London Royal Docks a stunning place for a sunny morning swim. The water was gorgeous and the people who run it are really encouraging. There is a lot of faff to get involved, but well worth it. Just remember that opening times on websites are never really true.
It’s not the easiest place to find if you look specifically for it, but it is right next to the ExCel centre (and not a lot else). During the opening hours there is a little gazebo set up where you can get signed in and issued a wristband. You do need to register online before you go, and buy a NOWCA safety wristband which you collect on arrival (or if you didn’t you can sign up then but it takes time away from your swim). You also need to take a swimming hat (they were kind enough to lend me one) and wetsuits if it’s chilly.
When we go there at 10ish expecting a good hour of splashing about, we were told that we could have 10 mins in the water (and pay) or we could wait 20 mins and then take part in a 400m race for free. How long does it take to get into my wetsuit?
Most people just get changed on the grass but there 2 little wooden changing rooms down at the wakeboarding centre for those of us not wishing to inflict the painstaking view of squishing limbs into an unnaturally tight second skin. We all gathered at the gazebo and the idea behind the race was explained to us; basically to make open water swimming more accessible. The organisation are asking the lakes to cut the main swimming time a bit short, but keep all of the necessary safety equipment set up so that people can give a shorter course a go. This was the first one they have run.
The course options usually are 150m, 400m, 750m and 1500m. They hold various events that go up to 10k. This time we were limited to 400m, which was a bit of a shame, but a great idea to get people started.
On the way to the pontoon (brilliant, no need to put your feet into any sludge, and there were hardly any birds there) we got our safety wristbands scanned, which allowed us to get out swim timed, which is an awesome touch and chucked our stuff into a little tent. There is a wooden ladder into the water which we were informed is “pointless, just jump in”. After the route was explained to us again and a load of photos taken, the siren was set off and so did we.
Swimming in a wetsuit does feel like a world of wrong. I understand the concept behind it is to keep you afloat (if you get knocked out) but in practice I don’t get it. Your arse and legs are lifted pretty much out of the water so it’s difficult to kick, which in turn levers your body so your whole head is submerged. That combined with the constriction of every body part seems to go against all sense. However, I wasn’t cold and nor did I drown. Much more practice needed to get used to it.
The water was lovely. The visibility wasn’t great, but better than the Serpentine and not full of plant debris although not as clear as Stoke Newington. It is a huge space to splash about and I definitely want to go back to try the longer courses. The atmosphere amongst the people swimming was much more of interest and enjoyment than the other open water places I have been. People weren’t racing at all, just having a lovely swim.
Your safety band gets scanned when you get back to the pontoon, and you are given a little applause before being told a very firm “No” when you ask to stay in. Shame.
There aren’t any showers for me to moan about, and I managed to laze about in the sun for the whole day without feeling vile enough to need to go home and get clean.
I thought it was a really great place. The 400m race taster idea has certainly worked on me, more please.