Sunday 29 October 2017

First test of Firefly Hawkeye 8 camera

Before my visit to Spain to swim I'd look for a waterproof camera having decided that my Panasonic LMC25 probably wouldn't survive a few hours immersion in salt water. After scanning many reviews there didn't seem to be a perfect device despite the vast variety of consumer electronics available!

Since then I look into things a bit more and found the Firefly Hawkeye 8s which was available direct from China at around £100 with a medium/high specification (for example it really does offer 4k 30fps). The online reviews place it well below the latest GoPro (model 6 at the time of writing) in terms of both ability and price but sufficiently capable to be useful.

Naturally it didn't come with a SD card and it needs a U3 grade to ensure that the higher video frame rates and resolutions have a chance of being recorded. So far I've been out at dusk and on a rather overcast damp morning, which aren't good for any camera. The  footage so far isn't very good. Currently I'm prepared to blame the weather! Incidentally, the edited mp4 hasn't been tweaked at all, and is definately better than the YouTube processed output below.

My key observations, most of which are criticisms, so far are:
  • The stabiliser doesn't work when running and hand-holding the camera, this is likely too much to ask!
  • The colour is poorly saturated, but maybe that is realistic
  • Low light level ability is almost non-existent 
  • The battery is reluctant below 10 degrees celsius and I can't see it offering the advertised 90 minutes of recording
  • Buttons are hard to press whilst using the waterproof case
I'll have to give the camera a few more opportunities to demonstrate its abilities in more favourable circumstances.

Saturday 28 October 2017

Looking after shoulder

Today's weather forecast was for blustery to become gale force and so I walked to the pool rather than driving to Hatfield. Ultimately the forecast was worse than reality and the really strong winds hadn't arrived some hours later.

Anyway the pool offers the opportunity for drills and practice in a more comfortable situation than in the middle of a lake. So, with my left arm being on the brink of problems it seemed a good time to focus on rotation to lift my left side more. Naturally this leads into breathing on that side too. After the usual 200m-with-legs warm-up I did 3 sets with favoured right side breathing, bilateral breathing and finally alternate lengths with left and right breathing. Naturally I was using the pull buoy to ease the load on my arms and retain good posture. Significantly I went at the same pace for both right-sided and bilateral breathing although I needed a single strike more per length. For the final set I was tiring (so out of practice) and so the slow pace for left-sided breathing is not conclusive.

In terms of technique I was aware of a falling right leading arm with left breaths, especially when working that side. My perception was also that I had an untidy body twist in that direction rather than a nice neat roll from the hips.

Over the time I was aware of my shoulder abut it didn't become troublesome, or indeed painful, so this intensity and volume doesn't seem to be a problem.

Saturday 21 October 2017

14 Degrees

The water was a claimed 14°C this morning although my watch recorded at a whole degree warmer. Really this is quite mild as open water swimming goes in the UK but it's a good 10°C than I was immersed in a fortnight ago. I was torn between acclimatising and getting cold, or just getting on with it! It's been a shame hat I was affected by a cough and cold that made swimming here unwise, until today, since my holiday.

I found a single lap a bit of a struggle due to feeling a little cold and also finding the Alpkit wetsuit hard work by comparison with the HUUB I've been using most recently. Having said that, the Silvertip was easy to get on and kept me fairly snug. As is so often the case my goggles were an irritation as they were perpetually misted up and some of the buoys had moved around due to strong winds over the last few weeks. I also managed to mess up settings on my watch and so don't have a true record of the swim pace. I think I kept pressing 'Start' rather than 'Lap'. The numbers don't really matter...

After the slow lap it didn't seem wise to go around again so finished off with a couple of small laps so that I knew I'd swum beyond 1km. Not a lot, but a step in the right direction.

Whilst driving to Hatfield I as slightly aware of my left shoulder, it's been more uncomfortable since being told there some impingement. I think that my minor injury was due to a combination of overuse during this training block when I've been trying to do some sprint lengths and insufficient roll to the right. As I tend to breath just to the right I have an asymmetric stroke with probably a biased roll. The article linked to earlier comments that injury risk is increased whilst fatigued so I am aiming now to keep good form throughout shorter sessions to try to counter this. The article also hows some exercises and I think I'll ask the physio about these.

Sunday 8 October 2017

HUUB wetsuit review

This morning's swim showed how much a HUUB wetsuit can flatter your ability. For the last week I've been swimming in Spain wearing an ex-demo Grade D HUUB Aerious Wetsuit 3:5 and felt pleased with my improving performance. This morning I was back in the pool in my trunks for 45 minutes and took a huge step back in speed and style!

I know it's well accepted that a wetsuit makes most swimmers faster but although my Alpkit Silvertip keeps me warm, I've not found it to be an obvious performance enhancer.

For the Spanish trip I bought a three different wetsuits and sent two back, keeping the HUUB. At an 'ST' size it felt tight, hard to get on, but flexible around my shoulders and not too loose around my waist. It was partly due to this fitting that I decided one of the others was too big for me. It was just too easy to get on straight from the packet.

