Category Archives: Copper Coast

The Copper Coast is 30km of beautiful coastline in County Waterford on the Irish Coast

Copper Coast Bay to Breakers – I

Sometimes an idea is so obvious you wonder why it hadn’t occurred to you previously. Ideas or inspiration though are often just a product of two things; timing and interest.

It was a few years ago that I first heard about San Francisco’s South End Rowing Club’s Bay to Breakers swim. Ten kilometres swims are rarely exotic or interesting enough to catch anyone’s attention when they are 5000 miles away.  But I’d spent three months in San Jose south of San Francisco in the 90’s, and while most of my time was spent working, I’d loved San Francisco, the Golden Gate and the Pacific coast south of the bay.  The Bay to Breakers 10k starts in Aquatic Park, home of both famous open water swimming clubs Dolphin and South End Rowing Club (SERC) which hosts the swim. It passes Fort Point, goes under the Golden Gate, bends back around to the south west and eventually finishes on the exposed Pacific Beach.

Earlier in 2014 ,my online friend/partner Evan (Morrison) wrote a memorable and exciting race report of his 2013 Bay To Breakers swim. The report of a dangerous finish in fog, big swell while dodging rocks may sound unattractive to others, but rang all my bells.

It’s so obvious, why did it take me so long?

Tramore Bay to Annestown Beach: A Copper Coast Bay to Breakers. A shade over 10k, just for fun, just for myself.

The opportunity arose that one morning in July Dee and I had a day where it was just the right thing to do. “Want to do a swim?“, asked my non-swimming Enabler. No tide or weather planning, no crew, no boat. Just free swimming on the coast I love.

All I knew was that the Sun was high and the forecast was for one of the warmest days of the summer.

Usually if I swim a 10k by myself I have to base myself at the Guillamenes and do 2, 4 or 6k loops, allowing me to feed from my box back at the Guillamenes if required. A single direction 10k is rarely practical for a single swimmer for obvious reasons of safety and transportation at one end or the other.

But for this I could start at the Guillamenes, have Dee feed me from Gararrus and Kilfarassey beaches and finish at Annestown beach or maybe even at Boatstrand Harbour another two kilometres further on.

Instead of heading to Tramore, we  reached the coast west at Kilmurrin and drove the Copper Coast Drive route back east along the coast. As we breasted the hill above Boatstrand however, the water wasn’t in tune with the warm sunny day. Winds were Force Three to Four and the surface, while blue, was rough and the many sparkles were sign of just how rough. What the hell, I didn’t care.

Putting on the wrong googles
Swimming supermodel puts on the wrong googles

After greasing up, and using plenty of sun lotion, Toes In The Water (TITW) were just after 1.30 pm after we’d synchronised stopwatches and two hours before a quite low tide (0.2 metres). Since the coast from beyond Newtown Cove to Gararrus is inaccessible, the next time Dee would see me was when I rounded the rocks outside Gararrus, after about 3.5k.

One minute of calm water
One minute of calm water

The tiny cove was calm as I swam out to past the angling rocks.

I was less than two hundred metres from the Guillamenes when I realised two things: It was rough and choppy even in the bay and I’d worn the wrong goggles.

Since I wear Swedes when swimming by myself, I’d put on my summer clear pair (all the better to see underwater my dear). I’d brought but forgotten a pair of tinted gasket goggles, my backup Speedo Vanquishers. Swedes just don’t handle rough water for me and Vanquishers are my rough water goggles of choice, (one of the only the two great products they make). And since I had sun lotion on, that ran and impaired the seal. I should have turned back, I would have spent no more than five or six minutes and I could have restarted the count, but I choose to continue, partly because I though I could sort it and partly because things happen so sometimes it’s good to just put up with them.

I'm actually visible as single dot in the chop at 100% magnification of the full size file!
I’m actually visible as single dot in the chop at 100% magnification of the full size file!

I could barely see during the swim out to Great Newtown Head and past the Metalman. I reset the goggles three times, but couldn’t get a good seal. I swam in a blur. As I approached Great Newtown Head, I moved in close to the rocks. I felt the first real wave wrapping around the reefs, about two metres in amplitude. I stopped, pulled off the goggs again, and saw that the gap between Oyen (Bird) Rock and the cliff was impassable which alone was an indicator of the conditions ,as I know this gap well and can usually risk it. This was to be the case with every single gap or shortcut along the coast.

Goggles up, I also checked the time, and 25 minutes had passed, when this stretch usually takes about 18 to 20 minutes. Outside Oyen Rock, I once again reset my goggs, and finally, finally got them set.

I’d told Dee that if there was one place that I was most likely to be delayed, it would be crossing Ronan’s Bay to Ilaunglas . Ronan’s Bay is the next bay past Newtown Head, a 800 metres wide bay that can often times have a very strong head current, and the location where I ran directly into that still unexplained event from a few years ago.

I crossed Ronan’s Bay, and without the shelter of Newtown Head, the swell driven by the south to south-west wind was slightly larger with chop on top of it. I passed Ilaunglas, (“Green Island“, actually a yellow/green guano-covered rock) after 50 minutes, now close to ten minutes behind. Ilaunglas is one of the rocks where various seabirds are most numerous and most disagreeable of intrusion and above me 50 or 60 birds leapt skywards and kept close track of me, some dive-bombing to mere metres above my head to scare me off.

Past Ilaunglas I knew it was worth stopping momentarily. From here, the Copper Coast opens up. In glimpses from cresting waves I could see from Powerstown Head five kilometres east and behind me at the far side of Tramore Bay, ahead to Burke’s Island another five kilometres to the west outside Kilfarassey.

Passing Ilaunglas I was close in, the eddies moving me around, the swell hitting the reef and reflecting back on me. Apart from when I stopped, I could see little except water moving around me. The coast here cuts in out with three inaccessible small hidden beaches. The wind was constantly pushing me in with reefs and promontories adding to the rough surface.

After about an hour I was close to the area I think of as The Little Playground, which are the stacks and reefs east of Gararrus, not visible from the beach as a promontory reaching out from the east end of the beach entirely blocks the view. I threaded through the reefs. Seeing that the arch into Gararrus was unsafe so I had to round the outside of the promontory for the 200 metre swim into the beach through the very dense seaweed soup that accumulates sandwiched between the lee of the promontory and the Gararrus beach reefs. Dee was on the beach with the Doglet who was backing frantically as I approached. She was concerned because the three and a half kilometres had taken me an hour and twenty-five minutes. I drank half a 600 ml bottle of Hammer Perpetuum while staying in the water and while she ran back for a requested change of goggles.

Swimming into Gararrus IMG_3806.resized

 

 

A Further Shore – V- The Greensward

Swimming is a lot of things to different people at different times, even to me. But what it isn’t, is a method of travel. We may travel long distances while swimming, we may even be swimming to a destination, but we are not traveling per se.  But somehow, I’d traveled.

The buildings stopped before I reached the top of the hill. There was no apparent difference in size or appointment between the lower down houses and those higher up.

I had not seen a single person nor heard any sounds of people. It was like everyone has just stepped out back, at the same moment.

