O porquê do “Peixe da Planície”

Fermoy Fish • Eo na Mainistreach • Peixe da Planície

fermoy_crest

O brasão de Fermoy, com dois peixes (salmões).

Estes três apelidos aparecem no título deste blogue, mas imagino que tem muita gente que não conhece as origens deles. Assim sendo, deixe eu explicar!

Inglês: Um dia após minha travessia a nado de Crosshaven a Blackrock, um jornal local me descreveu como Salmon Boy (“menino-salmão” em inglês). Eles me chamaram de “salmão” porque o sentido do nado (do mar para o rio) os fez lembrar do salmão-atlântico (Salmo salar) nadando rio acima às zonas de desova para completar seu ciclo de vida. Esta espécie tem muita importância cultural e econômica na Irlanda, inclusive na minha cidade natal de Fermoy nas margens do Rio Blackwater, onde ela ocupa um lugar de destaque no brasão da cidade. Acho que eles referiram a mim como Boy porque, naquela época, eu era um boy mesmo (só tinha 15 anos de idade). Mesmo assim, muita gente começou a me chamar de Fermoy Fish em vez de Salmon Boy – fiquei grato que as pessoas cometeram esta corruptela, pois achei que este último carregou um tomzinho de desrespeito. De qualquer jeito, foi o Fermoy Fish que ficou…

Evening Echo Crosshaven to Blackrock

O artigo na edição do Evening Echo no dia 29 de agosto de 2008 em que fui chamado pela primeira e, infelizmente, não a última vez de Salmon Boy.

Irlandês: De acordo com o tema de peixes, eo é uma velha palavra da língua irlandesa que significa “salmão” – An tEo Fis ou, mais contemporaneamente, An Bradán Feasa (“O Salmão da Sabedoria” em português) é um símbolo nacional de conhecimento. Para se referir à minha cidade natal, então: O nome irlandês da cidade é Mainistir Fhear Maí, que significa “Mosteiro dos Homens da Planície”, e o gentílico da cidade é “Mainistreach”. Então, Eo na Mainistreach quer dizer “Salmão do Mosteiro (no sentido gentílico)”.

Flóirín 1928

O salmão na moeda do flóirín (dois xelins) do então Estado Livre Irlandês em 1928. Este lindo peixe permaneceu em nosso dinheiro até a introdução do euro (€) em 2002.

Português: “Peixe” não precisa de mais explicação. A lógica de usar “da Planície” em vez de um dos gentílicos estabelecidos da minha cidade talvez não seja tão óbvia assim, mas calma aí que explico! Lembre-se que o nome irlandês da minha cidade significa “Mosteiro dos Homens da Planície” (e não o que se diz na Wikipédia)… Daí, fique sabendo que minha única conexão com a língua portuguesa é que meu namorado é Campista, ou seja, ele é de Campos dos Goytacazes, uma cidade histórica na planície goitacá. Então, escolhi o apelido “Peixe da Planície” como um jeito bonitinho de reconhecer nossas duas cidades natais em uma palavra só. Além disso, a primeira consoante e a última vogal de “Planície” refletem as de “Peixe”, fazendo com que o “Peixe da Planície” seja um pouco mais memorável.

Campos dos Goytacazes por Owen O'Keefe

Campos dos Goytacazes – RJ. (Foto: Owen O’Keefe)

Espero que, após ler esta publicação, o título meio-estranho deste blogue faça um pouco mais sentido para vocês meus leitores. Por favor, continuem o seguindo para ver todas as atualizações quanto às minhas provas na disciplina das maratonas aquáticas, além de mais postagens como esta! (Eu sei que é um pouco chato esta maneira de publicar aleatoriamente, então se você quiser receber notificações quando eu publicar algo novo só é preciso clicar em Subscribe no canto superior direito…)

Advertisements

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.

0002-IMG_1477

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

0005-IMG_1488

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…

0007-IMG_1999

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).

0012-IMG_2699

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!

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…

IMGP4190

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!

IMGP4201

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!

foto (2)

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!

