“What date is the swim?”

A lot of people have been asking me about the date of my Leme to Pontal swim and some are a bit confused by why there isn’t yet a fixed date, so I thought I’d write a quick aside to explain the reason for this…

My swim window is 16-22 December and this is fixed. The reason for booking a seven-day window rather than a single date is that the swim requires reasonably calm sea conditions for the best part of a day, something that, given the local climate and exposed nature of the route, cannot be guaranteed for any given day at the time of booking the swim, which is often months or even years beforehand. So, booking seven days rather than just one means that I have a much better chance of actually getting to swim.

From the day I arrive in Rio, I will be in regular contact with the Leme to Pontal Swimming Association to discuss weather forecasts and should be able to confirm the actual date and time that I will start the swim a day or two in advance. Keep an eye out for updates!

Advertisements

RACE REPORT: The Great Blackwater Swim

I’ve done two races this year (the “Vibes & Scribes” Lee Swim in Cork City and the GaddinAbtGarnish in Glengarriff, West Cork), but didn’t really “race” either of those particularly well. Anyway, I did another race the weekend before last and managed to swim a bit better. So, here’s my first “race report” for quite some time…

On Sunday, 27th August, I took part in the inaugural and hopefully annual Great Blackwater Swim from Castlehyde House to Fermoy Rowing Club, which was organised by Blackwater Triathlon Club as part of the Fermoy Festival. See my last few posts for a background to how this swim came about and a description of the course

Swimmers registered at the rowing club in the morning and were taken by minibus to the gates of the Castlehyde estate, from where we enjoyed the nice walk down the wooded avenue towards the riverbank. There was a great atmosphere at the start as all of the swimmers gathered, admired the grand surroundings of the estate grounds, had photos taken with the mansion and chatted – there was a look of nervous excitement on a lot of swimmers’ faces as, for many, this would be a considerable step up distance-wise from the previous swims.

0002-IMG_1477

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

0005-IMG_1488

Some of the kayakers assembling before the start, Simon Mulcahy on the left and Wagner Hernandes second from the left. (Image: Ber Hunter)

After a big group photo, it was time to get everyone into the water, with a piper from a local pipe band for an added bit of atmosphere. Thankfully, us non-wetsuited swimmers, small in numbers though we were, were allowed to wait until all of the wetsuited swimmers were in the water before getting ourselves (so that we wouldn’t get cold waiting for the start)… It was an impressive sight to see all 105 bodies assembled in the river ready to take on the 3+ km swim back to town!

My bit of local knowledge paid off at the start so that I managed to position myself in the strongest flow and get out of the crowd quickly. It was clear after about 100 m that I had no hope of keeping anywhere near my Crosóige Mara teammate Maeve Ryan and whoever else was in the lead pack (pair, as it later transpired), so I decided not to go all out and blow up, like I did in Marnaton “eDreams” Cadaqués a few years back, and just swim my own swim. That strategy paid off: I kept ahead of the main bunch and, for the first 2 km, anytime I looked back, there was just one swimmer on my toes, and he fell off once I started to put the boot down…

0007-IMG_1999

Coming into the finish, trying to look like a proper swimmer! (Image: Ber Hunter)

Maeve [unsurprisingly] blitzed the course and was first home! She had a battle on her hands, though, and was followed shortly by Brian Foley (first in the male wetsuit category). After a bit of a gap, I was third home and first in the male non-wetsuit category. First in the female wetsuit category was Maeve Linehan from Mallow (so a fellow Blackwater native).

0012-IMG_2699

Receiving my prize for first male non-wetsuit from Dave Mulcahy. (Image: Ber Hunter)

All the feedback from participants was glowing: everyone seems to have thoroughly enjoyed the event and it looks like there’ll be an even bigger turnout for next year! Thanks to everyone at Blackwater Triathlon Club for organising the race, to Michael Flatley and all the staff in Castlehyde for allowing us access to the river through the property, to Fermoy Lions Club for promoting the event and making sure that it could go ahead, and to Ber Hunter for her fabulous photographs!

The Blackwater is catching!

I’ve always been passionate about “the Irish Rhine”, Munster’s Great River, the Blackwater. I’m proud to know it so intimately, having swum every inch of it between Ballyhooly and the sea (the bottom 70 km of its 170 km course). The Blackwater Valley is truly stunning: with breathtaking scenery around every corner, and peace. Exploring it at a swimmer’s pace is a great way of appreciating, and from a unique angle. It’s a shame that, until recently, I was one of very few people to have experienced this, so I’m delighted that members of Blackwater Triathlon Club have started pushing out their distances in the water and are making good use of the beautiful river on our doorstep! Over the last two weekends, they started catching the bug…

Cregg/Castlehyde to Fermoy Rowing Club

The first swim, from just upstream of Castlehyde House to Fermoy Rowing Club, a distance of about 4 km, was last Monday morning. Dave Mulcahy, Declan O’Keeffe and I had been doing this swim once a year for the last few years, but this was the first time that a decent-sized group took on the challenge…

IMGP4190

Setting off in dribs and drabs from the riverbank just upstream from Castlehyde.

