South by South by South West

Yes – that is not a typo. And in the spirit of instant gratification that is the internet I will lay it out immediately and embellish it with the preamble after the first paragraph. So, since my last blog post I had intended to swim from marker A north of Carnsore point to a marker B, southwest of the same Carnsore point. For reasons I will get into shortly, this ended up being two separate swims, the first of which was a 2k due south and the second was a 6 K’er which encompassed a southerly stretch followed by a turn to the southwest. Thus the TL;DR is, today I have left the east coast, and the trajectory of the sun is going to be from behind me to in front of me for the next year or two. You can now (if you like) click on this link ( ) and donate to a very brave and special friend’s cancer treatment. Now for the ramble . . ..

It’s the start of July and I’m feeling cautious, very cautious! For those of you who read the last swim, you will appreciate that I am now getting into senior hurling. I had been advised and warned about the waters ahead of me and considering what had just gone, I made the commitment to both myself and Jen that I would not do the next stage alone or any stage after that where I hadn’t researched the safety enough. I decided I would try and find a canoeist. There had to be some kind of sea kayaking community in the South East that I could tap into and initially I was confidently optimistic that I wouldn’t be looking long. I was aiming for the trek between Ballytrent (which I had previously mistaken for Old Mill Bay Beach – Thanks Google!) and a finish just around the corner of Carnsore point, 6 and a half Kilometres away. And I thought I had a weather window of Sunday 4th July, Windguru had it being down to a decision the evening before

Again, cutting a long story short, I think every kayaker south of Wicklow town and east of Kinsale would have heard about some guy from Dublin wanting to do something stupid around Carnsore. I got some advice as to why a professional canoeist would be too expensive to even consider paying because their reputations are on the line (apologies if you are getting tarred with this brush), and I also got some helpful individuals who weren’t available. So in the end, the swim day was looming and I had nothing secured and I knew I wasn’t going to either. It was a weekend of depression and the depression lifted when I had the brain wave to go back to David in Wexford town who organised the estuary boat. I texted him. He made some calls. He texted back a number. He also texted back some really useful advice for future reference for these circumstances.

The number was for Fintan who I was told by David was a boatman from Carne. Carne is a harbour south of the start point and Fintan wasn’t merely a ‘boatman’, he was a lobster fisherman with a lifetime of knowledge and experience of these waters. It was too good to be true. Being a fisherman, Fintan couldn’t just drop everything and take a call if he was on the water, but being the city desk jockey, I was unaware of this until I met him. When I got talking to him, he was an absolute gentleman and we made a plan for the next weather window, which was Saturday, 10th July.

Being such a gentleman, he left it up to me to decide what time to aim for and I did detect hesitancy in him which I couldn’t place. What was happening was, my sources of information for the currents were entirely wrong and he was too polite to correct me. It is to his credit that he tried a few times. On the Friday night we talked on the phone and he was good to go. 3:30 at the Old Mill.

Windguru suggested some grey weather and it wasn’t wrong. At about 1:20 pm on the Saturday I was approaching the Wexford town ring road and it was raining. It was also grid lock. Fintan rang, and asked where was I? I told him and he said, “you’d want to hurry up”. “The tide has turned and will be flowing north at the point of Carne”. Again still putting 100% of my faith in what my phone had told me, I didn’t fully appreciate the significance of what he was saying. I made haste where I could and we slightly rearranged the logistics where, instead of cycling all the way to the start point, I would meet him halfway and he would get me to the start.

I won’t go into the rest of the mundane logistics that I usually do!

I rocked into Carne Harbour on my bike and could see the truck that Fintan described as being his. He was sitting in the driver seat patiently and had been for at least an hour and a half. I felt bad for this as it was never my intention to abuse anyone’s generosity like this. He greeted me with a smile and the first thing he said was, ‘This is my wife Rosie’. The second thing he said was, you wont get around the Point of Carne today. I thought initially he was jesting and making assumptions about my swimming capability, but he wasn’t. This was no joke. It was a spring tide and by now the current would be flowing three or four knots northwards. When I understood that, he said “Sure we will get going and see how far we get”. I was gutted that I had planned so much for this swim and come so far to be told, it wasn’t going to happen. There was a faint glimmer of hope that I might succeed if I did indeed make an attempt, so Rosie then drove me to Ballytrent where Fintan was waiting in one of his boats. Talking to Rosie, I learned a bit about how lobsters are fished, and I was impressed that she too fished the waters of Carne with Fintan.

Scurrying down the path to the beach at Ballytrent, I stuffed a protein bar down my throat with a few swigs of water and was in the water within 5 minutes. Fintan had outlined on numerous occasions that he would be keeping his boat out a bit, around a quarter of a mile and now I know why. It was a riviera of seaweed and kelp. It was everywhere and went either to the surface or just below it. I didn’t appreciate it but it was taking a lot of extra energy to get through it. With the foreboding expectation of disappointment and the lethargy of the sea vegetation, I was going to the angry place again. Stresses going on in my life back in Dublin compounded things tenfold and I really didn’t want to be here. I wanted an out.

