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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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.

Lion's Mane Jellyfish, Cyanea capillata

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.

6h swim

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!

Lee Swim 2017

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…

Race Review: Sandycove Island Challenge 2013

Last Saturday, 7 September was the date of this year’s “The Edge Sports” Sandycove Island Challenge, the second biggest event on the Munster open water swimming calendar. The swim has been running for, I think, 18 years and I’ve been taking part each year since 2006 – I admit missing the 2009 event as I was swimming across the English Channel at the time! It’s a fantastic event run by Cork Masters SC and is a great reason to make yourself visit the home of marathon swimming in Munster, Sandycove Island.

Entries were slightly down on last year for a number of reasons, with a total of just under 200 people completing the swim on the day. Dave Mulcahy, Dave Dowling, Ellen Brooks and myself all swam for Fermoy SC. Conditions were near-perfect: it was very overcast and occasionally wet but the water was glassy calm with very good visibility under water. The still flooding tide meant that swimmers would also get some assistance from the current on the one-mile circuit of the island. After registration in Kinsale around lunchtime, we headed to Sandycove to mill around and wait for the race briefing.

Ned gave the usual briefing at the slipway and all of the swimmers assembled into their start groups (of 30 swimmers each). I was seeded #2 so was in the first group. When we were lined up, it became clear to me that #4 or #5 would have been a more accurate seeding for me: in front of me was Dan Sweeney, a former Sunday’s Well SC and Plymouth Leander swimmer now swimming with the elite team at Loughborough, and behind me was Ethan O’Brien of Limerick SC who is making a name for himself as an elite triathlete. I was not competing with these guys, they are way out my league – I was much more focused on Carol Cashell, Ned Denison and maybe one or two others who are my usual competitors!

The start was very clean and non-violent: the 30 swimmers in the first group assembled on the slipway. Carol and I were stood next to each other in the middle while Ned was off to the right, picturing himself beating the real fast guys! The whistle went and we were off before we knew it. I got a nice clean dive and came back to the surface unobstructed by flailing arms. Carol and I were stroke-for-stroke and, as we approached the first corner, we caught Ned at the end of his initial sprint phase. Carol was on my left and Ned was on my right, I was sandwiched between the two of them as we headed for the rocks. I figured that the best thing to do would be to pull back and go around the outside of Ned – this would give me more water to swim in and also psychologically destroy Ned to see me pass him on the outside.

The calm conditions allowed for a tight line around the rocks at the first corner and the very good u/w visibility made it easier to find the deep cracks in the rocks. Carol, who was about 5 m outside me said afterwards that she thought that she was cutting it fine so was surprised to see me well inside her. She was scraping off subsurface rocks, confirming my theory that, at the first corner at Sandycove, it’s best to go as close as you can to the rocks that you can see, thus avoiding those that you can’t see! I started to pull ahead of Carol at this point and started reeling in a guy in a wetsuit who, it would appear, is probably a great 750 m triathlon swimmer but broke down a bit after 800 m. Having passed him on the back of the island, I was satisfied that it was only Dan and Ethan left at the front. I could see them approach the second corner but knew that a mere mortal like myself had no chance of catching them – I just focused on maintaining my current position, keeping a close eye on Carol just behind me…

I went incredibly close to the rock on the second/far corner, relying on the gentle swell to carry me over the shallowest parts – I lost no blood this time! The race after this was quite boring. The two lads were off in front, Carol was about 15 m behind and there was nobody on either side of me. The water was calm and there was no battle to be had. I have become used to ferocious battles at this event over the last few years! At the third corner, I picked my line to the marker buoys near the finish and went for it, readjusting my heading every few stroke cycles. As I reached the first of the large yellow buoys marking the approach to the finish, I saw Ethan and Dan getting onto the slipway. I tried to sprint in but the extra gear just wasn’t there; it didn’t matter though, I held my position and finished third person home in a time of 21:44.0 – a new PB, I’m pretty sure.

As Carol finished about 20 s after me, she informed everyone that the water temperature was 14.6ºC. Cooler than previous years, despite being about a fortnight earlier, but it made no difference as I didn’t think about the temperature for a second from start to finish. I enjoyed watching all of the others come in, especially the Fermoy SC swimmers. Dave (Mulcahy) did a very impressive swim: he got a new PB of 29:06 – his first sub-30-minute lap of the island! I spotted one swimmer just after the finish though and thought: “he looks fast, and familiar too…” It turns out that the swimmer, seeded #221, was Aaron O’Brien of Limerick SC who is today competing for Ireland in the Junior World Championships in triathlon!

