Category Archives: Sandycove

My open water club and one of the world’s great open water swimming locations.

The race that wasn’t

Finbarr started it with the idea of a Sandycove three-lap invitational race at the end of October. With two weeks to go and no mention, Carol Cashell and I raised the idea again and discussion ensued.

With less than a week to go the starting lineup was small. The forecast for the weekend showed the Irish south-coast would catch the spin-off of storm Saint Jude. (I know, I’ve never heard a storm called after a Saint either). Winds were forecast to be Beaufort Five minimum.

Excellent! A bit of rough water was ideal to level the field. After all the Sandycove locals have it too easy at times, when the weather blows out they just start swimming inside the island. Pfft.

The worse the forecast the better, as far as Carol and I were concerned. Although as the fastest of the group, it wasn’t like she needed an advantage. By Thursday the weather forecasters were all getting excited like we don’t have big storms every year. Jude would bypass Ireland and clobber the UK, and Ireland would be assailed by nothing worse than Force Nine or so. The worst of Saturday’s weather was due to hit before mid-day when the worst of the storm would arrive on the south coast. We were aiming for TITW at 11.30am.

Email negotiations about all the various safety requirements, race rules, evacuation procedures and volunteers led to a concise rule set:

  • Two laps, handicapped.
  • Cake to be proved afterwards by Carol.
  • No rubber knickers.
  • Finbarr was allowed to drown anyone foolish enough to get within an arm length of him (a rule on which he insisted, disguising it as English Channel Rules).

Despite beating Rob and Craig this year, I was due to get an excellent three-minute handicap over both of them, which i didn’t refuse. All’s fair. Rob Bohane is a member of the “M” 1000+ lap club, as is Finbarr and Craig Morrison is a member of the “D” 500+ lap club,. Eddie Irwin, Carol Cashell and myself are all “C” swimmers of 100+ laps. All highly experienced marathon swimmers with many and varied skills.

The local forecast for Sandycove showed winds peaking between 10am and 1pm, anywhere from Force 6 to Force 8.

Second Corner IMG_0094
Second Corner to third corner, buoy in the distance.

The second corner looked quite reasonable when I arrived, though the rain meant I could only take one quick shot. The wind was still rising. Down at the slipway, another M club member (1000+), Mags Buckley (no relation) said the water was lovely and warm but she’d stayed to the inside.

From the slipway we could see the waves breaking across the first corner, and the outside wave that only breaks when winds are getting high, reaching into the corner. The expert round beside the first corner was impossible. The normal route outside first corner was impossible. Even the cowardly route outside the normal first corner was … (f)risky. I like (f)risky.

At the last minute, the handicap and race was thrown out. Then the five others started swimming just as I was on the slipway. The water was indeed warm, an extraordinary for end of October fourteen degrees (57F).

Just getting to the outside was testing. The narrow point between the island and mainland produced an unpredictable wall to swim through, which ripped my goggles off. Going over the top resulted in a crash into the trough. Unlike a breaking wave, it wasn’t predictable. Meanwhile waves were peeling off the corner rocks where the expert Sandycovers normally cut inward. The first corner was froth but all the guys were waiting beside the outside break. I took a slightly inside line, watching for the rock that is only exposed to air in conditions like this, having seen it once last year from above in similar conditions, and therefore having its location well imprinted. I stopped to fix my goggles a second time, something that was to continue for the whole swim as they were constantly loosened by the waves. Then we were all off again.

The waves were about three metres, not at all unusual for a Tramore Bay swimmer, and in the “lumpy” category. But outside the island, things change. Apart from being in the direct path of the south-west wind coming over the Old Head of Kinsale, some wind was diverted at water level along the side of the coast. Waves climbed out of deeper water onto the island shelf to produce one of the most unpredictable of water states, that of reflected waves over rock.

First corner. Note the outside wave, which had grown by the time we started.
First corner. Note the outside wave, which had grown by the time we started.

The waves hit the island and bounced back, doubling up with incoming waves at different times and places, causing sudden occasional peaks of four to five metres or shelving waves to scend suddenly, like a punch of water. The 360 degree horizon was mere metres away for everyone, all of us sunken into watery bowls, except for the island’s grassy profile, the wind and rain and spume filling the air, grace in the water impossible even for a swimmer of Carol’s style.