Quite abruptly I passed the last house. How long had I walked through the town? This prompted another thought. What time was it? Checking the elapsed time of a swim is such an ingrained habit for me, yet I hadn’t looked at my watch since I’d passed behind Brown’s Island. I checked my watch. The watches start triangle was where I’d set it, at twenty-five minutes to twelve. The minute hand was a few minutes past twelve. Twenty eight minutes? Or an hour, two hours, three hours, and twenty-eight minutes? I looked around for the umpteenth time. Nothing changed. I looked at the watch again and now noticed the second hand. It wasn’t moving. Had my watch stopped?

Beyond the building was the hilltop. The crown was simply covered in a lush green lawn. The road stopped but a path was worn to the top. From up here I could see that the lower road which had led off right out of sight and disappeared had done so because the Sea reached inwards beyond that point.

I never considered stopping, the entire town seemed draped below this green crown like a mantle, with the summit the culmination of its layout. The gradient was now steep but consequently the distance upwards to the zenith was short. The steepness forced my eyes down in front and so the sudden lessening of the slope as I reached the summit was surprising.

The fifty steps up the cliff from the Guillamenes to the car park has regularly left me breathless, adapted as I am for swimming. I felt nothing similar here. The greensward opened out in a circle. There were no signs or seats or anything except grass. To my right in the distance though I could see the Sea. The lower road had curved away because there was no more land only a couple of kilometres beyond the town. I looked left and saw the grass summit descend in a gentle ridge. With the Sun ahead of me, that meant right was north and left down the ridge was south. The harbour and town were situated close to the north end of either a large island or a long peninsula leading from the south.

Ahead of me the hill fell away very gently. The slopes were covered in a patchwork of meadows, variegated vegetation delineating the boundaries, no hard fenced fields, the various colours indicating a variety of vegetation, from the vivid green of summer barley,  to dusty  ripening wheat and tall corn stalks, all different stages of growth apparent at the same time.

But ahead of me, beyond the meadows, to the West? The Sun was well down the sky. The photographer in me assessed the golden light and the shadow I threw behind me. It was a good way from setting, and a longer way from morning.

The quilted fields on the western slope ended at the Sea, which stretched left and right, sparkling into the hazy distance. I looked out over that Sea, argent and aureate. A Sea like none I’ve seen or swum. Molten metal and liquid air and lifeblood. Sacred like lifeblood. The light blazed at me again. The light blasted me. I closed my eyes, and the light did not diminish. Then, opening my eyes, I saw through the haze.

Previous articles

A Further Shore – I – The Arch

A Further Shore – II – The Golden Light

A Further Shore – III – The Harbour

A Further Shore – IV – The Town

A Further Shore – III – The Harbour

Instead of a beach, shadows loomed over me and the water went from gold to black in sudden deep shade.

A wall of dressed stone met my fingertips and loomed two metres over me. It was a pier, stone mooring bollards along the edge. There was another pier twenty or thirty metres away to my left, like the coast had projected horizontal crenellations into the sea.

There are no stone piers on the Copper Coast. Even concrete slipways are rare on our exposed shore which lacks any suitable bays as harbours.  The Copper Coast rocks are primarily Old Red Sandstone and soft limestone. Why was I thinking about stone? I sought rationality, logic. The type of stone didn’t help. No, wait, the lee side of Tramore Pier behind the concrete is dressed stone. That’s a stone pier. But Tramore pier is how many kilometres away? Eight, nine? Away from where? I’ve swum the Copper Coast, every metre. I did not know this place and Tramore is just a single angled pier. Logic didn’t help.

There were steps near me built into the pier. In the shadows in the water the light became a type of dusk. Tarzan-style, head up, two strokes and I reached the stairs. I gingerly got a foot under me, then the second, and I stood and I climbed up. The pier edges were a charcoal grey, with the main mass a slightly lighter grey. Dark grey stone mooring bollards. The surface seemed almost swept clean except a dusting of bleached sand with faint mother-of-pearl sparkles. The rock was warm and the sand very fine under my bare feet. An ever-so-slight breeze had returned, a whisper that quickly dried my bare skin as I looked around me.from this vantage I could see other piers projecting out into sea.

A harbour. But no stacks of pots. No boats, no coils of gaudy nylon rope, no hauled out punts or moored tenders. No detritus of a working harbour.

The piers were fronted with low stone buildings, one or two stories, also stone, with slate roofs. All orderly, well maintained and pretty in the austere way of coastal communities, especially in the soft light.  No electricity poles. No diesel tanks, no mechanics.

This could not be. But it was. I was just a swimmer. You can’t accidentally swim to France or to somewhere you’ve never seen, never been. Arms are too weak against the Sea, despite our desire to prove otherwise.

We swim in part because it human-scales the world. Swimming makes the world both bigger and smaller. It becomes immense against the strength of our shoulders. But it becomes small and intimate and local, limited also by our shoulders. Driving a road a thousand times is not like walking it once. Sitting on the beach a thousand times is not like swimming out to the horizon once. We remember the scale of the world we’ve forgotten in the rest of our lives, we remember the absolute importance of the horizon.

What was this place?

Where was this place?

 

Previous parts

A Further Shore – I – The Arch

A Further Shore – II – The Golden Light

A Further Shore – I – The Arch

Winter reduces my range. I swim at the Guillamenes, along the cliffs and shore of Tramore Bay.  Maybe, just maybe, I might get down to Sandycove for a lap. Days pass when I see no-one, arriving, swimming and leaving without a soul.

Spring comes with almost imperceptibly warming water and air and increase in the number of people. The winds slacken, swim time gradually extends. The rest of the Copper Coast calls out to me, to return and see what the winter has wrought, to find new experiences and new memories.

Burke's Island & reefs, Kilfarassey
Burke’s Island & reefs, Kilfarassey

Kilfarassey and Burke’s Island are always my first Copper Coast spring swim away from Tramore Bay. My playground of the island and reefs sits just a short swim away at high tide, a full circumnavigation of all takes only forty-five minutes, with optional paths around the reefs to lengthen any swim.

There was no-one else around, the tide was dropping and the sky was blue with a few actual white puffy clouds, not the usual grey-bottomed bringers of Atlantic rain usually visible. The water wasn’t quite calm, a light easterly Force Two breeze ruffling the surface and adding a nip to the air as I walked the hundred metres from the car down the slipway, crossed the stream and beach and left my sandals burdened under rocks on the sand. I lined up the zero triangle and minute-hand on my watch to indicate departure time and waded in, then dove into an incoming mushy wave.

The water was about ten degrees Celsius, according to my built-in skin thermometer. The cold shock associated with such a temperature dissipated within a minute or so as I swam out toward the windward east side of the island, stretching out my arms and shoulders.  Within a dozen minutes I’d reached the nearest shark-fin-shaped reef, and instead of a longer circumnavigation around the outside reefs, I turned west across the back of the main island. The water was a clear cool mint and jade in the cross-shore breeze, submarine reefs reaching up, old friends from previous years welcoming me back.

Another few minutes and I passed the main island and reached the inside end of the channel that divides the easterly and westerly reefs.  I was at the east side of the largest reef, a north-south ridge some seventy five metres long and reaching in places up to ten metres above the surface. Populated by birds and guillemots, mostly by Black Shags, who have always vocally disapproved of my unaccustomed irregular appearances, they threw themselves from the reef into the air, wheeling and dive-bombing and screaming their indignation at my arrival in their offshore haven.

