A night in the Limmat

Jump-off point at the Frauenbad for the Limmatschwimmen 2017

Green, green, green. It ripples and intensifies as I tumble and float down, ever down towards the bottom. Silvery light winks off my surface as the last of precious air bubbles leave me stranded to my fate, coming to rest on soft, subaquatic mud. Far above me, the constant crack and crash of bodies breaking the surface, churning and frothing as they flail and move. The sunlight pales to shades of clear green-glass up there but down where I now reside, the colours are deep jade and juniper, yellow-brown, kelp, burnt carmine and darkest black-brown.

A wavering blue sky can be seen in the rare moments of calm. Are those clouds? I’m swimming with the fishes but I’m stuck, staring upwards, as they, uncurious glide by. The edge of the pier is a fixed thing, noir wood, grooved and channelled with age and the erosion of the current; weeds and algae both etching away and adding layers; old metal, the blood-tinge of rust and the dull shine of it as the water slops and curls, constant.

Cheerful yellow bodies of blow-up hippopotami smack down and float, accompanied by red buoys of waterproof bags and pale – mostly pale – legs as they kick and drag. The current takes them all away. Occasionally a companion piece makes its way down to me, spinning lazily – a sodden pink sunhat, a ring of keys that could open bank vaults. Maybe. Our real-world value counts for naught now.

Limmatschwimmen 2017 @clairedoble

Eventually, after hours of commotion, the boil and scramble of bodies and spume calms and the white, barnacle-speckled hulls of three boats move away. I’m left here, softly blinking my messages to the fish. As night falls, the light changes, winks off and on, shafts shining through floorboards. I think I hear music, laughter but it’s another world away. I have words to impart but my Barbus companions cannot or will not read them. Later still, a deeper hush falls and the moon dapples softly on liquid contours above.  Asleep still-moving fish float while weeds drape and sway, crustaceans go to work. Cold and quiet, but never quite silent, nor still.

Dawn breaks and it’s overcast: soft grey light barely penetrating the surface. The webbed feet of ducks and swans, an occasional myopic eye searching only the warm upper layers for prey. Sun breaks through, piercing down to us nether-dwellers occasionally on a lucky beam, but not often. I sit and blink, feeling my life’s energy draining away. Rain dimples the meniscus. I think. It’s hard to tell. Almost certainly, all is lost.

But, what’s this, a flippered foot? In a single plunge, her sleek dark shape streaks down to pluck me up, hesitating only to acquire a second prize – a shell-encrusted pair of sunglasses that had made this ground its home for far longer than I. And then I am restored. Heat. Light. A babble of voices. The touch of human fingertips. Warm breath on my skin. Alive!

You see the phone flying up to pass over my head here… !

My smartphone spent a night at the bottom of the Limmat River in central Zurich after I stupidly lost it jumping in for the annual Limmatschwimmen on Saturday. (I wrote about the Limmatschwimmen event last year). The phone has now been restored, fully operational, thanks to the hardy diver-women who work at the Frauenbad.  Vielen Dank! #LoveZurich



  1. Brilliant piece, Claire, as well as a brilliant swim. Did you go with a group of mates again?
    Sent from my HTC smartphone on the Optus Network

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