An ex-demo wetsuit seemed like a good idea for a swimming holiday as I rightly assumed that it would get stuffed in the back of a van and taken on and off in a bit of a rush. Over 5 days I put it on 8 times, half of those whilst it was wet inside.

HUUB's statement about grading
I actually liked the idea of the wetsuit looking a little tired, to help get away from the 'all the gear, no idea' image that a set of new, top of the range kit can give. Peeling print certainly won't detract from usefulness.

Some graphic missing on the right leg

Signs of damage

On inspection I found a repair under both armpits which appeared to have been glued. I made an effort to get the sleeves well up my arms and the torso well-fitted to avoid unnecessary underarm tension. This give me good shoulder mobility and the repairs didn't show any sign of failure during the week.

The forearms had lengths where the overlock stitching was undoing itself. I contemplated a DIY repair to stop further unravelling but didn't know how to do it well so decided to leave it alone.

Midway through the holiday, the right forearm seam split at the affected area. This increased the water flow through the suit by a surprising amount. Luckily the water wasn't especially cold and I only had to suffer comments from my fellow swimmers about the 'hole'.

Whilst away, I emailed HUUB and they agreed to undertake a repair under the 30 day warranty which is fair. I'll post a photo of the outcome.

Wear 'n' tear

During the week I spotted a few places where fingernails had caught the soft neoprene. I can't honestly say whether they were caused by me or pre-existing. I suspect in some cases they were mine, as although I'm a careful user, a damp wetsuit is hard to get fitted without a degree of tugging.

The neoprene bulk fabric  and surface coating are both softer and more 'delicate' in feel than that of the Silvertip and must be more liable to damage.

Although I could have hired a wetsuit at least I wasn't concerned about a deposit on this bargain wetsuit.


I suppose that this is the key aspect of a wetsuit and as can be assumed from the beginning of this post I was very pleased with the wetsuit. The 3:5 buoyancy helped my body position markedly and for most of the swims I left my legs trailing rather than expending energy to move them.

I don't know if the X-O 'exoskeleton' feature really does anything but I did feel well aligned and gradually settled into an effective rhythm with good-for-me pace and stroke length.  There was little flow of water around me, even with a torn sleeve and I was pleasantly warm. The water was mild at between 19°C and 24°C, but usually I get cold in a 28°C pool so I consider the insulation to have been spot on.

From this relatively low cost introduction to quality wetsuits I can appreciate the performance benefit that the manufacturers claim. An ex-demo entry, to last season's model, saved money, and to a large degree, worry about looking after the wetsuit. Perhaps an A or B grade would be a sensible purchase for normal use where more care can be taken of the wetsuit but even with cropped nails, I imagine damage is inevitable.

For me, this suit has plenty of life left and I'll tidy up any nicks in this suit with Black Witch when I get it back from HUUB ready for next summer...

Friday 6 October 2017

SwimQuest Costa Brava Review

I'm back home after spending a tiring, but stimulating, week in the Costa Brava with SwimQuest. As a novice open water swimmer the thought of 2 swims each day in a salty sea was slightly anxiety-inducing but I really wanted to move beyond small lakes. This Spanish trip seemed ideal as it fitted around work commitments, my wife and I like Spain, and it was one of the cheaper trips in their brochure.

Really the swimming trip is only 5 days, which was enough to make me wish I was able to stay another week, but not so much that my shoulders couldn't cope. We travelled on the Friday before the 'official' start so that we were there in good time, enough for a restful day. We flew into Girona and then took a taxi instead of doing a 2 leg bus journey. I suspect that flying to Barcelona and taking the bus to the resort would be cheaper although perhaps more risky for travel sickness.

I won't bother reviewing the accommodation at Ciutat de Palol as I don't believe that SwimQuest stay there routinely; suffice to say that it was sufficient.


On the programmed travel day we strolled through the shops, returning along the promenade of Playa de Aro and continuing a little on the coastal GR92.

The town has a number of quite upmarket shops, many selling women's clothing and just as many vaguely european restaurants with similar menus. Once on the coastal path I could see why the hike is one of the more popular Spanish trails.

In the evening the swimming group met for drinks and dinner, after the typical introductions. Around half the group were from London and knew each other well which could have been a barrier, but they were very welcoming.


At the briefing it was clear that I was the novice swimmer having only a season's open water experience and none of that in the sea. Others in the group had little sea time but were strong pool swimmers of many years.

At the nearby beach I swam half as much as everyone else as without wetsuit or pull buoy I was slow, cold and a bit overwhelmed. John (Coningham-Rolls, founder of SwimQuest) recorded with a GoPro to analyse before dinner, but we missed that time slot. I suspect my stroke was closer to doggie-paddle than a decent freestyle!

After a buffet lunch we went to Sant Feliu de Guixols for a 2.7km out-and-back swim.

