Category Archives: The Sea

How To: Using Tide Tables

Because I live and swim in Ireland, I am constantly made aware of the large tidal range here.

I’ve written extensively about tides previously because I feel they are an aspect of open water swimming not appreciated by enough swimmers and because global variations can mean that many people never see nor even realise the apparent extremities of a higher tidal range in other locations. I therefore think a better understanding of tides is important for open waters for safety reasons.

To understand tides better is to increase your knowledge, your range of options and responses and locations and therefore your safety around the coast. Combined with this is that tidal knowledge is sometimes incorrect, that people make very basic incorrect assumptions, that the tide goes directly in and out from the shore regardless of the coastal position, is amongst the most common misconception (which is only true in some locations).

Because of this North East Atlantic tidal variation, most experienced Irish and United Kingdom sea-goers are used to checking tide times when the sea is not immediately visible to them daily.

You can revisit some of the more detailed tide articles I’ve written but for a brief recap let’s remember that each tide is about six hours and fifteen minutes, which means that high and low tide times change each day. A practical consequence of this is that Sandycove, which is usually swum above half-tide, usually only swim times designated for group swims every second weekend. (I am luckier at the Guillamenes as it is deeper water and can be swum on any tide).

Let’s a look at some graphs and data of a daily tide cycle, for the week I’m writing this. This data comes from MagicSeaweed’s Tramore tide report.  The undulating sine wave indicates the rising and falling tide. You can see that there are four tides in each 24 hour period and that each tide on this current cycle varies from just under six hours to about six and a half, with rising tides being longer than falling tides. On each chart you can also see the tide heights of high and low tide. As the four days pass the range between high and low decreases, and the high tide gets lower as the low tide gets higher, all indicators that the tide is moving from a Spring tide to a Neap tide, this pattern of changes from springs to neaps and visa versa repeating every two weeks.

tide graph 2

Tide programs and applications are usually similar in this presentation and a good understanding can mean a quick glance at a tide table can tell you a lot. Since I know that spring tides here are over 5 metres, I can tell immediately from this where in the lunar tide cycle we are. Lower tidal range means lower tidal currents, (not usually a concern for me anyway), important information for some locations.

The other usual tide tool, which I prefer myself, is an annual national tide table. These are currently about €3.00 for the pocket-sized book and I keep one in the car. There are two types of tide table books. Those often issued by the local port or regional publishing company, and a national one. Ireland is small enough that a localised tide table is too specific and of little utility if one is visiting the far side of the country.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI find physical Tide Tables more utilitarian. Always to hand when needed, and useful for longer term planning many months in advance. Free and online tide apps usually don’t provide future tide times.

More importantly in Ireland, the island nature of the country makes the tidal situation far more complicated than many people realise, with the tides washing around the coast in diverging or even opposing directions. Therefore the Tide Table is sub-divided into five regions with further tide time offsets (delays) to even more localised ports. This provides a level of forecasting that gives a far greater level of accuracy.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe detail is of the same type, date and day, high and low water (tide), with tide heights and in this case, moon phase to indicate more easily the spring and neap tides. On the page above can also be seen the variation of other locations from the Cobh location, Cobh being the Standard (reference) Port, i.e. the main tidal location, for the south-west to south-east Irish coast. A fuller list of Secondary Ports for each region is also included.

What’s equally important about these tide tables, and hidden in a note inside the back, is that the data is compiled from the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office, which, bizarrely and which I haven’t mentioned in a couple of years, owns the tide data for all of the United Kingdom and Ireland, and from which it must be licensed. Not that I am in favour of this arrangement, but it does mean you can be sure of the table accuracy, unlike with many free tide applications where license fees haven’t been paid.


A local sources of tidal information if you are unsure or without any better information is to check any RNLI  or local inshore rescue stations across Ireland and the United Kingdom which at least usually display the month’s local tide times on the outside of the stations. These always use the accurate UKHO (below) tide data. Some broadsheet newspapers can carry the information also in the weather section.

The important points therefore are:

* Tide tables are essential for coastal safety in area with high tidal ranges, such as across the continental European coast.

* When using tide tables note the tidal height as well and high and low tide times.

* If you are using tide prediction tools, safety is important and to this end, the origin of the data is vital.

There’s no such thing as a freak wave – coastal safety is your own responsibility

I was reading a letter to Tramore Town Council, about the new Guillamenes cattle-crush, from someone who’d been involved in International Water Safety for many years. In the letter the person pointed out how someone had been “swept off the diving platform by a freak wave”. I said the Club Secretary Aidan Farrally that his points were valid but subsequent to that assertion, his arguments became suspect.

Now despite my deliberately somewhat provocative title, yes there are such things as freak waves. However while they are long reported, they are an only recently confirmed open ocean phenomenon, and more commonly known as rogue waves, (twice the height of the significant wave height around them).

But here we are discussing so-called freak waves at the coast, the interface of land and sea.

Every year we read or hear stories of coastal drownings caused by freak waves, where people at the coast are caught by a wave seemingly out of scale or size to the preceding waves, and swept off rocks, out to sea or suffering a fatal concussion from rocks. These are tragedies, but I have long had a problem with this reporting because it perpetuates a myth about the sea, and somewhat shifts the responsibility of care away from the person into a force-majeure situation, an “act of god“.

If there are freak waves, how can an average person realistically protect themselves except to stay away from the coast? If there aren’t freak waves, then the responsibility shifts to people themselves to be more vigilant.

The phrase freak wave implies that what has happened is unusual and unforeseen, neither of which are the case. Ask any surfer. So we need once again to talk about waves and safety at the coast.

