Time to meet the crew

Despite the heavy snowfall and freezing temperatures of the last two days, we finally made it as far as Frankfurt, Germany. As we are sitting here in the airport, trying to kill time while waiting for our flight to Rio tonight, I think that now is as good a time as any to introduce my support team for my upcoming Leme to Pontal swim. Apart from the pilot, his/her crew and the official observer from the Leme to Pontal Swimming Association, my support team is as follows:

IMGP4216Spearheading the operation will be my boyfriend, Wagner Hernandes, who has supported me for many of my training swims this summer, including my 6-hour qualifying swim at Sandycove during the Cork Distance Week. He helped to keep myself and a dozen or so other swimmers fed and encouraged for that particular swim, so managing my feeds etc. during Leme to Pontal will be no bother to him! Wagner will also manage communication between myself and the support boat.

WylliamI’m delighted that Wagner’s brother, Wylliam, will also be able to join us for this swim. Wylliam is studying nutritional sciences in his and Wagner’s hometown of Campos dos Goytacazes, in the north of the State of Rio de Janeiro, so he will be carefully observing to make sure that I am getting the most from my feeding plan. Wylliam will also be sending out some of the updates (in Portuguese) for those watching online.

AmyAnd last but certainly not least, my sister, Amy, will also be on the boat and will be doing an undoubtedly fantastic job of managing the GPS tracker and social media, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (I will post links to exactly which accounts she will be posting from once we’ve decided them). I’m very happy that this will be Amy’s first experience of crewing for a marathon swim and I hope that she will see for herself how beautiful our sport is.

Once we are all together in Rio (which will be this Friday, all going well) and have our plan of action finalised, I will share all of the details of how you can keep track of the swim (and might even be able to give an indication of the actual start day and time). It’s getting real now!

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Counting down the days!

A long year of training is finally over and I’m now just a week out from heading off to Rio for my 35 km swim from Leme to Pontal. It’s been a struggle at times, but at last I’m feeling both physically and mentally ready. Last Sunday morning, I had my last sea swim in Ireland for this year: a leisurely lap of Sandycove Island with friends and training buddies, followed by the customary confectionery…

IMG_0116

A total of 47 swimmers swam at Sandycove last Sunday and, despite the water temperature being between 10ºC and 11ºC, about half swam a full lap of the island without wetsuits!

This week is my last week of training and it will be an easy one to ensure that I stay injury-free before arriving in Rio, so my real challenge for this week will be to try to stay motivated at work while I can do little other than visualise the swim!

Over the next week and a bit, I will be posting details of how you can follow the swim in real time. So keep an eye out for those…

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…

Following my Blackwater Descent

My planned descent of the Great River of Munster this Friday will take me through some familiar countryside in North Cork, West Waterford and a little bit of East Cork. This means that, for a change, spectators normally confined to their computer and smartphone screens have plenty of opportunities to see the swim with their own eyes. I’ve created a Google Map (below) of the swim also so that I don’t have to clog up this post with information. You can explore the map at any “zoom” and click on the highlighted route and the little swimmer icons for more information…

The swim will pass under eight bridges: Fermoy Bridge, the M8 motorway bridge in Fermoy, Carrigabrick Viaduct, Ballyduff Bridge, Cavendish Bridge in Lismore, Avonmore (formerly Victoria) and Red Bridges in Cappoquin and the New Bridge in Youghal. With the exception of the M8 motorway bridge, Carrigabrick Viaduct and the Red Bridge in Cappoquin, these bridges are good vantage points from which to spot the swim.

