Circumnavigation of Cape Clear: The Swim Itself

Grianghraf – Tom McCarthy

Ready for the start – a foggy morning too…

We reached Cape just before midday. I took off my clothes and put on my togs, swimming cap and goggles. I wasn’t too cold at all standing out in the air, but I know that this wouldn’t be the case once I was in the water! I gave one look into the cold, dark water and jumped in. I went straight towards the slipway for the start, but didn’t exit the water onto it (John told me that this wouldn’t be too safe as the slipway would be very slippery indeed with the tide out). After placing my hand on the slipway, I was started!

I have to admit that I really felt the cold of the water, this made a little bit nervous about the swim and it was no help to me that the water was so dark at the same time. But I did my best to put these concerns to the back of my mind! While swimming around the first corner of the Island, Cooslahan Point, there were flocks of birds (guillemots, razorbills and so on) flying around me. However, the view underneath me was not so pleasant! Jellyfish of all kinds were coming into my view, including some that were entirely new to me… I’ve neglected to mention until now – we were going around the Island in a clockwise direction.

Grianghraf – Tom McCarthy

Swimming south-west at Cooslahan Point.

Grianghraf – Tom McCarthy

Waves breaking over Carriglure, I’m in there somewhere!

The next way-marker was Carriglure, a large rock situated just below the surface of the water a few metres from the bottom of the cliffs. The waves were breaking over the top of the rock that day and I didn’t want to swim between it and the cliff at all, but John told me that it would make much more sense if I did. So, I did it, undoubtedly with great hesitation, but the  way through was a lot shorter than it would have been had I swum on the outside of it. After meeting up with the boat I had my first feed. What is in the feed is a 4:1 carbohydrate to protein formula with some warm water – High5 is the name of my feed of choice.

Grianghraf – Tom McCarthy

Crossing the mouth of the South Harbour, no sign of the seals or dolphins…

It wasn’t long before we had reached Pointanbullig and were just about to cross the South Harbour. I’m told that there were seals and dolphins swimming around me at this point but, unfortunately, I didn’t see any of them myself! I didn’t take us very long to cross the South Harbour but as we were progressing the waves were getting bigger. Having reached Blananarragaun, the most southerly point on the Island, there was a heavy swell. From time to time, I could see the Fastnet Rock, Carraig Aonair in Irish, over the tops of the waves. This song kept coming into my head whenever I saw the famous rock.

Looking out to the Fastnet, often alluded to as the Teardrop of Ireland, it is hard not to think about the many people who lost their lives in the seas around it over the last hundred years or so. After  a while, we were at the imposing Bill of Cape! I was very happy having reached this point because it meant that I had more than half of the swim done. There was a lot of foam on the water at this point due to the action of the Atlantic swells on the rocks, but this didn’t bother me too much as I have plenty of experience with foam and the like from swimming at  Sandycove in Kinsale.

Grianghraf – Tom McCarthy

Swimming through the foam at the Bill of Cape.

We left the Bill of Cape behind us and began heading north-east again. It wasn’t long before Dún an Óir Castle (the castle of the O’Driscoll Clan) came into view. Before long, we were at the North Harbour, where the Cape Clear ferry comes ashore. It was here that we began to get some shelter from the waves, but the downside to this was that the jellies were taking relief here also and I got a few fine stings from them! The swim began much easier after this as we were in the lee of the Island and the tidal currents were giving us some assistance…

Grianghraf – Tom McCarthy

Swimming a few hundred metres out from Dún an Óir, the sun comes out at last!

Coming around the last corner of the swim, the current was like a river flowing through the Gascanane Sound! After spending 3 hours 47 minutes 32 seconds in the water, I landed back at the slipway in Comillane. Until now, no one had told me the temperature of the water – 11.5ºC – I was very glad that I didn’t know that before the swim! Once I was dressed again, a few of the men that were on the boat went diving for a short while and Tom swam into a sea cave while we were waiting! All that done, we headed back to Baltimore after a very successful day.