Wind & WavesMost waves are caused by wind. Wind blows over the water surface and the friction pushes the water. The distance of water over which the wind blows is called the fetch, and the longer the fetch, and the longer the time and stronger the wind that blows, the bigger the initial waves. If the wind continues to blow, as the waves grow, they present even more surface for the wind to push. The waves continue to grow.

Waves are an energy pulse that travels through the water and will continue to travel unless something stops them. That something from our point of view, is land.

I said initial waves above, and that’s really important. Wind that blows in a Western Atlantic storm cause waves, which if unimpeded by other contrary weather, may blow those winds toward Ireland and Europe, across 2000 miles of open water. 

We need to think about the fundamentals of a wave.

Imagine the wind blowing and causing waves.

  • The height of a wave is called the amplitude.
  • The greater the amplitude the more energy in the wave.
  • The number of waves in a particular time is called the frequency.

Waves of different amplitudes usually have different frequencies. The higher the amplitude or height, the lower the frequency.

The bigger the wave, the longer the time between them and the less frequently they appear.

Waves travel at different speeds. Wind that cause waves nearby can have lots and lots of chop, small waves really close to each other.

Now the critical things about waves of any kind, not just water, is if they are even fractionally different heights they will travel at different speeds. What happens if two things, in case waves, are travelling the same direction at different speeds? The faster one will pass the slower one.

The further away the initial wind, the further the waves will travel. If a faster waves catches a slower one, the basic physics means that they will be added together. The amplitude, the height of the waves, will become the two combined heights.

A one and half metre wave catching a one metre wave, will become a two and half metre wave.

This wave, in surfer’s parlance, is called a Set Wave. Surfers don’t see them as freaks, but as normal aspects of the ocean’s behaviour.

Set waves at Tramore pier
Long groundswell  waves at Tramore pier

This doesn’t happen quickly but when you have hundred or thousands of miles or kilometres in which it can happen, it doesn’t have to be quick.

Waves reaching Hawaii from the Aleutian Islands
Waves reaching Hawaii from the Aleutian Islands

The result is that you have a wave that is now a third higher than the higher of the two previous waves. And that may be higher than all the surrounding waves. And the bigger it is the faster it’s travelling but the longer time between them, so there can up to many minutes between large waves like this. Any experienced surfer can tell you that the period between the largest set waves could be up to 15 minutes.

Now we’ve explored the formation and irregularity of waves, we’ve seen that these are not freak waves, but normal ocean behaviour.

The important thing becomes that the responsibility for understanding this lies with the person on the shore, just as it lies with a pedestrian crossing a road, except the ocean can’t see or react to you like a motorist can even when you are in the wrong.

Therefore the most important action to watch the water. Always.

This is NOT expect the unexpected. This is how the ocean works.

It should be noted, unlike beaches facing directly into the swell, at reefs and rocks, especially those that are not directly facing the oncoming swell, set waves can be difficult to see. if the water around a reef or rocky shore is deep, the first indication you may have is the wave actually breaking onto where you are standing

One wave seems to appear out of a flat surrounding sea at Tramore. easy to see on a beach, not easy to see elsewhere.
A wave seems to appear out of the flat surrounding sea at Tramore. Easy to see on a beach, not so easy to see elsewhere.

Watch the water for twice as long as the waves are high (in imperial measurement).

If the waves look to be two feet high, watch the water for four minutes before venturing close to the shore.

If the waves are two metres high on initial appraisal, you should (approximately) convert that to feet, and watch the water for six to seven minutes before getting close. Do this regularly and you will start to gain a better appreciation for the sea and its rhythms. And more importantly, you and the people around you will be safer.

Coastal safety is your responsibility!


Summer Storm Force on the Copper Coast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The categories for which I’ve been nominated are;

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

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

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

raising_the_avanc_by_pluutozz-d22nnsh on deviantart

Creeped out on the Waterford Coast

I got a bit creeped out in the water recently. It’s a rare enough occurrance that I can’t remember the last time.

When I arrived at the Guillamenes, I noticed something odd out in the bay. The wind was light, Force Two, SSW, meaning the side of the bay was fairly flat and calm, nice for a change.

There was a long (maybe 1500 to 2000 metres) arc of rough water about a kilometre out from the shore. I’m used to seeing the cold water currents (the Scarf) out in the bay streaming inwards. The Scarf was also visible and this was around the same location, but different, as when the Scarf is visible it tends to be slightly differently-coloured than the water around it due to density.

Look at the video, it’s very clearly visible (select HD), the water I’m referring to is the dark grey arc. You can also see the lighter shades of the colder currents in the bay.

As I swam out toward Newtown Head, about half way I swam into a patch of very unusual water. The water jumped what much have been a degree, changed colour completely to become much more yellow and there were clumps of kelp and a lot of floating matter. It was so unusual I stopped to look but I couldn’t see. As I continued outward, I was swimming in and out of similar areas, one minute the water would be a cooler and clear green, next yellow, warmer and full of stuff.

Local fisherman John Stubbs was hauling pots on Little Tern, his boat, under the cliffs just beyond Chair Cove, before Newtown Head. I haven’t swum past John this year and we haven’t talked since about October, though I’ve seen him out, so I stopped for a chat. We only meet when I’m swimming and him fishing, we started talking after a few years of us going past each other. John was the person who told me lobsters stop moving in the autumn when the water temp drops to 11 degrees.