There was great post-race banter back in Kinsale afterwards while we waited for the prizes. The best local result had to be Carol’s win in the female non-wetsuit category, she was flying only a week after her pioneering swim around Bere Island. Despite being third home, I had to settle for fourth place as, as was to be expected, Aaron had a faster swim than me by 7.7 seconds – I’m pretty pleased with 7.7 seconds behind a national squad triathlete over 1.6 km! It was a great event and credit is due to all involved in organising it. Sorry for the lack of photographs, I haven’t seen any myself…

I’m back in the pool now (sort of) but have a few more open water events left before returning to the real world of college and training. Tomorrow, I’m off to Catalonia to bask in the sun and reflected glory of swimming with FINA Grand Prix Champion 2013 and therefore World #1, Damián Blaum (ARG) and his wife, Esther Núñez Morera, who also just happens to be World #2! The event in which I’ll be swimming is the 6.5 km race from Cap de Creus to the village of Cadaqués in the picturesque North of the country. It is part of the Copa Marnaton “eDreams” and I’ll be there thanks to my friends Mauricio Prieto and Susan Moody who swam the Strait of Gibraltar this summer and keep a great open water blog, OWSwimming.com. I can’t wait for the race!

Related Documents:

Martin Duggan Memorial Swim 2013

Last Friday evening, I took part in what was my first Martin Duggan Memorial Swim in the beautiful River Blackwater. I’ve been organising this event since it before it changed its name from the “Blackwater Swim” in 2009 so have been present at every swim but never actually taken part. This year, however, I was able to place the running of the event in the very capable hands of Brigid Noonan and Jim Sheehan while I took a half-hour beak from the organisation to see how the swim looks from the swimmers’ point of view!

Photograph – George O'Keefe

Our referee, Jim Sheehan, gets the proceedings underway. We split swimmers into two starting groups for safety.

Having run the swim on Sunday afternoons for the last few years, we took Finbarr Hedderman‘s advice and decided to try running the event on a Friday evening and see if it made any difference to the attendance (which had fallen in the last two years). It seemed to work as we had a total of 51 entries and only 4 no-shows on the day. This was a notable improvement on the last two years, when we had far fewer entries and, generally, a  higher number of no-shows on the day. Also, all of the 47 swimmers that started the swim finished and all did so within the time limit (1 hour). This was very impressive as, for a few of the swimmers, this was their first ever open water swim and they were anxious about finishing in a respectable time…

Photograph – Twitter

Bryan Keane (left) and Gavin Noble (right) are first swimmers home at MDMS 2013.

The first swimmer home was Ireland’s top triathlete Gavin Noble (Sandycove Island SC) who completed the 2 km in a new course record of 23 minutes 32.7 seconds! Not far behind him was fellow elite triathlete Bryan Keane (Templeogue SC). I was very pleased to be the next swimmer home, finishing in 26 minutes 50.1 seconds. This is my best time over this course, which I swim practically every day during the fine weather! It was good to be the first non-wetsuit and, more importantly, non-elite swimmer home! I really enjoyed the race, though, especially having abstained from participating for the first four years of its existence. I was very pleased also that everyone else seemed to enjoy their swim and that the event can attract some top-class athletes. You can find full results of the swim on Results 2013 and more photographs on our Facebook page.

Photograph – George O'Keefe

Me finishing the swim in third place overall and first non-wetsuit, but none of that really matters once I beat Ned, which I did!

There was a great turnout of Fermoy SC swimmers also – total of 18 swimmers from both the Masters and Torpedoes squads. The next Fermoy SC swimmer after me was Paul Noonan who swam 29 minutes 2.1 seconds for the 2 km – sub-30 isn’t too bad for someone “not racing” but this is the same guy that “accidentally” swam the 5 km instead of the 3 km at GaddinAbtGarnish last weekend… There was some great swimming also by Grace Corbett, who swam 31 minutes 11.1 seconds (non-wetsuit) for this, her first ever open water at only 12 years of age, beating a handful of older and more-experienced club swimmers! This was also a first open water race for Mary Brooks and Anna Sheehan, both of whom swam very well. Mary won the Martin Duggan Memorial Shield for the Youngest Swimmer as she was just 12 years 170 days old on the day of the swim. There were some impressive swims also by a couple of the Masters squad swimmers for whom this was their first proper event in the open water.

Photograph – George O'Keefe

Some swimmers at the finish pontoon, including Fermoy SC members Anna Sheehan, Declan O’Keeffe, Kurt Malmstrom and Mona Sexton, as well as Conor Power (Carrick Dippers SC) and Una McIntosh (Cork Masters SC).

There are lots of people to whom great thanks is owed as regards running this event but I’m not going to thank them here – they’ve been thanked on the event’s own websites (first two articles linked below). I would, however, like to personally thank both Brigid Noonan and Dave Mulcahy who do a lot of the background work on this swim. I wouldn’t have a hope of keeping this event going without their help. Thanks, Brigid & Dave!

The difference a day makes…

The weather finally took a turn for the better this Wednesday (the sun came out and we were well into double figures in terms of air temperature and I was able to get my 2-hour qualifying swim for the Crosóige Mara 2-way English Channel relay swim done. I did the swim in the River Blackwater in Fermoy, Dave Mulcahy observing. Here are a few of the photographs that I took during the swim:

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

At the start of my 2-hour qualifying swim; view of the Bridge obscured by the sheet piling of the flood protection works.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

From the new slipway, looking upriver where I did most of my swim. Strange to see blue sky!