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Circumnavigation of Cape Clear: Introduction

At the beginning of July last year, I swam from Baltimore in West Cork to the slipway in Comillane on Cape Clear, a distance of 8.0 km, with Ned Denison. It was a very pleasant summer’s day and we both had a very enjoyable swim, even though the water was no warmer than 12ºC! We had some swell while swimming along the southern shore of Sherkin Island and crossing the Gascanane Sound, but yet, we had the entire 8.0 km put behind us just inside of two hours. Having done this swim, I really wanted to a lot more swimming in this part of the world…

Grianghraf – Owen O'Keefe

The Beacon or Lot’s Wife, Baltimore looking out at Sherkin, Cape behind.

After a failed attempt at swimming around Heir Island with Steven Black and David Merriman, I thought that it would be a nice idea to try to swim around all of the Carbery Isles! At the end of August, I swam around Sherkin, with Lisa Cummins on the support boat, and the day after, Gábor Molnár and I swam around Heir Island. No one had ever swum around those two islands before! Towards the end of the summer, I swam around Spanish Island with Steven Black and Severin McCullagh, as well as a few seals… I now had three islands done before the end of 2011 and had two more in mind for 2012. Cape Clear was the first of those.

Grianghraf – Lisa Cummins

Swimming around Sherkin in August last year…

Cape is a beautiful island. It is situated 8 km out to sea from Baltimore and is 5 km long and 2 km wide. There is a permanent population of just over 100 people on the island and it is an official Gaeltacht area, that means that Irish, specifically Munster Irish, is the primary language of the Islanders. Starting and finishing at the slipway in Comillane on the eastern side of the Island, the shortest possible circumnavigation is 13.2 km. While that doesn’t seem so bad, it can be hard to quantify the challenge by the distance in this bit of water due to tidal streams, winds and so on – the whole thing depends on the weather, just like everything else in Ireland!

Grianghraf – Owen O'Keefe

On board the Amy-K just before leaving the mainland for Cape.

On 4th July, however, an improvement came with regard to the weather and John Kearney, the man who has Baltimore Diving Centre, gave me the chance to swim around Cape. We me on the pier in Baltimore early that morning. Tom McCarthy from the Myrtleville Swimmers came with us as crew. Tom completed a relay crossing of the English Channel this year as part of the oldest relay team ever to have completed the crossing! As well as John and Tom, a few of John’s friends from Penzance in Cornwall were on the boat too. We had a great chat as I have an uncle living in Cornwall, not far from Penzance, and Tom would knew a lot of people from the area from his days in the Naval Service. With our nattering finished, we set off from the quayside in the direction of Cape Clear…

All-Ireland Long Distance Swimming Party

Last Saturday night, the Grand Hotel on the banks of the Blackwater played host to the first All-Ireland Long Distance Swimming Party. Swimmers and administrators from both Sandycove Island SC and the ILDSA as well as “independents” assembled for what was a very successful evening…

As the crowd of over 100 guests gathered, the dining room was already adorned with fascinating swim charts from all over the world, including the English Channel, North Channel, Strait of Gibraltar, Körös River (Hungary), Cook Strait, Catalina Channel and Lake Zurich, and photographs from some of the highlights of the last 50 years of Irish long distance swimming. While guests were seated and waiting for their food, North Channel pilot Brian Meharg MBE gave a very interesting and humorous presentation on the life of an historic figure in marathon swimming, Mercedes Gleitze.

After dinner, Ned Denison began his annual 10+ km announcements by calling us to remember Páraic Casey and Owen Hughes and let them know that we missed them. He went on to welcome distinguished guests including radio presenter Marcus Connaughton of RTÉ Radio 1’s maritime programme “Seascapes”, long distance swimming pioneer Kieran Fitzgerald and renowned swimming administrator Martin Cullen, among others. Ned then introduced all three of Ireland’s Triple Crown swimmers (Eddie Irwin, Gábor Molnár and himself) and all of those who had done 10+ km swims this year – there were too many for me to mention here!