John said he had watched this weird rip approach his boat, pulling seaweed, and getting rougher, and how strange it was. This man spends even more time in Tramore Bay than I do, and between us we probably know the waters better than anyone else. As we talked his boat suddenly started getting dragged closer to the rocks by a suddenly appearing current so he had to move off. I swam to outside Oyen Rock below Newtown head and stopped for a check. As I threaded water, I could see that I was being pushed west into Ronan’s Bay quite quickly. When I’d swum Ronan’s Bay only a few days previously on high tide the tidal current around Newtown head was running the opposite direction and it took me 35 minutes to swim 800 metres toward Ilaunglas on the other side of Ronan’s.

Since I’d planned a longish swim, I figured swimming back against a current would be one way to pass some time, and if the current was bit too much work I had to alternative possibilities, swim out deep and around it, or head closer into stacks and cliffs where it would probably diminish.

However as I swam across Ronan’s Bay, it didn’t seem strong, weakening as I moved away from Newtown Head and the water got cold and cleared up again. After I stopped at Ilaunglas to take some video, and started back, the adverse current was not too strong, only slowing me a bit.

I realised this because I stopped to check progress. At that point I saw that the strange water was approaching from the east/Tramore Bay/South east direction.

Where I was swimming, the water was rippley but calm, a low Force Two water condition on a small swell. Only metres away and moving toward me the water surface was entirely different, like house paint stippled upward by a paint roller, all short sharp peaks and under the water again yellow and full of matter. I filmed the transition. The confusing thing was there was no change in wind.


I started to think of Megahydrothalassaphobia, of Leviathan, of China Mieville’s Avanc (below), of Tennyson’s Kraken;

“Raising the Avanc” by pluutozz-d22nnsh on

Below the thunders of the upper deep;
Far far beneath in the abysmal sea,
His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
The Kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights flee
About his shadowy sides; above him swell
Huge sponges of millennial growth and height;
And far away into the sickly light,
From many a wondrous grot and secret cell
Unnumber’d and enormous polypi
Winnow with giant arms the slumbering green.
There hath he lain for ages, and will lie
Battening upon huge seaworms in his sleep,
Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;
Then once by man and angels to be seen,
In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.

And thus I gave myself the creeps while swimming, imagining Leviathan moving beneath me, and I just a speck swimming above the world-eye of the beast.

It was long way from Ilaunglas to Tramore beach and back out to the Guillamenes, over two hours , the water condition did not improve much. Inside Tramore Bay was all choppy and it was only on the slog out from the beach that it abated somewhat. I passed John again almost two hours later, nor more precisely, he passed me.

But all this is not about the creeps. or me getting the creeps, but that I don’t understand the water conditions, the very localized nature of the change without any apparent wind change. I’ve been at sea, particularly on a surf board or boat, when a localised wind squall appeared and it wasn’t such.

It looked from the cliff and felt like some kind of narrow current moving into the bay and coast from the South East, but not driven by a local wind. I’ve never seen this before.

Update: I met John Stubbs a few days later at the same place, low spring tide and I asked him if he’d ever seen anything like it before of it he knew what it was? He said in all hos years fishing (and he’s a full-time inshore fisherman) he though he’d seen something similar once. he said it looked to him (from the greater height vantage point) that it was an incoming current.

Always be careful with the sea, it will surprise you.

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.

deepstar enigmatica

Here’s another weird underwater creature for swim nightmare fuel

What’s wrong with me that I like looking at all the scary things in the sea?

A few months ago, I collected some the related fears of open water, and suggested we use Megalohydrothalassophobia, as a name for the fear of underwater creatures. Here’s another one for the causal list.  The Cascade creature, aka deepstar enigmatica, or the Placental jellyfish, apparently though not rare, but only seen intact a few times. Checking around it seems like it’s about 50cm in diameter, and is usually a more common bell shape, but the turbulence from the submarine turns it inside out and give it that really creepy motion.

Anyone who’s ever had an unexpected encounter with a plastic bag while swimming will shudder at this one. Plastic bags are scarier than jellyfish.

More details/speculation on the creature here.

All the Megalohydrothalassophobia related articles:

List of open water fears (

Anomalocaris. (

Eel Shark. ( (My favourite)

Giant saltwater crocodile (

Conger eels (

Sea lice. (

Now THAT’S a jellyfish. (

How waves can interfere with swimmers and cut down on their speeds

This phrase is a consistent Google autocorrect search term that bring people to the site so I thought I would use it directly.

Surf at Praia Grande. Porto Covo, Portugal

I’ve previously written a couple of posts on understanding waves, theory and some practical.

Writing recently about the 2010 eight hour pool-training swim followed by a sea swim, I was reminded of the problems waves present for many swimmers.

As we’ve seen in the previous articles waves occur where an open ocean swell meets where water gets shallow, on beaches, reefs, and rocks. Waves are somewhat unpredictable even in good conditions and care must be taken of them. So entering the water in the presence of waves requires some degree of caution, dependent on wave size. Trying to exit on rocks or reefs, in even small waves, is fraught with danger.

So why do waves present such difficulty? It’s simply because water is dense, denser than a human, and heavy and anything heavy has a lot of inertia. Difficult to start, divert or stop.

Everyone has probably stood on a beach in waist high waves and felt how easily the waves can push one around.  One cubic metre ( 1 metre x 1 metre x 1 metre, a fraction of a whole chest high wave) of water weighs one thousand kilograms. Did you ever try pushing against even a small car weighing the same? You are not as powerful as water, a six foot tall man is weaker than a five foot tall wave.

Children learn to jump as the waves approaches to go over the top, or to jump into the wave and let it take them, or to stand with one foot and chest forward to try to hold their position. These are all approaches to the mass of the wave and all and more can be used by swimmers.