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

This is the view from where we used to start our swims. On the left is Hanley’s Island, where I found live freshwater pearl mussels, and straight ahead is our open-all-hours and very spacious swimming facility…

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Looking back down Barnane from the 400 m mark.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Just after fighting the rapids, 2 km upstream from the start, the long straight stretch to Castlehyde just around the corner. I turned back here for safety reasons as it’s out of public view (though it shouldn’t be).

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

The trees (right) marking the end of the Third Field. This is the point at which swimmers will turn around during the Martin Duggan Memorial Swim on Friday, 14 June 2013. Why wouldn’t you want to swim here?

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

The bank of the Second Field. There are often bubbles rising from the riverbed along the bank here, I think coming from a silted-up area. It seems odd that I hardly saw anyone on the bank (which is a public walk) during the swim, maybe we don’t appreciate what Fermoy has to offer…

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Looking upriver from the 700 m mark. The turning point for the Martin Duggan Memorial Swim just around the corner on the left…

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Looking towards Barnane from the 700 m mark, the house “Innisfallen” between the trees.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Buildings in Pearse Square, Fermoy as seen from the Blackwater.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Fermoy Bridge as seen from the water.

Measured by my FINIS Hydro Tracker GPS, the total distance for the swim was 7.12 km and it took me 2 hours 10 minutes to complete (a bit slow I know but I was taking a good few photographs). The water temperature was about 14ºC but the air temperature was very warm with unbroken sunshine! It’s great to have the official 2-hour swim out of the way but I still have my 6-hour qualifier for Jersey to complete (fun).

I hope enjoyed the pictures, even though it seems like a lazy way of posting… Don’t forget that entries are open for the Martin Duggan Memorial Swim on Friday, 14 June 2013 at this great location. That’s just two weeks away so it’s time to start entering!

“How’s the water?”

My apologies for not having posted in so long, the exams are over now though and I’m back in the land of the living at last! I’m pretty much a full-time swimmer for the next three months which is a nice change, though it’s not that easy at the moment with water temperatures well below average for the time of year…

Open water swimmers all around Ireland and the UK go to great lengths to avoid the tabooed use of “the ‘c’ word”, i.e. “cold”. The current unwillingness of the water to heat up reminded me of a great word that is possibly confined to use by a particular generation of swimmers on the River Blackwater in Fermoy.

When asked “How’s the water?” or “What’s it like?”, my grandfather, Leo Bartley and other such swimmers would often give the ambiguous answer “‘Tis holding”. This would leave the innocent enquirer none the wiser as to the actual conditions.

What exactly is meant by the word “holding” depends on what the water has been like over the last few weeks, so it’s completely meaningless to anyone who hasn’t been swimming in the area long-term, let alone those who don’t swim at all! I had planned to do a 3 hour training swim in the river this morning but had to get out after 1 hour 45 minutes. I think “holding” was appropriate in the negative sense here as it hasn’t warmed up for ages. “Holding” is a good thing in August and September though when it should really be getting colder. In summary, “holding” is a very welcome temperature in Autumn, but not so welcome in Spring!

Other words used locally to avoid saying “cold” include: fresh, refreshing, bracing, hot, boiling, gorgeous, beautiful, te, too warm, roasting and many, many others. This is possibly a reflection of a habit of doing a lot of talking about swimming and maybe not so much actual swimming!

Yes, I’m still here!

I haven’t posted in a while, but I am still here! The last week and a bit have been very busy with a college field course. We had a great 3 days doing ecological research in Garretstown (one of our less regular swimming spots), Castlefreke (not advisable to swim here) and Glengarriff (home of the Gaddin’ About Garnish swim). I seemed to be one of the few people to get the reports in on time so that leaves me with almost 3 full weeks to study for the summer exams, or maybe get distracted and actually do some swimming!

In my absence from blogging, though, I have actually been doing some swimming for a change. On Sunday, I travelled to the University Arena in Limerick for some long course training with Fermoy SC and have been swimming regularly with them over the last few weeks. As well as that, the weather has been improving so Dave Mulcahy and I headed for a swim in the Blackwater on Tuesday. The water temperature was much higher than expected (about 8ºC) but there was a strong flow which was reflected in our 0.5 km splits of 16 minutes and 5 minutes for our 1 km dip! Hopefully the trend in increasing temperatures and increasing swimming will continue over the next few weeks, and maybe I might get some study done as well…

Ba mhaith liom ádh mór do ghuí ar gach duine atá ag déanamh a scrúduithe béil sa Ghaelainn agus sna teangacha eile an tseachtain, mo dheirfiúr ach go h-áirithe. Go n-eirí go geal libh go léir!