Race Review: VI Marnaton “eDreams” Cadaqués (Part 2)

(Cont’d from Part 1) Starting at the front of the crowd and off to the right, I had pretty clear water all round me – until a handful of us swam straight into a kayak, that was! It was a surreal experience seeing Damián Blaum next to me in the water for a short while. How often do we get to compete with the top athletes in any sport? As we rounded the first bend, I managed to draft off Esther Núñez for a few short minutes – I was very proud of myself, as you can imagine! At this point, I also realised that there was no more than half a dozen swimmers ahead of me so decided that I’d better swim properly…

Photograph – Martnaton

Rounding the first corner of the swim. The calm conditions allowed us to cut close to the rocks as we would do in Sandycove… (Photograph: Marnaton)

Now, this writing business is becoming a bit tiresome (especially as it’s 1:30 am and I’m switching between tabs keeping an eye on Sylvain Estadieu swimming butterfly across the Channel) so I’m going to continue this post as substantially captioned pictures.

Photograph – Marnaton

After the first long straight (of about 1,500 m) and passing over shallow rocks between a small islet and the mainland, we came to the first feed boat. Here, the helpers handed out cups of water. There were three of these stops, located at the 2 km, 4 km and 5 km marks. At the first stop, I noticed a handful of swimmers pass me so I decided not to stop at again! The change in position was good to release some of the heat trapped in my suit, though… (Photograph: Marnaton)

Photograph – Marnaton

After the first feed stop, we crossed a wide bay. Navigation was made very easy by lots of support boats and kayaks on the left hand side and a large yellow marker (with a red balloon 20 m up in the air directly above it) at the next turn. I saw a few jellies on this stretch but didn’t pay much attention as I was more focussed on not falling behind the swimmers in front. Around the next headland, we stayed in shallower water and went between and island and the mainland. A kayaker led me between lane ropes marking the deep channels and, here, there was even a rope on the bottom marking the best line! This was a great feature of the swim as a swimmer could badly damage their suit of they didn’t have these guides… (Photograph: Marnaton)

Photograph – Marnaton

The last feed boat at the 5 km mark flies the Marnaton logo and the flag of Catalonia. You could pretty much see the finish from here – time to change up a gear! (Photograph: Marnaton)

Photograph – Marnaton

There was no excuse for missing the finish at this race: big yellow inflatable arch with crowds either side! (Photograph: Marnaton)

Photograph – Marnaton

As I exited the water, I was faced with new challenge for me: running up the beach to the finish! I am not a runner by any definition, and even the 15 m run up from the water to the timing mats would present a challenge to me. In any case, I made it up the beach without falling or embarrassing myself… (Photograph: Marnaton)

I finished the swim in a time of 1:20:45, which was much faster than expected. My average pace throughout the race was 1:15 per 100 m. I struggle to hit that time in the pool, let alone turn around on it 65 times in a row, so I think that the current may have been taking about 0:10 off every 100 m. I was delighted to see that I actually finished in sixth place, and was only 7:11 behind Damián (who placed first) and 4:18 behind Esther (who placed fourth). Imagine that: only two places behind Esther Núñez! I was feeling very smug indeed entering the finishers’ area. Just after me was Miquel Suñer, who swam without a wetsuit. Only the week before, he swam 30+ km around the entire Cap de Creus peninsula!

Photograph – Donal O'Lochlainn

Damián and I with the Fermoy flag in the finishers’ area. (Photograph: Donal O’Lochlainn)

Before I got a chance to take off my wetsuit, Esther alerted me to the fact that there was a couple calling me from the beach. The couple was Donal and Edna O’Lochlainn from Fermoy who were in Cadaqués on their holidays… Fermoy people: you just can’t escape them! They even had the Fermoy flag with them for the occasion so Damián and I had our picture taken with it. It was great to meet Donal and Edna at the event and very nice to have some local support. Mauricio and I met them again later that evening for a drink. Damián, Esther and I hung around in the finishers’ area for another while, meeting all of the swimmers that we had met at dinner the night before. The area was very well set up: the swimmers had a nice patch of beach to mill around in, there were chairs, showers and stands with lot’s of soft drinks, water and fruit. On your way out of the finishers’ area, you passed “baggage reclaim” where you picked up your things which had been transported from the start for you. In the plaza, there was also free recovery massages and even an inflatable medical centre! The whole setup was very impressive and great credit is due to the organisers for the effort that they put in. By the time we’d seen the results it was nearly midday and getting very hot, so it was time to cool off in the hotel pool before heading back for the presentation of the prizes at 1:00 pm.