Rob Dumouchel shared the video below with me, which perfectly illustrates the problems faced by swimmers unfamiliar with waves.

I hope you noticed the guy on the left at the start, who disappeared pretty quickly. He knew what to do. Instead of standing around like a scared duckling, trying to progress by hopping forward and getting pushed backward, he went under the waves.

Power within a wave is concentrated when it is breaking in the crashing top of the wave. Waves breaking into shallow water, even without being large, will travel fast and slow movement with a lot of lower density white water being pushed ahead.

The water in front of a wave is sucked up into the wave face, while the wave is moving forward so you may get a quick sensation of speed just before the wave hits. You can use this speed to your advantage to get under the wave. Just duck down and forward under the wave and then up and you will pop out well behind the wave lip and past most of the drag of the breaking water.

Remember that water being dumped on beaches by waves needs to escape back outward, so most beaches will have “channels” (some steep beaches will  instead have dangerous undertow).

The trough in front of a wave is lower than the average height, whereas the water behind a wave lip is higher. So if you plunge into a wave face and exit behind, you will be higher up, but if you come up just behind the lip of a crashing wave, you have to be careful not to get dragged back over the edge, “going over the falls”, though is generally not a problem unless you are very close.

In this image of Annestown beach, though the waves are only waist-high, one can see that the shingle isn’t all the same height, some is banked. The areas between the banks are more likely to be deeper, and more likely to be channels as this trough extends outward. The difference will usually look somewhat subtle, but is pretty consistent. If you notice in the image, where the arrow starts, the sand extends further into the shingle as this is a lower trough and this recurs along the beach, so there is actually more than one channel, more visible the more water is trying to escape. However Channels tend to exist closer to the beach and as you escape beyond the initial whitewater, the effect will dissipate.

Wave water escape channel at Annestown beach
  • Don’t panic. As I have said before, there is no situation made better by panic and most will be made worse, especially at sea.
  • Don’t try to get away from waves. You won’t win. Face them and work with what they are doing.
  • Look for channels, the narrow and usually deeper areas where waves aren’t breaking, where the incoming water has to escape back out to sea. That’s your easiest way out. But once in a Channel, don’t try to swim back in against it.
  • In water where you can walk, angle your body sideways to oncoming whitewater, and brace yourself as you move outwards, moving out in the intervals between the wave fronts.
  • Once you reach chest deep water, if you are over sand, it becomes harder to progress by walking even with no waves, so get swimming.
  • The best approach when going out from a beach is to dive under the oncoming waves.
  • Don’t take a huge intake of air, it’ll be harder to submerge. Instead hold the air into your lungs instead of trying to hold a mouthful. Popping under and behind a big wave is a pretty quick task.
  • Don’t try the same thing with waves breaking over rocks. Because idiocy.
  • Swimming against a rip current is a poor decision. Change your angle by 45 to 90° and you will quickly move out of it.
  • As you progress out pass the breaking waves, triangulate your position so you know where you started, might need to finish. Line up two objects, one of front of the other, a house and tree or similar, and you will be able to tell your position along a beach. otherwise you can be 100 metres to either side and it will still look like the same place.
So the simple answer to the initial question, which may be the subject of someone’s homework, (it wouldn’t be the first time, people sometimes include question numbers), is that waves interfere with swimmers by stopping them getting out deeper, by pushing them back into shore, by knocking them over, by pulling their legs from beneath them and by breaking over them. All these problems can be reduced or eliminated with experience and practice.

Related Articles:

Waves for swimmers, Part 1 (

Waves for swimmers, Part 2 (

Exploring freak waves (

Grid waves (

Tides for swimmers, theory (

Tides for swimmers, local effects (

Perpetual Ocean

Vincent van Gogh, The Starry Night. Oil on can...
Vincent van Gogh, The Starry Night. Oil on canvas, 73×92 cm, 28¾×36¼ in.

A fantastic visualization by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre of the ocean surface currents around the world. The Gulf Stream, the Labrador Current, the Agulhas current, can all be seen (even though they are part of the thermohaline circulation system) and remind one of Van Gogh’s Starry Night.

Of particular interest are the localised but still large-scale Eddie currents existing within or spinning the larger currents.

Earliest known map of the Gulf Stream
Earliest known map of the Gulf Stream (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Gulf stream map
Gulf stream map (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

44 Miles of Hell – Stephen Redmond’s Molokai swim report

Satellite picture of Moloka'i (Hawaii) Deutsch...
Image via Wikipedia

Another week, another swim and another swim report from Stephen, to whom, as always, I am indebted for sharing this with me and therefore you. Untouched as last week, (Stephen writes this stuff on his phone always). I still can’t get over Stephen doing both these swims only 8 days apart. If you don’t have tears in your eyes reading this … well, all I can say is I did.

