Category Archives: Ireland

My own occasional perspective on aspects of Ireland, primarily for those lone swimmers living elsewhere.

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

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

Tom Blower and the first successful North Channel swim

I came across this gem from 1963 in Sports Illustrated archives a couple of years ago. I’m just going to reprint it. Hey, an easy day, no writing!

*

From Donaghadee in Northern Ireland to Portpatrick in Scotland is a fraction under 21 miles. Between the two land masses the sea rages in swollen tides and hungry eddies. Out in the center a man could sink some 100 fathoms in places before touching the dark bottom. The water is so painfully cold that to swim in it is to feel as if one has a steel band around his forehead that gets tighter with each stroke. This is the deadly and cruel North Channel of the Irish Sea. To long-distance swimmers it makes the English Channel look like a wading pond. Only one swimmer has ever made it across—an Englishman named Tom Blower.

In fact, not many have even dared to try the crossing. Florence Chadwick made two unsuccessful attempts—in 1957, when her life was in danger for 24 hours afterwards, and in 1960, when she left the water with a body temperature of 90º F. A Greek, Jason Zirganos, died after an unsuccessful try in 1959 despite the efforts of a doctor who cut him open with a borrowed penknife to massage his heart. Just last year (1962) the Danish-born Canadian swimmer Helge Jensen, who holds the record for the English Channel crossing, quit the attempt because he could not stand the cold.

Tom Blower was a citizen of Nottingham, on better terms with the authorities than Robin Hood but a match for the legendary outlaw in bold charm. He was a blond and jovial giant (6 feet 1, 252 pounds). Two people could hang from, each of his outstretched arms; he could break six-inch nails with ease and liked to sit on the bottom of Nottingham’s River Trent for three minutes at a time watching boats pass overhead. Sometimes he swam in the river when it was snowing. During World War II, while serving in the Royal Navy, he dived into the Atlantic in January to try to save the survivor of a dive-bombing attack. To his native city’s youngsters he was always Uncle Tom, who helped crippled kids to swim, was devoted to youth clubs and gave exhibitions for charity. But when people contributed money, in turn, to one of his long-distance attempts, he said it felt like swimming with £500 in halfpennies around his neck and refused such help ever after.

The son of a miner, Blower decided early that he was not cut out to be a sprint swimmer. He had an extraordinary ability for standing or lying in the water without moving a muscle. Blower described himself as “a cart horse,” although in 1937 he was fast enough to swim from France to England in 13 hours 29 minutes. For plowing through the sea he found the trudgen best, a combination of overarm strokes and a scissors kick with the legs. Despite his bulk, Blower moved in water with grace and efficiency.

After the war he made two tries at swimming the North Channel of the Irish Sea. The first, early in the summer of 1947, was called off when the water became so rough that exhausted crews could not manage the boats that accompanied him. On July 27, 1947 he made his second attempt. As he kissed his wife goodby he said, “I’m not getting out for anybody this time.” And he did not.

When Blower slid into the water there was a forecast of 15 hours of perfect weather, but his wife was already beset by a feeling of disquiet. “The sea looked smooth,” she recalled recently at her home in Nottingham, “but it was a sort of slimy smoothness. And the sky was too red.” It was evening when Blower splashed away, accompanied by an armada of boats and an army of well-wishers who gradually drifted away into the night until he was left with only those directly concerned with the swim. He was at last almost as alone as a flyer in the sky. Around his waist he had tied an old, cherished and much-darned pair of swimming trunks with a piece of string.

The water temperature dropped as low as 49º F. He wallowed across fields of floating seaweed. Shoals of herring at one time surrounded him so thickly that they nibbled his feet. The sea looked like a carpet of silver, and the pilot’s boat propeller churned up fish. One observer from the Irish Amateur Swimming Association, who accompanied him in the water for an hour, came out so cold that he had to thaw out his feet by putting them, wrapped in a blanket, in a cooker oven. For eight hours Blower swam in comparative quiet.

But the morning after the start, one of the most spectacular thunderstorms Scotland has ever known swept through large areas of the country. Towns and villages were plunged into twilight as lightning struck and rain fell. Streets were flooded, bridges swept away, flowers and crops destroyed. Out at sea it took two men to hold the stove on which Clarice Blower cooked food for her husband. It was impossible to reach him with the food, however. Blower occasionally disappeared completely from sight, swamped amid the waves. Then hail fell in harsh lumps as big as eggs.

Some wanted to take Blower from the water, but his wife, obeying his instructions, would not allow them. For a brief time he changed from the trudgen to the breaststroke. Then he appeared to lose strength in one arm. Later, when his arm was moving again, his legs seemed to drag. At one time Blower swam for four hours without making a mile. The Irish Sea eventually grew quiet. Two fishing tugs, chugging by, sent out across the swell that eerie salute of sailors everywhere, the sound of a ship’s horn. Blower was going to make it, come thunder, lightning, wind and hail, badly bruised and torn though his body was.

As he swam into a small Scottish cove the sky seemed to clear. He climbed agonizingly out of the water onto the rocks, and raised his clasped hands, shyly, above his head. “I can’t tell anybody how I felt,” said Clarice Blower. “I’d been every yard of the way with him in my mind. I just burst into tears with joy. But when I looked round everybody else was crying—21 men and me, one woman.” It had taken Tom Blower 15 hours and 26 minutes to make the historic swim. In Nottingham a proud lord mayor interrupted a city council meeting to tell members of Blower’s exploit.

As Blower came limping ashore at Portpatrick the first man to clasp his hand was a Scottish policeman. “You’re the first one to do it, lad,” he said, “and you’ll be the last.”