It was excellent fun, that feeling of being hurled and thrown by an ocean that would be terrifying for beginners but feels like an opportunity to revel for a more experienced swimmer.

One moment we were two or three metres apart, the next we were thrown onto each other. I picked up a scrape, not from rocks, but from Rob being thrown onto me fingernails first.

The second corner is where expert Sandycovers risk the limit. The interface of gradually descending reef and pushing swell. How close? How much risk can you take? We love the second corner. Approaching out of the kidney bean shape, you can be too close or too far out, and even if you get a great line, you still have others to deal with. Others who put you on the reef, or risk the reef themselves, and laugh. People like Finbarr, Craig, Rob, or me. The second corner is a melee, a game of chicken played not with other swimmers but with rock. Unthinking, unmoving and therefore always triumphant rock.

But not that day. The second corner was instead a marine Jackson Pollock, the reef as canvas, the sea as paint, the wind as artist. From outside we could only see the precipice of the artichokey-feldgrau waves as they crashed onto the corner. We all went wide, to a greater or lesser extent. Carol and I cut in a little as we passed the first two hundred and seventy degrees of turn, catching a wave to pass the trailing end of the reef.

We stopped again to regroup. Past the second corner is a favourite spot of Sandycove swimmers, inside the mush, behind the reef, where if you are not racing, you can stop and chat, before you race back anyway.

Inside channel IMG_0101
Inside the island, deceptively calm an hour earlier

Assembled again we all re-started, as I grabbed the positional advantage. The visibility decreasing as the wind of the leeward side funneled around the low third corner. Then around into the inside. Sheltered from the outside storm, the visibility, already poor, actually decreased. The wind poured up the inside, driving rain and chop head-on. The Red House (now grey) took ages to pass swimming against the wind. Eddie passed on my left. Carol passed me on the right, their better strokes more advantageous in the lesser size of these conditions. Was I middle of the Channel or left of right? I couldn’t see. The water here lacked any visibility also. Any one stupid enough to be on a boat in the channel on the day better be keeping an eye out for the even-more-stupid swimmers.

Past the Red House eventually, the forward chop constantly slapping me in the face. Stay low. Get under it. I know where the slipway should be, but instead I swing left. The fourth corner seems miles away on my left. It’s an island though so I can’t get lost.

Had to line up for the first corner again. From this angle you normally approach really close in. But there are rocks beside the island between fourth and first so outward, back through the middle of the gap, once again getting hit by the waves of the narrow point. Further out this time, the waves looked bigger. Outside the corner, finally out of the head-on rain, I stopped and looked around. No sign of the others. Ha! Loneswimmer alone again.

No further waiting I set off again, enjoying the outside once more, watching for the pure white water indicative of a sub-surface reef, watching for square waves within two metres of me, sliding along the faces of the sudden peaks to surf in and swim back out, tacking and gibing my way around the island, going wider around the second and third corners to enter the inside channel again, and to cruise back to the slipway, the driving rain dropping but the water visibility still being impenetrable, until I crashed into the slipway, the other five already changed having only completed one lap each. Default winner of the race that wasn’t! Didn’t even bother towelling dry in the rain. Cakes and buns from Carol and Maura Morrison.

Thirty minutes later the wind had almost died, the rain was gone, and the water settled. We had got the timing exactly right. By accident.

I once suggested Mike Harris’s “It’s a bit lumpy, chaps” could the club motto, and this day was the epitome of that attitude. Rough water is fun (once you know you don’t have to swim through it for the next twelve hours).

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.

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

Tragic Loss in the English Channel

Tragic Loss in the English Channel Today

Dear Swimmers,
It is with great sadness the Channel Swimming and Piloting Federation confirms the death an Irish swimmer whist attempting a solo crossing of the English Channel early this morning.
Páraic Casey from Cork, Ireland began his swim at 9.13am on Saturday morning and was just 1km from the coast of France at around 1:30 this morning when he took ill.
Attempts were made by crew to resuscitate him before a French rescue helicopter arrived with medics who tried further resuscitation.
Mr Casey was a member of the Sandycove Swimming Club in Cork, Ireland.
He is survived by his wife Riana who has issued the following statement:
“Páraic was an amazing, healthy, tough, loving husband, friend, brother, uncle, son, nephew and cousin who’s recent passion for swimming brought him to great places. I would like to thank everyone for their love and support. We ask that our privacy is respected during this difficult time.”
CSPF Chairman
Michael Oram
All media enquiries to Frances Thornton
+44 (0) 7716505667
Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Riana, their families and friends.
Sandycove Swimmers Committee

Liz Buckley

Chairperson Sandycove Island Swimming Club

St Patrick’s Marymount Hospice in Cork,  for whom he was fundraising, in Paraic’s words, ”is a very worthy cause and I would very much appreciate your support in helping me to raise funds for this charity”.