I was swimming to The Keyhole, my nickname for the first rock arch I’d ever swum through. It’s an east-west narrow-waisted arch in the ridge, only ten metres long at the water’s surface, with a bare dogleg between the ends. There’s not much of a roof,  cut away as it is to the sides. When conditions are right, the arch, which is too narrow for most kayakers, compresses the flow and a swimmer can shoot through like a fairground water ride.

The easterly breeze wasn’t enough to shoot through at speed but the clear water gave me hope of seeing an anemone clinging to the rocks under the low tide mark, so I decided to swim through without breathing, to extend my underwater investigation.

With head underwater, I cruised west  through the arch, feeling the water flow keep me clear of the harsh sides. The quality of the sub-surface light changed, surely a cloud filtering the light entering the water, transforming it to a rich golden hue.

Under the surface was so crisp, so clear. The sand of the bottom, the encrustations of thousands of generations of barnacles on the rocks, this reef their universe, our air their outer space. The kelps and weeds waved in the backward and forward tidal stream. Ochre, umber, sienna. Jade, olive, phtalo green. Marl and charcoal. A merman’s palette of literal water colours. No fish were visible in the clear water this day, but here was every child’s daydream of swimming in an aquarium’s watery castle. No plastic scuba or treasure diver was required to perfect this idealized underwater scene.

All for me, just here, just now. All this time to see so little and yet so much. Only a double-handful of strokes on one held breath from arch end to end.

You can’t eat scenery, they say in Ireland. I was a child when I first heard that and I still knew they were wrong. Not with your mouth. But you can eat it with your eyes and your mind and your imagination. You can use it to create your soul, to fill your self.

The Atlantic – II

This is the second part of a three-part series of a pictorial exploration of the Atlantic Ocean as I know it, primarily on Ireland’s south and south-east coasts. As with the last time, these images are best viewed individually at a larger size. All will be added at full resolution to my Flickr account.

Atlantic Pulse

Atlantic Pulse

 

II -  Interface IMG_4757 USM rad 3.0.resized
Atlantic Assault

 

Evening with Groundswell
Evening At High Tide

 

Force Three
Force Three

 

Beach Ripple
Rippling Onto A Beach

 

Storm
Atlantic Storm

 

Anvil of Rock
Anvil of Rock

 

Force Two
Force Two
Force Ten
Force Ten

The Atlantic – I

The Atlantic Ocean is in me.

For almost 20 years since it got its hook into me, I’ve been haunting, (in a moderate non-weird way), the Irish Atlantic coast, primarily the west, south and my own Copper Coast in the south-east.

For many years, in the depths of grim nights, I have stared into the dark and summoned the ocean as a blanket. I can float on groundswell as it pulses and lifts and lowers me. Experience the ground vibrations from huge breakers. Smell the plankton. Feel the wind tighten my face. Taste the salt. The Atlantic became as much part of me as I become a miniscule part  of it.

It’s a grey ocean. Grey, not gray, my American friends. The word was surely invented for the Atlantic. Not a dull description of colour, it’s a dimension, a world, a universe, The Soulstealer Sea. The Grey Atlantic, not the Blue Pacific. It’s a metal ocean. Steel and iron, verdigris if you are lucky. Hard.  Complete.

Welcome to my ocean.

{The photographs of the Atlantic in this three-part series are the best I’ve  taken, over a two and half year period, of various representational of elements of the Atlantic. It’s a personal, creative and a continuing journey. It is as important to me as taking the photographs to let them be seen. I feel like a photographer for once. All are better on full screen for a more, well, immersive experience.}

A Wave
A Wave
Winter Horizon I
Winter Horizon I
Winter Horizon II
Winter Horizon II
Sky & Sea
Vast
I - Swell.resized
Visitors from Far Away
The Sky In The Sea
The Sky In The Sea
Squall
Squall
A Reef
A Reef
The Storm Will Pass
Storms Always Pass
Local
Local
Evening Sea With Two Islands
Evening Sea With Two Islands

 

Force Nine
Force Nine

Cork Distance Week Copper Coast swim

Cork Distance Week has become increasingly well-known over the past few years since it started by Ned Denison in 2009, succeeding the Champion of Champion races of the previous two years. I’ve been involved every year either as a swimmer or a volunteer and last year I hoped to bring the Camp swimmers over to the Copper Coast for a swim, but as ill-luck had it, we had a 48 hour south-easterly gale before and on the planned day, the one wind which makes the entire Copper Coast and much of the rest of the south coast unswimmable.

A brief précis of Distance Week is enough to tell whether you have distance swim genes. It’s held over nine days, with twice daily two-hour swims at six am and six pm with a Torture swim on the final Saturday, and a six hour qualification swim of multiple laps of Sandycove on the final day. Most swims are around Sandycove but the Camp travels to the Blackwater, Inishcara lake, Lough Hyne and other locations. Total swim volume over the camp is from 80 km to 140 km, depending on year and whether you can get through every swim. If this sounds in any way attractive, you have the illness.

Given the two and half hour drive from Kinsale to Tramore, Distance Week organiser Ned wasn’t keen to include the swim this week. So I engaged in some blackmail, favour for favour, and the swim was added.

Busy morning in the Newtown & Guillamene car park
Busy morning in the Newtown & Guillamene car park

Those of you here will know this, since its the entirety of our world now, but for everyone else, Ireland is having possibly its hottest June and July in a generation. It’s welcome since we literally had no summer last year, as it started raining on the first of June and rained for the rest of the summer, and this was followed by the coldest spring in sixty years.  Previous to the last year we didn’t have any real sunshine for the five years before that, and the last year considered a good summer was … 1996. (Weather everywhere seems to be about extremes and records now, which the Climate Change Deniers and Luddites will tell you has absolutely nothing to do with the highest recorded atmospheric carbon).

Not long ago we were suffering in unseasonably cold air making the cold water tough and in a mere few weeks of continuous sunshine water temperatures have risen sharply reaching the magic figure of 14 Celsius a couple of weeks ago and continuing upward. Further increased heat had the water in Tramore Bay reaching 15 to 16 degrees by mid-day when I did a scouting swim over the planned course at low tide. Jellyfish were disappointingly absent, especially since I’d been stung all over my face myself only a few days previously.

With the good weather, it seems the entire population had decamped to the coast. The club (Newtown and Guillamenes) allocated precious parking spaces in the car park for the swim and word was working it way around the area that “there’s a big swim on”.  One person was heard to say that the lobster pots about two hundred metres out in the bay were “the inner line for the big race. Off out there!

The swimmers started to arrive by five thirty. Former Club Chairman and Mayor of Waterford Ollie said a few words welcoming the swimmers and giving a brief overview of the club’s long stewardship of the area.

Gabor, Sylvain, Donal IMG_6632.resizedWe had twenty swimmers including one world record holder Hayden Welch. Globally know Australian marathon swimmer Penny Palfrey, swimmers from the UK, USA, Canada, Malawi Waterford and Cork, friends from previous distance camps included Carl Reynolds and Helen Gibbs. And my boys, my Hungarian stepson Gábor and world record Aspirant Sylvain Estadieu.

I did a quick swim briefing with a large map so the swimmers would know the course, gave them the waypoints and turning points, local swimmer Colm Breathnach the only one who knew the course. I had also anticipated asking them a question I hoped they’d never been asked previously in a swim briefing; does anyone suffer from claustrophobia  (No-one did). And there was a follow-up question, was there anyone who hadn’t done a night swim? The group was made up of very experienced swimmers and most had swum at night, though a few hadn’t. With sunset still four hours away, I explained that the course would include a long cave swim!