Blower became a national figure and need never have done any more. But as long as there was a difficult swim to be made he wanted to make it. No amount of bitter cold, exhaustion, cramps, seasickness, sore mouths, puffed faces, arm ache and stinging jellyfish ever seems to deter such men. “They get the bug and it kills them in the end,” said Clarice Blower. Her husband joked about his strenuous addiction. “I am going to put my swimming trunks on a pole,” he said once, “and start walking with them flying like a flag. When someone stops and asks, ‘What are those?’ I am going to settle there, because that will mean they have never seen swimming trunks there, and don’t swim there—and that, brother, will be the place for me.”

He swam the English Channel twice more—in 1948 and 1951—both times the particularly tricky way from England to France. Between swims he went quietly about his job as an advertising representative for a cigarette manufacturer in Nottingham. Then in 1955, at the age of 41, he died suddenly of a heart attack in his home.

*

It should be noted that the next swimmer to conquer the English Channel was none other than the King of the Channel himself, Kevin Murphy, and not until 1970.

Related articles:

Torpedo Tom, BBC. (Which has an incorrect detail about him taking the English Channel record, repeated on Wikipedia)

President_Billy.resized

Against the odds, one loneswimmer and the football hordes

Ireland loves football. So does your country you say. Soccer, Aussie Rules or NFL, whatever.

Ireland likes all football: Soccer, rugby, compromise (Aussie) rules, Gaelic football. All have huge followings. That outnumbers your single national football version. And the biggest is Gaelic football, which is only played within the country and is better supported than religion.

Blog Awards Finalist

Someone submitted loneswimmer.com to Blog Awards Ireland this year (2012). So it’s me against the football hordes. No, I’m not looking for a vote. Thankfully there is no voting, because online voting, as you all know, is nonsense.

I knew nothing about it until someone Tweeted me that I was on the Longlist for four categories. Then I made the Shortlist on three categories. Then I made the Finalists of four entries for Sports & Recreation. Each time I found out from someone else. I guess Sports & Recreation is a valid category, since there’s no specific Talking Crap about Swimming from the Middle of Nowhere award. Yet. They really should fix that.

We went and took a few pictures for fun. Well it wasn’t for fun per se, it was to try to get two tickets for the award ceremony. This isn’t Tinsletown after all. Tinsletown in the Rain, more like.

Tinseltown in the rain, all men and women.

Here we are, caught up in this big rhythm…

…But it’s easy come and it’s easy go.

All this talking is only bravado.

When Dee tried to enter the photos, she discovered they’d closed the competition before they announced the finalists who might want to be there. Cart -> Horse. Funny.

You want to know what the number one rule of blogging is? Actually that’s not relevant here. But a rule from further down the list is…

No-one reads your blog on Saturday.

Not quite no-one, but usually less than 50% of your daily average. Bloggers, never publish a post on Saturday. Guess when Blog Awards Ireland put out their list of finalists? Yes, Saturday. I may possibly be the only one who finds this hilarious. :-)

But as I said, we took some pics, and they’re of a use-once-only type. So this post is entirely to find an excuse to use them. (Note to self: Pretend you didn’t see this picture below, you’ll sleep better.)

Here’s a fun picture. Swimming over to Ballyheigue, as the rock at the far side of the Guillamenes Cove is called, for no apparent reason other than every damn tree, field and individual rock in Ireland has a name, to take a photo, the water pulled the laminate and Dee caught the image perfectly.There was quite a bit of movement in the water, about two metres of mixed chop and swell and it was windy and grey.

So anyway, back to the football hordes. More power to them I guess. But it seems highly unlikely I’ll have a chance against the football hordes. And it’s not that important, just nice, as they say, to get this far.

Open water swimming is a minority sporting niche in a minority sport. It’s a sport when I train, sport when I race, but that’s not all. It’s part of my life. It is life. Open water swimmers are not defined by watching, so much as we are defined by doing, individually and in groups, solo and with friends. A couple of years ago I started this blog by saying open water swimming is an individual expression of freedom. Sometimes I think it may be an essential expression of freedom. In this constrained world, few people know the freedom experienced by stepping off a shore and casting oneself into the blue, grey or green.

An open water swimmer is Billy Kehoe, 85 years of age, President of the Newtown and Guillamene swimming club, swimming daily (when the conditions allow) for over 70 years. Billy doesn’t think of open water swimming as a sport.

And most of you readers come from outside Ireland anyway.

Still, the point of the whole thing, I guess, is that a conjunction of critical and popular acclaim is nice. Loneswimmer.com will reach 200,000 readers around the new year, assuming I’m still writing it, and that’s not always certain and the appreciation of readers will always be the most important measurement. Making that finalist list I guess, I may be wrong, means there’s some independent merit visible from outside the core swimmers.

All that mattered to me since I began is to be honest in what I write, and try to make it useful. To that end I’ve put up with significant “slagging” to use an Irish term, “ribbing”  would be an alternative word. I guess that the blog is still occasionally on target because you good folks keep putting up with me. Oh, by the way, I rarely think of you when I’m writing. It’s just me here. If I try to direct stuff, it goes wrong mostly. I write for the me from the past, what the me who knew nothing about open water swimming would have wanted to know. I think as that past me as my audience. That seems narcissistic, it’s not meant to be. And then, because of the blog, I’ve gotten to report on a world record, crew for a friend and to feature the words of many great and interesting swimmers in the Guest Article series. I’ve already won a lot from this.

Below is our favourite picture from this series. As usual Dee is the invisible backroom engine who keeps me and therefore this blog going.

I got free goggles from the blog once.

No one swims to France by accident – Channel Season & Channel Fever

For some, there is no greater sporting event than the English Channel. Sporting event isn’t even a good description. The Australian surfer Nat Young once said the worst thing to happen surfing was that surfing was seen as a sport instead of art. Similarly, for most swimmers, Channel swimming should be thought more as a prolonged life-change than some short duration swimming event. It is a unique fascination of which millions dream, (every Soloist will tell you of the multiple times they hear this), who dream it without knowing why nor or of what they dream and it goes beyond swimmers to the whole world.

