A Tour of Lough Hyne

This another sort of lazy post made up almost entirely of photographs. They’re worth looking at though as they are of a place where I’ve had some of my best and most memorable swims: Lough Hyne, West Cork.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

The hill of Dromadoon from Barloge Quay.

Lough Hyne is a marine lake between the town of Skibbereen and the village of Baltimore in West Cork. It’s connected to the sea by a very narrow set of rapids, known simply as the Rapids. The small size of the Rapids means that the lake has an asymmetrical tidal cycle: the tide flows in for about 4 hours 30 minutes and out for about 8 hours 30 minutes. The tidal range in the lake, at about 1 m, is also much narrower than the tidal range outside, which can be 4 m or more.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Calm waters in Barloge Creek…

The freshwater input into Lough Hyne is negligible and so it is completely marine, but the geography of the lake means that it is full of relatively warm, well-aerated saline water. This makes it ideal for many kinds of marine life, including many species found nowhere on Earth except in Lough Hyne. The lake and the area just outside it, Barloge Creek, was designated Europe’s first Marine Nature Reserve in 1981 and is now home to a research centre which is part of the school of Biological, Earth & Environmental Sciences (BEES) at University College Cork, where I am studying.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

There is easy access to the crystal clear water at Barloge Quay…

On Friday, 13 April 2012, Steven Black and I decided to take advantage of fine weather and go for an early season swim in the area. Steve is originally from Cape Town, South Africa but is now a resident of the island of Ringarogy near Baltimore, West Cork. He is a regular swimmer at Lough Hyne…

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

The view across Barloge Creek from the road.

On this day, we decided to try a 3.7 km swim starting at Barloge Creek, heading over the Rapids into Lough Hyne, swimming west of Castle Island to West Quay, across to North Quay and straight back to Barloge Creek, going east of Castle Island. This might be a bit if a stretch as the water was only 10ºC or 11ºC and neither of us would be in wetsuits.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

The view towards Tranabo Cove from Barloge.

It was a fine day so I brought my new waterproof camera to see of I could get any nice shots. I was hoping to get a few underwater wildlife shots as the water is crystal clear but it wasn’t to be on this particular day.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Steve Black of Cape Town, South Africa via Ringarogy dons his ACNEG in anticipation of a slightly cooler swim than his Strait of Gibraltar crossing!

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Swimming towards the Rapids which connect Lough Hyne to the sea via Barloge Creek…

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Swimming away from Barloge Quay towards the Rapids.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Steve swims off ahead of my while I mess around taking photographs…

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Just about to go over the Rapids, the quay on the left and the Bohane Laboratory on the right.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Almost in the Rapids, looking like a good flow!

Swimming over the Rapids is great fun but you must time it right. You need to be able to work out before you go, which way they will be flowing, how fast they will be flowing and what the depth will be. It’s well worth the 2 hour drive from Fermoy to Lough Hyne just to go playing on the Rapids!

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Just exiting the Rapids at Renouf’s Bay…

If you are coming into the lake with the Rapids, as we were, you need to get to the left as quickly as possible at the end as straight ahead is a large whirlpool which you can easily get caught up in if you’re not careful…

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

My Island in the Sun! Swimming towards Castle Island, lit up by the sunlight, in Lough Hyne.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

One of the rocky reefs at the southwestern corner of Castle Island in Lough Hyne.

