A Tour of Lough Hyne

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

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

The hill of Dromadoon from Barloge Quay.

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

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Calm waters in Barloge Creek…

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

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

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

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

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

The view across Barloge Creek from the road.

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

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

The view towards Tranabo Cove from Barloge.

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

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

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

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

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

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Swimming away from Barloge Quay towards the Rapids.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

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

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

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

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Almost in the Rapids, looking like a good flow!

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

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Just exiting the Rapids at Renouf’s Bay…

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

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

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

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

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

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

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

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

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

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

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Steve from underwater again.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

The lesser-used West Quay, Lough Hyne.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

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

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

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

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

The little islet again with Knockomagh Hill in the background.

photograph – Owen O'Keefe

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

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

The eastern shore of Lough Hyne.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

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

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Looking back towards the northern shore of Lough Hyne.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

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

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

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

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Back into Barloge Creek and almost finished the swim!

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Steve finishing the swim back at Barloge Quay.

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

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

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

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Another Big Swim for 2013

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

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

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

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

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

Related Articles:

Blackwater Project: Part 3 – Ballyduff to Cappoquin

After my Fermoy to Ballyduff swim, it was off to Valentia Island, Co. Kerry for the annual Beginish Island Swim. What was a great weekend came to a pretty sobering end with the shocking news our friend, Páraic Casey, died tragically during his English Channel solo attempt. Páraic was a great friend to us all in the open water community and his death came as a great shock, not least to his wife Riana and to the other swimmers who had trained with Páraic for the last year. Maeve and I decided, after a while, that it was probably a good idea to go ahead with the Ballyduff to Cappoquin swim as planned – a decent immersion is, I think, a great help in absorbing such news.

We arranged to be in the water for about 07:30 on the coming Tuesday (24th August) to meet the high tide just below Lismore. This particular swim would to be even more interesting than the previous swim as it was going to be the “maiden voyage” of the recently purchased Sandycove Island SC SPOT Tracker! These trackers are great pieces of kit as they allow people all over the world to track the swim’s progress in real-time. Any member of Sandycove Island SC who is doing a big swim can ask to use the SPOT Tracker so that the rest of the world can follow their progress. The SPOT Shared Page, by the way, is bit.ly/TrackSwim. Keep an eye on the Sandycove Island SC website (link above) to find out who is using the tracker next…

Photograph – Maeve Mulcahy

Maeve took this photo just as we were starting the swim. There was a bit of a wade out to deep water…

Anyway, Maeve and I met up in Fermoy at about 05:30 and set off for Cappoquin in separate cars. Once we parked up by the slipway in Cappoquin, I got changed into my swimming gear and Maeve got into her kayaking gear, leaving anything that we would need at the finish in my car. Then we both headed back to Ballyduff in Maeve’s car. When we arrived in Ballyduff, all that was left to be done was to get the kayak on the water and to secure the SPOT Tracker to it. With that done, I handed Maeve my mobile phone, from which she would be sending updates to my Twitter account using the #Blackwater2012 hashtag. The swim finally got underway at 07:29, at the same spot where I finished my Fermoy to Ballyduff swim the Thursday previous.

Photograph – Maeve Mulcahy

This tree was a very strange sight. Can anyone shed any light on what might be going on here?

Although the water was a pleasant 15ºC, it was a cool and misty morning. The atmosphere was almost eerie as we progressed. The only sounds were the River and the birds. I must admit to being a little apprehensive about this swim as I knew little about the first 10 km after Ballyduff. It turns out that there are a good few rapids on this stretch, especially on the Glenmore beat just below Glencairn Abbey. There needs to have been some recent rain before you can take these on! After the rapids at the Fortwilliam Estate, there is a stretch of slightly deeper water, which makes for easier swimming.

At the end of this stretch of deeper water are the beautiful Ballyin Gardens and a small salmon weir, Lismore Weir. This isn’t a large weir like those in Fermoy and Clondulane, it’s less than 1 m high and has gap in one section, called the King’s Gap, through which most of the River’s flow is directed. When we came to this point, Maeve shot over in the kayak to test that it was safe. She gave me the all clear to swim through, rather than to walk around it. I swam straight through the gap, which was an exhilarating experience even if I did feel a bit like a dead goldfish being flushed down the toilet!

Photograph – Maeve Mulcahy

Just after shooting Lismore Weir, coming around the bend to get our first view of the Castle.

After this weir, the current whisked us quickly around a bend in the River and we got our first view of the magnificent Lismore Castle. This castle, which is over 800 years old, has been home to Sir Walter Raleigh, Richard Boyle, 1st Earl of Cork, and his more famous son Robert Boyle, one of the founders of modern chemistry. It is currently the second home of Peregrine Cavendish, 12th Duke of Devonshire. The town of Lismore is one of Ireland’s most picturesque towns, but I was delighted to have reached it for another reason, i.e. it meant that I was past the half-way point in the swim!

Just after the bridge in Lismore, the Blackwater is joined by the River Owenashad, bringing cold, peat-stained water from the nearby Knockmealdown Mountains. The River becomes wide and shallow at this point, known as the Ballyrafter Flats. Exactly 10.0 km from the start of the swim in Ballyduff, we come to another set of islands with some very turbulent water. At the bottom of these rapids, the River becomes much deeper and the current almost stops – still over 30 km from the mouth of the River, we had reached sea level!

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Here’s the trusty paddler, Maeve, with Lismore Castle in the background.

Having arrived at this point (the River’s tidal limit) slightly earlier than initially expected, we had no more assistance from the current as the last of the incoming tide was counteracting the flow of the River. The last 5.0 km of the swim would be in dead water…

This last stretch did seem to drag on a bit in comparison to running the rapids in the earlier part of the swim, but at least we got some nice views and met my grandfather who was watching from a lay-by where the River passes next to the road. After a few words with him, we were on the final straight into Cappoquin – we could see Avonmore Bridge about 1 km away and the slipway was just on the other side of it.

