Between A Rock And A Hard Place

As I ratchet up these expeditions, I can comfortably say, no two days swimming is the same. Furthermore, it is safe to say that each one presents it’s own challenges. Yesterday was always going to be ambitious and filled with trepidation and when it came to pass, it truly was an expedition.

The object of the day was to swim between the points of Rosslare Strand’s southernmost point and a beach about 2 kilometres north of Carne beach. Carne being the place that lends its name to Carnsore point, a further 3.5 kilometres south. You might think that sounds straightforward but then throw into the mix, a swim across Rosslare harbour bay, a swim around Rosslare harbour itself, closely followed by a sudden surge in south winding currents along a coast line I had no knowledge of, after which there is another 6 kilometres of water to the finish. Unbeknownst to me, that 6 kilometres was littered with perilous rocky shoals. More of that later.

I had numerous pleasant exchanges with Captain Tom Curran (Rosslare Harbour master) via email in the preceding days so as to establish a safe window to get across the mouth of Rosslare harbour. On this Thursday, the optimum time was somewhere between when I could get to the start after setting out from Dublin after the school run and before when the 2:30 arrival from Cherbourg rocked into shore. Again this is uncharted territory for me and I suspect it is also for Tom, however he was nothing but accommodating. In years to come, if this coastal challenge thing takes off in the same way as climbing Everest or crossing the English channel, he may come to regret having facilitated me.

The road down was all motorway or national road until the last 5 kilometres to the finish point at Old Mill Bay Beach. It took longer to get to the latter stretches of rural Wexford, north of the estuary. I arrived ten minutes ahead of schedule, and quickly set about surveying the finish for a recognisable landmark. Luckily there was the gable end of a flat roof peering over the forestation at the entrance to the beach, and it was enough to be sure the finish wouldn’t be ambiguous.

As I was getting ready back at the car, I parked my bike up against a gate at the back of the car park. Minutes later a young farmer came by and assumed the bike was locked to the gate he wanted to access. I apologised for being in the way as he cursed the thought of someone having disabled his gate and absconding. He was relieved it wasn’t the scenario he first envisaged and I made a mental note not to lock my bike to his gate the next day I’m back here.

The sun was shining brightly as predicted by the servers in Windguru, and I knew timing was of the essence as things would turn in the late afternoon. In the back of my mind I am always wondering how accurate the forecasting is, especially when you start timing the swims to within an hour of getting rougher. With the climate we have, you have to be flexible and opportunist with these things. As a consequence the cycle from Old Mill Bay beach to Rosslare strand was a lovely summer cycle with the domineering perception that it wouldn’t last forever.

For about one hundred metres on the route from the finish to the start, I had to join a national road (the N25), and I’m left wondering if this is another first? The first wetsuited cyclist on a national road? Also there were only 2 inclines of note, so walking was kept to a minimum. I got to the cliffs where I would lock my bike at noon. The bike was to be locked to a reflector sign which indicated the end of the road and if you were a car and to carry on, you would suddenly lose significant altitude quickly. I rang Tom for a final briefing before setting off.

The phone rang for two minutes and there was no answer. I didn’t panic, but Tom had indicated that it was important I contact him in case there were any last minute changes to the harbour timetable. I rang again a few minutes later and after a while, he picked up. I had inadvertently interrupted him in something, but thankfully he answered and clarified it was all systems go. I rang Jen to tell her to expect a call by 5 or 6ish and had a protein bar for lunch washed down with some tap water in a recycled plastic bottle (I know Niall would approve!).

I had to then climb down the cliff to the beach and walk south for twenty minutes, and on the beach there was only one other stroller and another exercise enthusiast. Going through the final prep, I was no clearer as to any prevailing currents as the tide was quite out and the beach had a very gradual incline. I was wading for two minutes before I was waist deep and ready to swim.

I had pictured a worse case scenario of taking an hour to swim to the harbour and across its mouth and I stopped every ten or so minutes to get a picture of progress. A recent visit to the opticians had clarified that my eyesight had deteriorated (as expected with age), so my prescription goggles no longer had the clarity they had when they were purchased. As a result everything appeared ‘over there’. The start was ‘over there’. The harbour was ‘over there’. The coast I was roughly 400 metres off, was ‘over there’. I could see some small craft anchor buoys up ahead and as I got closer to them I could tell they were moving to my left quite quickly. This meant one thing. A strong flow southwards.