Aloha from Hawaii where what happened over the last few days is just sinking in. thanks for your support sir . 1100 27/2/12
  There was always huge doubt surrouding this swim. I weighed up and discussed all the pro and cons with my Friend Linda Kaiser in Hawaii  a lrgrndary cross channel swimmmer who lhas lived here all her life. Was it conceited of me to thinks I could accompish 2 of the worlds toughest channel in a week of one another.Ariving In Hawaii the weather and my body being in bits after the cook sraits swim put every thinh in doubt.
  Linda advised me to take a couple of days rest carefull high protien diet and some deep tissues massages from Mati Sapolu-Palmer another legendary triathelete in Hawai the heat and the preeration worked wonder and along with daily 2 miles swims at 6.00 am my body came back very quickly. The weather improved for the weekend and the swims was defintley on. AS always the hardest things is getting in the water and finishing so much has to work out. My wife ann was due out on Saturday  but missed the swim so we enlisted another Ironman to do the worst job which was support and feeding me 
eddie was quite incredible never a cross word and constant suppport.
   Saturday dawned after carb loading all day friday I felt terrible  with the combination of nerves and would the weather hold I was a wreck. We launched the boat with my Skipper Ivan Shigaki. watched him steam out towards Molokai on a calm sheet of water breathtaking place. i tried to rest till the short flight over to Molokai no good so just kept repeating the shot mantra i would use durung the swim.
Never give up  too far to fail  swim molokai which i must have said millions of time to myself in tandem with my strokes during the swim along with many prayer to St. Jude. I was Lucky .
  Molokai isalnd is a strange place  lonely and sad compared to the other islands with bright red clay anothet friend of Lindas Hellen drove us to the west beach were we would meet the boat no piers here just an old hotel and holiday homes . the water looke calm and as we ferried out gear out the boat in dry bags I lefy a small offering of a pice of quartz a frien had given me into this i put all my doubts about my body lasting ther weather  and left regret on the sand in Molokai. This is a Hawain tradition and some thing they take very seriously the skipper would not leave till it was done.
   Greased up and ready i said a couple of prayers for protection and plunged into  the channel.  We made great headwaty for the first 2 hours covering around 6 miles  water warm and very salty. we were swimminginto the night another first for me i have swam in the night but started with that darkness came on stars in the sky  and if you can imagine the scene beneath me in the sea the mermaids were singing (Humpbacks Whales) and when my light caught the Phospherence in the jellys and other sea creatures beneath me was like a scene from a star wars battle scene  you could not tell what was with you  what was near you just block the fears out and swim. Feeds went well and as we got out the weather changed our worst fears came calling I could sea the boat being flung from left to right. Ihave come to the conclusion that the Moloaki does not like me as this happend the last time as well. nothing could be done it is what it is.
  Through the night  mantras and prayers in a highly lit world of my own whales very calming. The longest night of my life i thought had been the night my first child Siadbh had been born this was rigtht up there .Praying for Dawn and a glimpse of shore  I kept going.No shore just 20/25 miles wind and swells jesus it was grim stuff. It was just get to the next feed and using every trick i could think of breathing in sixs on one side kicking cosistantly any thing .
 I do not nrmally want to now the time but after a few hours in daylight I asked my skipper how we were doing cool as a button the skipp told me I was fine and to keep going we had been in 13 hours and still had 8 miles to go heartbraking soul destroying Moloaki was exacting a huge demands from my body.
  I realy thought this was the end but how can you give up and let Linda kasier down after all the work of the week before. the positivity of the skipper and his crew Charles an ex marine telling me we were heasding for the promised land these are things that keep you going to the other side Knowing my wife ann was waiting on shore and worrying was hard you wonder why you do it stop and go that little bit futher over the edge and discover the will to complete.
  hour after hour we grinded it out sometime only making 3/4 of a mile tide ands wind will kill you in the end .I thought of my proposed landing on sandy beach  not as nice as it sounds in my condition I did not stand a chance of landing there the  rip tide and the wave rigth up to shore catch you and spear tackle you head first into the beach. it hold the highest accident rate of any beach on hwaii for broken limbs and collarbones scarey place. Shore seemd to get close then futher as we tried to get over the ledge where the tide is at its strongest. Jesus i was dead dead dead  just keep going crawl long times without seeing the boat in the swells meant it was very diffiuclt to know where i was going. At last ht e skipper made a descision to let me go with the sceaminfg tide which washed me around the by the blow hole and the keyhole  towards the china walls. any were would do at this stage.
  no one had ever landed there as is is a wall of razor sharp stone i some how managed to touch it and in my deleroius state tried climbing out and got hammered of the wall by the sea. I manage to swim back to the boat and was pulled aboard more dead then alive no joy just hatred for that mean strech of water that had kept me in it grips for 22.30 swimming 44 mile the longest ever crossing and the first by an irish person. Shock set in  quickly  Dry Retching pucking shaking  crying all in one not pretty.
    Today as i write this i think it realy happened but am not usre till i see the cert signed by the captain and Linda. A usual the whole community in skibbereen
ballydehob and my home townof castledermot kept me afloat with prayers and  positive thoughts Linda Kauserand the Hawaii Master swimming association who i could have done this without. The trip has made me understand that no one is alone and the are amazing people every where I look The irish people in other countrys are example to us that we can get on get up and overcome any thing . I hope this makes sense and is not to silly got to go now as tears are coming  again strange shit but the thiught of the pain in not finshing this swim last october and my brother Anthony pain came back to keep me going and this swimis dedicated to him.
 Regards Steve
The island of Molokai as viewed from Ka‘anapal...
Image via Wikipedia
Whales are big

Open water swimming fears listed

I was thinking about the fears that hinder open water swimmers or potential open water swimmers. It always amazes me how many non-swimmers (or even swimmers) have a seemingly visceral fear of even the idea of swimming over deep water in the dark or imagining themselves over a deep section of sea with potential movement under them. Here’s a provisional list of relevant fears. I’ve excluded basic fear of water, it seems inappropriate for swimmers.

Autophobia is a fear of being alone.

Bathophobia is a fear of depths or deep things, (for swimmers who dislike swimming over deep water).

Cryophobia, Frigophobia or Cheimatophobia is a fear of cold, cold weather or cold things. Also known as Psychophobia!

