Tháinig sinn ag an am ceart

The timing was good in the end, but it wasn’t the time that was predicted. We were at the mercy of the schedule but the schedule was really at the mercy of time. If we got it wrong, there would have been a lot of trouble. Front page news. Maybe even the obituary column too. Foreboding was my word for the day. I used it a lot, at the end when the foreboding was no longer boding. There were so many things that boded. The temperature. The ships. The current. The rocks. Fear itself. Coming down from town, the mouth of the port seemed close and simple. On the prom beside it, it seemed further, and that word again. A roro was going. Ambling past our path. It was a mount of Olympus to our mere chariots of tow floats ond goggles. Zeus at the helm, chaining us to the rocks if we dare smite his heavenly power. Mount Stena. The schedule was vague in my head but then it was vague in the heads of the harbour masters too. Were we to go? Were we to potentially have to turn back before we got to the mouth. It isn’t a big mouth but it eats big. And un-eats. We didn’t want to be eaten, nor vomited. We meet. Upbeat. We change and then walk to the end of the wall, under the virgin. It says the bishop opened her or blessed her or something while she stood on stilts looking at the chimneys across the way. We still aren’t sure about the boats as the schedule said 2 hours, yet we still haven’t seen the Carlow. Look, I said, we could be waiting here all day for the right time and it could pass before we stopped waiting. So at half three we walked down the last steps of the wall, suited up, like pensioners getting in baths. I expected sand but it was sludge at my feet and a sudden rock. Don’t take hold of that thought, I thought. Gently walking more, hands up to our chests like kangaroos. I’m now reminded of a video of boxing kangaroos. This confirms that violence predates, Cain and Abel. Apropos of nothing. On 3. 3 – 2 – 1. Snamh. The first look in the muddy waters. The feeling of life on my face. The knowing that you make decisions and the decisions stand by you. There’s no going back now. Only going out and around and up. When your eyes are at sea level, the mouth seems a mile away, even though it’s a kilometre. We stop after a minute, hum, haw then go. A few minutes later, the Carlow is steam packing out. Ok, now the schedule is just a charade. We don’t know what we can believe as the internet is nothing but fake news. We saw a lifeboat cruise out before we got in and now I’m worried that they’ll cruise back in and stop all this nonsense. Just keep swimming. The flurry of cormorants don’t seem to mind. The waves are kicking up in our faces. I’m not quite sure whether the current is for or against us, but instead of realising that if you can’t tell then there is nothing, the pervading fear of the unknown lingers. I keep looking up at the green lighthouse beacon, the turning point. It still seems to never come near. Maybe it’s my eyes or maybe my lens. We keep stopping now and then only to be reminded that it takes time to cover that kind of distance. I had forgotten that, when the beacon was waving in my face from a distance. The rocky weir is a city landmark, well it should be, though the tourist bus will have a hard time parking up alongside. I look back and the virgin has her back to us. She is clearly upset in that pose, bowing from on high. I don’t recall ever seeing a biblical painting where people are having the craic. Tá brón oraibh. The last rocks above water reach us, but the fear has me suggesting we have come far enough to the mouth. I think it is within the spirit of the rules. Himself agrees, probably thinking the same about traffic. The beacon is maybe 25 metres away but to all purposes an intents, it is just a stroke too far. We ease over the submerged weir and I remember that time in Wexford when we were rushed through a field of sea stones. Or that time in Dalkey when the rock was below us in our faces. Gently, we pass over and then launch into a canter. We must have swam for five minutes before looking up but it seemed we had barely moved. OK, now more worry. We are a kilometre out to sea, so now is not the time to get caught out. Head down, keep swimming. Now the voices start. Why are we not making headway? We had time this for a good push from here up the beach. The schedule again. It’s still shit. Did I get the currents wrong? Are we going to get caught by the next 400-thousand-tonner from Cherbourg? I’m tired because I’m not fit, not because we have been moving for nearly a half an hour. Land is the horizon and its grey. We plough on, ploughing and plodding. I can’t fathom why I think we are getting pushed out in a rip current when there is no rip. This sea swimming is a religion because it certainly isn’t a science. I’m getting nervous that we are swimming to stand still and that’s not a nice feeling. It was all unfounded as we later deduced. In religion, dark clouds are bad. In science they are glum. I believe in the water. I am putting all my faith in it. Water is life. I’m looking forward to the finish and I want to get there as quickly as I can now, but himself is ever keen to go further. I know if it was sunny or if I was fit, it would be different but I was beginning to appreciate that we went a long way today. We pick those trees and swam for ten minutes. Then we picked these trees because those trees were not in my heart. I apologise now for not reaching those trees. What I will say is that the next time, the trees will pass easier. The beach is shallow and way out we are up to our waists. As we come on land I think we both came to the understanding that we had conquered and vanquished one of our most complex days. We walk now. It’s October but it’s not cold, and we chat nonchalantly as we pass all the Sunday strollers. Another ferry was coming in now. We had come at the right time.