Before finishing, Ned presented the ILDSA with their certificate from IMSHOF, where they were indicted in absentia this year. Billy Wallace, President of the ILDSA, accepted the certificate from Ned and gave a very fine speech in which he paid tribute to all of the swimmers and everyone else involved in the sport who had helped make 2012 the spectacular year that it was for Irish open water swimming.

Ice swimmer Nuala Moore of Dingle, Co. Kerry then took aver and introduced all of the winners and runners up of the ILDSA Awards 2012. They were as follows:

  • Special Achievement: Stephen Redmond (Cork) for his historic success in becoming the first person to complete the Oceans Seven challenge.
  • Female Swimmer of the Year: Fionnuala Walsh (Clare) for her courage in determination returning to Dover to complete her English Channel solo swim, her original attempt having been abandoned just 200 m from France in thick fog.
  • Male Swimmer of the Year: Tom Healy (Dublin) for his outstanding performance in completing his English Channel solo swim in a time of 9 hours 51 minutes, breaking the previous Irish record of 10 hours 19 minutes.
  • Juvenile Swimmer of the Year: Ellen Brooks (Cork) for her consistent performances in the Martin Duggan Memorial Swim, the “Edge Sports” Sandycove Island Challenge and the Sherkin Island to Baltimore Swim.
  • Juvenile Performance of the Year: Conor Turner (Dublin) for his amazing swim of 59 minutes 15 seconds in the 5 km Camlough race.
  • Leinster Swimmer of the Year: Paul Manning (Dublin)
  • Margaret Smith Award: Owen O’Keefe (Cork)
  • Best Event: 10 km Camlough (Armagh) & 10 km Lough Gill (Sligo)
  • Best Senior Newcomer: Ger Kennedy (Wicklow)
  • Best Junior Newcomer: Jon Glover (Down)
  • Spirit of Swimming Award: Myles McCourt (Down)

Adrian McGreevy of Amphibia kindly donated donated two of his famous sports bags for the ILDSA to present to anyone they wished. The first went to Ned Denison in recognition of his outstanding contribution to open water swimming. Ned’s has an infectious enthusiasm for our sport and, without him, we would not be where we are today. Thanks you, Ned! The second went to Chris Bryan of Ennis, Co. Clare who has represented Ireland all over the world on the professional open water circuit. He came 8th in the World Championships in Shanghai, just 11 seconds behind the winner, Olympic silver medalist Thomas Lurz of Germany, and he missed out on a place at London 2012 by just 0.01 seconds and a dubious political decision on the part of FINA. We are sure to see more amazing performances from Chris and wish him the very best of luck in qualifying for Rio 2016, we know he will do us proud!

Finally, the very impressive personalised ILDSA English Channel medals were presented to all of those present who had completed English Channel solo and relay swims this year.

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On a personal note, I would like to thanks Ned Denison, Stephen Millar and Nuala Moore who helped me enormously in making the night a success. Everyone seems to have enjoyed themselves immensely and we are all looking forward to this becoming an annual event, rotating around the island of Ireland…

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Snámh Timpeall ar Oileán Chléire: An Snámh Féin

Grianghraf – Tom McCarthy

Réidh chun tosnú – maidin cheomhar a bhí inti…

Do bhaineamair Cléire amach píosa beag roimh mheán lae. Do bhaineas mo chuid éadaí uaim is do chuireas mo chulaith snámha, mo chaipín is mo spéaclaí snámha orm. Ní rabhas ró-fhuair ar aon chor agus mé amuigh fén aer, ach do bhí ‘fhios agam nárbh amhlaidh a bheadh an scéal agus mé istigh sa bhfarraige! Do chuireas súil isteach ar an uisce fuair dorcha agus do léimeas isteach ann. Do chuas díreach go dtí an fánán chun tosnú, ach níor thánag amach air (dúirt John liom ná beadh sé sin ró-shláintiúil mar do bhí an fánán thar a bheith sleamhain agus an taoide ‘n-a lag trá). Tar éis mo lámh do chur ar an bhfánán, do bhíos tosnaithe!