Photograph – Mauricio Prieto

My category was Male 18-29 and, as the fastest in the category was in the overall prizes, he was excluded from the category prizes so I found myself winning the category outright. I was not expecting that at all! I was particularly pleased when I saw the age range of the category and that there was actually over 50 swimmers in it… (Photograph: Mauricio Prieto)

Photograph – Marnaton

Fastest three swimmers in both the male and female all-ages categories on the podium with some of the Marnaton team. (Photograph: Marnaton)

Right after the prizes we had a really nice lunch by the hotel pool. I was advised to try a local dish – a Catalan noodle paella – which I must say was really nice and hit the spot very nicely after the race! After, all that swimming, talking and eating, we were all exhausted so it was time for a siesta by the pool (there’s that pool again).

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Cadaqués Sunset… (Photograph: Owen O’Keefe)

Before we ate yet again, there was some important business to attend to for the soccer fans and Catalans in the group: Barcelona were playing a match and it was imperative that we watched it. I wouldn’t normally watch soccer but I was getting the full Catalan experience so was looking forward to seeing how the locals followed their biggest sporting institution. To my surprise, everyone gathered in pubs and restaurants, sat and watched quietly. I was sure that there was probably more excitement about the very same match at home! The crowed did get a bit more lively during the next match though, where they relished in seeing Real Madrid fair poorly – I suppose it’s a bit like a Cork supporter sometimes appearing more anti-Kilkenny than pro-Cork in hurling. Anyway, enough about dry-land sports! At 10:00 pm, it was time to eat some more… There was another big crowd for dinner, this time including the race organiser, Miquel Rahola, and his wife, Irene, as well as David Campa and others. The dinner was tapas style and, yet again, the food was top class – as was the company, of course. By now, I was picking up some of the more basic Spanish and Catalan phrases – I promise to be able to speak some for next year! After dinner, it was time for the party…

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

From midnight to 3:00 am there was a great party in the plaza. It was great to meet Domingo and Macarena here, who were very keen to practise their English on me! We did have to shelter from rain in the beach bar for a while, which was unexpected… (Photograph: Owen O’Keefe)

That wasn’t the end of it, though! After the band stopped, the party continued into the streets of Cadaqués. The group eventually found our way into a tiny nightclub in the village where we stayed until 5:00 am when I was disgusted to have to leave to catch my bus back to Barcelona and fly home! Still, I’d had an absolutely amazing day and a half with brilliant people – a simply surreal experience.

Thanks a million to Mauricio for looking after me from start to finish. Thanks to Damián, Esther, Miquel and all my new swimming friends for their hospitality. Well done to Miquel, Pablo, Irene, David and the rest of the Marnaton team on organisation such a superb event. I can’t wait for next year!

Relevant Links:

Race Review: VI Marnaton “eDreams” Cadaqués (Part 1)

It’s now one year since I started this blog and started reading OWSwimming.com, the blog of Mauricio, Susan and Emily who swam the Strait of Gibraltar this summer. I read with envy as they swam in the warm waters of the Mediterranean Sea until late in the autumn. I came to know the swimmers through blogging and before long I was signed up to take part in the third stage of Marnaton 2013. The race that entered was a 6.5 km swim on the Costa Brava called VI Marnaton “eDreams” Cap de Creus – Cadaqués and it took place last Saturday, 14 September. Here’s how I got on…

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

From the restaurant at the top of the cliff, Mauricio points out the best line to take during the swim…