Few phrases in the entire canon of sporting terminology reach out to others like “I’m going to swim the English Channel”, more even than “I’ve swum the Channel”. Few phrases convey absolute commitment in the same way and the bonds that exist between Channel swimmers tend to reflect this. Those words express more than most people understand, a desire to go not just up to but beyond personal physical and mental limits. Something in the idea of swimming the Channel conveys transcendence, of someone aspiring outside the normal, maybe outside themselves.

One hundred and thirty-seven years since Captain Webb’s Solo, eighty-seven since Gertrude Ederle’s; (a swim that had at least if not more effect on the global awareness of Channel swimming, simply because she was woman doing what was considered impossible, and she was photographed); ideals of Channel swimming still exist beyond most modern adventure and extreme sports. Channel swimming itself now transcends the English Channel and includes the Catalina, Gibraltar, Molokai, North, Cook, Tsugaru and other Channels.

Channel swimming is carried out in private. It’s mostly done away from public visibility. Sure, if you are connected with or following a Channel swim you’ll follow GPS trackers and Twitter, get SMS messages and even see uploaded images. But a Channel swim happens as much inside the swimmer’s mind, when they take the decision, during the long training and in the fear and excitement before they step into the water, as it does at the point at which Kevin Murphy said to me: “You swim and you swim until you are tired or exhausted. And only then it gets hard”. No GPS tracker or Tweet conveys what a swimmer is going through in the second, third or later tide. Even those familiar with the various Channels; swimmers, crew, friends and family, can only vaguely imagine it, and it is that imagining, the attempt to extrapolate from a series of dots on a computer screen or chart and project ourselves to the brutal reality of the Channel, or any Channel, that is Channel Fever, when the Channel Dream becomes Channel Reality. Therefore Channel fever afflicts more than swimmers.

No one swims to France by accident.

In Channel swimming we know that everyone who gets to the other side deserves it. Every single one. And many who also deserve tom don’t get there. And that is also part of Channel Fever.

This one is for all the Irish Channel Dreamers this week, English, Tsugaru and North, and all those with Channel Fever whenever, whomever and wherever you are.

Lots of thrift.resized

The Copper Coast: a Thrifty shore

Powerstown head from the Guillamenes

Sea Thrift that is, Armaria maritima, also known as sea pinks.

First thrift of 2012

Ireland’s Copper Coast has a lot of it, growing all along the coast on the cliff edges, in rock crevices and stony ground where nothing else grows.

Growing on otherwise clear stony rockfall

It’s a perennial which has a high drought and salt tolerance, in fact it seems to do best in the driest, most exposed locations, especially along cliff edges.

Faded Thrift on clifftop above Kilfarassey

Older plants will grow larger clumps of leaves and roots.

On top of a rock spire at entry to Gararrus

It’s apparently highly copper tolerant, and flourishes along the Copper Coast, and in fact if the Copper Coast were to have an icon flower it would have to be the thrift, which displays a subtle range of colour from pink to mauve and purple from plant to plant.

Its season is early summer, so the coast is rampant with it at the moment, one of the signs of summer for a south-east open water swimmer, water reaching 10 degrees Celsius, and passing the thrift on the steps down to the Guillamene.

When I think of it, and therefore the photographs I take, are as I most commonly see it, silhouetted against the sea or the sky, framing events in the sea, or faded but still present during the winter, and always standing against the onshore Atlantic winds.

Thrift & Sheep Island, sea, sky and flowers.

When you can appreciate thrift in such extraordinary scenery, why would you want to trap it in a domestic garden?

Thrift against sea and canoes at Kilfarassey

It seems I’ve taken a lot of pictures of thrift (there are 98 tagged in my library so far and many more I still want to take, so you can image it was difficult to choose just a few), from early season buds, to summer blooms and late season stragglers to dead winter flowers.

Winter Guillamenes thrift

Apparently … I love sea thrift.

Hook & reefs.resized

A visit to Hook Head

Hook Head is one of our favourite places in Ireland. I’ve been lucky enough to finally get a new halfway decent camera so I wanted to take a visit to the Hook for some long-hoped-for photos for the site. A long flat low bare almost treeless peninsula in the south-east, at the other side of the Suir-Nore-Barrow estuary, it stretches out into the Celtic Sea and at the end is Hook Lighthouse, reputedly the oldest operational lighthouse in the world. (You’ll have noticed by now that I have a thing for lighthouses). Unlike most lighthouses, there are actually public tours and inside the modern tower are the older walls of the 13th century tower

Estuary up toward Waterford from above Passage East

The fastest way to the Hook from Waterford is on the car ferry at Passage East, the trip across the estuary takes about 4 minutes.

Passage ferry

Just outside Duncannon is an old lighthouse for the inner estuary.

Duncannon Lighthouse (1774)

Halfway down the est side of the estuary is town of Duncannon which was used as a military Fort to protect the entry to the estuary.

Duncannon Windsurfer (taken on greyer day)

Duncannon beach is very popular with wind and kite surfers.

Duncannon Fort & Hook Lighthouse in the distance
Hook reefs

 

The currents round the Hook are pretty vicious and it catches a lot of very rough water, howling winds and big unsurfable waves. It’s also a great spot for whale watching.

Before the Hook on the west side is an old small fishing slip, with only mere nubs of rusted iron stakes left in the rocks, which is a nice walk where few of the visitors go.

There are some interesting blowholes in the rocks, with a northerly offshore wind and flat water that day, they weren’t providing any entertainment but I took some a very short video there previously.

The dogs like the area.

Scout on the reefs on the reefs
Lighthouse & buildings from the gate

The (probably apocryphal) story told locally is that that the phrase “by hook or by crook” derives from Hook Head, referring to Ireland’s historical bete-noir Oliver Cromwell who stated his intention to invade by Hook Head or by Crook Head, which is on the opposite side of the estuary.