Moon Men

On we go. They are his words not mine. My words are more doom. He used the right words though, just like he made the right call. Sunday. 10. It occurred to me to do it but I didn’t want to ask. Refusals often offend. There’s too much offence at times. Not with us. With them. The first few strokes were head on top. Just like polo players, but we are not polo players. We are not moon men either. But this is where the moon men go. We both have an urge. The urge wasn’t planned but the water would fix that. The weather wasn’t planned but the sea would fix that. Glass. Smooth. Cloudy. Quiet. He had to be back and I had to be back somewhere else. It was planned. A few small schooners were floating about. The big one had gone in. He wouldn’t be back for a while. He’d crush you. And he wouldn’t see you. We daren’t warn the harbourmaster. He’d kill the dream. The bureaucrat’s whim. No endeavour on his laptop. You couldn’t reason. You’d be holding up a city. The city was holding us up. We’re gliding. A light trek. The perspective is different when you can’t see. The red house is just a bit over here. You expect it to come. There’s no panic. There isn’t even a ripple. The metronome of adventure. You’re wondering what’s around the corner. You don’t see the bend. The red house is still in the same place. A thousand meters. As the cormorant flies. No sun. No gloom. He is still beside me. I am still beside him. We are still alive. We are still on this journey. There is no need to rest. There is no need to race. The season gave me everything I wanted. I couldn’t say I needed it but I think I did. We stop to calculate the men with hooks. Lined along the promenade. Catching nothing. It’s cultural. It’s sea air. Maybe that’s a drug. Don’t tell the special branch. It will give them an excuse to stay away from the backwaters. It’s flowing against us. That’s usually the way. On which day was it that God made it easy? We give the mackerel men a wide berth. They aren’t moon men either. The red house. I don’t want to stare at it. It has memories. We have to watch now. The green pillar is next. After that it’s back. The pillar looks close. It looks safe. Maybe it’s too close and the twenty thousand tonne schooners go on the other side. We have to get beyond the other side before we go back, otherwise it wouldn’t make sense. Did any of this ever make sense? The flow is to the side now. I can’t say it’s darker. It’s ominous. Go there and you will know. Nobody goes there, except on schooners. Maybe a canoe. The harbourmaster would shit himself if he saw you now. It’s lucky the sewage factory is nearby. We are dandering. I could tell trepidation from his talk. My gammy eyes said there was a schooner setting out. The green pillar said touch me then go back. I said to him, touch the pillar and we will head back away from this trepidation. We touched the pillar. Are we now moon men? Or do you need to pay subs? We turn. Steady as she flows. Clearly enough room for the twenty thousand tonnes pointing at us. I could point my eighty five kilograms at it, but that would be a bit bureaucratic and it wouldn’t see the perspective. We are back at the red house quicker than we left. We both have to be back. We taxi to the rocks. The mackerel men start asking, did we see any fish. No answer would have made a difference. We didn’t. We can see the rain. It hadn’t arrived. We walk back. We go on.

The Whole of the World

So, yesterday, I completed my tenth Liffey Swim. It is a race run annually through the beating heart of Dublin that is the river Liffey. I came last on account of swimming the 2.1 KM course breaststroke and in doing so, I became the first person to swim the course in all four traditional FINA strokes and I remain the first person to have completed the course in only Butterfly (2019). At the time in 2019, I wrote an essay about the endeavour and I feel it is fitting to share it here now….

Halfway to Mellows

So, its 2019, the year of the hundredth Liffey. The Liffey swim is a swimming race that starts at James’ brewery and passes underneath twelve car, train, luas and pedestrian bridges to bring you to the finish line at the Customs House. The men’s race starts an hour before the ladies and they are handicapped by time which means the faster swimmers give the slower swimmers a designated head start. There is a handicap team made up of a handful of volunteers who thirty times a summer get more abuse than the token honest guy on the late-night radio debate panel. I am one of the handicappers.

I would be lying if I said, I have no interest in winning the Liffey swim. Every open sea swimmer in Dublin dreams of that moment when they raise their clenched fists in jubilation at the national media. On the morning of race day, 500 victory speeches have been drafted mentally. Mothers have been name checked before the eggs have been boiled for breakfast and the fastest togs are sitting on the gym bag like a museum piece. But because I am one of the handicappers, I would go down in history badly were I to win the race.

