Sea Swimming with the Triathletes and the Story of Number 14 Beach Hut
by Linda Selley
It was 1989 when Nigel first introduced me to something called Triathlon. We were spectators at the first Isle of Wight triathlon and it was memorable for a couple of things – competitors walked 750m in wetsuits and swam back to transition and Nudity in Transition was allowed in those days – so we were treated to some athletes choosing a ‘full change’ before the bike!! I looked away but Nigel said I didn’t miss much as it was very cold that day. I still have a photo of the swim start. I think our Triathlon Journey began at this point.
After this Nigel was keen to get a wetsuit and join Portsmouth Tri for sea swimming. Wet suits weren’t far advanced in those days and many had zips from ankle to knee to help quick changes. It often looked like triathletes were wearing bell bottoms or Elvis costumes when running up the beach to transition!
Club sea swim sessions in the 90’s were held in front of the Lifeguards hut (pre Roxbys ) and consisted of a swim to the Pier and back (about 800m max). Usually about 6-10 people, with me the only one on the beach. No facilities, no beach watch register, canoe and no-one had tow floats! I normally brought a flask of coffee and some cold marmite toast (the cake habit came later!)
Despite free car parking, few people lingered on the beach. This lasted for a good few years until there were concerns about water quality. Apparently the old Victorian sewers and the Pier were leaking effluent into the sea and a decision was made to move to Eastney where water quality was better. Just east of St Georges road, on the promenade, there was a large Victorian bus shelter and this served as a base to meet and change but was far from ideal if windy.
In front of a Shelter, there was a Windsurfing launch area marked by 4 bouys, arranged in a square about 80m apart, with the furthest about 100m from the shore. The triathletes decided to swim in a group around the bouys, Windsurfers would generally not appear until later in the day. When the tide was running fast it was a delight to see who could make the furthest bouys without getting swept down the shore. Often there would be a line of swimmers, one holding onto a bouy and the others grabbing an arm or leg while they recovered before swimming to the next bouy.
At this point, I was still watching events and sitting on the beach (or bus shelter or car!) with my flask and cold marmite toasties and I noticed that the beach huts opposite were being refurbished and I began wondering if I could get one. So, without saying anything to anyone I approached the council and put my name on the Beach hut waiting list. Several years passed, and I was careful to keep my name on the list and specified that I only wanted St Georges Rd area. Then I got to the top of the list and was pleased to be offered Number 14!! Perfect !!
I still hadn’t said anything to anyone (not even Nigel!) and so in 2001, I popped down to the seafront office, signed the lease, paid the rent and picked up the keys. Then next Saturday morning when about 10-12 swimmers had finished their session I had the pleasure of inviting them back to my Beach hut for a warming Tea! (this was well before the Coffee cup of course)
I have an early photo of me at the beach hut and in the distance, you can see the Victorian Bus shelter.
Initially, I used the beach hut with my family and invited 10-12 triathletes to use the hut on a Saturday morning. However, the numbers of Triathletes started to increase and within a year or so we had 20-30 people, swims on Tuesdays and some Wednesdays evenings and ‘Breakie on the Beach’ aquathlons. I remember being told off by the council for introducing a large water boiler to try and cope with 30 people all wanting tea at the same time. It played havoc with their electric and I was told ‘kettles only’! In the late naughties the Club decided to contribute towards the cost of the beach hut and as interest in Triathlon began to rise, so did the numbers of people attending the Saturday and Tuesday sessions.
Increased numbers led the Club to do several things – acquire a canoe and some safety equipment for emergencies and meet with the Harbourmaster about boats coming inshore close to swimmers. Nigel and Keith Mould managed to convince the Harbour Users Committee that there were risks and the Swim area bouys were installed and Notice to Mariners issued.
In 2010 the Council realised I had moved to Hayling Island and decided to double the rent as I was no longer a ‘Portsmouth Resident’. At this point, it was obvious that the main usage of ‘Number 14’ was by Triathletes and the Committee agreed to take over the Lease and payment. The Council were very helpful – I don’t think they had let a beach hut to a ‘club’ – but they insisted on a Portsmouth resident being ‘leaseholder’ – so it was agreed to transfer the lease to Budgie (Southsea resident at the time) and the club would pay the rent.
In the last few years the interest in Triathlon, Wild swimming, Open water swimming has continued to increase and it is great to see 60 -80 swimmers taking to the water at Eastney and many other Tri clubs ‘inland’ coming to visit us for a ‘proper sea swim’.
Since that day in 1989 Triathlon has taken me to some fantastic places, I have met some brilliant people and formed lifelong friendships. So, thank you Portsmouth Tri for 30 years of fun !!!