Eager for one last summer race before heading back to college, I flew from Cork to Barcelona on Friday. On arrival there, I met Mauricio who kindly took my bag and showed me where to wander around in Barcelona for the afternoon. After a stroll around Las Ramblas, Mauricio and I met up again and headed for Cadaqués, which is about 2 hours north of Barcelona by car. When we got to Cadaqués, we took a drive to the start of the swim at Cala Jugadora in the Cap de Creus national park. The whole area is spectacularly beautiful with rocky mountains, lots of greenery and azure blue sea. Having checked out the swim course from the cliffs, we headed back to the village and checked into the hotel. There, we met the most successful couple in open water swimming: Damián Blaum and Esther Núñez. I first met Damián last year while we were both in Dover and crewing for Trent Grimsey on his English Channel world record swim. He is the current FINA Grand Prix Champion. Esther was the GP Champion in 2007 and 2012 and was second this year. They would both be taking part in the race the following day! That evening I had dinner with Mauricio, Damián, Esther, Miquel Suñer and many local swimmers. It was a great evening and I got plenty of exposure to the Spanish and Catalan languages!

Photograph – Unknown

After dinner at Casa Anita in Cadaqués. Back row (l-r): Pablo, Jordi, Lorena, me, Ester, Cristina, Cristina, Alberto, Marta. Front row (l-r): Esther, Damián, Mauricio, Miquel, Rafa.

The next morning, we had to be up early to travel to the start point. Breakfast at the hotel was at 7:30 am. Most swimmers tried to imitate what Damián and Esther were having for their breakfast but it was difficult to keep up! After breakfast, we travelled to the start by car – we could only go so far by road and had to walk the rest of the way. All of the swimmers got changed in the glen that leads from the road to the cove. All but two of the nearly 600 swimmers got our wetsuits and, like penguins, made our way to the water! I was relieved to jump into the sea as I was getting quite hot standing around in my wetsuit. The water was at least 18ºC, crystal clear and very saline: I’d never felt so warm and so buoyant in the sea! I followed Damián, Esther to the best start position. There, we met Miquel, who was swimming without a wetsuit. Once all of the swimmers were congregated in the start area, the horn blew and we were off!

Photograph – Marnaton

All of the 596 swimmers start simultaneously, accompanied by a flotilla of safety boats and kayakers! (Photograph: Marnaton)

That’s enough writing for me for today! I’ll put up another post tomorrow about the swim itself and the afters of the event… (Cont’d in Part 2)

Related Articles:

Blackwater 60 km – Report

Photograph – Donal Buckley

A surprisingly clear day dawned about an hour before the start of the swim. (Photograph: Donal Buckley)

The early-morning mist was just rising off the water when I arrived at Fermoy Rowing Club at 6:30 am last Friday. As Mona, Donal and Maura got the kayaks set up and I got into my swim gear, a string of family and friends gradually gathered around the slipway. It was a nice to have a few people to wave me off for a change. Almost all of my marathon swims so far have had very lonely starts, sometimes in the black of night, so it was nice to have company. It also makes it much harder to back out of the swim if people are watching! At 7:08 am, I hit the water accompanied by my three crew, each in their own kayak. The water felt great: it was dark and fresh and felt quite warm! Donal, who was acting as observer for the swim, estimated that the water temperature was somewhere in the range of 15ºC to 16ºC. For the first 250 m, I could see those who had been at the slipway moving along Ashe Quay towards Fermoy Bridge where they could get a perfect view of myself and the three kayakers traversing the weir (photographed above). Once safely below the weir, it was back to the horizontal and off under the bridge, past Blackwater Sub-Aqua Club and into deeper water once more.

Photograph – George O'Keefe

Starting the swim from the slipway at Fermoy Rowing Club. (Photograph: George O’Keefe)

