18.2 Degrees

I don’t know if I have mentioned it in this blog but I have been writing a book about all of this. The hope is that someday someone will see fit to publish it and then when I shuffle from senility off this mortal coil, people will read about this great adventurer desk jockey. Throughout this book, I record the water temperature readings of each day at the start of each chapter. They come from the twitter accounts of the nearest meteorological buoy so in the case of the second half of this book, I have been referencing Splaugh buoy which is just off Rosslare port. I thought it fit to mention this at this point because the reading for today reached a max of 18.2 degrees and it is the end of August. This is phenomenal and a clear indication that potentially there is a good bit left to the season, should Jen and other factors like work allow it.

The day itself would not have happened but for the kindness of my good friend Niall, who stepped into the breach to provide canoe cover. With this cover, I was not going to risk a solo swim across Bannow bay, no matter what the conditions were. There was also the fact that while the swim was a mere 4.5 kilometers, if I was to utilise the usual cycling logistic, it would have been a 25 kilometer cycle which would have been an exhausting two hours to kick off the venture.

Without having a concrete plan in place as to how to go about it, I continued to spend the early part of the week ringing phone numbers for boats and kayaks, yet not one picked up or returned my calls. In an act of desperation, I reached out to the Dublin Swimming Club Whatsapp channel to see if there was any hope. Half an hour later Niall messaged me, “I may have an idea for Friday, give me a shout when suits”. My mood instantly skyrocketed. He had an idea to borrow a kayak from a parent in his children’s GAA club and he would perform the safety duties. This was truly magnanimous of Niall as I knew he would love to be making this crossing in the water as well as opposed to on top of it. There were still a few unknowns though, the prescient one being that he had yet to ask for the lend of the kayak. He also thought that he might bring Cormac, his son in a double kayak and give him a taste of the open sea, but that was to be confirmed too. Then there was the logistics of the day as Niall was inclined to bring only one car if possible and he was hoping he might recruit another friend of his from Wexford for some taxi services in the Hook area.

As the day drew closer, a number of things fell into place. Niall’s friend with the kayak, Davin was more than happy to lend us his kayak, but it was a single seat vessel so Cormac wouldn’t be coming. Also his other friend, who might have been available for a lift from Baginbun to Bannow Bay beach, wasn’t going to bunk off work early on Friday so we would be bringing two cars to Wexford.

On Friday morning, I was at Niall’s house with the car at 8:15 am with a full tank of petrol. It was the last of the summer time in lieu day’s that my current company gives us and it was a bit cloudy in a summer’s morning sort of way. We drove in convoy to Dun Laoghaire and met Davin. Davin was very complimentary about the challenge and was truly interested in what we had undertaken and how far we had managed to get it to. He had lots of questions to which we had answers to, and as I recollect, I don’t think he descended into calling the expedition crazy, though he might have thought it.

He showed us how to secure his kayak to my roof rack, while sharing tails of car roofs being ripped off on motorways if not secured properly. This was a new departure where we were taking on an added logistical element ourselves but I was in the moment and just treating it as part of the job. I had never driven on a motorway with roof cargo so this was a big leap, and when on the road, I vigilantly kept the speed under 100 kph the whole way. This was even to the point that I was overtaking a lorry with an awkward load in the Arklow area and because I wasn’t overtaking significantly faster, I could see a car approaching from behind me at breakneck speed and I had a moment of fear that his brakes had failed. He was easily doing 140 kph. After that, I didn’t overtake any more vehicles, no matter how slow they were going.

When Niall and I convened in Oilgate, Niall broke the news that he had forgotten his roof rack. Until now this was an important part of the procedure so we quickly devised a plan to meet again in Wellington Bridge which was the halfway point between the start and the finish but also a good few miles inland at the northern point of a large estuary type lagoon. From there we would leave Niall’s car in Wellington Bridge while we drove the kayak to the start point. Hiding the kayak behind an old lifeguard house where no one goes and no one would see it, we would then drive back to Wellington Bridge, and take the two cars to Baginbun. At Baginbun we would get togged out and drive back to the start in Niall’s car at Bannow Bay beach. That way, my car and the roof rack would be waiting at the finish for the kayak. All this extra faffing about added almost an hour to the kick off time, but by my reckoning we were still safe tide wise. Also at this stage it was blue skies and set to remain so for the rest of the day.

We also had time to fit in a picnic at Bannow Bay beach and we saw what Niall reckoned was a hawk swooping down the cliffs to the beach. But, after the previous day when I had a rough time of it at Cullenstown, I was unsure as to how much current there would be to contend with coming out of Bannow’s backwaters so I had a disposition of caution which I didn’t share with Niall. When we got going, there were two kayakers coming around the headland and their movement suggested a flow eastward (against us). It was the familiar emotion of dejection at this point but we had to soldier on, and once in the water, there didn’t appear to be any such significant current.