Cnidophobia is a fear of stings. Surprisingly, there is no specific clinical phobia for jellyfish.

Dishabiliophobia is fear of undressing in front of someone, probably relevant when you changing by the side of the road in Sandycove.

Eleutherophobia is a fear of freedom. Seriously, are we ever as free as when we are open water swimming?

Eosophobia is fear of dawn or daylight. A bit difficult for an overnight swim.

Francophobia or Gallophobia is a fear of France or French things. That’s the Channel out then.

Galeophobia or Selachophobia is a fear of sharks.

Ichthyophobia is a fear of fish.

Kymophobia or Cymophobia is a fear of waves.

Limnophobia is a fear of lakes.

Megalophobia is a fear of large things and Mycrophobia is a fear of small things. Both are prevalent in the sea.

Myctophobia / Nyctophobia / Scotophobia / Achluophobia / Lygophobia: fear of the dark or darkness. That’s a whole lot of fear right there.

Ostraconophobia is a fear of shellfish.

Ornithophobia is a fear of birds.

Osmophobia is a fear of smells or odours.

Thalassophobia is a fear of the sea.

I’ve seen Megalohydrothalassophobia  proposed as a fear of the unknown and-or large objects underwater, a useful word for many people, but unlike the others not a medically recognised phobia. Yet.


Grid waves on the French coast

Grid waves

Another of those great images of sea phenomena that I like, cross (or grid) waves, which occur when two sets of waves travelling from different directions cross at an angle of 45° or moreThis creates very steep short-crested waves that can be dangerous for shipping. From the European Space Agency.

Put some Channel Swimmers out there, you could have a game of Sea-Chess and get some good training in.

EDIT March 21st 2013: This post is getting a hammering from people that don’t believe this is real. Please check the comments for my update & explanation (that it is genuine and how it can be caused), and also a way for you to check the photo for yourself, if you believe the European Space Agency (and I) are lying to you.

Grid waves on the French coast
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.

Eagle island lighthouse-ireland_6787_600x450

Exploring freak waves

We’ve all heard (at least in Ireland) the unfortunate announcements of people losing their lives at the coast due to “freak waves”. Freak waves and rogue waves are the same thing, and are generally not what take unsuspecting people at the coast, since those are more generally set waves, which I’ve written about before, and people just don’t seem to understand that all waves around the same time are not the same size.

By the way, I’ll take this opportunity to remind you of the surfer’s saying to help ensure safety at the coast: watch the sea for twice as long as the waves are high.

Freak or rogue waves are the monsters that happen out to sea, that were long reported but generally not believed until very recently even though reports seemed to occur around the world. In Ireland the old lighthouse high up on Skellig Michael had its windows broken back in the 1950′s by waves breaking up at about 30 metres. On the 11th March 1861 at midday the lighthouse on Eagle Island, off the West coast of Ireland was struck by the sea smashing 23 panes, washing some of the lamps down the stairs, and damaging the reflectors with broken glass beyond repair. In order to damage the uppermost portion of the lighthouse, water would have had to surmount a seaside cliff measuring 40 m (133 ft) and a further 26 m (87 ft) of lighthouse structure.

VLCCs (very large cargo carriers) are notoriously lost going around Cape Horn (in the Agulhas Current), the theory is, being so long and heavy the wave can cause both ends of the ship to be suspended, (or the ends to be raised) and they break under their own unsupported weight.

In one those weird coincidences, when I was writing this, the M4 Buoy off Ireland’s North West registered a waves height of over 20 metres, truly extraordinarily large. I have seen 11 metre waves off Clare on the west coast, and, no word of lie, I remember looking out to sea and thinking to myself, I don’t remember there being an island there, before I realised what I was actually looking at. And then I went surfing.

Now the scientific and the orbital evidence (even you ignore reading and visuals) supports the existence of rogue waves after the measurement of The Draupner Wave, in 1995, (below). Here’s a scientific paper explaining the causal factors. There are a few factors, primarily high winds and strong currents.

I’m not sure if yesterday’s wave would qualify as rogue, since there were significant size waves before and after it. The strict(-ish) definition is that the wave is more than twice the significant height of the waves in the wave train, which wasn’t the case yesterday. But directly contradicting myself above, what the buoy did show was the wind blowing from the prevailing south-south-west direction. Rogue waves may occur when one wave travels in the opposite direction of the others and occur more frequently in areas with strong currents, such as the Agulhas off South Africa, the Kuroshio off Japan, and the Gulf Stream off the eastern United States. In 2000 a ship encountered an open water wave height of over 29 metres.

A Freak Wave took out the whole forepeaktank of the Norwegian tanker "Wilstar", 1974

Location is also important. VLCCs, which were too large to go through the Suez Canal have long had to take the long route to Europe around the Cape of Good Hope and some were mysteriously lost in the Agulhas Current. As many as 200 supertankers have been lost in the past 25 years, and many are now estimated to have been caused by freak waves with the SS Munchen being the best known. It also seems that the famous Edmund Fitzgerald may have been sunk by a peculiar freak wave phenomenon in Lake Superior!

A (short) YouTube clip of a collection of very large waves breaking at sea.

One scientist estimated there may be up to 10 of these waves in existence worldwide at any time, and in an important part of science, it’s been possible to recreate them in wave tanks, validating the science.

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


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).
Swimming with a salt-water crocodile

Another one of those must-see photos for open water swimmers

Seriously. Is this cool and scary, or what?

Swimming with a salt-water crocodile

Here’s the source. (Warning, it’s the bloody Daily Mail).

