Race Review: GaddinAbtGarnish 2013

With my Round Jersey solo approaching, I’ve been trying to up my training mileage over the last few weeks. Over the last fortnight, this has been made a lot easier by a spell of great weather (by Irish standards). College exams out of the way, I managed 33.4 km for the last week of May, including a great 2-hour swim from Fermoy Rowing Club to Castlehyde House, Michael Flatley’s “Irish residence”, and back. Last week, I managed to increase this to 45.4 km, only 13.3 km of this was in the pool (with Fermoy SC) and the remaining 32.1 km was in the open water (mostly in the River Blackwater but also in Ballycroneen, Knockananig Reservoir and Glengarriff). The highlight of the week had to be the annual GaddinAbtGarnish swim in Glengarriff on Saturday…

Photograph – Ossi Schmidt

The crowd of 120 swimmers ready for the briefing at GaddinAbtGarnish 2013 (Photograph: Ossi Schmidt).

Garnish Island (Irish: Oileán an Chuilinn) is a small island in Glengarriff Harbour, a very sheltered inlet off Bantry Bay, West Cork. There were three options for the swim: 1 km (out and back), 3 km (out, once around and back) or 5 km (out, twice around and back). I did the 5 km swim, as I had done in 2011 and 2012. Conditions were ideal – it was hot and sunny and there was hardly a puff of wind. The water was also very clear. Despite the perfect conditions, I was unsure of how I’d perform as it had been a long week to this point and I remembered very well how I struggled around the course last year. The first 500 m of the swim would tell a lot!

There was hardly any fighting at the start, unlike previous years, and a group of three of us pulled away almost immediately. Alex Rathke of UCD Swimming & Water Polo, formerly of Dolphin SC, took the lead while I drafted off of Oran Kane, Killarney. The pace seemed fine out to the first buoy so I felt happy to leave Alex off and sit in behind Oran for the rest of the swim and try to pass him before the finish. Oran seemed to have major goggles issues (for once it wasn’t me with the goggle disorder) at about 800 m so I decided to head off in front of him. At the first corner of the island (about 1 km in) I noticed that Alex had taken a bad line and gone very wide – think my line was pretty good as I had to dolphin over a reef but didn’t get cut!

Over the next 1 km or so, Alex caught up to me but didn’t pass me at the third corner. At this point, we were heading in a straight line back to the buoy at the 500 m mark, but the sun was in our eyes and it was hard to navigate. Alex knew that I’d done the swim before so stuck with me as he figured I’d have some idea of where to go. Oran was behind getting a nice double draft all the while! I eventually spotted the buoy and rounded it as instructed in the pre-race briefing, as did Alex and Oran. However, on rounding the buoy (and politely asking a kayaker blocking the way to move), I spotted at least two white caps rounding the first corner of the island – this made no sense as all of the 3 km swimmers should be well on the other side of the island and, assuming that everyone followed the correct course, there should be no 5 km swimmers in front of us. It soon became clear that the two were 5 km swimmers, Ned Denison and possibly Warren Roche, who had decided to take a shortcut along the side of the island…

The pace picked up a bit for the second lap – Alex took a lead on me and I pulled away from Oran. Alex still didn’t venture too far away for nearly another 1 km, it seems he still needed some guidance on the course! At the 3.5 km mark, though, he started to pull away and I could see him catch Ned and some of the 3 km swimmers. It was long before I did the same myself, swimming over Ned’s legs a few times just to let him know that I was there and that he’d been caught cheating!

At the third corner, I was still able to see Alex and could also see Warren Roche just ahead of me. Having caught Warren, who also seemed unsure of the correct path, I kept a good eye on Alex’s position and could see him taking a bad line again – he went way off to the left and I managed to reach the buoy before him. With a lot of swimmers in the area, I lost sight of him and so sprinted the last 500 m back to the slipway. To my surprise, I was the first of the 5 km swimmers to finish and did so in 1 hour 8 minutes 24 seconds – definitely a new personal best 5 km time! Not long afterwards, Alex and Warren finished together (not quite at the slipway but close enough). Ned was next in wondering why the rest of us had taken “such a bad line” and he was followed very shortly by Oran.

Photograph – Ossi Schmidt

Me exiting the water at the end of GaddinAbtGarnish 2013 (Photograph: Ossi Schmidt).

