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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We did it!

Photograph – Lisa Cummins

The team in Dover the day before the swim. Left to right: Lynne Lynch, Caitlin Desmond, Eoin O’Riordan, Owen O’Keefe, Maeve Ryan, Carol Cashell. (Photograph: Lisa Cummins)

As most of my readers will already know, the team of Carol Cashell, Caitlin Desmond, Maeve Ryan, Lynne Lynch, Eoin O’Riordan and myself (collectively known as Crosóige Mara) successfully completed a 2-way relay crossing of the English Channel last Saturday. Our primary aim was to complete both legs but we also had a secondary target of breaking the Irish record for a 2-way relay. The existing record was 21 hours 12 minutes and was held by the Dublin Fire Brigade team, which included Tom Healy, the current Irish record-holder for a solo swim with a time of 9 hours 51 minutes. This was always going to be a tough time to beat, especially given that that team completed their first leg in just 9 hours 55 minutes! We were confident, however, that with the right training and a good day we could break this record…

After a reasonable enough waiting time of 5 days in Dover, our pilot Mike Oram told us that Saturday, 13 July would be the best day to attempt the swim. We were to meet him at Dover Marina at midnight with the aim of starting some time between 1:00 am and 1:30 am. At the marina we met Mike and his crew as well as our two CS&PF-appinted observers, Mike Ball and Jim Boucher. Once all of the gear was onboard and Mike and Carol had their “discussion” on the team’s speed and targets, we set off for the start point at Abbot’s Cliff on the western end of Samphire Hoe, the same spot where I started my solo.

Photograph – Lisa Cummins

Onboard Mike Oram’s “Gallivant” on the way to the start. All of the team a little apprehensive but excited about getting to swim… (Photograph: Lisa Cummins)

As per the carefully considered plan, Carol was the first swimmer in the rotation and so she had to go ashore at the start point to officially start the swim. Mike shone the torch onto the beach, at which point a fox scampered back to the cliffs, Carol jumped in and swam to the illuminated patch of shoreline, where she cleared the water and signaled that she was ready. At 1:14 am, the siren sounded and Carol began swimming her hour. Carol swam about 3.9 km in her first hour, just above our target speed of 3.6-3.8 km/h.

I started to get ready after about 35 minutes, this was too early, and had a bottle of High5 Zero electrolyte drink and a High5 gel. The gel was a bad idea as it tasted rotten and upset my stomach during my swim. A slight goggle malfunction was irritating me also but none-the-less I got through the hour, my only night swim of the crossing. Caitlin swam the third hour, by the end of which it was starting to get a bit brighter, and Lynne swam the fourth hour. By the end of the fourth hour, about 4:14 am, it was officially day-time. Maeve and Eoin were delighted that they didn’t have to swim in the dark!

Photograph – Lisa Cummins

Caitlin swims past Lance Oram’s “Sea Satin” with Arch-to-Arc athlete, Rachel Hessom, during the ninth hour of the swim. (Photograph: Lisa Cummins)

During Maeve’s first hour (4:14 am to 5:14 am), she caught up with and passed Neil Streeter’s “Suva”, which was escorting Australian swimmer, Libby O’Farrell. The two boats passed very close! About 5 hours later, Caitlin was back in the water for her second hour and passed Lance Oram’s “Sea Satin”, the boat from which I did my solo, which was escorting Rachel Hessom. Rachel was swimming the Channel as part of her Arch-to-Arc challenge, in which athletes run from Marble Arch in London to Dover, swim across the Channel (usually in a wetsuit but Rachel was going without) and cycle from their landing spot to l’Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Both Libby and Rachel were successful in their swims that day.