Here is the link to Paraic’s account if you would like to donate.

Paraic also supported St. Vincent de Paul and here is a link for that donation page also.

Lisa on her second Sandycove lap, when the rest of us were still arriving. Zoom to see.

Cork Distance Week is coming but May gets in the way

Cork Distance Week is coming.  The water is cold. (The water is always cold, relatively speaking). For the locals who know the conditions, Distance Week is still a very tough week. For many of those coming from abroad it will be even harder, maybe the toughest week’s swimming they have ever done. But to get to Distance Week for the locals, May stands in the way.

Though May is officially Summer, we tend to think of it as Spring here in Ireland. And it’s the toughest period of open water swimming of the year.

Why? Because the water is still relatively cool and conditions are extremely variable (at the start of May, 7.2° Celsius in Tramore, 10°C in Sandycove, with a two to three degree possible range). We can (and did) have frosts and days where the temperature was below the water temperature and for half of May this year at least the average air temperature was about ten degrees Celsius.  The Aspirants and others have to be putting in the mileage training. Constant cold winds and low air temperatures bleed the heat and resistance from the swimmers, building a cumulative effect of attrition. It’s the 23rd of May this year before temperatures got to 12° Celsius (53.7° Fahrenheit to be exact) and the day was actually warm (18° Celsius).

When the water is colder no-one is doing much more than hour and generally only the experienced distance swimmers will do that, but some of the less experienced will look at calendar and think the date is all is all they need to know.

And there’s the repetition, the grind of getting very cold day after day, when it’s acceptable for one or two days, the first couple of weeks of getting hypothermia  every day, thinking on nothing but swimming, eating, cold and heat is like a millstone, grinding swimmers down in a race between breakdown or crack up, and making it to the degree or two warmer waters at the end of the month. All the Sandycove Channel swimmers and Aspirants will make it because it’s what Sandycove swimmers do.

Lisa & Finbarr finishing a six-hour Sandycove swim at the start of May, in temperatures under 11°C. On this swim Fin and Lisa did their 100th laps of the year, Lisa joined the 500 laps group (“C”), Fin joined the 1000 laps group (“M”).

Someone will do something extravagant and push their exposure but it will only feel good for a day because Sandycove swimmers Lisa Cummins and Finbarr Hedderman, two of the world’s great cold water marathon swimmers, who have no publicity machines, will out-swim everyone in time and distance.

Lisa on her second Sandycove Island lap, when the rest of us were still arriving. Zoom to see her.

Feel good because you did an hour? Lisa had two done before you got started.

Feel great because you did four laps of Sandycove? Lisa and Fin did twelve.

Just swum your first double lap of the year? Fin already passed his hundredth for the year.

Finally joined the Centurions (100 lifetime laps)? Fin became a Millenarian (1000 laps). (Liz, what are we calling that one?)

Related articles:

Sandycove swimmers: Pressure to achieve (loneswimmer.com)

Lima swimming with The Bull, Rob Bohane, at Sandycove last saturday

Gabriel House, home from home for swimmers visiting Cork

Dover’s best known swimming Bed & Breakfast accommodation is Hubert House, but the B&Bs in Cork are better, (naturally, says a chorus of Corkonians). I know, I’ve stayed in both, and unlike Hubert House, Gabriel House on Summerhill in Cork is owned and run by an English Channel Soloist, Liam Maher, the tallest of The Magnificent Seven, and wife Kaye and it’s home-from-home for many of us when staying in Cork for swim-related events, (specifically parties). Apart from being a Channel swimmer, Liam and myself are the two recipients of the new-ish Sandycove Island Swim Club Hardship Hat Trophy, of which more below.

Liam is rarely noticed around the house, it’s day-to-day operation is by a small staff, but if you see a man who looks like he’s had half of another man stuck on top, that almost’s certainly Liam.