 

Newtown Cove exit
Newtown Cove exit

Given the large crowds, I decided to start them at Newtown Cove off the shingle beach (for a bit of extra Dover training simulation) and we all trooped down, the line of tanned and elegant Speedo and swimsuits-wearing models capturing everyone’s attention.

We let the two slowest swimmers off first, then I led the next group out toward Newtown Head, to be followed by the fastest swimmers, as I wanted to group everyone under the Metalman before proceeding and I didn’t want anyone getting cold while waiting, though given the warm water and sunshine this wasn’t a significant concern.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe assembled in the water, the RNLI rib under command of Raymond Cowman keeping us company on the outside. I indicated the darkcave under the headland, the Sun now sliding into the west actually making the entrance less darkly intimidating that it is in a mid-day Sun, when the shadow is impenetrable.  And then I led them all into it, stopping under the rim to show that once into the shadow it’s not as dark. We then swam into the inner cave, the water quickly going pitch black.

Inside the Cave
Inside the Cave

I have to say that reaching the inside and looking back to see twenty swimmers follow me, with Gábor and Sylvain right behind me, into a place where I usually swim by myself, was as much, if not more a thrill for me as the cave was for many of the swimmers. There was plenty of hooting and then we (mostly) exited on the right-hand side of the west side entrance.

Leaving the cave

There were a couple of young anglers on the rocks on the far side of the Headland, and from being alone, suddenly twenty swimmers swam out of the cave.

Cave entrance
Cave entrance

From there it was back around the headland and the swimmers set off of the pier of the beach. I waited until all swimmers were in front of me, and had a chat with the RNLI crew.

Rib and main group passing the pier (not visible)
Rib and main group passing the pier (not visible)

I exited at Newtown Cove (as did a couple of others who wanted a break from all the swimming and travelling) so I could get changed and watch the group from the cliffs. I had time for a few chats before I moved to above the Comolee’s rocks. Two swimmers were passing underneath having turned at the pier, and in the distance the main group had passed the pier on the way back from the beach.

Classic open water swimming pack formation
Classic open water swimming pack formation

Gradually the lead fast group came closer and in the zoom lens I could make out Ned, racing as usual. Tern minutes from the Comolees saw the final  swimmers round the rock into Newtown Cove, the late evening Sun directly into their eyes, and threaded between all the casual swimmers. Depending on the speed and lines taken by the swimmers they had swim up to seven kilometres in the two hours.

Finishing_MG_6617.resized

We had a chance to stand around chatting a bit afterwards, I got to meet most of the swimmers, some finally in person after previous online correspondence, whether Twitter, my blog or the marathonswimmers.org forum.

Distance Camp Copper Coast group shot
Distance Camp Copper Coast group shot

I was very happy and indeed honoured to have so many marathon swimmers visit my usually solitary playground. I appreciated that it wasn’t a short trip, and I certainly hope they enjoyed themselves.

Next year I’ve got a longer cave for them.

Spring is swum

Real spring arrived most tentatively and late in Ireland this year, following the coldest early spring in 50 years. The water has been cold at its usual lowest point in late February, but recovery from the bottom took longer to occur than usual and many of the coldest days swimming have occurred after the normal coldest point of the year.

My swim times have stayed short, shorter than in a few years, swimmers have widely been commenting about the combination of cold water and cold air making weekend open water swims difficult and brief, not complaints often heard amongst Ireland’s experienced cold water swimmers.

But finally, only two weeks, the northerly air flow shifted away and temperatures moved about low single digits.

SandycovePanorama.resized

This prompted my first visit of the year to Sandycove. How did it get so late? Only a week previously the water temperature in Tramore Bay had still been only seven degrees, but the Sandycove visit provided a lovely ten degrees. Having been ill with a chest infection for a few weeks, I’d approached the swim with slight trepidation (the only time I’ve ever thought I might have a problem with a lap) but on measuring the warm water that concern disappeared and Owen, Dave Mulcahy and I each cruised around for a pleasant sunny lap, Owen being faster was first around and utilizing his new Finis GPS for a map of a standard high-tide island lap. Some chat was had afterwards, with Mike Harris and Ned Denison out for a visit also. Ned indicated that he wouldn’t be integrating my suggested Copper Coast swim into this year’s Cork Distance Camp, “as it doesn’t suit“, whatever that means. I’ll just have to get some of the swimmers over myself!

Saturday just gone was also a mild sunny day, with light fresh northerly breeze not being too cold and therefore ideal for jellyfish-hunting. This is what I call my early spring loops of Kilfarassey’s Burke’s Island. I abandon Kilfarassey’s playground except for beach walking during the winter months as its southerly aspect is too exposed for the depth of winter and I can look forward to returning to it with increasing anticipation as spring progresses. With a light offshore and a sunny sky, the island, whose nearest point is only about ten minutes away, looked inviting. The tide was low, just off a spring and the guard-line of reefs that separate the island from the mainland were showing.

Burke's Island
Burke’s Island, low tide, offshore

I was concerned that Waterford’s deeper and more exposed water, almost always colder and slower to respond than Cork’s, despite being only about 60 miles apart, would still be only seven to eight degrees, but it was also ten degrees in the sun-warmed beach-edge water of Kilfarrassey, I doubt the Guillamene’s deeper water would have so improved.

It’s a shallow entry, and as I waded in there was a horse being ridden out in the shallows, the rider looking askance at me. The island and a string of reefs protect the beach, but once past the half-way point of the island the water depth starts to drop and I swum counter-clockwise around the outermost reefs, stirring up all the sea-birds who are far out from the mainland and therefore unused to much human traffic excepting the occasional kayakers or local fisherman. As I passed the island the temperature gradually dropped, and I guess the water around the island was about nine degrees.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The channels at the back of the reefs & island – my playground

Apart from the main island, there are actually lots of reefs and rocks and I swam into the main channel at the back of the island through many of these, my secret playground. The tide had now bottomed and heavy kelp was visible above the water. The first sea-anemones I’ve seen this year were visible on a couple of the deeper rocks and the water was crystal clear.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd what would a day to Kilfarassey be without a swim through my favourite arch, which I’ve termed the keyhole, about 25 metres long and always fun even on a calm day, though narrowest at low tide.

Kilfarassey is the location where I see (and suffer) jellyfish the most, it’s exposed and deep enough with enough calm pockets, reefs, currents and caves to hold many of them in place, but there were no jellyfish this day. The first jellyfish scouting expedition returned without a single one encountered, but it won’t be long now before our annual battles begin.

The swim was only forty minutes. But forty minutes of cold, clear heaven. Forty minutes where for the first time in weeks I felt I was where I was supposed to be, the first place where I’d felt truly and utterly free for some time, when I remembered that I started this blog over three years ago by exhorting you all to seek freedom. I write about the safe way to swim, the educated way to swim and I write about the mechanics. But it is this sense of freedom that is so essential for my own psyche and so fundamental to my own reasons for swimming. In the water, outside the island, over half a mile from the mainland, that I am ineffably myself and in that place of so little control that I feel so much confidence.

