geography of the coast then somewhere along here. I’m past the last mooring, not yet. Past the last house, not yet. Past the beach and leading light, not yet. Past the …. and we’re off, there it is, the big curve in the riverbank has created an eddy in the water as expected and I’m now going down river against the tide at a blistering pace with no effort on my part. This is the way to travel, lie back, relax, go faster!
My target today is the point at the seaward end of the bay and I’m almost on it when I spot a cave in the cliff. No, not a cave, a tunnel. A long tunnel. With not one, but two whole trees washed up as driftwood. The tunnel opens onto an inlet of still, clear, deep, aquamarine water with a view out to the open sea, how fabulously secret is this? But that is my total for the day: swim #31 and another 1/2 mile marked off on my River Dart sources to sea swim.
Now it is time to take advantage of the current again, so I swim out towards Dartmouth Castle and catch the flow of the incoming tide. I am a little exposed out here, it is a busy bit of water, but the same rules of the road apply as on land; you pass on the right, so any vessel will be heading at me and I should see it. What’s more it’s nearing the end of the day and there are a limited number of places you could get before dark and you could still get to them if you waited to cast off until after the tide turns, go with the flow not against it. If you’re heading further then just as well wait too as you’re travelling after dark no matter what. And, if you wait and are heading to Plymouth then the tide will slack off just as you round Start Point and pass the Skerries Banks and that’s a good thing if you’re in a small yacht. If you are going swimming in boating water it’s also a good idea to have at least some idea of that too. Who knew swimming was so complicated?
The ride back is swift and easy, just riding along in the current watching the scenery and boats go by as Dartmouth Castle dwindles away and Dartmouth and Kingswear open out ahead of me. I dodge through the lanes of moored yachts and make a ‘handbrake’ turn into the steps. This has been more like it, 45 minutes in the water without even getting cold fingers or toes and sitting on the bottom step in the sunshine, looking out over the clear, calm blue water as I dry my hair is just the perfect ending.