For the first 3 hundred metres, we were in the familiar fields of weed and rock, but this was very much an accepted terrain for me at this stage. Niall said he could see them clearly from the kayak and as we started to move offshore it didn’t seem to abate. After the first 2 minutes of warm up, I decided to settle into ten minute intervals again. These had worked so successfully many times before, so if it’s not broken, don’t fix it. At the first pause, Niall asked where I was aiming for and my thinking was to aim for halfway between the headland with the Martello tower on it which was Baginbun headland and the headland north of that, which was Fethard. My rationale was that if there was any kind of drift outward from the backwater, we would still be most likely on target for Baginbun.

At the twenty minute break, there was a rocky outpost of an island up in front of us. It would have been no more than fifteen square meters and I knew this wasn’t charted in any of my previous inspections of Google Earth. From a distance, the island was black with cormorants basking in the afternoon sun. Ten minutes later, we were alongside it and it was empty. Niall remarked that, “a few minutes ago there were thirty cormorants here and now we are here, there are none!”. My mind went on a train of thought about islanders around the coast of Ireland and the evolution of the planet and I tried to crack a joke. “At one point in history, there would have been people living on that island and there will be again at some future point in history”. I couldn’t make out Niall’s response properly but I think he said, “Eh the cormorants say No!”

Looking back at the starting point behind us and ahead to the other side, it appeared we were not quite half way, but there was an optical illusion on the western side that suggested the Baginbun side wasn’t an insurmountable distance away. Any kind of indiscernible point on the far distant horizon will always feel insurmountable but baginbun felt tangible. Very much conscious that it signified the crossing of an important bay, the goal wasn’t milage today.

The sun never let up and I was starting to feel patches of bath like temperatures in the water and it’s now when I know that it was hitting 18 degrees that I fully appreciate the warmth that Irish waters can reach. If these were the temperatures all year round the duration of the challenge would be cut to less than half the time. I suppose it does help that it’s the last heat wave of the season too. The sun rays were piercing through the aqua green tint of the sea below and it looked like there was a sandy floor in the depths beneath. Then the negative stuff was starting to creep in.

My mind would reflect on some of the huge challenges ahead. Would the next stage to Slade harbour be too dangerous to do without company or cover. Would the turn around Hook head and the 9 km of open water it would take to get across to Waterford be insurmountable. If I got that far, the next stage after that would be a 13 kilometer expedition, the kind of which I had never achieved in my life. I stopped and surveyed the current vantage point with Niall.

I said to him, “at this point I just don’t want to get angry”. He said something to the fact that why would I be getting when it was such a nice day. He was right and it was hard to grasp with fatigue but there was nothing to be angry about at this point. I tried to laugh it off by stating the old adage, “just because you are paranoid, doesn’t mean that they are not out to get you”. In many ways this was my subconscious talking.

At this stage we were close enough to Baginbun to see people on the beach. They were still small dots but it meant finality. Earlier, we had mooted the idea of making it around Baginbun headland to Carnivan beach. Both beaches were equidistant to the car and the latter would mean a shorter journey the next day out. However as we were nearing Baginbun, it was approaching the turn of the tide and I could feel it getting choppier. I knew from research that it was an extra 1500 metres to get around the headland and I was full of trepidation about making the extra mile in the face of a rising tide. Coupled with the fact that Baginbun looked like an oasis of rest, we agreed to make a line for the farthest end of the beach and appraise the situation from there. One pause a few minutes later, I told Niall that I thought we should leave it at Baginbun and he could go snorkelling around the rocks like he planned.

There was a certain sense of failure that I didn’t have the faculties to make the longer distance but when I got to a depth in the water when I could stand up for the first time, the subtle overbearing pressures of the crossing abated. Niall beached first with the kayak and I sure it must have felt good for him to stretch his legs for the first time in an hour and a half and when I walked up on the beach to him a minute later, I held out my hand to shake hands and decreed, “Doctor Livingstone I presume?”

Niall then went into the water with his snorkel and mask and I stood with the kayak in the sunshine retrieving my senses. Then I thought, “Hang on! I have just swam from the headland in the far distance on the other side of this channel. I then felt good and that it was an important milestone in the odyssey. Possibly for the first time it dawned on me that I had now swam to a point from Dublin that couldn’t be glossed over as trivial. That, and in two swims time, I ‘should’ be in Waterford which would be another piece of history to claim.

The Consignment

If I was to sum up today in one word, that word might possibly be consigned. The day was consigned for multiple reasons that I will now go into.

