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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My 2013 Plans

It’s a fairly quiet week and, to be honest, I can’t think of anything to write about. So to fill the gap, and maybe to put some pressure on myself, here’s a quick summary of my main goals for the 2013 season.

Assuming that the race is run under the same tidal conditions as it was last year, I’d love to complete the “Vibes & Scribes” Lee Swim in under 24 minutes. In theory, the swim is 2 km, though there is sometimes a little tidal assistance. I came a reasonably respectable 3rd with a time of 24:07.5 last year – I didn’t do a whole lot of training last year so I should be able to improve on this.

Logo – Maeve Ryan

Crosóige Mara Channel Relay Team 2013

The day after the Lee Swim, I’m heading to Dover with Crosóige Mara for our 2-way English Channel relay attempt in aid of Down Syndrome Ireland. Most of us on the team swim at about 4 km/h in the open water so we are hoping to complete the swim in 24 hours (or under) and, in doing so, break the Irish 2-way relay record of 24 hours 4 minutes. I’m really looking forward to this!

While the rest of the team head home after the relay, I will stay in London to wait for a call to go to Jersey for my solo circumnavigation attempt. The Round Jersey swim is, technically, a 65 km swim. However, the swim is heavily tide assisted and a lot of swimmers tend to get faster times for this swim than they do for their English Channel swims. I’m hoping to complete the swim in under 10 hours – and beat Ned‘s time!

I might have one or two other long swims lined up for August but nothing’s confirmed yet. In September, I plan to do my first overseas race, the 6.5 km Marnaton series swim in Cadaqués, Northern Catalonia. I speak virtually no Spanish and even less Catalan, so thankfully, Mauricio and the gang from OWSwimming.com have offered to translate all of the race instructions for me!

August could be interesting, so keep an eye on the blog for updates…

Holiday Season Swims

Christmas is finally upon us and many people around the world will take to the water for their annual Christmas Day, St. Stephen’s Day (Boxing Day) and New Year’s Day swims. These events are often great fun (even of they are painful) and, for many of us, they are nothing out of the ordinary. However, for a lot of people, this may be their only open water swim, or indeed any swim, of the year…

Photograph – George O'Keefe

On Christmas Day 2009, I went for a lonely swim in the River Blackwater in Fermoy. The water temperature was 3.5ºC and I swam 400 m downstream, this was my limit!

If you intend to go for a celebratory swim this holiday season and you’re not too sure about how you’ll react to the cold, I strongly recommend you read the articled linked below by my friend, Donal Buckley. He gives great advice on how to prepare yourself mentally and physically for your swim, how to avoid hypothermia during the swim and how to recover quickly afterwards. This way, you’ll enjoy it all the more!

Merry Christmas! Nodlaig Shona! Joyeux Noël! Frohe Weihnachten! ¡Feliz Navidad!
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Ned is ready to take on the Great Whites of False Bay…

Ned Denison is surely one of Cork’s, and indeed Ireland’s, most prolific open water and marathon swimmers, despite being a “blow-in” from Vermont! It is no surprise then that, having already completed the HBF Rottnest Channel Swim and the Catalina Channel, he is trying to squeeze one more iconic marathon swim into 2012. It is rare that any swimmer can take on a swim that the King of the English Channel, Kevin Murphy, was unable to complete. Kevin issued this daring challenge a few years back (along with a few others still on Ned’s list): the 35 km across False Bay, South Africa.

Photograph – Unknown

The view across False Bay from Cape Point.

Due to the unpredictable nature of the ocean currents on South Africa’s coasts, Ned will have to be prepared for temperatures of anywhere between 12ºC and 20ºC, and possibly big temperature variations during the swim! False Bay is rich in marine life due to a ban on netting, and feeding on the rich fish stocks are large numbers of Cape fur seals, including a breeding colony of 75,000 seals on Seal Rock. However, the Bay is more widely known for what feeds on the seals: a resident population of 200 great white sharks, surely the most beautiful and awe-inspiring marine predator…

Photograph – Unknown

The great whites of False Bay are known the world over for their impressive breaching behavior…

Ned leaves for Cape Town on Christmas Day, on what he claims is the only reasonably priced flight of the year. Once the weather comes right for the swim, he will meet local English Channel swimmer, Hugh Tucker of the Cape Long Distance Swimming Association, and his wife, who will both crew for him. They also crewed on Ned’s three South African swims last year, which included a 6 km swim around Cape Point and into False Bay. See the video here:

The video starts showing Hugh’s shark cage, built a few years back for this very swim.  Ned will not be using the cage, instead opting for a Shark Shield. This is a simple electronic device that creates a strong electric field in the water, the shark senses this through its highly developed ampullae of Lorenzini and is hopefully deterred by the unpleasant sensation.

