Lynda Parker of the Blyth and District All Season Swimmers (BADASS) tells the story of a yellow marker buoy
In spring last year our local yacht club put a marker buoy out, just off Blyth beach in south east Northumberland.
This will have gone largely unnoticed by the dog walkers, picnicking families and possibly even the surfers who frequent our beach, however, to a small group of swimmers, that little yellow dot about half a mile offshore became so much more than a bit of floating plastic for dinghies and skiffs to race around.
IT WAS A CHALLENGE TO EXPERIENCED SWIMMERS – how fast can we get there?
IT WAS A CHALLENGE TO INEXPERIENCED SWIMMERS – will I be able to get there?
IT WAS A THING OF CONTENTION – did it count as a proper swim to the buoy if it was low tide?
IT WAS A PLACE TO REST and contemplate the temperature and clarity of the water.
IT OCCASIONALLY DRIFTED. The distance from the shore was measured each time and the line of swim was often mocked for its wonkiness.
IT WAS AN UNSPOKEN RACE AMONG THE NEW SWIMMERS as to who would conquer the swim to it first.
IT WAS A THING OF KUDOS and of equal disappointment.
IT WAS SOMETIMES ON THE OTHER SIDE OF A METAPHORICAL MINEFIELD of jellyfish.
IT WAS BIGGER THAN IT LOOKED and when you got there it felt like the middle of the ocean.
IT WAS REMINISCENT OF THE BUOY IN JAWS, but we try not to speak of that.
IT WAS A GUIDE FOR SPOTTERS to see their swimmers from the shoreline.
IT WAS A THING TO SIGHT ON and on which to set your sights.
We gazed at it before a swim, weighing up the swell and deciding who was swimming with who. We watched it afterwards, drinking the hot beverage of choice, comparing that day’s swim with previous outings. It became part of our group, an inanimate member of the team that was in the conversation as often as cake.
Then in the autumn, it was gone. High seas and stormy conditions took our buoy. We didn’t realise how much a part of us it had become. We lamented its absence.
We returned to swimming parallel with the beach, using the usual marker points. Swim to the tower, then to the beach huts, then on to the groynes and back again. Autumn turned to winter and winter to spring and the buoy was almost forgotten. We had our old faithful, static markers. We knew the distance between them. We were resigned to swimming along the shoreline.
Then one day in June, a new buoy appeared and the trials began again.
Never has a group of adults been more excited to see a small yellow blip appear amongst the choppy waves. For two weeks the sea was too rough; the weather was atrocious or people were committed to events. The conversation centred around the buoy; pictures were posted of the buoy; people were impatient to get to the buoy. Then the race to be the first to swim to the buoy was won for this season. The same weekend, the first skins swimmer tagged the marker. It is a separate class after all and I say this with tongue firmly in cheek. There will be more categories added as the season progresses so folk can claim their ‘firsts’. Today, I circled it first on a paddle board, following my fellow swimmers and floating above the jellyfish.
We have a plan to have the first picnic out there this season.
So now the summer is here and we’re hoping that the sea will be kind and clear and silky smooth, because for so many of us, that iconic bit of plastic remains more than a just physical turning point.