The first time I ever swam at night was a Sandycove night swim in 2008, organised by SISC member John Conroy. Everyone had to have their own chemical lightsticks for safety and identification.
Chemical lightsticks are plastic tubes with a mix of chemicals inside, available in red/orange, blue, green. You bend or snap the plastic to mix the chemicals and activate the phosphorescence. There are downsides to lights sticks. They are single use only so if you are doing a short night swim for 30 minutes, and though cheap for one use they can become expensive if using many. They are also difficult to dispose of safely. From our point of view the illumination is not great, it’s really just a dull glow.
For the Channel relay in 2008, I picked up a then-new Adventure Lights Lazer-Stik in Varne Ridge in Dover, and three years and once successful solo, one failed solo and a few other shorter night swims, it’s only had the batteries changed once and is still going strong.
Prior to the Solo, I bought one of Adventure Lights Guardian lights, which fits perfectly and easily onto google straps. It’s brighter than the Lazer Stik and very versatile, as you can see from the image, you can easily slide it onto goggle straps with the clip, or thread it onto the goggles, or attach it to an ankle or wrist strap or togs. I bought each in green as I decided this is the colour least-likely to be replicated by any other light source.
Both of these lights can be seen from a kilometre away, and while you would not plan to be that far away from your pilot during a Channel swim, there is a comfort in that and it’s very useful on a night-swim without a boat.
Each Adventure Light type has two modes, flashing and steady, selectable by flipping around the battery polarity. With the advent of “white” LEDs the range has increased to clear lights and the colours have increased. But a warning, I luckily bought green lights in both.
Each is easily switched on and off by just twisting the light.
Some Channel pilots do NOT like you to use blue, red or clear lights as they could be confused with other lights. If you are buying them for serious swimming, get green. Also rather than buying two Guardians, I recommend one of each, as the longer Lazer-Stik is quite distinctive when attached to the back of togs.
There is something about owning such a specialist piece of equipment for such a specific role. Speaking for myself, just buying something like this made me feel like I was a serious marathon swimmer, (if all the sea metres hadn’t made that obvious). How many swimmers need to buys lights for night-swimming?
And you can always wearing them while dancing at your annual swimming party.
It was my first night swim since the EC. Like many sea swimmers I love night-swimming. Just after midnight on Sunday morning, 16 experienced Sandycove Island swimmers took to the water in three groups to do a full lap of the island.
The water had been cold in Waterford all week, from 9.5C to 11C. The swim had looked doubtful only 24 hours earlier with south-west winds of 35 knots predicted. But the morning sea-area forecast showed a window of opportunity before the wind came up.
We all arrived around 11.30pm, the Sandycove traffic jam. The road being almost empty, I was still sandwiched between others cars heading the same way. The long northern latitude twilight had finally bowed to night, and it was getting cloudy and covering the half-moon. Good, it would be fully dark. Night-swimming isn’t the same unless it’s really dark.
I live the furthest away, but I know the island like the back of my hand, as does everyone else in the group. This would be my 99th lap of the island, though compared with Lisa, Ned, Rob, Gábor and Imelda, it’s a small number, with some of them having over five hundred or a thousand laps done. After my next lap I’m a member of the 100 Club.
I was sure Lisa had done night laps before, but she said that whenever she had tried during her Double English Channel training, the weather hadn’t co-operated, even during her overnight training swim, (the only one of us ever to have a done a full night swim … in training).
John Conroy and Ned have been running a night swim at Sandycove for the past few years to allow people to get the experience in a safe organised environment. Usually a bit earlier in the night, safety boats, lights, number count-offs, water assembly points and sticking to an inside lap. Indeed we have had a couple of night swims at Clonea beach also.
This was different. This was around the outside of the island in complete darkness. The wind was coming up and instead of predicted south-westerly, it was south-easterly, meaning the chop would be coming into our faces, rather than from behind.
This was special. Night-swimming, with friends. Queen Lisa, Liz, the Gáborinator, Rob the Bull, Ned and others, and a few people I didn’t know. Missing however were Jen, Ciarán, Liam, John, Finbarr, Sylvain, Danny, Eddie. Night-swimming in one of the world’s great swimming locations. What more could a swimmer want?