It was nearly two weeks since my last swim and that was down to the fact I tried to secure canoe cover to get across Bannow Bay. This crossing was hoped for as the tail end of an eight kilometer pitch from Cullenstown beach. I thought I had it in me to cover the distance if the tide was favourable and I had the company of a safety paddler. I had been in negotiations with a kayaker from Kilkenny, but between his availability which was weekdays after work and the tides there was only one opportunity since the last day. However when the day came the conditions were awful. Time was dragging on and I felt I might be waiting for a very long time before the right opportunity presented itself, and so I consigned myself to completing the five kilometers from Cullenstown to the edge of the bay at Bannow Bay beach and go from there. Today was the first weather opportunity since that decision.

On the last day out, you may recollect that I had a challenge at the finish in the form of a rapid flow out to sea from the lagoon of Ballyteige. In the lead up to today, I kept thinking this would present itself as a challenge again and I decided I would hope for the best and try not to think about it until I saw it in the flesh again. Part of me was saying that if the worst came to the worst, I would skip the outlet and add it to ‘Missings Gap’ as a section to come back to. This kind of psychology was lending itself to the prospect that sooner rather than later, the odyssey would come to an end, and being almost two weeks between swims gave weight to this thought process.

In the end when I got there, I seemed to approach the start section with blinkers on. The tide was falling into its last hour of decline and so the flow of the lagoon was just as fierce as when I last left it. As I was making my final preparations, I charted where I should start. There was a sand bank exposed on the other side of the mouth. It gave the perception of being a shallow channel. As the flow hit the sea there was a bit of turbulence and what looked like a path of sea heading straight out for a hundred metres at least. I was togged out and blowing up my tow float when a couple came walking up to me with haste. “Sorry, you’re not from around here are you?”. They were concerned that I was ignorantly ignoring the warning signs about bathing and in a way I was, but at this moment in time I was prepared to make a go of it. They talked ominously of swimmers coming a cropper and boats not being able to rescue them at this point and I suggested that they stay and keep an eye that I pass through into the calmer other side safely. They weren’t convinced until I informed them that I had walked across the channel on the last day out and then they conceded slightly. They did say that they didn’t know what they could do if there was any difficulty, but at this stage I was consigned to keeping to the rules and making a go of it.

I waded across the stoney shallows into the channel and there was a strong flow. Before I got waist deep I knew I was about to lose my footing so I made a dash for the sandbank on the other side. I’d say in about ten strokes I had swam the ten metres across but was swept twenty metres out. I just about made the corner of the intended sandbank and forced myself to stand and walk on the painful stone bank. It wasn’t so bad. I then knew I was in control of the situation and I turned and waved back at the two lifeguards on the beach behind me. I got a wave back.

I was still very much in a state of trepidation about the swim and the unfamiliarity of these waters so my pace was very cautious. After the first ten minutes, I had swam clear of lagoon outflow and the waves settled down. I was way out yet I knew that it was a shallow beach coast line to the next headland. I had misgivings about the currents as I knew low tide was within half an hour at Cullenstown yet somehow low tide was almost an hour later at Bannow Bay. Then it occurred to me that what the internet might be considering Bannow Bay to be, might be the inner lagoon-like bay as opposed to the area between here and Baginbun on the Hook peninsula. I was too far from the shore line for my shortsightedness to get a reference. That and the first ten minutes seemed to go on forever.

There was no visibility in the water for the first half of the swim and this added to the despondency. The sky was mostly overcast by virtue of the fact there was a prevailing cloud centered over the area and it was a cruel torturer as it allowed a persistent gap to let the sun shine on the coastline about two kilometres away. The thoughts were getting negative and I had the mindset of someone being goaded. A voice asked “Do you think you will achieve anything with this swim?” My response was, “I’m just trying to bring some sunshine to the world”. The clouds blocked the sun as if to say, “Yeah that’s not going to happen”, and again I replied, “If enough people keep trying, it will”. The voice then went away, so I felt I won the argument, though the sun didn’t come out.

At the twenty minute mark, I was still close to Cullenstown beach laterally and I was consigning myself to the prospect of a long one today. Maybe resigning is the right word here? And I thought for a minute to consider doing some stroke counting. I decided against it though as it was too early into the swim and the finish was still an unknown beyond view. The keeragh Islands which are a wildlife sanctuary and natural heritage area were still ahead of me to my left. They seemed a lot closer to the shore that Google Earth suggested. I don’t have a photographic memory so when I study these courses prior to swimming them, they blend into my memory banks with a certain vagueness. I could see some houses on a headland in the distance but was fairly sure they weren’t the properties I had made a note of when parking the car earlier in the day. I was reassured by the notion that although they might not be the finish point, it would at least be over half way and today was supposed to be a ‘short’ one.

