The ocean off the prow of our property is frigid, even in the warm months. On a melting summer day, the waters of Boundary Pass are soothing to wade into, a welcome relief from the heat. But most other days, people call them downright freezing.
Temperatures range from eight degrees Celsius in the colder months to about 12 on a sunny summer’s day.
But I am a cold water swimmer. These waters are perfect for me. Year round.
I love the bracing shock of dipping my body into these waters. They grip me, slow down my breath. A deep peace settles over me as I swim the 40 or so feet out to a clump of rocks I can scramble up on. Or swim right round them to another rock on the far side.
Benign indifference of the ocean
I like to stand on a rock and behold the vastness of this body of water and islands. A corner of Mt. Baker, the humpback of Orcas Island and the San Juans, Waldron and Stuart Islands. Sunsets from this rock, with waves lapping at my feet, are the most entrancing I’ve experienced on Pender.
I dive in again and come up near a patch of bull kelp. Treading water for a few moments, I let the currents carry me east or west, depending on the tidal ebb and flow. Staying near the rocks, there is always something to reach out and hold onto if i am moving too fast.
I often think of a diver friend who speaks of the ocean’s “benign indifference.” One senses its overwhelming power, but also its embrace. I am a small speck in the ocean’s vastness, but in calm conditions there is a sense of welcome, a life-giving force. It teems with life on the surface and in the black depths beneath me. It’s gripping cold rejuvenates me.
A kelp crab adopts a battle stance
Clambering back up onto the rocks, I may see a kelp crab adopt a battle stance as I bob past. Seals pop their heads up and watch me glide back towards my rock. River otters in groups of three or four come a little closer, ogle me, their heads and necks stretching tall out of the water. In summer, I watch for Lions Mane Jellyfish, the pulsating masses of pink and white ectoplasm. Or their more harmless counterparts, the Moon Jellyfish.
Some days there are warning signs not to go into the water. One day a few years ago, I counted thirty or more jellyfish in our little bay. And sometimes a family of otters sun themselves on the rocks I climb over to the rock beach. They do not like to be disturbed. They will hiss if I try to shoo them away, bare their sharp teeth at me.
Later, I say.
So cute, playing in the water, but ornery and territorial when a human shows up. The ocean and foreshore are their domain, after all.
Nor will I enter when the waters are rough. Certainly not in a storm.
I do love swimming in the rain, though.
What am I doing?
Some days, if I am slightly chilled, I wonder, “Why am I doing this?” as I face the prospect of becoming even more chilled in the bracing water.
Even so, experience tells me I will love love it anyway. The slow walk into the water, up to my shoulders, produces a deep sigh. By the end of the luxurious swim over the rocks, I have forgotten my reluctance. When I return to the beach 15 or 20 minutes later, my mood has changed to not wanting to leave the water.
At the top the stairs, a hot tub awaits. The water is kept at 40 degrees Celsius. Jennifer is often waiting for me. She says I look 10 years younger than before I went went for the swim. There is a smile on my face as I climb in. I warm up watching the last few moments of light.
The cold water works for me, that is all I know. I’m no cold water evangelist. I don’t need to roll out the articles on the Internet about the heath benefits of cold water swimming. But it is all there. Such as this simple article or this feature in The Guardian about how it cold water battles depression.
None of these screeds mention Boundary Pass, the river otters or the sunset. They don’t mention how the water washes away my aches and pains of the day. And I like the idea of feeling 10 years younger.