PUBLISHED: 14:00 08 March 2016
Matt Austin _
A Beer boatyard has created a colourful idea to help open water swimmers with safety and endurance, as Sue Cade discovers
To be frank, the idea of going for a three-hour swim in the deep sea does not fill me with enthusiasm. But for some, open water swimming is a real thrill. It’s an increasingly popular activity not only amongst tri-athletes but also people who simply love the challenge of swimming in the sea, including our bracing Devon coastline.
If you spot these swimmers out at sea, the chances are they’ll have an inflated plastic bag bobbing along with them. The bag contains a waterproof zipped section for items such as money, towels and shoes. Pretty basic, these bags can give swimmers a lot of drag.
Last year, two Devon-based open water swimmers, Neil Tubbs and Nick Reed, went to Sardinia on a Swim Trek holiday where as well as plastic bags, a tiny boat was used. They loved the thought that these boats gave the potential for swimmers to go further, more safely and with more kit. On their return, full of enthusiasm, they visited Kevin Driver at The Boatyard at Beer to see if he was interested in making something similar. The result was the Swimboat.
Kevin and his business partner, Ian Teasdale are well known in the boat building sector. Kevin is originally from the watery Lake District and moved south in the 1980s. He worked for well-known boatbuilders Jon Turner Dinghies in Ashill and Exmouth’s Rowsell & Morrison before setting up in Beer where Ian joined him ten years later. The business, which builds racing dinghies, is thriving.
Kevin says that when he started out he worked on wooden racing dinghies. “These were mainly Merlin Rockets made from traditional planked plywood. The pinnacle for me was building a number of Salcombe Yawls which performed brilliantly at Salcombe Regatta with Spud Rowsell, who I crew for. Inevitably, though, our boat building moved into GRP, built to order using our own moulds.”
These days, The Boatyard at Beer builds for RS Sailing as well as dealing directly with customers, mainly building plastic single and double handed racing dinghies that are fun to sail, easy to handle and fast. It’s all very busy, and I ask Kevin why he agreed to diversify and make this niche product. “It caught my imagination – it’s a nice thing to build, and I think it will help more people get enjoyment out of the sea.”
The Swimboat really is a thing of beauty; a perfect miniature boat in canary yellow, just 1.4 metres long with a big hatch and impressive storage area with plenty of space for mobile phones, a waterproof radio, provisions, flip flops, dry clothes and even hot drinks. “Open water swimmers like to stop off at quiet coves for a break. So a flask of tea and some food for energy, like bananas, is ideal,” explains Kevin. The boat is pulled on a 10 metre length of floating rope, using a waist harness.
I ask if I can test the weight of the boat and when I pick it up it really is amazingly light, around eight kilos. On the back is a jaunty yellow flag on a mast – which is not just there for show. “When you’re out in open water you can be pretty vulnerable if other seafarers can’t see you. The flag really stands out.”
Increased safety for swimmers is a definite plus - not just the flag, but the storage means swimmers can take flares, a knife in case they get tangled up and water bottles for rehydration - and the boat itself can be used as a buoyancy aid in an emergency.
Although Swimboat’s official launch was from Beer beach on a calm day, it has also been trialled locally in gruelling conditions during a swim off Budleigh. Despite a four-foot swell, one bold swimmer made it safely round the headland towards Ladram Bay with the boat in tow.
“The boat is useful for all levels of swimmers, from beginner to elite level, and we’re hoping it will pick up interest from Triathlon clubs to use for training,” Kevin says.
It’s an impressive little innovation, and if it was me swimming in the deep sea I’d be much happier with this bright yellow boat floating quietly behind me.
Essential kit for sea swimmingWetsuit
Essential to keep you warm – opt for a snug fit to make it more efficient
Swim cap- Keeps in heat and stops long hair getting in your face
Swim suit- To wear under your wetsuit
Goggles- Choose a pair that are comfortable. If it’s sunny, tinted goggles are a good idea
Ear plugs- Silicon ear plugs can help prevent ear infections and keep you warmer
Swim gloves and socks- Hands and feet get cold first!
Find out more about open water swimming
wildswim.com- The website has a comprehensive map with information about where to park, swimming conditions and whether you can skinny dip!
outdoorswimmingsociety.com- It’s the tenth anniversary of the Outdoor Swimming Society. Find out where to swim and discover local swim groups
openwaterswimming.eu- Find out about open water swimming across Europe
h2openmagazine.com- Everything you need to know - for serious open water swimmers as well as those taking part for fun
wildswimming.co.uk- Helpful information and links to niche books, including Wild Guide Book, Guide to the South West