Liam (right) swimming with The Bull, Rob Bohane, at Sandycove last Saturday

The Bed and Breakfast is a noble part of the Irish accommodation vista and none are finer than Gabriel House. With the first annual Sandycove Island pre-season party (because we really needed another reason to have a party) at the weekend, a large group swam at Sandycove in the afternoon, kicking off “the season”, even though we’ve all been swimming through the winter.

Gabriel House

I love staying at Gabriel House. It’s a lovely building high on Summerhill overlooking the city and above the Port of Cork. It has a large garden outside where Liam also keeps a flock of fowl (hens, geese, and turkeys) for the breakfast eggs, and grows fruit and vegetables as well as having a patio for guests to sit out.

Garden patio

You know the way everyone has some places that they only associate with sunshine and good weather (even in wet and windy Ireland)? Both Sandycove and Gabriel House are like this for me. I know I’ve been at both places when it was wet and cold, but I only ever remember both with the sun shining and a blue sky. One of the things about Gabriel House, is when I’m there, there’s often other swimmers staying there, because hey, it’s where we stay in Cork. At this stage it falls into that tiny category of places, where as soon as I arrive I feel like I am home. I’ve made breakfast for myself here in the kitchen at 5.30 am before a big swim, eaten last in the kitchen after a long a swim, slept almost half a day, and once partied all night when Liam shut the place down to the public, to celebrate the Channel swims of The Magnificent Seven of 2010.

Newly re-decorated reception

The house is big, bright and spotlessly comfortable.

Bright and homely

And then, there’s the Gabriel House breakfast. Anyone who’s travelled through B&Bs in Ireland know the breakfast is important and also knows it doesn’t always meet the requirements of Irish people. The breakfast in Gabriel House is the best. Ever. Their Full Irish is a thing of beauty, glorious to behold with free range eggs from outside, and the best of sausages, rashers, and even more rare, black and white pudding, instead of the cheap supermarket version many B&Bs serve up.  We Irish people love our full Irish, (even though it scares many others, all that protein).

The full Irish - a thing of beauty

But if you are too scared for the glory of the full Irish, Gabriel House’s most popular item is porridge. Yes, humble porridge, but elevated to gourmet quality, the Gabriel House speciality is the Porridge cooked with Bailey’s Irish Cream. It should be on Masterchef. It should have its own Sunday Supplement article.

Dining room, overlooking the garden and city

Gabriel House is, according my extensive research, 4 minutes walk from MacCurtain Street and the Shelbourne bar, scene of many a swimming piss-up, down in the city, but is above any noise or traffic (Cork is a city of hills, pubs and churches). It’s 35 minutes drive from Sandycove for anyone who prefers to be city based than out in Kinsale.

Mmmmm...fresh eggs for breakfast

Is this article an ad? No, because Liam or Kaye didn’t know I was going to do it and have had no input into it, I sneakily took the photos and I wrote it because I love Gabriel House like a Cork home, like Varne Ridge is my Dover home.

If I could change only one thing about Gabriel House? I’d put a large chart of Liam’s English Channel swim map in the hall!

Next time you are visiting Cork, make Gabriel House your home from home.

The Sandycove Hardship Hat Trophy, to date, the only two recipients are Yours Truly and Liam.

The Hardship Hat Trophy, awarded to swimmers who suffered undue hardship during a swim, awarded by the three Sandycove swimmers who've ended up in hospital after a swim (Ned, Lisa & Rob), me for my EC solo and Liam for last year's Sandycove Island challenge.
Sandycove Island panorama (50% size)

Guest post: Ned Denison on Essential Volunteering to support solo swims and swimmers (with added maths)

Ned Denison is very much the rotational centre of the Sandycove group, and like a really big jellyfish, he has tentacles reaching out all over the world. To best describe Ned’s place, I’m reminded on an explanation by Mick Hurley, husband of English Channel Soloist and four-time Rottnest soloist and Magnificent 7 swimmer Jen Hurley. We were having dinner in Dover, Mick holding forth to the table (as usual), and we were talking about the Sandycove group.

Mick said that Sandycove was, de facto, a great place. For years, you’d have Irish people swimming there, everyone would be friendly and sociable, and would then go on their separate ways. But take just one American and drop him in the middle of it and almost before you know it, you have one of the most successful English Channel swimming locations in the world, you have organisation and success. Ned is the giant ball of glue from which the Sandycove island group grew.