Lough Hyne is very deep, over 53 m in one place and there is also a 100 m-deep cave in the lake somewhere. Around Castle Island in the centre of the lake, however, there are shallow patches and some rocky reefs. Here you can see lots of soft corals, cockles, oysters, scallops, sponges, spiny starfish, beautifully-coloured anemones, sea urchins, the odd seal and much, much more.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Steve powers on towards West Quay, leaving a nice bubble trail.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

A patch of sunlight illuminates some of the woodland on the western shore of Lough Hyne.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Steve from underwater again.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

The lesser-used West Quay, Lough Hyne.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

A typical scene on sheltered rocky shores on the South Coast of Ireland.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

A closer photograph showing the variety of plants, animals and algae on this small islet on the northern shore of Lough Hyne.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

The little islet again with Knockomagh Hill in the background.

photograph – Owen O'Keefe

West Quay, Lough Hyne as seen from the more frequently used North Quay.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

The eastern shore of Lough Hyne.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Some of the houses around Lough Hyne. The main house, Lough Hyne House, is hidden behind the trees.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Looking back towards the northern shore of Lough Hyne.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Straight ahead is the way back out to the sea, though it mightn’t look like it.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Steve gets ready to dive back into Southern’s Bay having had to walk past the Rapids on the quayside.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Back into Barloge Creek and almost finished the swim!

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Steve finishing the swim back at Barloge Quay.

1 hour 20 minutes later, we arrived back at Barloge Quay perished with the cold but in good condition and well able to drive home afterwards. It was 4 hours of driving for that relatively short swim but well worth the journey. Lough Hyne, Barloge Creek and all of the surrounding area is beautiful, quiet and great swimming territory. Hopefully there will be more stories to come from here…

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Dromadoon as seen in a very different light to just 2 hours earlier…

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Chris Bryan at the FINA Marathon Swimming World Cup

Last Friday, 1 March, the third race of the FINA Marathon Swimming World Cup series was held in Eilat, Israel. A total of sixty-five swimmers from sixteen countries descended on the city, on the Gulf of Aqaba coast in the far South of Israel, for this 10 km race. Among them was Ireland’s Chris Bryan of Ennis Swimming & Lifesaving Club and the National High Performance Unit based at the University of Limerick.

Photograph – Gilad Kavalerchik

The start of the men’s race at the MSWC, Eilat (ISR) on Friday, 1 March 2013.

The winner of the men’s race was Christian Reichert of Germany, with an incredibly fast time of 1:53:29.50. He was followed by his compatriot Thomas Lurz, with a time of 1:53:34.05 and, in third place, by Alex Meyer of the USA, with a time of 1:53:38.00. Chris finished well up the field in ninth position with a time of 1:53:55.00, only 26 seconds behind the winner and just ahead of seasoned competitor Vladimir Dyatchin of Russia. You can find full results here: FINA 10 km MSWC, Eilat (ISR) 2013 – Official Results (Men’s)

Photograph – Gilad Kavalerchik

Chris Bryan (right) during the race…

Chris commented afterwards that it was a “very physical race”. He admitted that there was some “wrestling in the last 500 m” but seemed content that this was a “solid result” for him, especially given that this was his first race of the season. He also says that he has his confidence back now and that it’s “time to build from here”. It looks like 2013 is going to be great year for Chris and Irish open water swimming at all levels!

Global OWS Conference 2013

It was announced last week that the fourth Global Open Water Swimming Conference will be held in Cork, Ireland in October 2013. University College Cork, where I am a full-time student, will be the location for this conference. This is the first time that the conference has been held outside of the USA, with previous locations including the United Nations HQ in New York City and the RMS Queen Mary in Long Beach, California.

Quadrangle at University College Cork

This year’s World Open Water Swimming Association Awards will be presented at the conference and the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame will also induct its class of 2013 in Cork. The conference will also feature a series of lectures from world-wide authorities on the sport and other relevant experts, including Prof. Tom Doyle of the Coastal & Marine Research Centre (based at UCC) who will present a lecture on the various cnidarians found in Irish waters, as well as a reception at the Clarion Hotel and a dinner at the Rochestown Park Hotel.

This conference has previously been hosted by Steven Munatones and are now being brought to Cork by Ossi Schmidt and Paschal Horgan. It promises to be a great weekend so mark 11 to 13 October 2013 in your diary!