The despoiling of the Guillamenes – Part 2 – Slán abhaile

In the weeks since I published the article of the despoiling of the Guillamene Cove by the addition of shoulder-high stainless cattle-crush, meetings have been held between Newtown & Guillamenes and Tramore Town Council and radio and newspaper interviews have been done. Many people read that article. (A couple of people have told me I was the “public face” of the Guillamenes, though I think they mean my swim box, which far more people know than me).

Gone swimmin'
Gone swimmin’

A Facebook Protest Group has started (regular readers will know I don’t do Facebook). There’s been a physical protest at Tramore Civic Offices. Oh, and I paid my annual Newtown & Guillamene club membership.

It’s not all unanimity on the protest front. Club members have been verbally abused by people protesting the change. People who are never actually at the Guillamene. In one case one of the senior club members was insulted in the street. When he asked the abuser how long since the protester swam at the Guillamene, the answer was 10 years. Looking through the names of protesters, what’s noticeable to myself and many of the actual club members, is just how few of the protesters are known to us from the coves. This is indicative of protest in the age of Facebook. I think people click [Like] to feel they are doing something, making themselves heard, when it fact it’s a fairly meaningless action which certainly doesn’t impress the people who actually get out and do something. Facebook Likes mean less than a five-minute swim at the Guillamenes, and far far less than being a club a paying club member or helping to keep the area clean or reporting behavioural problems, or stopping people engaging in dangerous behaviour.

I’m far more impressed by people who are completely in favour of the cattle-crush, but who actually swim at the Guillamenes. I’m never on the side of bullying and nothing is more likely to lose you your argument than attacking the very people who have put so much time and effort over decades into developing and looking after our swimming coves.

There has also been widespread mention of criminal activity, whether destruction of the crush (which at least hasn’t, yet, happened) or theft of the railing by “scrap metal thieves”, a relatively recent Irish phenomena.

President_Billy.resizedThe Stewardship of the Guillamenes is the idea I’m keen to keep front and centre. For all the people, local and visitors, who have benefited and enjoyed the amenities at the Newtown and Guillamenes Coves, it should never be forgotten that it is the club which has stewarded the area for all over the past 80 years since its founding at the beginning of the 1930s. For people who’s only real interaction is that [Facebook Like] button, they should remember that the club members, past and present, are the ones who are there most days of the year, tidying up in winter, power-hosing and painting in summer, collecting for local charities, or organising the Snámh Fada, swim gala and diving competitions.

I’d like to do a quick review of the changes:

The Good (in my opinion)Sign To Newtown & Guillamenes

  • The increase in the number of changing platforms/benches (2011/2012).
  • The new slipway in Newtown Cove (2011).
  • The replaced railings in Newtown Cove.
  • The new swim ladder and attached platform at the Guillamene. (as the person who swims in roughest water at the Guillamenes you’ll have to trust me that this is a real safety improvement)
  • The new picnic tables.
  • The addition of steps down onto the rocks for the fishermen/(people?).

The Bad (in my opinion)

Crush1 _MG_1216.resized

  • The relaid main concrete steps down the cliff (very poor quality).
  • The concrete steps down into the water (Smooth, an ideal ground for algae growth, lethally slippery during spring, summer and autumn, kept clear by the club at the cost of significant time and expense. Partial remediation would be possible with the addition of parallel cut grooves).
  • The installation of the cattle crush on the diving platform.
  • The replacement stainless steel railings on the cliff top over the previous mild steel railings.
  • The installation of the extra unnecessary handrail under the cliff, which reduces the available changing area.
  • The closure of the public toilets for the last two summers.

Tramore Council’s argument about the installation of crush is that it received two complaints about safety in 2012 and therefore it was obliged to act before possible future litigation.

One of the main threads of the counter argument to the installation is that new installation is itself unsafe or likely to lead to further accidents, given its height and scale. It’s been pointed out for example that given that height that children can still easily get underneath it, and could still fall. This seem to me to contradict what has been done with the new steps into the water, where relaying the concrete has led to much dis-improved safety as it now provides a far better bed for algae growth and potentially dangerous slips and falls and nothing has been done to redress this problem.

The problem with this argument is the logical conclusion of it is that the current railing would be removed and a solid head high wall or barrier would be installed so that no possible accident can occur. The riposte is that to climb though the barrier would be to enter into unreasonably dangerous action. Yet the sea edge is naturally dangerous. At what point do you abdicate responsibility for your own actions and blame someone else? Like America, Ireland is a notoriously litigious society. That doesn’t mean everyone is so inclined. But I certainly take responsibility for my own stupidity, as I image most of you do also.

It is beyond me how the installation of a simple warning sign of the dangers of the sea front, as is done in Newtown Cove for the dangerous cliff edge, and all along the Copper Coast, for cliffs, current and mine shafts wouldn’t be sufficient.

But the other main problem with the barriers that I have is the unsightly nature and overwhelmingly ugly aspects of them at a location that has been very beautiful for me and others, a beauty that is partly expressed though the fact that so many people have derived such pleasure from the timeless pursuits of jumping into water and swimming and chatting and pursuing that most essential of Irishness with friend, the craic.  They simply don’t fit into the lovely surrounding, surrounding which are partly of course man-made. It is the built environment of the Guillamene that has led to its place in the local and tourist culture. Man-made isn’t bad. What is wrong is a lack of visual or cultural integration of a new safety system into an existing environment. We bemoan the surrendering of Irish culture to the drink and the pub, yet when those of us actually do anything else, the spectre of the Orwellian state raises its head.

A meeting will be held in September to review the changes, with Tramore Council and the “stakeholders“, that perennially popular local government term, which includes the Newtown and Guillamenes  swimming club, a representative of the Facebook group, and will definitely include myself.

In the meantime, abuse of club members, and criminal threats or activity do nothing to advance any purpose and lose the respect and agreement of those of us committed to the long-term enhancement of the area. 

The famous Guillamene sign, which the tourists love, has a less-seen reverse side, visible to those who think to look up when leaving the Guillamene Cove indicating that the cove was principally for bathers. And underneath, the Irish farewell: Slán abhaile. Which means; “Safe home“. I think more people need to consider the wider aspects of Slán abhaile.

Guillamene reserved for bathers sign _MG_0175-resized

Red House and Yellow House

First Corner and Comalees.

Second Corner Stand of trees.

Red House Yellow Bungalow.

Guillamenes and Sandycove.

Say my little swimming ditty out loud, it both scans and rhymes, a major achievement for me. :-) (It works for me, but you see, I really can’t write good poetry).

When you swim the same open water locations regularly, they become familiar to you in the  way the road outside your house does. maybe more so for a lot of people, because every metre is immediate, all progress is measured by arm-strokes, by body-lengths, by climbing and pulling your way through the all-too yielding water, the molecules slipping and sliding away.

When you are swimming in cold water you have time. You are connected to the world, everything surrounding you, that you can see, is real, and in a way, nothing else is.

The repeat swim distances in Tramore and Sandycove are different. A Sandycove Double, two laps, takes 50 to 55 minutes for the wider range of swimmers (3200 to 3800 metres). A Guillamene Double, out to Newtown Head, into the pier or the beach and back, which is my own standard as almost no-one else is around to swim it, is much further, taking about one hour and forty minutes, so the shorter winter laps are to the pier and back (40 to 45 minutes) or Newtown Head and back (35 to 40 minutes).

In Sandycove we mark our lap progress by the First Corner, Second Corner, and Red House. Second Corner is the half way mark, and the by-now famous Red House, emblazoned on the SISC t-shirt, marks the final sprint, only about three or four minutes out from the slip.