At around an hour, I rounded a headland and because I quickly came close to shore, I was taken aback by the pace I was moving at that point. Seaweed and rocks were gathering below and moving briskly. An observer in the form of a chirpy gull was standing on the rocks and he passed from view as quickly as he came into view. I then noticed that the weeds were pointing west. A favourable flow, but it must have been an eddie. The weeds were getting thick and heavy so I turned out a bit and instantly it seemed the flow was against me again. There was still no sign of home so I decided I would look for a break in the rocks to land and finish the bottle of water in my tow float. I was sure the beach I was nearing was on the other side of the headland to the finish and I was prepared to land on it except I could see what looked like a gathering of people camped close to the beach entrance and I didn’t want to get into a conversation about what I was doing.

I kept swimming and I could see that there was no beach beyond so I picked a spot I would aim for the shore. It took me a good ten minutes to swim to that point and I was knackered. I was moving into giving up territory again. There was a guy in combat fatigues hanging around so I paddled thirty metres beyond him. The landscape was almost volcanic and very rugged. By the point where I could stand up, albeit with difficulty, I carefully reached into a rock pool. To get up onto the shore wasn’t going to be easy and judging by the difficulty the lady forty meters back had in navigating the coast line, I knew walking back the rest of the way was going to be an unlikely option.

I sat down for a rest. The simple act of resting started to put my mind at ease. There was still plenty of time and I wasn’t cold. The sun wasn’t going to come out, I knew that, but a mouthful of fresh clean water was like heaven. I had packed a printout of Google maps for the bike part of the journey as I didn’t know the roads and although I hadn’t called on it for clarification on land, I thought I would get an opinion by looking at it now. I dried my hands on the T-shirt I brought and took out the A4 page. There was a wave of relief when it told me that in all likelihood, I had just to go around the headland a hundred metres away and then I would see the finish. This was the last concession of the day. This is where I got to tell myself that throughout today’s swim, there were witnesses at every point to clarify, I didn’t cheat and that apart from ‘Missings Gap’ and a few groynes at Rosslare, I was still on course for the circumnavigation.

Back in the water, I had a brief second wind but the seaweed was dense and debilitating. It was tiring me out quickly and I was starting to catastrophize that this wasn’t the last headland. Then, as many times before, just when I needed a sign, the abandoned farmhouse at the finish came into view. But just so as I didn’t get too ecstatic, the seaweed was pointing east. I told myself at this point that I could reasonably get out anywhere and have an acceptable resumption point for the next day. The problem was the shoreline was still a volcanic brownstone facade which denied an exit.

I had no choice but to consign myself to swimming right up to the end where there was a small stretch of pebbled beach to exit the sea from. This point was alongside the exit to the beach where my car was, and where a canoe could safely launch if I manage to organise the next stretch.

And then peace and endorphins.

If you would like to donate to a friend’s cancer therapy, you can do so at this link, and many thanks to those who have already been kind:


It’s a family affair!

Throughout a swimming career, whole years of plodding up and down a swimming pool lane blend into a single memory. Even if you keep a diary, there is a truism in competitive swimming that you are only as good as your last performance.

With this coastal challenge however there are many memories and mental pictures, and as I glance back to previous parts of the blog and the book I am writing in tandem, vivid memories and pictures in my mind come sweeping back. These musings are nothing but cherished, even if they were tough circumstances at the time. For this reason, I heartily recommend if you are in a position to, to explore the coastline in a similar manner, even if it is just for a few hundred metres. The caveat is that you do it safely, but then I am of the belief you wouldn’t have gotten this far into the blog if you weren’t either a swimmer or mature enough to know your limits.

To this point, I am aware of two groups of swimmers, some of whom I know, who have undertaken the Wicklow coast this year. Now that I think of it, it should possibly be called ‘The Wicklow Way’, though I’m not sure what board failte would have to say. I had the privilege of being asked for help with one of the groups as Collette from Guinness Swimming Club reached out looking for boat support to get around Wicklow head. In the end they secured cover on the day before their swim and they covered over 10 Kilometres from north of Wicklow Head to Brittas Bay.

Back to the latest swim. Earlier on in the year, I had kindly invited my mum to Wexford with me for a trip or two to help with the logistics. She agreed in principle at the time, as mothers are inclined to do, but it wasn’t until a week or two ago when she came back to me and said she could do a swim support or two now. It was an offer just at the right time as I had now arrived at coastline where the linking roads were much longer than the swims and I was now considering long swims. This swim was a 10 kilometre jaunt from Kilmore Quay to Cullenstown Beach and I was all the more spurred on by the swim I had just heard of at Wicklow Head. This jaunt would be a continuous beach from start to finish so it was safe to do without a canoe or boat, though Donal had warned me about the potential flow coming out of the back water lake at Cullenstown.

