That Springtime Leap

By Tom Neale, 6/11/2009


Tom Neale's logs have a new name and home on BoatUS Magazine. We know Tom has a loyal and devoted readership, so we wanted to share his tips and insights with an even bigger audience! For the latest articles, click here for Onboard With Tom Neale.

Spring time swim

The beginning weeks of the boating season are always touted as that time when we boaters “finally get back on the water.” What the touters don’t tell you about is that the water that we boaters are getting back on to is still cold. And they also leave out the part that getting back “on to” usually means getting back into the water. The problem is that we’re so glad to be “back” that we invariably think it’s going to be warmer than it is and dive in. This might not seem like a big deal to those who haven’t done it, or to those who live way down south where the water is always warm, but it’s a big deal to a lot of us, and I’m one.

First, it has a diminishing effect on lots of things. I’m sure you know what I mean. Like (just as an example) the size of your inner tube that you blew up until it was nice and tight in the hot sun in your yard back at home. As soon as you throw it into cold water the hot air inside contracts and that tight tube gets a bit flabby. This is why I never dive into cold water head first. I don’t want to shrink my brain any smaller than it already is. If I jump into the water feet first I figure I’ve still got a little brain left to figure out how to get back onto the boat as quickly as possible.

It also diminishes your ego by reminding you of things that you hope you never forget again. The first thing that comes to mind that didn’t come to mind when you packed up your boat is that boarding ladder that would have helped you to quickly get back into the boat and warm up, but which you left back home in the garage where it’s doing you a whole lot of good.  It also reminds you that you promised yourself last spring that you’d never jump into cold water again, no matter how good it looked and that you must be a lot more stupid than your mother would have ever admitted to her friends.

Why we jump into water when we should know it’s cold is a mystery to me. More than that, why I jump into it when I should know it’s cold is a mystery to me. I’ve been making this mistake for many years now, and it certainly isn’t something that improves with age.

Some of us have a reason for doing it. Children often fall into that category. Their reason is that they’ve had to sit still for so long in a small place while the boat was going from the dock to the beach or anchorage that they have to make up for all the inactivity as soon as they get a chance. Usually they’re so active and energetic that they don’t even realize the water’s cold until their parents realize that their children are blue and order them out of the water.

Over the years I’ve noticed that there’s a certain other group of people who must have a reason for jumping into cold water. These are the people who’ve had a couple of brews. Now I certainly don’t know what they’re doing when the jump in the water after that couple of brews and I’d never venture to guess, but I’ve noticed that there seems to be a definite correlation. I’ve also noticed that this phenomenon puts to rest the popular theory about the guys being tougher than the ladies. Deny it if you want, but if you are at all observant, you’ll see what I’m talking about. It’s the guys who are the wimps. On any day early in the season, check out the center consoles and other open boats anchored out offshore, or off a beach, with the couple lazing around enjoying the warm sun, enjoying the fact that they are finally back on the water, and celebrating with a couple of brews. The supposedly tough macho guys are usually sitting inside the boat. Almost to a man, they’re looking extremely uncomfortable and they’re scowling at all the nearby boats like they want them to all go away. Quickly. It’s the ladies who rise to the occasion. They’re the ones hanging off the stern in the water, with a totally relaxed and relieved smile on their faces.

Sometimes I jump into cold water in the spring, because I forget where I am. In the spring I’ve just recently come up from southern latitudes where the water was warm all winter.  I guess I’m thinking: if I was jumping into nice warm water a couple of weeks ago, why not now. One of my more memorable experiences of jumping into early season cold water was the first year we took “Chez Nous” up to New England. We made a fairly fast trip up from the Bahamas, not stopping long enough to be jumping into the water on the way up and to notice the not so subtle changes in temperature.  The water in New England even in August is a lot colder than, say in the Chesapeake Bay. We dropped anchor early one afternoon when we reached Narragansett Bay and I jumped in for a “refreshing” break. I didn’t need the ladder. I shot out of the water like a Polaris missile.  How was I to know? After all, a few local folks were swimming. I experienced this again the first time I sailed with friends out to Catalina Island off the coast of California.  It was in August. And we were in relatively southern climes of the West Coast. When I came to the surface it was Polaris missile all over again. This taught me that cold water apparently makes some of us a lot tougher than others, and I fall in the “others” category.

Tom’s Tips About Cold Water

1. Remember that your children aren’t going to be sensitive to the killer called hypothermia and that you may need to order them out of the water and warm them up much earlier than they want..

Click Here for More Tips

There’s a lot of mythology associated with jumping into cold water. One of the cruelest myths is that all you have to do is stick your toe into the water to see if it’s warm enough. Right. First of all, your toe isn’t exactly like your torso. It harkens back to that old well established axiom of anatomy that what’s warm to a toe might not be warm to a belly. (OK, I’m not a doctor.) Secondly, your toe is nowhere near long enough to reach far enough down under the sun warmed surface to find out the real water temperature deeper down where your body will be. If your toe is that long, you’ve definitely got an advantage over the rest of us. Except for when it comes time to buy shoes.

Another myth is that, once you get used to it, the cold water won’t be so cold. This myth only works if it wasn’t cold in the first place.  If the early season water is really cold, what’s actually happening when the water is beginning to feel less cold is that you’re going numb. This has its obvious drawbacks, including but not limited to the fact that the more numb you get the less you’re able to tell you’re getting numb.

Yet another myth is that it invigorates your body and improves your memory. This may not be a myth to you, but it is to me.

As I type this, I’m looking out the porthole at the water. It’s cold. I know it is. But it sure looks good. I wonder if it’s really that cold.  


Copyright 2004-2009 Tom Neale