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Swimming! What a great way to keep those muscles in reasonable shape and have some fun at the same time. In spite of what some people think just about everyone can swim or at least float, although there are a few people with negative buoyancy and they sink like a stone. Those unfortunate souls should either wear a floatation aid of some kind, like armbands or even a life jacket or go and swim in the Dead Sea. EVERYBODY can float in it. I should explain that negative buoyancy is where the body weight is more than the water it displaces.
As a brief aside the Dead Sea in Jordan is so chock-a-block with minerals that no animal life can stand the salty density and few plant life can exist there. The river Jordan and dozens of tributaries flow into the Dead Sea that is some 1,286 feet below mean sea level and nothing flows out except through evaporation due to the great heat. The inflow and evaporation used to be more or less in balance so the sea level was maintained. Nowadays I understand that the level is falling slowly due to more water being taken from the River Jordan and others for irrigation and a hotter climate. One day I suppose it will just be a dried up salt lake bed.
First of all let me explain that we float not because we have air in our lungs but because when we leap into water, the WEIGHT of water that we displace is greater than the weight of our bodies. Ships float for the same reason. In fact almost anything floats for that same reason, the exception being insects that are so light they do not break the surface tension of the water and thus they actually walk on the water. The density of fresh water is less than that of seawater so we will find it easier to float in the sea than in a fresh water river or lake. A gallon of fresh water weighs less than a gallon of salt water but when we jump into either, we displace the same VOLUME of water but of different weight. Go on all you swimmers, next time you are in the baths, curl up in a ball and see if you sink to the bottom. A few may just do that because they are very close to “negative buoyancy” and curling up can put them over the edge but most will float. OK. So your face will be under the water but you will be floating.
Contrary to popular belief we are born with the ability to swim as new born babes have proven so eloquently even to the extent of holding their breath under water and having their eyes and mouths open. After all they have started their life surrounded by water in their mother’s womb so it is almost natural for them. OK. So jerky movements of the arms and legs isn’t quite what we call swimming but that is only due to the lack of the newborn babe’s co-ordination.
Most people cannot swim (but they can float) because of a lack of confidence or some past encounter has frightened them of water. Even a shouted warning to a toddler not to go near the water because they could fall in and drown, could be enough to put a person off swimming. Yes, I know, we can’t have kids toddling into rivers willy nilly and we have to look after them so maybe we shouldn’t allow them near water in the first place. Better still it is never too early to teach a child to swim or at the very least have confidence to kick around and not sink.
Instil water confidence and common sense into a child and they will be swimming and diving with the best of them in no time at all. Many kids freak out if they get water on their face or in their eyes in a swimming pool or even in the bath at home and you need to get them over this fear otherwise you are onto a hiding to nothing.
Years ago it fell to me to teach a few youngsters how to swim and all without exception clung to the side terrified when their faces got splashed with water. In fact it took me ages to even persuade some of them to get into the water. Once in the water they were fine stood up in the shallow end just as long as their faces were dry. So I picked on one poor kid and got her to hold her breath for as long as she could and then I persuaded her to close her eyes and quickly dunk her head into the water and bring it out. With each dunk she gained confidence until eventually she was able to stand with her face under water and with her eyes open for half a minute or so. This achievement had a miraculous effect on the rest and they clamoured for similar tuition.
I then told her to hold her breath, stick her head under water and push off from the side with her feet towards me holding her hands stretched out in front. The distance was extended until she could float half way across the swimming pool before I grabbed her and brought her head above water. Once she realised that she wouldn’t sink and that she could stand up when she wanted to and still be alive, teaching the actual swimming movements was child’s play. She gained even more confidence floating on her back and kicking with her legs to swim through the water. Within a few water sessions all the kids could swim after a fashion but all had confidence in their ability not to drown.
I was never a fast swimmer as my miserable efforts in school galas are evidence of, but in later years I became a good distance swimmer, if you call a couple of miles distance swimming.
During my naval career whilst patrolling the shores of Cyprus in the late fifties on board HMS Alamein, a battle class destroyer, our task was to stop and search all ships and boats for illegal arms and terrorists attempting to dock or leave. However it was not all work, as on the odd afternoon, as relaxation for the crew we would leave our patrol area to our sister ship HMS Corunna and head off into the mid Mediterranean and have fun and games swimming around. Non-swimmers stood by the gunwales (pronounced gunnels) and watched us with envy. Water polo was a favourite pastime as was the less than looked forward to swimming test. This meant that selected sailors were obliged to wear a boiler suit over their swimming trunks and leap over the side and swim once around the ship, stay afloat for three minutes in the place they leapt overboard and then take off and retain the boiler suit and await being hauled back on board like a landed cod. Fortunately a destroyer of that era was only some 300 feet in length and about 45 feet beam and it was at times like these that I thanked my lucky stars that I was not serving on board an aircraft carrier. A 100 yards swim fully clothed in a swimming pool is not funny so imagine what it was like for some 250 yards in the middle of the Mediterranean where the bottom was more than a mile below your feet. But I could swim so the test only applied to me once or twice. I even did it for the sheer hell of it on one occasion, or maybe it was showing off.
So is it worth learning to swim? Most definitely yes although surprisingly there are many sailors, yes I said sailors, who cannot swim, especially the older ones. Many sailors both from the Royal Navy and Merchant Marine on the Atlantic convoys or on the Murmansk run had the thought that being able to swim would not help them if they went overboard as the icy cold water would freeze them to death before they had swum just a few yards. So what was the point of learning? A similar thought was held by those who ploughed the Pacific Ocean as they reasoned, that it was better to drown than be taken apart by a shark. There is some merit in such thoughts. Did you also know that there are many highly experienced underwater divers that cannot swim on the surface without their gear? Strange eh!
A very interesting and enjoyable op. I love swimming and am a true waterbaby. I have my parents to thank for my love of swimming as they took me to swimming lessons since I was a baby.
Blue2001 05.10.2001 11:34
A very interesting and well written op.,Thanks.
Fairy_Kisses 05.10.2001 10:39
Very interesting op Jim, how do you know and remember all this stuff. I was thrown in the water when I was little and nearly drowned. I can swim now, my feet have to be able to touch the bottom though otherwise I panic bigtime. I have not passed this fear on to my boys, they have been swimming since they where a few months old, they are like little fish these days and no fear whatsoever. Thanks Jim.Julie