It was a great race in amazing scenery. It was a treat to finish a 5 km sea swim warm and be in no rush to get changed. On getting out, I met Dave Mulcahy and Declan O’Keeffe, both Fermoy SC, who had finished their 3 km swim. I also met Mary McEvoy, Gina Lyons, Adam Blaiklock, Niamh Fleming and James Slowey, all from Fermoy, who had finished their swims. Iain and Ciara MacCallum, Fermoy also, both finished their 3 km just after me. Ciara had originally planned to do the 1 km but was feeling good after the Fastnet Triathlon in Schull that morning so decided to do the 3 km! I got a bit worried that there was still no sign of Paul Noonan, also Fermoy SC, who was also doing the 3 km and should have been out well before me. I hung around for a while and he eventually should up, having “accidentally” swum the 5 km instead, his previous longest open water swim being 2 km! Well done to everyone from Fermoy who took part, it was great to see both Fermoy SC and Blackwater Tri Club so well represented.

Other great points about the swim included seeing a few big moon jellies (a very welcome sign that the water is warming up), clean clear water in a beautiful setting, seeing lots of starfish on the seaweed (maybe a good sign for the Crosóige Mara relay in July) and top class kayak and RIB support. Well done again to Ossi and Imelda on organising a great event, I’m looking forward to next year already!

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Cork swimmers ready for MIMS 2013

With Lisa Cummins already stateside, it’s only Liam Maher and Carol Cashell left to send off to the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim 2013. Last Saturday, there was a send-off swim at Sandycove Island for the two seasoned marathoners before they leave…

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Some of the swimmers get ready to start the send-off swim…

The weather was great so there was a good crowd present to join Liam and Carol for their last lap of the island before the big swim. Before we arrived however, there were already four swimmers in the water – Donal Buckley, Ciarán Byrne, Finbarr Hedderman and Rob “The Bull” Bohane – finishing their third lap that morning!

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

And they’re off, maybe just fix the goggles first!

After getting out, the four dived back in for another two laps of the island! Why? There has been a recent escalation in competition between a few of the old guard at Sandycove to reach a thousand lifetime laps and so join the informal “M Club” of Sandycove – these five laps were the last  five before the thousand for “The Bull” so he has beaten Ned Denison to it! It’s amazing the motivation that many of us get to beat Ned…

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Liam & Carol at the second corner.

The water was very calm and the air was mild – this is unusual for Sandycove this year! Temperatures in the water had risen also – it was about 11ºC on the day. This allowed us to stop for a chat and a few photographs at the far corner of the island.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Off again for the second half of the lap…

I was happy enough to finish after one lap but a few made it worth their while getting wet and went around a second time. The sea is warming up now so I will be doing multiple laps from now on. This was a social swim, though, so there was no need to push myself.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Carol finished, more ready to head off.

After the swim, there was a great BBQ and spread put on by Liam and Kaye and many others contributed also. There was a great atmosphere afterwards and it was a great way of sending off our swimmers. Best of luck, Liam and Carol!

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My first sea swim of the year…

On Sunday, I went for first open water “swim” of 2013. I hadn’t swum in the open water for nearly a month so was a bit apprehensive about the temperature – it turned out that I had good cause for apprehension!

The plan was that a few of us would meet at 12:00 at Sandycove for one lap of the Island. I didn’t bring my wetsuit as I managed the 1,700 m lap without it the last time, but the last time was good while ago! It was surprisingly quiet at Sandycove, probably because a few people opted to swim at 10:00 while more decided to try swimming in Inniscarra at 11:30 to get in some extra cold water training for the Cold Water Swimming Championships in Tooting Bec Lido in South London this weekend. It’s been very cold in England as of late so the swimmers can expect water temperatures of 0ºC for their races!

Anyway, it was just Dave, Declan, Aidan and myself for the 12:00 swim at Sandycove. It wasn’t an ideal day for swimming: there was a stiff easterly wind (the worst wind direction for Sandycove swimming) and it was a generally miserable day. I got changed and got straight in without any delay – the only way to get in, in my view. It can’t have been more than 20 m before I realised that I wasn’t even going to make it as far as the Island; my hands and feet were on fire and I was fairly winded, so I decided to head back to the slipway satisfied that I at least got in and swam ~50 m.

As I was getting out, the three wetsuiters were just getting in and they headed off around the Island. I got dressed as quickly as possible and sat into the car to warm up. When the others got back, the thermometer on Dave’s wristwatch read 8.1ºC but I have no way of knowing how accurate that is (wristwatch thermometers are notoriously unreliable). The customary tea and biscuits followed, despite the disappointing turnout.