Tramore Bay has two possible initial swim directions. (Sandycove does too, but we almost never swim clockwise, to have done so is probably a sign of a Sandycove Veteran). Unlike Sandycove, there’s no fixed lap in Tramore. When swimming inwards toward the pier,  the first landmark are the Comalees rocks, popular with fishermen, and where the most recent cave on the coast has collapsed (sometime in the last 50 years).

Sandycove Island. Red House on the left, Fourth Corner on left, First Corner on bottom right, Finbarr's Beach bottom left of the island.
Sandycove Island. Red House on the left, Fourth Corner on left, First Corner on bottom right, Finbarr’s Beach bottom left of the island.

After turning at the pier, or under the Coast Guard station or Doneraile Head, or at the beach, the next marker is the stand of pine trees about 200 metres before the pier, above the coast road. Usually the worst part of the swim because it’s often the place where a slight contrary current slows you down, and you seem to spend five minutes looking at those trees.

Looking out from Doneraile Head at low tide, past Tramore Pier, past the Comalees rocks, past the Guillamenes to Newtown head and the Metalman. The Yellow Bungalow is in the centre, just over half way up.

Then the long haul back toward the Comalees, but on the return, it’s no longer the Comalees, but instead the Yellow Bungalow, above the Comalees, the last house you pass on the return and just under 400 metres from the Cove, time for that sprint.

Guillamenes landmarks

First Corner and Comalees.

Second Corner Stand of trees.

Red House Yellow Bungalow.

Guillamenes and Sandycove.

Sandycove landmarks
Just one last summer Thrift

Summer swimming on the Copper Coast 4 – And we’re done

I have no plan to swim into every cave on the Copper Coast, and no plan to subject you all to every one. But we have almost covered all the most interesting ones that I’ve swam to date: Some are obviously above high water mark and inaccessible, and some are too small, and there are sooo many. Some always seem to catching swell and/or aren’t safe when I visit them, especially on the lengths of coast where I swim less. But I do swim into anything big or interesting looking. And when I think I’ve seen them all, I discover something new. In fact, after I wrote this (a couple of months before it was posted), I swam into another big cave, and through another large arch.

Sheep Island (left), Eagle Rock (centre), Island of the Frenchmen (right)

Sheep Island in Kilfarassey separates Gararrus and Kilfarassey Bays. In both cases the promontory/island is at the more inaccessible far end away from the small car parks, east from Kilfarassey, west from Gararrus.

Island of the Frenchmen, inside Sheep island

Swimming from Kilfarassey with a trip out to and around Burke’s Island first (because that’s what I normally do) can mean a 40 minute swim to get to Sheep island. Or sometimes, if you are going around high tide to get access to some of the arches, you are swimming east against a tidal current and it can take 50 minutes, (as it did recently), passing some of Mick O’Meara’s seapaddling.com kayak day-trippers. Halfway across Kilfarassey Bay.

Kayaker (centre) clambering around on Burkes’s reefs

There they are, clambering around the rocks out on Burke’s Island with their kayaks pulled up, feeling like adventurers, when next thing some lunatic in an orange cap swims past.  I’ve seen the What-The-Hell look on their faces. Mick recently set a new Irish Sea kayak record by the way. (Ironically, we’ve yet to meet, though we must pass each other regularly in the water, and my car is often parked beside his van at Kilfarassey). There’s a tunnel in the promontory inside Sheep island that I’d looked at last year, that had grown longer and narrowed in my imagination, you can see it in both pictures above on the right-hand side. (Notice the reefs around the exit). When I finally swam back to it after circling Sheep Island, swimming from the west outside and around to the east, I realised it was actually only about 30 metres long and quite wide, two to three metres. But I swam through it anyway. :-) Swimming though the tunnel . The promontory itself is also separated from the cliff and is like a giant Swiss cheese with a few large tunnels though it, most above high tide, though one or two are accessible to swimmer or kayak on a high spring tide. Those I swam last year, and are amongst the least interesting, partly because they are so large much of the sense of adventure is lost. When I’d swum around Sheep island, I was swimming in among the rocks, looking for channels when I caught a glimpse of blue sky … through the rocks. I swam closed and discovered another tunnel, through Sheep Island itself. Unlike the other tunnel, this was narrow and crooked. Attempting the Sheep Island “narrowest arch” from the east video. I made an “exploratory probe” into it, and discovered the other end was narrower, very narrow. It wasn’t safe so I exited. Back through the channel between the island and to the west side of the island for a look from there. Everything happens slowly when you are swimming. On that side I discovered the tunnel was partially hidden behind a low reef.  There were also reefs almost touching the surface, which by now was only about an hour past high tide. I made two attempts to get in. There was a barnacle-covered rock just under the surface. Surges of water seemed amplified coming over the outside reefs, the walls were right beside me.

The narrowest arch

 

Each time I abandoned and went back. On the third attempt I stood on the sub-surface rock, the gap only a metre away,, and, what added to the difficulty was that it was slightly less than shoulder width and with a slight bend. Back I went again, before I decided this might be my last (or only) chance this year. I didn’t want to wait till next year. I was willing to risk some skin. I was going through. It was too narrow to film, the thing was to be decisive and move quickly. I managed to make it around the subsurface rock in a lull. Then I had to duck under water surface to avoid the dropping drop of the side. It was a three metres or so of difficulty before I made it into the wider stretch. I was through, the Sheep Island tunnel, by far the most difficult, was done on the fifth attempt (from both sides).   Oh, and also on this little expedition I swam into a channel where jellyfish polyps were releasing, small jellies, some only 1 cm in diameter.     Attempting the tunnel from the west. I had quite a number of cuts and grazes, the worst on my hand and my back. Totally worth it.

When I got back the beach after another 30 minutes, about two and a half hours after I left, the normally deserted Kilfarassey beach was inundated with people.

It’s a crowd!

It was still bright and sunny, unusual this summer, so a good day for cliff walking.

Looking carefully, a couple of kayakers could still be seen paddling through the reefs out at Burke’s.

Kayakers on Burkes reefs, look carefully

What produces all these great caves and arches is the interaction of the punishing Atlantic storms with the Old Red Sandstone of this coast.

One of the last stretches of stone wall above Kilfarassey

In the couple of years since I’ve begun haunting Kilfarassey, the cliff edge has retreated one to two metres in a couple of places, with only short sections left of the old stone cliff top wall.

I took this image on the left last year, but that stretch of wall is now sadly gone. New electric fence installed within the last year is only a metre from the cliff edge and will surely need to be moved again within another two years. Oh, why are there electric fence by a cliff you ask? Cows. We have them. Lots of them.

Almost all the early summer thrift were faded, only a few stalwarts left on sentry duty.

Last Thrift

I’ve been a bit heavy-handed with the colour saturation on my photos lately, a tendency I must try to rein in. But when the skies are grey so much of the time…

Kilfarassey Cliff stone wall fragment

The wall fragment above in context. Seen from the side it’s even more exposed.

Just one thrift, with the sea as backdrop, my current desktop (at a larger resolution). It’s a long way to next summer, a long way to 15 or 16 degree water, a long way to spending as much time in water as I want and not thinking about it.

Just one last summer Thrift
Ballydowane.resized

Summer swimming on the Copper Coast 3 – More arches, more caves, oh my!