He is an International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Inductee,  also a committee Member for Santa Barbara Channel Swim Association, Manhattan, the Lee swim, and In Search of Memphre, amongst other things, not the least of which is his long list of swims, from  English Channel and Santa Barbara Channel Solos, to Jersey France, Robben island, Rottnest, Round Valentia and Cobh islands (first time swims). He is the main force behind the internationally growing in reputation Cork Distance week, which if you want to tackle the English Channel from warmer climes, is the best week’s training in the world. For those who know him, he is also persistently confused by the difference between an email subject line and the body of an email text. It’s not unusual to get an entire paragraph in the subject line. :-)

Ned’s domain, Sandycove Island

This picture below is appropriate, it’s Ned doing the 2008 Irish Champion of Champion safety briefing. There are a bunch of Channel Soloists and future Soloists here, (Finbarr, Ossi, Ciarán, myself, Sylvain, Niall, Lisa) and including Kevin Murphy, listening. This is how we are used to seeing Ned.

Ned’s post here is sure to raise significant discussion in the worldwide swimming community. Make time to read and consider it. It’s important.

**************************************************************************************

Open water swimming is exploding with a massive increase in events together with swimmer interest and participation.

Fantastic – however behind the scenes, the inadequate numbers of volunteers places our growth future in jeopardy.

My biggest hope for the future of open water swimming involves a shift as WE SWIMMERS NEED TO START VOLUNTEERING IN LARGE NUMBERS.

“WHAT ??????”

“But Ned you don’t understand – I am involved in the sport to swim and have fun with my mates. I didn’t get involved to kayak, take times, crew a safety boat or spend hours before the event finding boats/kayakers and taking registrations. Anyways – surely the €10 to €50 I pay for each swim must cover all the costs? I assume that all the worker bees were getting paid big bucks to support my passion.”

There are a few commercial events out there – but 99% of all the open water events in the world are staffed by volunteers – typically raising money for a charity or doing a civic duty or just helping their friends and relatives. They not only don’t get paid and they are generally out-of-pocket for travel expenses, food and often overnight lodging and boat fuel.

I like to make the example of a swimmer who just completed an English Channel solo swim.

First of all – well done!

Now consider how many volunteer hours YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF to reach your goal? The phrase “took advantage of” is a horrible expression but bear with me for a moment.

Here is a possible tally of the time others gave along the way:

9 days in Dover (start counting from the moment your 3 crew members left home to their return)

9 days*24 (hours/day) *3 crew = 648 person hours

“But Ned, this isn’t fair! Part of this time they were sleeping, sight-seeing, eating the fish and chips I bought and sunning on the beach while I practiced a bit.”

Do you really want to go down that line? They were away from their families, Dover isn’t a holiday destination and I haven’t calculated their lost earnings while they were off work!

The “official observer” for the Channel swim – yes they are paid a small stipend but the 15 hours you swam with another 5 hours of travel was hardly a “paid” activity.

=20 person hours.

Your 6 hour channel qualification next to a boat with 2 volunteers

2*10 (6 hours plus travel time) = 20 person hours

Your 15k race (you had a full-time kayaker plus 1/5th of a 2 person safety boat crew and 1/20th of the 10 event volunteers on the day plus the 100 hours it took before the event to get it all organised

1*8 (5 hours plus travel time) + (2 crew *8 hours)/5 + (10 volunteers*8 hour +100 hours)/20 = 20 person hours

Your 5k races (let’s assume you had 10 in the previous 3 years) where you have 1/20th of a 2 person safety boat crew and the 10 event volunteers on the day plus the 135 hours it took before the event to get it all organised.

10 events * ( (2 crew*4 hours)/20 + (10 volunteers*4 hours+135 hours)/20 swimmers) =

92 person hours

 Grand total 800 person hours – or think of it as 100 person days (8 hours a day)

Shocked?

Hang on then because this is just the start – or all at the small end of the total.

I didn’t count your swimming buddies who took turns to swim (at your speed) for the previous two years. Having done a few 7am Sunday support swims myself, I can assure that they count as “volunteer hours”!

I also only counted the swimming related volunteer time – so your partner who covered 18 months of extra duties at home and with the kids – you need to work that one out yourself.

YOU CHANNEL SOLOERS OWE 100 PERSON DAYS (8 HOURS A DAY)

 For those swimmers who ONLY take part on 15 events a year and do not do the marathon swims…you still owe!