Having previously completed laps of Sandycove in as low as 7ºC and done a 400 m swim in the Blackwater at 3.5ºC, this experience reminded of one crucial fact when it comes to cold water swimming, i.e. that there is no substitute for regular immersions when trying to acclimatise to cold water.

My 2013 Plans

It’s a fairly quiet week and, to be honest, I can’t think of anything to write about. So to fill the gap, and maybe to put some pressure on myself, here’s a quick summary of my main goals for the 2013 season.

Assuming that the race is run under the same tidal conditions as it was last year, I’d love to complete the “Vibes & Scribes” Lee Swim in under 24 minutes. In theory, the swim is 2 km, though there is sometimes a little tidal assistance. I came a reasonably respectable 3rd with a time of 24:07.5 last year – I didn’t do a whole lot of training last year so I should be able to improve on this.

Logo – Maeve Ryan

Crosóige Mara Channel Relay Team 2013

The day after the Lee Swim, I’m heading to Dover with Crosóige Mara for our 2-way English Channel relay attempt in aid of Down Syndrome Ireland. Most of us on the team swim at about 4 km/h in the open water so we are hoping to complete the swim in 24 hours (or under) and, in doing so, break the Irish 2-way relay record of 24 hours 4 minutes. I’m really looking forward to this!

While the rest of the team head home after the relay, I will stay in London to wait for a call to go to Jersey for my solo circumnavigation attempt. The Round Jersey swim is, technically, a 65 km swim. However, the swim is heavily tide assisted and a lot of swimmers tend to get faster times for this swim than they do for their English Channel swims. I’m hoping to complete the swim in under 10 hours – and beat Ned‘s time!

I might have one or two other long swims lined up for August but nothing’s confirmed yet. In September, I plan to do my first overseas race, the 6.5 km Marnaton series swim in Cadaqués, Northern Catalonia. I speak virtually no Spanish and even less Catalan, so thankfully, Mauricio and the gang from OWSwimming.com have offered to translate all of the race instructions for me!

August could be interesting, so keep an eye on the blog for updates…

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…

Circumnavigation of Cape Clear: The Swim Itself

Grianghraf – Tom McCarthy

Ready for the start – a foggy morning too…

We reached Cape just before midday. I took off my clothes and put on my togs, swimming cap and goggles. I wasn’t too cold at all standing out in the air, but I know that this wouldn’t be the case once I was in the water! I gave one look into the cold, dark water and jumped in. I went straight towards the slipway for the start, but didn’t exit the water onto it (John told me that this wouldn’t be too safe as the slipway would be very slippery indeed with the tide out). After placing my hand on the slipway, I was started!

I have to admit that I really felt the cold of the water, this made a little bit nervous about the swim and it was no help to me that the water was so dark at the same time. But I did my best to put these concerns to the back of my mind! While swimming around the first corner of the Island, Cooslahan Point, there were flocks of birds (guillemots, razorbills and so on) flying around me. However, the view underneath me was not so pleasant! Jellyfish of all kinds were coming into my view, including some that were entirely new to me… I’ve neglected to mention until now – we were going around the Island in a clockwise direction.

Grianghraf – Tom McCarthy

Swimming south-west at Cooslahan Point.

Grianghraf – Tom McCarthy

Waves breaking over Carriglure, I’m in there somewhere!

The next way-marker was Carriglure, a large rock situated just below the surface of the water a few metres from the bottom of the cliffs. The waves were breaking over the top of the rock that day and I didn’t want to swim between it and the cliff at all, but John told me that it would make much more sense if I did. So, I did it, undoubtedly with great hesitation, but the  way through was a lot shorter than it would have been had I swum on the outside of it. After meeting up with the boat I had my first feed. What is in the feed is a 4:1 carbohydrate to protein formula with some warm water – High5 is the name of my feed of choice.

Grianghraf – Tom McCarthy

Crossing the mouth of the South Harbour, no sign of the seals or dolphins…

It wasn’t long before we had reached Pointanbullig and were just about to cross the South Harbour. I’m told that there were seals and dolphins swimming around me at this point but, unfortunately, I didn’t see any of them myself! I didn’t take us very long to cross the South Harbour but as we were progressing the waves were getting bigger. Having reached Blananarragaun, the most southerly point on the Island, there was a heavy swell. From time to time, I could see the Fastnet Rock, Carraig Aonair in Irish, over the tops of the waves. This song kept coming into my head whenever I saw the famous rock.