Caithfead á admháil gurbh fhuair gur mhothaíos an t-uisce, do bhíos neirbhíseach dá bharr agus níorbh aon chabhair dom é go raibh an t-uisce chomh dorcha san ag an am chéanna. Ach do dheineas iarracht airsean do chur go cúl m’intinne! Agus mé ag snámh timpeall ar an gcéad chúinne an Oileáin, Pointe an Chuais Leathain, do bhí scataí éan (forachain dubha, crosáin agus mar sin de) ag eitilt timpeall orm. Ní raibh an radharc fúm chomh deas san, ámhthach! Do bhí smugairlí rón de gach aon tsaghas ag teacht im’ radharc, cinn nár airíos riamh fúthu san áireamh… Do bhí sé glan dearmhadta agam go dtí seo – do bhíomair ag dul timpeall ar an Oileán ar deiseal.

Grianghraf – Tom McCarthy

Ag snámh siar ó dheas ag Pointe an Chuais Leathain.

Grianghraf – Tom McCarthy

Tonnta ag briseadh that Charraig Liúir, táim-se i n-áit éigin ‘n-a measc!

Dob é an chéad sprioc eile ná Carraig Liúir, carraig mhór atá suite díreach fé imeall an uisce cúpla slat ó bhun na n-aillte. Do bhí na tonnta ag briseadh thar a cionn an lá so agus níor mhian liom-sa snámh idir ise agus an aill ar aon chor, ach dúirt John liom go ndéanfadh sé ciall dá ndéanfainn é. Mar sin, do dheineas é, do bhí sceitimíní orm, gan aon dabht, ach do bhí an tslí abhfad ní ba ghiorra ná mar a bheadh sí ar an dtaobh thall di. Tar éis dom bualadh leis an mbád airís do bhí beathú agam. Dob é a bhí ins an mbeathú ná uisce te, carbohydrates agus proteinHigh5 an t-ainm atá ar mo rogha bheathaithe.

Grianghraf – Tom McCarthy

Ag gabháil trasna an Inbhir, níl aon chomhartha de na deilfeanna nó na róin…

Níorbh fhada go dtí go rabhamair ag Pointe na Boilge agus díreach chun an Inbhir do thrasnáil. Deirtear liom go raibh roinnt deilfeanna agus rónta ag snámh im’ thimpeall ag an bpointe seo ach níor chonac-sa aon cheann acu! Níor thóg sé mórán ama chun an Inbhir do thrasnáil ach an fhad is a bhíomair ag dul chun cinn do bhí na fairrgí ag eirí i n-airde. Agus Ballán na nDeargán, an pointe is faide ó dheas ar an Oileán, bainte amach againn, do bhí an fharraige go trom. Do bhíos i n-ann Carraig Aonair d’fheiscint ó am go chéile. ‘Sea ansan do tháinig an t-amhrán san isteach im’ chionn:

Agus tú ag féachaint ar an gcarraig sin, Carraig Aonair, ní h-éasca gan smaoineamh ar an líon daoine a d’fhág an saol so ins na fairrgí timpeall uirthi. Tar éis tamaillín, do bhíomair ag Ceann Cléire! Do bhí an-áthas orm agus an pointe seo bainte amach agam, mar do bhí ‘fhios agam go raibh ní ba mhó ná leath den tsnámh déanta agam. Do bhí an-chuid cúr ins an uisce ag an bpointe seo chomh maith, ach níor chuir seisean isteach go mór orm mar do bhí taithí maith agam ar chúr agus rudaí eile den tsórd san de ó bheith ag snámh ag Cnoc an Rois i gCionn tSáile.

Grianghraf – Tom McCarthy

Ag snámh tríd an gcúr ag Ceann Cléire.