I passed the port guidance buoy, around which all the huge passenger ferries took their instruction. It seemed like a very marine viewpoint but I was cognisant that I had to be very careful from here on in. I had many concerns about the unknowns about the Irish sea side of the harbour and onwards. This was uncharted territory. As I got closer to the lighthouse at the end of the external pier. The water got very tempestuous. There was a rock wall sticking out from the pier in a groin-type manner. I took one last look at the harbour and noticed a big sign on the wall of the entrance indicating the radio channel to be used, though I don’t know in what circumstances.

I was tired at this stage as I had been swimming for 40 minutes with only four or five 20 second breaks throughout. I had my watch on, so I knew I was in no danger of rubbing shoulders with the ferry from France, but I was very apprehensive of what lay ahead, of which I knew nothing. Around the wall, it was fight or flight. The currents swept up and I could feel my stroke being ineffective. It was like a fast flowing river and there was no choice in the direction I was to take.

There was an overbearing stench of dead fish or whatever the unpleasant smell is you get in fishing ports. All I could think of was that it was stomach turning but there was far more to worry about. And then I saw the ground beneath me. It was almost heaven sent in its appearance. It was quite clearly sandy and shallow. I put my feet down and although I couldn’t stand up because of the current, I felt a reassurance of not being out of my depth. It enabled me to catch my thoughts for a moment and stop panicking. The main thing was that the current wasn’t taking me out to sea.

After a minute, I could see there was the beach eponymously named ‘Rosslare Harbour Beach’ opening up ahead. I wondered how long the current would continue to sweep me along, but I also was taking solace from the fact I had missed the ferry. Once I had been pushed (realistically swimming wasn’t a key aspect of it at this juncture) beyond the harbour perimeter, the water calmed down and I was back onto sandy shores. The sun was bright and there were a few people on the beach and I was back swimming. There was still a significant push in the right direction, but I was back in control.

I had planned a chocolate and water break at the 5 kilometre point which was another sharp turn on the coast. At this juncture, I had pre-empted being compromised and being swept out to Tuscar, so I knew I had to play it carefully and stick close to the shore, at least until I established the terrain and the conditions. This point is called Greenore point and as I was swimming down Rosslare Harbour beach, Greenore was ‘over there’. I could see rocks going out into the sea at Greenore from a distance and I had seen that kind of view before last year, and my main concern was whether I take the risk of swimming around them or walking around them.

Still a good distance, possibly 800 metres north of Greenore, rocks and dense seaweed started passing beneath me quite close. I thought it was fortuitous that the water level was high enough that I could pass over them albeit very close in places. Then as I breathed to my left I saw a head. Three more strokes and I was breathing to the right and in that time I thought, is my sight failing with age to the extent that I’m seeing huge dull spots? Three more strokes and breathe to the left again. It was a head!

I stopped and looked at a huge grey seal treading water and looking at me from 5 metres. He didn’t have a care in the world, just perplexed and staring at me. I had a lot of cares in the world at this point and he was another one. I had that thought you have when confronted by an aggressive dog, which is don’t, whatever you do, let on that you are scared. I continued swimming and stopped ten strokes later to check and there he was beside me again. At this point, I went into full ostrich mode and swam, and as I swam the rocks were getting more frequent and closer to the surface.

I could see the rocks clearly in the sunlight and more and more I found myself breast stroking over them, with the current ensuring I continued to pass through. I made a conscious decision not to look back anymore for the seal. We had nothing to talk about anyway. Greenore was getting closer but the room to swim was dwindling. What had appeared as a rocky out post from way off was now evidently a bay of rocks, and it was a bay of rocks with a prevailing strong current.

At about 75 metres from Greenore, I knew it was decision time. The wrong decision or the wrong move could be problematic, yet at the same time getting out and walking around would be perceived as a foul in the challenge. I elected to try and navigate through the rocks and get up and climb where necessary. Now the rocks were clearly out of the water in most places for at least 50 metres offshore and judging by the current, it was the right decision not to have attempted to swim around them. Swimming and climbing through them was not easy either.

I was knackered at this point but was still in fight or flight mode, anxious to get to the beach on the south side of Greenore. Clambering over a rock, I lost my footing and twisted my ankle. It hurt but I knew it wasn’t a severe injury. I breast stroked through a pond-like gap in the rocks and looking back, it really was a fantastic piece of nature.

Now that my ankle was smarting, I was being forced to slow down. Not in the pace as the current was largely dictating that, but to slow down in my urgency of thought. I continued on through the rocks and they started to get increasingly below the waterline so my next objective was to land and take a break. Maybe it was fortuitous that the rocks were there as they prevented me from being scuppered at Tuscar, as it took a lot of strength to swim perpendicular to the flow and land. Strength, I might add, I didn’t have much of left.

