Category Archives: Guillamenes & Newtown

In Tramore bay, Waterford, Ireland. My main open water swimming location.


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 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. 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.

Unusually good weather

The weather in Ireland has been broken for the past five days. It didn’t operate as normal. It’s the end of March and instead of the usual dull cold grey, it’s been warm, bright and sunny. So like quite a few others I changed to a few days of sea swimming and even did a 5k, which is a first for me for March. Last year I didn’t do 5k open water until June, in 2010 it wasn’t until the middle of May.

My assertion is, despite belief to the contrary, Irish people are actually optimistic based on the single fact that whenever the weather the good, we believe it will last forever,  even though we’ve had entire summers without five consecutive days of any good weather.

I’ve recently purchased a Kodak Playsport camera, which is waterproof and shoots HD video, for a very reasonable price of about £80. So finally, finally, I’ve started taking some video of Tramore Bay and Newtown Head to share my playground with you all, instead of just the usual static images. The water is still only 10 degrees Celsius so I couldn’t spend too much time floating and getting cold, but I’m delighted to have made a start. A couple of these were shot on cold bright days a few weeks ago.

Don’t forget to select YouTube’s HD option for each.

Lowest low tide of the year. Shot with camera sitting on rocks underneath normal low tide mark.

Looking out to the Metalman and Newtown Head.

Looking up at the Guillamene.

Out further toward Newtown head

Suddenly … Gráinne!

Newtown Head. Wait for the underwater bit at the end, and see the colour of my dreams.



What are the features of a good open water swimming location?

Steve Munatones posted a list of possible features on for a good open water swimming spot some time back.

1. Year-round conditions
2. Summer conditions
3. Abundance or absence of marine life. If marine life is known, how does the abundance or absence of sharks, dolphins, turtles, jellyfish, Portuguese man o’ war positively or negatively affect the rankings?
4. Abundance or absence of rough conditions. If rough conditions are prevalent, how does ocean swells, wind chop, large surf, strong tidal flows and currents positively or negatively affect the rankings?
5. Range or lack of range of water temperatures
6. Availability of showers
7. Availability of parking
8. Availability of lifeguards
9. Ease of bringing in kayaks, paddle boards or escort watercraft to the venue
10. Availability of food concessions
11. Proximity to medical care
12. Possible number of course layouts (out-and-back, point-to-point, along-the-shore, geometrical)
13. Clarity of the water
14. Quality of the water
15. Availability of mobile phone reception
16. Degree of natural beauty such as coral reefs, rocky shorelines, fauna, flora, sunsets, sunrises
17. Degree of man-made beauty such a resort hotels, long piers, rock jetties, breakwaters, boardwalks, skyline
18. Availability of online information, provided by webcams or sensors on piers or nautical buoys
20. Other swimmers or clubs in the area.

I wondered how these would relate to the Guillamene, my main swim location? So I went through the list:

1. Year-round conditions. Yep, it’s either cold. Or colder.
2. Summer conditions. What is summer?
3. Abundance or absence of marine life. If marine life is known, how does the abundance or absence of sharks, dolphins, turtles, jellyfish, Portuguese man o’ war positively or negatively affect the rankings? Jellies. What’s the problem? They look nice. No sharks. repeat, NO SHARKS.
4. Abundance or absence of rough conditions. If rough conditions are prevalent, how does ocean swells, wind chop, large surf, strong tidal flows and currents positively or negatively affect the rankings? Protection from direct prevailing southwesterly. But rough a lot of the time. Good training.
5. Range or lack of range of water temperatures. Yes, we certainly have a range: 4C to 15C.
6. Availability of showers. Bring your own plastic bottle.
7. Availability of parking. Wahoo! We have a score on the board. √
8. Availability of lifeguards. The one that visited on last summer called out Coast Guard Heli Rescue 117 for me after I’d been in the water about five minutes. Not missing lifeguards therefore.
9. Ease of bringing in kayaks, paddle boards or escort watercraft to the venue. Unless you consider portaging the narrow cliff steps carrying your kayak “easy”. 
10. Availability of food concessions. There was a mobile ice-cream stand there last summer. Built on a tractor. True story.
11. Proximity to medical care. Rescue 117. Coast Guard Helicopter. See Point 8 above.
12. Possible number of course layouts (out-and-back, point-to-point, along-the-shore, geometrical). According to me there are many. According to most everyone else there’s one.
13. Clarity of the water. It’s the North Atlantic. It’s rich in life, therefore it’s green and murky. To those who know, this is a good thing.  When it’s clear, it means there’s a cold north wind blowing.
14. Quality of the water. Wahoo, another one! √
15. Availability of mobile phone reception. We’re on a roll, our score is 3. √
16. Degree of natural beauty such as coral reefs, rocky shorelines, fauna, flora, sunsets, sunrises. Arms don’t fail me know. √
17. Degree of man-made beauty such a resort hotels, long piers, rock jetties, breakwaters, boardwalks, skyline. Um, we’ve got the Metalman? Half a point? √
18. Availability of online information, provided by webcams or sensors on piers or nautical buoys. Well, you’re reading it. Quarter of a point? Plus quarter for the M5 buoy? √
20. Other swimmers or clubs in the area. Uh, this website name didn’t come from nowhere. There is recreational Newtown & Guillamene Swimming Club. We’ll call that a yes though, what the hell. √

21: Steve leaves out a very important one: Tidal access. The Guillamene can be swum at all tides. Un point, as Les Francais say.

And the score from the Waterford jury is: Seven points, sept points. Out of 21.

Stay away? You must be joking. Have you seen all the pictures I posted? I’m lucky to have the Guillamene for my almost private playground.

What? It's an ice-cream tractor. So? You've never seen one before? Sandycove doesn't have an ice-cream tractor!

In the Guillamene’s favour:

  • Access at all tide times.
  • Sufficiently deep water, but not too deep to scare folk.
  • Part of the local cultural heritage, all age groups congregate there, over 75 years of tradition. Now with clothes worn! Great friendly locals. Year round dippers.
  • Shelter from the prevailing winds, but not flat, ideal if you want want to be a real open water swimmer.
  • Lovely park and picnic area around the two coves. Clean. Area very well maintained by the club.
  • Cold water. This is a GOOD THING!
  • The bay and the Copper Coast. Beautiful area. See my Project Copper posts.
  • If you see my box sitting on the wall, you can be moderately sure it’s safe for you to swim. I will also swim with anyone who asks, or take them of a sightseeing swim outwards to the caves and stacks.
  • Tourists. I don’t really know how they find it, but we get tourists from all over there. Most of them look at us in amazement. Does wonder for the ego!

Come with me on this cold water swim

2:25 p.m. I’m just in home within the last few minutes. It’s one hour and 13 minutes since I got out of the water at the Guillamene.

8 a.m. I weigh 75.5 kg. I have dropped 2.5 kg since I resumed pool training seven weeks ago. I forgot to check my pulse after I woke, (yet again). Last time I checked about a week ago, it was 53 BPM. It’s Day 6 of my week, tomorrow is the rest day. I was more tired this week than I expected and not swimming well.

9 a.m. It’s the weekend so I allow myself a coffee and continuing read One Hell Of a Gamble, the inside story of the Cuban missile crisis that is based on US and Russian official documents.

10 a.m. I have fried rashers, black pudding, cherry tomatoes and mushrooms on  wholemeal toast for breakfast, along with another coffee. I heard yesterday on the radio about a bacon jam that I’d love to try.

20,000 years ago. Ireland is covered in ice sheet.

November 2011: Ireland has its mildest November in 150 years.

10.45 a.m. Put a towel in the swim box in the car, make a flask of hot chocolate, put the dogs in the car. Make sure I have my camera as always.

Two weeks ago: Winter arrived. The average daily temperature is about 4 degrees Celsius.