Lighthouse from the road

The old residential buildings are used for a café and gift shop and children’s art gallery. The café serves the largest chunks of cheddar in their Ploughman’s Lunch!

Lighthouse from below the road
Hook lighthouse

Unsurprisingly for somewhere with a lighthouse, the area is surrounded by exposed reefs.

The dogs would happily stay playing around.

Time to go you say?

The first monastery (St. Dubhan’s) was built on the peninsula in the 5th Century AD and there are still remains of a later Church on the same site. In Irish the Hook peninsula is actually named after this Church.

Dubhan's Church

There’s a great view of the whole estuary, and the western bank including  Crook Head, Dunmore east, Creaghan Head, Woodstown and Passage East.

Waterford to Passage East to Dunmore & Crook Head (size has been reduced so it loads quickly)

When we got home Toby would have stayed in the car. He loves the car.

Thinking of a visit? The Hook Lighthouse webcam is my favourite webcam.

Hook Head webcam.

Related articles:

HookHeritage website.

Lighthouses of the North Atlantic – loneswimmer.com

Sailing from Crosshaven to Dungarvan – loneswimmer.com

Tall Ships Waterford 2011 – loneswimmer.com

St Patrick’s Day swimming nutrition. Not really. How to make a great Irish Coffee

I make a great Irish Coffee. Follow this and you will too. First, make sure you have the ingredients and requirements. You will need:

Irish whiskey. Note the correct spelling of whiskey, spelled without the e is Scotch. Paddy or Power’s Whiskey is preferable for this.

Freshly whipped cream (if I see you with aerosol spray cream, which is an abomination, I’ll hunt you down and humiliate you). Whip it yourself. In fact, whip yourself if you feel like it. We’re all adults here.

You don’t want the cream too thin or stiff. Soft peaks, just able to flow.

Brown or muscovado sugar.

Glasses, (I really do prefer the Irish coffee type of glass, there’s a reason they are generally used but a long stem glass is also good), teaspoons, dessert spoons. (If you use something opaque it’ll be harder to judge levels).

A shot glass for the whiskey measure.

Good coffee. No instant. You can use decaf if it’s late at night and you are off coffee for training.

(I also use a Cadbury’s Flake for sprinkling the chocolate).

Steps:

  • Make the coffee.
  • Use the boiling water and warm BOTH shot glass and Irish Coffee glass, keeping a small spoon in the Irish Coffee glass to keep it from cracking.
  • Pour a measure of whiskey into the warm shot glass to warm the whiskey. Otherwise cool or cold whiskey will cool the final product. Not that I have anything against extra whiskey, but don’t use too much as it will affect the final shape.
  • Pour the warmed whiskey into the coffee glass and add the coffee.
  • You have to leave room for cream AND sugar so there will less coffee than you think. Sugar really does take up space in the glass. Some Irish coffee glass will have lines for the whiskey and the coffee.
  • Add 3 teaspoons of sugar. YES, 3. I don’t care if you are on a diet or don’t like sugar. Stir.Then use your spoon to stop the liquid rotation.
  • Pour the fresh cream over the back of a dessert spoon onto the top of the coffee or, if it’s too stiff, use the spoon to add it to the top. The 3 spoons of sugar and stopping the rotation is to stop the cream mixing with the coffee/whiskey. Using less than 3 spoons will cause the final product to mix and be too bitter.
  • Add flaked chocolate on top.
  • Despite precautions this drink won’t hold heat very long.
  • The solution therefore is to make lots of it.
  • Happy St. Patrick’s Day

English: Irish Coffee glass

The Irish (or Scots Gaelic) term Uisce beatha, “the water of life” is where the word comes from.

(I also like this with brandy, to make French Coffee).

There are NO circumstances in which it is ok to say “St. Patty’s Day”

I have been deputized to speak on behalf of the entire country of Ireland in this. We have  universal agreement. It may in fact be the only thing we all agree on.

March 17th is St. Patrick’s Day, St. Paddy’s Day or just Paddy’s Day. It is not ever St. Patty’s or St. Pattie’s Day. Patty may have something to do with hamburgers or women called Patricia, but nothing to do with Ireland.

St. Patty’s Day is just … wrong. No ifs, ands or buts.

Also an Irish person can call themselves a Paddy or a Mick, because it might be their names. If you are not Irish, you can’t.

And here’s my final tip: Never, never, never, imitate an Oirish accent to an Irish person.

If there could be said to be a traditional St. Patrick’s Day, it’s spring lamb. Not bacon and cabbage or corned beef. Also, we don’t all wear green and fight for fun.

I couldn’t find a picture of a leprechaun in a tricolour cap, Speedoes and goggles to make this post fully authentic. :-) So instead here’s a photo of Irish two-time English Channel Swimmer Jim Boucher, sometimes called the Leprechaun, (but not by Irish people), from Emma France‘s blog.

Monday Morning Similarities – Stephen & Lisa

I find a lot of similarity between Stephen Redmond’s fantastic Molokai Channel and Lisa Cummins’s two-way English Channel.

Waiting for news and updates all through a Sunday afternoon and night. The trackers working intermittently or not at all, and hoping for more updates from the boat through third parties. The agonising last 10 hours, wondering where they were, imagining ourselves out there in the water with them, wishing there was some way we could send out some mental help to them, wanting so hard to be able to send them our best, knowing that these two extraordinary people were making you really proud to be Irish and to know them even slightly is a privilege.

Stephen and Lisa both getting swept past the normal finish points and ending up in locations where no-one has ever previously ended a swim, Lisa on Dungeness and Stephen on Oahu’s Chinese Walls.

Finally, tired when the swims were over, trying to sleep, and lying there in the dark, thinking it all over, thoughts and imagination swirling around your head, knowing how difficult it would be to explain to others just how extraordinary these achievements are.

