Saturday, 10 September 2011

Swimming not drowning

Aquatic Sports in Kirkwall Basin, photographed by Tom Kent

Kirkwall Swimming Club was inaugurated in 1888 and they held their first "aquatic sports" event in September of that year. The event was held in Kirkwall Basin, which cannot have been the most hygienic venue, with the raw sewage outlet not being all that far away.

One of the events involved twelve white saucers being thrown into the water and allowed to sink twenty feet to the bottom. Contestants then had to dive in and recover as many as they could without surfacing. Surprisingly nobody drowned!

The first gala proved popular and the event was repeated annually for the next fifteen years, even managing to survive a bout of Victorian prudery. In 1891 the Harbour Commissioners received complaints about public bathing taking place from the pier. The problem was that not all the young men involved bothered with swimming costumes and this was causing "an inconvenience" to the ladies of the town. Amidst protests that learning to swim was a good thing, especially when surrounded by water, the Commissioners decided to ban swimming after 8.00 in the morning.

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