Looking out to the Fastnet, often alluded to as the Teardrop of Ireland, it is hard not to think about the many people who lost their lives in the seas around it over the last hundred years or so. After  a while, we were at the imposing Bill of Cape! I was very happy having reached this point because it meant that I had more than half of the swim done. There was a lot of foam on the water at this point due to the action of the Atlantic swells on the rocks, but this didn’t bother me too much as I have plenty of experience with foam and the like from swimming at  Sandycove in Kinsale.

Grianghraf – Tom McCarthy

Swimming through the foam at the Bill of Cape.

We left the Bill of Cape behind us and began heading north-east again. It wasn’t long before Dún an Óir Castle (the castle of the O’Driscoll Clan) came into view. Before long, we were at the North Harbour, where the Cape Clear ferry comes ashore. It was here that we began to get some shelter from the waves, but the downside to this was that the jellies were taking relief here also and I got a few fine stings from them! The swim began much easier after this as we were in the lee of the Island and the tidal currents were giving us some assistance…

Grianghraf – Tom McCarthy

Swimming a few hundred metres out from Dún an Óir, the sun comes out at last!

Coming around the last corner of the swim, the current was like a river flowing through the Gascanane Sound! After spending 3 hours 47 minutes 32 seconds in the water, I landed back at the slipway in Comillane. Until now, no one had told me the temperature of the water – 11.5ºC – I was very glad that I didn’t know that before the swim! Once I was dressed again, a few of the men that were on the boat went diving for a short while and Tom swam into a sea cave while we were waiting! All that done, we headed back to Baltimore after a very successful day.

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Circumnavigation of Cape Clear: Introduction

At the beginning of July last year, I swam from Baltimore in West Cork to the slipway in Comillane on Cape Clear, a distance of 8.0 km, with Ned Denison. It was a very pleasant summer’s day and we both had a very enjoyable swim, even though the water was no warmer than 12ºC! We had some swell while swimming along the southern shore of Sherkin Island and crossing the Gascanane Sound, but yet, we had the entire 8.0 km put behind us just inside of two hours. Having done this swim, I really wanted to a lot more swimming in this part of the world…

Grianghraf – Owen O'Keefe

The Beacon or Lot’s Wife, Baltimore looking out at Sherkin, Cape behind.

After a failed attempt at swimming around Heir Island with Steven Black and David Merriman, I thought that it would be a nice idea to try to swim around all of the Carbery Isles! At the end of August, I swam around Sherkin, with Lisa Cummins on the support boat, and the day after, Gábor Molnár and I swam around Heir Island. No one had ever swum around those two islands before! Towards the end of the summer, I swam around Spanish Island with Steven Black and Severin McCullagh, as well as a few seals… I now had three islands done before the end of 2011 and had two more in mind for 2012. Cape Clear was the first of those.

Grianghraf – Lisa Cummins

Swimming around Sherkin in August last year…

Cape is a beautiful island. It is situated 8 km out to sea from Baltimore and is 5 km long and 2 km wide. There is a permanent population of just over 100 people on the island and it is an official Gaeltacht area, that means that Irish, specifically Munster Irish, is the primary language of the Islanders. Starting and finishing at the slipway in Comillane on the eastern side of the Island, the shortest possible circumnavigation is 13.2 km. While that doesn’t seem so bad, it can be hard to quantify the challenge by the distance in this bit of water due to tidal streams, winds and so on – the whole thing depends on the weather, just like everything else in Ireland!

Grianghraf – Owen O'Keefe

On board the Amy-K just before leaving the mainland for Cape.

On 4th July, however, an improvement came with regard to the weather and John Kearney, the man who has Baltimore Diving Centre, gave me the chance to swim around Cape. We me on the pier in Baltimore early that morning. Tom McCarthy from the Myrtleville Swimmers came with us as crew. Tom completed a relay crossing of the English Channel this year as part of the oldest relay team ever to have completed the crossing! As well as John and Tom, a few of John’s friends from Penzance in Cornwall were on the boat too. We had a great chat as I have an uncle living in Cornwall, not far from Penzance, and Tom would knew a lot of people from the area from his days in the Naval Service. With our nattering finished, we set off from the quayside in the direction of Cape Clear…