 

Continuing to take advantage of unusually warm water that is completely out of sync with the crap summer we are experiencing, I’ve been revisiting some of the caves and arches from last year’s Project Copper now that I have a waterproof camera (oop, just realised I must do a review of it) to take some photos of the more memorable and less accessible locations. And in the course of this you’ve seen that there are also some new discoveries.

Since so many enjoyed last week’s cave swim, here’s a longer more detailed video I took a few weeks ago. Without a professional camera rig and lights, it’s hard to film on a handheld camera 60 metres from daylight. This isn’t national Geographic you know. Shoestring budget and all that. And when I say shoestring, I mean the one holding my swimsuit on.

While not new for this year, there’s also the shark-fin of St. John’s Island, a former promontory now separated from the mainland.

I passed John’s Island a couple of times last year before I noticed the arch entrance. It’s quite narrow and like many, if you breathe to the other side just at that moment, you miss it.

It was only that last year I decided to swim around the island that I noticed the island had a hollow heart, not noticeable even from out at sea where I’d gone past it.

But the island is an island in truth only at high tides. I swam around the back on a lower tide and discovered there were two reefs leading away from and protecting the hollow heart at lower tides.

In fact how do you decide what’s a cave and what’s an arch? The hollow heart of John’s Island is like a natural place of worship for swimming pantheists, a church of rock and sea to worship the wonder of nature. At one side of the island is a narrow entrance, at the other the entire side of the island has been scooped out and washed away, the minerals swallowed by the Celtic Sea, like a cone or a funnel laying sideways through the Triassic sandstone.

Swimming through St. John’s Island video 

The tunnel through the island can only be seen from one fairly inaccessible place on the cliffs, on a day with blue sky, and with a telephoto lens and gives a good sense of the fragile heart of the island.

Want to worship nature with an atheist/pantheist? Come swim with me! Some of the Sandycove Island swimmers are starting to talk about it. Organise a bus trip!

 

 

Summer swimming on the Copper Coast 2 – Cave Exploring

Summer swimming on the Copper Coast 1 – Islands and Arches

Having swam at Kilfarrasy with Lisa, a more extraordinary cave swim came two days later when we swam another section of the Copper Coast.

First we swam into one cave, exited and swam around a tall overhanging sea stack, getting gently pushed and pulled through the canyon between the cliffs on the half metre off shore swell.

We swam around and back, into another large and regularly scary looking cave, because it’s deep, completely black from the outside, and with even the smallest water movement sound booms out from the inside. Inside we made an extraordinary discovery.

The two separate caves were actually joined deep inside by a tiny shingle beach 50 to 75 metres from the sea. It’s dark but once you are inside, bright enough to see around. Video and photographs struggle to capture the conflicting darkness and bright cave entrances, with no flash on the waterproof camera. Even on small swell the waves are compressed and break onto the little beach with the sound amplified by the walls and cave roof. It felt like an extraordinary discovery, that we might be the first people to ever discover this as it seems possible that the kayakers, the other Copper Coast adventures along with myself, wouldn’t have entered the whole way for fear of being unable to turn or reverse their kayaks.

And even if not, surely we were the first ever swimmers to penetrate the cave system, which must 100 to 150 metres long in total.

A few short clips of the cave edited together.

I’ve said before, every day in the sea is mini-adventure, few though rarely so exciting as this. Want to find out where it is? You’ll have to come swim with me to find out. :-)

Lisa at Kilfarassey.resized

Summer swimming on the Copper Coast 1 – Islands and Arches

Summer in Ireland! See for yourself.

In the middle of a horrible summer, some swims can still just be so much … fun. You don’t always need racing or swimming big distance or doing challenges. Sometimes just easy swimming with a friend can result in a truly memorable swim. Here’s a quick reminder of how stunning Kilfarassey can be for two days of summer, when all these people decide to show up on my normally almost-abandoned playground.

Kilfarassey, August 2012- it only looks like this two days a year!

A recent visit by English Channel superstar Lisa Cummins saw us doing a couple of fun swims on the Copper Coast, as my attempt to introduce this incredible swimming location to others continues. The first day we had a great swim at Kilfarassey around the playground of Burke’s Island.

I’m using the full resolution version of this as my desktop wallpaper

Swimming out, a heavy squall we’d seen approaching from the South East caught us on the flattish low-tide and resulted in one of these beautiful views of rain hammering the surface into a beaten grey/green cloth.

Shortly afterwards  the sun came out and we swam around the very low channels and reefs, having to forego a couple of options as the tide was too low. We got pulled and pushed through the main channel after watching it from outside to see if we could enter it between waves and had to pull ourselves over kelp in a few places. Lisa and Owen O’Keeffe, another recent visitor, have both commented on the thick leathery nature of the kelp (kelp/mayweed/sea hedgehog) on the Copper Coast, something I’d never thought of, so used to it am I at low tide, but it’s very different to the Japweed and Deadman’s Bootlaces seaweed more common at low tide around Sandycove Island due to the fresher nature of the water there, and if you hit a big patch of the Copper Coast kelp at low tide, you can’t swim through it, but must pull yourself over it.

Then we shot the Keyhole arch at a nice speed …

…and a great visit into the Barrel cave under the island. (I just call it the Barrel cave for no particular reason, like the names I have on some of the others, just what comes to mind).

Lisa exiting the Burke’s Island cave
Bollards

Summer Storm Force on the Copper Coast

There is no swimming in this post. I really wanted to get swim just for the fun of it, but there was no safe exit point except at the pier and I knew I’d cause mass panic there, probably resulting in Rescue 117 being called out again. Does this mean I am growing up? Surely not.

Storm season is a nice phrase. Like Earthquake weather. And like the reality of  earthquake weather, storm season in Ireland is 12 months long, (as it seems for the past five years anyway).

Still, a couple of times a year we get a really big blow that hits the south and south-east. It’s half way though August, the month most Irish people take their hollyers (annual vacation), and a big low depression out in the Western Approaches drove a howling short-duration south-easterly Storm Force 9 onto the south coast. A south-easterly always provides a spectacle on the Waterford coast. Two trees were lost on the Loneswimmer Estate, and the brand new replacement diving board at the Guillamenes was snapped off, a board so heavy it took 6 adult men to lift recently.

High tide was late afternoon, and the wind increased from mid-day, luckily not hitting the maximum Storm Force until a few hours after high tide had passed. Anyway this is just an introduction. Everyone loves storms pictures. I took a lot of photos (400!) at the Newtown and the Guillamenes, Tramore Pier, Ladies Beach, and both ends of the Prom and managed to whittle a few I liked from the lot. (I’ve held a couple other back for future use, including my favourite). Long time regulars might have noticed I starting reducing resolution earlier in the year, to save me uploading full resolution images which weren’t required, it saves me time and WordPress Server space, and  saves you trying to load a 200 MB panorama pic. (I still have to go back and tidy up some of those, housekeeping isn’t fun).

Newtown Cove was wild before high tide and despite the rising storm, the sky was blue and the day was warm.

The sea breaking down onto the Newtown Cove platform. The blue sky only lasted a few minutes later than this image and was disappearing by the time I walked back to the car park.

Outside the Cove it was pretty big, waves looked about five to six metres, with occasional set waves at maybe seven to nine metres.

With the howling onshore, this meant breaking waves with spray reaching up to about 80 feet high.

