At 26.4 km, this last leg of my Blackwater Project counts as a proper marathon swim. Simply feeding at random intervals from a kayak and hoping for half-way decent conditions would not be enough – this time, I’d need a proper boat with a few crew and a feeding plan. Going by the tide times for Youghal, I decided that the best day to do the swim would be Wednesday, 22nd August. It made most sense to start at high water, or just after it, to get maximum assistance. Tom McCarthy, who had crewed on my Cape Clear swim, kindly agreed to find a boat to cover the swim. His friend, Billy Kelliher, generously provided the use of his RIB. Copper Coast swimmer Donal Buckley also agreed to crew. Naturally, support kayaker supreme Maeve Mulcahy was also going to crew but unfortunately wasn’t available on the day. So now it was set, I would attempt the first swim from Cappoquin, Co. Waterford to Youghal, Co. Cork on Wednesday, 22ndAugust 2012 with Tom McCarthy, Billy Kelliher and Donal Buckley on the support boat…
On the planned day, we all met up by the only usable slipway in Youghal. Donal expressed some concern about the final part of the swim due to an ongoing E. coli outbreak on many of Cork’s beaches, including Front Strand in Youghal. After some discussion, we agreed that Donal would make the final decision on whether or not to call an end to the swim once we’d reached Youghal Bridge. Luckily, it never came to that as news came through that tests carried out on water samples taken the previous day showed the water to be of suitable quality for swimming. We then launched the RIB and loaded it up with everything that we would need during the swim. With that done, we motored upriver towards Cappoquin to start the swim. I can tell you that the boat trip up the Blackwater from Youghal to Cappoquin is infinitely more enjoyable than motoring from Dover Marina to Shakespeare Beach or Samphire Hoe for the start of an English Channel swim!
A view of the Knockmealdown Mountains from the Blackwater. (Photograph – Donal Buckley)
After our scenic tour up the River, we arrived at Cappoquin Rowing Club where we pulled up at the pontoon to refuel. While Billy and Tom were refueling the boat, I was getting changed and greased up and Donal was checking the water temperature – he measured 15.6ºC, not bad at all! With all that stuff out of the way, we all got back on board and drifted down to the slipway at Port na h-Abhann, this was where I finished my swim from Ballyduff… Once we were near the slipway, I jumped over the side and swam cautiously onto the slip, for I was conscious of the sunken punt that was just under the surface! Feet on dry land, I fixed me goggles, turned around and gave the crew the signal that I was ready. Donal called the start, 09:49, and I walked back into the water and started swimming, still careful to avoid the “wreck” below me!
Just after starting from Cappoquin. (Photograph – Donal Buckley)
From the start, it was only 100 m to the old railway bridge, known in Cappoquin as the Red Bridge. After 5 minutes, the boat came back into my field of view but stayed off to my left. This first hour felt great: the water was calm and not too cold, my stroke felt smooth and I was very comfortable in the water. The sun was shining also which is always a great help! Before long we came to Affane, where the Blackwater is joined by the River Finisk. Just before its confluence with the Blackwater, the Finisk is crossed by a bridge leading to an unusual Hindu-Gothic style gate, the entrance to the Dromana Estate. After about 1 hour 30 minutes, we had reached Villierstown Quay, formerly an important ferry crossing on the River. Here, I had my second feed and Billy gave me great encouragement by telling me that I had “over half a mile done”, really I had four and a half! I didn’t mind how much I had done, though, I was really enjoying this trip down a beautiful stretch of river…
Dromana Bridge & Gate on the River Finisk. (Photograph – Bill Power)
The next major landmark was the confluence of the Rivers Blackwater and Bride. The Bride is arguably the Blackwater’s most important tributary. When the Blackwater was navigable for merchant ships, many docked at Camphire Quay on the Bride to offload and collect goods. Not far below this point we come to one of the finest houses on this stretch of river: Strancally Castle. This 19thCentury castle come modern family home, with its extensive grounds and jetty leading to a luxury pleasure boat, might seem out of place in rural Ireland, but the setting is idyllic if the weather is cooperating! While the water was glassily calm by the contemporary Strancally Castle, by the time we had reach the ruin of the original, there was an incessant 0.5 m chop blowing at us which made the going tough for a while. Strangely, conditions calmed where the River got really wide near Clashmore. Then, as we turned west towards Ballynatray, it got quite rough again.
Swimming towards the imposing Strancally Castle. (Photograph – Donal Buckley)
It was a battle to reach Ballynatray House, yet another one of the many mansions on the lower reaches of the Blackwater, as the chop was quite severe due to the wind-against-tide effect, exaggerated further in this case by the River’s current. At the bend in the River at Ballynatray, there are many eddies which you need to watch out for – at one point I thought the water was going to turn me around completely or onto my back! From here, it was only a few minutes to Templemichael, and from there we could see Youghal Bridge in the distance…
Swimming in eddy currents outside Ballynatray House. (Photograph – Donal Buckley)
It was a great feeling to swim under Youghal Bridge, after all the years of driving over the Bridge and straining to see what was around the next bend in the River, I had finally seen every bit of the River’s course between home and Youghal. All along, I had mentally prepared myself for a long 2 km slog across Youghal Bay once under the Bridge – 2 km can seem long at the end of a big swim, plus none of us knew what effect the currents might have. In any case, I was feeling good and was ready for the final effort. As it turned out, we still had great assistance from the current and from the tide. However, a strong southerly wind was blowing directly against us and the strong flow of water, causing increasingly severe chop as we neared the mouth of the Bay.
About to go under New Bridge, Youghal. (Photograph – Donal Buckley)
Before long, we were passing the town of Youghal and the slipway where we had launched from earlier. Once we had passed Ferry Point on our left, we could say that we were in the sea. The lighthouse was just ahead on the right so it was time to turn in to the right and swim into shore. I cautiously made my in to the muddy-sandy beach just south of the Walter Raleigh Pier. I eventually got my feet on some not-so-silty ground and waded, knee-deep in rotting seaweed, onto the beach. Again, Donal called the finish, 14:17, giving a total swim time of 4 hours 27 minutes 34 seconds. Given that this swim is technically the same distance as the Zürichsee-Schwimmen, I think that it’s fair to say that the River did a fair bit of the work! After enjoying my moment on the beach, I swam back to the boat and exited the water in the usual, undignified fashion. Back at the slipway, we got the boat back on the trailer and got soup and sandwiches in the Quays Bar. All were in agreement that the day was a great success and that everyone thoroughly themselves! It’s always welcome news at the end of a big swim that your crew enjoyed themselves too.
Just before the end of the swim, the sea at last! Left to right: Owen, Capel Island, Youghal Lighthouse. (Photograph – Donal Buckley)
More beautiful photographs of the swim taken by Donal Buckley to come. On Friday, I’ll reflect on the whole Blackwater Project from start to finish and see whether or not I’ve learned anything from it…