Photograph – Maeve Mulcahy

Mist on the Knockmealdowns nearing the end of the swim, about 3 km from Cappoquin.

I reached the slipway at Port na h-Abhann, Cappoquin at 10:16, a modest time of 2 hours 46 minutes 24 seconds after first hitting the water in Ballyduff. Lo and behold, who should be there to meet us only my grandfather again. He told us that we had better hurry up getting the kayak up on the rook of the car and getting dressed because he had our breakfast ordered in Barron’s Bakery & Coffee House up in the town! After a very nice gluten-free breakfast there, we headed back to Ballyduff and transferred the kayak from my car to Maeve’s before heading home, content with having covered yet another stretch of virgin water for swimmers.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Looking back at Avonmore Bridge from the slipway in Cappoquin.

I was off to Dover soon with to crew on two English Channel swims so it would be a while before I would get to attempt the final stage of the Project…

Blackwater Project: Part 1 – Background to the Project

Growing up swimming in the River Blackwater in Fermoy during the week and in the sea at weekends, I was always fascinated by the idea of swimming from Fermoy to the sea in stages, but never really gave the idea any serious thought. The reason for this was that, although the last 30 km of the River’s course is tidal and is sufficiently deep for both a swimmer and a support boat at high water, there is 30 km of not-so-deep water between Fermoy and the tidal limit. This 30 km has three weirs and plenty of rapids. Neither I nor anyone that I knew was familiar with the idea of swimming in the presence of such obstacles, so I put the whole notion to bed, for a while at least.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Fermoy Bridge as seen from the water. We never swim downstream of the Bridge…

However, another idea that had always interested me was to swim the 10 km downstream from Ballyhooly to Fermoy, also on the Blackwater. Having already kayaked this route, it seemed less daunting. Also, the distance was manageable, especially given the assistance from the current. Eventually, in August 2010, I convinced Ned Denison to join me for this exploratory river descent.

On a warm, sunny morning, on my last day of summer holidays before going into my Leaving Certificate year in school, Ned and I met up at the usual spot, Fermoy Rowing Club, and decided to give the swim a go. We got changed at the Rowing Club and left our stuff in Ned’s jeep for the finish. Once we were ready, my grandfather collected us in his car and drove us to Ballyhooly. It took a while to find easy access to the River. Eventually, we found a way: over a gate, across a field and under Ballyhooly’s iron bridge. There’s a flat concrete area underneath the Bridge, which made it easy to walk out to the middle of the River. At about 10:00, we finally hit the water…

Photograph – George O'Keefe

Austropotamobius pallipes – a freshwater crayfish. These are endangered but we come across them occasionally in the Blackwater. This one was found by my father at the Strand near Fermoy.

The water crystal clear, very fresh and we could see lots of young trout and other fish swimming upstream. No more than 100 m into the swim, we were faced with our first set of rapids. Neither of us was quite sure how to approach it, so we both stood up and attempted to walk. Bad idea – it was almost impossible to walk over the stony riverbed barefooted, as we were, and neither of us could maintain an upright position for more than a stride or two! As we came to more rapids, our technique in traversing them gradually improved. We carried on through the countryside, passing some very bemused looking fishermen, until we came to the first recognizable feature, the infamous Poll Pádraig. This maze of island, pools and rapids marks the halfway point and is also the place where two “known priest-hunters” are said to have drowned.

Next we came to Cregg Castle, where there is a good stretch of deep water. Shortly after this there are more rapids and the River is joined by Cregg Stream, which flows from Knockanannig Reservoir, another Fermoy swimming location. Luckily, I knew this area of fast water quite well so I was able to navigate the narrow channel, avoiding the need to stand and gaining some speed from the force of the water. The final set of rapids at Castlehyde is very shallow and there is no option but to stand up and walk. From here, there is a 3.5 km stretch of very familiar deep water held back by Fermoy Weir. We finished the swim back at the usual spot, exactly 2 hours 30 minutes later.

Photograph – George O'Keefe

Swimming past the very beautiful Castlehyde House in June 2009.

The time was a little slow for a 10 km downriver swim, but the River was at its lowest level for over seven years that week, which meant more standing up and walking than expected. On the plus side, it did make the underwater visibility excellent so we got to see all the wonders of the riverbed! After this swim, the idea of swimming further down the River was beginning to sound a bit more plausible…

Photograph – Liam Maher

Pioneers of the first “Lee Descent” swim from Inniscarra Dam to County Hall.

The following year, Ray McArdle from Dolphin SC came up with the excellent idea of swimming from Inniscarra Dam to County Hall in Cork, a distance of 12 km. He contacted the ESB, who agreed to discharge a large volume of water from the Dam to make the lower part of the River Lee suitable for swimming. A dozen swimmers started the swim just below the Dam. With a strong flow, it wasn’t long before we had reached our first feed stop at Ballincollig Weir. The next feed stop was at a small gravel beach near the Angler’s Rest. Just after this point, there is a bridge, at which many of us learned the hard way that, when swimming under bridges, it is very important to look out for remnants of older bridges! We all finished back at the Lee Fields amenity car park, well inside our expected times for 12 km.

This swim was repeated in June 2012 as part of Ned’s Cork Distance Week. This time, with an even greater flow in the River. Most of us finished the swim in just two thirds of the time that we expected it to take us! By this stage, I had become a veritable expert in traversing weirs and rapids. The Blackwater descent now seemed entirely doable. All that was left to do was to break it into reasonably swimmable chunks…