With a little help from Google Earth, I managed to break the full 60 km stretch into three more manageable stages. It also happens that the two points at which I broke the 60 km are the only two points with reasonably good access to the River for both a swimmer and a kayaker. The three stages were:
- Fermoy to Ballyduff – 18.6 km
- Ballyduff to Cappoquin – 15.0 km
- Cappoquin to Youghal – 26.4 km
On Thursday, 19th July, conditions finally came right to try the first swim. Maeve Mulcahy of Dolphin SC kindly agreed to kayak for me. Taking the swim as 18.6 km, as it appears on the map, I prepared feeds to last for five hours. However, as soon as we arrived at the Rowing Club, we could see that we would be done well within that time! There had been a lot of rain recently so there was a good flow in the River. Another cause for relief was that the water temperature had increased from 10ºC to about 14ºC in the last week.
Our first obstacle came no more than 200 m into the swim in the form of Fermoy Weir. There is no way around this impressive structure, so the only solution is to slide down it. Maeve went over first in the kayak and I followed. Once safely at the bottom of the Weir, we navigated under Fermoy Bridge and through a large set of gravel islands, using the current to our advantage. After this turbulent beginning, there is 5 km of deep, slow-moving water. Landmarks on this stretch include the huge M8 motorway bridge, Fermoy’s Sewage Treatment Plant, Carrigabrick Viaduct, Isleclash House, Halloran’s Rock (one of the many distinctive limestone cliffs on the Blackwater) and the confluences with the Funcheon and Araglin Rivers.
Getting ready to slide down The western end of Clondulane Weir!
The next major obstacle is Clondulane Weir, similar in design to Fermoy Weir. Two of my great-granduncles drowned at this Weir, something I wasn’t aware of while sliding down it at considerable speed! There are very strong currents just below the Weir, which make swimming a bit tricky. The area just downstream of the Weir is known as Careysville and is very famous amongst game fishermen for its Atlantic salmon.
We continued on this stretch of shallow, fast water, passing fishermen’s huts along the banks. Swimming along the boundary between Counties Cork and Waterford, a fisherman asked me if I was doing the swim as part of a triathlon! It had been very overcast at the start of the swim, but it did start to brighten up at this stage.
Going under the red iron bridge in Ballyduff just before the end of the swim.
As we progressed further, the weather continued to improve and we got some beautiful views of the widening Blackwater Valley. The River also became deeper and there were some strong currents on the bends. Recognising one particular bend, where the River demarcates the townlands of Mocollop and Ballyneroon, I knew that we were only 4 km from the finish and would be done within the hour. There is some very fast water at Cloonbeg, about 2 km from the finish. Here, we met Dad, who had just kayaked up from Ballyduff to meet us. The last 1 km was in pretty fast water so took I took my goggles off and floated down to the finish, taking in the scenery…
The finish point was on the right, just below Ballyduff Bridge. At this point, Maeve called out the swim time: 2 hours 41 minutes 5 seconds. I was completely amazed – this was an hour less than it had taken us to kayak the same route just a few weeks beforehand! We were greeted at the finish by three geese and some lambs. Needless to say, the geese were far more vocal in their “welcome” than the lambs!
So with the first stage of my Blackwater Project completed, I was feeling great and looking forward to the next two stages. We provisionally agreed to try the second stage (Ballyduff to Cappoquin) on the coming Tuesday, depending on how both Maeve and I were feeling after the Beginish Island Swim in Valentia that weekend…