But wait! The story gets better…

The cable snapped and the cage dropped, “The Cage of Death at Darwin’s Crocosaurus Cove almost lived up to its name when one of the cables failed and it plunged into the tank with a man and woman in it…”

You gotta laugh. Really.


The 2012 Olympic swimming poster

I give you the Olympic swimming poster (not literally obviously):


Limited edition prints of this are available for the low, low price of only £1000. And lest that be considered pricey, I’d like to point out that it includes free shipping. In the UK.

I posted this on Twitter and elsewhere, and separately from the different artistic tastes of people, ( I think it’s rubbish) I was interested in the responses. It’s not relevant whether one person likes or dislikes it, that a matter of personal taste.

Though the overwhelming reaction from swimmers was negative, one response was: “The lack of appreciation for abstract art (amongst swimmers) is disappointing. Every great painter I’ve known has been a swimmer. Isn’t there some correlation between the beauty of the sport and the beauty of the process and colour here that can be appreciated or understood?”

Implicit in responses of this kind is that it a failure of artistic appreciation of the viewer(s). That the viewer with the negative taste must be a Philistine. Not that the viewers might have a specific artistic tastes of their own. There seems little cognizance that swimmers might have very specific feelings about their sport and its environments. Of course art isn’t a popularity contest. One definition is that art should provoke.

Swimming for me isn’t so simple unimaginative as blue swirls, as you have seen from a lot of photos and writing here, and the original tagline of the site: “These are the colours of open water swimming“.

Swimming is grey and green and white and turquoise and black and umber and sienna, light and shadows and dark. Water isn’t blue, it merely reflects the blue of the sky or pool tiles, and to me this shows a lack of imagination.

Swimming is the penultimate freedom. It is freedom of motion in liquid medium, our origins pursued. It is a quantum act, which collapses waves of potentiality, and the probability becomes reified, where what the swimmer can do and what the swimmer does are exclusive and the collapsing waveform is a motion of limited flying and it is the pursuit of limits. The shifting lines scribed across the surface blaze for us. The swimmer strives beyond expectations and boundaries. It is a world of curves, the swing of an arm, the parabola of entry, a pelagic motion, where I can never express the colours behind my eyes … but I keep swimming so I keep trying.

Twitter: where people on the other side of the world can instantly tell you what you are not allowed to say or think.

Is the water too cold to swim?

This article is, once again, a variation of the most popular question here: “What temperature of water is too cold to swim in”?, which I’ve written about before.

Image by Ben+Sam via Flickr

The temperature at the Guillamene last Sunday week (October 16th, 2011) was about 13° Celsius (55° F). That’s far warmer than what most people will imagine, not far off the highest normal summer water temperature (about 15° to 16°, excluding unusual warmer pockets or days) for Ireland’s South Coast. And by the end of last week it was down to about 11.5° Celsius.

The weather is changing though, autumn and early winter storms have shown up and the water is rough most days. There’s been fog that has lasted for days,and the days of grey skies and continuous rain. Days and nights are cooler (though given the crap summer, again, in Ireland, that’s not much of a real change, only about 4° to 6° Celsius change for now.) Surely, many people will say, the water is cold!

Annual mean sea surface temperature from the W...
Image via Wikipedia

Occasional swimmers have changed to wetsuits weeks back. But experienced swimmers are still, should they desire, putting in two or three hours without wetsuits, (if they haven’t gone back to pool training or like me, have slackened off for the end of season).

So this is a critical time for those considering a big swim for next year, or wanting to improve their open water ability. Time when you should be asking yourself:

How much more do I really want to able to do?

You can stop now, leave the sea, and just do pool training. or you can retain your sea swimming. You can use a wetsuit, and get used to the sea in winter. Or you can stay in skin, and discover that for maybe another three or four weeks, it’s not that cold.

You can approach this as a multi-year project, this winter just keeping swimming regularly in rubber, maybe dumping the neoprene for a few minutes of skin only here and there, and then next year going a bit further before donning it. The only mistake is to expect to be able to handle cold without doing any work.

An important thing to remember now is Rate of Change, rather than deciding what temperature is your cutoff (because without experience you won;t know anyway). The water temperature will drop soon, (I’ll let you know when The Big Drop happens, it could be as soon as three weeks or could be as long as six or seven). The Big Drop is when the water temperature goes below ten degrees Celsius 9 50° Fahrenheit). Yes, yes … don’t tell you can even get that low, I can hear you from here.

Last year the coldest day was late November, after the coldest spell Ireland had in something like 60 years. And it recovered afterwards. By Christmas the temperature was back to normal for that time of year, at about nine degrees (48° F.).

So now is the time and chance to do address two big issues:

1: Your perception of the world around you, especially the sea.

2: Your perception of yourself, and your limits and capabilities.

I know what some of you are thinking: but this guys is already experienced at cold, and I couldn’t do it. Nonsense. Anyone can, as I keep repeating, you just have to decide whether you want to or not.

There’s already lots of writing about cold on this site, see the top menu bar up there? ^^^

Go beyond your limits. Go on. Do it. I’ll meet you at the Guillamene.

P.S. As I was wondering what images to add to this, I really wished I had one of a swimmer with a meat thermometer stuck in them. But, apart from the pictures of Gábor, this is a Safe For Work site.