Ned will also be using the Sandycove Island SC tracker, so we can all keep track of his progress during the swim. I will update with details of how to follow him once he gets confirmation of the swim date. It’s worth remembering that only four swimmers have ever completed this swim, we all wish him the best to become the fifth. In a calm, warm Catalina Channel this September, Ned covered the same distance in 8 hours and 50 minutes – it remains to be seen whether or not he’ll complete False Bay as fast…

Keep an eye on the blog for an announcement of the swim start and instructions on how to follow Ned’s progress online. In the mean-time, a very Happy Christmas!

Swim to Tory

At the end of the summer, ideas for swims come flowing into my head as though I could do anything after a long winter in the pool! Last year, an idea hit me to swim from Tory Island to mainland Donegal, a distance of eight and a half miles. I knew that it could be done as it had already been done by Anne Marie Ward from Donegal, Kieran Fitzgerald from Sligo and others. It had been in the back of my mind to do it since I was in third year of secondary school, when I heard, in an Irish listening comprehension test, about Anne Marie’s swim of over eight hours. Recently, I have come to know Anne Marie and, last winter, she offered to help me in whatever way she could if I wanted to do this particular swim. Without further delay, I decided to give it a go!

Grianghraf – Owen O'Keefe

Tory and Inishbofin from Magheraroarty. (Photograph taken on the day of the swim.)

Straight after coming home from Dover, I saw on the weather forecast that there was to be a good day on the Friday of that week. I called Anne Marie and we arranged to meet in Letterkenny on the Thursday. It was a long arduous journey from Fermoy to Letterkenny! After meeting Anne Marie at the bus station, we headed north for her house, we had a bite (actually a big meal) to eat and put together all of the things that we would be needing during the swim. Finally, Anne Marie called Brendan Proctor, the man from the sub-aqua club and he said the weather would be good enough in the morning to swim from the mainland out to Tory, rather than the other direction.

Grianghraf – Anne Marie Ward

Going ashore at Magheraroarty beach for the official start!

In the morning, we got up early and drove to Magheraroarty, the starting place. On our way there, we passed through places that I had only ever heard about on the radio, Gortahork and so on. When we arrived at our destination, the sun was shining and there was little wind. Magheraroarty is a beautiful place, with a large pier, white sandy beach and clean clear water. After a while, Brendan and John Joe from the Sheephaven Sub-Aqua Club arrived with the boat. I put on my togs, hat and goggles. Then, we all got on board, we turned on the GPS tracker and I swam into the beach for the official start.

Grianghraf – Anne Marie Ward

Coming around Magheraroarty pier…

The same rules that apply to English Channel swimming apply for swims between Tory and the mainland. Because of this, I had to go ashore to start the swim properly. As soon as I was on dry sand, I turned around, ran back into the water and started swimming in the direction of Tory!

Grianghraf – Anne Marie Ward

The Tory Ferry on its way to the mainland…

I was very happy at the start of the swim; the sun was shining on my back and the water was much warmer than I had expected – a pleasant 14.5ºC today. As well as this, there wasn’t a jellyfish in sight, something that put me at ease! After a few minutes, the ferry came against us and we got a big wave from all on board. As I was swimming on the west side of Inishbofin, it became cloudy and the wind started coming from the West. This wasn’t the ideal wind direction as we wouldn’t get the same assistance from a westerly wind as we would from a southerly wind, and it was a southerly wind that was forecast. In any case, I kept swimming from feed to feed.

Grianghraf – Anne Marie Ward

Tory still a fair distance away…

After about an hour and a half, we cleared the shelter of Inishbofin and entered the Tory Sound. The tide was running from East to West, directly into the wind, and because of this the waves rose slightly. This didn’t bother me too much as the lee of the boat was giving me some relief from the wind and waves. We continued on like this for about another until the sun came out again. About three hours into the swim, the waves became much higher for between thirty minutes and an hour and there were white horses on them. That was a tough half hour to an hour. At the last feed, however, it calmed down a lot and that gave me a chance to go ashore at my ease.

Grianghraf – Anne Marie Ward

The finish is in sight at last!