After an hour and a half swimming, I climbed up on the beach and flopped into a sitting position. I looked out to sea, and what was there, only the Cherbourg ferry coming into port. Thus far it had been a rollercoaster but I just sat on the beach and ate and drank my rations wondering what lay ahead in the next 3 kilometres to the finish. The sun was shining and warm but without a swimming partner, there’s not much to hang around for. The seal was nowhere to be seen but I wasn’t studying the view looking for him.

After ten minutes, I thought I’d better plough on. I knew I had overcome the most difficult part, but I also knew that I couldn’t have any expectations. Re-entering the water, I was at that point when you know you have to start tapping into all your mental and physical reserves in order to finish. It’s not really the same as programming an ‘if’ statement on the computer at work.

There were still rocks but I was starting in a new bay and the sandy beach it was alongside suggested I was getting out of the woods. I knew that there were no more sharp turns in the coast so if I was safe from being swept out to sea at this point then I could cross that concern off my list. I was running on fumes and when I breathed to the right, I felt like the current was now flowing north. The thing that saved me was the fact that when I looked down I could see from the ground, I was still moving south, even though it was painfully slow progress at this point.

I started philosophising about the situation. I told myself that swimmers crossing channels reach these levels of fatigue and worse, yet they overcome them. I had the option of getting out and walking home yet if I was to regard myself in the same context as a channel swimmer or any swimmer of note, then I just have to put my head down and drive on, no matter how long it takes. It was still another three and a half hours before Jen would start wondering about a phone call so I wasn’t under pressure to make a decision, unlike that failed first attempt at Ballinesker.

Every time I breathed to the side the shore was on, the water looked to be flowing against me fast, yet every time I looked at the ground beneath me, I could see I wasn’t going backwards. That’s when the optics of the sea dawned on me. The wind was southerly, so the surface of the water looked to be flowing north against the backdrop of land when you looked at it from the swimming vantage point. I was able to convince myself that the slow progress was due to my energy levels and sapped strength, and just keep going because it would eventually end. There was also a certain amount of truth about the current as well, as at this point it was turning and I was beginning to have to swim against it.

And then another one appeared. Another ba**arding rocky shoal. This one, when it arrived to me, wasn’t so severe in terrain, but there was no push. This meant as I was doggy paddling breaststrokes through it, it was slow and laborious. Again the rocks were getting closer to the water line, and on one of the rocks, I tried to ‘push up’ over it like so many times before. This time I was ignominiously lodged on top of the rock like a stranded walrus.

Try as I might, I couldn’t see the humorous side of this until now. I was marooned and back to fight or flight. I didn’t panic but I was in a rush to get out of this latest rock field and back into safe waters. I forced myself to roll off the rock and continue battling against the sea. Thankfully as I was clearing this headland, I could see the wind farm of Carnsore. I could see the beach open up all the way to Carne and I guessed and hoped the finish would be somewhere between here and there.

My mind was really going to desperate places now. I couldn’t see the roof over the trees I planned to see, and I questioned if I had passed it without noticing. I suppose my subconscious held the fort and kept me going onwards. I could see a handful of people on the beach about a kilometre away, but for some reason, my mind refused to suggest that might be the finish. I think that comes from a place of constantly being forced to think the worst. I was now well and truly crawling, not in an Olympic front crawl sort of way, but in a desperate, clinging on for dear life kind of way.

I could see the sun shining off the beach all the way to the windmills, but no confirmation of the exit. I continued to entertain the thought of getting out and walking to the finish, but then where would I be walking to? The only option was to keep going. The group of people on the beach were getting closer and I thought I saw the lifebuoy ring on the post that I had seen that morning. I couldn’t be sure. My goggles were old and my eyes are old so nobody was making any promises. And then, two hundred meters from the group, I saw the rooftop.

I had just decided in my head that the challenge of swimming around the country is going to kill me if I am constantly presented with the levels of stress that today brought and that I could gracefully bow out at the end of this summer. But as I agree with myself on this, the grail of the finish appears. The feelings of success arrive as too do the endorphins of four hours of hard physical labour. But the one thing I was sure of was to not leave unknowns to chance on any future swims. I was lucky today and thankfully I was somewhat equipped and prepared, but I’ve learned my lesson.

I drove back to Dublin listening to Lyric FM feeling like the cat who got the cream.

