On Reading Manuals and Guides




I just read Open Water Swimming Manual: An Expert’s Survival Guide for Triathletes and Open Water Swimmers by Lynne Cox, author of the wonderful books Swimming to Antarctica and Grayson, and long-distance swimmer extraordinaire.

I picked it up because I loved her other books but also because I love reading guides and manuals.

I’m not planning on swimming long-distance in the ocean in the near future. In fact, I rarely get the chance to practice my strokes in a pool and my once-a-year excursion to the beach has me mainly bobbing up and down in the water avoiding the next wave with a silly grin on my face rather than actually swimming.





But I loved reading this book.

One of the reasons is because I like reading lists of rules and guidelines.  For example, she has a section on riptides (side-note: it almost reads like general advice for dealing with life’s troubles).


“Caught in a Rip:


— Remain calm. You will not be pulled under the surface of the water.

— Swim parallel to the shore only to escape the current. As soon as you are out of the current, only then swim toward the beach. Do not swim directly against the current. It will be too strong for you.

— Another option is to float. Eventually, you will reach the end of the current. Then either:

— Swim parallel to the shore to get out of the path of the rip current and, once you do so, only then swim toward the beach; or:

— Draw attention to yourself by waving your arms and yelling for help (which you can do because you are not swimming alone…. right?).”


Most of all, I love reading equipment lists. What kind of swimsuit is necessary? What’s the best ointment to prevent chaffing? A good meal for ultra-long swims? (She likes oatmeal raisin cookies -they float- and warm apple juice, although she writes of a man who pulled a slice of pizza out of his wetsuit much to the surprise – and delight – of his swimming companion).

I’ve always loved reading lists of what one needs before a journey or adventure. Anytime I’ve been part of an organized camping or traveling excursion, I eagerly anticipate the ‘list of things to bring’ that will arrive by mail.


It’s not that I follow these lists per se, but I suppose it combines two aspects of my personality: my love of reading and my love of organization.

And, now I’ve learned, when you enter waters populated with stingray, drag your feet so that if there’s one hidden there, you’ll bump into it and it will swim off rather than leaving a painful stinger in your foot.


Good to know.





This post is dedicated to SteJ



51 thoughts on “On Reading Manuals and Guides

  1. I need to take the stingray advice to heart, I have been stuck by barbs because I wasn’t watching out for them…of course I’m talking about the two legged stingrays. 🙂
    FYI, I’m coming up to your city next week…any suggestions of things to do???

    • Dragging your feet around those people is probably a good idea too (or perhaps the opposite and shuffling away from them, haha!). I will think of ideas for you for your visit and let you know on your blog.

  2. Hi Letizia, I am so with you on this one. I love reading books about mountain climbing, although I am definitely no climber myself. All that information about grappling irons and bivouacing, not to mention the sense of extreme and terrifying danger exchanged for utter beauty and triumph…. 🙂

    • Yes, books on climbing are the best! They have great equipment lists as well. And great storytelling. I’ve read so many books on climbing Mount Everest that I refer to three steps in my parents’ garden as the “Hilary Steps”as they are very difficult for my dog to climb.

  3. You are the cutest! I’ve been caught in many riptides and the last thing I would have ever been able to do was stay calm and float. (Plus, I can’t float since I sink like a rock.)

    After many near-drowning experiences with my friends, because we used to swim way out and play in the waves—again, not sure how I’m still alive—we learned from my surfer boyfriend at the time to dive under the waves and if you get caught…stay low to the sand. Simple as that! 🙂

    • Stay low to the sand – now that seems much easier than stay calm and float, I agree. And obviously it has worked as with all your near drowning experiences (should I be worried about this??) you are alive to tell the tale. Next time, I am laying on the bottom of the ocean floor, waiting for a big wave to pass, I will be thinking of you.

  4. Dedicated to moi? Why thank you that is very touching. I do like your take on the book as a guide to living life, books are so malleable in the eye of the beholder, or should that be bereader?

    Lists are wonderful as well, my Sunday morning consists of at least an hour looking at all the football scores from across Europe and South America and working out who can climb where if they win and everybody else loses, then factoring in (using my digital calculator, or as I call them fingers) the goal difference.

    It made me laugh imagining you bobbing around with a silly grin on your face, that should be part of the Olympics as well, it would be highly entertaining.

    • After our conversation last week, I had to dedicate this post to you, my dear friend.
      Your football score system seems quite intricate indeed (finger calculation and all, haha!). These rituals are wonderful, though, aren’t they?
      If bobbing in the ocean with a happy grin were an Olympic sport, I would have a gold medal.

