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: