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.

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Round Jersey Solo completed…

Another very quick post just to confirm that I did complete my Round Jersey solo swim on Wednesday, 24 July in a time of 9 hours 35 minutes. I beat the Nick Adam’s record for the fastest swim by a male by 15 minutes and was only 3 minutes behind the overall record held by Julie Farrell. I am now the fastest man and second fastest person to have swum around Jersey so I am delighted with this result.

It was the perfect day for the swim: a great spring tide, no wind, warm sunshine and water temperatures between 16ºC and 17ºC. I also had a fantastic crew headed up by pilot Mick Le Guilcher and first mate John Asplet with local Round Jersey swimmers Alice Harvey and Chantelle Le Guilcher observing, feeding and giving great support. Martin Powell also kayaked with me for the first 2 hours. All of the Jersey Long Distance Swimming Club were very welcoming and hospitable. I received cards, chocolates, Jersey fudge and a heap of other niceties at the end of the swim.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience and I will do a proper write-up with photographs and so on once I get home. For now, i’m going to relax and enjoy the rest of my holidays here in Cornwall…

Jersey, here I come!

This is going to have to be quick as the battery is nearly gone in my laptop and the charger is broken. I spoke with my pilot, Mick Le Guilcher, yesterday and he said that, at the moment, Wednesday is looking like a good day for my Round Jersey solo swim. So, I fly out tomorrow morning and hopefully will be on my holidays in Cornwall by Friday evening. The Jersey Long Distance Swimming Club have their own tracker which should be on the boat and you can follow it at bit.ly/jerseytracker on the day. There may also be the odd update on the @JLDSC Twitter account.

If the swim does go ahead on Wednesday, it will start around 6:25 am and should take about 10 hours to complete. This is my last blog post before the swim so if you’d like more updates over the next few days keep an eye on my Twitter account @owenswims93 to keep up to date…

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Preparations Almost Finished

It’s hard to believe that it’s July already – the summer is flying by! This Saturday, the best event of the year, the “Vibes & Scribes” Lee Swim, takes place in Cork City. I and all of my Crosóige Mara teammates will be there for our last swim at home before leaving for Dover the following day! Everyone on the team has put in a lot of training, including our 2-hour qualifying swims, a night swim and relay changeover practices, so we are ready for whatever the English Channel has to throw at us…

Logo – Maeve Ryan

Crosóige Mara Channel Relay Team 2013

We are doing the swim in aid Down Syndrome Ireland, a very worthy cause, and if you’d like to sponsor us just go to our iDonate page and click “Sponsor Me”. Any support is greatly appreciated by all of the team!

Preparations for Jersey are coming along also. Last Thursday, I had a very nice 7.5 km swim on my own from Fermoy Rowing Club to the rapids above Castlehyde and back. The water seemed quite warm so I decided to try a 6-hour (Round Jersey solo qualifying swim) on Saturday. After a tough pool session with Chris Mintern and a river swim with James O’Mahony on the Friday, I wasn’t 100% sure how the 6-hour would go but I knew that it was possibly my last chance to get it done before heading to Dover…

I started the swim at 7:00 am on the Saturday morning. It was very dull and a bit cool, but the water was still about 15ºC so that was good news! I was swimming upriver to various points on the bank and then back down for my feeds. I got a but cold during the second hour but this soon passed – no harm to get that phase out of the way early in the swim! After about 2 hours, Dave Mulcahy joined me and swam to Glenabo Stream and back, taking about 1 hour 30 minutes. After just over 4 hours I switched from 30 minute intervals to 20 minute intervals as planned. This made the last 2 hours seem a bit quicker.

I finished after 6 hours 3 minutes of swimming, a bit sorer than when I did the 5 hours in the sea in Myrtleville as long swims can be harder in fresh water, with just over 20.5 km swum. Thankfully, Niamh Fleming of Blackwater Tri Club was there to drop me home as my tracksuit pants (with keys and some small change), warm jumper, shoes and even underwear had been stolen from my gear bag during the swim…

The fact that my belongings were stolen caused me great upset. Somebody had obviously meticulously searched through the bag for their target items, i.e. clothes and cash, and left what was on little use to them. For the last 48 hours my major concern has been my missing keys, which included keys to the front door of my own house and my grandfather’s house, as well as keys to the side gates of my house, my bike lock and, most importantly of all, my father’s car. Luckily, I just this minute found that the thief had taken the keys out of the pocket of my tracksuit pants and hidden them in an unused side-pocket of my gear bag. To be honest, I don’t care about the clothes or the small change that I’m not going to get back, I’m just relieved to have my keys and some sense of security back.

On the other hand, this could have been a very serious safety issue. It was a Saturday so there were no construction workers in the area and the Rowing Club were all away at a regatta, and had the weather been bad, there wouldn’t have been anyone around when I finished the swim. I was in the water for just over 6 hours and could have been very cold when I exited. I could have been hypothermic upon exiting without any means of getting assistance. If it came to it, I’d have had to walk into town in my togs – not an ideal situation, as you can imagine. So, I would appeal to anyone engaged in theft to think not just about the monetary/sentimental value of what you’re stealing or the upset that you are causing to the person that you’re stealing from, but about the very real danger in which you’re putting their life if you’re they happen to be swimming at the time.

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…

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…