Photograph – Lisa Cummins

Maeve has the honour of landing in France! (Photograph: Lisa Cummins)

Mike needed some power from us as we passed Cap-Gris-Nex heading south. We needed to into land as quickly as possible to avoid going further south, where the land would drop away from us and the swim would effectively become longer. Maeve got into the water at 10:14 am and powered into France, finding the only easy exit point for hundreds of metres either side! There was great excitement on the boat as the elapsed time since the start of the swim was 10 hours 18 minutes 59 seconds, just one second faster than my solo time. However, this time was well outside the Dublin Fire Brigade’s split of 9 hour 55 minutes. I was thinking at this stage that the record was not within our reach. As the swim went on, though, it became clear that we would negative split, i.e. we would swim the second leg faster than the first, so breaking the record was a real possibility…

Photograph – Lisa Cummins

I leap over Carol to start my final hour. (Photograph: Lisa Cummins)

The return leg was pretty uneventful for the most part. Conditions remained near-perfect and we were able to get some sleep as well as stuff our faces with ginger nut biscuits between our swims. During the eighteenth hour, the pilot asked for some serious power for the rest of the swim. If the likely last three swimmers (Carol, myself and Caitlin) swam fast enough we would both break the record and land at Shakespeare Beach, an ideal landing spot. Once Eoin had swum the eighteenth hour, Carol jumped in and sprinted off – she was hitting up to 80 strokes per minute during her hour! This was bringing us closer and closer to England and the White Cliffs of Dover were becoming more visible. We needed to keep up this pace so the pressure was on for me to give a “power hour” as Mike calls it.

I leaped over Carol at 19 hours and bolted off, kicking hard. The SiS caffeine gel that I took before the swim was working – I was able to hold the sprint – and the carbohydrate drink was helping to sustain my speed. I kept as close to the boat as possible, where I would gain some assistance from the boat’s drag – a trick I learned from watching Trent Grimsey during his world record-breaking swim last year. Still, I was really hurting from about half an hour in. I was managing to hold about 80 strokes per minute also but every one was beginning to hurt. I got comfort from seeing Lisa hold up an orange jacket every 10 minutes during the hour, though. Some noise from everyone else on the boat was greatly appreciated also! As the sun went down I was waiting to see one of the crew put the ladder in position and Caitlin get ready to takeover, but it seemed to take longer than on my first three swims. Eventually, Caitlin did appear at the gate in her togs but, as far as I was concerned, took forever to jump in. When she did, I was incredibly relieved. Catching the ladder was a struggle but I caught it eventually, my hip cramping as I did so. We were so close at this stage, it was time to give Caitlin plenty of vocal and visual encouragement to get into the beach.

Photograph – Jim Boucher

The sun goes down and the White Cliffs of Dover becomes more clearly visible during my last hour of swimming… (Photograph: Jim Boucher)

Caitlin did a great job of bringing us into Shakespeare Beach, where we swam the other day. When the boat couldn’t go any closer, Carol jumped in with her waterproof camera to take a few shots at the finish. Caitlin cleared the water 10 hours 10 minutes and 1 second after we left France, giving us a total time of 20 hours 29 minutes for the 2-way. Needless to say, there was great jubilation on the boat and plenty of patting each other on the back for a job well done. On the beach, Caitlin was greeted by her dad, Derry, as well as Maeve’s fiancé, Martin, and Lynne’s husband, Richie. The three lads deserve great thanks for putting up with us for the whole week and Derry deserves a special thanks for his great cooking, approved of by athletes!

Photograph – Jim Boucher

Caitlin sprints in to the finish at Shakespeare Beach. (Photograph: Jim Boucher)

Finishing before 10:45 pm meant that we could be off the boat and in the White Horse pub in Dover in time for last orders. It is a tradition after successful Channel swims that the swimmers write there names on the walls/ceiling of the pub for posterity…

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Our inscription on the ceiling of the White Horse pub in Dover. We were just back in time for last orders! (Photograph: Owen O’Keefe)

Writing upside-down on a ceiling after a 2-way Channel relay is not so easy so Carol and I ended up sharing the writing! The spot that we were allocated was next to that of Nick Caine, a swimmer my own age from California who swam at the Cork Distance Week in 2009 and swam the Channel that year also. Next to our spot, I also wrote in Pádraig Mallon’s swim. Pádraig is from Newry in Northern Ireland and swam the Channel on 6 July in a time of 14 hours 47 minutes.

Chart – Mike Oram

Our chart as produced by Gallivant’s technology.

We have loads more photographs from the swim than the ones in this post. Keep an eye on our Facebook page to see all of the photographs from the swim and our few days in Dover. Don’t forget also that we’re trying to raise €10,000 for Down Syndrome Ireland through the swim – you can support this cause by going to our iDonate page and clicking on “Sponsor Me”. All donations are greatly appreciated.