Having passed under the M8 motorway bridge and Carrigabrick Viaduct, I took my first feed as we passed Isleclash (30 minutes in). I knew at this stage that I wasn’t getting a lot of help from the current so the first half of the swim would be a bit harder than originally expected. The next half-hour took us past Halloran’s Rock, where the River Funcheon joins the Blackwater. Then we passed through Ballyderown, where fellow swimmer and crew member for the second part of this swim, Paul Noonan, was able to see us passing from his house! Shortly after passing the confluence with the Araglin River, bringing cool water from the mountains on the Waterford-Tipperary border, I had my second feed (1 hour in). We were still a good distance from Clondulane Weir so I knew that we were slightly behind time. Not long after this feed, I almost jumped out of my skin when the water clarity afforded me an excellent few of a beautiful Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) cruising upriver about 1.5 m below me. I estimated that he (at least I think it was a he) was about 15 lbs in weight – easily the largest fish that I’ve seen while swimming. Eventually, we did get to Clondulane Weir. I was nervous about everyone, including myself, getting over this weir safely but, thankfully, we did (even if some of us got wet)…

Photograph – Donal Buckley

As you can see, getting over the weir wasn’t the easiest part of the swim, but it was fun! (Photograph: Donal Buckley)

Safely on the other side of the weir, I could relax knowing that there were no other major obstacles in our way! The next 2 hours or so would be spent swimming from feed to feed, as normal, with some streamlined dolphining over rapids and a few giant steps here and there where it was simply too shallow to swim. Passing through Careysville fishery, we observed varying attitudes among the fisherman to our passing through, disrupting the fishing for literally 2 or 3 seconds and scaring the fish. Dad and some of his friends from Fermoy Camera Club would appear at odd places along the bank and there was even a crowd of locals gathered as I swam near the road in Ballyneroon! After being “whooshed” around a few more bends, the iron bridge of Ballyduff came into view. I was taken aback to see a dozen or so well-wishers standing on the bridge waiting for me and cheering and clapping as I passed beneath. This reminded me that I was in home territory and that this swim was a special one, much more so than any of my other marathon swims. The video below (taken by Dad) gives an idea of the local support for the swim…

Although it had taken about 4 hours to get to Ballyduff, I was pleased to be over halfway to Cappoquin, the point at which we’d be switching from kayak support to boat support. I regarded the Cappoquin as the true start of the swim, much as English Channel 2-way swimmers regard the first leg of the swim as “the swim to the start”. On the long stretch of river from Glencairn Abbey past Fort William and into Ballyin, my arms began to feel very heavy. Freshwater swimming is generally tougher on core muscle groups, especially postural muscles on the back. This is because of the lower body position caused by the lack of buoyancy relative to the sea. The promise if seeing yet more family, friends and supporters on Cavendish Bridge just around the corner in Lismore and the promise of saltier water later on drove me on!

Photograph – Donal Buckley

Swimming under Lismore Castle about 28 km into the swim. On the far left, you can see Cavendish Bridge and some people waiting to see the swim pass. (Photograph: Donal Buckley)

Passing Lismore and the Ballyrafter Flats, there were one or two very bad smells. Donal said that there was something dead on the bank so that is the most likely explanation. At Bullsod Island, we were propelled down the final set of rapids before finally reaching sea level. There was some unexpected slow and shallow water after this but only for a few hundred metres. Once in deep water, I was due another feed: this time a caffeinated gel. It wasn’t long before we were at a bend on the river which brushes right up against the main road. Again, there were plenty of people lined up to cheer on the swim. This time, they were treated to a perfect view of a feed of 300 ml High5 ZERO electrolyte drink and a handful of jelly babies! It was now only about 2 km to Cappoquin Rowing Club, where Mona and Maura would be leaving us and Donal would be transferring into the boat.

Photograph – George O'Keefe

Passing under Avonmore Bridge in Cappoquin shortly before transferring to boat support. (Photograph: George O’Keefe)

About 30 minutes later, we were almost at Avonmore Bridge and I could see the town of Cappoquin and the support boat “Maeve Óg” on the other side. This bridge, by the way, was formerly known as Victoria Bridge and was blown up in one of the many shameful acts of the War of Independence. It was rebuilt under the Irish Free State during the 1920s and was later renamed Avonmore Bridge. The word “Avonmore” is an anglicisation of the Irish name for the river and is commonly used in the names of houses, etc. near the river but is rarely used when referring to the river itself. Anyway, enough about the bridge! By the time that I got to the Rowing Club pontoon, Donal had already transferred to the boat (but not before being caught falling out of the kayak before he did so) and I could see that there was a lot of activity on the bank. I acknowledged Tony, Paul, Róisín, Ellen and Donal on the boat and swam on. Maura hopped out, followed shortly be Mona. I was very pleased to have made it to this point and took comfort in the fact that the swim was straightforward from here on in: I would just have to keep putting one arm in front of the other, take my feeds from the boat and keep my mouth shut. Once I did these things, I knew that I would make it to Youghal.

Photograph – Donal Buckley

All very serious on the boat! (Photograph: Donal Buckley)

The next hour or two was pretty uneventful. I crossed off way-points in my head: the slipway where Cappoquin Rowing Club have their regattas, the confluence with the River Finisk, Dromana Rock, Dromana House, Camphire House and so on. It felt to me like progress was slow, but that probably had more to do with the calm, deep water and the dull conditions than it actually being slow.

Photograph – Donal Buckley

Sailing along the Blackwater near Affane. (Photograph: Donal Buckley)

This part of the river is truly stunning and suitable for a range of aquatic activities which includes swimming, canoeing, waterskiing, windsurfing and even sailing! As we passed Villierstown Quay, we picked up a lonely figure in a Canadian canoe. He stayed with us as we passed the crowd waving from the quay-side and for a good bit beyond. At the next feed, we were very close to the reed-beds at the bank and I could see the strength of the current for myself. This gave me more confidence that I was making good progress towards my goal. My only concern was that the tide might turn before I got to the mouth of the river and I would be pushed backwards – there was only a very slim possibility of tht happening, though.

Photograph – Donal Buckley

Approaching Villierstown Quay accompanied by a lone canoeist. (Photograph: Donal Buckley)

After passing between the newer Strancally Castle and Dromore Quay, it started to get a bit choppier. The southerly wind blowing upriver was acting against the ebbing tide causing short, steep-sided waves. I can’t say that I wasn’t expecting these conditions as they seem to prevail on this stretch of the river. A tweet from Trent Grimsey‘s coach, Harley Connolly, relayed by Donal spurred me on as we passed the ruins of Old Strancally Castle. This chop was at its worse as we travelled across the Clashmore Broads but a few things got me through it: firstly, the sun was coming out so I naturally felt positive; secondly, I could see friends and family at Cooneen on the far side of the river; thirdly, I felt great that I was handling these conditions nearly 10 hours into the swim and, finally, I knew that it would be calmer around the next bend…

Photograph – Donal Buckley

Trying to take some shelter from the chop near Old Strancally. (Photograph: Donal Buckley)

Tony and the crew did a great job of keeping me out of the worst of the chop. My natural tendency was to go for the middle of the river where I presumed that the current was strongest. Tony, however, knew that I would avoid the worst of the chop while only losing a minimal amount of current be staying nearer the shore. This was counterintuitive for me but this is why you employ local knowledge when undertaking a big swim!

As we rounded the next bend, we had the magnificent Ballynatray House in our sights. I felt great at this point as the sun was out again, the surface was much calmer and I knew that I was on the home stretch. When I say “on the home stretch”, what I really mean is “less than 2 hours to go”! The crew told me that we were changing from my repetitive 1-hour feeding cycle to the terminal 2-hour cycle given to me by Carol Cashell. This meant that I’d soon be getting caffeine – at last! As the New Bridge at Rincrew came into view, I could sense a change in the composition of the water: there was less sediment and definitely more salt in the water. The higher salinity meant more buoyancy for me, something I appreciated great at this stage, when I had now been swimming for longer than I had ever swum for before…

Photograph – Lee Fox

Ballynatray House on the left and us on the right. (Photograph: Lee Fox)

After Ballynatray House, the ancient ruins of Molana Abbey and the Knights Templar’s castle at Templemichael passed by on our right-hand-side. It wasn’t long before we got a very clear view of the bridge with a crowd gathered on it and a few more people on the shoreline beneath.