D’fhágamair Ceann Cléire ‘n-ár ndiaidh is do thosnaíomair ag dul soir ó thuaidh airís. Níorbh fhada go raibh Dún an Óir (Caisleán Chlann Uí Dhrisceoil) tagtha ‘n-ár radharc. Sara ‘bhfad, do bhíomair ag Trá Chiaráin, an áit ‘n-a thagann an bád farantóireachta i dtír ar Chléire. ‘Sea anso do fuaireamair faoiseamh éigin ó na tonnta, ach dob é an fadhb ná go raibh na smugairlí rón ag fáil faoiseamh anso chomh maith agus fuaireas roinnt stoingí maithe uathu! D’eirigh an rud go léir abhfad ní b’éasca i ndiaidh sin mar do bhíomair faoi scáth an Oileáin is do bhí sruth na taoide ag tabhairt cabhair dúinn…

Grianghraf – Tom McCarthy

Ag snámh cúpla céad slat amach ó Dhún an Óir, an ghrian ag silleadh solais is teasa orainn fé dheireadh!

Agus sinn ag teacht timpeall an chúinne dheireanach den tsnámh, do bhí an sruth mar abhainn ag rith trí Shúnta an Ghaisceanáin! Tar éis 3 h-uaire 47 nóiméad 32 soicind do chaitheamh ins an uisce, do thánag i dtír ag an fánán i gComalán airís. Go dtí an pointe seo, níor inis éinne teocht an uisce dom – 11.5ºC – do bhí an t-áthas orm ná raibh sé sin ar eolas agam roimis an snámh! Tar éis dom ‘bheith gléasta airís, do chuaigh roinnt de na fir a bhí ar an mbád ag tumadóireacht ar feadh tamaill is do shnámh Tom isteach i bpluais fairrge ar thóir na craice! Agus an méid sin déanta againn, do chuamair thar n-ais go Dún na Séad agus abhaile linn go léir.

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Ailt Bainteacha:

Snámh Timpeall ar Oileán Chléire: Réamhrá

I dtosach mhí Iúil anuraidh, do dheineas turas snámha ó Dhún na Séad i n-Iarrthar Chorcaí go dtí an fánán i gComalán ar Oileán Chléire, 8.0 km sa tslí, i dteannta le Ned Denison. Lá breá samhraidh a bhí ann is do bhí turas an-taitneamhach ag an mbeirt againn, cé ná raibh an t-uisce ní ba theo ná 12ºC! Do bhí fairrgí breátha móra linn agus sinn ag gabháil thar bráid Inis Earcáin agus ag trasnáil Shúnta an Ghaisceanáin, ach fós féinig, do bhí an 8.0 km i n-iomlán curtha ‘n-ár ndiaidh againn díreach laistigh de 2 h-uaire a’ chloig. Tar éis an snámha san ‘bheith déanta agam, do theastaigh uaim abhfad níos mó snámha ‘dhéanamh ins an gceantar áirithe sin…

Grianghraf – Owen O'Keefe

Bean Lót, Dún na Séad ag féachaint amach ar Inis Earcáin, Cléire taobh thiar di.

Tar éis iarracht teipthe ar snámh timpeall ar Inis Uí Dhrisceoil le Steven Black agus David Merriman, do cheapas gur shmaoineamh deas dob ea é snámh timpeall ar Oileáin Chairbre go léir! Ag deireadh mhí Lúnasa, do dheineas snámh timpeall ar Inis Earcáin, le Lisa Cummins ar an mbád tacaíochta, agus an lá ‘n-a dhiaidh do dheineas-sa ‘gus Gábor Molnár snámh timpeall ar Inis Uí Dhrisceoil. Níor shnámh éinne timpeall ar an dá oileán san riamh roimis sin! Agus an samhradh ag dul uainn, do shnámhas timpeall ar Inis Píc le Steven Black agus Severin McCullagh chomh maith le cúpla rón… Do bhí trí oileán déanta agam roimh dheireadh an bhliain 2011 is do bhí dhá oileán eile breactha síos agam i gcomhair 2012. Oileán Chléire dob ea an chéad cheann acu.