Not seeing the wood from the trees . . ..

Three Days In The Sun

Last weekend was a game changer. Up to date and including last year, I had never done two of these swims on consecutive days. Now I was contemplating three days swimming in a row which would take me the 15 Kilometres from Curracloe to Rosslare. I was sceptical that I would be up for it yet at the same time was excited at the prospect of arriving at Rosslare. Once there, it would only be two swims and I had turned an important corner around Carnesore. Was it going to happen?

The original plan was for Niall and I to stay in a small cottage in Curracloe for the weekend. The cottage belonged to an uncle of one of Niall’s friends who would have passed away (The uncle not the friend). However in the lead up, Niall decided that the Sullivan clan would all go to Wexford for the weekend and Niall would just do the estuary leg. This was a stretch of water that Niall has dreamt about traversing since the nineties and I have dreamt of since the noughties. So it was to be a fitting reunion.

In order to be ready for the estuary on the Saturday, I had to swim from Curracloe to the end of the peninsula leading south from it. This peninsula is mostly forestry and called the Raven, and looking at the tidal app, I would be looking to be finishing up the stage as the tide turned at sixish, the evening before. I had booked off a half day from work and had everything packed and ready the night before. When I say ‘everything’, there was a lot of cargo for the trip. A bike, a guitar, a notebook, swim gear, bed clothes, day clothes, a plate, knife and fork, a mug, toiletries. I was going to be staying in a semi abandoned cottage for two nights and preparation was key.

At around noon on the Friday, I got a call from David, the boatman. He rang to say that he wouldn’t be able to chaperone us with his boat but he had organised another gentleman called Phillip Hatton who would step into the breach. This meant I would have to set about organising the new logistics from the hands free on the way south in the car. I finished work at 1pm and was on the road at 1:30. I had lunch with Jen before she would go and collect the children from school and I would go and chase a hair brained swimming dream.

With the unplanned change in arrangements, I didn’t have a plan B ready when I rang Phillip from the N11. It seemed one of the problems was the estuary was too shallow to get out from the yacht club. I must have sounded like a crackpot when talking to Phillip as I was thinking out loud as to where to set up the rendezvous the next day. He said he would check the tides and ring back. When he rang back, he confirmed that the best time was still in the afternoon as originally planned but that he would meet us at the tip of the spit leading north from Rosslare. As neither Niall or I had swam across the estuary before, we were winging it in terms of a plan, so there was a lot of back and forth. Philip and I left it that we would talk again in the morning by phone to confirm everything.

Arriving at the cottage in Curracloe, I had a quick inspection of the property as I unloaded the car. Time was of the essence as the remainder of the falling tide was beckoning. I won’t go into the cottage, but I would describe it as a ‘doer upper’ for a couple. The beach shack at Curracloe was 400 meters away, but because I knew I would be walking 4.5 kilometres from the end of the evening’s swim back up the peninsula to the start, I wanted to limit the walk in a wet wetsuit as much as I could so I drove to the beach car park.

The water was just at the temperature that once you got moving, you wouldn’t notice it. There were a good few people still on the beach winding up their day of holidaying, some of them would be still relaxing on the beach when I was finishing. The preparation was the typical orchestration of equipment, but one of the saving graces of today was there was no cycle. Even though I was straight into it, there was still the vista of swimming to the horizon yet again looking at me.

Progress seemed to be slow and the milestones I had planned on Google Earth were a long time coming around. Seeing people on the beach helped me digest it mentally and there were a good few dog walkers along the way. At one point I had an image of a feral dog racing into the sea to attack me. Thinking about that now, I would have made for a tragic yet amusing news story. My detractors would reassure themselves that I shouldn’t have taken risks with the sea.

My swimming was getting strong again after a winter of lockdown. I was able to breathe bilaterally constantly, probably because I was now fit and I wasn’t anywhere near my lactate threshold. I was strolling as opposed to hiking. The expense of this was pace. Later my watch would confirm I was swimming 25 minute kilometers. This was fine as there was a long weekend ahead. With the bilateral breathing, I was starting to see a black blob on my left hand side occasionally. My glances wouldn’t last longer than half a second so I wondered was my eyesight failing or was it a series of lobster pots. No, it was a seal. I remembered Niall mentioning that seals live in and around the estuary.