After last year’s season, I came up with an idea. An idea that might get me into the history books while at the same time not be regarded as insider trading. I was going to do the race butterfly. Just to give a bit of context; I don’t believe this has ever been done before. I know Claire O’Dwyer who is Ireland’s only ever swimming world record holder, did the course with a version of one-armed butterfly due to a shoulder injury, but one and two armed fly are entirely separate animals. To add to the context, one of my peers in Belvedere, Dermot Canavan, likens the latter half of a 100 metres butterfly race to ‘carrying the grand piano up the stairs’. Indeed, my coach, Tony Morris will say that that the 200 metres fly event is a test of intelligence: once you have stood on the blocks, you have failed the test. The Liffey swim is 2100 metres.

The race was scheduled for the bank holiday weekend in August, but the preparation started in January. On a drab Sunday afternoon, my youngest two children and I walked down to the Liffey and followed the course bridge by bridge, measuring the distance to the next with a laser measuring tool. The laser measure was designed to tell you the distance you are standing from a flag on a putting green, so it was able to tell me for example, that the distance between the Mellows and Mathews bridges was 321 metres.

I think I had done a 400 metre fly swim once as a teenager and in the last 30 years, I would have done 200 metres fly once as a bucket list item. I didn’t know how I was going to achieve this so I blotted it out of my head as I measured the rest of the Liffey. My measurements were also cross referenced by my seven and nine year old, who knew of my plan but nonchalantly though, this is what grown ups do. They were happy for the hot chocolate pit stop.

When I got home and digested the analysis, it became a decision to make as to how many breaks to take and when. If I stopped every hundred metres, spectators would witness more treading of water than swimming. If I stopped under every bridge, my rest would be secluded and it would look more glamorous, but I would give the game away under the Millenium and Halpenny bridges. Plus it would mean three bridges with distances of 321m, 239m and 296m in a row. Butterfly was only ever a novelty for me so at the very least, this was going to take a lot of work.

The training began: at first it was 1 km in the pool with every second length fly. This was an immediate grounding in a stroke technique that didn’t cover the ground quickly but was more energy efficient than the racing genre of 50m butterfly. That’s not to say after the session I wasn’t a spent force fit for a ten hour sleep.

Within a few weeks I had ramped up to 1500m fly in the pool in the form of 30 x 50’s with 15 seconds rest after each. As I reflected on the race I thought, even if I did it in 50 metre segments, I would still be the first to do it fly. By April I had managed the distance. I had still done it in 50 metre chunks, but at each rest I treaded water rather than holding on to the wall. This was it, now I knew I could do it. By May I had achieved the distance using a mix of 50’s and 100’s but still didn’t have a plan for the race. I dare not commit to anything as I didn’t want to tempt fate, but I made the jump in confiding in my coach with this ludicrous plan. My logic was that I was making a commitment but one that would not be general knowledge, should it fail before it starts.

Then came the inevitable setback. I badly strained key muscles and tendons in my shoulders while assembling a set of bunk beds. The instructions clearly had a positive tick beside an image of two workmen and a big unhappy ‘X’ beside the image of a sole operative with his spanner. I was the man with that spanner. The damage I did stopped me dead in my tracks. I had a six km race 4 weeks later and I couldn’t do 25 metres in the pool without extreme pain. At this stage I had been dreaming this idea for 6 months and I kept on scheming someway I might achieve it. For two weeks my training was one arm only, the good arm, or long distances of butterfly kick. Then for two weeks, leading up to the six km race, the Warrior of the Sea from Rosses Point to Strandhill, I trained a precarious and painful front crawl. I breathed only to my right as breathing to the left was not sustainable.

I consulted my friend Mick Kelly on the Warrior of the Sea and he said the best chance I had was taking an over the counter pain killer before the race. So I took an ibuprofen before I set out into the open sea in Sligo. The race was 100% caution with a blend of fear of failing with a glimpse of hope. I had told myself I could always pull out of the race at any stage, but while the race was in progress, I didn’t want to entertain this option. In the end I finished the race, mostly breathing to my good side and I was able to start dreaming about the Liffey and butterfly again.

Back in training with 5 weeks to the big day, I had to get back on the horse. I tried a length of the pool doing fly and it became apparent that the muscle damage didn’t affect the fly technique as much as freestyle. I started again with the sets I started with in January. I consigned myself to the fact that whatever was going to happen, it wasn’t going to be hasty. My training colleagues were questioning, why so much butterfly, when ordinarily there would be little or none, and I was so bought into the idea at this stage, that I had confided in a handful of people, that I was going to attempt it. This was more an exercise in upping the ante than anything else. I still hadn’t formed a plan on the rest intervals in the big race.