Grianghraf – Lisa Cummins

Ag snámh timpeall ar Inis Earcáin i mí Lúnasa anuraidh…

Oileán álainn is ea Cléire. Tá sí suite 8 km amach ó Dhún na Séad agus tá sí 5 km ar fhad is 2 km ar leithead. Tá thart ar chéad duine ag maireachtaint go buan uirthi agus ceantar Gaeltachta oifigiúil is ea í, ciallaíonn sé sin gurb í an Ghaelainn príomhtheanga mhuintir an Oileáin. Ag tosnú agus ag críochnú ag an bhfánán i gComalán ar an dtaobh thoir den Oileán, tá 13.2 km sa turas timpeall uirthi. Ní dealraíonn an fad san ró-olc, ach is deacair an dubhshlán a mheas go díreach de réir an fhaid ins an bpíosa fairrge áirithe sin de bharr sruthanna taoide, gaoithe agus mar sin de – braitheann an rud go léir ar an aimsir, mar aon le gach aon rud eile i n-Éirinn!

Grianghraf – Owen O'Keefe

Ar bhord an Amy-K roimis ár bhfágaint na mórthíre chun Chléire.

Ar 4ú Iúil, ámhthach, ‘sea do tháinig feabhas éigin ar chúrsaí aimsire na tíre seo i mbliana is do thug John Kearney, an fear go bhfuil Ionad Tumadóireachta Dhún na Séad aige, seans dom snámh timpeall ar Chléire. Do bhuaileamair ar an gcé i nDún na Séad go luath an mhaidin sin. Do tháining Tom McCarthy ó Shnámhaithibh Bhaile an Chuainín linn mar chriú. Do dhein Tom snámh sealaíochta trasna an Mhuir n-Iocht i mbliana mar pháirt den fhoireann sealaíochta is sine chun an Mhuir n-Iocht do thrasnáil! Chomh maith le John agus Tom do bheith ar an mbád tacaíochta, do bhí roinnt cara le John ó Penzance i gCorn na Breataine air. Do bhí an-chomhrá eadrainn-ne mar tá uncail liom-sa ag cur faoi i gCorn na Breataine, ní fada ó Penzance, is do bhí aithne ag Tom ar go leor daoine ón áit sin ó n-a laethanta sa tSeirbhís Chabhlaigh. Tar éis an chomhrá san do bheith againn, do scaoileamair seol i dtreo Chléire…

Blackwater Project: Part 5 – Reflection

Well, I hope that you enjoyed reading about my Blackwater Project in its entirety! All four of my swims down the River Blackwater are in amongst my favourite swims of all time. I suppose that the whole experience was that bit more special for me as it was in the Blackwater that I first caught the bug for open water swimming. Both Donal Buckley and Maeve Mulcahy took lots of fantastic photographs on all three stages, so many, in fact, that I couldn’t fit them all into the posts! I’ve put them up on Dropbox for anyone that’s interested, I’d particularly recommend the Cappoquin to Youghal album as it was such a beautiful day and the photographs were taken with a proper camera as opposed to my mobile phone. Here are the three albums:

By the way, the total distance from the start in Fermoy to the finish in Youghal is 60.0 km exactly. The total swim time for the three swims comes in at just under 10 hours! I can only swim at 4.0 km per hour, so that gives you an idea of the average assistance that I got from the River across the three swims.

Image – Google Earth

Google Earth image of the completed Blackwater Project 2012. The green line is my swimming route and the white line is the Cork-Waterford county boundary.