Donal had also helped me in my estimation of the favourable tide, suggesting I get in an hour earlier. Mum didn’t mind bringing our departure from Dublin forward to 7:30 am and she drove like the clappers down the M11, so there was no way I was going to miss this tide! It was dark and overcast going through Dublin in the early morning, but as soon as we reached the M50 perimeter of Dublin, it was like the ring road was fencing in Autumn as blue skies opened up beyond. Windguru did advise that South Wexford would be cloudy too, so I wasn’t going to have false hopes.

There was however a little bit of sun left at Kilmore Quay when we got there but the grey was clearly coming in over the sea (if you will excuse the pun). What was a happy sight was the 60 cm swell Windguru had predicted hadn’t manifested itself in chop at the waters edge. I have done a few swims of this distance last year and experience told me to plan for at least two stop overs. So I packed two chocolate bars and a bottle of water in reusable plastic. Thankfully with my mum couriering me, there was no bike leg today, so no flip flops or t-shirt in the tow float. I have yet to quantify the impact of all that extra weight being dragged along, but I should imagine its not inconsiderable.

I stepped into the water at 9:40 am and there was a small gathering of gulls floating around the start point. They didn’t seem phased as I approached them. Maybe they recognised me? I swam for two minutes as a warm up. And then another two minutes to complete the warm up, only stopping for 10 seconds each time. This make sense from a cardio perspective and something I should have considered more often previously. I decided then to swim in ten minute slots for an hour and a half before my first pit stop. I reckoned I would be around half way by then with a good flow.

Again, I had been here so many times before and I knew that after the first three or four ten minute jaunts, the time slots would then blend into a body of time that moved quicker. It was a case of another truism, “all in its own good time”. Donal had mentioned that he didn’t favour long beach swims as they tended to be boring, but I enjoyed this one as the dunes and beach to my right persisted in moving quite progressively. The water was particularly cloudy for most of the swim such that I couldn’t see the sea floor even though I could stand up in the water.

After an hour, I could see a person standing around a mile away. He was merely a small blob on the horizon but I didn’t see him being anything other than a fisherman. I wondered where he came from though because according to Google Earth, the access point was over two miles behind me at Kilmore Quay. Would he really have walked that far to go fishing on a beach that was completely empty anyway? He did seem to demark the half way point in the swim so maybe he was there on purpose. As I got closer, I could confirm he was fishing and I could also see that he was on the beach where my first hour and a half was scheduled to stop, almost to the metre. In an effort not to invade his personal space, I took my break at one hour and twenty eight minutes.

On the beach there was a large heavy duty plastic box which made a perfect bench, but in the absence of sunshine, there was no basking in the rest. The first chocolate bar was half chocolate and half beard water but I could feel the calories in it not getting further than my throat before being vacuumed into my metabolism. I made sure to keep enough water for pit stop two. And I was back in the water ten minutes after I had climbed out. For the second leg, I had planned another hour of ten minute steps.

I was beginning to really appreciate the lack of a bicycle stage, as there was no anger and despite the grey skies, it was just endless optimism. I knew I was making good head way with the currents as I had very quickly left the fisherman behind me in the distance. From that resting point, I couldn’t see the start and I couldn’t see the finish, so logically I had to be close to half way. But we all know how logic can be an assumption in these swims so the safest thing to do was not to commit mentally to anything.

The second hour slot passed relatively quickly and I was beginning to think about the outflow from the backwater, especially since today was one of the few occasions, where I didn’t drive to the finish first and assess the exit. So there was a great unknown that was getting all Donald Rumsfeldy in my head. And apart from a quad bike that sped by with a driver and a passenger at one point, there was nothing on the vista to get a perspective. At 12:20 pm, I climbed back on the beach and I made straight to climb the twenty foot dune to get an opinion via the backwater that I knew lay behind. At the top of the dune, it was clear that there couldn’t have been more than a half an hour left.

I descended the dune and sat on a sea ravaged piece of thick branch for my last picnic of the day. By now, this was purely a calorie intake exercise as I was very fatigued and potentially susceptible to the cold. It wasn’t cold per se but after three hours in water of fifteen or sixteen degrees, your core temperature will be depleted to an extent. I have never experienced hyperthermia, and I don’t want to. After twelve minutes, I was back in the water.

This was it, I was going home. But then I started to consider what was awaiting at the finish. There was still Donal’s warning of the outflow from the inlet, but there was no channel visible from a distance. I could see cars parked up ahead, so in all likelihood this was the finish, but it was somewhere I didn’t know. For some reason, I had decided that there was no channel. I reckoned that at low tide as it was now, that all the draining had been done and as I got closer to the cars and houses I was getting too tired to lift my arms any more. It was getting choppier and I put this down to the weather.

I decided I was close enough to get out and I could resume from here the next day. It wasn’t until I was standing up on the stoney beach that I saw the channel. I staggered towards it as there was still a hundred metres left to the car park. The stones were painfully sore on the feet and I was in a form of delirium that prevented me from stopping even just for a minute and relaxing. Mentally I needed to see my mum’s car to know the swim was over. And to do this I had to cross the channel which was flowing out to sea like a rapid.