Photograph – Donal Buckley

New Bridge, Youghal as seen from the boat during my 2012 swim from Cappoquin to Walter Raleigh Pier, Youghal. (Photograph – Donal Buckley)

A few people have asked me if I could put together some ties of where I might be at what times. I can’t be very accurate, obviously, but I have put together a rough itinerary based on last year’s swim times for the staged swim:

  • 07:00 – Fermoy
  • 08:30 – Clondulane
  • 10:00 – Ballyduff
  • 12:00 – Lismore
  • 13:00 – Cappoquin
  • 14:30 – Villierstown Quay
  • 17:30 – Youghal
  • 18:00 – Front Strand

Again, these are very rough guesses so if you are planning to watch the swim at any point the best thing to do would be to keep an eye on @donalbuckley and @PaulNoonan96 on Twitter to see what kind of progress the swim is making. I will, hopefully, have the use of a SPOT Tracker for the swim (there’s one in the post). I’ll have one more blog post, which will happen to be my hundredth post, tomorrow or on Thursday confirming that everything is going ahead as planned…

Round Jersey Report – Part 3

Continued from Part 1 (run-up to the swim) and Part 2 (second half of the swim) from earlier in the week. This post is about the second half of the swim only. I’ll have a reflection on what went well and what didn’t go so well in Part 4 (final installment) tomorrow…

Photograph – Alice Harvey

Chantelle holds up one of the Twitter hashtags that were being used during the swim. These have been popular with Channel junkies since we got #CmonCraig trending during Craig Morrison’s English Channel solo in July 2012.

By the 5-hour feed, I was starting to feel a little bit more positive. I no longer felt like I was going to fall asleep in the water and could see that the next headland was getting nearer. I took the feed (300 ml of warm High5 4:1), kept my mouth shut and swam on – that was me able to tell myself to keep going rather than needing the crew to tell me. By the next feed, I was feeling more confident still: I knew that if I lasted another 30 minutes we would be switching to the 1-hour feed cycle, as scheduled, and this would make a big difference psychologically. I took the gel and asked for some jelly babies at the next feed as a treat. A few minutes after the feed (5 hours 40 minutes in), I could see that we were rounding Grosnez and about to head south along the western side of the island. I was mentally prepared for a long slog across St. Ouen’s Bay from L’Etacq to La Corbière as I was told that you lose much of the tidal assistance at this point and it’s further than it looks! I told myself to swim feed-to-feed and I’d get there eventually. At this point, the crew started transcribing some of the encouraging tweets onto the back of my feed schedule and showing them to me which was nice.

The next feed was at the 6-hour mark – it was 300 ml of warm High5 ZERO and two jelly babies – again, I said nothing and swam on. I could see the long sandy beach to my left so I knew that I was well over halfway. Knowing that I’d now be feeding every 20 minutes rather than every 30 was also a comfort. The next feed was 200 ml of warm High5 4:1 with a Twitter report! At the next feed (gel), I told the crew that I was feeling better and asked how many hours it was “to the lighthouse” and Mick replied: “a few”. I could see that we were making progress so carried to the next feed, which was a High5 ZERO and two jelly babies, completing the first 1-hour feed cycle, so I asked if it looked like I’d break 10 hours and Chantelle said that she “wouldn’t say no” so that was good news. I had now been swimming for 7 hours…

Photograph – Chantelle Le Guilcher

Approaching the lighthouse at La Corbière on the southwestern corner of the island.

By 1:40 pm, my stroke rate was a steady 60 spm and we were approaching the lighthouse at La Corbière. At 1:47 pm (7 hours 20 minutes in), I had a regular feed of High5 4:1 and, from my limited knowledge of Jersey’s geography, knew that were at the southwestern corner of the island. We had lost a lot of the push from the tide but we were on the final leg of the swim now and making good progress. This was where I felt the advantage of feeding every 20 minutes: I could put in a good effort between feeds and it didn’t feel like a very long time, I could now easily thinking 1 and 2 hours ahead. The  view into St. Brelade’s Bay was also a nice distraction at this point. At 8 hours 20 minutes, I had the last two jelly babies onboard with my regular feed and, 20 minutes later, I took my last SiS caffeinated gel – I had some High5 gels as spares but they don’t suit me taste or stomach! I felt a little tired again but I knew that the caffeine would perk me up. I asked for some chocolate in 10 minute’s time anyway…

Photograph – Chantelle Le Guilcher

Just past Portelet Bay. I was very confident of finishing at this point…

After 10 minutes (3:17 pm; 8 hours 50 minutes in), the crew appeared with three chocolate fingers, as requested, but also my regular High5 feed which wasn’t due for another 10 minutes! They had followed the plan to a tee until now so I knew that it wasn’t a mistake, they obviously had a reason for giving me the feed early (I now know that it was to take advantage of the current near Noirmont point). I wasn’t sure if this was a good or a bad thing. They pointed out the black and white tower at Noirmont and told me that it was the last point before crossing St. Aubin’s Bay to the finish. This was intended to be my last feed! I said that was fine but had other ideas in my head – I was sure that it would be a drag getting across the bay and that I’d need a boost to get over the line…

Photograph – Alice Harvey

Approaching Noirmot after the last feed, the last landmark before the end of the swim! This is my favourite photograph from the swim.

