Blackwater Project: Part 3 – Ballyduff to Cappoquin

After my Fermoy to Ballyduff swim, it was off to Valentia Island, Co. Kerry for the annual Beginish Island Swim. What was a great weekend came to a pretty sobering end with the shocking news our friend, Páraic Casey, died tragically during his English Channel solo attempt. Páraic was a great friend to us all in the open water community and his death came as a great shock, not least to his wife Riana and to the other swimmers who had trained with Páraic for the last year. Maeve and I decided, after a while, that it was probably a good idea to go ahead with the Ballyduff to Cappoquin swim as planned – a decent immersion is, I think, a great help in absorbing such news.

We arranged to be in the water for about 07:30 on the coming Tuesday (24th August) to meet the high tide just below Lismore. This particular swim would to be even more interesting than the previous swim as it was going to be the “maiden voyage” of the recently purchased Sandycove Island SC SPOT Tracker! These trackers are great pieces of kit as they allow people all over the world to track the swim’s progress in real-time. Any member of Sandycove Island SC who is doing a big swim can ask to use the SPOT Tracker so that the rest of the world can follow their progress. The SPOT Shared Page, by the way, is Keep an eye on the Sandycove Island SC website (link above) to find out who is using the tracker next…

Photograph – Maeve Mulcahy

Maeve took this photo just as we were starting the swim. There was a bit of a wade out to deep water…

Anyway, Maeve and I met up in Fermoy at about 05:30 and set off for Cappoquin in separate cars. Once we parked up by the slipway in Cappoquin, I got changed into my swimming gear and Maeve got into her kayaking gear, leaving anything that we would need at the finish in my car. Then we both headed back to Ballyduff in Maeve’s car. When we arrived in Ballyduff, all that was left to be done was to get the kayak on the water and to secure the SPOT Tracker to it. With that done, I handed Maeve my mobile phone, from which she would be sending updates to my Twitter account using the #Blackwater2012 hashtag. The swim finally got underway at 07:29, at the same spot where I finished my Fermoy to Ballyduff swim the Thursday previous.

Photograph – Maeve Mulcahy

This tree was a very strange sight. Can anyone shed any light on what might be going on here?

Although the water was a pleasant 15ºC, it was a cool and misty morning. The atmosphere was almost eerie as we progressed. The only sounds were the River and the birds. I must admit to being a little apprehensive about this swim as I knew little about the first 10 km after Ballyduff. It turns out that there are a good few rapids on this stretch, especially on the Glenmore beat just below Glencairn Abbey. There needs to have been some recent rain before you can take these on! After the rapids at the Fortwilliam Estate, there is a stretch of slightly deeper water, which makes for easier swimming.

At the end of this stretch of deeper water are the beautiful Ballyin Gardens and a small salmon weir, Lismore Weir. This isn’t a large weir like those in Fermoy and Clondulane, it’s less than 1 m high and has gap in one section, called the King’s Gap, through which most of the River’s flow is directed. When we came to this point, Maeve shot over in the kayak to test that it was safe. She gave me the all clear to swim through, rather than to walk around it. I swam straight through the gap, which was an exhilarating experience even if I did feel a bit like a dead goldfish being flushed down the toilet!

Photograph – Maeve Mulcahy

Just after shooting Lismore Weir, coming around the bend to get our first view of the Castle.

After this weir, the current whisked us quickly around a bend in the River and we got our first view of the magnificent Lismore Castle. This castle, which is over 800 years old, has been home to Sir Walter Raleigh, Richard Boyle, 1st Earl of Cork, and his more famous son Robert Boyle, one of the founders of modern chemistry. It is currently the second home of Peregrine Cavendish, 12th Duke of Devonshire. The town of Lismore is one of Ireland’s most picturesque towns, but I was delighted to have reached it for another reason, i.e. it meant that I was past the half-way point in the swim!

Just after the bridge in Lismore, the Blackwater is joined by the River Owenashad, bringing cold, peat-stained water from the nearby Knockmealdown Mountains. The River becomes wide and shallow at this point, known as the Ballyrafter Flats. Exactly 10.0 km from the start of the swim in Ballyduff, we come to another set of islands with some very turbulent water. At the bottom of these rapids, the River becomes much deeper and the current almost stops – still over 30 km from the mouth of the River, we had reached sea level!

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Here’s the trusty paddler, Maeve, with Lismore Castle in the background.

Having arrived at this point (the River’s tidal limit) slightly earlier than initially expected, we had no more assistance from the current as the last of the incoming tide was counteracting the flow of the River. The last 5.0 km of the swim would be in dead water…

This last stretch did seem to drag on a bit in comparison to running the rapids in the earlier part of the swim, but at least we got some nice views and met my grandfather who was watching from a lay-by where the River passes next to the road. After a few words with him, we were on the final straight into Cappoquin – we could see Avonmore Bridge about 1 km away and the slipway was just on the other side of it.

Photograph – Maeve Mulcahy

Mist on the Knockmealdowns nearing the end of the swim, about 3 km from Cappoquin.

I reached the slipway at Port na h-Abhann, Cappoquin at 10:16, a modest time of 2 hours 46 minutes 24 seconds after first hitting the water in Ballyduff. Lo and behold, who should be there to meet us only my grandfather again. He told us that we had better hurry up getting the kayak up on the rook of the car and getting dressed because he had our breakfast ordered in Barron’s Bakery & Coffee House up in the town! After a very nice gluten-free breakfast there, we headed back to Ballyduff and transferred the kayak from my car to Maeve’s before heading home, content with having covered yet another stretch of virgin water for swimmers.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Looking back at Avonmore Bridge from the slipway in Cappoquin.

I was off to Dover soon with to crew on two English Channel swims so it would be a while before I would get to attempt the final stage of the Project…

1 thought on “Blackwater Project: Part 3 – Ballyduff to Cappoquin

  1. Pingback: My biggest swim yet this Friday! | Owen O'Keefe

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