RACE REPORT: The Great Blackwater Swim

I’ve done two races this year (the “Vibes & Scribes” Lee Swim in Cork City and the GaddinAbtGarnish in Glengarriff, West Cork), but didn’t really “race” either of those particularly well. Anyway, I did another race the weekend before last and managed to swim a bit better. So, here’s my first “race report” for quite some time…

On Sunday, 27th August, I took part in the inaugural and hopefully annual Great Blackwater Swim from Castlehyde House to Fermoy Rowing Club, which was organised by Blackwater Triathlon Club as part of the Fermoy Festival. See my last few posts for a background to how this swim came about and a description of the course

Swimmers registered at the rowing club in the morning and were taken by minibus to the gates of the Castlehyde estate, from where we enjoyed the nice walk down the wooded avenue towards the riverbank. There was a great atmosphere at the start as all of the swimmers gathered, admired the grand surroundings of the estate grounds, had photos taken with the mansion and chatted – there was a look of nervous excitement on a lot of swimmers’ faces as, for many, this would be a considerable step up distance-wise from the previous swims.

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Eagerly awaiting the call to hit the water outside Castlehyde House. (Image: Ber Hunter)

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Some of the kayakers assembling before the start, Simon Mulcahy on the left and Wagner Hernandes second from the left. (Image: Ber Hunter)

After a big group photo, it was time to get everyone into the water, with a piper from a local pipe band for an added bit of atmosphere. Thankfully, us non-wetsuited swimmers, small in numbers though we were, were allowed to wait until all of the wetsuited swimmers were in the water before getting ourselves (so that we wouldn’t get cold waiting for the start)… It was an impressive sight to see all 105 bodies assembled in the river ready to take on the 3+ km swim back to town!

My bit of local knowledge paid off at the start so that I managed to position myself in the strongest flow and get out of the crowd quickly. It was clear after about 100 m that I had no hope of keeping anywhere near my Crosóige Mara teammate Maeve Ryan and whoever else was in the lead pack (pair, as it later transpired), so I decided not to go all out and blow up, like I did in Marnaton “eDreams” Cadaqués a few years back, and just swim my own swim. That strategy paid off: I kept ahead of the main bunch and, for the first 2 km, anytime I looked back, there was just one swimmer on my toes, and he fell off once I started to put the boot down…

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Coming into the finish, trying to look like a proper swimmer! (Image: Ber Hunter)

Maeve [unsurprisingly] blitzed the course and was first home! She had a battle on her hands, though, and was followed shortly by Brian Foley (first in the male wetsuit category). After a bit of a gap, I was third home and first in the male non-wetsuit category. First in the female wetsuit category was Maeve Linehan from Mallow (so a fellow Blackwater native).

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Receiving my prize for first male non-wetsuit from Dave Mulcahy. (Image: Ber Hunter)

All the feedback from participants was glowing: everyone seems to have thoroughly enjoyed the event and it looks like there’ll be an even bigger turnout for next year! Thanks to everyone at Blackwater Triathlon Club for organising the race, to Michael Flatley and all the staff in Castlehyde for allowing us access to the river through the property, to Fermoy Lions Club for promoting the event and making sure that it could go ahead, and to Ber Hunter for her fabulous photographs!

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Last chance to enter the Great Blackwater Swim

In my last post, I talked about a trial swim from Castlehyde to Fermoy by Blackwater Triathlon Club. If you liked the sound of the swim and can make it to Fermoy this Sunday, 27th August, you can try it for yourself! The club has decided to run the swim as “The Great Blackwater Swim” and in aid of Fermoy Lions Club. Entry costs €16.55 (including transaction fee) and is available at this link. Here’s an overview of the course:

The Blackwater is catching!

I’ve always been passionate about “the Irish Rhine”, Munster’s Great River, the Blackwater. I’m proud to know it so intimately, having swum every inch of it between Ballyhooly and the sea (the bottom 70 km of its 170 km course). The Blackwater Valley is truly stunning: with breathtaking scenery around every corner, and peace. Exploring it at a swimmer’s pace is a great way of appreciating, and from a unique angle. It’s a shame that, until recently, I was one of very few people to have experienced this, so I’m delighted that members of Blackwater Triathlon Club have started pushing out their distances in the water and are making good use of the beautiful river on our doorstep! Over the last two weekends, they started catching the bug…

Cregg/Castlehyde to Fermoy Rowing Club

The first swim, from just upstream of Castlehyde House to Fermoy Rowing Club, a distance of about 4 km, was last Monday morning. Dave Mulcahy, Declan O’Keeffe and I had been doing this swim once a year for the last few years, but this was the first time that a decent-sized group took on the challenge…

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Setting off in dribs and drabs from the riverbank just upstream from Castlehyde.

The swim was a great opportunity for many to challenge themselves with their longest swim to date, which it was for most of the 15 swimmers who completed it. It was also a good opportunity for my boyfriend, Wagner, to get to grips with kayaking for a bigger group of swimmers, which it turns out mightn’t be as tough as listening to them talking about swimming!

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Wagner getting used to the kayak…and listening to swimmers talking about swimming!