Your 2k races where you have 1/20th of a 2 person safety boat crew and the 5 event volunteers on the day plus the 80 hours it took before the event to get it all organised

15 events* ( (2 crew*4 hours)/20 + (5 volunteers*4 hours)/80 swimmers + 80 hours/80 swimmers) = 24 person hours (3 person days at 8 hour/day)

 YOU CASUAL 2K SWIMMERS OWE 3 PERSON DAYS (8 HOURS A DAY) – EACH YEAR

The numbers don’t lie. The logic is correct.

We swimmers know, deep down, that lots of people are involved so we can have our event.

For the vast majority of the swimmers – YOU ARE NOT PAYING BACK AT ANYTHING LIKE THE LEVEL YOU NEED TO MAKE IT BALANCE.

 

I am just back from the Rottnest swim – and even deeper in the hole myself.

 Jennifer (Hurley) helped the local organisation, and her family collect me at the airport etc. (ok they are friends – but still takes time) = 40 person hours

Clive (kayaker) paddled in 2 training swims and discussed the plan over coffee = 8 person hours

Clive then drove 2 hours to get to the location, stayed overnight, launched at 4:45am and paddled 5.5 hours (now let’s forget the time to have a pint!) then travelled back on the ferry to get home = 12 person hours

Mike piloted the boat and Barb joined me in a training swim and then crewed = 30 person hours

Then finally the Rottnest team of 100 strong put in (at a guess and probably low) 10,000 organisation hours – thankfully I can divide this by the 2,500 swimmers! = 4 person hour

So – another 94 person hours I have to pay back. This gets added to the debt from the previous 30 long swims and 200+ short swims….at 54 years of age I am not sure I have enough time left!

So, my call to action is to change the dynamic.

  1. Accept the principal that YOU OWE
  2. Start volunteering. Miss one swim in 10 to help.
  3. Learn to kayak. Borrow your brother’s boat.

Start now….

Some of the Irish marathon swimmers, with some new 20122 additions

Sandycove Swimmers – Pressure to achieve

One of the great things about the Sandycove group is actually that it raises one’s own expectations of oneself.

I reminded of that when I saw a quotation from Lewis Pugh on Twitter: “Don’t join an easy crowd. You won’t grow. Go where the expectations and the demands to perform and achieve are high.” Jim Rohn.

That’s exactly what has happened in Sandycove. As new swimmers join the marathon club, whether Zurich, Gibraltar, Windermere, the English Channel or an eight-hour around the island, the indirect and direct pressure on other swimmers grow. Sometimes, when we know we have a likely candidate, the pressure is overt and consistent: “You should be signing up now!” Other times it grows in the person themselves, “if they can do it, so can I” or “I want to try that too”.

There are currently, at the start of 2012, 16 English Channel Soloists from the group;

Diarmuid O’Brien, Ned Denison, Imelda Hughes , Ray Terry, Danny Coholane, Finbarr Hedderman, Eddie Irwin, Niall O’ Crualaoich, Owen O’ Keeffe, Lisa Cummins (English Channel Two-Way), Sylvain Estadieu, Liam Maher, Jennifer Hurley, Donal Buckley, Ciáran Byrne, Gábor Mólnar.

Some of the Irish marathon swimmers, with some new 2012 additions

Those swimmers have also completed many other distance swims in Ireland and elsewhere. Sandycove is a real name in marathon open water swimming, great for a small country that needs any confidence it can claim right now. 2012 will see that number jump significantly again. Also this year there will be MIMS swims, Windermere doubles, Rottnest, Zurich and other as yet unadvertised or private swims. The group’s influence spreads throughout the country and now even further.

Lewis is right. Joining or visiting a marathon group like Sandycove (or South London SC or the Serps group, Dover, CIBBOWS, La Jolla, Huntingdon/LA, San Francisco, Cape Town, Perth) will make you think about and question your own capabilities and make you push yourself beyond where you might previously not have even considered. It’s not even important that you live  close to one, by an occasional visit to one of these groups you gain friends, support, expertise  and experience and that all important drive to improve and push your limits.

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Finbarr's smile here belies the fact that his foot is planted on Liam Maher's neck underwater.

A Sandycove legend guest post: Finbarr Hedderman

Getting blood from a stone would have been easier than getting this article out of Fin. He was the first person I requested to do a guest post, a very long time ago, and many times since.