A few minutes later, we rounded the point and headed straight across the bay. My stroke rate was back up to 65 spm at the 9-hour mark. The next time a sighted forward, I could just about make out the diagonal black and white markings at the end of Elizabeth Castle Breakwater. Though it was already very calm, the surface of the water flattened out even more as we progressed across the bay – it became “glassy” and I felt like I was swimming in Knockananig Reservoir on a dead summer’s day. The crew seemed to be getting excited at this point, doing plenty of waving, cheering and clapping – it’s amazing how much of a boost a bit of noise can give you – and the more noise they made the harder I swam. I began to sight more often as well to be able to judge more accurately how hard I could afford to swim at each point.

Photograph – Chantelle Le Guilcher

Crossing St. Aubin’s Bay, the black and white marks at the finish line visible.

About 35 minutes after the last feed, I asked the crew (without breaking stroke) for a caffeinated gel. I could see Alice get one ready but it soon disappeared, they crew didn’t want to stop at this point as we were so close to the record. Mick appeared from inside the cabin and signaled that I had 10 minutes to go. John, who I hadn’t seen for about 7 or 8 hours, then appeared which made me think that we must be very close! Then all the crew signaled that I had 5 minutes left – I looked up and could see the finish only a few hundred metres away. I put my head down and swam as fast as I could, having not fed for 40 minutes, for the breakwater. I touched the barnacle-encrusted wall (right behind where I started) very relieved to be finished. I gave the crew a thumbs-up, tumble-turned and kicked off the wall back to the boat. I managed to haul myself back onboard with some dignity and the crew told me my time: 9 hours 35 minutes.

Photograph – Chantelle Le Guilcher

Finished – 9 hours 35 minutes later! I celebrated with a pool-style tumble-turn at the breakwater.

That’s enough writing for today! Watch out for Part 4 (final installment) coming tomorrow…

Round Jersey Report – Part 2

This post is about the first half of the swim only. To read about the run into the swim check out Part 1 from yesterday. I’ll write about the second half of the swim in Part 3 tomorrow…

Photograph – Unknown

Touching the end of Elizabeth Castle Breakwater in the morning sun to start the swim.

I was picked up from my guest house at 5:30 am by Mick, Marilyn and Chantelle Le Guilcher and Alice Harvey. They were, as was I, a little concerned at how little stuff I seemed to have with me – it didn’t look like I was prepared for a day’s swimming! It was a 5-minute drive to the marina where we met co-pilot John Asplet and kayaker Martin Powell. We walked along the pontoons to the boat, a nice new half-decker with plenty of crew space. All set up, we motored out of the harbour to the end of Elizabeth Castle Breakwater, towing Martin in the kayak behind us. There was a short discussion with the Coast Guard about shipping movements that morning: there was only one ship due out but they were delayed by 5 minutes so we got the all-clear to start. I got changed and greased up and jumped into the clear water. The rule is that you must be touching the breakwater to officially start the swim – I did this, pushed off the wall (with a few dolphin kicks) and was on my way at 6:27 am.

Photograph – Marilyn Le Guilcher

Navigating through the Gutters about 1 hour into the swim. This is why you need a kayak!

The first 2 hours of the swim were pretty uneventful. It was calm and not in the slightest bit cold. I followed Martin in the kayak while the boat navigated its way through the many rocky reefs off this part of the island. I had my first feed of 300 ml (warm) of High5 4:1 after 30 minutes and passed Green Island after 44 minutes (Chantelle says that the average swimmer reaches this point at around 1 hour). I had the same feed again at the 1-hour mark and an SiS GO Isotonic Gel (60 ml; blackcurrant flavour) after 1 hour 30 minutes. By now we were at La Rocque pier and I was feeling very strong. My stroke rate to this point was a steady 67 strokes per minute (spm) and I was feeling good.