On Saturday the 3rd of August, I arrived at the start of the race with old friends, Brian and Marcella from Enniskillen. There was scare mongering all week in the press about the quality of the water and true to form, the river was revolting. I kept telling myself and others that the ESB were going to open the dam and flush, and it was a welcome distraction from the master plan. When it came to the master plan, I just thought, “This is going to go horribly wrong”. My handicap was 13 minutes.

Standing on the starting pontoon, there was a big group of us off at the same time. I could hear the starter give us a ten second count down, and then go! My peers were gone on the button. I stood up, took a deep breath and dived in.

I took 3 casual butterfly kicks underwater realising that the first stroke I took would be the declaration. If it were freestyle, no one would notice which one of the 370 odd swimmers I was.

I lunged forward with two arms reaching over the water at the same time, then a patient double legged kick and then arms reaching over again. Strenuous exertion was not the name of the game at this point. I still was cognisant of the fact I hadn’t formulated a rest plan, but I was cognisant too from my electronic survey of the river that the first 90 metres would bring me to under the Joyce bridge. The perfect warm up.

I got to the Joyce bridge and I felt alive. The people behind me had not yet caught me and I had wandered on a swimmer who was loitering under the bridge in darkness, working on his handicap for next year’s race. He asked me, “Are you going to do the whole thing fly?”. I said “Yes”. That was the end of the conversation and he set off again.

I decided that there was no pressure in swimming solo so I could afford to tread water until I was ready to go again. I made up my mind I was going to swim the 155 metres non stop to the next bridge but if needs be, I could rest half way. Who cares if someone saw me stopping, they aren’t the ones doing butterfly. With each stroke, my head came out of the water and I could get a clear picture of the Mellows bridge. It didn’t seem to be getting any closer, but I wasn’t thinking of the 2KM plus of the race. I was thinking about getting to the next bridge. At the half way point to this famous Mellows, I questioned, should I stop and rest now? I realised I could make it to Mellows, I might need extra rest, but I’m there.

When I got there, I must have rested a full minute amongst seaweed. I looked back at the Joyce bridge and forward to the Fr Mathew bridge. I knew it was the biggest distance to get through, but I was looking at being the first to butterfly the Liffey, even though to be the first to do so only stopping underneath bridges. At this point, it was a blur. I had settled into a cadence that was natural and just about tolerable. Occasionally I thought, ‘once I get to Capeler, I’m halfway there’, but most of the time I was focusing on just getting to the next bridge.

I made it to the Fr Mathew bridge without halting and when I rested there with my thoughts echoing silently under the stone, I could tell myself, ‘I now can do this, I’m fairly spent but I have enough to get to the end’.

I don’t remember anything about the next bridge, the O’Donovan Rossa, other than I was constantly getting knotted up in seaweed. Under Capeler, I took the time to briefly study its engineering of stone, steel and wood. I could hear people cheering and shouting support, which meant the whole hair brained scheme had been worthwhile. I got to the Millenium bridge. I couldn’t hear any cheering any more but as I caught my breath under yet another bridge, I could hear an exuberant “Hi Daddy!”. I looked around and my wife Jen and the two ordinance surveyors from January were standing at the Liffey wall waving down to me. This was the happiest point of the nine months of this idea.

Next was the Halpenny. With each stroke rising out of the water, I could see a flock of swans 50 metres ahead. I was catching the slowest swimmers in the race, knowing at this point, 300 of the swimmers would be finished and half dressed. I got to O’Connell bridge where I had previously imagined having to negotiate with a rescue kayak to be allowed continue to the end, even though the allowed time limit of one hour would be up. When I stopped halfway underneath the iconic bridge, there was eriee silence. The city was two metres above me but it was a world away. A safety kayak was floating outside the exit to the bridge and she gestured at me a thumbs up to inquire if all was ok? I gave a thumbs up back.

At the earlier stages of my hypothesising, I had entertained the notion of flying non stop from O’Connell bridge to the finish at the Customs House. This was not going to happen now as I clung on to the fact that I could rest under every bridge. I rested under the Rosie Hackett bridge remembering my team mate, Ray Hegarty’s story that he made a point of delaying crossing over the new bridge so he could say he swam under it first.

Then to the penultimate pitstop, the Butt bridge. The swans had crossed the finish line. I had 120 metres left of my journey and there was little left to rest for. There was nothing left in the tank but it didn’t matter as I was running on autopilot. Coming up to the finish line, I said to myself, “I’ve done it now! I can now say I am the first person to have swam the Liffey swim from start to finish butterfly”.

When I crossed the finish line and stopped, my swimming stroke regressed into a novice doggy paddle. I couldn’t even backstroke gently to the exit steps.

I got up on dry land and limped to the fire brigade showers, where I was greeted with the Irish swimming institution that is Tom Healy. He squeezed some disinfectant soap into my hand saying, “This won’t be much use to you, it’s too deep in your pores now”.

