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.