Lessons from Lama Passage: part 1 – response to cold water

Some say that open water swimming teaches you more about yourself than anything else. After completing a 10km test swim in Lama Passage for the Great Bear Swim I have to agree. It truly was a swim, and experience, like no other.

IMG_20160617_111000My adventure started on a Friday with a three flight hop from Victoria to Bella Bella, Campbell Island. Once on the island, MJ, lead safety for the swim, and I made our way down to the dock to meet our hosts for the weekend; Kevin and Terry. There is a sense of calm about these two men that brings me a feeling of peace, something I need when swimming, and something that was instrumental in getting through my swim the next day.

IMG_20160617_175151We headed for Drifter’s Cove, Kevin’s off-the-grid homestead on Denny Island, and our home for the next few days. There are two cabins each with room for 4.  And although they are off-the-grid they have all the modern conveniences a marathon swimmer could ask for including electricity, hot water, full cooking facilities, a wood burning stove to keep your toes warm and night, a whaling deck for watching all that goes by and if you smile and if you wink at Terry the most incredible camp-fire at sunset with Lama Passage as the backdrop.

The cold-water test

Drifter’s Cove is beautiful and as it turned out the perfect place for a pre-test swim. Within a few hours of arriving and after settling in, I jumped in the water for a two-hour swim to measure my response to the water temperature. The last time I was in the region the water temperate was a cool 10C (Celsius). My research told me it was about 12C. I was hoping for 13C.


IMG_20160617_161436I swam around in the safety of the cove for 2 hours pausing every 15 minutes so MJ could take my body temperature. We wanted to measure how quickly it dropped. The average body temperature is 37C; mine was 36.3C – and that was before I ever entered the water. Within the first 15 minutes my temperature dropped below 35 degrees; I was not feeling cold.

I continued swimming around always pausing to check how I was doing.  MJ and I had talked about hypothermia prior to the test swim and agreed that we would use 35C as the safety cut-off. By the 3rd measurement my body temperature was just above 35C and I was not feeling cold. I wasn’t warm, but I wasn’t cold. We agreed to carry on with the experiment.

After several checks we could see that there was a correlation between the amount of effort expended and my body temperature. Oddly, when I same a bit of butterfly or sprinted before the temperature check, there was a drop in my temperature. When I swam relaxed freestyle my temperature remained stable just above 35C (view the log).

The temperature test was successful. I was able to maintain a fairly good body temperature for a 2 hour period. We agreed to move forward with the 10km test swim Saturday.

IMG_20160617_213753When I exited the water Terry and Kevin had a beautiful camp fire waiting for me. I curled up under a blanket and slowly began the warming process.

Lesson learned: Don’t swim butterfly during an open water swim in cold water!

Find out what happened during the 10km test swim soon.

Posted by Susan

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Diane Thompson says:

    So wonderful to hear of your experience….so inspiring Susan and what a wonderful friend by your side

  2. Jo-Ann Elo says:

    Stay warm my friend!

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