December Sunlight

11.45 a.m. Get to the Guillamene car park. The car thermometer says the air temperature is 6 degrees Celsius (43 F.). There’s only one other car present and no people around. Let the dogs play around for a while and take some photos. The sky is cloudless and a watery blue. There is a bitter north-westerly wind. My hands are already cold, as I am not wearing gloves.

Christmas Toby

12:10 to 12:08 p.m. Dogs back in the car, I head down to the platform. Two of the Newtown & Guillamene Swimming Club Polar Bears have arrived at the same time and we chat while changing. I check the water temperature with my infrared thermometer but it’s sill reading incorrectly. It’s certainly not the 12C it reads. It’s been inaccurate for weeks despite opening it up and drying out the electronics. Time for a new one.

16,000 years ago: The ice sheets retreat and Ireland start to recover. The ice scoured the land and the clearing of the flora and fauna means Ireland will have a very low species biodiversity in the future. The eliminated weight of the glaciers means Ireland will gradually rebound from the sea, even as the sea-levels rise. Ireland becomes separated from Great Britain and the Continental land bridge. The thermohaline circulation system and the Gulf Stream will dictate Ireland’s year’s weather pattern.

12:09 p.m. I’d forgotten my main togs, and only had a horrible pair of Slazenger backup togs, they are too narrow at the waist and quite thong-like, and the string had slipped back into the waist holes and I only realised this after getting ready. I wasted two minutes trying to extract it while I got colder. By the time I was ready to swim the other two guys had already finished their three-minute dips and were back out. I wore two silicon caps, ear plugs, and greased under my arms and behind my neck, an area that recently has again  started to chaff more. The concrete was very cold, I put on my deck sandals for the 10 metre water to the steps.

12:20 p.m. With  the sun in the sky, although cold, it’s easier to get in the water. Having left the sandals at the top of the steps, I walked down to the water and stood waist deep. The water was fairly flat, but there is a low amplitude but long period groundswell coming in, which meant the waves will not break high but would be powerful. I splashed water on my face, gave my ear plugs a final push in and dove in.

12:20 to 12:22 p.m. The water was cold of course but I didn’t experience the cold associated with 5 Celsius degree water, and I’ve been doing this for a while. I took the first two minutes to adjust easily while I swam out of the tiny cove but my breathing was fine and there wasn’t much cold shock. After two minutes I could start to really compare to my last swim seven days ago.

12:22 p.m. The water was colder than last week. I was feeling the wind on my shoulders and upper back, but the sky was clear and the water was calm. Off to the pier. Concentrating on the technique I’d been doing (re-doing) for the past seven weeks.

12:40 p.m. Approaching the pier, I decided to go past the harbour entrance, down another 100 metres then turn.

12:42 p.m. I turned back into the swell. Sun was directly ahead.

12:52 p.m. At thirty minutes I started to feel the soles of my feet cold and sore.  Unusual.

12:55 p.m. I realised I would be back before 45 mins had elapsed so as I passed the Colomene rocks, I angled outwards in order to add a few minutes.

13:02 p.m. A few hundred metres to go, the steps and metal railings caught and reflected the sun as I angled in. My hands were starting to claw. I opened it up and sprinted in, switching to mainly right side breathing.

13:07 p.m. I had difficulty getting out even though the water was calm because the long period swell power pushed me past railing for a few seconds and I had to make a second pass to grab on. Very unusual.

13:07:30 p.m. Holding the railing I moved up the steps. The wind was really cold blowing across my wet skin. A silhouette was talking down to me from in front of the low sun. I awkwardly removed my ear plugs to hear what they were saying as I put my sandals on and walked immediate to my box. Something about “how long was I in”? I gave a swimmer’s answer, in distance terms, and got it completely wrong. The two important things were the difficulty I had in moving my jaws and the simple mistake I make, which I then corrected. My feet were really really painful from the cold and from the upturned plastic knobs in my sandals. I need new cheap flat, easy to slip on sandals for winter, I reminded myself. Again. Nuala Muir-Cochrane has suggested Crocs, but can my image stand the damage?