Fin is Sandycove personified (along with Mike Harris, Lisa, Ned, Stephen Black and Imelda). But don’t tell him I said that or it’ll go to his Cork head! :-)

Fin was born with the affliction of being a Cork person, so therefore he already knows he’s better than the rest of the world by default, since everything good in the world can be found in Cork. (It pains me as a Tipperary person to agree).

In his video tour of Sandycove Island below, towards the end he mentions a beach on the island that the Channel and marathon swimmers use for a feed station. What he doesn’t tell you is that it is actually known to us as “Finbarr’s Beach”. I can also tell you that you should never try to pass Fin on the inside going round a buoy if you don’t want to learn to swim with a partial concussion. (I speak from experience).

If you go to Sandycove, Fin will be there. Therefore go to Sandycove.

 

I have to admit I was a bit surprised to see the loneswimmer’s recent tweet that his website was now two years old; this meant that it has now been nearly two years since he started badgering me to write a guest post. Yet I couldn’t think what should mark my entrance into the blogosphere, my channel swim was so long ago I only remember bits and pieces of it and I’m not training for anything in particular at the moment; so nothing there to touch on. However I still retain a real grá* for swimming; it’s something I want to do nearly every day of the week, so maybe…

My swimming is based at various locations at the moment: I work in Clare during the week so I train with the masters section of Ennis Swimming & Lifesaving Club; I play water polo with the Cork Water Polo Club so I come down once a week to Cork to train with them and afterwards I join with the masters session of Sundays Well SC. But when the weekend rolls around there is only one place I like to swim and, despite the fact it’s January, this can only be in the sea around Sandycove Island, outside Kinsale in County Cork. This weekend I completed my 916th ever lap around the island, and I’m delighted to say it places me at number 5 on the leader-board of Sandycove laps. Later this year I hope to join Steven Black, Mike Harris and Imelda Lynch in the exclusive Sandycove “M” Club when I complete my 1,000th lap.

So for my first guest post I whipped out my new waterproof camera (thanks to my sister for the Christmas gift) and thought I’d introduce you to the Island we in Cork love so much (I must apologise before you watch it the team behind the movie especially the director, camera man, and script writer were fairly poor) and look out for the cameo’s from the loneswimmer’s hero Lisa.

And there you have it, a little intro for those of you yet to visit and a reminder for you who’ve already been.

ps: follow me on twitter: @mrfinbarr

*grá is the Irish for love.

The Sandycove Swimmers Annual Achievement List released – a must-read

Some time ago I discussed Ned Denison’s 3,5 & 9k annual swim list which runs each year and is available here on the Sandycove Island Swimming Club website.

For some years now, Ned Denison has also maintained a list of swimming achievements by Sandycove Swimmers and those swimming within the area. For the last few years since the actual club was formed, after season’s end, relevant swims for the year are added and the committee discuss and ratify the final list before release.

Actually known as the County Cork & Bit of Kerry list, the list includes the Sandycove regulars, other distance swimmers within the region, and visitors, particularly those who have participated in the Cork Distance Week (which originated in the 2008 & 2009 Champion of Champions swims, for those of us who were there). It also includes swims on the Waterford coast. The list includes swimmers from Cork, Kerry, Waterford, Dublin, Clare, the UK & USA, Australia and some others.

This year’s list was discussed back in October and it was released this week.

At this time of year, when the media is full of Best-Of lists, and reviews and recommendations of sports books of the year thus has become, in my view at least, an astonishing record of (primarily Irish) swimmer’s achievements.

Starting with Lisa’s double English Channel solo and leading through swims around the world and all over Ireland, I think this is one of the great documents of Irish sport and probably one of at least some interest to open water swimmers around the world.

The committee accepts the word of swimmers (in good standing) where such swims as don’t have observers are added (like the 5k+ swims that I did on Project Copper this year)  or Craig and Gabor’s swims, or where club members are observers.

This link will take you directly to the Google Docs file where you can view or download it as a PDF, (or here where I’ve added epub & mobi options).

Every year this list grows, every year behind every name and distance and location is a world of interest. Each swim carries its own story, its own joy reduced to these entries. As Ned says, if you are not already on this list, maybe next year will your first entry. Or maybe it’ll be your most successful, longest or toughest entry. maybe you are coming for the Distance Week. This is a great document to be part of, because it’s a great group of people to be part of.

