Entries open for two great swims in June…

Promotion – Owen O'KeefeThis week entries opened for two great swims this June. On the evening of Friday, 14 June, the Martin Duggan Memorial Swim will take place over a 2 km course on the River Blackwater in Fermoy. This swim began as the Blackwater Swim in 1999 and, 10 years later, changed its name in memory of Martin Duggan, a local schoolboy who drowned tragically in the river on 12 July 2012. All information relating to entry criteria, etc., can be found on the event website (linked above). One aim of the swim has been to encourage people of all ages, but especially young people, to take part in open water swimming and learn to enjoy swimming outdoors in a way that is safe. Another aim of the swim is to show the people of Fermoy that our beautiful River Blackwater is not something to be feared and avoided, but rather something to be respected and enjoyed.

Photograph – George O'Keefe

The second wave of 2 km swimmers during the in-water start for the Martin Duggan Memorial Swim in 2010.

Any money left over after the all of the costs of running the event have been covered are donated to the Blackwater Sub-Aqua Club Search & Recovery Unit who are based here in Fermoy and who have provided great support for this swim over the last few years.

Another swim that supports its local water rescue services is the Myrtleville to Church Bay Swim which raises money for Crosshaven RNLI. This swim is also 2 km in length and is organised by the Myrtleville Swimmers. This year’s swim takes place on Sunday, 16 June and entry is through the Myrtleville Swimmers website (linked above).

Photograph – Myrtleville Swimmers

The crowd just before the start of the Church Bay Swim in 2012. I believe that I came third in this race, behind Chris Mintern and Ned Denison.

Despite the protracted winter and ever-elusive spring, their is a great sense of optimism about the 2013 open water season with some new events being created and existing events raising their profiles. Let’s hope it lives up to expectations!

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…

CS&PF Dinner 2013

After crewing for four English Channel attempts this year, three of them Channel Swimming & Piloting Federation swims, I decided that I’d go to the annual CS&PF Dinner. The dinner took place in Dover Town Hall on Saturday, 2 March 2013.

I travelled over with Lisa Cummins, who completed her historic 2-way crossing in the two days before my own swim. Before arriving in Dover, we called in to visit David & Evelyn Frantzeskou at Varne Ridge Holiday Park. David & Evelyn’s hospitality is famous among Channel swimmers, particularly those from Ireland. They have a grassy area right on the cliff, from which you can see the French coast. In November, a new bench was placed here in memory of Páraic Casey. It’s an ideal place to sit and reflect on the challenge of swimming the Channel. Part of the Varne Ridge experience is the raising of your country’s flag when you get back from your successful swim and having your name added to the Wall with the names all other successful swimmers who have stayed there…

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

A section of the wall at Varne Ridge Holiday Park, a favourite spot for Channel swimmers…

Examining the new plaques on the Wall is always great to waste some time. In the photo above, you can see a selection of the 2009 swimmers, including Andrea Gellan (SCO) who trained at the Cork Distance Week, Lisa Cummins (IRE), Liane Llewellyn-Hickling (GBR), Owen O’Keefe (IRE), Julie Galloway-Farrell (TEX-IRE) and Dairmuid Boyle (IRE). We are all very luck to be on the patch of wall as Trent Grimsey (AUS) who broke the World Record with his 6 hour 55 minute swim on 8 September 2012.

Before heading to the Dinner, we met up with other Channel swimming junkies over from Ireland: Donal Buckley and his partner Dee, Ned Denison and Fionnuala Walsh. There was also a mandatory trip to the White Horse pub where successful swimmers get to sign their names on the wall, if they can find a space, that is!

On arrival in what is surely one of Dover’s finest buildings, the Town Hall, we met very many familiar faces from the last few years and put some faces to names (as I explained in my guest post on OWSwimming.com, the open water swimming community is close-knit with most of us knowing each other online but not having a clue what we look like)! As well as meeting a lot of past Channel swimmers, we were also introduced to all of this season’s CS&PF swimmers through this video:

Ireland did very well in the awards this year: Tom Healy (Dublin) was award the Des Renford Award for the “most meritorious swim of the year by a man” and Fionnuala Walsh (Clare) was awarded the Jersey Long Distance Swimming Club Award for the “most successful swim against all odds”. Trent Grimsey was, naturally enough, awarded the “Eurotunnel” Trophy for the “fastest CS&PF swim of the year”.

It was a fantastic occasion. Well done to Michelle and Emma who organised the whole evening, they did a great job! I’m looking forward to next year…

The Gift of Open Water

We often talk about the contribution that people have made to the life of open water swimming, but seldom about the contribution that open water swimming has made to the lives of people. Today, I think, is a good day for me to reflect on the contribution that open water swimming has made to my life.

Today is my 20th birthday. It’s also a dark, wet and windy day here in Cork – so in-keeping with the fallás truamhéalach that generally surrounds my birthdays (in reality, this has more to do with the time of year). How does this relate to swimming? Well, since I became a member of Fermoy Swimming Club, as a nine-year-old, I have made many great friends. Many of these were/are much better swimmers than myself. However, once we finished school, swimming ceased to be part of life for a lot of them. Why? That’s just how it worked: you swam with the Club until you finished school and if you didn’t have a swimming “career” by then you had no more business in swimming…

I was lucky, though. I was very fortunate to have a grandfather, Tom Baker, who was – and still is – very enthusiastic about swimming. Though never having swum very seriously himself, he is well known in Fermoy for his long-standing summer ritual of swimming in the River Blackwater twice a day, Monday to Saturday, and in the sea at Ballycotton on a Sunday. In 2006, his friend, Leo Bartley, another regular Blackwater swimmer, asked me if I would like to do the “Vibes & Scribes” Lee Swim in Cork City. After some cajoling, I eventually decided that I would give it a try.