13:08 to 13:12 p.m. Standing on a cheap €2 rubber car mat, I tried to get dressed as quickly as possible.

This is the most critical time, I was now racing Afterdrop, when the cold blood in my periphery moves back into my core and I get very cold. It would take 10 minutes or so for this to take full effect.

It was very cold on my hands, head and legs and feet. I gave my hair a peremptory single towel run , same for my torso, and pulled on a merino wool t-shirt. I was still half damp, but since it’s Merino, the damp didn’t matter. Next were two merino wool long-sleeved base layers, medium wool weight. Then was a jumper (Irish name for sweater). Next was my English Channel woolly hat. I was alone by now on the platform. My co-ordination is not the Mae West. My top clothes were not put on smoothly and were bunched. I rubbed my legs with the towel, took off my togs, realised that even thought there was no one around I better drape a towel around me. I would never have done this if I was warmer. I got my underwear on, and dried my legs a bit better, but with no vigourous rubbing. With difficulty, I pulled a pair of merino wool long-johns on (thanks Aldi). Then pants. I couldn’t close any buttons except at the waist as my dexterity was poor, but I learned long ago to wear a belt. I pulled on a coat and then turned to the final but most difficult task of getting my socks and Dr. Marten’s boots on. My feet were more painful, and I had difficulty opening up the laces more to get my feet in but finally did. I didn’t even bother trying the tie up the laces. As I finally pulled on gloves, one of the gents came back down, he was keeping an eye on me, and told me that Polar Bear Joe had been down for a swim and already left while I was in, and had measured the water at 43.5 Fahrenheit, (under 6.4 Celsius). All the older members think in Fahrenheit, I think in Celsius. We agreed that seemed maybe a degree low and I know Joe’s measurements were previously about a degree Fahrenheit lower than mine, so the temperature was probably between 7 C and 7.5 C, definitely colder than last weekend.

It’s now 15:15: Thirty-five minutes since I started writing this, just over two hours since I emerged. I feel fine, I am still wearing everything except coat, hat and gloves. I realise I forgot to turn on the heating so the house is cold. My hands are fine but the back of them feel very cold as I press them against my face.

13:32 p.m. I got back to the car and opened the Keypod, and put my stuff inside. I didn’t let the dogs out. I sat into the car and the Afterdrop was coming on hard. I poured a cup of hot chocolate outside the car in case the shakes caused me to spill it inside. I left  it on the dash for a minute. I turned on the engine, and switched the heating to max. I should really have gone for a walk for a better warm up, but the cold wind and Afterdrop made me decide to do other than the best thing. I started to hunch over without thinking about it and started to drink the hot chocolate, only able to hold the cup in both hands to calm the shaking.

13:42 p.m. Since I’d driven down, the car heated up quickly. Thirty five minutes after I’d emerged from the water, the shakes passed and I was able to drive safely. I drank two cups of hot chocolate. Their benefit was twofold. The volume and heat difference of a hot drink make little difference to heating up a body, the thermodynamic equation is too unmatched, because the volume of the human body is too great beside a cup of hot chocolate. But there are benefits: First, psychological; drinking something hot just makes you feel better. Second, it defers the raging Zombie-like hunger I would otherwise encounter on the way home, when I would have to pull over and scour the car for anything to eat.

13:47p.m. I arrived at Tesco Supermarket, but after five minutes I decided I didn’t need anything urgently, and it was cold, though I knew it really wasn’t and I also knew I needed to buy something for dinner. I went back to the car and headed home.

14:01 p.m. Almost an hour out, as I passed the Waterford & Suir Heritage small-gauge steam railway, I saw they were opened for a holiday Santa run and I realised my jaws were starting to relax, without having previously noticed how tightly clamped they were.

14:12 p.m. I was about five of minutes from home, and I realised that my jaws didn’t actually relax previously but they were now. At the same time I became aware I am sitting on two lump of cold meat, as my arse-cheeks were the slowest to recover.

