OTS Swim Camp – Crashing Barriers

Pre Warm-up

It’s day three, our second two-session day when Stefano and Katie join the group. The rest of us are just easing through the pain barrier – still creaking our joints, sinews and muscles. This morning we have Pamela from Italy coaching. She tells Stefano , in Italian, that he’s not getting away with anything. She has a loud commanding voice but she looks too small and young to be a real Italian Mama. There’s a lot of work with fins – freestyle mainly. We do lots on our sides, with one arm out front and the other at 90⁰ sticking up in the air. Then there’s various relaxed movement of this arm – touching hip, shoulder, head, water before changing sides. I note that the side kick is faster than kicking on the front, face down.


I check with Ben for an explanation. When kicking up and down, there is not as much water above the feet to move about, whereas on the side there is a whole pool full of water to move about. This sounds like another plug for rotation. It’s also good to note the difference with the shallow and faster backstroke kick and with fins on I seem to be speeding along at a rate of nots. The relief at taking off the fins after such a long session is dramatic. My feet no longer have heavy things attached, with the result that I kick more and faster. It’s good to get the point though experience.

Phil and I are joined by Ed for lunch – we stumble upon a German restaurant where the set menu starts with tapas, followed by meat dumplings made with loving care and served in a caper sauce and new potatoes.


Our evening session is Butterfly with Ally. What a time for Dan to finally join us after travel delays. It’s virtually all kicks and drills and I’m glad as I don’t fancy doing multiple 50m lengths of fly.  After all, I only ever do one length of it in the Individual Medley, regardless of the pool length.


Ally’s speciality is 50m fly and he confesses that he’s never had to pay too much attention to turns.  Fly turns are fairly similar, if not identical, to breaststroke turns. Some people have never done a backstroke turn – they know who

More wild flowers on the beach

they are – so there are a few trials and errors.

On Thursday morning, Pam takes us though drills again, but we do more swimming. Phil and I have an average set menu involving Hake for lunch (the beer is nice) before setting off for the naturist beach to the East.

Growing though the rock
Wild flowers

The map shows a road through countryside where birds might be seen. The road is, however, marked private and we have to re-trace our steps to walk along the beaches and coastal paths. There aren’t many birds in the mid-afternoon and the land adjoining the coast is all fenced off and marked ‘Private’ in three languages.

Coastal route

After an hour or so walking, we reach Playa ses Roquettes and take turns to guard our stuff while the other goes in for a swim. There aren’t many people here – half a dozen at the most. The water is somewhere between 16-18⁰c and very refreshing.

Playa ses Roquettes

Open water enthusiasts might call it too warm but we don’t stay in for long and have to climb over a mountain of dead sea grass to get in and out. There are more birds on the way back and we follow the shore right around to the harbour area and the new part of town. It’s clear that development has gone East and our hotel and the swimming pool are on the West side of town.

Harbour beer

It’s time for a beer overlooking the harbour. The others had returned to the Western Beach where Christophe created amazing human sculptures with the OTS group. Shared with compliments of  OTS WhatsApp.

Body Art – OTS WhatsApp
Body art OTS WhatsApp

Friday and it’s Pam again and I’m finding her drills excellent. Katie and I are getting great feedback. She reminds me that I’m neglecting my push through – I’ve lapsed into short strokes again. There is such a lot to remember. and at this point on the week I’m taking the occasional 100 metres out to rest.

OTS Body art
O-T-S on the sand

Lunch is a group affair – it’s the only time we have the full team together and this is the last opportunity. We return to the same restaurant – Beach House – where we were on Monday. Slivers of roast pork from between the ribs with smoked mashed potatoes are


delicious and beautifully presented.

For the evening session we have most of the pool and Ally sets us off on what he calls a ‘Short warm-up’. This turns out to be 8 x 100’s alternating freestyle and choice (not freestyle) then 8 x 50s – drill 25m swim 25m doing all four strokes. I take a rest on the backstroke as I need it and I’m not quite reconciled with the sun glare and the lane ropes. I explain to Ally that the others need the backstroke work (joke) but he tells me that my backstroke is fine. The rest of the session is dives and turns. This is where it’s useful to have OTS volunteer coaches around to give extra feedback. We finish early so we can do a  group photo before people begin to fly home.

OTS Mallorca

Our last day, Saturday is also a two-session affair, but the morning is overcast and cold. This is the fun session with swim caps as prizes and after the warm-up there are competitions for various skills: The longest push-off glide; longest breaststroke push-off to breakout; greatest distance underwater dolphin kick with fins; backwards front crawl – hilarious and impossible. Then it’s relay time. Ally attempts to form three teams of six, but some people are not competing (too cold, too tired, too hung-over).