I was very relieved when I was able to see the bottom underneath me as I was starting to get some pain in my shoulders by that time. Once we got to the pier, Anne Marie pointed out the beach to me and I swam into it. When I arrived at the beach, 4 hours 21 minutes after I started, I stood up on the sand. There was a crowd of children on the beach, the Islanders’ children, and after a few words with them, I turned around and there was a good crowd on the pier as well. I was very surprised as there’s usually no such welcome at the end of a swim like that.

Grianghraf – Anne Marie Ward

Coming into the beach in the harour on Tory Island.

After a minute, I spotted an older man coming across the beach. One of the children warned me that it was the King of Tory. The King, Patsaí Dan Mac Ruaidhrí, gave me a big welcome and said that it was a great honour for the Islanders that someone had swum out from the mainland. With that, he introduced me to his family and the Islanders and asked one man to take us back to his house and make sure that we got a shower and a cup of tea.

Grianghraf – Anne Marie Ward

With the King of Tory, Patsaí Dan Mac Ruaidhrí just after the swim.

After having a shower and a cup of tea with biscuits, we went back to the harbour. Then, we decided to go to Caife an Chreagáin for some food. On our way there, we met the Queen of Tory who was looking after a young falcon who had landed in Tory after going astray from County Clare! He was a magnificent bird. We met Patsaí Dan again in the café and we all had a great chat. After eating our fill, we went back to the boat and hot the waves. But before we could leave, a young boy asked me if I was going to swim back to Magheraroarty because the “rule” is that if you come on the boat, then you can go home on the boat, but if you swim out, you have to swim back!

Grianghraf – Owen O'Keefe

A bottlenose dolphin as seen from Magheraroarty pier just after the swim…

Half an hour after leaving Tory, we were almost back at Magheraroarty pier, but our adventure was not over yet. Suddenly, four or five bottlenose dolphins came right up to the boat. They stayed with us, playing, for about ten minutes. That really made our day! That was pretty much the end of the day, a long day, but an enjoyable one at the same time. The excitement continued for a few days after the swim; it was in the local papers in Donegal that a young man, from Cork even, had swum from the coast out to Tory and Anne Marie and I had to do an interview with Áine Ní Churráin on the programme “Barrscéalta” on RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta.

Grianghraf – Owen O'Keefe

The Hills of Donegal and Magheraroarty beach.

I’d like to thank Anne Marie Ward for all her help and advice in organizing this swim and during the swim itself. I’d also like to thank Brendan Proctor and John Joe Roland from the Sheephaven Sub-Aqua Club for their great support! Finally, thanks to the people and King of Tory for the great reception that they gave us at the end of the swim.

Grianghraf – Owen O'Keefe

Another one of the dolphins that came to greet us on our way back to the mainland…

I dedicated this swim to the memory of my friend, William, who died in the days just before the swim. RIP, Will.

Alan Clack’s English Channel Swim

The third of the four English Channel swims that I crewed on this summer was that of Alan Clack. Originally from Atlanta, Georgia  but now living in Montréal, Québec, Alan is one of the survivors of Ned Denison‘s Cork Distance Week. He is one of the very few to have survived it twice in as many years! Here is the story of his swim:

Alan, well done again on a fantastic swim on what certainly wasn’t the best day of the year and thanks for having me there!

Ring-a-Ringarogy

One of my favourite island swims this year was my 10 km swim around Ringarogy, again near Baltimore in West Cork. The island of Ringarogy, Rinn Ghearróige in Irish, is situated near the mouth of the River Ilen. Home to the first swimmer ever to swim around Sandycove Island, Steven Black, the island has a very small population and so it’s a very quiet and tranquil place. Steven (as well as John Kearney, Imelda Lynch and Ossi Schmidt) has swum around the island, both clockwise and anti-clockwise, at various stages in the tide, so if there’s anyone who knows how to do it, it’s him! The benefit of having Steven’s experience to rely on will become apparent later on, when I will describe the swim itself…

Photograph – Unknown

Spanish Island and the south-west corner of Ringarogy.

The swim came at the end of a long and difficult week. The previous Thursday I did my 18.6 km swim from Fermoy to Ballyduff. On the Saturday I did the 6 km Beginish Island Swim in Kerry and in the early hours of the next morning we got the dreadful new that Páraic Casey had passed away during his English Channel solo attempt. That Monday I had a cold and miserable swim in Myrtleville, the following morning did my 15.0 km swim from Ballyduff to Cappoquin and on the Thursday I had lovely “adventure” swim at Kilfarrasy Beach on the Copper Coast with Donal Buckley and did a lap of Sandycove at just before midnight – that’s 5 hours of driving the evening before a long swim!