Photograph – Chantelle Le Guilcher

Swimming past the end of the pier at La Rocque: Martin kayaking and Marilyn waving from the pier.

As we approached the pier, I could really see the speed at which we were moving. The video below should give you some idea of the tidal assistance that I was getting at this point. My apologies for the poor quality of the video – it looks well on my phone and my laptop but I’m not very good with uploading to YouTube yet!

After passing the pier, we were clear of any reefs so Martin was free to head for shore and exit at Seymour slip. I now had to follow the boat instead of the kayak. I was a small bit surprised as I thought I had at least another 20 minutes left of following the kayak. We were now headed north across the Royal Bay of Grouville, though I thought we were still heading east! There was a lot of seaweed and scum on the surface but nothing as bad as Sandycove during the winter. The water was like glass and my stroke rate was  68 spm. I carried on to the next feed, 300 ml of High5 ZERO at the 2-hour mark, completing one of my 2-hour feed cycles – I planned to do another two of these, taking me up to the 6-hour mark, before switching to 1-hour cycles.

Photograph – Alice Harvey

Passing Mont Orgueil Castle having just changed my goggles…

The next major landmark was Mont Orgueil Castle above Gorey Harbour. I could see the castle up ahead and was told to aim for the sailboat moored below it. I couldn’t see that very well so asked for a change of goggles. It seemed a bit bright with the clear goggles at first, and they also seemed a bit tight, but they settled down and I had much better visibility than I’d had earlier in the swim. The castle was an impressive sight as I swam past it. More importantly, however, I could see St. Catherine’s Breakwater up ahead. On my fifth feed, Mick told me that if I could get to the breakwater in 10 minutes I’d be level with Julieann Galloway‘s progress, i.e. on world record pace! I put in a solid 10 minutes of swimming and made the end of the breakwater bang-on Julieann’s time and travelling at over 6 knots (obviously heavily tide-assisted). I kept up this pace well past the breakwater. We didn’t head west close to the island, instead heading north to where Mick could find some good tidal runs. Even way out from the island it was still flat calm!

At the next feed (second of the second cycle), the crew confirmed for me that I’d matched Julieann’s time to the breakwater. I get the impression that they were expecting something more enthusiastic than a “very good” and a prompt return to swimming! I continued on at the fast pace, which, with the benefit of hindsight, might not have been the greatest idea. Just after this feed (3 hours 3 minutes into the swim) we were at White Rock and approaching Bouley Bay. This meant little to me but all the locals were surprised that I’d reached this point so early! The next feed was, as scheduled, another SiS GO Isotonic Gel and only 15 minutes after that (3 hours 45 minutes into the swim) the crew told me that I was at the half-way point…

Photograph – Chantelle Le Guilcher

Passing the mast near the quarry on the northern side of the island – the half-way mark!

I was reluctant to believe them, conscious of the fact that still wasn’t 4 hours in, but reconciled it by reminding myself that the spatial and temporal half-way points were not necessarily the same. By now, we were a long way off the coast so even though we were moving very fast, it wasn’t as noticeable to me and this was a psychological anticlimax. As well as that, I was still swimming in a high gear – I had been for well over an hour. This wasn’t a good combination and I became mentally and physically fatigued at the same time. My stroke rate hadn’t dropped much though (down to 65 spm). At the 4-hour feed, I asked the crew if I could have some chocolate at the next feed. They kindly gave me some out of their own stash!

Photograph – Unknown

Approaching Grosnez about 5 hours into the swim.