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.

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CDM

Sandycove’s C, D & M “clubs”

Excerpted from Lisa and Liz on the Sandycove website. I’m the only non-resident Cork person to have made the C club. It will take me many years to make the D club, (500 laps), I’ve only done about 20 laps so far this year and unlikely to do even a handful more before year end. Still, nice to have made the Sandycove big leagues. Eoin will have passed me out by now so I’ll be on the bottom rung until I can pass Sylvain (stay travelling Sylvain!). It’s not the full list, I notice Eddie, Imelda. Niall, Danny C., Owen O’K Jen and Gábor aren’t on it, and all those are surely also on the list.

Hey Rob, how is that with over 700 laps I can still kick your arse on the far corner! :-)

Finbarr, Ned & Rob will all enter the Top Club to join Stephen and Mike H. by next year in the Elite M group.

“We stole this concept from the South End Rowing Club in San Francisco which keeps track of Alcatraz swims.  In 2011, [Sandycove] hosted Gary Emich who at the time had 801 recorded Alcatraz swims and the International Swimming Hall of Fame had requested his log book as part of their permanent display.

Many of our Sandycove Island swimmers are lap counters.  They may have a goal at the start of the year or they may simply keep a log.

We honour the muti-lappers with Roman Numerals as follows:

  • C = 100 or more laps
  • D = 500 or more laps
  • M = 1,000 or more laps

One of these days we’ll get some hats/hoodies with this theme.

We welcome you to keep your results up to date (no more frequently than monthly please!) and if you deserve to be on the list, please send in your current tally to sandycoveswimmers.cdm@gmail.com.  We will accept a calculated estimate to get your current number.  Just share the logic/calculations.

Below are our current C, D and M club members. These lists are will be kept updated here.

C – 100 life time laps

Name Number of Laps Last Updated
Eoin O’Riordan 118 30/08/2011
Donal Buckley 120 30/08/2011
Sylvain Estadieu 132 10/10/2010
Ger O’Donnell 199 24/10/2010
Dave Mulcahy 200 10/10/2010
Craig Morrison 248 28/08/2011
Lisa Cummins 401 21/09/2011

D – 500 life time laps

Name Number of Laps Last Updated
Ossi Schmidt 700 13/10/2010
Robert Bohane 742 30/08/2011
Finbarr Hedderman 851 28/08/2011
Ned Denison 928 28/08/2011

M – 1000 life time laps

Name Number of Laps Last Updated
Steven Black 1062 10/10/2010
Mike Harris 2015 10/10/2010

Spring in Sandycove

Back to Sandycove for the first time this year at the weekend. The rest of the south coast seemed clouded over, but the sun was shining in Kinsale.

Went for a lovely double lap by myself, back on Ned’s qualification list for this year, starting with the 3k+. Fin and Ned were just out, the water was nice, measured 8.6C at the swanky new slipway, but felt about 10c around the island so nice and easy for a double, only losing little finger movement by the end.

Sandycove Island panorama (50% size)

Took this photo (actually 3x pictures, explaining the weird curve) after the tide has dropped, starting to expose the reef near the first corner. On the full size the island goats are just visible below the hill-top. Click for larger.

The second and third corners;

Final t-shirt design?

Ok, after further playing around with it, I though I’d make it a design for the Sandycove Island marathon swimmers, after all, there are now a lot of us. I forgot to save the marathon version, but this one is a channel version, easily changed.

Liz & Lisa etc, what do you think? Think people would be interested in this?

It’s a transparent background so it’ll work with some different colour backgrounds, but I designed it with light colours in mind.

 

T-shirt design

My graphic design skills have only ever been derivative (poor). But I’ve been playing with the motto, seeing if I can come with a good t-shirt design.

This was the first design I was happy with:

Then still playing with it…

With more detail. Still ambivalent about this direction.

And this is where it’s at now…

 

 

Sandycove Swimmers

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been putting a website together for Sandycove swimmers, with Lisa and Liz’ assistance, to help publicize the group, and the sport. We just announced it on the Sandycove Google mailing list.

We’ll continue to use the Sandycove mailing list for now, but enhance it with the website for images and document storage.

CS&PF year end figures released this week show we (Sandycove) are now the fourth most successful English Channel location…IN THE WORLD (since 2005)!

(I’ll continue my writing about OW here however.)