Anyway, it felt great to be on the road to West Cork on a warm and sunny Friday morning after the week that I’d had! For this swim, I had arranged to meet Steven Black at his house on the island so that he could explain the correct course to me. Also, his son Rowan kindly agreed to kayak for me. As with any visit to Ringarogy, the adventure starts as soon as you cross the causeway onto the island. There is a saying that says that “civilization never crossed Ballymaquirk Bridge”, and this comes to mind once you arrive on Ringarogy. Tarmac on the road is a luxury, and where it does exist, you shouldn’t expect it to extend from one side of the road to the other. While navigating the highways and byways of the island, you may come across one or two of it’s inhabitants “trying to make land where God failed”, as one of them eloquently put it. (In West Cork the land can be rocky and difficult to farm, especially on the islands.) True to fashion, I got completely lost trying to find Steven’s house. I did get there eventually get there but not before having to reverse half a mile down a rugged boreen! (The word “boreen” is Hiberno-English for “small road”, it comes from the Irish bóithrín.) After the 2 hour journey from Fermoy, it was a relief to get out of the car!

Photograph – Unknown

Sherkin Island and Cape Clear as seen from the road on Ringarogy.

Besides the peace and quiet, Ringarogy offers some great views, despite being relatively flat. From the top of Steven’s driveway, one can see all of the island of Roaringwater Bay, including those that I’d already swum around (Sherkin Island, Cape Clear, Heir Island and Spanish Island). In any case, that’s enough about Ringarogy, time for the serious part – the swim!

After getting changed at Steven’s house and loading the kayak into the jeep, we drove to a random gate along the road. There we stopped, leaving no room for anyone to pass, though it was highly unlikely that anyone would wish to do so for a few days at least! We then had to hop over the gate and go on a bit of a trek to find the start (pretty much bang in the middle of the aerial photograph above) in Hackett’s Creek – this was a bit of a rushed job as we had to be started at a certain time to reach the bridge on the causeway at exactly high tide. Just as we were ready to start, I realized that I had forgotten my feeds – ah well, I would just have to do without them!

Photograph – Web

An example of a pelagic siphonophore – these are closely related to the Portuguese man-o-war and have a nasty sting.

I finally hit the water at exactly midday and Rowan followed on in the kayak. The water was about 13ºC, which is a little chilly but ok for a 10 km if the air temperature is warm, which it was. We headed straight for the gap between Spanish Island and another small island, which I think is called Aughinish. There are lots of seals in this area so I was a little bit nervous… Much to my relief, none of the seals that we saw (mostly grey seals) didn’t come too close. Keeping the island on our right, we headed up the Ilen. There were some interesting things to see underwater – there seemed to be a lot of aquaculture in the area and few jellyfish, although I did spot one or two of those stinging siphonophores (pictured right) that I’d first during my swim around Cape Clear a few weeks previously.

It seemed like ages at the time but we made good time to the corner of Inishbeg, where we left the main channel of the Ilen and the swim started to get a bit more interesting. In the narrow channel between Inishbeg and Ringarogy we passed the remains of a passage tomb and exited into a shallow area of slack water known as the Lag. After navigating through some small, heather-clad islands, we could see the bridge (and Steven’s jeep parked near it). I did the silly thing and swam straight for it, which Steven had warned me not to do! I ended up straying out of the channel and into the mud flats – first switching to legs only and then began to resemble one of these:

Having eventually reached the bridge (and deep water) it was good to see Steven waiting there with my feeds! He dropped the feed down to me and I drank it and through the bottle back up. The tide was still pushing me back under the bridge so we had time for a quick chat before it turned and we continued on the swim. I felt great having had a feed and having the tide with me. We kept on our course, passing all the familiar sites of Church Bay and Baltimore Harbour. Then, we entered the very narrow gap between Ringarogy and Spanish Island – this is the most beautiful part of Hackett’s Creek and it’s a real pity that I’ve no photographs of it. About 10 minutes later, we arrived back where we started. Rowan stopped the stopwatch on his mobile phone and told me that my time for the 10 km was 2 hours 30 minutes – not too bad for me!

Steven came back down and picked us up. He kindly let me use the shower in his house before having a sandwich and hitting the road for Fermoy. Thanks to Steven and Rowan for a great swim around Ringarogy – island number five for me…