I was stopping every now and then to try and get some kind of positive out of this but none was forthcoming. I could see the weeds I was swimming through were pointing north which meant that yet again, I was swimming against the current. I was thinking about what my companion was saying about the falling and rising tide and now I fully understood that you shouldn’t accept everything you read on the internet. I wasn’t planning ahead to the next swim and possibly picking up from where ever I end up today. I was back in the mode that it was all over.

My goggles still haven’t been upgraded so I couldn’t make head nor tail of the vista but I knew what Fintan was referring to when he indicated which headland we should try to get to. I had no watch either this day, so was only left with the perception that I was painfully slow. By the time we reached Carne pier which was 2 kilometres south of Ballytrent, Fintan offered that we should try to get to the next headland, but I threw in the towel deciding it would be easier to cycle back from here to the car rather than walk in wet flip flops along country roads.

When we landed, we chatted for a long while and I received valuable tuition in the sea. I won’t go into it all now, but I left Carne without the air of failure I had amassed that day. I would have travelled the whole length of the country without any swim if it meant I’d learn what Fintan taught me. And we had a plan to try again from Carne in a few weeks.

Then there was a week’s family holiday which was our first getaway since 2019 and it was just the ticket. But that is a whole other blog. I rang my marine mentor towards the end of the holiday and we made a plan to have another go today. This time I listened to him and he got it spot on.

It meant a 5:30am alarm call to be on the road for 6. After an early night and a holiday, I felt I should have been more optimistic than I was but with this adventure there are no guarantees. I met Fintan on the Carne pier at 8:45, he wanted to get going at 9 but when I got there, he didn’t waste any time. There wasn’t much left of the water level in the harbour to get out. I climbed precariously into the boat from a height and we shunted out of the harbour and after tying up his rowing boat tender to a mooring so he could return at low tide, I got into the water with the grace of three legged horse doing a jump.

The sun was sitting low over Wales but the water temperature was not noticeable. It turned out that it was 17.6 degrees which is approaching the peak summer temperatures (with a sprig of global warming). There were more of the weeds and kelp that i had swam through the last day but it never quite reached the surface. There was also a few blooms of moon jellyfish in the clear waters. The sun’s rays casting into the water and reflecting of the jellyfish was like a David Attenborough documentary.

My main point of reference on the coastline was the wind farm at Carnsore. This was earmarked for a nuclear power plant a few decades ago until Christy Moore started singing. Fair play to him though. At the time we wouldn’t have seen wind as an option but now it is. In the course of my holidays the previous week, I saw numerous wind farms in the midlands that us Dubs would never know about and I think it’s absolutely fantastic. Anyway, the windmills started at 2 kilometres to the south this morning and after 30 minutes, I was swimming beside them. Occasionally Fintan would tell me the speed we were going from his onboard computer and with the flow we were reaching 3 knots. I had to google it later but that’s over 5 kilometres per hour which isn’t bad with a tow float!

I stopped at the corner of the point for a few minutes. This was the special moment where I was moving to the South coast. I joked with Fintan that it would be eight years before I’m back on the east coast. Even sitting still and treading water at the point, there was a 1.5 knot drift turning the corner. I was a bit tired but it didn’t take away from splendor of looking at a wind farm propping up the corner of Ireland. And then it was onwards to Lady’s Island lake where I had parked. It was still another two and a half kilometres to the end, but the fact that the ominous and foreboding Carnsore point was now behind me took all the pain away. I was also still moving fast because of the remainder of the falling tide but I had no visual indication of it. I could see the wires of networks of lobster pots beneath me and high up in the atmosphere some cloud was beginning to filter out the direct sunlight.

We stopped a few times more where I picked Fintan’s brains for any more information he might have about the next few swims. I was moving into the Kilmore Quay waters and from here to there, it isn’t really boat territory. He reckoned it would be safe but if I did need cover a canoe should do it. There was also the gut leading from the point to Ballyhealy which many people mentioned but I didn’t comprehend. This was the biggest reason cited by some of the kayaker’s I had previously approached.

And then we came alongside Lady’s Island lake. This was where my new friend was getting off the bus. I thanked him and I would have been delighted if he accepted the petrol money I had brought but being a gentleman to the core, he said to put it towards the charity cause I am working for. I then swam the last 20 metres in to the shore and it was too deep to stand, though I could see the bottom clearly. I was literally 3 metres from the shore line and was out of my depth. This was the famous gut. It made sense now that inexperienced swimmers and common or garden bathers were warned with big signs not to swim. The push of the flow I didn’t perceive was now all too obvious and not insignificant. I reached forward and lunged my foot into the bed. It was like quicksand (all the more perilous). It took a big heave to stand up and get my balance but once I had stepped forward onto the beach, I turned and saw the safety boat waiting to see I had docked safely before he sped off back to Carne.

The drive back to Dublin was one big day dream about the future of the expedition.