A friend of mine from Fermoy SC, Bryan Dillon, agreed to join me for that first Lee Swim. Before we could register for the event, we had to go to Sandycove to prove that we could swim. There we met the great Ned Denison and had a great swim around Sandycove. After doing the Lee Swim, I was completely hooked on open water swimming and had a great time swimming through the best Irish summer in recent years. Swimming was the only sport that I was good at and open water was the only thing that I [relatively speaking] excelled at. My six and a half years open water swimming has been of incalculable benefit to me and I genuinely cannot imagine life without this sport and the people in it.

Because open water has given me so much, I have always tried to make other young swimmers aware of it’s existence. There are many talented young swimmers, who find that racing in the pool is not for them, whose lives could be greatly enhanced by finding their niche in the open water. I was one of those swimmers (okay, maybe not so much the talented bit) and it pains me to think that a few swimmers are being actively discouraged from exploring this avenue of swimming, but that is a whole other post! For today, I’m just thankful for having this sport in my life.

Photograph – George O'Keefe

Ag machnamh seal liom féinig… | Reflecting for a while…

The above photograph (that’s me sitting on the big rock) was taken by my father, George O’Keefe, at Trá na Binne Báine (Beenbane Strand) near Dingle, Co. Kerry in June 2006, just one month before my first open water event. I think it encapsulates the theme of today’s post very well and it’s an image that I often come back to. On very good advice from Donal Buckley, it’s to the boy in that photograph that I write posts like this one.

My first sea swim of the year…

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

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

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

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

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

Defining “Open Water Swimming”

Photograph – Ian Thurston

Swimmers at the start of the RCP Tiburon Mile in California, one of the world’s most popular open water events.

Over the last few years, there has been a huge increase in the number of people taking part in open water swimming – there are now more events than ever before and a much broader spectrum of people taking part. With so many different types of events on offer, from triathlon swim to channel crossings, it can be difficult to pin down just what is “open water swimming” and what is not. There is much debate as to what constitutes open water swimming and, amongst some people, whether or not it is even a sport! These are all very interesting questions, though sometimes divisive ones. In any case, I’ll do my best to get across my understanding of open water swimming, hopefully without offending too many people…

Graphic – Owen O'Keefe

A simplified cladogram of the aquatic sports as I understand them…

Above is a quick sketch of my understanding of the relationships between the aquatic sports. La Fédération Internationale de Natation Amateur (FINA) has responsibility for the administration of international competition in the five* aquatic sports listed above. FINA delegates to continental governing bodies like La Ligue Européenne de Natation (LEN), which is responsible for the administration of international competition in Europe, and to national governing bodies such as Swim Ireland, which has responsibility for the aquatic sports throughout the island of Ireland.

*Masters is not included here as there are separate masters rules events for each of the five sports above, i.e. there are both swimming and open water swimming events at big masters events such as the FINA World Masters Championships.

It may come as a surprise to some people that different open water swimming events organised by the bodies listed above have different sets of rules. A rule that might be in force at one event might not be in force at the next. It may sound odd, but it must be remembered FINA defines open water swimming as “any competition that takes place in rivers, lakes, oceans or water channels”. These environments are controlled like a pool environment, so the rules need to be flexible to accommodate changing conditions. The organisation of open water swimming events at club level is still at a premature stage and many events are organised from a point-of-view of increasing overall participation in the sport than providing a high level of competition, i.e. there are, to an extent, no rules!

Photograph – George O'Keefe

Swimmers at the start of the “Edge Sports” Sandycove Island Challenge near Kinsale, Ireland. An example of one of the very well organised open water events that operate outside the aquatic sphere.

There are also many very popular events which are organised outside of the aquatic sphere. These include solo/relay/tandem swims (which are becoming more regularly recognised by clubs/organisations affiliated to governing bodies) and iconic races like the “Vibes & Scribes” Lee Swim and the “Edge Sports” Sandycove Island Challenge, as well as charity swims and events run for profit. As with open water swimming in the aquatic sphere, the rules for these events are far from set in stone.

Triathlon has become hugely popular in many countries in recent years, particularly in Ireland. The majority of people who have swum in open water environments in Ireland in the last few years have probably done so as part of a triathlon. This has, in turn, led to greater numbers taking part in events such as those mentioned above.

Another, relatively new sport that has been gaining momentum in the last few years is that of surf lifesaving. It encompasses all of the skills of lifeguarding and takes them to a competitive level. Naturally, open water swimming is one of the many disciplines comprising this sport, which has become very popular in countries like South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and on the west and north west coasts of Ireland. Surf lifesaving competition throughout the island of Ireland is administered by Irish Water Safety.

Photograph – IWS

Podium finishes for my good friend and lane buddy, Rory Sexton, and his teammate, Bernard Cahill, at the Junior European Lifesaving Championships in Sweden last year.

Of course, there are other terms such as “long distance swimming” and “sea swimming” which have been used as synonyms for “open water swimming”, but I think that, as the sport grows, we will see the standard terminology prevail. So, I have failed completely to come anywhere near defining “open water swimming”, but I didn’t really think that I would anyway! I think I feel a rant coming on about “wild swimming” versus “open water swimming”, but that will have to wait for another day…

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!

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