Thanks to everyone for their support on Twitter and Facebook during the swim!

The Wait is Over!

Good news! The pilot for our 2-way English Channel relay, Mike Oram, called this morning to confirm that we will be meeting him in Dover Marina at midnight tonight with a view to starting our swim for about 1:00 am tomorrow. We’re all packed now and ready to go!

Photograph – Lisa Cummins

The Team! (left-to-right: Caitlin Desmond, Maeve Ryan, Eoin O’Riordan, Owen O’Keefe, Lynne Donnelly, Carol Cashell)

You can follow our progress on Twitter @CrosoigeMara and on our Facebook page. You can also track the boat on bit.ly/Gallivant or on the CS&PF website. Don’t forget that we are doing the swim in aid of Down Syndrome Ireland and you can donate via our iDonate page. I’ll update when we’re done…

Tuairisc ón tSibéir ar Raidió na Gaeltachta

Mar ‘tá ar eolas agaibh ag an bpointe seo, tá ár gceathrar snámhaithe tar éis teacht abhaile ó Chraobhchomórtaisibh Shnámh Gheimhridh na Rúise i Tyumen na Sibéire. Maidin indiu, do dhein duine acu, Nuala Moore, agallamh le Helen Ní Shé ar chuid de chlárachaibh RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta, An Saol ó Dheas, á chraoladh beo ón Daingean. Ní gá dhom á rá go raibh fuacht ar an lucht éisteachta féinig agus iad ag díriú isteach ar cad a bhí le rá ag Nuala fén gcleasaíocht a bhí á déanamh thall! Is féidir leat éisteacht leis an gclár tré chliceáil ar an nasc seo thíos (is í Nuala an chéad aoi):

Éist le Nuala ag caint ar an gclár…

Tugann Helen agus a clár tacaíocht iontach do Nuala agus don tsnámh fén aer go ginearálta. Dá barr, bíonn gach eolas ag pobal Gaeltachta a’ Deiscirt fé cad ‘tá ag tarlúint i gcúrsaí snámha fén aer ins na ceantairibh sin. Is féidir le gach éinne an clár so do leanúint ar Twitter @saolodheas, tá an clár le fáil ar Facebook chomh maith…

Ailt Bainteacha:

Overnight Swim for Down Syndrome Ireland

In July of 2013, six swimmers (Caitlin Desmond, Owen O’Keefe, Maeve Ryan, Lynne Lynch, Carol Cashell and Eoin O’Riordan), collectively called Crosóige Mara, will attempt an English Channel 2-way relay crossing in aid of Down Syndrome Ireland. We are very ambitious and are hoping to make lots of money for this great charity and break the Irish record for this swim by completing the 2-way crossing in under 24 hours…

Logo – Maeve Ryan

Crosóige Mara, Channel Relay Team 2013

In order to raise more money for the swim, Dolphin Masters SC are hosting an overnight pool swim. If you would like to take part, here are the details:

  • When: 21:00 on Saturday, 29th December to 05:00 on Sunday, 30th December.
  • Where: Mayfield Sports Complex, Cork (Northside).
  • Price: €20 for any 2 hours or €50 for the entire 8 hours.
  • Options: Swimming will be in repeat 100 m swims. You can swim for 8 hours, swim for 1 hour and rest for 30 minutes or do what you can when you can…
  • Lanes: Five lanes will be in use. There will be one lane repeating on 1:40, another on 1:50, another on 2:00, another on 2:10 and another lane for leisure…

Please note that you must be at least 16 years old in order to take part. Also, tea/coffee and snacks will be available but you will need to bring your own energy drinks if you want them. If you would like to take part, or have any questions, please send an e-mail to Carol Cashell on carolcashell@yahoo.com in good time…

Logo – DSI

Down Syndrome Ireland – providing information, advice and a voice for people with Down syndrome and their parents/guardians across Ireland.

You can follow Crosóige Mara on Twitter @CrosoigeMara and you can donate online through our iDonate page. Thanks to everyone for their support so far!