I took a few steps into the channel and there was a tremendous pull. It was fight or flight and the first thing to do logically was strap my tow float back on so I didn’t have to be concerned about losing it. When I was between knee deep and waist deep I decided I just had to make a break for it and swim across in the hope that the current wouldn’t sweep me out by the time I crossed it. I lunged forward and It was like riding a wave on a surfboard. I took a few strokes with my head above water until I reckoned I might be able to stand up again. I put my hands down and could feel the bottom. With a burst of energy I don’t know where I summoned from, I stood up and staggered forward. There was still a fierce pull in the water but I was just about able to overcome it and dig my feet into the stoney sand beneath, oblivious to the pain. A few more steps and I was out the other side.

I stepped further forward on the stones dreading that my mother’s car would not appear and that this was me stranded but as the stones morphed into soft sand, her ford appeared from behind a dune. She wasn’t in the car with her book as I was expecting so I guessed she was still out having her walk. By this time the sun had come out and although it wasn’t Mediterranean heat, it was most welcome. I loitered for ten minutes and then she appeared, wondering how she missed me as she was waiting for me on the beach. This was it though. This was now the pay back when the endorphins are ricocheting around my brain and another swim is notched off in the adventure.

In the Jungle, the Mighty Jungle

This was definitely one of the most interesting swims over the last while. The start was Ballyhealy which was demarcated by a large boulder at the low tide mark and the finish was at the start of Ballyteige Burrow which stretches west from Kilmore Quay. Between those two points is Ireland’s marine answer to the jungle.

In the week leading up to this swim I had been apprehensive about the inevitability of having to do it alone. I had swam in the Saltees swim about five years ago and remember the stewards chaperoning us out of the way of Patrick’s Bridge yet still we had a lot of tangling weeds and reeds to negotiate. I reckoned now that I was going to have to go through it as opposed to around it, that it was a case of damage limitation if I swam out a bit. The satellite imagery on Google Earth suggested that it was dense and as this diary entry unfolds, you will see I wasn’t to be disappointed.

Windguru had suggested Sunday or Monday from early on the previous week, but Sunday was a non runner due to commitments at home. Monday was good though. It was a bank holiday so I wouldn’t forfeit annual leave and having spent the weekend building a fence that Jen approved of in the garden, I had full blessings to head off for the day.

In my anticipated entry into the waters of the south coast, I decided it was time to get in touch with a Waterford swimmer named Donal Buckley. Donal is a fabled long distance and Ice swimmer who maintains a swimming blog that has won numerous awards. He is known for his critiquing of publicized swims that bend the rules in the eyes of the true purists. Flipper swims and channel relays, that kind of thing. I anticipated him not being receptive to me on the basis of my wetsuit use, but when he responded to my introductory email, he was nothing but supportive and courteous. I wanted to talk to him because he had extensive experience swimming the waters of the south coast and his insights would be invaluable. I also invited him to join me whenever it suited him.

We ended up talking over the phone a few days after the email and we set up a channel of communication whereby I would pick his brains on the various swims as they approached. I felt it was too much to take in a complete synopsis of Waterford in one sitting. And to this end, my focus was on the Ballyhealy to Kilmore Quay stretch. He mentioned there was a rip current off Patrick’s bridge that I needed to watch out for. I couldn’t quite visualize how this manifests but when I got there I saw what he meant.

I should clarify that Patrick’s Bridge is a naturally rocky pathway that is above the water at half tide and stretches out at least 2 kilometers towards the Saltee Islands. It is roughly six hundred meters east of Kilmore Quay harbour. The purists will say, in this challenge, it should be swum around, but I think it is much more in the spirit of the challenge to get out and climb over it. The fact that it was a solo swim meant I had a degree of security by staying close to my depth. Legend has it that St Patrick inadvertently created this natural phenomena by chasing the devil and throwing rocks from the Galtee mountains at him. Donal said he would like to join me but he would have to confirm the night before, but in the end he couldn’t make it due to a banjaxed canoe that spent his shoulders, a few days before.

For some reason, there was no pressure with this swim. It might have been that I was dropping from an 8 kilometer distance the last day down to five or six kilometers on this day, or it might have been that I was wholly anticipating getting the tides right and getting a push that might bring it down to an equivalent of 4 kilometers. The fact that I didn’t have to race back to Dublin afterwards helped. There was a certain amount of the unknown in the fact I didn’t know how much vegetation to expect and according to 3 year old imagery on Google Earth, I would have a sandy journey for the first fifteen hundred meters.

