The sea swim season has ended. No more gathering at the yacht club on a Thursday evening with an anxious knot in my gut, wondering whether I can get round the course among the other swimmers. Susan suggests a gentle swim at the beach after work, in the last remaining days before the clocks change back and the long summer evenings come to an end.
We meet after work. The playground and beach are busy with families last-chancing it and the air is warm. At eye-level the waves are bigger than they seemed from the beach but we set off enthusiastically. At times we lose sight each other and the buoy but we re-orient and press on, stroke by stroke. We cling to the buoy, chatting for a few moments, then head back with a following tide. I enjoy glimpses of the golden glow of the evening each time I turn to breathe. At the beach people are still strolling and playing as we come out of the water, exhilarated.
The following week Susan texts that there should be plenty of time with sunset at 6.30 so I agree to another 'last' swim. Besides 'your eyes adjust don't they?' she says. She's braver than me. At 5.30 on this overcast evening the beach is deserted but the water is invitingly calm. We swim steadily out to the buoy and as we hang there, suspended, before turning back, I'm intrigued that I can see my hands through the clear water in a way that's never possible in summer. Why is that?
We head back to the beach. Halfway back, darkness falls as though the light has been switched off. I can see streetlights and the lights of the cars on Rocks Road but the water around me is pitch black and I've lost sight of Susan. For a few moments I'm scared enough to cry but I tell myself sternly the only way back is to relax and keep going.
After a few more metres Susan swims over, rapt. 'Look,' she says, 'they're all driving home from work with no idea...' 'that we're out here,' I finish for her. I don't mean to spoil her fun, but I need to keep going. Not until I know I can touch the bottom can I really appreciate the dark, still sea, the beautiful lights and the thrill of it. Then I put my head down and swim my best stroke steadily to the beach. A runner has noticed us and waits for us to walk out ton to the beach. We look back – it's too dark to see anything at all beyond the white curl of the nearest wave.
Were we really out there just now? With hindsight, it was magical but I'm not doing it again without lights!