      • I reread those emails and realised how poor my spelling was at points. I blame my big fingers and small keyboard keys, it is wonderful to have a shared passion for books over such a big distance.

        I do like the rituals we adopt and how they change depending on where we happen to be in the world, although the football ritual never changes being English.

        Perhaps you should find yourself a medal and just claim to be an Olympic champion, I’d believe it and you could have your own Wikipedia page to make it official!

  5. I too am a lover of manuals on ‘How to’ do things. I normally read all I can when I think I’d like to try a new hobby and then when I do them I feel confident to carry on.

    As for riptides. They’re a constant threat for swimmers here and one learns to read the signs from shore. Of course, fishermen love them because they carry the bait or lure far out and fish are found of them. Stingrays too are numerous here where I now live and the feet dragging is the best advice. Great post.

    • I would imagine that you know how to read the waters quite well. It’s interesting to know how fishermen view riptides. For some they are a negative experience and others a positive one. Another life lesson in there.

  6. Thank you Thank you for the review! My brother is a master swimmer and a triathloner. I can’t wait to tell him about this book (or perhaps I’ll just surprise him and buy it as a gift).

    • This book would be perfect for him then (it has suggestions for all levels of swimmers, including advanced). He -and you- would enjoy her other books as well (Grayson is about her encounter with a baby whale; Swimming to Antarctica is self-explanatory).

  7. Instead of manuals, I prefer the adventure story (fiction or non-fiction) that incorporates all the How To’s and lists in it. Otherwise, I will just be skipping around in the manual. Love the advice, though. 🙂

    • I know the ones you mean. I love ones about climbing the Himalayas, for example. Those often include details of equipment and such. You need a storyline, I can respect that, haha!

    • The chapter on food was especially interesting. She has broken many long distant swimming records so often has boats nearby as she swims in perilous areas. I believe they pass her the cookies but she is grateful for their floating qualities when they fall in.

      Although I hope the swimmer with the pizza in his wetsuit had it wrapped in plastic, haha!

  8. Letizia you might need one of these tips one day. I believe a book finds you for a reason. Rips in Australia are part of beach life and even the strongest swimmer can die trying to swim against one. We learn early to float or swim parallel to avoid swimming against the strong currant. My husband bumped into a sting ray and my son almost dived on top of one in shallow waters. Thankfully no one in my family has ever been stung. I like the idea of dragging your feet across the bottom too. Sounded like an interesting read. Autumn here so beach swimming is over for now.

    • I like the idea of a book finding you for a reason. I can imagine you are well versed in rip tides and currents. I will make note of your advice, for sure. My parents were in the Galapagos last week and they saw a stingray jump out of the water. Their guide said he had never seen anything like that in his whole life.

  9. I’m a list addict from way back. Show me a project of any kind and I’ll show you a great list just waiting to be written. Don’t tell anybody, but this year’s resolutions even earned a three-ring binder. Yikes! Have a great day, and thanks again for a super fun read–think I have to go take a swim now…

  10. What a coincidence — I was about to write about walking in water with stingrays. Post to come soon. But it’s not experience I gleaned from reading a manual. Those bore me to death. Maybe because I’m not a list-keeper myself. I think it takes a certain type of mind to enjoy making ot reading lists and I don’t have it. But I’m glad other people like you do.

  11. I know why you like reading manuals – because you are like me and just love reading everything in sight! Do you often find there seems to be too many materials out there to read, like it is almost overwhelming (yet wonderfully so)? 🙂

  12. I have never thought to read a manual or a guidebook on something I wasn’t actually preparing for! But, what a fun idea. I’d probably enjoy reading something like this as I’m into lists and suggestions made in an orderly fashion. Love the bit about sting rays!

    • Kath from the blog Minuscule Moments commented that books have a way of finding us and perhaps I was reading the manual in preparation for a future swimming adventure. I like that idea, don’t you? That lists and guides (and books in general) find us.

  13. Wow, it makes me realize how ignorant I was when I swam in the ocean as a kid! I was fascinated (and a bit uneasy) reading about riptides, that’s for sure lol And I love that you dedicated this post to Ste J 🙂

  14. I like reading how-to guides also, especially when the subject is something far afield for my skill set such as open water swimming. I spent quite a bit of time reading guidelines for tapping maple trees to make syrup. 🙂
    I also enjoy travel guides. It’s fun imagining new places to visit.

    • Tapping maple trees, how fascinating!

      You bring up a good example with travel guides. Those are always fun to read, especially the ‘phrases you need to know’ section which is often quite odd.

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