Rory comes to the rescue and rearranges everything. Simon and Paul are persuaded to join my team. The first relay race is freestyle, which we don’t win. There’s now a discussion about the Medley. Both Paul and I are back-strokers but none of the others can or want to do 50m Fly. In the end Paul does the fly and I the backstroke, leaving the others to do 2 x Breast and 2 x freestyle. We win that one, in spite of hangovers. The last relay is with a pull-boy, passed to the next swimmer and both Ed and I are fairly slow at this. The result is that each team wins one relay each.


I seriously consider not doing the usual cover-up with sunblock for our last evening session as the sky is completely overcast and it’s cold. Someone warns that I could still get burnt and so relent. It’s Pamela again with lots of great drills, kicking on the side with fins and arms in the air are all good. Pam really does pay attention to details and is still giving individual advice. It’s not too exhausting and we only swim for an hour – a request from the Eurovision fans amongst us who ‘have to get ready’. Actually, my body has had enough – time for a snooze before our last night in town.

Spain is singing – Eurovision

Our social secretaries have sorted out a pub/restaurant not far away who can get BBC television. They’ve negotiated a meal (pizza) and drinks deal with the Indians who run the place. Having declared publicly that the only pizzas worth eating are in Italy or Islington, I think these ones are quite good. The more senior of the group gather early on one table as we’re desperate for beer. The youngsters arrive in dribs and drabs.

Drag at Eurovision

Paul and Stephen C have gone to great lengths with their drag outfits and look amazing. I’m not really a fan of drag, but they both manage to look glamorous so full marks. I’ve only ever watched Eurovision once – I had nothing else to do. It is a gay thing – so our table, critical of the standard of composition, lyrics, production etc mumble quietly to each other. There are a few surprisingly good efforts, but my interest wanes and having shared a bottle of rough red wine with Phil and Nick find a moment to drift off and pack for an early drive to the airport the next morning. I catch up on the rest of the evening via the WhatsApp group playing pool and mingling with the locals.

The after party

It’s been a great week and I’ve managed every session – something I didn’t expect to achieve. Some of the guys are talking about a holiday, but I don’t think so, it’s been hard work. Besides, when you are retired, life doesn’t demarcate between work and holidays in the way it used to. Activities line up on the continuum of experience to make the most of and enjoy whatever comes along.



Mallorca – Best Swim Centre

Off to Swim Mallorca

Sur Mallorca Hotel

Colonia Saint Jordie is a sleepy resort near the southern most point of the island of Mallorca. The town clusters around a rocky outcrop jutting into the Mediterranean Sea. Having had a day of travel delays, and a missed flight at Barcelona, I’m anxious to find Phil at Palma Airport. He’s not answering his phone or replying to texts or WhatsApp messages. I know he’s been delayed and I want to sort out a second driver for the hire car. I sit and wait. The two possibilities are that he’s fallen asleep in the airport waiting or that he hasn’t arrived yet. Eventually he turns up – he was in the air on flight mode. Phil’s Sat Nav app delivers us to a very swanky hotel just up the road from the Best Swim Centre. Reception has no record of us and it turns out that we’re in the tower block sitting on the end of the rocky promontory a couple of stars lower down the scale. However, I do have a 190 degree sea view.

Best Centre Elite Swimming Training

It’s a short walk to the Best Centre, our Swim Camp home for the next six days, and the Out to Swim guys plus a couple from Y Swim gather at the hotel reception at 10.40. The pool is fifty metres and we have four lanes supervised by James and Ally. As I quite often swim in the same lane as Fernando and Waddaah, I join them in lane three. James asks if we have any requests and a couple of us mention breaststroke – others want starts and turns. The warm up is 200 Freestyle, 200 backstroke, 100 breaststroke then kicks & pull coming to around 800m.

Our training pool

Ben (OTS coach) tells me I’m too fast for lane three. I now have the option to join lane two where James is doing a breaststroke set – his speciality. There are only four of us in lane two – luxury. One of my objectives is to sort out my breaststroke, which I only use in the Individual Medley. James tells me that I’m not bringing my heels up high enough or close enough to my bum to get the power from a circular kick back. It’s a eureka moment and there are also some very useful tips for the arms.

Applying sun block

We do a range of drills, the most difficult being holding the opposite ankle behind with one hand and then swimming with the free arm and leg. I can’t do it and get the giggles. In between attempts I just do my newly acquired kick to catch up with the others. Coach James has figured out that lane one are speaking in gay idiom – particularly when he’s describing the position of the bottom. He’s quickly educated. Ally, who is doing backstroke with lanes three and four is being oogled. Well, he is young and cute. I can’t imagine this is the first time James has had a gay group. Perhaps last years’ Out to Swim group were more decorous.