Famous Prequels: The Hobbit?

So! It’s the middle of September 2022 and I find myself updating the blog to advertise my book on this swimming adventure. In case you hadn’t heard, it’s called “Blackrock to Slade – A Swimmer’s Camino (An Bealach)” and you can read about it on the home page. Anyway it became apparent that there have been no blog posts from this year so far. I already knew that obviously as the blog had slipped my mind due to my wife, Jen’s health, this year. Thankfully Jen is coming out the other side, though as many of you might attest, recovery is not necessarily a walk in the park.

In reflecting on the blog as a means to promote the book and in an effort to keep the dream alive, I came up with an idea. I immediately texted Niall and said “An idea has occurred to me !! Call when free”. Niall rang a few hours later and I unravelled the idea of a prequel. I had previously been unable to secure boat cover to cross the Waterford estuary but I reckoned it might be easier to secure boat cover across Dublin Bay. I was thinking of a jaunt from Half Moon club house on Poolbeg pier (or South Wall), due south to the very point where we originally started at Blackrock. It was a round 4.5 KM!

This was Saturday and we were aiming for a Tuesday or Wednesday swim. Niall had meetings but he would look to see what he could move around and we would settle on a date or time once we knew what kayaking support was available. We had two leads for Kayaks. One was a Leinster Open Sea official, and another, John Murray from our dear Dublin Swimming Club. John was open to the idea but he had work commitments which meant only a six o clock start would be possible. By Tuesday, sunset would be 7:45 and the tide would be halfway out so we opted to keep looking for earlier support.

We still didn’t have anyone by Monday, so clutching at straws I texted some numbers from our Wicklow days. Various responses came back but no one was signing on the dotted line. We went for one last pitch. Niall put up an ask on the Dublin Swimming Club whatsapp. At tennish, Niall texted. John O Mahony from the club was looking good, he just had to confirm times. The dream was alive.

By the next morning, I was in my boss’s office telling him we had confirmation that I would be taking annual leave in the afternoon in order to swim across South Dublin Bay. He wished us well as did all my colleagues as I was skipping out the door with a smile. Driving across town towards Blackrock to park the car at the finish, there was a little apprehension about whether we had the endurance levels to complete the swim. Both Niall and I had done a 6 KM swim in Sligo earlier in the summer, but there is always doubt in uncharted territory. We decamped to the DART carpark in Blackrock, togged out in our wetsuits and paid for three hours parking before we drove to John’s house.

We collected John and his standup paddle board in Niall’s car as the sun was coming out. The sun was an important part of ensuring there was no depression with the swim today. Windguru didn’t disappoint. Descending on the reclaimed peninsula that is the Pigeon house, we came across a community of young and middle aged men who were flying kites from the roadside where they had parked. I think it was a cultural thing, in the same way that Australians sit on beach chairs with tins of beer. It was about 2:30 as we were making final preparations at the start of the pier that reached out into Dublin Bay to a red lighthouse.

The plan was that John would paddle out from the beach and while he was getting ready, Niall and I would walk to the Half Moon clubhouse and time our start to liaise diagonally with John across the water. As we walked out the pier, the W.B. Yeats was coming into port and the Liverpool freight ferry was leaving. The two monstrous ships passed each other just as they passed 50 metres away from us. It was a spring high tide, but the ships were both considerate enough not to create a wake across the pier which they could so easily have done.

At the club house, there were two ladies having their daily dip and they gave us a heads up as to the flow that was there, the same time yesterday. On the face of it, it was going to be advantageous. I could see John taking to the water and he seemed to be veering south rather than towards us, so we got going. stepping into the water, it was a bit brisk so I acclimatised gently. It wasn’t going to be a race today and all the stars were aligned. We swam for a minute, before I started my watch and then we got going. It was a nice comfortable pace as Niall and I swam beside each other. After less than five minutes, John had joined us. We stopped and discussed where we were aiming for. While it was a good way away, we could delineate Blackrock on the horizon by the shape of the Blackrock clinic. We didn’t have to worry about sighting though as John took care of that for us. John took some photographs and then it was back to swimming.

Our stroke was purposeful and regular and my mind went into autopilot but not in a way as to blot out bad thoughts. We stopped a few times and looked back at Half Moon as it got further and further away. The sun remained and after half an hour or so, I saw my first Dart coming into Blackrock station and with the perspective I was getting, it seemed the train was huge. We still weren’t half way. I noticed John was criss crossing in front of us, and I had assumed he was doing it to fend off boredom, but at one point I stopped for no particular reason and John was shouting at me to mind the lion’s mane jellyfish that was less than a metre in front of me. I ducked my head under water and had a quick look at it. It had one nasty looking tentacle protruding from underneath but it looked to be a spent force though I wasn’t taking any risks.