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River Blackwater explored on “Abhainn” tonight…

At 19:30 tonight, the second episode of Series Four of “Abhainn” will be broadcast on RTÉ One. This programme will follow the course of the River Blackwater in Munster from its source in the Mullaghareirk Mountains on the Cork/Kerry border to where it enters the sea at Youghal Bay on the Cork/Waterford border. Swimming in the Blackwater in Fermoy will feature about halfway through. Here is the trailer for the series:

The programme will be broadcast in Irish but there will be English subtitles. Cláracha Gaeilge are doing a great job with these series about Ireland’s rivers. Past episodes can be found on RTÉ Player and the one about the An Laoi (the River Lee) is well worth the watch of you get a chance.

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Defining “Open Water Swimming”

Photograph – Ian Thurston

Swimmers at the start of the RCP Tiburon Mile in California, one of the world’s most popular open water events.

Over the last few years, there has been a huge increase in the number of people taking part in open water swimming – there are now more events than ever before and a much broader spectrum of people taking part. With so many different types of events on offer, from triathlon swim to channel crossings, it can be difficult to pin down just what is “open water swimming” and what is not. There is much debate as to what constitutes open water swimming and, amongst some people, whether or not it is even a sport! These are all very interesting questions, though sometimes divisive ones. In any case, I’ll do my best to get across my understanding of open water swimming, hopefully without offending too many people…

Graphic – Owen O'Keefe

A simplified cladogram of the aquatic sports as I understand them…

Above is a quick sketch of my understanding of the relationships between the aquatic sports. La Fédération Internationale de Natation Amateur (FINA) has responsibility for the administration of international competition in the five* aquatic sports listed above. FINA delegates to continental governing bodies like La Ligue Européenne de Natation (LEN), which is responsible for the administration of international competition in Europe, and to national governing bodies such as Swim Ireland, which has responsibility for the aquatic sports throughout the island of Ireland.

*Masters is not included here as there are separate masters rules events for each of the five sports above, i.e. there are both swimming and open water swimming events at big masters events such as the FINA World Masters Championships.

It may come as a surprise to some people that different open water swimming events organised by the bodies listed above have different sets of rules. A rule that might be in force at one event might not be in force at the next. It may sound odd, but it must be remembered FINA defines open water swimming as “any competition that takes place in rivers, lakes, oceans or water channels”. These environments are controlled like a pool environment, so the rules need to be flexible to accommodate changing conditions. The organisation of open water swimming events at club level is still at a premature stage and many events are organised from a point-of-view of increasing overall participation in the sport than providing a high level of competition, i.e. there are, to an extent, no rules!

Photograph – George O'Keefe

Swimmers at the start of the “Edge Sports” Sandycove Island Challenge near Kinsale, Ireland. An example of one of the very well organised open water events that operate outside the aquatic sphere.

There are also many very popular events which are organised outside of the aquatic sphere. These include solo/relay/tandem swims (which are becoming more regularly recognised by clubs/organisations affiliated to governing bodies) and iconic races like the “Vibes & Scribes” Lee Swim and the “Edge Sports” Sandycove Island Challenge, as well as charity swims and events run for profit. As with open water swimming in the aquatic sphere, the rules for these events are far from set in stone.

Triathlon has become hugely popular in many countries in recent years, particularly in Ireland. The majority of people who have swum in open water environments in Ireland in the last few years have probably done so as part of a triathlon. This has, in turn, led to greater numbers taking part in events such as those mentioned above.

Another, relatively new sport that has been gaining momentum in the last few years is that of surf lifesaving. It encompasses all of the skills of lifeguarding and takes them to a competitive level. Naturally, open water swimming is one of the many disciplines comprising this sport, which has become very popular in countries like South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and on the west and north west coasts of Ireland. Surf lifesaving competition throughout the island of Ireland is administered by Irish Water Safety.

Photograph – IWS

Podium finishes for my good friend and lane buddy, Rory Sexton, and his teammate, Bernard Cahill, at the Junior European Lifesaving Championships in Sweden last year.