The swim was thoroughly enjoyed by all who took part, so much so that the possibility of an organised event is on the cards for next year, though maybe starting just below the fast water…

Blackwater Sub-aqua Club to Clondullane

The second swim took place last Sunday. It was a little longer, at 5 km, but seven dedicated swimmers took up the challenge (that number would likely have been higher had Cork not been playing Waterford in hurling at the same time). We had plenty of safety back-up for this swim, with Wagner kayaking again, as well as Declan’s daughter Anna and one other also kayaking, and Iain MacCallum accompanying us in a boat. Again, all completed the swim and are looking forward to doing it again!

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Assembling on the Blackwater Sub-aqua Club slipway, just downstream of the town.

What’s next?

Now that appetites have been wet for longer swims in the river, we may be able to get a group to try out the 7 km from Cappoquin to Villierstown, in the tidal reach of the Blackwater. From there, who knows, let’s hope that it’s just the start of great long-distance swimming culture on our great river!

Getting there…

Once again, I’ve been very slow to update the blog – no surprises there! I could try using our recent house move as an excuse, but really it’s just one of those things that can always be done “tomorrow”. Anyway, here’s a quick update on progress towards my Leme to Pontal swim since my last post

The first major block of pool training has come to an end and I finally feel like I have successfully relearned how to swim. It felt great being back to early-morning pool swims in Meadowbrook before work, getting some metres in the shoulders and knocking off some of those excess seconds that built up during my year off – though it’s never going to be the same as those hard yards with great teammates in Fermoy Swimming Club. I’m down to just ticking over in the pool now while I’m doing most of the work in the open water, but there will be some big sessions to come once the open water “season” (I have to be careful using that word in front of the hard-core winter swimmers) winds down and before leaving for Brazil.

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One of the main reasons why I don’t swim in the sea in Dublin a whole lot…

Since May, I’ve been working on endurance in the open water. Although I live in Dublin and have done a few longer swims there, my aversion to lion’s-mane jellies and love for swimming on the south coast have meant that most of my training has been done at home. I built up the distance at first in the River Blackwater and Knockananig Reservoir in Fermoy, swimming with Dave Mulcahy and also on my own. Once the sea warmed up a bit, I shed the wetsuit and started doing slightly longer swims with Carol Cashell in Myrtleville and Cork Harbour and with Donal Buckley, a.k.a. “Lone Swimmer”, on the Copper Coast in County Waterford, as well as doing a few other swims along the coast of County Cork, including at Sandycove Island and Ballycotton.

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Steady 3.6 km/h for 6 h!

The highlight of my training so far though has to be the Cork Distance Week organised by Ned Denison. The camp was based around Sandycove Island but included swims in Loch Allua in the Lee Valley, Myrtleville, the River Blackwater in Fermoy, Lough Hyne between Skibbereen and Baltimore, Inniscarra Reservoir, and Boatstrand on the Copper Coast, as well as some purely social events. There was also a 6-hour swim at Sandycove on the last day of the camp (which I successfully completed in order to qualify for my Leme to Pontal swim attempt). The camp was a tough but fantastic week of swimming in great company and beautiful places, and worthy of its own post – at some point, I might even get around to writing that up and posting a few pictures!

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A selection of photos from the “Vibes & Scribes” Lee Swim 2017 taken by George O’Keefe.

I’ve also finally done my first race of the summer, my tenth “Vibes & Scribes” Lee Swim, which starts near the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences (where I spent a lot of my time whilst I was studying at University College Cork) and carries on down the North Channel of the River Lee, around Custom House Quay, and finishes at Clontarf Bridge. It was a bit of a shock to the system being back in a proper race, but it was good fun battling with Lizzie Lee for the best draft off Ned Denison, and even being pushed off course by Ned for making the mistake of trying to sneak past him on his blind side just before the finish… Enjoy that victory, Ned, I don’t intend to leave you have any more like that for a while!

That’s it for now. There won’t be such a long delay until the next post, hopefully…

A new challenge for 2017

I know, I know, I managed to let another whole year [and a bit] slip past without so much as a peep on the blog. As many are already aware, I spent the last three years focusing on finishing my BSc in ecology and settling into working life – as an actual ecologist, would you believe – and, just maybe, being a bit lazy… However, 2017 has arrived and that affliction that all who are swimmers have, that visceral desire to be in the water is too much to bear: I need to swim!

After last year’s trip to Brazil in September and seeing her seemingly infinite and stunningly beautiful coastline with its long, sandy beaches, huge, rounded limestone boulders, verdant slopes of Atlantic forest and the deep blue South Atlantic, I knew that it would be hard to resist at least a few marathon swims along that coast. So, a few weeks ago, I found a pool near where I work in Dublin and started training, still not entirely sure for what…

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Waking up to this view of Praia dos Anjos in Arraial do Cabo, where Amerigo Vespucci landed in 1503, it’s hard not to imagine swimming here… (Image: Owen O’Keefe)

Aware of the potential difficulties in arranging a completely new swim, I decided that it was best to book an established swim, one for which “all” I would have to do would be to fill in the forms, pay the fees and train. One swim in particular jumped straight out at me: Leme to Pontal, a coastal swim of 35 km. This swim is the same distance as the English Channel, starting at Praia do Leme in Leme, Copacabana and passing all of the oceanic beaches and sites of the city of Rio de Janeiro before finishing at Praia do Pontal in Recreio dos Bandeirantes, Barra da Tijuca (see the interactive map below).