The Guillamenes platform was completely inaccessible as waves exploded over it, occasionally even breaking over the top of the changing alcove. It wasn’t safe to go down past the first couple of steps, and it certainly wasn’t dry.

No wonder the diving board snapped with the volume of water bearing down on it.  Normally the board would be removed before the worst of the storms hit.

The bay provided a nice canvas. Tramore is a shallow bay, it was this type of onshore storm that was responsible for the loss of the Merchant Marine vessel the Seahorse in the late 19th Century in the Bay, and led to the erection of the pillars on Newtown and Brownstown Heads at either side of the bay, pillars you are well used to seeing here, the indicators of my swimming home.

The bathymetry of Tramore Bay is a long sloping sandy bottom with sandbanks going out a long way, which cause waves to jack up and break far out in these conditions.  And of course the bigger a wave the farther it reaches down to touch bottom, the slowing of the bottom of the waves is what causes it to break from the top as the lip spills over.

By the time I reached the pier, there were rain showers and photography became a bit more difficult.

From Newtown Head, past the Guillamene and Comolene rocks, into about a hundred metres in front of the pier under the cliff, was the direct straight line from the incoming south-easterly waves. The bay is shallow in front of the pier and there also are reefs and heavy thick kelp beds to suck the energy from the waves before they hit the cliff under where I was standing. And I finally got a decent image of something I’ve long been trying to capture; direct line of an onshore storm.

Taking pictures of just the sea is bloody difficult. Like you always look heavier on camera, photos often strip the power, grandeur and pure scale from the sea. This image isn’t as showy a photo as big breaking waves, not as obvious as most of my shots here, but this is a sea-lover’s image, at least, this sea-lover anyway.The beaten-steel grey-green of the Atlantic, Mananán Mac Lir howling and driving his chariot led by his white horse, Aonbarr of the Flowing Mane.

I shot some brief video above the pier, but with nowhere in the deep cliff-edge grass to anchor the small tripod and the wind buffeting me, I had to keep it short. I took also some video on the waterproof camera, but I haven’t reviewed it yet.

I moved into town, but got no good images at Ladies Beach. I’d gone through most of the lens wipes in my camera bag trying to keep the lens clear.

The town end of the Promenade and seawall is always popular during onshore storms, waves breaking on the wall, and you can get close enough for reasonable photography because there’s a nice dry spot right at the end of the prom. This time I didn’t spend too much time on the usual photos from here, and focused on some other stuff, life a father and son running and laughing and racing the spray over the wall. And the spray itself. I got really lucky on this one.

I went around the prom and onto the beach beyond the Surf Centre for a contrary view with the town providing the backdrop. I still miss the yellow and red of the lifeguard centre, the white roof is characterless.

I wish I’d been able to wish Hook yesterday, it must have been fun out there.

I really wish I were a better photographer, but I’ll keep trying. About 15 good images from 400 is an improvement on my previous rate of 1%. I have high resolutions of these images, if anyone want to purchase any by the way.

If anyone cares, someone(s) nominated loneswimmer.com for four categories in the Irish blog awards.

The categories for which I’ve been nominated are;

  • Getting Cold And Wet While Covered in Sheep Grease
  • MAMIL (Middle-Aged Men In Lycra)
  • Special Category for Inventive Use of Baby Dolphin Juice
  • Doing Stupid Things While Devilishly Handsome But Also Cold And Wet And Still Wearing Sheep Grease And Lycra

I’m told the award for the last one is a rubber statuette.

Maybe. Categories are never what they should be. LoneSwimmer.com will pass 150,000 views within a week and that’s not including the direct subscribers. I’ve got you readers, you keep putting up with this nonsense, ergo … je suis tres contente. Thanks again to you all.

Swimming the Copper Coast (Continued – Dungarvan area)

Clonea Beach

Beach, about 2000 meters in length but swimming distance can be further. Parking at both ends. Shallow beach means quicker entry at high tide, but there are submerged rocks right in front of the parking at the Clonea Strand Hotel end of beach most of which are hidden at high tide. A common swim is East from hotel to slipway and back, about 40 minutes for a 3k per hour swimmer.

It’s possible to swim westerly out to the first small rock island (Carricknamoan) but only on high tide as it is too shallow and with too much bottom kelp on low tide. This is about 3500 metres. There is a weak adverse current which pulls you off line when returning to Hotel Car Park. Follow a line toward Helvick Head and adjust to your left on the way toward the island. Occasional seal.

Baile na Gaul to Helvick Harbour To Helvick Head and Dungarvan Bay

Across Dungarvan Bay is rarely swum except for the Helvick Swim, due to high water traffic (Fishing, sailing).

There’s a shallow reef called The Gainers about 2/3 of the way across (swimming from east to west) that runs into the bay. There is a sharp temperature drop after on the West side of the bay from an inward cold water current.

There are lots of buoys in the bay.

It is unsafe to swim around Dungarvan town harbour due to very high tidal current and water traffic.

Helvick Harbour is a working fishing-boat pier so be careful of boats. There is also plenty of diesel in the water around and outside the pier.

Baile Na Gaul is one mile inland of Helvick Harbour. Short stony beach. Sandy water entrance for 50 metres from the pier wall. Otherwise may be submerged rocks. Best after half tide but there are currents running up and down coast between Baile Na Gaul & Helvick except at high and low water, strong enough to halve normal swimming rate.

Possible to exit safely from the water for about 2/3s of the distance between Baile Na Gaul & Helvick Harbour.

There is a new Waste Treatment Plant about ¾ of the way between Helvick & Baile Na Gaul. There are often very cold spots around here from surface water run-off. Occasional sewage has been “tasted” in the water. There is (up to ¾ knot) strong current around this point out to about 200 metres.

Very choppy conditions here in Northerly wind unlike many other spots are there is a long area for wind to blow across the bay from the town to here.

Helvick Harbour to Helvick Head is a short distance. Sheltered by the Head. Rubbish, kelp and jellyfish accumulate here at slack tides and winds.

Swimming the Copper Coast (Metalman to Ballydowane)

Kilfarassy to Metalman

About 5 KM. Nice swim but only one other safe entry/exit point. Should only be swum on correct tide due to tide stream.

Kilmurrin Cove to Dunbrattin

Kilmurrin Cove is a small horseshoe cove about two miles from Bunmahon. It’s safe to swim in the cove but there are strong rip currents around cove entry in rough water. There are also lots of rocks on the ground below the sandy beach at lower tides. Kilmurrin to Dunbrattin Head is about 750 metres swim but exit at Dunbrattin is restricted through a private camping site.

Water around Dunbrattin Head has rips. Local seal usually only visible in choppy water.

Bunmahon Beach

About 750 metres long. Parking. Strong rip in the centre of beach where the waves look less. Undertow at West end of beach. In some calm swell conditions in spring and autumn Bunmahon can have a VERY strong outward going South-Westerly rip that is Too Strong to swim against but this condition is rare. The rip cannot be seen from land and runs from the centre of the beach outward past the headland.

There have been a few swimming fatalities at Bunmahon over the years due to the currents. It’s a popular local surf spot due to the breaking force of the waves here.

Local seal usually only visible in choppy water.

Ballydowane Cove

Small cove, about 500metres across, surrounded by high cliffs. Fairly sheltered. Parking. Submerged rocks at East end of beach at high tide. I’ve found it safe to swim here.