The end of the year is approaching and the crowds have left for the winter. Isshiki beach is deserted and Hayama Bay is quiet. A few stand-up paddleboarders slowly make their way through the water, but with none of the energy they show in the summer months. It is the best time for swimming. The jellyfish have long gone, and the plankton have died and sunk to the bottom. The sea is once again clear allowing us to see all the way to the bottom as we swim out over the rocky outcrops that litter this part of the coast. Fish are plentiful, especially around the rocks, which are covered in sea urchins and molluscs and crustaceans.
Photo: Aleisha Riboldi
All this underwater beauty comes at a price. Each week, the sea temperature falls by a degree or so. Just a few weeks ago we could luxuriate in the warmth, but now we enter cautiously with a slight intake of breath as the cold creeps through the wetsuit. It is still a manageable 18C, but already some of us are wearing neoprene caps and socks – the latter for foot protection more than anything else.
Looking across Isshiki Bay to Shibasaki
We are getting more adventurous with our swims. For the last three years we have been swimming laps around the buoys off Isshiki beach, more out of habit than anything. One day in October we met another group of swimmers who had swum around the rocky reef of Koiso-no-hana from Ohama beach. We retraced their route 500 metres out from the beach, around the reef, and into beautifully clear water. A new world opened up to us. The next time we met at Ohama beach and swam out around Chojagasaki. As we left the bay, the water once more became clear, and my mind was soon filled with the beautiful world beneath us. I felt like I could swim for ever. We headed out to the islet of Ogashima, which is surrounded by rushing, gushing waters teeming with life. We clambered out of the water onto the islet where we met two Ukranian snorkelers, who were full of stories of beautiful fish and sleeping sharks.
Mt Ominesan – the beautiful backdrop to Isshiki Bay
Isshiki – number 65 in Time magazine’s “World’s 100 best beaches”
View across Ohama bay to Chojagasaki tidal island
We have got the bug. Each time we explore different rocks and reefs. Everywhere is a little different. Yesterday, we swam all the way around the local marine reserve of Shibasaki, through the bubbles of scuba divers far below, and over swirling clouds of sardines. On the north side, the water is shallower which allowed us to swim just above the rocky bottom, accompanied all the way by neon blue fish. The last two hundred metres to the shore is so shallow that we had to cautiously scull through the water to avoid touching any of the thousands of sea urchin spines inches below. It seems hard to believe that such sights are so close to home.
Photos: Aleisha Riboldi
We seem to have formed a regular swim group: Youri, Aleisha, Ben, myself, and now Yannick. This means we need a name. Yesterday we realised that we were all wearing Orca wetsuits, so Team Orca seemed natural. But perhaps SOS Hayama will stick: Sink-or-Swim. We did a lot of sinking around Chojagasaki yesterday, diving through the scuba bubbles, while Aleisha tried to capture it on film. We have plans for a New Year’s Day polar bear swim, and a mutual promise to continue throughout the winter. It will be good to face that weekly plunge into the chilly water, and have to deal once more with the sharp sting of icy sinuses and the numbing path of cold water through thin swim wetsuits. It is hard to know why this is so addictive, but there again, some things are not worth thinking about too deeply.
Photo: Aleisha Riboldi