I made sure I packed everything, even down to my waterproof watch. I spent 15 minutes searching the house for it to put it in my swimming bag and eventually in an act of desperation asked Seán, had he seen it. He hadn’t seen it but in an attempt to get me to stop interrupting his computer game, he suggested it might be in my swimming bag. He was right! Credit where credit is due, I thanked him.

The drive down was uneventful with a little over two hours from Phibsboro to Kilmore Quay. When I got to Kilmore Quay it was absolutely mobbed with day trippers, even though the weather was somewhat grey. I didn’t know what to expect when I would get to the Ballyteige Burrow. Would there be a navigable beach or would the environment be inhospitable. I parked up on the road in the last free parking space in the town and went to survey the potential finish point. Access to the beach involved walking over a footbridge of a small river that looked more like a large storm drain. On the beach side of the bridge was a blunt ‘No Swimming’ sign. It was the same type of sign that I had seen at Carnsore and my first reaction was, yet again I had made the journey down from Dublin only to be prevented from swimming due to my ignorance. I ventured over the dunes onto the beach to get an understanding of what the danger was and I was greeted with a few bathers with very limited swimming capacity, wading around in waist deep water. I had decided that the warning sign must have been something to do with the storm drain-type river but looking back now, I can see there being problems if you weren’t a good swimmer and you drifted south to the harbour walls.

I decided then to go and pay a visit to Kilmore Quay RNLI station. My introduction to Fintan previously was through this RNLI station and a chap called Dave Moloney. I thought if I was passing, I should drop in and say hello and thanks. The station had a shop on the ground floor where a nice lady was busy selling shell necklaces and pencils with rubber eraser lifeboats on the top of them to raise funds to save lives. I immediately thought that if there comes to be a next year in this journey, that my chosen charity would then be the RNLI. I had listened to a podcast during the week about two girls who got caught on paddle boards and swept out of Galway bay and really if we didn’t have the RNLI, there would be a lot more tragedy on the sea. I also heard that the brexit factions in the UK were attacking the RNLI in some propaganda. I didn’t bother finding out the exact details as we all know those idiots would never be near the sea because it would deny them time in Wetherspoons. Dave wasn’t there anyway, so I bought a box of Christmas cards and made a donation.

Then it was a cycle to Ballyhealy. Again it was largely uneventful though I did pack a printout of the route as I didn’t want to get lost like the last day with Niall. There were no climbs of significance and I remembered what Niall said about the roads in the area. Because it was a flat landscape, it was easy to build roads all over the place. There were lots of Norman ruins all over this countryside too, picturesquely placed in the middle of golden wheat fields. Once I left the main Wexford to Kilmore Quay road, there were no more cars, just the faint humm of tractors as you wind down the roads.

At Ballyhealy beach, there was a group of people looking for directions to a stables. The person they were asking directed them to me as I pulled up on the bike. I was able to impart the knowledge of the last day with Niall where I casually rattled off the placename ‘Rossdoonbeg Beach’ with the air of someone of local significance. I’m not even sure that’s the same name that Niall was calling it, but the wetsuit guy would be a good person to ask! Then it was final prep and into the water.

A bit of a breeze had developed and the water looked a bit on the choppy side. The breeze was south westerly and if that had any influence on the water then I was going to be against it again today. I didn’t care though as this is mostly what I’ve had since Cahore. And true to form, once I waded into the water there was going to be an uphill journey today. I took a few strokes and saw that at least I could move in the right direction and as long as I could perceive movement, I would just keep going.

I swam for four minutes as a warm up and stopped for half a minute, then settled into a rhythm. I swam for ten more minutes and could see it was still sandy below. It was occurring to me that it would be a bit over an hour before I got to the bridge and that once I had hit vegetation, I would be fifteen hundred meters into it. I monitored my progress relative to the beach and it was clear that it was slow, but because I was in familiar territory, there was no problem. The fact that my knackered goggles were shielding me from the extent of my slowness helped. There were houses dotted along the vista and they seemed to be progressing and ultimately I wasn’t out of my exertion comfort zone.

I was looking forward to a lot of things at this point. I was looking forward to finishing up with Wexford and moving into Waterford. I was looking forward to being one of the few who have swum across the Waterford estuary. I was looking forward to getting through the kelp underworld ahead and I was looking forward to finishing the fence in Dublin. There was no sun but it wasn’t a grey day. And then the reeds started.

At the first reed that I came upon, I could see it standing arrogantly with it’s tidal weather vane pointing towards me. Yes this was against me but I was full sure I had the tides right and indeed I did, as what this was, was the ripping eddie coming off Patrick’s Bridge. I was still a good two kilometers away from it but this was its effect. I was picturing the Saltee Islands creating a contraflow which then got funneled back at me by the bridge. Luckily it was a neap tide so it could have been worse. Alas there was no time to worry about this as the reeds and weeds were starting to come thick and fast.

