The magic sea

Punta Paloma to Bolonia 6,500m.

Nature gives us many gifts, all too often ignored as we drive under a bough of trees or walk across a grassy leaf strewn park. Occasionally though nature rises up and wraps its tentacles of light, oxygen, water, colour and texture around us. We swim over fans of paper thin rocks bright green with wavy seaweed while myriads of silvery fish dart below us. With every stroke I watch the sands gently shifting with the swell of the sea, a mild hypnosis only distracted by the need to breathe.

Paloma Baja below the Sierra de San Bartolo. The water was as clear as this for our swim.
Foto © Geotag Aeroview.

Continuing the Conil to Tarifa swim today we are swimming along the shores of the Parque Natural del Estrecho from the great yellow dunes of Punta Paloma to the beach of Bolonia. Blessed (or cursed if you are a farmer) by the continuing good weather (no rain since May!) the water temperature is a comfortable 20ºc. and there have been only a few days of strong Levante wind in the last month. For a swimmer clear water is a blessing, allowing a welcome distraction from the rhythm of a thousand strokes. Today is especially transparent, postcard perfect Caribbean blue with every detail of the seabed visible.

We have decided to hug the shore today. Swimming west, the tide would be against us if we swim in the natural eastwards direction. “No point in being anal” says Chris, “really it doesn’t matter which direction we swim, the important thing is to cover the distance”. Indeed my mammoth solo 10,5km. swim I also did in the reverse direction from Atlanterra to Barbate. If I had to wait for perfect conditions to always be swimming eastwards finishing Conil to Tarifa might never happen. Above us on the Sierra de Fates the windmills are hardly turning, the breeze indicating a Levantine easterly. Down at sea level however there’s a very mild Poniente. The forecast is for the wind to drop completely, if it picks up the confluence of opposing current and a headwind can turn the water into a very choppy and uncomfortable sea.

This swim started so far away (see the previous post) and so long ago I had almost forgotten about the cloudy seas between Conil and El Palmar. Wherever there is a river running in to the sea the water is invariably murky with silt and particles deadening the water. Having said that I have also swum in perfectly transparent water on that stretch, the wind and swell factor also becoming very important. As we approach Tarifa the water is noticeably clearer. Here nearing the Strait of Gibraltar the water mass from Tarifa in to the Med is known as the Sea of Alboran (from the Arabic البحران, al-Baḥrān – the furthest point). The Atlantic rushes along the surface and in to the Mediterranean, meanwhile the more saline and therefore heavier water rushes out at depth in to the Atlantic. Consequently the sea near Tarifa is always a few degrees cooler than closer to Cádiz. The colder water (less algae), the reduced swell, the lack of any river flowing in to the sea are all factors that make the sea here often so clear.

Distance swimming is a mind game, any distraction is welcome. The toughest swims are those with obscuring cloudy water and a featureless low landmass giving no respite for the mind from the rhythm of breath and strokes. Happily the pleasure of this area is clear water, an interesting sea bed, marine life and the added bonus of forest and hills. Enjoying the briefest of glimpses of the shore (right breath) or maybe a sail boat or a trawler (left breath) is an added bonus to the adventure. Today is a treat as the pines flow through the dunes down to the waters edge and at one point I glimpse a trio of vultures circling the edge of the big granite hill above us. There are few houses along here but those that I can see are blessed with big windows enjoying expansive views across the ocean to Cap Sparta, Morocco’s westernmost point.

The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.

Jacques Cousteau

Why am I here I ask myself, why am I not there relaxing with a mojito in one of those gardens in the shade of a palm tree enjoying the view? But that is the magic of the sea, a spell is woven that sucks you in, for only in the water are you completely enveloped in nature. As a swimmer one is always aware of the relationship between water and air. As a diver however the relationship with the sea is even greater, deep down the silence is so intense one can forget the land of humans above even exists. The smallest distraction underwater can simply mean oblivion and a floating body drifting to the surface. It is always worth reminding ourselves on a swim that we are not dolphins, enjoy the sea but always respect it, take note of wind, tide and currents for there is yet no spell to bring the drowned back to life.

The end of the swim, Chris Keightley-Pugh and a Bolonia sunset

We come out of the water at just the point we finished our swim a few days ago. Then was midday and we’d earned our lunch, today it’s sunset – perfect for a cool beer and a couple of tapas. Only two more stages to go and we’ll be in Tarifa and that’s as close as we get to Morocco ahead of the really big swim next year.