The challenge of deep water

Skellig Michael

Image via Wikipedia

A question I was asked recently reminds me that there’s a mental challenge that arises when swimming open water.

For most of us swimming around the coast of Ireland, (and indeed most coasts), the water is shallow. Half a mile offshore around Helvick Head in Waterford, the water is only five to six metres deep (mean).

In fact the English Channel itself is also relatively shallow, with a mean of around 45 mtres in the Strait between Dover and Calais and shallow enough in places with sandbanks to cause waves to break.

Generally I don’t think of depth.  All that matters is the placement of obstacles (reefs, sandbanks) and water immediately around me. I swim in my own bubble of personal water.

Some years back I swam around a good part of Skellig Michael (above). Diving off the island, I suddenly started to think about the 100 metre deep water under me.

The Skelligs sit in a point where the Atlantic continental Shelf drop-off begins, much closer than around the rest of the west coast (except between Sligo and Donegal). The islands have sheer sides so the depth drop is precipitous (and is very popular therefore with divers). Ferrying out there you often pass through dolphin pods or superpods. Dee & I once went through a superpod  of hundreds of dolphins, which come in there because the deeper water brings an increase in food (due to upwelling).

So, while I never think of this normally, I had a minute or two of recalibrating my thought processes, to tell myself it made no difference.You only swim on the surface, no matter how deep it is. You only need water that is three feet deep so you only use the three feet of the three or four hundred. The rest is invisible. You can’t see below eight to ten feet and usually less in the rich Irish waters.

So if you have a problem with deep water, just take a little time and use the coaching technique of imagining yourself swimming though a pipe. That pipe should be as narrow as possible to ensure streamlining. But it can be a barrier around you and it’s also all the water that matters.


3 thoughts on “The challenge of deep water

  1. Pingback: Catalina, Part 3 – In deep water | freshwater swimmer

  2. This is an issue that is, I think, more often “thought about” than “talked about.” So I’m glad you wrote about it. I have a date this August with the Catalina Channel, where water depths reach more than 1000m! The California coast in general has some incredible underwater topography. There’s an underwater canyon near La Jolla that reaches 400m only a mile and a half from shore! See here.


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