More sun-block please

Although the pool is heated, it’s not exactly warm out of the water – some are shivering during the instruction and back-chat periods. I’m glad to have sorted out the Breaststroke so early in the proceedings, though it’s still exhausting to do.

First Lunch out
Lunch time sea view

Fernando has booked a mass lunch at a seaside restaurant a short walk around the coast. It’s a beautiful setting but the wind is chilly and some of us have to go outside and stand in a sunny sheltered spot to warm up. Phil and I take off in the car to investigate Parc Natural de Mondrago, just North West of Santanyi.

The countryside is green at this time of year with flowers all along the road-sides. We pass Almond orchards and fields of wild flowers. It’s not really a park as everywhere seems to be farmed, but it’s lovely and we stop briefly on the coast to look at the sea and the limestone cliffs. There’s no time to linger, as we have to be back for our second two hour session at six. Lanes one and two have Ally for a backstroke set. Lots of drills for rotation leading from the hips and getting the arms in the right position to enter the water and push down.

The Natural Park

Different coaches have varied advice which might seem to contradict with another coach. The thing is that they are all correct – in a way and it’s only when you get the whole picture that things fall into place.  I recall seeing a U tube video where a coach was warning about the danger of over rotation in backstroke. Ally’s tip that one’s side should not come out of the water makes sense of this. Our problem here is navigating in an out-door pool. It’s no use fixing on a point in the sky and on every second length the sun is blinding. Much hilarity ensues with everyone zigzagging up and down the pool and colliding with lane-ropes.

Aloe and wild-flowers

Mostly the lane ropes win and I have the scars to prove it.

As dinner at the hotel finishes at 9pm, we have to dash back and change into long pants before eating. I’m knackered and go straight to bed instead of going out for a drink with the youngsters, who want to farewell James. He’s going home tomorrow afternoon. Tuesday is one two-hour session and there’s a chance to re-visit the work we did yesterday on breaststroke and then we do push-offs and turns.

Scabeous on brownfield site

We have what is known as half board at the hotel, which means only breakfast and evening meal. Most of the guys do a swap and have lunch at the hotel. My view is that indifferent food is the same whether it’s lunch or dinner, but this gives the lads the opportunity to go out on the town at night. Phil and I find a delightful little Bistro with delicious artistically presented food. But we’re not missing out as the WhatsApp group keeps us graphically updated with everyone else’s activities – mostly.

Salt lakes

They are off to the naturist beach Playa d’es Trenc and no one joins us on a three-hour bird-watching walk. Our journey takes us along the naturist beach, but there is no sign of the lads and we head inland past salt lakes and wet-lands. I’m astonished at the abundance of species here. Some of the highlights are sightings of: an Eagle, Flamingos and a Harrier. There are nightingales – heard but not seen, Hoopoes, Corn Buntings, various warblers and of course Sparrows everywhere. On the water are Shell ducks, Stilts, Avocets and many more. Phil is in heaven with his binoculars and bird identification phone app. He’s texting a mate in France who is also bird-watching. It’s a bit of a competition.

wld flowers

Along the way we see plenty of wild-flowers in full spring bloom. They will all be gone by mid-summer and the resort tourists will miss out. Colonia St Jordi seems not to have grown much over the years. Vacant lots are still to be developed and while the market waits for a boom, ecology has taken over and wild-flowers, birds and feral cats make temporary use of the land.

Off to Swim Prague

Aquacentrum Prague

‘Because I can’ is what I tell people who ask me ‘Why?’ I’m unencumbered these days, responsible and answering only to myself, so why not make the most of it?

I’m off to swim for a while – a Saturday afternoon in Prague for their Rainbow Spring Multi-sport event then to Mallorca for a six-day swim camp with twenty Out to Swim club members. My body is a bit apprehensive – I never quite know which part will complain next – but I know it pretty well by now and it tells me when to stop. It’s just a matter of listening, which I don’t always do.

River Vltava from Charles Bridge

I was last in Prague in 2014, so I’m looking forward to reacquainting myself with this beautiful and historic city. On the flight from Stanstead is a huge party of guys going to a stag do. Apparently, it’s the new place to do that – excellent beer and cheap. Sounds like they have a weekend of all inclusive (to save bother) activities including the mandatory strip show. Interesting to observe straight men in a group away from wives and girlfriends – a completely different animal.

Government buildings – Prague Castle

A three-day travel pass purchased at the airport takes me by bus and Metro with speedy efficiency to my hotel. Hotel Alba is modernised in a spartan, Eastern European version of IKEA – except that it is solid.  It’s still light so this is the only opportunity to explore the Prague Castle area – not done on my 2014 visit. The hotel receptionist advises that I need two days to see it all, so I will just have to do a recce for next time.

