With my Round Jersey solo approaching, I’ve been trying to up my training mileage over the last few weeks. Over the last fortnight, this has been made a lot easier by a spell of great weather (by Irish standards). College exams out of the way, I managed 33.4 km for the last week of May, including a great 2-hour swim from Fermoy Rowing Club to Castlehyde House, Michael Flatley’s “Irish residence”, and back. Last week, I managed to increase this to 45.4 km, only 13.3 km of this was in the pool (with Fermoy SC) and the remaining 32.1 km was in the open water (mostly in the River Blackwater but also in Ballycroneen, Knockananig Reservoir and Glengarriff). The highlight of the week had to be the annual GaddinAbtGarnish swim in Glengarriff on Saturday…
Garnish Island (Irish: Oileán an Chuilinn) is a small island in Glengarriff Harbour, a very sheltered inlet off Bantry Bay, West Cork. There were three options for the swim: 1 km (out and back), 3 km (out, once around and back) or 5 km (out, twice around and back). I did the 5 km swim, as I had done in 2011 and 2012. Conditions were ideal – it was hot and sunny and there was hardly a puff of wind. The water was also very clear. Despite the perfect conditions, I was unsure of how I’d perform as it had been a long week to this point and I remembered very well how I struggled around the course last year. The first 500 m of the swim would tell a lot!
There was hardly any fighting at the start, unlike previous years, and a group of three of us pulled away almost immediately. Alex Rathke of UCD Swimming & Water Polo, formerly of Dolphin SC, took the lead while I drafted off of Oran Kane, Killarney. The pace seemed fine out to the first buoy so I felt happy to leave Alex off and sit in behind Oran for the rest of the swim and try to pass him before the finish. Oran seemed to have major goggles issues (for once it wasn’t me with the goggle disorder) at about 800 m so I decided to head off in front of him. At the first corner of the island (about 1 km in) I noticed that Alex had taken a bad line and gone very wide – think my line was pretty good as I had to dolphin over a reef but didn’t get cut!
Over the next 1 km or so, Alex caught up to me but didn’t pass me at the third corner. At this point, we were heading in a straight line back to the buoy at the 500 m mark, but the sun was in our eyes and it was hard to navigate. Alex knew that I’d done the swim before so stuck with me as he figured I’d have some idea of where to go. Oran was behind getting a nice double draft all the while! I eventually spotted the buoy and rounded it as instructed in the pre-race briefing, as did Alex and Oran. However, on rounding the buoy (and politely asking a kayaker blocking the way to move), I spotted at least two white caps rounding the first corner of the island – this made no sense as all of the 3 km swimmers should be well on the other side of the island and, assuming that everyone followed the correct course, there should be no 5 km swimmers in front of us. It soon became clear that the two were 5 km swimmers, Ned Denison and possibly Warren Roche, who had decided to take a shortcut along the side of the island…
The pace picked up a bit for the second lap – Alex took a lead on me and I pulled away from Oran. Alex still didn’t venture too far away for nearly another 1 km, it seems he still needed some guidance on the course! At the 3.5 km mark, though, he started to pull away and I could see him catch Ned and some of the 3 km swimmers. It was long before I did the same myself, swimming over Ned’s legs a few times just to let him know that I was there and that he’d been caught cheating!
At the third corner, I was still able to see Alex and could also see Warren Roche just ahead of me. Having caught Warren, who also seemed unsure of the correct path, I kept a good eye on Alex’s position and could see him taking a bad line again – he went way off to the left and I managed to reach the buoy before him. With a lot of swimmers in the area, I lost sight of him and so sprinted the last 500 m back to the slipway. To my surprise, I was the first of the 5 km swimmers to finish and did so in 1 hour 8 minutes 24 seconds – definitely a new personal best 5 km time! Not long afterwards, Alex and Warren finished together (not quite at the slipway but close enough). Ned was next in wondering why the rest of us had taken “such a bad line” and he was followed very shortly by Oran.
It was a great race in amazing scenery. It was a treat to finish a 5 km sea swim warm and be in no rush to get changed. On getting out, I met Dave Mulcahy and Declan O’Keeffe, both Fermoy SC, who had finished their 3 km swim. I also met Mary McEvoy, Gina Lyons, Adam Blaiklock, Niamh Fleming and James Slowey, all from Fermoy, who had finished their swims. Iain and Ciara MacCallum, Fermoy also, both finished their 3 km just after me. Ciara had originally planned to do the 1 km but was feeling good after the Fastnet Triathlon in Schull that morning so decided to do the 3 km! I got a bit worried that there was still no sign of Paul Noonan, also Fermoy SC, who was also doing the 3 km and should have been out well before me. I hung around for a while and he eventually should up, having “accidentally” swum the 5 km instead, his previous longest open water swim being 2 km! Well done to everyone from Fermoy who took part, it was great to see both Fermoy SC and Blackwater Tri Club so well represented.
Other great points about the swim included seeing a few big moon jellies (a very welcome sign that the water is warming up), clean clear water in a beautiful setting, seeing lots of starfish on the seaweed (maybe a good sign for the Crosóige Mara relay in July) and top class kayak and RIB support. Well done again to Ossi and Imelda on organising a great event, I’m looking forward to next year already!