I’ve already secured my window with the Leme to Pontal Swimming Association for the week of the 16th to 22nd December 2017. All I have to do now is to keep up the training and start re-acclimatising to the sea! I will try to keep the blog reasonably up to date with my progress and any other news, so keep an eye out here for intermittent updates and on Facebook, Instagram or maybe even Twitter for more frequent ones…

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Back in the Blackwater under Grandad‘s watchful eye last weekend…

More to come soon!

Um novo desafio para 2017

Por onde começar? Eu ia pedir desculpas por minha longa ausência deste blogue, mas sendo esta minha primeira postagem em português, suponho que faz mais sentido dar uma pequena introdução para quem não me conhece como nadador de águas abertas…

Chart – Lance Oram

A rota da minha travessia do Canal da Mancha, 21 de setembro de 2009. A curva é por causa das fortes correntes que estão presentes neste estreito.

Sou nadador desde uma época de que eu mesmo não lembro – aos seis meses de idade, minha avó começou a me levar semanalmente à piscina municipal da minha cidadezinha, Fermoy, no interior da Irlanda. Aos sete anos, comecei a nadar todos os dias no Rio Blackwater durante o verão com meu avô, e no mar aos domingos – nadar em águas abertas para mim foi uma maravilhosa união de duas coisas que me davam muita alegria: a natação e a natureza. Aos nove anos, entrei no Fermoy Swimming Club e aprendi a nadar com mais força, mais velocidade e mais eficiência. Isto me capacitou para entrar no mundo da natação competitiva de águas abertas aos treze anos de idade.

Em 2006, participei na minha primeira “Vibes & Scribes” Lee Swim no Rio Lee, no centro da cidade de Cork. Daí começou a loucura toda… Em setembro de 2007, nadei minha primeira travessia de 5 km no mar, e em novembro do mesmo ano, reservei minha travessia do Canal da Mancha, que eu completei em setembro de 2009 como o irlandês então mais rápido (com 10 h 19 min) e mais jovem (aos 16 anos). Desde então, eu continuei a nadar vários percursos famosos, como o Estreito de Gibraltar, outros não tão famosos, como o Estreito de Tory, e outros que tinham um significado mais pessoal, como os 60 km de Fermoy para o mar em Youghal. Tem mais detalhes da minha história de maratonas aquáticas na minha página da Openwaterpedia (disponível somente em inglês).

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Saindo da água após nadar de Fermoy para Youghal, com meu avô de segurança! (Foto: Lee Fox)

Desde que eu formei e comecei a trabalhar, não tenho nadado tanto. Por isso, tenho sentido saudade da água, que é meu lar, e recentemente resolvi marcar um novo desafio para este ano. Ao escolher essa nova meta, estou voltando a algo bastante familiar, mas em um ambiente bem novo para mim…

A travessia do Leme ao Pontal, no litoral do Rio de Janeiro (capital), tem 35 km de distância – quase igual ao Canal da Mancha – só que fica no outro lado do mundo! Tenho experiência de nadar uns 35 km no mar aberto, em águas frias, acompanhado por um barco e tal. O que será novo para mim neste novo desafio é aquele sol intenso e calor infernal do Rio de Janeiro em dezembro!

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Praia de Copacabana ao pôr do sol. (Foto: Owen O’Keefe)

O treinamento já começou com força e estou aumentando a quantidade e intensidade do mesmo de acordo com um programa desenhado especificamente para essa prova. Aqui neste blogue, vou escrever sobre meu progresso… Então, se isto for algo que talvez te interesse, fique de olho aqui!

Once again, I sort-of forgot that I had this blog…

Go mbeirimíd beo ag an am so arís, and let’s hope that it’s not an am so arís before I write anything on here again…

So ended my previous blog post… Reading it again carefully, I’m satisfied that I’ve broken no promises in not posting again until we have arrived safely at an am so arísagus písín eile leis! There are two main reasons why nothing new has appeared on the blog in the last year and a bit:

  1. I’ve been busy/lazy – At the time of my last post, I was nearing the end of my ecology degree at University College Cork. I was studying, that is to say stressing, about exams and struggling to finish my final year project on the crayfish of the River Awbeg. After that, I was busy finding a job. I got one and have been busy doing it ever since. In truth, I had time to write, but everything else that I’d been doing involved a lot of writing so I couldn’t be bothered writing any more “and that’s the holy all of it”, as went one of my favourite lines from 2015’s “national conversation” on marriage equality…
  2. I’ve been doing almost no swimming – Plenty has been going on so there’s been no shortage of writing material, but it hasn’t involved much swimming at all so I’ve been reluctant to post on what’s supposed to be a swimming blog…

Anyway, as I say, plenty did actually happen and, in the absence of anything else to write about, I will do my best to put up a few short posts in the next few weeks about how everything has changed [again!] in the last year…