Another great moment in Irish and global sport, spent at home in front of a computer and a phone, connecting with friends also awake doing the same thing, done by two ordinary people, with nothing but dreams and extraordinary determination propelling them. In some way the loneliness of the watcher mirroring the loneliness of the swimmer, the empathic bond that distance swimmers feel with each other, purely through being the few who can understand.

First thing on different Monday mornings, listening to each of these extraordinary athletes on Irish radio, sounding like they hadn’t been through hell, my eyes tearing up just listening to them.

I thank them both for these unique moments and memories and making me so proud.

Steve Munatones a post-swim report on DailyNewsOfOpenwater which, as always with Stephen Redmond, is essential reading.

Click to embiggen

Swimming with The Second Law of Thermodynamics

This is a one subject site, open water swimming.

Everything on the site relates to open water swimming. But since open water swimming is part of my life, sometimes other parts of my life or some of my interests get pulled in. They may look tangential but it’s because I’m trying to contextualize my swimming life. Like all open water swimmers, you can’t extract open water swimming from our lives and somehow find the real person.

So I occasionally write about Ireland and Irish culture or humour, because it’s where I (mostly) swim. I write about pool swimming occasionally, because it’s where I swim half of the year. (But there are a multitude of better pool swimmers than me, so when I write about it, it’s from an average pool swimmer’s point of view).

I write about the sea, the weather, my dogs who accompany me to the coast, the books or media that inform or help my swimming. I write about my swimming friends, real life and online (I don’t distinguish, I don’t have to have met someone to consider them a friend) from whom I learn.

I was getting some aches as the training volume was building up so I had another massage at the end of the week. I was developing a tightness in the centre (belly) of my left deltoid (shoulder muscle) and a really deep and sore ache in my right trapezoid (upper centre back). I also has a serious pain above my left glute (butt cheek) that only expressed itself once a swim went over three hours, (so this wasn’t a problem much). The massage hurt like hell. The delt eased out completely, I won’t know about the glute until the next long swim. The trap was still really sore afterwards and I hoped it would ease out over the next 24 hours. To aid that I looked forward to the weekly (at this time of the year) cold water swim.

This is my home. Guillamene Cove, on Saturday, from side to side, Click to mucho embiggen

It was a horrible morning. Cold all week, it was a little bit warmer on Saturday while rest of Europe was being hammered on the anvil of an extreme cold snap, with even the sea-shore freezing in Britain. But the air temperature leaving the house was about 8 degrees Celsius. This is the advantage of Irish weather, it’s mild in average, no great summers, no terrible winters. But the sea water temperature was down to 6° Celsius (43°f). It was overcast, Force Three onshore wind and with about a two metre swell, but I didn’t care. Just let me out there.

According to Polar Bear Joe at the Guillamene, it was 41°f the previous day (5°C) with colder air, coldest water temperature of this winter so far.

The entry was fine, and the next 14 minutes were euphoric. That word actually came to me while I was swimming. Isn’t that part of the reason we swim, that feeling? I’ve been trying to explain that feeling for two years now. During the swim, all my existential worries evaporated and I was at peace for the first time in a week. At the fifteenth minute I noticed the cold pain beginning in fingertips and feet. Given conditions were a bit rough and I would need to navigate the rougher water returning over the Comolene reefs, I turned back before I reached the pier. I was in toward shore closer than my normal outside deeper returning track, and it was really rough passing beneath the last house on the cliff.

The coast road from the Guilllamene facing Tramore, running above the normal swim route

I was back to the steps at 41 minutes, stumbled upwards on my numb feet to my fake Crocs (thanks Nuala) high on the steps. Someone started talked to me as I fumbled to get my goggles, cap and earplugs off. All I heard was a voice. With the ear plugs off and as my eyes cleared, it was someone with an American accent standing right beside, I mean right beside me, asking me how far I’d gone. As I tried to mumble a frozen-jaw response I also tried to make my way quickly to my box to start getting changed as soon as possible.

41 minutes at six degrees Celsius is the furthest I’ve gone. I knew what was coming with the Afterdrop. It would tough. I needed to optimise getting dressed as soon as possible.

As I got changed, with some difficulty, trying to get covered as my core temperature was dropping due to the inward flow of cold blood, conversation continued about cold water swimming as I struggled to answer and make sense, not easy when in this state.

I was in that hazy post cold swim state of mild hypothermia, where I’m pretty certain that I am functioning fully and that I can remember everything clearly, but later realise it’s not necessarily the case.

Later I wonder to myself. 41 minutes at 41 minutes at six degrees Celsius doesn’t seem like that much to me. I know, as I always do, that I could have gone further, why didn’t I swim for a nice round 45 minutes? But I realise that in these circumstances, when I am by myself, I let my body and a sub-conscious experience decide my swim times. With doing 41 minutes in 6° Celsius, I now, finally, have no doubt that should we get a 5° degree temperature this winter, the ice-mile is well within my capability. But for now, I can’t actually prove that officially.

Swimming, like everything else, is governed by entropy, which always increases, therefore order (or you could term it information in certain circumstances) is always reducing. Entropy is a measure of disorder. Eventually the dead hand of the Second Law will hold sway over all, as scientist and author Stephen Baxter once wrote, it’s the ultimate scientific explanation of the universe’s evolution, which is governed by the Second Law of Thermodynamics. In a closed system, entropy increases, and the universe is a closed system. Within the smaller system of the earth, the human body is a closed system. It loses heat unless energy is input back into the system to offset loss. As cold water swimmers, we understand experientially the Second Law better than most. Hypothermia will always get you, regardless of experience. If the water temperature is below normal core temperature, no matter how high otherwise, it just will take a longer time. Because of the Second Law of Thermodynamics we get cold. So we need heat and food, two forms of energy, since mass and energy are the same thing. The Second Law of Thermodynamics is always there, always swimming with you, always waiting for you.