Of course, there are other terms such as “long distance swimming” and “sea swimming” which have been used as synonyms for “open water swimming”, but I think that, as the sport grows, we will see the standard terminology prevail. So, I have failed completely to come anywhere near defining “open water swimming”, but I didn’t really think that I would anyway! I think I feel a rant coming on about “wild swimming” versus “open water swimming”, but that will have to wait for another day…

Another Big Swim for 2013

In July and August of last year, I did three long swims down the River Blackwater: 18.6 km from Fermoy to Ballyduff, 15.0 km from Ballyduff to Cappoquin and 26.4 km from Cappoquin to Youghal. In late August or early September of this year, I hope to swim each of these in one go, i.e. to swim from Fermoy Rowing Club to Front Strand, Youghal. Given similar river and tidal conditions to last year’s swims, I should complete this 60 km swim in about 12 hours. There is a question, however…

The second half of this swim is quite straightforward – one can swim unimpeded from the tidal limit (just below Lismore) to the sea at Youghal. However, the first half of the swim is not so straightforward – at both Fermoy and Clondulane, there are weirs which must be crossed, and at various other points there are rapids where a swimmer might have to stand up and walk for a while. This raises two issues if the swim is to be ratified:

  1. Can a swimmer walk across weirs and rapids without the swim being declared invalid as a “marathon” swim? This is a complicated question because all of the established marathon swims have their own rules. Before I attempt this swim, I will have to come up with a set of solid rules that outline how a swimmer can cross these obstacles without the swim becoming invalid.
  2. How should the swim be supported (in terms of safety and feeding) and how should it be observed? Only kayaks/canoes would be suitable for the first part, while only a decent sized boat would be suitable for the second half. How can the observe carry out their duties properly from a kayak/canoe and how can they transfer to the boat at the half-way point? Would two observers be better?
Photograph – Maeve Mulcahy

Getting ready to slide down the western end of Clondulane Weir!

I’ve already had some good feedback from Donal Buckley, Conor Power, Niek Kloots, and Steven Munatones on these issues. If you have any ideas or opinions on the above questions please do get in contact with me – it would be very much appreciated!

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Ring-a-Ringarogy

One of my favourite island swims this year was my 10 km swim around Ringarogy, again near Baltimore in West Cork. The island of Ringarogy, Rinn Ghearróige in Irish, is situated near the mouth of the River Ilen. Home to the first swimmer ever to swim around Sandycove Island, Steven Black, the island has a very small population and so it’s a very quiet and tranquil place. Steven (as well as John Kearney, Imelda Lynch and Ossi Schmidt) has swum around the island, both clockwise and anti-clockwise, at various stages in the tide, so if there’s anyone who knows how to do it, it’s him! The benefit of having Steven’s experience to rely on will become apparent later on, when I will describe the swim itself…

Photograph – Unknown

Spanish Island and the south-west corner of Ringarogy.

The swim came at the end of a long and difficult week. The previous Thursday I did my 18.6 km swim from Fermoy to Ballyduff. On the Saturday I did the 6 km Beginish Island Swim in Kerry and in the early hours of the next morning we got the dreadful new that Páraic Casey had passed away during his English Channel solo attempt. That Monday I had a cold and miserable swim in Myrtleville, the following morning did my 15.0 km swim from Ballyduff to Cappoquin and on the Thursday I had lovely “adventure” swim at Kilfarrasy Beach on the Copper Coast with Donal Buckley and did a lap of Sandycove at just before midnight – that’s 5 hours of driving the evening before a long swim!