Photograph – Donal Buckley

Support gathered on the New Bridge, Youghal as well as a few keen photographers with big lenses underneath. (Photograph: Donal Buckley)

There was a slight increase in the swell and chop as we went under the bridge but nothing major and nothing as bad as it was the last time I swam out into the bay. Going under this bridge was a big moment in the swim for me. It was one of the places that had originally made me think of this swim and it meant that I was less than 2 km from the finish.

Photograph – Donal Buckley

Coming into the finish to lots of family, friends and strangers showing enormous good will in supporting the swim. (Photograph: Donal Buckley)

Crossing the bay was relatively easy. I was on a high as I knew that I was going to finish and that what was really quite a daft plan actually worked. I was able to up my pace a little with the adrenaline in my system, knowing that I would finish and that I wouldn’t let down everyone who had shown me such great support throughout the day. As we passed the first buildings in the town, the crew told me that we weren’t going to land at Front Strand, as planned, and would instead be landing at the slipway near Neal’s Quay in the middle of the town. At first, I was a bit annoyed as I had wanted to finish at the strand but when I asked why they told me that it was too dangerous to go to the strand. Well, you can’t argue with safety! Anyway, it would be a swim of 60 km from a slipway in Fermoy to a slipway in Youghal so I couldn’t complain too much. Once I could see the slipway myself, I headed in at a good pace and the boat stayed out in the deeper water.

Photograph – John Meade

Seconds before coming into the slipway. Lots of bow-wave but not too bad after over 12 hours in the water. (Photograph: John Meade)

After 12 hours 8 minutes in the water, I stood up on the slipway and turned around to signal to Donal that I was above the waterline. I was delighted when I looked up and saw so many friends and family on the quay, as well as plenty of strangers! My sister, Amy, was first down the slipway to me with my towels. She was soon followed by the rest of my family and a few local media people.

Photograph – John Meade

My swimmer’s tan lines clearly visible as I walk out of the water at the slipway! (Photograph: John Meade)

There was a lot of stuff going on at the finish so there was little opportunity to take the team photographs that we wanted but we got a few anyway. The video below by Youghal Online shows the end of the swim and the atmosphere on the quay afterwards. I was totally unaware of how vacant I look and how inebriated and rural I sound after 12 hours in the water. I had recovered a good bit by the second interview (about an hour later).

There are so many people to thank in relation to this swim. I must first of all thank Tony Gallagher of Blackwater Cruises for his time and expertise in getting this swim off the ground – it really could not have happened without him! Great thanks are also due to my good friend, Donal Buckley, who had the hard task of observing from a kayak for the first half of the swim and then transferring to the boat for the second half – he did a superb job as well as taking lots of top quality photographs! Mona Sexton and Maura Murphy also did a fantastic job of kayaking with me from Fermoy to Cappoquin. Paul Noonan and Róisín Lewis were top class crew on the boat: Paul did an amazing job of keeping in contact with the outside world and Róisín managed all of my feeds perfectly and gave me great encouragement. Ellen Lynch of the Avondhu Press was also on board “Maeve Óg” for the second half of the swim to take notes and photographs – that’s hands-on journalism for you! Thanks are also due to the manager of the Quays Bar, who gave me a complimentary meal of steak and chips after the swim, and the very kind lady who let me use her shower to get the muddy water and grease off of myself before getting dressed. I want to say a huge thank you to all of my family, friends and supporters who were out following the swim from early morning and cheered me on at Ballyduff, Lismore, Cappoquin, Villierstown, Dromore, Conneen, Ballynaclash, Templemichael and Rincrew, the crowd who gave me such a great reception in Youghal and the members of Fermoy Camera Club who took fantastic shots of the swim.

I really appreciate everyone’s contribution to this swim and am glad that you all enjoyed seeing the sport of marathon swimming up close and personal. I also hope that the swim has also opened a few eyes to the beauty and heritage of the mighty River Blackwater. I feel very privileged that the Great River is such a big part of my life.

Photograph – Lee Fox

I’ll finish my report with this great photograph by Lee Fox. It shows, from left to right: Tony Gallagher (pilot), myself, Grandad (Tom Baker) and Leo Bartley.

There will be many more great photographs uploaded to my Facebook account over the next few days for anyone who’s interested in them…