At the hour mark, I still seemed a long way off but I had to keep going. Every time I got the impression I wasn’t making any progress due to the unwavering view of the forest of the Raven, a stroller or jogger would pass on the beach and reassure me, things were not static. I knew to keep the slow and steady pace and preserve my energies. Eventually I could see the end of the forest with the clarity that suggested it was imminent. Maybe it wasn’t that imminent as it took another half an hour to reach the end. Maybe it was imminent but the current was not favourable.

At 6:53 pm, I walked up on the beach. I could see Wexford town across the estuary as well as Rosslare. Game on! I was now set up for the big one tomorrow. Walking back to Curracloe, I marvelled at the fact that the 4.5 kilometre swim took one hour and forty minutes and the return on land took an hour. The evening sun was shadowed by light cloud so there was no thermal gain in the wetsuit walking north, but like the water, as long as you keep moving, you don’t get cold.

Back at the cottage, the cooker wouldn’t work, so dinner was two mugs of special K, followed by the same mug full of tea. I was on cloud 9.


Saturday morning started with another bowl of special K follow by a stroll to the beach in a glorious morning sun. I climbed a steep dune and was able to take panoramic photos of the spectacular views to the north and to the south. I could see a ferry leaving Rosslare in the direction of Tuscar. It looked to be an impossible distance away, but I mused that there was a good chance if everything went OK, I would be there by Sunday evening.

Don’t be deceived by the zoom. Rosslare was not near . . ..

I went into Wexford town at 11 am to get some hot food. “Man cannot live by special K alone”. On the way I rang Phillip and got no answer. I texted him then and waited. Lunch consisted of beans on toast from the breakfast menu of a nice café with street dining. Wexford is a lovely town and brings back memories of Roscoff and Cornwall. I decided I would wait until noon before I tried to ring Phillip again and with some serendipity he rang at 11:55. He joked that I was probably beginning to think he had disappeared. We confirmed the plan, meet him on the northern tip of the Rosslare spit at 2pm with a view to starting swimming from the Raven at 2:30pm. I rang Niall and made a plan to go and pick him up.

Niall and I were still planning the unplanned logistics right up to the point where we pulled into the grassy car park of the Burrow Links golf club. I was still looking forward and feared the following day ending up being a 7 Kilometre slog the whole length of Rosslare peninsula, especially after two days of distance. The car park seemed to be a good point that was close to 1.5 kilometers south of the north point while walkable to the rendezvous. Rosslare strand has a series of groins jutting into the sea every 275 meters running down the northern half of the peninsula and it would be six of the  groins to the point where we get out and could skip across the golf ranges back to the car. Niall was only committed to swimming to the tip, and walking the rest of the distance, but he was understanding of my plan to mitigate the Sunday swim. When we were walking towards the rendezvous, Nialls wife, Corinna drove up and gave us a lift the rest of the way. I think it was uplifting for Niall that his children got to see him do something that he always wanted to do.

Philip was a gentleman. He had an aluminium boat that seemed to be designed for inshore fishing, though we knew it was his tender for his ‘proper’ boat. He had a playful puppy in the boat with him, complete with puppy life jacket. Phillip didn’t seem too surprised about the adventure. As it turned out he helped a pair of swimmers down the Wexford and Waterford coast a few years previously. My heart sank. Was the feat achieved? Had someone swam around the coast already? Niall confirmed later that he heard Phillip mention they were doing it with flippers and that they gave up in West Cork. Then my thoughts turned to the eventuality when I would be forced to give up.

Hi Ho – It’s off to work we go

The boat bounced across the mouth of the estuary in about ten or fifteen minutes. Phillip confirmed the currents would be good if we stayed out a bit. I indicated where we needed to start from, and we were climbing into the water at 2:25 pm. The water was perfect. We started to swim and immediately it felt like a special day with Niall swimming beside me. I think he was cognisant of his fitness levels but he really needn’t have worried as he too had quite recovered from lockdown. The sun was blazing in the sky and we could see the sea bed a meter below us. The water was clean but a bit sandy. I looked back after a few minutes and the start point was a significant few hundred meters away.

It was a pleasure to be steadily and methodically stroking bilaterally, and we stopped occasionally to enjoy the fact we were out to sea, yet we could stand up. Phillip mentioned that at time when he looked back he could see two of us and at other times he could see four. I didn’t pick up on it immediately, wondering was he talking about being short sighted, but he was in fact, talking about a pair of seals who were spectating. The agreement was that the boat would lead the way and it was amusing to look up ahead every now and then and see the puppy (called Doug) bouncing up and down the boat.