15:35 p.m. I am out of the water slightly over two and a half hours as I finish this up. Time for a warm shower and ready to be productive again. I wanted to write this while it was fresh.


Despite all the times I’ve done this, I made small simple mistakes; I forgot my preferred swim togs, I didn’t check the backup pair was ready before I got undressed,  I wore boots instead of shoes, (more difficult to put on when you have lost dexterity). None of them had a huge effect.

I could have swum further, but we always can in these conditions, that is the danger of cold and hypothermia, it lures you into a sense of calm. Swimming five minutes further wouldn’t have had much effect but I think ten minutes would have made a significant difference.

On this weekend last year, the temperature was 4.8 degrees Celsius and I swam for 14 minutes. At equivalent temperatures to now last winter, I was swimming half the time I am this year, between 20 to 25 minutes whereas I am still swimming around 50 minutes. Though I could easily have gone further last year, I didn’t have the drive to do so that I have this year.

Every year there are improvements. We can all get better.

Anyway, I hope there’s something of interest here. I wanted to try to take you inside my head for a normal December swim.


Like fish in a barrel

An Indian summer was predicted for Ireland and the UK for the last week, and the UK certainly reaped it, along with much of Ireland. The south coast though, as I mentioned last week, had either blanket fog for days or continuous rain. In fact I decided to take a break from swimming. But this morning dawned clear and warm, though gusty. So with the air temperature at an extraordinary (for Ireland, this year) 21.5° C.,  off to the Guillamene with me. However only a couple of miles down the road the fog came down again, though not as heavy as last week, with still good visibility, but the temperature also dropped, by 6° C. by the time I reached the Guillamene.

Beyond the fog

Walking toward the steps a commotion in the sea became very obvious. Hundreds of seabirds, all different breeds, flying, swooping, swimming, diving, in a flustered frantic floating furore. Obviously there must be a large school of sprats in close. Even larger than the usual schools I often see, usually below me, darting around. Southwards, the edge of the fog bank could be seen by the light on the horizon. As I dis-robed, the tight knot of birds drifted away out from the coast and deeper into the bay on the current.

The water is still a warm 13° C. but the wind had driven the same rough conditions typical of this time of year. Turning down at the pier however, in just a few moments, the sky transformed, like dirty dishwater sliding off all sides of an inverted bowl. Overhead turned light blue with occasional clouds, while all around, lower down toward the earth the grey cotton wool remained.

Toward the end of the swim, outside Newtown Cove, I swam through the edges of the flock. While drying myself, I saw that the birds were still present, this time more in towards Newtown Cove. Over the hill, there were many birds (which scattered as I walked down toward the cove) right inside the cove and stretching outwards.

After shooting some video, I carefully walked down the heavy weeded  and treacherous slipway.

The sprats had been so numerous that waves breaking onto the slipway had deposited bodies right there, and so plentiful that they were still there without having been devoured by the birds.

Looking into the water below was astonishing. The cove (now empty of birds who were still engaged in a frenzy outside) was dense with fish, looking green and grey and turquoise and metallic under the surface. Thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands probably since the school obviously reached out for hundreds of metres.

Look at this at full size to get a better idea of the numbers

So dense that I was able to reach into the water and touch them! feel them slip around and through my fingers. So dense, that despite haze, and reflections and foam and rippling water, and most of all the reflectivity of the surface layer, I was able to take pictures of the school.

We all see nature documentaries. We get used to seeing Snow Leopards hunting, crocodiles pulling down buffalo, polar bears emerging from hibernation, and seeing “never-before-filmed sequences”. This is good. We are reminded of the inestimable value of the natural world. But we are also spoiled. We see nature from a distance, and because we see what is exotic for most of us, we forget how extraordinary “ordinary” wildlife can be.

A flock of wheeling and screaming seabirds, a dense school of fish, fog lifting and the light off the water.

Fulmar in the distance