Swimming with the Seals. For 1.7 kilometres.

Although I had to fly to a conference early Sunday morning, I didn’t want to let this weekend go by without a great adventure. Hence, Ilya Capralov and I set out on an adventure that wouldn’t take us long — swimming in the open Ocean from Wreck Beach to Tower Beach.

On Saturday, June 17, 10 am we met up in the clubroom. We spent a lot of time with faff like figuring out what the beach looks like from the seaside, so we’d have an idea how far we are along. After calling Ilya’s roommate, telling him our plan and when we expect to return, we donned our wetsuits and walked towards Wreck Beach. I was lucky with my choice of VOC rental wetsuit but Ilya was not. His was very awkward and scratched his neck.

Once on the beach we did a few push-ups to warm up our upper body, some dynamic stretching and soon we went out into the ice-cold Salish Sea. First we just swam straight out to one of the buoys that marks the swimming area. Switching between breast stroke and crawl, I had a hard time catching up with Ilya who’s a very good swimmer but he was kind: He waited often and soon pointed out the first seal to me.

After reaching the buoy, we aimed for a new target: a rock exposed by the low tide far off the North end of Wreck Beach. Soon more seals emerged around us and Great Blue Herons (and people) watched us from the beaches. As we reached the rock, we climbed on it for a very short break. Neither the sharp clam shells, nor my lack of balance (more on that later) could distract me from climbing up. Only on Saturday night I noticed that I actually got two long cuts on my foot from the clam shells.

Up until that rock we’d had a very easy time swimming because there was a slight current going our way. From then on it got a little harder. Undeterred, we kept swimming north along the coast, passing more seals on our way. Soon our objective, Coast Artillery Search Light tower #9 (*) (built for World War II) at Tower Beach, was just in front of us. However, with only 150 metres between us and said tower, I felt a slight hint of dizziness. I didn’t want to take any chances and changed course towards the beach and Ilya followed me.

A minute or two later and about forty-five minutes after we had started, we crawled onto Tower Beach. We had no sense of balance and I’m sure it must have looked as if we were drunk. It also felt like that, except that my mind was sharp. I had experienced that after a long swim before but it has never been that bad. The cold water in our ears must have wreaked havoc with our inner ears which are responsible for balance. Barely able to walk, we followed the trail South towards the next stairs up to campus. We passed four majestic Great Blue Herons lined up on the beach, watching the sea for prey. Walking up the stairs just South of the Museum of Anthropology with bare feet on gravel was excruciating — next time we gotta get someone to wait for us at the beach with a towel, hot tea and shoes. The walk back to the clubroom definitely falls under type III fun.

We rewarded ourselves by hanging out in the hot tub at the UBC Aquatic Centre and making ourselves a lot of spaghetti. Somewhere in between we figured out that the distance we passed was almost 1.7 kilometres.

The take-aways? We should do this again. I gotta practice my crawl-stroke. Ear plugs are essential. Never again will we walk barefoot on gravel trails after swimming in the ocean. Next time we should ask our friends to welcome us at the beach. Perhaps one day we’ll cross a small channel towards an island.

(*) For more infomation on the Coastal Artillery Search Light towers, check out Michael R. Barrick’s blog.

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