MY HEROINE TAKES TO THE SEA
Visiting the beach to get a tan is a very modern concept, but sea-bathing began gaining popularity in England during the mid 1700’s, when physicians decided it was good for the health. However, swimming and sea bathing were generally done naked, so it remained mainly a male occupation until the invention of “bathing machines.” These small horse-drawn carts had a wooden “hut” built onto the wagon bed, allowing the fully-clothed bather to climb steps into the hut on the beach, then disrobe as the horse pulled the cart into the water, at which point he or she would descend steps on the water side into the sea.
Spas such as Margate in England grew more popular with the addition of Benjamin Beale’s invention, an awning added over the seaside door that was lowered so that the bather could descend into the water completely unseen. Despite the additional privacy, male and female bathing took place on different parts of the beach, so that the two sexes could not easily drift into proximity with one another once they began swimming. (See more about Benjamen Beale and his bathing machine here: http://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/2009/08/10/benjamin-beale-bathing-machines/)
During the Regency, many sailors and fishermen never learned to swim. Some seamen believed once the sea got a taste of you, it would one day claim the rest. The Royal Navy, which anchored its ships offshore in foreign ports to prevent desertion, was not inclined to urge its sailors to acquire the skill.
How the Victorians did it: http://writingwomenshistory.blogspot.com/2010/08/victorians-on-holiday-oh-they-did-like.html
With nudity the usual bathing costume, few women learned to swim. But ever the rebel, as a girl, my heroine Honoria pestered her older brother Hal for lessons, and clad in a boy’s cast-off breeches and shirt, perfected her technique--unbeknownst to her proper Mama!
Honoria exhibits her characteristic impulsive and unconventional behavior in the opening scene of SMUGGLER, when she wades out into a cove to try to rescue an injured sailor in danger of drowning. Returning to the shore with her dripping gown plastered to her shivering body, she attracts the eye of everyone who’s run to the beach to assist--including hero Gabe Hawksworth.
Of course, she’s just as impressed by the sight of Gabe towing the rescued mariner ashore, water cascading off his bare chest and soaked breeches, as he is by her!