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That first April swim at Cala DeiaApril 15, 2016

Nineteen years ago this month I took my first ever swim at Cala Deia. The sun hadn’t been up for long and the beach was completely deserted. The sky was perfectly blue and empty, a little hazy where it met the horizon, and the air was cool and still.

I knew if I stopped and thought about what I was doing I would never do it. Stepping out of my new espadrilles, I pulled my t-shirt off over my head and dropped it with my towel on a large flat rock. I edged out onto the slimy green rocks until the water came up to the tops of my thighs, hands held at armpit height. I slipped and fell into the icy water. The shock made me shout, the sound echoing back at me from the headlands on either side of the Cala. I put my face into the water and began to swim.

As I write this, I feel again the shock of the water against my skin, tensing my muscles, making my teeth ache and emptying my mind. It was so electrifying I was in the middle of the bay before I stopped swimming, raised my head and began treading water. I looked back at the land, at the olive terraces rising up to the village, to the church on its mount in the middle and to the bowl in which Deiá sits. Wood smoke rose from the chimney of a house obscured by pines.

I looked down at the seabed, which must have been twenty feet below me. The water was so clear I could see every detail of the rocks and dark green waving posidonia seagrass, through which huge fish swam. I felt perfectly suspended in space and time and absolutely alive.

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Since that morning, I’ve always taken my first swim at Cala Deiá in April and it has never ceased to be a joyous, life-affirming experience. In one sense, it’s when my year begins. If you want to experience the Cala at its absolute best, now is the time.

A chaise longue on the beach

Ten or so winters ago, after an experience that changed the way of my life entirely, I decided that instead of stopping at the end of October, I would carry on and swim all year round. (Not at the Cala but at a tiny, sandy beach near my home.) I swam through waves higher than my head, in rain and once even in snow. I would never have believed that the Med could change so much.

Because I was usually the only person on the beach I took to swimming naked. One warm morning in late January, in that strange time that arrives to remind us spring is only a month or so away, I dove into the freezing water, swam out, stopped, turned and looked back.

A red chaise longue had appeared on the sand. I closed my eyes and opened them again. It was still there. Two small boys in naval uniforms ran down the steps at the side of the beach, then a man dressed as some sort of admiral. He unsheathed a sword and began fencing with the air. I thought I’d gone back in time.

It was only when two men carrying metal flight cases strolled down to the beach, followed by a woman wearing a bridal gown, that I realised what was happening. This was obviously a favourite place for wedding photos.

I began to lose all feeling below my waist and knew I had to get out of the water. I swam closer, until I could feel my feet on the sand. There was nothing for it but to stride over to where I’d placed my clothes on the rocks behind the chaise longue. I did so without looking back but I heard shrieks of boyish laughter. I would have liked to have seen those photos.

Swim out of season and anything can happen.

Brendan McCann’s painting ‘Cala Rocks’ inspired this post. Brendan is showing at The Resi as part of the current group exhibition.

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