With the company and the conditions, I didn’t feel compelled to watch the clock or count strokes. At one point, the two of us were standing and having a brief survey of the view, I said we might have been able to do this without a boat, but Niall instantly dismissed the bravado statement. He was right as well as once we got to about 800 meters north of the Rosslare spit, the backwash from Rosslare Port was against us. Philip was later to confirm that he had brought us onshore too early. I was in such good spirits though, I didn’t really grasp that progress was slow and thought that the fact the coast wasn’t getting significantly closer was due to my eyesight.

When I did become aware we were now up against it, I put the pedal down and Niall followed suit. We got along side the rock wall of the northern tip and we were swimming to stand still. I stopped to float and get an idea of the flow and there was a very forceful flow north. Luckily we could stand up to stop jeopardy. Phillip gave us our tow floats which we had stowed in the boat and then he and Doug bid ‘Good Day’. Niall said something to the effect that he was done and he wasn’t going to battle the flow so said “Here!” and held out his hand for the customary handshake. I shook his hand and said, you don’t mind if I try to get to the sixth groin? He said he didn’t.

I had no choice but to wade south in the face of the current to the first groin and once behind it, I was secluded from the flow. I made to swim around it and it took two minutes to swim ten meters inside the south side of the first groin. I thought that the flow north would be less significant if I got as close to the beach as I could. At a depth of two feet, I was able to swim again and I swam the next 5 segments to the sixth groin in two feet of water and getting out to walk around the other side of each rocky wall. In years to come, if the synics chose to find fault in the swim around Ireland, these groins might prove the point of legal concern. Unfortunately there was no alternative.

When I got to the last groin, I got out and shook Niall’s hand again. Now the job was done. This was two and three quarters hour’s swimming on day two and it wasn’t truly sinking in that we had crossed off another bucket list item. Later that evening, Niall’s parents had invited us all to the family home outside Wexford town for a lovely dinner and a chance to claw back some of the day’s calories. Niall’s Dad, Austin showed me his workshop which was awe inspiring. Austin had studied and worked as a botanist and a historian, yet here was a batcave full of vintage motorbikes restored to mint condition, not to mention other engineering marvels he had achieved. He has even converted Niall’s childhood upstairs bedroom into a loft full of more motorbikes!

Editor’s note: At the time of writing, I believe myself and Niall are the first swimmers to swim the full length of Wexford Bay inshore without the aid of any propulsion other than organic swimming (ie no flippers!). I will gladly stand corrected if anyone posts information to the contrary in the comments section.


I woke up Sunday morning early enough to have options. After two mugs of special K, I set about making a plan. When first waking, I felt knackered and doubted having the wherewithal for a third day of swimming. A bigger concern was that if the currents flowed north after rebounding of Rosslare port like they did yesterday, then it was going to be impossible. The currents app said the tide would be turning around 12:30 pm so if any time was going to be right for it, then it was then. The sun was splitting the stones again, right from dawn. While I doubted my stamina, I was still prepared to go and see how far I got, though with the pessimism, I decided to shorten the cycling phase by parking at the southern end of Rosslare Strand rather than at the small boat harbour, which would be an added 4 kilometre cycle. I packed my wanderly wagon and set off from Curracloe to the Rosslare area.

When I got to the revised car stop, I was confronted with a cliff. Luckily there was a trodden path down the face of it to the beach. I double checked that it was manageable by descending to the beach. I studied the seaweed in the water and it wasn’t going in either direction. It looked like I made the right call about the tide.

The cycle was contained and gentle. I was back on my own and the lack of a partner to bounce conversation off was noticeable. At the golf club, I had to wait 5 minutes in my wetsuit close to the first tee. A ‘5 ball’ was teeing off and I had to wait for them to finish before I walked across their path. My patience was fortuitous as one of the golfers sent a ball towards the clubhouse with gusto.

At the sixth groin, the water was clear, gentle and warm. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. I felt refreshed and ready for the challenge. I knew that the true test would be to see if I could swim around the groins or would there be difficult waters lurking beneath? I swam to the next groin and stopped at the end of it. There was no push. Relief! After that I swam from groin to groin and stopping each time. Today was the final leg and I was going to enjoy every moment of it. There were a lot of holiday makers on the beaches, especially around the village of Rosslare Strand and as I passed the bathers amongst them, it was still apparent that my pace was satisfactory.

I wondered about stopping for a break on the beach and finishing the bottled water in my tow float but there didn’t seem much point when the finish of the weekend was so near. I had left myself with the option of swimming beyond the car on the cliff to close enough to the ferry port for a resumption at some point in the following weeks and when I got to the car, I knew I had enough left in the tank to get there. Contrary to all my fears when I woke up that morning, It was the perfect swim for pleasure.