I have a deep integral sense of the numinous wonder of the world and the universe, that for me, expresses itself most deeply and is felt most strongly in open water swimming, in immersing myself in the green waters. The world is extraordinary, the sea is transforming, my friends are a value beyond price.  But that’s just my own world view.

Western end of Kilfarassey beach

Explaining a critical open water swimming factor: Tidal Range

Recently I wrote about how I consider safe entry and exit points and possibility of swimming at all tide times to be a critical requirement of a good open water swim location.

Kids growing tend to think the whole world is the same as their local experience. Though I didn’t live by the coast growing up, it never occurred to me that the seashore was different in other places. In Ireland, if you were visiting a new beach, you knew you had to be careful of incoming tides and of not being cut off. The first time I visited the Mediterranean I was really surprised by how little the tide seemed to move. So even now I tend to forget that tidal access and depth is not an issue in many places in the world. But it’s far safer for someone who comes from a high tidal range location to travel to a low range area than the opposite.

Many people now know the Bay of Fundy in Canada has the world’s highest tide, due to estuarine forcing (pushing more water into a smaller space), with a height of up to 15 metres and the lowest tidal regions are called amphidromes, with no height change.

Tidal range is the height difference between low tide and high tide. The tidal range in Ireland averages six metres. This is called a Macromareal tide, a tidal range above four metres. The average open ocean tidal range is only just over half a metre. And the Mediterranean is micromareal, less than two metres range. In between, from two to four metres range is mesomareal.

Why this is the case I explained a long time ago in Tides for Swimmers, Part One and Part Two.

In the English Channel the range about seven metres. Even average is misleading. During a low neap tide, the range in Ireland can be as little as four metres. During a high it can be as much as seven metres. In Ireland on a neap tide the low will not drop to as low as the open water mean of 0 metres, but might only drop to 1.3 metres, and will only go up to over just over 4 metres, whereas during a spring tide, the range may be from 0.0 metres to over during the spring spring and autumnal spring tides. Spring spring is not a mistake, it the spring tides that occur during spring.

Today in fact is a neap tide, and in Tramore the neap tide is 0.5 metres and the high tide is 4.2 metres.

There are a few serious safety implications of this.

  • Will you have a planned known safe exit if the water is going to be a different height to when you start swimming?
  • What will be the effect of the tidal current where you are swimming? The greater the tidal range, the greater the tidal current.
  • What different challenges will come into play on your planned route at different tide times? Will dangerous reefs appear? Will swim landmarks disappear?

What happens if you show up in a new country and have no idea of the tidal range and want to swim? Well as always, first check with locals before you swim.

But how do you recognise a high tidal range? The simple answer is to look for the high tide line.

On a beach that will be a line of debris, twigs, leaves, kelp or rubbish or even a change in the sand quality.

Don’t assume that a high tide line won’t happen the day you are swimming. Was the moon full or dark the previous night? If either, it’s a spring tide. A half-moon is a neap tide.

If there’s no beach, rocks are even better indicator. The difference between the low and high tide point is called the intertidal zone.

Français : Verrucaria maura, Kergulan, Goulien...
Around Ireland and elsewhere, rocks that close to the high tide mark will get covered in a salt resistant lichen, Verrucaria maura, making the rocks black.
Verrucaria maura doesn’t start at the low tide mark by the way, it generally starts at about the mean high tide point, HWA.

The rocks beneath the low tide point will retain their original colour, the rocks above the high tide line will often be yellow or orange with less salt resistant lichens such as Xanthoria parietina or Caloplaca marina, all of which are visible in my Copper Coast Swims. Of course sometimes the rocks are dark anyway, but high tide lines are easy to see. Here are the rocks on the far side of the Guillamene Cove at about mid tide.

It is still difficult to appreciate just what that range can mean. So … some more photos I’ve taken.

Here’s the Guillamene from the cliff top road. At low NEAP tide, all the steps are exposed. At low SPRING tide, there’s a ladder below the steps which is exposed to about 4 or 5 steps. Look at the colour range of the rocks. At the lowest point and up they are a sandy limestone colour (and covered in barnacles) and get blacker as they get higher. On a high spring tide, without any wind, the water reaches to just under the front triangular platform. Just above that line the rocks are completely black from the lichen.

Newtown Cove at high neap tide.

Considering hazards, this photo below of the west end of Kilfarassey gives an indication. With the tide only about one metre below high in this image, various reefs are starting to appear. Almost all are covered at high tide, some of them only centimetres below the mean high water surface on a calm day.

A 6 metre tidal range (almost 20 feet) is the height of a house, three times the height of a tall person. It’s very very significant.

 

So be safe, and take note of the conditions, tide and tide range and plan accordingly.

Just one Irish winter’s day weather forecast

Extremely windy or stormy in places today especially early this morning with gale force southwest to west winds and severe gusts of 100 to 140km/hr at times—– strongest in exposed parts of the north and northwest early today. Heavy rain in eastern and southern areas will clear before dawn and the day will be bright with sunny spells, occasional heavy rain and hail showers especially in western and northern areas with a risk of thunder and some hill snow possible in the north. Cold by afternoon with afternoon temperatures of 3 to 7 degrees.

So that’s windy and calm, wet and dry, cloudy and sunny. Rain, sun, hail and maybe even snow. All in one day, in a small country, January the 3rd, 2012. Wind gusts actually hit 169 kph at Malin Head.

A 2011 open water swimming retrospective

Everyone does it, don’t they?

I couldn’t decide what to write about, so as usual in these circumstances, I went to the sea, and figured it out. Here it is:

I swam in places old and new.

I swam with friends and I made new swimming friends, (some of whom I’ve yet to meet and swim with). 

Result? A very successful open water swimming year. Right there is everything I know about open water swimming, condensed.

Thanks to you all for your interest, views, engagement, comments, pictures, arguments, insults, threats, posts, tweets and links this year, most of all thanks to all my friends, and best wishes to everyone for a swimming new year.