By the half way point, Niall was beginning to open the throttle. I was slagging him that he was putting in training for the Liffey in two weeks time and he didn’t deny it! Out in the bay, there isn’t anything to gauge progress and I though of a conversation I had with Tony Morris at the weekend about how there used to be a swimming race along this course we were doing and it was without any safety boat cover. This would have been before the days of health and safety and I remember hearing it being billed as a 5K race. I was wondering how much more challenging the swim might be if you were being confronted with the scenario of being 2.5 kilometres from land with only your own resources to get you home, and no comfort blankets.

As we were getting to what John estimated was two thirds of the way across, Niall was beginning to tail off on his training session. I checked my watch and I estimated we had been in the water for 45 minutes. There was a certain amount of fatigue but it wasn’t debilitating and I certainly was in good spirits. At this stage John was wondering about where we were aiming to land, and I explained that we were going to land at the exact point we left Blackrock in 2020 and thus if a national circumnavigation was to happen, it would now culminate at Half Moon clubhouse. This was the prequel, that kept in the spirit of the coastal challenge. And in the vast expanse of Dublin Bay, we were three little Hobbits!

The vista that was Blackrock was getting more defined and we could now see the graffiti of the Blackrock baths and the Darts coming and going every five minutes in both directions. We were now getting slower and tiring which made me think I would have had a real challenge if the 9K of Waterford Estuary had materialised. I stopped at one point to see John turfing around a large clump of reeds with his paddle. He must have been bored. By now I was estimating shore was 400 metres away, declaring this would only be 6 minutes in the pool, but as usual I was sugar coating a kilometre. It was a case of savouring the moment because apart from a few LOS races in the next two weeks, this was the 2022 season drawing to a close.

We came up on the shore and there was a few breakers at the steps. Right at the pedestrian slip where we had started, I turned to shake Niall’s hand and it wasn’t even half four. Another successful day at the office, as we surveyed Poolbeg in the distance with yet another ship behind it.

The three of us decamped to the Prius at the car park in our wetsuits and SUPs. I apologised for the boot full of recycling which I wasn’t aware I had brought until it was too late. It didn’t take away from the journey, especially when we had made it back to the car before the parking ticket had expired. I know, it’s the little things! We drove back to Niall’s car at the pigeon house before we went our separate ways back to our dry land abodes.


Ding Dong Merrily on High

You can always rely on Niall to come up with a good suggestion.

I was pottering around the house in a post Christmas flux two days ago and a text comes through saying “Thinking might do sea swim tomorrow if tempted either, water temperature almost 10 and warmish tomorrow also… (in a suit)”

I was sold immediately. I hadn’t thought of going near the sea till May but the fact that it was nearly ten degrees and in a wetsuit made the idea absolutely tempting. There was an exchange of phone calls and the itinerary was set to go to the forty foot for an 11 o’clock dip.

I collected Niall at his house a little after ten and it brought back memories of our summer jaunts. It was sunny and very windy, though Niall was confident the sea wouldn’t be that bad. Arriving at Sandycove, there was the logistics of parking and the sudden call of nature (again just like old times).

When we got to the forty foot there was a fairly blustery westerly wind and Niall looked at me to get my sense of “Go – No Go”? I said “Sure we’ll give it a go”. There were lots of bathers getting in for their five minutes of treading water and we might have seen to be phonies in our neoprene but we were intending to venture out into the unsheltered wash, so we weren’t that light weight.

Suffice to say, in the neoprene there was no pain in descending the steps into the water, but then we weren’t in it for the sufferance. A few strokes in and I put my face in the water and yes, it was sharply cold. We stopped and looked each other to concur the headache that was growing in both out heads. We agreed that it would pass if we swam on.

And it did. We stroked on towards Bullock harbour with the sun high in the blue skies. The whole thing was like a huge reminiscence of some of the bright mornings or Wicklow and Wexford. We turned and made for the buoy north of the Forty Foot. At this point the messy waves were coming head on, but because there was no pressure to achieve anything other than enjoyment, we calmly dug into the waves and plodded through.

When we got to the buoy, Niall was beginning to feel the cold due to not having gloves but I was riding a rush of endorphins. The choppy sea was fun and we were oblivious to the wind. We then made our way back to the steps with one sprint to boot.

And that was it. For the rest of the day I felt the kind of joy I felt when covering a substantial distance of the coastline and more to the point, I have a renewed enthusiasm for the coming summer. The first swim is going to have to be close to ten kilometres as it warrants getting across Waterford estuary so I wont be starting until June, but notwithstanding there will be the spring warm up period at Bull Wall. Also I am hoping our esteemed political administration don’t see fit to close the swimming pools in response to the covid brought about by schools, retail and entertainment in the coming months.

