Over the last two weeks I found myself 'buddyless', and whilst during the warmer months this wouldn't phase me one bit (well maybe the fish phobia that I have would a little) as I'd just get in the water and get on with it, but this is now November and also the first year that I've swam this late in the year. Alongside this I have also ditched my wetsuit and am trying to acclimatise myself to the colder water that comes with winter and I'm discovering that swimming in it is a whole different ball game, with a whole different set of rules. I'm only just learning how my body responds to the cold water, and with my very limited experience so far (all of a month) I just don't feel confident enough just yet to go it alone (I must just add that I do swim at a venue where there is a safety crew that know their stuff, but I hope you know what I mean?), anyway, back to my errant swim buddy... I have always (apart from an odd time) swum with Shark. She tried getting rid of me in the early days, but I convinced her of the benefits of having me there (not too sure what they are actually, but I must have rustled up a convincing list - that or she just felt sorry for me, either way it worked), and so swimming without her and without my wetsuit in a colder environment than I’m used to had me a little worried.
When I ran my concerns past Shark I thought she might recommend finding someone else to buddy up with, but instead suggested that as her replacement I try using a tow float. She uses one for every swim, however I'm pretty sure that it's not for visibility, but rather she is prepared to use hers as a piece of lifesaving kit (I must add that all the manufactures that I found state that a tow float is just for visibility) as I am completely useless in an emergency. So out of necessity, and my own piece of mind, I decide it’s probably my best option. Shark is keen to remind me that any swap is merely temporary, and a means to an end, and not because she is doing a bad job, but she just has had a lot of other prior engagements recently she told me that she simply must attend. I actually think she may be pulling a fast one and is secretly at home in front of a warm fire, tucked under a fleecy blanket, watching Judith Chalmers swanning around some tropical paradise, whilst smugly drinking hot alcoholic beverages.
After a quick look online, I found there are three types of tow float: A swimming tow float, a dry bag swimming tow float and a tow donut, I have checked out colours, shape, lights and dimensions, and have come to the conclusion that actually size does matter, and have gone large. I've chosen one that's as big as a pontoon, with the capacity to house a capsule wardrobe (probably not including stilettos) and despite the warnings that it is not a safety device should the need arise, like Shark, I am fully prepared to ignore this.
So this week, swim bud is unfortunately not able to swim again. Her excuse, I mean reason, is that she isn't feeling well enough, but has offered to come with me for moral support and to stand on the side (probably whilst coughing up a lung) to hold my towel and offer words of encouragement. I’m very grateful and do sympathise with her for a bit by telling her she looks tired, but it’s really just my polite way of saying "you look a bit shit!" And she really does...
I offer to drive (windows down of course). I also offer her a Berocca and suggest she wraps up warm for the journey -we have an hours drive ahead of us!). We set off earlier than we would normally as I have budgeted for the extra time it will take to blow up the enormous tow float... Shark begins her supportive roll the minute we get out of the car, and makes an attempt to blow it up, but before it reaches her mouth I have snatched it back. I know she is trying to be helpful, but she has nasty germs. I soften the blow by telling her it's because I don't want her to exert her already weakened self, but that's actually a big fat lie and begin inflating it myself - note to self - be better prepared and do this the night before. It saves lots and lots of time that could be used more wisely doing things like swimming for example, or eating cake. Instead I am mindlessly trying to blow it up and getting nowhere. My lungs are about to spontaneously combust before I realise that it has a safety catch, and the safety catch is still on! Turns out I am one of those annoying people that thinks they are above reading the instructions! I should have learnt my lesson back in my youth when I attempted a flat pack, self assembly table. It was after several hours of failed attempts, and only when the electric drill I bought especially to help ran out of charge, that it was declared unfit for purpose, and all eating of meals on my lap resumed. I suspect that the table is still living an unfulfilled life in my loft.
As I am writing this you will probably have picked up on the fact that I did indeed survive the swim without my buddy. Yay! How'd I fair? The burning question on your lips no doubt? Well, the swim went very well, although I missed Shark's witty banter (the float was kind of quiet), it was better than Shark at navigating the buoys. Shark's not so winning strategy for the shortest racing line is to hit the thing head on... literally, whilst the float on the other hand gave them a wide berth (I may have a helping hand in this. The thought of being tethered to a buoy by it is not too appealing really), It did keep catching the back of my leg, which was kind of annoying, but it did the job and I certainly felt more at ease swimming with it than I think I would have done without. When I got back Shark joked (or at least I hope it was a joke) that the tow float had given her peace of mind knowing that it would make locating my body easier from the shore line, but also added that she would like to add some modifications. I (turns out wrongly) thought she meant adding lights, reflectors, whistle, torch, flares, but no, she pretty much wanted to add a full first aid kit in the area reserved for clothing. I remind her of my inability to function properly in any kind of medical situation, and then it dawned on me... she wasn't really going to add a first aid kit, she was reminding me by stealth of how lucky I was to have her and what an asset she is to our little team of two. I go to give her a very brief hug, but remembering she is harvesting germs at the moment and opt instead for a pat on the back, and keep to myself the stark fact that she is actually THE only asset we have!
I must say there are a lot of benefits to Shark being ill. Firstly, as I get out of the water I am handed my warm towel and ushered inside into the warm whilst she carries my bag. Is this the point I'm meant to hand her a tip? I'm not sure what the protocol is?!?. I am given instructions under the door on how to dress (I'm not sure how I've managed to get to my age without this facility) and then when I emerge I'm handed a cup of coffee, and a refilled hot water bottle and one of the Winter Swimming Club's star baker Chris's legendary chocolate brownies (I am obliged at this point to add that Shark too is a fantastic baker. Her cakes are truly amazing- except for perhaps her one attempt at coconut cake, but we won't go there).
So, the tow float - Will I use it again? Here's the thing - I'd much rather share the experience with my amazing swim bud, who is as much of a scaredy cat as I am, if not more (it's the shark in the lake story with which I am basing this on), who almost chokes laughing at my trip ups (of which there are literally millions), is capable of downing a large slab of cake quicker than I can, is terrible at navigating buoys, leaves me stranded when she sees a large fish (I’d do the same to be fair), but she also takes amazingly good care of me, and is prepared to stand in the cold to be my Swimming Sherpa, when she's feeling a bit under the weather, to make sure I don’t prefer a tow float above her as a swim buddy. Shark is definitely my first choice, however on the days that she would rather stay home and be a couch potato, whilst trying to pass it off as something far more important, and isn't available to swim, I'd much rather have a relaxing swim where I feel safe and seen and enjoy it rather than worrying, I am more than happy to swap her (temporarily) for a tow float.