I hope to meet you all in the water in 2012!

Athbhliain faoi mhaise daoibh.

Loneswimmer, Edge of Europe, Edge of the Atlantic, signing off for 2011.

Lewis Pugh

Introducing a precise open water swimming temperature scale

Next year’s Cork Distance Week will have a record number of attendees, many from outside Ireland. Some will be coming nervous or terrified about the potential temperatures especially if they heard any of 2011′s details.

They need a scale of reference for that fear and we need a common terminology!

Steve Munatones on Daily News of Open Water Swimming had a post recently on the temperatures at which people consider water cold.

I remember Finbarr once saying to me that; “10ºC is the point at which you can start to do some proper distance”. But that’s when the temperature is going up in the late spring. What about when it is dropping in the autumn and winter?

Jack Bright might have some input into this also. :-)

I think it would be fair to say that many, if not most (but not all), of the (serious) Irish and British swimmers would fall into the 7% category, it’s getting cold under 10° C.

So here’s my purely personal swimmer’s temperature scale:

Over 18°C (65°F): This temperature is entirely theoretical and only happens on TV and in the movies. The only conclusion I can come to about the 32% who said this is cold are that they are someone’s imaginary friends. Or maybe foetuses.

16°C to 18°C (61 to 64°F): This is paradise. This is the temperature range at which Irish and British swimmers bring soap into the sea. The most common exclamation heard at this stage is “it’s a bath”!!! Sunburn is common. Swimmers float on their backs and laugh and play gaily like children. They wear shorts and t-shirts after finally emerging. They actually feel a bit guilty about swimming in such warm water. Possible exposures times are above 40 hours for us. It’s a pity we have to get out to sleep and eat.

14°C to 16°C (57° to 61°F): Aaahhh, summerAll is well with the world, the sea and the swimmers. Exposure times are at least 20 to 40 hours. Sandycove Swimmers will swim 6 hour to 16 hour qualification swims, some just for the hell of it and because others might be doing so. Lisa Cummins will see no need to get out of the water at all and will just sleep while floating, to get a head start on the next day’s training.

13°C (55° to 56°F): GrandYou can do a 6 hour swim, and have a bit of fun. Daily long distance training is fine. Barbecues in Sandycove. The first Irish teenagers start to appear.

12°C (53/54°F): Well manageable! You can still do a 6 hour swim, it’ll hurt but it’s possible. Otherwise it’s fine for regular 2 to 4 hour swims. This the temperature of the North Channel.

11°C (51/52°F): Ah well (with a shrug). Distance training is well underway. Ned, Rob, Ciarán, Craig, Danny C., Imelda, Eddie, Jen Lane, Jen Hurley & myself, at the very least, have all recorded 6 hour qualification swims at this temperature. Lisa did 9 hours at this temperature. Swimmers chuckle and murmur quietly amongst themselves when they hear tourists running screaming in agony from the water, throwing children out of the way… 

10°C (50°F): Usually known as It’s Still Ok”. A key temperature. This is the one hour point, where one hour swims become a regular event when the temperature is rising. We start wearing hats after swims.

9°C (48/49°F):A Bit Nippy”No point trying to do more than an hour, it can be done, but you won’t gain much from it unless you are contemplating the Mouth of Hell swim. Christmas Day swim range. Someone might remember to bring a flask of tea. No milk for me, thanks.

8°C (46/48°F): The precise technical term is “Chilly”. Sub one-hour swims. Weather plays a huge role. Gloves after swims. Sandycove Swimmers scoff at the notion they might be hypothermic.

7°C (44/45°F): “Cold”. Yes, it exists. It’s here. The front door to Cold-Town is 7.9°C.

6°C (42/43°F): “Damn, that hurts”. You baby.

5°C (40/41°F): Holy F*ck!That’s a technical term. Swimmers like to remind people this is the same temperature as the inside of a quite cold domestic fridge. Don’t worry if you can’t remember actually swimming, getting out of the water or trying to talk. Memory loss is a fun game for all the family. This occurs usually around the middle to end of February.

Under 5°C (Under 40 °F). This is only for bragging rights.There are no adequate words for this. In fact speech is impossible.  It’s completely acceptable to measure exposure times in multiples of half minutes and temperatures in one-tenths of a degree. This is hard-core.  When you’ve done this, you can tell others to “Bite me, (’cause I won’t feel it)”. (4.8°C 1.4°C is mine, Feb. 2013). Carl Reynolds starts to get a bit nervous. Lisa make sure her suntan lotion is packed.

Ned Denison during the winter

2.5°C  to 5°C. South London Swimming Club and British Cold Water Swimming Championships live here. If you are enjoying this, please seek immediate psychological help. Lisa might zip up her hoodie.

1.5°C to 2.5°C: Lynn Coxian temperatures. You are officially a loon.

0°C to 1.5°C: Aka “Lewis Pughiantemperatures. Long duration nerve damage, probably death for the rest of us. Lisa considers putting on shoes instead of sandals. But probably she won’t.

*Grand is a purely Irish use that ranges from; “don’t mind me, I’ll be over here slowly bleeding to death, don’t put yourself out … Son“, to “ok” and “the best“, indicated entirely by context and tone.