At this point I would like to reiterate my callout for sponsorship so that I can continue this journey to circumnavigate the country by swimming. If you know anyone inclined to get involved, please get them to ping me at email: info[at]

Happy New Year to you and yours for 2022!


The end of the season

Anne Marie passed away peacefully yesterday.

Anne Marie was one of my wife’s closest friends and they had been friends since college. I won’t embarrass anyone by saying how much time that is, but it is the end of this part of the journey for Anne Marie.

There were many kind people who stepped forward with the fundraising part of the swim this year and because Anne Marie was such a private person, she was touched by the fact you helped her without looking for any sort of validation as to where the donations were going to.

The donations went to an immunotherapy clinic in Europe which gave Anne Marie a lease of life and she had a reprieve from the cruel cancer that struck her down. People turn to this kind of therapy sometimes when other options have been exhausted, but everybody knows that cancer has no emotions or sentiment. So if you find yourself in the early stages of something that doesn’t feel right, please get it seen to medically.

Anne Marie was a mountain of positive energy. She always had a wide grin on her face and she wouldn’t dwell on the negative or suffer fools. When I crossed the finish line at the Warrior of the Sea race a few years ago, she was standing there and cheering me on. She wasn’t too concerned about the place I had finished in the race (I won), but she was glowing with praise for even doing the swim. And her friend, my wife, is the same.

I hope to resume this swim adventure next year in some form while I still have my health. Maybe it will happen, maybe it won’t, but I know while we only have a finite window of opportunity in this life, that we need to chase our dreams.

Indian Summer

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect on the journey from Baginbun down the Hook peninsula to Slade. I had heard differing opinions on these waters and resolved that it would really be tempting disaster to try it without some form of cover. I knew from the repeated assessments of Google Earth that there were long stretches of cliff coastline that limited the opportunities to land should anything happen, and I had an instinctive foreboding that things might get tricky close to Slade and the head of Hook.

And so I set about ringing around the houses again, and as usual I was getting nowhere. I remembered that a previous rejection from the adventure center in Fethard was based on the fact that they were up to their eyeballs with bookings but it occurred to me that the schools were now back and that demand may have trailed off. I was encouraged when I found on their website that they were now closed on Mondays and Tuesdays in September. This suggested that someone in their crew might be available for safety cover.

I rang the office and for a change I got through first time. The nice lady listened to my now well rehearsed two minute introduction and then said she would put a message out on the company whatsapp group and see if any of the lads were interested on their day off. And so that was the last hope that I would get to do the next stage. By now I had become accustomed to not letting myself get disappointed so I had no choice but to put it to the back of my mind.

Then Thursday morning the call came. Seán rang saying he got my number from the whatsapp group. He didn’t question or have any reservations even though effectively he was talking to a complete stranger. The following Tuesday suited him fine and we would confirm over the weekend when we would have a clearer idea of the weather. So far this month the weather has been changeable but the water temperatures have remained high. Fastidiously watching the seven day forecasts change every few hours, time was marching on. This put me in a great mood and in turn all the other dramas of the day to the back of my mind.

As the day drew nearer, windguru settled down and on Sunday evening we made the commitment for Tuesday. Seán had a van and he was more than obliging by agreeing to drive me from the finish to the start and thus circumventing the cycle. The plan was to meet him in Slade harbour at 9:30 but on the motorway out of Dublin I got stuck behind a crash. The traffic took about fifteen minutes to grind slowly to a halt and when some fire trucks came up the hard shoulder to stop just in front of me, I then knew the blockage wasn’t far ahead. Some quick thinking had me cut across and up a slip road to take the gamble that the return slip road back onto the other side would be freed up. It was, thankfully, but I had now lost half an hour. So at the opportunity of the petrol station at Kilmacanogue, I texted Seán to move our appointment out half an hour. The rest of the journey was like driving through a high summer morning where Autumn was a world away.

Driving through the Hook peninsula, I was taken aback at how tantalisingly close Dunmore east seemed from Slade. It made me wonder what the margin of error was in Google Earth, but at a glance the estuary just looked like a very wide river. Anyway that’s for another day. I pulled into Slade harbour at ten past ten and there was a red van parked at the feet of the castle walls. At the wheel of the van was the coolest customer in all of Wexford. Without any concern for my lateness he greeted me with his Northern Irish brogue. I got suited up and we were back on the road ten minutes later. There was banter about the adventure and what potentially lay ahead today. I could tell some of Seán’s questions were guided to get an idea about my capabilities.

