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.
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.
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.