Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Day at the Beach, Not Quite During Summertime

It’s The 5th Annual Swimsuit Edition! of the Carnival of Genealogy. It's time to think of summer and lazy days spent at the pool or beach. And this got me thinking of a day I spent at the beach about a decade ago. I was in my swimsuit – but it wasn’t exactly summertime. In fact, it wasn’t summer at all, more like winter!

I’m not sure exactly what year it was, but it had to have been either 2000, 2001, or 2002. For biology class in high school we were going to do a project in pairs, and I was paired up with my friend J. The project had to be something at the beach – you had to have a research question, collect material to answer it at the beach, then analyze it at school. It was wintertime, or early spring, and while the day we were going to the beach was a dry one, it was still very cold and there was quite a bit of wind. And I had suggest looking at microscopic animals living in the sea water. So really, there wasn’t anyone to blame for that day besides myself.

The plan was to collect a bucket full of water at different points in the ocean – one where the waves hit the beach, and then 4 more, each one about a meter further out into the ocean. I grew up near the ocean, we went every summer, and I’m a strong swimmer. Also, I love to swim, and didn’t think it would be any trouble to gather the samples. In fact, I was looking forward to it. Of course, several people – including my parents, the biology teacher, and my friends – asked me if I was nuts, to go swimming so early in the year. Did I know how cold it was? I, of course, was a teenager and disinclined to listen. Besides, there’s a tradition in the Netherlands called ‘New Years Swim’ where a lot of people take a dive into the ocean on January 1st. So there shouldn’t be a problem, right?

On the day itself, I’d changed into my bathing suit at home and pulled on my jeans and a sweater on top of it. We met up at the beach and once again my teacher asked me if I was sure I wanted to do this. My friends had given up on asking by that time – can anyone say ‘stubborn’? Anyway, I said I still wanted to do it, and so it was that with bucket in hand I made my way to the ocean in nothing but a bathing suit. Of course, it was a bit chilly with the wind, but hey, no problem! The first and second buckets weren’t a big problem. For the first one I was only wet until my ankles, as we gathered a bucket full of water from the waterline, and the second one I got wet until my middle. The water was cold – colder than in the summertime – but actually not as cold as I’d expected. So far, so good.

The last three buckets required me to actually get wet all the way and swim. I don’t know if anyone ever tried to swim in the ocean with a bucket filled with water – without getting anymore water in it! – but it’s not as easy as it sounds. Still, I managed, and the swimming kept me warm. After that first shock of ‘ah, cold’, the water temperature didn’t even bother me anymore.

That changed as soon as I got out of the water, though. I was wet, the temperature wasn’t very high, and the wind made it even colder. Even though my friend J. was waiting with a towel so I could wrap myself up as soon as I’d brought in the last bucket, I was still shivering and very, very cold. While J. made sure the samples I’d taken were transferred and sealed into containers to take back to us, I was drying off and changing into clothes as fast as I could in one of the changing rooms that dotted the beach. But even dry and with clothes on, I was still cold. We went into one of the beachside caf├ęs and I drank two cups of hot tea. It helped, a bit, but I will admit (now, after the fact, not then!) that I didn’t get warm again until I got home and took a hot shower.

As for our research – well, it was a typical high school project. Of course we saw some differences in microscopic animals, but that was probably more due to chance than any actual difference. The distance of 5 meters near the shore is just too small to see any noticeable difference in microscopic animals. It was still interesting to see though, there’s a lot of life in even a few drops of water. And while I’d seen microscopic fresh water animals through a microscope before, I hadn’t ever seen salt water animals of the same scale. So that was fun. I don’t remember what grade we got, other than that it was a passing grade.

Looking back, I was a bit crazy and probably courting hypothermia and getting ill (which didn’t happen, by the way), but it sure was a lot of fun! Even though I like the beach at summertime more.


  1. Oh how daring you were, lol! What an adventure you had at the beach. It's a great story, JM, and I'm very glad you shared it with us in the COG.

    (You know what? I've just developed a chill and I've been sweating all day... your words convey the chilling scene too well, lol!)

  2. BRRR, is right. When I was in high school we took a trip over Memorial Day to Lake Superior (our coldest of the great lakes).

    It was warm, we decided to take a few hours to enjoy the beach (which if I remember correctly was more stone and rocks than sand).

    And, some of us went swimming.

    I got in as far as my ankles!

  3. Shivering. It's too bad you couldn't use plastic bags that you can seal instead of buckets! I have never done any winter swimming.

  4. Okay now I am officially cccccooled off! Carol lake Superior is cold in the summer. I can't imagine winter! J.M. I certainly hope you got an A, what adventure you had! Thank you for sharing !

  5. Brrr. You were brave! I laughed when you said you were "...a teenager and disinclined to listen." Great observation (and pretty much sums up the teenage years)!