The journey to Baginbun took us through a deserted morning Fethard and the beach itself had a retired couple at one end and a young courting couple at the other end, but to all intents and purposes the Summer was over but not the weather. Seán said he didn’t need help with his kayak and sure enough a few minutes later as I was getting ready on the beach, he was dragging his kayak down the path like a pet on a lead. We didn’t hang around and we had a plan.

I swam out to the north headland of Baginbun in two warm up stages of a few minutes. The expectation was that we might have a flow on the other side once the way south opened up. There was a lot of kelp to navigate at this starting stretch but it cleared up as we turned the corner. I could then see across Carnivan Bay without actually seeing the beach within. A quick assessment of the flow confirmed there wasn’t anything noticeable and the Baginbun Martello tower sat regally on the top of the cliffs.

I knew it was just over a kilometer to the southern tip of Baginbun head and it seemed to come around in a timely fashion without the expense of much energy so I then knew things should be OK today. It did occur to me that my pace was on the slow side so after the pause at the south end of the head, I upped the cadence slightly but comfortably. I took reassurance that it still felt comfortable ten minutes later and the Martello tower was moving further behind. I decided that I wouldn’t take my next pause until I was alongside the cliffs south of Carnivan.

At that next pause, we discussed which point on the horizon represented the five kilometer stop off. Seán wasn’t sure as although he spent the summer supervising Kayakers at Baginbun, he had never ventured this far south. He did have a good idea though and the point he suggested as being the stop off was surprisingly closer than my glass half empty expectations. Maybe it was the blue skies and the levels of comfort that made me feel that way.

Although it didn’t feel insurmountable, it did take what felt like half an hour to swim into the small beach we charted. At this stage I had been swimming for an hour and a half and it was midday. The beach itself was the well known ‘Sand Eel Bay’ and was quite rocky and inviting at the same time. It was the local amenity to the townland of Hookless and it was the subject of discussion the previous week at the swimming club with a Dublin swimmer called Michael Crowe. As I came closer to the shore, I imagined having a phone at my disposal to text Michael and say ‘Guess where I am?’. There are a good few swimmers in the club who have told me they are following the journey with interest and I reckoned Michael would have gotten a laugh out of a text from the spot he was at the previous week.

The sun was glorious on the beach as I ate chocolate and drank fresh water from my flask. All my fears about currents, swells, weather, tiredness and other factors in the ensuing week were now washed away and I found it hard to believe that I was approaching the last of Wexford with ease. I asked Seán if he was OK stopping for ten minutes and he was calm as a cucumber when he said, “I don’t mind at all, this is your time”. He was a true gent. Once I had my faculties together, the two of us went back in the water.

The final leg of the day opened up and I continued with a commanding cadence, though kelp fields started to open up again. It wasn’t long before I was forced into a flip flop pattern between doggy paddle and shallow front crawl, though I could tell by the moving kelp beneath me that I was still brisk. This kind of swimming only leads to one place though and that’s exhaustion. I remembered the five kilometers from Cullenstown to Bannow Bay was this terrain a lot of the way and that was a very difficult day.

Slade harbour was clear and defined ahead of us and Seán guessed it was one and a half to two kilometers away. I hung on to the lower estimate as I plodded on. I was finding myself having to stop every few minutes because of the weeds and my arms were getting very heavy. I could feel a strange pressure in my nose like an extreme saline agitation. It made breathing feel laboured but not in an exertion sense but more a feeling of my senses blocking up. I could see Seán was paddling a lot less which indicated the speed had slowed right down. Now I was getting to the stage where I just wanted it to end and I couldn’t appreciate that the end wasn’t far away.

At the next estimate, I suggested the harbour was four hundred metres away and my chaperone suggested six hundred meters. I could live with six hundred meters, that was ten minutes left. I could see from that distance that the harbour had no water in it. It was low tide and a spring tide at that, so now I know what that means in terms of boating in Slade. By this stage I was running on empty, in fact I wasn’t running, I was crawling, painfully slowly.

At about twenty meters from the harbour mouth, I could stand. The ground beneath me was rocky and weedy and I knew I couldn’t walk it because it was too slippy. I took a step anyway and fell over. There was that moment again where I was too fatigued to just stop and take my time getting out. I doggy paddled forward a few meters and tested the ground again. It was still stoney. A few more doggy paddles and the ground turned sandy. Hurrah! The end!

Seán was walking his kayak out of the harbour behind him as I stepped through the chicane walls. I knew it was only the last stretch that was difficult and I wasn’t going to let that dictate the mood for the rest of the day. And it didn’t. Once back at the car we could see Baginbun eight and a half kilometers away basking in the sunshine. I realised I couldn’t imagine walking that distance, yet the fact was I could swim it. And now I am at a point where I can’t go any further in Wexford.

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.