The coastal swims are those defined by Vies Braves although as October is seen as the end of the season, in many cases the indicative buoys were removed.

As the slowest swimmer I was first in which was only slightly intimidating especially as a distinct swell was present beyond the breakwater. Mia was just behind in the kayak which was a comfort. Although I felt slow I'm pleased to find that I'm not the slowest swimmer recorded on Strava on tis swim by quite a margin. 


I woke with some stiffness and soreness in my left shoulder, which I've experienced before. This suggested to me that I'd done slightly too much yesterday, so today I decided to do just one swim.

Platja de Santa Cristina is a beautiful bay to the south of popular Lloret del Mar and easily reached by minibus from Playa de Aro.

The 2.1km swim was picturesque but I was a little slower than yesterday and very pleased to return to the beach for a picnic lunch put together by Mia. After that I strolled along the path towards Lloret above the route we'd swum that morning.


Today there was a general strike in Catalunya in protest at the police violence at Sunday's (illegal) referendum. Most bars and cafes were closed but luckily a few were open providing refreshments to weary swimmers.

The 2.6km swim from Tamariu was especially pleasant as we had time to land on a nearby beach for a few minutes. Previously we had swum for a time, or to a promontory, and then  returned. My pace was a little higher today and I got better at stopping my watch at rest points so as to show true swimming pace.

After a picnic lunch and a short doze we headed to Llafranc for a shorter 1.6km swim to a headland having passed between a few rocky outcrops.

By now the water flow through my wetsuit had increased as a seam had opened on the right forearm. More on that here...


A 4km swim was planned for today as a prelude to tomorrow's up to 8km marathon set of swims. As we cleared the bay at Platja de Sant Pol the swell increased markedly, to a point at which it was felt unsafe to continue around the point.

We cut across the mouth of the bay and completed a circular swim of 2.3km back to the beach. During the return swim I felt 'in the zone' and John noticed the improvement in my stroke and commented upon it. My aching shoulder had relaxed and I was focusing on good torso rotation to facilitate a forward reach on both sides. For 400m I managed a pace of 2:16min/100m, although after that things fell apart for a bit as I lost the relaxed stance and tried too hard. 

During the 'rest' afternoon we walked to Castell de Aro although everything but one rather run down bar was closed. There's a castle art gallery, a church, a doll museum and a minature railway but can't report on them at all! The town itself was pretty and very well kept.

Even whilst walking I knew my arms were tired, both shoulders felt well worked which I took as a good sign of fatigue rather than injury. We'd heard that tomorrow's swim wouldn't be the 'challenge' with Vie Braves but would still aim to be stretching for all.


Today we headed to the Cap de Creus Natural Park which was at least 90 minutes drive. The lengthy journey did nothing for my confidence which felt a bit low as I was tired and with an aching left shoulder (ibuprofen gel didn't seem to be helping it). An accompanying RIB joined us at the lovely Platja de Cau del Llop for a 3.4km out-and-back swim.

Outbound was fine but the return leg, especially the last 1km, was tough. Although I kept my pace up my perceived effort was high, my shoulders stiff and technique horrible. My stroke length fell by at least 10% to 1.18m and I was digging deep to keep going. I wasn't sure I'd manage another swim that day.

We moved on to another pretty beach at Garbet for lunch and a snooze. The sun was strong and I sheltered in the van which was pleasantly cool with a through draught.

Outbound, for my 1.9km swim, we followed the coast into a small beach where the nudists were surprised to see us floating offshore . Whilst some of the others carried on with a larger loop around the bay I headed straight back to the starting beach. Somehow, knowing that I planned to complete my swim there, I settled into a good rhythm again and achieved a pace of 2:17min/100m with a nice long stroke length of 1.37m across nearly 900m of open water.  I'm not sure that I could have managed a longer distance swim, but finishing with some tidy swimming felt positive.

There was a little discussion about a third beach but really there wasn't time, and that proved to be the case as the journey back to base was a little troublesome. Nonetheless there was time to get kit tidied and a shower before the trip to the restaurant. The evening meal was good and helped by a fabulous sea view which revealed a glorious harvest moon.


I had great experience and achieved my goal of more swimming than I'm used to, in a new salty environment. The salt water was far less of an issue than I expected and although my goggles were perpetually misted-up or streaked I didn't get sore eyes. The buoyancy from the salt in combination with a triathlon-style wetsuit helped my body position considerably and most of the time I left my legs to trail. I tried using my large training fins but they were floating so high as to be useless.

The organisation of the swims and safety cover by John and Mia was faultless and I felt in safe hands whilst being able to work close to my physical and skill limits. Before the holiday, and in the early stages, some of the information could have been more clearly laid out but this shortcoming wasn't important; it's just that I like to be ultra-organised with dates and times!

Since returning home I've looked at the SwimQuest brochure online and I'm considering where I'd like to go next and what I could achieve at the different locations. I suppose that is the best recommendation of the holiday.