Initially I tried to swim around the protruding greenery but then it got too dense. There were fleeting visions of getting knotted in the stuff but it continued to just sweep past. I was no longer in any way interested in the beach or eroding lands buttressing it. I was breathing bilaterally and watching the waters below me pass by like an arty movie. I did at one point imagine that scene in the star wars clone movie (the shite one) where they are speeding through an underwater labyrinth being chased by a big worm.

I started to notice that I was so calm about the circumstances that I was breathing comfortably every four strokes. I know at a faster pace this would only be sustainable for seventy five meters max, but this pace and cadence was surprisingly comfortable. I thought then for a moment that I needed to move to breathing every other stroke so I don’t build up oxygen debt but this felt unnatural and uncomfortable. The reeds were now like a grassy field and there was no break in them but at no time did any of them catch me and bring me to an abrupt halt. I also took comfort that the water was shallow enough below me that I could stop any time. And I stopped on quite a few occasions, feeling the stones beneath the seaweed under my feet. At one point with the coral-like weed passing by, I saw a crab scurry into the growth. This was a new departure. It was a new animal on the journey and signified a new horizon in my pursuit. A minute later, I saw another bigger crab ambling out of the way. From then on to Patrick’s Bridge, it was crab world. The seaweed life meant the water was not navigable by boat so this was ‘wild’ crab life going here and there. There were also a lot of crab carcasses and I assumed they were victims of the many gulls loitering in the area.

Then another micro environment phenomena started occurring. Every now and then there would be breaks in the green life and patches of sand a few meters squared would be exposed. On these small strips of clear sand were almost matrix-like congregations of curled up worms. I have no idea what or why. I thought they might be getting some reprieve until a spring low tide exposed them to the bird life, but possibly they were too deep for that. What I did realise then is worms don’t breathe the same way as we do, which is a fact we often overlook.

I could see the cranes in the Kilmore Quay harbour silhouette in the distance and I couldn’t make out the harbour entrance due to the greyness of the sky and goggle-fog but at about four hundred meters I could make out what looked like a green wall. As I got closer I realised that this was the fabled ‘Bridge’. The green mossy surface of it’s stoney ground indicated it would be slippery, but this marked the start of the final stretch so I was going to enjoy it. It had dawned on me that I was so accepting of the day’s circumstances that the usual anger never drew in, especially when I could still see the weeds pointing against me. Maybe I had crossed a rubicon in endurance. It would be great if that were true. All I would need then is to cross an abyss of fitness and I could ramp up to 20km swims.

I carefully approached the natural pier that was Patrick’s Bridge and cautiously stood up. The anticipated slippy-ness was only too real. I had to take each step slowly and even bent down into a semi crawl on all fours for a bit. The excitement was palpable as the water on the west side of the natural wall appeared a lot calmer and there was a little over a kilometer left of the swim. Long distance swimmers often deal in terms of half way points and this was well past that, so it was just the task to bring it home. I had considered stopping on the bridge but the weather wasn’t conducive, as it was still too grey and there was a slight chill to the air.

As I carefully stepped into the water on the other side, there was a feeling of warmth. It wasn’t an excessive warmth and may have just been my brain confusing familiarity with comfort. My first glimpse under water on the other side also confirmed the fact that the swim thus far was in the face of an eddie as the weeds were now pointing the other way. Happy days!

I could see a small rod fishing boat just outside the harbour mouth so I had something to aim for. The sun was coming out over the harbour so my view of it was shadowed. I was getting very tired at this point and not fully appreciating the fatigue of two hours swimming against the flow. I knew from earlier recon that once I cleared the harbour entrance, I had to swim around a rocky point and the northwards for two hundred meters to the landing beach. But once I got around the harbour mouth, the chop sprang up and was debilitating. I breastroked for a few minutes, realising I wasn’t moving much but that this was unknown and could get tricky.

I could see people walking on the coastal path onshore and grew concerned that they might be concerned. I was absolutely knackered but knew I was nearly home. I took a few more front crawl strokes, breastroked a few more and repeated until I was around the rocky spit west of Kilmore Quay pier. Then I could see the beach. I wasn’t sure if they were seagulls on it or if it was so far away that they were people. The sun was now emblazoning on the sandy dunes of Ballyteige Burrow and it had the air of a mediterranean summer’s evening. It was definitely another case of finishing on fumes but yet another first happened. I realised this was the first time in the adventure that I was swimming north as the evening sun shone from my left.

I shunted a few strokes at a time to the shore. I could see the sandy floor beneath me but it was too deep every time I tried to stand up. I’d say I was ten meters from the shore line and I still couldn’t stand up. It was another gutt I supposed. Maybe this was part of the earlier warning. Just a few strokes more and then I could stand up. It was a relief and I felt accomplished. I also knew that this was something you had to go a long way from a pool in Dublin to experience.