The swim was a great opportunity for many to challenge themselves with their longest swim to date, which it was for most of the 15 swimmers who completed it. It was also a good opportunity for my boyfriend, Wagner, to get to grips with kayaking for a bigger group of swimmers, which it turns out mightn’t be as tough as listening to them talking about swimming!

IMGP4201

Wagner getting used to the kayak…and listening to swimmers talking about swimming!

The swim was thoroughly enjoyed by all who took part, so much so that the possibility of an organised event is on the cards for next year, though maybe starting just below the fast water…

Blackwater Sub-aqua Club to Clondullane

The second swim took place last Sunday. It was a little longer, at 5 km, but seven dedicated swimmers took up the challenge (that number would likely have been higher had Cork not been playing Waterford in hurling at the same time). We had plenty of safety back-up for this swim, with Wagner kayaking again, as well as Declan’s daughter Anna and one other also kayaking, and Iain MacCallum accompanying us in a boat. Again, all completed the swim and are looking forward to doing it again!

foto (2)

Assembling on the Blackwater Sub-aqua Club slipway, just downstream of the town.

What’s next?

Now that appetites have been wet for longer swims in the river, we may be able to get a group to try out the 7 km from Cappoquin to Villierstown, in the tidal reach of the Blackwater. From there, who knows, let’s hope that it’s just the start of great long-distance swimming culture on our great river!

A new challenge for 2017

I know, I know, I managed to let another whole year [and a bit] slip past without so much as a peep on the blog. As many are already aware, I spent the last three years focusing on finishing my BSc in ecology and settling into working life – as an actual ecologist, would you believe – and, just maybe, being a bit lazy… However, 2017 has arrived and that affliction that all who are swimmers have, that visceral desire to be in the water is too much to bear: I need to swim!

After last year’s trip to Brazil in September and seeing her seemingly infinite and stunningly beautiful coastline with its long, sandy beaches, huge, rounded limestone boulders, verdant slopes of Atlantic forest and the deep blue South Atlantic, I knew that it would be hard to resist at least a few marathon swims along that coast. So, a few weeks ago, I found a pool near where I work in Dublin and started training, still not entirely sure for what…

Pousada Casa da Praia

Waking up to this view of Praia dos Anjos in Arraial do Cabo, where Amerigo Vespucci landed in 1503, it’s hard not to imagine swimming here… (Image: Owen O’Keefe)

Aware of the potential difficulties in arranging a completely new swim, I decided that it was best to book an established swim, one for which “all” I would have to do would be to fill in the forms, pay the fees and train. One swim in particular jumped straight out at me: Leme to Pontal, a coastal swim of 35 km. This swim is the same distance as the English Channel, starting at Praia do Leme in Leme, Copacabana and passing all of the oceanic beaches and sites of the city of Rio de Janeiro before finishing at Praia do Pontal in Recreio dos Bandeirantes, Barra da Tijuca (see the interactive map below).

I’ve already secured my window with the Leme to Pontal Swimming Association for the week of the 16th to 22nd December 2017. All I have to do now is to keep up the training and start re-acclimatising to the sea! I will try to keep the blog reasonably up to date with my progress and any other news, so keep an eye out here for intermittent updates and on Facebook, Instagram or maybe even Twitter for more frequent ones…

2 DSC_0040 Owen swim

Back in the Blackwater under Grandad‘s watchful eye last weekend…

More to come soon!

Just checking in!

Yes, I know it’s been about six months since I lasted posted anything! I think I’ll use college as an excuse this time, but really I’ve had very little to write about. One thing that I neglected to do at the end of 2013 was to sum up how the year went, so I might as well do that now… The highlights of the open water season for me were:

  • Winning the 5 km at GaddinAbtGarnish with a new PB of 1:08:24 (my report here).
  • Swimming in the Martin Duggan Memorial Swim for the first time (my report here).
  • Setting a new Irish record for an English Channel 2-way relay with my friends on team Crosóige Mara in July (my report here).
  • Setting a new male record for Round Jersey also in July (my report here).
  • Swimming around the Old Head of Kinsale and through the tunnel connecting Holeopen Bays East and West with Ned Denison.
  • Completing the first ever non-stop swim from Fermoy to Youghal (60 km down my own River Blackwater) in just over 12 hours in August (my report here).
  • Winning the Irish 10 km Championships in Camlough Lake, Co. Armagh just a week later (my report here).
  • Of course, swimming in VI Marnaton “eDreams” Cadaqués in Catalonia with some amazing company (my report here).

I will have another post coming very soon (within a few days, hopefully) about how this winter has been going in the pool. It has been very different from previous winters I’ve gone through, especially in recent years…

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.