And now I have swam from Dublin to Rosslare.

The end of the rainbow

A Day Out At The Beach

The holidays have arrived! Today’s swim was marked by a number of firsts. It was the first day the whole family came with me. It was the first bank holiday weekend of the summer. It was possibly the first time anyone has landed in Curracloe in Wexford having made their way slowly from Dublin city by swimming without a boat.

After the last day where I finished short, I needed to catch up that extra distance to Curracloe to guarantee success crossing the bay next weekend. Once at Curracloe, it’s a little over 4 KM to the end of the spit where the estuary opens up. And! Spoiler alert! I did make it to Curracloe today so the plan of two if not three days swimming next weekend seems quite achievable.

I proposed to Jen the previous weekend that if the weather was fine, that we would go as a family to the beach for the day. In principle she thought the idea was ok, but that her preference was to go if it wasn’t too sunny so that the beach wouldn’t be overcrowded with Dubs invading Wexford for the weekend. Windguru intonated that the conditions would be exactly what she was looking for, pleasant but not overbearingly sunny.

In terms of planning for the swim itself, the logistics were simple. We would all drive to Ballyconnigar, I would change and get in the water and set off down the bay to Curracloe. Jen would take the children and the car and make their way casually to Curracloe, where they would set up on a rug on the beach and hang around until I arrived between an hour and a half and two and a half hours later. No bicycles, no hills. It was the distance swimmer’s paradise. The fact that my children might also feel a connection to what I was doing now they were witnesses also counted for something. Up to now the whole adventure was something they had only heard about.

We had no strict deadlines as I knew that whatever the tidal current app foretold, the truth is that at the shore it was going to be less than a knot either in or against my direction. As such there was no race to get going asap in the morning. We got up leisurely and had a family breakfast. Jen made sandwiches for lunch to augment the biscuits and crisps we packed. I packed my swimming bag and another swimming bag for the children. Jen is not a swimmer. She understands how it helps me in life but she was never exposed to the world of swimming as a child, so she is hesitant about going in the water. The dog was also coming and she definitely is not a water animal.

By the time we were setting off it was noon and Dublin was getting cloudy. I had every confidence in Windguru that the conditions at our destination would be what everyone wanted. Seán and Rose commented that it didn’t look sunny as we drove through South Dublin, but I distracted them with the mental picture that we were going to a beach that was akin to the beaches of France. Approaching Bray on the N11 we hit traffic queues, so out came the sandwiches and crisps. Everyone was in good spirits.

I was able to show off my recently acquired knowledge of the country roads of Wexford to Jen. I was co-pilot as it’s a long standing norm in our house that Jen drives on long Journeys. The excuse being, that she is a bad passenger. I have long since given up on that argument and I have no problem with other people’s driving. I should clarify that. I do have a big problem with the way a lot of Dublin drivers treat cyclists on the city’s streets, but as a passenger in a car that is being driven safely, I don’t get jittery.

We arrived at Ballyconnigar at around half two and the others stretched their legs while I got ready. The car park was overflowing  and it was quite sunny, but a degree of cloud cover was expected. The children played on the rock wall that halted the coastal erosion of Ballyconnigar car park, and it wasn’t far from high tide so the water went right up to the wall. When I was ready, I said my goodbyes as I had to walk and climb north for 400 meters over rocky wall terrain to get to the last day’s finish. The dog followed me for a bit which caused a bit of amusement before I ordered her back to her mother and she acquiesced.

The climbing over the rocks wasn’t as easy as the last time because I wasn’t in neoprene socks today, nor had I brought the gloves I had thought important previously. Hopefully this was going to speed up things somewhat. I approached the start point and there was a stroller standing there as if some kind of steward in place to verify the rules were being obeyed by returning to the exact location. There is part of me that wonders just how many people are aware of what I am doing. I have advertised the blog in work, on public forums and amongst the swimming community I am involved with. Not to mention all the people who would have previously seen me on a bike in a wetsuit on country roads and all the fishermen we have appeared to from the horizon. Today I was to discover that the beaches were full and I was to swim past over a thousand sun and water bathers along the 5.5 km stretch, and surely there would be some intrigue there.