Anyway, it felt great to be on the road to West Cork on a warm and sunny Friday morning after the week that I’d had! For this swim, I had arranged to meet Steven Black at his house on the island so that he could explain the correct course to me. Also, his son Rowan kindly agreed to kayak for me. As with any visit to Ringarogy, the adventure starts as soon as you cross the causeway onto the island. There is a saying that says that “civilization never crossed Ballymaquirk Bridge”, and this comes to mind once you arrive on Ringarogy. Tarmac on the road is a luxury, and where it does exist, you shouldn’t expect it to extend from one side of the road to the other. While navigating the highways and byways of the island, you may come across one or two of it’s inhabitants “trying to make land where God failed”, as one of them eloquently put it. (In West Cork the land can be rocky and difficult to farm, especially on the islands.) True to fashion, I got completely lost trying to find Steven’s house. I did get there eventually get there but not before having to reverse half a mile down a rugged boreen! (The word “boreen” is Hiberno-English for “small road”, it comes from the Irish bóithrín.) After the 2 hour journey from Fermoy, it was a relief to get out of the car!

Photograph – Unknown

Sherkin Island and Cape Clear as seen from the road on Ringarogy.

Besides the peace and quiet, Ringarogy offers some great views, despite being relatively flat. From the top of Steven’s driveway, one can see all of the island of Roaringwater Bay, including those that I’d already swum around (Sherkin Island, Cape Clear, Heir Island and Spanish Island). In any case, that’s enough about Ringarogy, time for the serious part – the swim!

After getting changed at Steven’s house and loading the kayak into the jeep, we drove to a random gate along the road. There we stopped, leaving no room for anyone to pass, though it was highly unlikely that anyone would wish to do so for a few days at least! We then had to hop over the gate and go on a bit of a trek to find the start (pretty much bang in the middle of the aerial photograph above) in Hackett’s Creek – this was a bit of a rushed job as we had to be started at a certain time to reach the bridge on the causeway at exactly high tide. Just as we were ready to start, I realized that I had forgotten my feeds – ah well, I would just have to do without them!

Photograph – Web

An example of a pelagic siphonophore – these are closely related to the Portuguese man-o-war and have a nasty sting.

I finally hit the water at exactly midday and Rowan followed on in the kayak. The water was about 13ºC, which is a little chilly but ok for a 10 km if the air temperature is warm, which it was. We headed straight for the gap between Spanish Island and another small island, which I think is called Aughinish. There are lots of seals in this area so I was a little bit nervous… Much to my relief, none of the seals that we saw (mostly grey seals) didn’t come too close. Keeping the island on our right, we headed up the Ilen. There were some interesting things to see underwater – there seemed to be a lot of aquaculture in the area and few jellyfish, although I did spot one or two of those stinging siphonophores (pictured right) that I’d first during my swim around Cape Clear a few weeks previously.

It seemed like ages at the time but we made good time to the corner of Inishbeg, where we left the main channel of the Ilen and the swim started to get a bit more interesting. In the narrow channel between Inishbeg and Ringarogy we passed the remains of a passage tomb and exited into a shallow area of slack water known as the Lag. After navigating through some small, heather-clad islands, we could see the bridge (and Steven’s jeep parked near it). I did the silly thing and swam straight for it, which Steven had warned me not to do! I ended up straying out of the channel and into the mud flats – first switching to legs only and then began to resemble one of these:

Having eventually reached the bridge (and deep water) it was good to see Steven waiting there with my feeds! He dropped the feed down to me and I drank it and through the bottle back up. The tide was still pushing me back under the bridge so we had time for a quick chat before it turned and we continued on the swim. I felt great having had a feed and having the tide with me. We kept on our course, passing all the familiar sites of Church Bay and Baltimore Harbour. Then, we entered the very narrow gap between Ringarogy and Spanish Island – this is the most beautiful part of Hackett’s Creek and it’s a real pity that I’ve no photographs of it. About 10 minutes later, we arrived back where we started. Rowan stopped the stopwatch on his mobile phone and told me that my time for the 10 km was 2 hours 30 minutes – not too bad for me!

Steven came back down and picked us up. He kindly let me use the shower in his house before having a sandwich and hitting the road for Fermoy. Thanks to Steven and Rowan for a great swim around Ringarogy – island number five for me…