At this feed, I told the crew that I doubted very much that I’d be able to finish. They sounded surprised and told me that I was doing really well. They also told me that there was no need to swim as fast as I was swimming and that I could afford to slow it down for a while. We decided that I’d slow right down and have some jelly babies in 10 minute’s time. I swam off at a new stroke rate of 58 spm and, after 10 minutes, I stopped and had the jelly babies. I agreed to keep swimming slowly and asked to have an SiS GO + Caffeine Gel (60 ml; berry flavour) in another 10 minutes. I swam off again and Chantelle got changed to swim with me for 30 minutes after the next feed. After the 10 minutes, I had my caffeinated gel and asked for Chantelle not to get in, suspecting that I’d be out at the next scheduled feed (due in 10 minutes). As I swam to the next feed, the caffeine worked its magic and I started to feel more awake and stronger. The next feed was 300 ml of warm High5 4:1 with no extra treats. I had now been swimming for 5 hours and knew for certain that I was at or had passed the true half-way mark, I could also see that we were approaching the northwestern corner of the island. Now, I wasn’t so certain: I might make it, but I might not. Maybe now it was worth continuing…

I’ll write about the second part of the swim in Part 3 of the report tomorrow.

Round Jersey Report – Part 1

After the rest of team Crosóige Mara had gone home after our English Channel relay on Saturday, 13 July, it was just me left in Dover on the Sunday night. The following morning, I checked out of our holiday home in St. Margaret’s-at-Cliffe, got a taxi into Dover and headed up to London on the train. My plan: to stay with my uncle in London until I got the call to go to Jersey. This way, I would save money on accommodation and wouldn’t have wasted any money traveling if the swim never took place. My tide didn’t open until Sunday, 21 July and closed on Sunday, 28 July so this gave me a week or so to enjoy the heatwave and become better acquainted with London, especially her great choice of swimming locations (which I will review in a later post), and catch up with a few friends…

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Camden Lock is very near where I stay in London. It’s great for a walk and a bit of people-watching, especially when it’s scorchingly hot, but definitely not an enticing swimming location!

On the evening of Sunday, 21 July, I called the pilot, Mick Le Guilcher, who was standing in for Charlie Gravett while he was in Dover with his wife, Sally Minty-Gravett, who was swimming the English Channel that week. He said that the weather was looking good for a Wednesday (24 July) swim – good news as this was the optimum day to swim as far as the tide was concerned. I immediately booked my flights and accommodation and let everyone know what was happening. I was delighted to be going, I had heard so many stories of people being weathered out in Jersey so found it hard to believe that my swim was actually running to plan!

I went for my last swim before the big event on the Monday: a nice leisurely session under the sun in London Fields Lido, Hackney with Diarmuid Dennehy, a former Fermoy SC swimmer now living in London and training for an English Channel 3-person relay this September. Having got all my stuff together I had “time to take in a show” in the West End for my last night in London! I got a ticket for The Cripple of Inishmaan at the Noël Coward Theatre through my cousin, Brian Fenton, who is an understudy of Daniel Radcliffe (that’s Harry Potter to the lay person) in the show. It’s a brilliant dark comedy and I’d highly recommend that anyone go and see it but it suits an Irish humour better. This was also a good way to relax before the swim and escape the ferocious heat outside!

The next day, I flew from Gatwick to Jersey – short but scenic flight taking in the south coast in England, the Normandy coast and the Channel Islands. Coming in to land on the island, it suddenly dawned on me just how big the place was! I was met at the airport by pilot Mick and JLDSC swimmer Alice Harvey, who had done the swim herself and who would be crewing for me. They took me to my guest house in St. Helier and I spent the afternoon exploring the capital and getting something to eat. Alice picked me up again in the evening to go to the Club swim at St. Catherine’s, where I met co-pilot John Asplet, kayaker Martin Powell and second feeder/observer Chantelle Le Guilcher, as well as other swimmers and committee members from the JLDSC. I had dinner (again) there also! When I got back to the guest house, it was time to prepare my feeds, etc. and get some sleep. I was being collected at 5:30 am for a 6:25 am swim…

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

This shows the view from near my guest house. Jersey has big tides! It was on its way in when I took the picture but you can see the rocks all the way across the bay. This makes it necessary to have a kayaker for this section of the swim…

I hope Part 1 wasn’t too boring, I didn’t feel like launching straight into the swim report though. Keep an eye out for Part 2 of the report tomorrow, I’ll actually get on to talking about the swim at that stage!