The wide experience of the group was evident in something before swimming. There were a lot of electronic night lights instead of just chemical nightsticks. All of those had been used before, in serious swims. Most of us have two of them, the little round but brighter one and the longer Lazer Stik. I’ve had my Lazer Stik for 3 years and haven’t changed the batteries yet. Of course, it’s only been used a few times outside the Channel. (These are far more visible than nightsticks.)
Ned gave a safety briefing. We were divided into three groups so we would be finishing roughly together, with quick assemblies at the first and second corners. Gábor and I would buddy up, him with blue lights, I with green.
We entered the water just after midnight. The people who’d never done a night swim were given a minute or two to see if they felt okay. At the last minute Ned decided we all needed a nightmare and decided to forego his togs. I shudder still. But understand the desire nevertheless.
Even at the cold slipway, the water felt a bit warmer than Waterford. Carol and Ned, both faster, took off after the first two groups and Gábor and I followed.
I know from talking to people that many of them are horrified at the thoughts of anything touching them underwater. I imagine the thought of it happening in complete blackness is worse, Though it was high tide, we swam through the invisible kelp on the way out to the first corner and I thought how it would scare those people.
We stopped at the first corner, Gábor had had a problem with his goggles and needed to adjust. Again, given the experience of the group, everyone was wearing clear goggles. The first few hundred metres out, eyes were adjusting from the glare of the car light at the slipway so it always seems particularly dark at the start.
At the first corner we could feel the growing chop from the wind, but the water also felt warmer. I don’t know why, but water always seem to feel warmer in the dark.
We swam to the second corner, Gábor on my left side, everyone giving the corner plenty of space for once.
The moon was hidden in clouds behind us. The world consisted of only a few colours. The neon greens and blues of the few lights I could see. Gábor there always to my left, and only a few glimpses of lights in front when we crested the occasional wave at the same time. The skyline of the far side of the island was black against the deep charcoal-hued 242424ff sky. The water beneath was void.
And in the void was one of the reasons we love night swimming, the efflorescent green sparking diadems of bioluminescence coruscating from our fingertips. So in the void were our arms and hands, the sign of humans.
We hit occasional kelp. Gábor hit a buoy on the inside of the island and I hit rope twice. The last hundred metres to the slipway was a sluice of cold water from the stream outflow. I didn’t even see the one boat I knew was moored outside the slipway.
I’ve swam for hours in the dark. There is something zen-like about it. It is utterly exhilarating and calming at the same time. This was only thirty minutes of heaven.
The wind was stronger, and stripped the heat really quickly from everyone as they changed, leaving us all much colder after a mere thirty minutes than we expected.
An almost cold hot chocolate from my flask shared with the girls in the car with a delicious bun handed from someone in the dark. And then the long drive home again.
Thanks to Ned for organising. Thanks to all my friends for a special swim.
So we’re having another night swim this week in Dungarvan, principally for the Stiletto Swimmers, the Dungarvan’s Ladies Channel Relay Team. I’m tagging along, because I LOVE NIGHT SWIMMING.
My first experience of it was few years ago at Sandy Cove, organised, as always, by John Conroy of Cork Masters.
And, of course, we had it in the Channel. I had two swims the first night and the one approaching dawn swimming into the Cap and as Amy finished the last fractional leg swimming into St. Margaret’s in the dusk, I swam in behind her (there’s no swimming with Amy, she’s too fast).
During my second night hour, sometime around 3 am, I just stopped swimming to hoot at the top of my voice, to articulate much I was enjoying it. It remains one of my favourite swimming memories. My words on emerging from the sea were, “I’m hungry and horny”, buoyed up by the experience.
Night swimming contains some of the best things about swimming, leaving you to focus on your stroke and the glide and the inside of your own head. It’s a contemplative Zen-like activity when it goes well. (And night-water is usually a bit calmer as winds drops a bit at night.)
And, if it’s later in the summer, and you are not too shallow, there is marine phosphorescence.
Watching your hands elicit the dull green fireworks of bio-luminescence and the splashing green flames coruscating in the whorls of water from your fingertips is hypnotic and captivating.
To be mid-Channel, swimming strongly, with the sparkle of ships in the lanes, and the searchlight of the Pilot stabbing toward you, aah, I can only recommend it.