Related articles

IrishSeaReliefMap

The local neighbourhood -The Irish & Celtic seas and the Western Approaches – Dangerous Seas

  • The Celtic Sea is that section of the Atlantic off the south Irish Coast.
  • The Irish Sea is the sea between Ireland and the UK.
  • The Western Approaches is the large rectangular stretch of water south and west of Ireland and the UK, i.e. the Atlantic Isles, including these two seas.
The term Western Approaches arose in the First World War and became better known in WWII as it was the Royal Navy’s designation for the area of intense sea-borne battles and loss particularly in the Merchant Navy.
From a modern point the term is not used much anymore but familiar to those who “go down to the sea in ships”.
The Irish Sea is defined by the IHO as On the North. The Southern limit of the Scottish Seas  defined as “a line joining the South extreme of the Mull of Galloway (54°38′N) in Scotland and Ballyquintin Point (54°20′N) in Ireland“. On the South. A line joining St. David’s Head (51°54′N 5°19′W) to Carnsore Point (52°10′N 6°22′W).
The western boundaries of the  Celtic Sea are delimited by the edge of the Continental Shelf.
The Irish Sea is cold, swarms with stinging Lion’s Mane and Portuguese Mar O’ War jellies AND the east coast of Ireland is rife with very strong sea currents, particularly up through St. George’s Channel around the South-east “corner” near where I am, but luckily starting further east, and also with an amphidrome near the Isle of Man, and with high traffic as there is no land bridge between Ireland and the UK.
The Atlantic Isles rest on the European continental shelf, and the waters around are not very deep only going to about a hundred and fifty metres.
However these seas are notoriously dangerous for sea-craft (the list is far longer than that), as we were reminded only last week when a ship went down of the south-west of Wales and fishing which is a particularly dangerous occupation is especially dangerous of the South Irish Coast,
In 2007 two trawlers, Honeydew II and Pere Charles were lost with seven hands within hours of each other, (and Damien Tiernan’s book on the tragedy, Souls of the Sea is a great, educational but bleak read).

A murmuration of starlings, a murder of crows

The first is a fantastic video of a murmuration of starlings. Since it’s in Ireland and on a river/lake, (Shannon), I feel justified in linking.

Now to follow that, I thought I’d share my video I took last Saturday.

For about eight months of the year, from autumn to spring, this spectacle of a Murder of Crows unfolds itself twice daily around Loneswimmer Towers, after dawn and around twilight. Sometimes it’s a few hundred metres further up or down the river, sometimes it seems centred on the demesne. In fact, I’d never taken any video of it before, and it really demands a tripod, an HD camera and a better camera-person. I’ve never been able to estimate numbers, but it surely regularly goes over 5,000 various Corvidae; crows, hooded crows, jackdaws and maybe magpies, it’s impossible to tell. It was getting dark, dark clouds over the hills, but the sound is clear and every so often you get a good impression of the size of the Murder.

Lethal is good. So is deadly. A little bit of Irish slang.

Rapid, massive and savage are also all very good, as are dingin’, crackin’ and the dog’s bollix but cat and manky are pretty bad. Grand is the gold standard for good though sometimes it’s only barely acceptable. A cute hoor is someone of whom to be wide of but a sound man is yer only man while a tool and a chancer are definitely not reliable chaps. Langer takes practice and time spent gallavantin’ in The People Republic Of Cork to use properly but you can get langers or polluted in the pub while you are doing that and next morning you will probably be thrun down, as is likely to happen me at this weekend’s Irish Channel Party.

I will, ya is the Irish double-positive refusal which the Oxford English Dictionary doesn’t think exists, as I will in me hole is also not a polite way of saying no. If you are just after your dinner, you are probably not hungry, especially if you are a back arse of beyond Tipperary stonethrowin’ bogger like Your’s Truly and have had a hape of hang sandwedges. Craic is the best drug in the world and can be harvested directly from Irish people who’ve had a few scoops. The craic is ninety, but the ride is a pound.

The sea around Ireland gets a bit nippy in the winter and has been known to be a bit lumpy in Force Six winds when you might get a figary to go for a swim especially is there is aer a sign of one of your friends going with you though other more sensible people will think you are not the full shillin’ even though a good sea swim is hard to bate.

I’ve been doin’ a line with the future Mrs. Loneswimmer for a while now, she is actually one of the aul enemy but a class bird nonetheless. I’ll probably get a clatter for that. Stall the ball. I’m a bit of a hames myself, like.

Now we’re suckin’ diesel. You can chalk that down.

Kevin Williams recommends this should obligatory study for all those coming for next year’s Cork Distance Camp. :-)

*

In order of appearance:

Lethal, Deadly, Rapid, Massive, Savage Dingin’, Crackin’ ,The dog’s bollix all mean good but lethal can also mean dangerous. 

Cat means bad while manky is smelly and dirty. 

Grand means good though sometimes it only means alright.

A cute hoor is sneaky, opportunistic or untrustworthy. Often politicians.

Being wide of means being careful of.

sound man is yer only man is a good reliable chap

A tool and a chancer are respectively an idiot and an opportunist .

Langer could have multiple paragraphs written about it, but in the singular means male genitalia and a straightforward insult. You’d have to know a person well to be able to use it in a non-insulting manner.

Galavantin’  means roaming around in search of something happening.

The People Republic Of Cork needs no explanation.

Langers or polluted mean inebriated.

Thrun down is being very much the worse for being so inebriated.

I will, ya, mean No I won’t as does I will in me hole.

Just after your dinner means you have just had your dinner

Back arse of beyond, rural out-of-the-way location

Tipperary, a county

A Stonethrower is a Tipperary person

A bogger is anyone rural, i.e. from outside Dublin (or Cork).

A hape of hang sandwedges is a lot ham sandwiches, reportedly the favourite food of Tipperary people, especially before and after Gaelic Athletic Association events, best served at the side of a road.

Craic is fun.

Scoops are alcoholic drinks.

The craic is ninety, but the ride is a pound. I’ve never been able to figure out how  to accurately explain this or even when to use it.

A bit nippy  is very cold.

A bit lumpy is very rough water.

figary is a casual notion

Aer a sign means any.

Not the full shillin’ means mentally deficient.

Hard to bate means very good.

Doin’ a line mean a steady relationship.

The aul enemy are English people.

A Clatter is a wallop.

Stall the ball means to wait a moment.

A bit of a hames is a mess.

Like is how Irish people end sentences.

Now we’re suckin’ diesel is a positive affirmation.

You can chalk that down. Make note of that.

(I just really confused the spell-checker.)