Where to from here? Will there be more long swims on the Blackwater? I have no plans set in stone yet. I may have a go at another long swim further upriver – there is the possibility of swimming the 30 km from Mallow to Fermoy – or move onto one of the tributaries – the River Bride would be most practical. As well as this, I may organise a race from Cappoquin to Youghal – now that would be interesting – or continue this project along the East Cork coast to Ballycotton where I used to swim with my grandfather on Sunday afternoons during the summer holidays – it would be really cool to have covered all of the water between our swimming spots in Fermoy and in Ballycotton!

I’m going to carry on updating the blog with my swims from this summer for the next while at least. Next up is a three-part report (in Irish first, then English) from my 4th July swim around Cape Clear in West Cork, another “first” swim…

Blackwater Project: Part 4 – Cappoquin to Youghal

At 26.4 km, this last leg of my Blackwater Project counts as a proper marathon swim. Simply feeding at random intervals from a kayak and hoping for half-way decent conditions would not be enough – this time, I’d need a proper boat with a few crew and a feeding plan. Going by the tide times for Youghal, I decided that the best day to do the swim would be Wednesday, 22nd August. It made most sense to start at high water, or just after it, to get maximum assistance. Tom McCarthy, who had crewed on my Cape Clear swim, kindly agreed to find a boat to cover the swim. His friend, Billy Kelliher, generously provided the use of his RIB. Copper Coast swimmer Donal Buckley also agreed to crew. Naturally, support kayaker supreme Maeve Mulcahy was also going to crew but unfortunately wasn’t available on the day. So now it was set, I would attempt the first swim from Cappoquin, Co. Waterford to Youghal, Co. Cork on Wednesday, 22ndAugust 2012 with Tom McCarthy, Billy Kelliher and Donal Buckley on the support boat…

Photograph – Donal Buckley

Heading to the start of the swim. (Photograph – Donal Buckley)

On the planned day, we all met up by the only usable slipway in Youghal. Donal expressed some concern about the final part of the swim due to an ongoing E. coli outbreak on many of Cork’s beaches, including Front Strand in Youghal. After some discussion, we agreed that Donal would make the final decision on whether or not to call an end to the swim once we’d reached Youghal Bridge. Luckily, it never came to that as news came through that tests carried out on water samples taken the previous day showed the water to be of suitable quality for swimming. We then launched the RIB and loaded it up with everything that we would need during the swim. With that done, we motored upriver towards Cappoquin to start the swim. I can tell you that the boat trip up the Blackwater from Youghal to Cappoquin is infinitely more enjoyable than motoring from Dover Marina to Shakespeare Beach or Samphire Hoe for the start of an English Channel swim!

Photograph – Donal Buckley

A view of the Knockmealdown Mountains from the Blackwater. (Photograph – Donal Buckley)

After our scenic tour up the River, we arrived at Cappoquin Rowing Club where we pulled up at the pontoon to refuel. While Billy and Tom were refueling the boat, I was getting changed and greased up and Donal was checking the water temperature – he measured 15.6ºC, not bad at all! With all that stuff out of the way, we all got back on board and drifted down to the slipway at Port na h-Abhann, this was where I finished my swim from Ballyduff… Once we were near the slipway, I jumped over the side and swam cautiously onto the slip, for I was conscious of the sunken punt that was just under the surface! Feet on dry land, I fixed me goggles, turned around and gave the crew the signal that I was ready. Donal called the start, 09:49, and I walked back into the water and started swimming, still careful to avoid the “wreck” below me!

Photograph – Donal Buckley

Just after starting from Cappoquin. (Photograph – Donal Buckley)

From the start, it was only 100 m to the old railway bridge, known in Cappoquin as the Red Bridge. After 5 minutes, the boat came back into my field of view but stayed off to my left. This first hour felt great: the water was calm and not too cold, my stroke felt smooth and I was very comfortable in the water. The sun was shining also which is always a great help! Before long we came to Affane, where the Blackwater is joined by the River Finisk. Just before its confluence with the Blackwater, the Finisk is crossed by a bridge leading to an unusual Hindu-Gothic style gate, the entrance to the Dromana Estate. After about 1 hour 30 minutes, we had reached Villierstown Quay, formerly an important ferry crossing on the River. Here, I had my second feed and Billy gave me great encouragement by telling me that I had “over half a mile done”, really I had four and a half! I didn’t mind how much I had done, though, I was really enjoying this trip down a beautiful stretch of river…