Busking harpist
Busking Violinist

Prague is a city of classical music so it’s no surprise to come across young musicians busking all the way up the stairs to the Castle. These days I travel on VISA and haven’t even got any local currency, so the buskers are out of luck as are the beggars, who kneel in a praying position with caps outstretched, taking sneaky looks to see if anyone is paying attention.


Yes, I’m people watching again and note the out-of-condition younger family men huffing and puffing their way up the steps. Even though I’m still recovering from various Winter-related conditions, my lungs manage the steps easily – the leg muscles, not so well.

At the top is a whole village of palaces, most of which are now galleries and museums. It’s all very grand, but at this time of day everything is closed.


Prague view

The view of the city is, however, stunning in the late afternoon sunlight and by now the tourists have thinned out. In one deserted square a Chinese wedding photo shoot is in progress with a lighting guy holding up his silver disc to reflect light on to the faces of the happy couple.

Chinese Wedding Shoot

I head down the other side towards the Charles Bridge, which is still crowded. The portrait artists are still there – probably the same ones I saw in 2014.

Charles Bridge

I find the Charles Bridge Restaurant where the Rainbow Spring registration is happening. ‘No, I don’t need a free travel pass, I bought one at the airport.’ There is a look of consternation from the young man handing out the bags and event invitations.

the Steps down

I might go to the party on Saturday evening but sadly can’t do the picnic on Sunday afternoon as I fly out in the morning. I am dying for a beer, something the Czechs do well. I sit in the downstairs restaurant overlooking water where the pedalloes are being returned. The kitchen is struggling and even though the waiters are running around looking efficient, my Salmon pasta, is only just warm and too small to carb up enough for tomorrow. I have to order a pear in pastry but when it eventually arrives floating in a thin caramel, it is also tepid – not recommended.

My Out to Swim team-mates have spent all day walking around the city and have fallen asleep – so we don’t meet up. I’m remembering coach Nathan’s advice to get a good night’s sleep before a race. The trouble is the hotel mattress is super firm and thin. It’s unable to embrace the sticky-out bits of my body.

The best pool in town

It’s an eleven o’clock warm-up at the ‘Best pool in town.’ This leaves plenty of time to fill up the tank at breakfast. It’s all a bit of a shock to the system that there’s no fruit, but I’ll cope. Once again, the public transport carries me to the Sutka Aquacentrum, high in the suburbs and overlooking the city. I’m recognised by guys who were at the  Amsterdam Valentine’s meet earlier in the year and that’s a nice feeling of camaraderie – one from Frankfurt and an American living in Switzerland.

Out to Swim team – trio

Paul and Rory have been hanging out with two guys from Paris Aquatique – apparently the rest of their team are in the Canary Islands on a Swim Camp preparing for the Gay Games in August. The pool here is amazing. It has a stainless steel adjustable bottom and sides and there are clear Perspex walls at each end to protect officials from being splashed.  The water is nice and cool and the lane ropes have no sharp spikes to lacerate my wrists in backstroke. There is speculation that they won’t calm the water so well. I think it’s marginally more choppy.


There’s a good European turn-out here today, especially from Spain, The Netherlands and Germany. Certainly, there are more than in 2014 so I guess that everyone is getting ready for the Gay Games. I always hate starting of a race meet with 100 metres backstroke. It’s a tough race and I do better starting off with freestyle. The backstroke hurts and is a bit slow. By comparison the 400 freestyle is more comfortable.


The younger guy next to me is level pegging for the first 100 metres, then he takes off and I let him go. To my left I glimpse a guy turning after me so I’m safe. There is no electronic board, so no way to tell how we did in the heat.

After the swim
The Out to Swim Paris Aquatique relay team

Both Paul and I are collecting gold medals. He has competition in his age group so he’s pleased that some of Out to Swim fast swimmers are not here. He has a great meet with all Long Course personal bests. Rory and Paul have formed a relay team with the two Paris Aquatique guys to do the 4 x 50m Medley and Freestyle. This is all great experience for Rory, who has only been swimming for six months and its only the second race meet in his life. We don’t know yet how the relays did but they looked good.

Pink Flamingo and medals

The announcer is a jolly fellow, speaking Czech first, then English – the common language for Europeans. He spots the gaps in the hearts as they line up and calls out the missing swimmers. There’s also a DJ with a great play-list (According to Paul).  The day ends with a fun relay with teams pushing inflatable flamingos up the pool. Back in town, I find a pub restaurant for a beer – outside. It’s all tasty – grilled sirloin and chicken breast in a creamy green peppercorn sauce and bright orange sweet potato chips. There’s nothing green in sight, so I’m looking forward to a Spanish salad.