Once in the water I started swimming slowly. Instantly I knew it wasn’t going to be a fast day, while at the same time I knew it wasn’t going to drag on for an eternity into one of those swims where I would be getting angry. Jen and the two were still on the rocks as I swam up to them and the children were very excited to see me draw alongside in the water. It was very shallow, but in that kind of water it is more comfortable to hunch down and stay submerged up to the shoulders. Jen took a few photos and I waved my final goodbye and set off.

The rocks were great in the sense that they conveyed that I was moving. They conveyed it wasn’t fast but they showed I clearly wasn’t working against a current. There were no waves to speak of and breathing was easy on both sides. After less than ten minutes I was clear of the rock wall of Ballyconnigar and it was just the long bay ahead of me to the South. Curracloe was on the horizon, but it was compartmentalised by the fact there weren’t numerous headlands between here and there.

The water was very sandy but I could just about make out the sea bed less than a meter below. Repeatedly throughout the swim, I had to stand up and walk out a bit, but I had done this so much since Cahore that it no longer annoyed me. Or maybe it was the fact that the swim wasn’t prefixed with an hour cycling up and down hills. I was all the more thankful for this when we were driving to the start point and we had to climb a really steep and long climb in the car.

I watched the beach walkers, some with dogs walk alongside me. I couldn’t stay with them for long and I wasn’t considering upping the pace to try and keep up with them. I was stopping regularly to get some sort of validation on my progress and while the bathers and groups on the beach I passed dissolved out of view, Curracloe too remained on the horizon. I remembered some of the landscape from the walk on the last day, and in my memory the cliff-like vista merged into a more vegetative backing to the beach about a kilometer north of Ballinesker. Once at Ballinesker, I was going to be on the home straight.

Once you know you are on the home straight in a long swim, the happiness index jumps up and all the woe washes away. When I got to this vegetative section I was telling myself, I was past the halfway point. I didn’t feel ecstatic about that but I did feel in control. Realistically, a 3 KM per hour pace is quite acceptable and it is unreasonable to expect more, yet so often hope blends into expectation. I was watching the watch and because neither Ballinesker or Curracloe were presenting themselves, my mind started to get impatient. With impatience came the feeling of pressure so I started counting strokes. The magic number of 200 came to me and I set myself the challenge of counting 200 strokes without losing count. The counting was clearly the challenge as opposed to the effort.

Breathing bi-laterally (every three strokes), I started. 1-2-3, breathe, 4-5-6, breathe, 7-8-9. Usually I get to thirty or forty and I lose it. I was comfortable breathing bi-laterally which is indicative of not being too tired, and as long as I kept breathing every three, I decided that would help me keep the tempo. It worked and this was a new skill that just twigged after forty years of swimming. I successfully counted to 300 without dropping count or strokes. And then I stopped and looked back and the rocks at Ballyconnigar were finally on the horizon, and in the distance to the south was a mass of beach goers, which could only mean Ballinesker.

It was about an hour and a half into the swim when I could clearly see the lifeguard station of Ballinesker with a throng of people below it. In the water there were children, SUP enthusiasts, and young men playing water volleyball. I was getting tired but still able to swim through and around all the people enjoying the water ten minutes later. I noted to myself that the SUP enthusiasts might actually be lifeguards patrolling the bathing areas. I remember doing something similar as a lifeguard in college in America.

At Ballinesker I could see another throng to the south and this could only mean Curracloe. I was tired at this point but I was able to gauge that I was still moving steadily as I passed the bathers. I was now on the home straight. The tiredness made each stroke laboured and I knew with this level of fitness in these conditions, that a 10 KM swim would be nigh on impossible, unless I had the freedom to complete the swim part in four or five hours. After next weekend the hope is to spend the summer doing swims no less than 8 KM and often 11 KM, with a 13.5 KM spanner in the works for good measure. What was that I said about the morphing of hope into expectation?

Approaching Curracloe, I was beginning to wonder about my welcoming party. Had they arrived? Were they waiting on the beach? I was catastrophizing that they ended up in a car crash or possibly couldn’t find parking at Curracloe. I would be forced to ask a stranger to borrow their phone. I would be stranded at a beach in Wexford unable to see my wife in hospital and unsure who I could call to drive from Dublin to Wexford to rescue us all! I swam alongside the lifeguard hut and stopped to consider where my family might be and with delight I became aware of my son Seán and daughter Rose wading towards me, shouting ‘Daddy!’. My fears and paranoia vanished instantly and the feeling of success was back.

We had a relaxing drive back to Dublin, with a bit of sightseeing at Kilmuckridge and the holy grail of the promised McDonalds at the Gorey motorway service stop. All was right in the world.