Photograph – Bill Power

Dromana Bridge & Gate on the River Finisk. (Photograph – Bill Power)

The next major landmark was the confluence of the Rivers Blackwater and Bride. The Bride is arguably the Blackwater’s most important tributary. When the Blackwater was navigable for merchant ships, many docked at Camphire Quay on the Bride to offload and collect goods. Not far below this point we come to one of the finest houses on this stretch of river: Strancally Castle. This 19thCentury castle come modern family home, with its extensive grounds and jetty leading to a luxury pleasure boat, might seem out of place in rural Ireland, but the setting is idyllic if the weather is cooperating! While the water was glassily calm by the contemporary Strancally Castle, by the time we had reach the ruin of the original, there was an incessant 0.5 m chop blowing at us which made the going tough for a while. Strangely, conditions calmed where the River got really wide near Clashmore. Then, as we turned west towards Ballynatray, it got quite rough again.

Photograph – Donal Buckley

Swimming towards the imposing Strancally Castle. (Photograph – Donal Buckley)

It was a battle to reach Ballynatray House, yet another one of the many mansions on the lower reaches of the Blackwater, as the chop was quite severe due to the wind-against-tide effect, exaggerated further in this case by the River’s current. At the bend in the River at Ballynatray, there are many eddies which you need to watch out for – at one point I thought the water was going to turn me around completely or onto my back! From here, it was only a few minutes to Templemichael, and from there we could see Youghal Bridge in the distance…

Photograph – Donal Buckley

Swimming in eddy currents outside Ballynatray House. (Photograph – Donal Buckley)

It was a great feeling to swim under Youghal Bridge, after all the years of driving over the Bridge and straining to see what was around the next bend in the River, I had finally seen every bit of the River’s course between home and Youghal. All along, I had mentally prepared myself for a long 2 km slog across Youghal Bay once under the Bridge – 2 km can seem long at the end of a big swim, plus none of us knew what effect the currents might have. In any case, I was feeling good and was ready for the final effort. As it turned out, we still had great assistance from the current and from the tide. However, a strong southerly wind was blowing directly against us and the strong flow of water, causing increasingly severe chop as we neared the mouth of the Bay.

Photograph – Donal Buckley

About to go under New Bridge, Youghal. (Photograph – Donal Buckley)

Before long, we were passing the town of Youghal and the slipway where we had launched from earlier. Once we had passed Ferry Point on our left, we could say that we were in the sea. The lighthouse was just ahead on the right so it was time to turn in to the right and swim into shore. I cautiously made my in to the muddy-sandy beach just south of the Walter Raleigh Pier. I eventually got my feet on some not-so-silty ground and waded, knee-deep in rotting seaweed, onto the beach. Again, Donal called the finish, 14:17, giving a total swim time of 4 hours 27 minutes 34 seconds. Given that this swim is technically the same distance as the Zürichsee-Schwimmen, I think that it’s fair to say that the River did a fair bit of the work! After enjoying my moment on the beach, I swam back to the boat and exited the water in the usual, undignified fashion. Back at the slipway, we got the boat back on the trailer and got soup and sandwiches in the Quays Bar. All were in agreement that the day was a great success and that everyone thoroughly themselves! It’s always welcome news at the end of a big swim that your crew enjoyed themselves too.

Photograph – Donal Buckley

Just before the end of the swim, the sea at last! Left to right: Owen, Capel Island, Youghal Lighthouse. (Photograph – Donal Buckley)

More beautiful photographs of the swim taken by Donal Buckley to come. On Friday, I’ll reflect on the whole Blackwater Project from start to finish and see whether or not I’ve learned anything from it…