How To: Building an Open Water Swimming Toolbox

This is my open water swimming toolbox, come and have a poke around. Okay, hang on, watch where you’re putting that finger.

The toolbox is made of lycra, silicone, plastic and flesh and brainstuff. I constructed it myself because you can’t purchase one off the shelf, regardless of what some salespeople will have you believe, and you can’t borrow someone-else’s.

The tools inside are pretty cluttered but all pretty well maintained.  Like most toolboxes there’s some useless sand and greasy stuff and sticky bits  in there, the shape has bulged a bit and the exterior of the box is getting a bit old and battered and faded but looks aren’t everything and all the scratches and dents have stories of their own.

This weird-shaped thingamajig here is called Experience. It’s the tool I use every single swim. Every swim sharpens it, and makes it fit the next job even better. Curiously, the more I use it the more I know how to use it. Sometimes I open up one attachment to figure out if it’s safe to swim. Sometimes I use a different attachment to tell me if I’ll be able to get out safely. Sometimes I even discover a new use from a previously completed operation.  And occasionally I fish the whole tool out of my Speedoes if things get a bit iffy in the water and I need to measure the whole situation. It’s quite waterproof and is easily stored no matter that it seems to be bigger than when I first used it on my second swim. (The Experience tool that is, not the Speedoes or other contents thereof!).

This incredibly complex and weird-shaped widget is called the Stroke tool. It’s always important to get help learning this tool. It’s not the only tool nor even the most important but while you won’t get the job done using it alone, neither will you get the job done without it. It comes with four different major sides,  but each major use has lots of smaller increments and adjustments. Mastering this tool is a lifelong task, and you need to make sure you don’t mistake an Apprentice level for a Journeyman or Master level. I’m at about Journeyman level with this thing after years of practice. The tool also includes this dial here called Strokes Per Minute which can be set anywhere from 70 to 78 but you need to calibrate this tool to yourself and you might find you use a far lower or far higher range of settings. This whole tool is a bit tricky and also never seems to be just quite right. Make sure you read and don’t lose the manual as it’s pretty complex and you’ll find you have to refer back to it every so often. Sometimes the Stroke tool breaks down and you might have use both the Experience and Adaptation tools to get the job done. You should also realise that this tool is temperature sensitive. Funnily enough despite its complexity, it’s also a bit a like a hammer: It’s just not enough for every problem.

This blocky-looking block yoke (Irish term) is called the Training tool. You have to make this tool yourself. It’s a lot of work to build but it’s essential to balance the toolbox and to support the other tools. Occasional Maestro’s of the Stroke tool will denigrate the Training tool but people who leave the Training tool out of their toolbox will always get caught out on the job.

This roll of stuff here is called Adaptability. It’s like a more waterproof duct tape but you can stick a bit behind your ear and grab it when you need it and your hands are full. I use it to stick some of the other tools together when an unforeseen situation arises.  And unforeseen situations arise all the time, so this tool is really useful. But like the stroke tool it can’t be the only thing in the toolbox. Sometime you might want to stick a bit of experience onto a length of stroke and make it stand on a chunk of training. A bit of adaptation is yer only man tool for some jobs.

Some people will try to get you to put extra specialist tools in your toolbox usually because they are selling it. Mental toughness is a good example. It’s an essential tool. But there are some quirky things about the existing tools. If you learn to use the tools well they already do the specialist tasks, such as accurately taping the right bit of experience to the right big bit of training using some adapability and you know, you end up with a tool that does the same thing.

This is a pencil and notebook. I use this to record the jobs I’ve done.  If I don’t record what I’ve done, how will I know what I’ve learned?

These are the Checklists. No good workman starts the job without checklists.  Make sure to check the location, temperature, wind, tide, currents, exit and risks boxes for every job.

These here are the Plans.

This is Plan A: Swim Harder. Plan B is Swim In a Different Direction, Plan C is Swim In the Opposite Direction, Plan D is Keep On Swimming, Plan E is Don’t Get In and Plan F is Get Out. Every plan is appropriate to a particular situation and sometimes you might even use the whole lot. Some over-confident workmen only go on the job with Plan D and think it’ll be adequate for every situation. Don’t forget  the workman’s Seven-Ps planning rule: Proper prior planning prevents piss-poor performance.

Never forget to bring Plans E (Don’t Get In)and F (Get Out) because when you have the confidence and knowledge and know the time and place to use those plans appropriately, you’ll have built your own toolbox and be  ready for whatever the job throws at you.

Now get out there, there are jobs waiting to be done.


8 thoughts on “How To: Building an Open Water Swimming Toolbox

  1. Pingback: Twenty-Two Things About Open Water Swimming That You Don’t Want To Know | LoneSwimmer

  2. Pingback: How To: Be Responsible For Your Own Open Water Swimming Safety – Two Guiding Principles | LoneSwimmer

  3. As we are working through an unseasonably warm February here in San Francisco, I have to say I really enjoyed this–kind of made my day to read something I can truly identify with. I do believe you when you say wrote it in one draft–the most inspired writing always works that way.


  4. Pingback: Swimming Around Hook Head | LoneSwimmer

  5. Reblogged this on just Trying to Swim and commented:
    I loved this article, it made me smile on a grey September morning, when I wonder whether to send back the hire wetsuit, or perhaps swim another season. An additional asset in the aquatic armoury, I guess this is just what I need. I hope you enjoy the post as much as I did.


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