Sea, land, sun, moon


  • The Earth’s equatorial radius is 6,378.1 kilometres.
  • The Sun’s equatorial radius is 6.955×105 km, about 109 times that of Earth.
  • The Moon’s equatorial radius is 1,738.14.
  • Land makes up 29% of the Earth’s surface.
  • From the surface of the Earth, the Sun’s apparent size is 25% that of the Earth,
  • While the Moon’s apparent size is 27%.
And if you put that together…
What does all this mean? Nothing in particular, it’s just something I was thinking about the other day while swimming, notably the comparison in circle terms between the amount of land and sea, reversing how we usually perceive both, and the comparison between Sun and Moon, driving tides and how much we as swimmers like a bit of sunshine on our backs to keep us warm. All these all feature in everyone’s lives, but maybe as an open water swimmer, I think more about them, as least for brief periods.
Colours & reflections 1

I’m so pleased with this photo from the Guillamene, it’s getting its own post

Click for full 3600px resolution. I’ve said before I’m not a great photographer, but the number one rule apparently is to carry the camera around with you, and you might see something like this, which reminded of the way Monet or Renoir painted light, but in real life. It’s not that photo is great but I love that for once I managed to get a reminder of something. It was hazy with the cliff under Brownstown Head visible, but the day turned to heavier fog during my swim.

I usually differentiate between my own photos and those from other sources by putting a black border around my own ones, (though I didn’t do this early on so there’ll be mixups from last year and early this year).

It was the only calm day I’ve seen in weeks, with that almost oily look we call glassy, a fog was dropping in, coming out from the beach and the water was a vivid turquoise green in the shadows, and there were jellies and a pronounced smell, all indicating a green tide, probably the last late summer (in the water) plankton bloom.

Colours & reflections 1

Man “surfs” Great White Shark

Some headlines are sooo good you have to re-use them, they shouldn’t be touched. From the Guardian.

Doug Niblack

Doug Niblack was trying to catch another wave before going to work when his longboard hit something hard as rock off the Oregon coast and he found himself standing on a thrashing great white shark.

Looking down, he could see a dorsal fin in front of his feet as he stood on what he described as 10 feet (three metres) of back as wide as his surfboard and as black as his wetsuit. A tail thrashed back and forth and the water churned around him.

“It was pretty terrifying just seeing the shape emerge out of nothing and just being under me,” he told the Associated Press on Wednesday. “And the fin coming out of the water. It was just like the movies.”

The several seconds Niblack spent on the back of the great white on Monday off Seaside, Oregon, was a rare encounter, but not unprecedented, according to Ralph Collier, president of the Shark Research Committee in Canoga Park, California, and director of the Global Shark Attack File in Princeton, New Jersey.

He said he had spoken to a woman who was kayaking off Catalina Island, California, in 2008 when a shark slammed her kayak from underneath and sent her flying into the air. She then landed on the back of the shark, Collier said. “At that point the shark started to swim out to sea, so she jumped off its back,” Collier said.

Zach Vojtech of the US coastguard said officials did not officially log shark encounters, but he had learned about Niblack’s ordeal from an off-duty member, Jake Marks, who was nearby when he was knocked from his board.

Marks said he never saw the shark, but saw Niblack suddenly stand up, with water churning around him. He joined Niblack in paddling as fast as he could for shore after seeing a large shape swimming between them just beneath the surface.

“I have no reason to doubt there was a shark out there,” said Marks. “With the damage to his board, the way he was yelling and trembling afterwards – there is no other explanation for that.”

Niblack estimated that he was standing on the shark for no more than three or four seconds. The dorsal fin caught his board and dragged him for about a metre by his ankle tether. “I’m just screaming bloody murder,” he said. “I’m just yelling: ‘Shark!’ I thought for sure I was gone.”

In six years of surfing, Niblack said he had seen sharks in the water, but never so close. He said he had been dreaming about sharks, but was planning to go back out to surf. When he does he will take a waterproof video camera his roommate gave him. He has also put a sticker on the bottom of his board to ward off sharks – a shark with a red circle and a slash over it.

“I’ll definitely go back out,” he said. “It’s just the surf sucks right now. I’ll wait until that gets better, then go back out.”

Review: Ocean Giants

It is a fact widely acknowledged that the BBC makes the best television nature and science documentaries. David Attenborough’s name has become a global watch phrase for excellence. But it is always the whole BBC team bringing in the best nature writing and filming and locations, in this series using the Planet Earth Polar camera-man, and Jacques Cousteau’s front-line camera-man.

Recently the Beeb has begun using other presenters to fill void the looming void that will be left when Mr. Attenborough retires; Brian Cox, Alice Roberts etc.

In Ocean Giants, the BBC uses Stephen Fry to narrate a three episode series about Cetaceans, the charismatic megafauna of the ocean, to use a favourite environmental phrase.

It is of course stunningly filmed at worldwide locations. Fry is understated and doesn’t try to overwhelm the reason that we are watching. And the subject matter is more than just a images of whales and dolphins, with each episode taking a different theme. The first episode Giant Lives uses extremes as the subject, size, duration, temperature, depth, distance. The second episode, Deep Thinkers, focused on cetacean intelligence and was my favourite of the three, with some fantastic footage of dolphins who had learned and passed on skills appropriate to specific locations. The final episode Voices Of The Sea, is about the sounds of cetaceans and what we’ve learned of them.

It’s another fantastic series from the BBC and one which I really enjoyed.

I want to do this

You might recall how I talked about the intense underwater smell associated with plankton blooms in the springtime. And I’ve swam at night and once or twice even surfed at night and love the experience particularly of night swimming, as I’ve previously said. (The real difficulty with night surfing is to see the approaching waves).

The following video is of a red tide in San Diego last week, a plankton bloom, which caused a more intense bio-luminescence in the water than any I’ve ever seen, and is a stunning video of night surfing luminescent waves.

Salt of the Earth

EDIT: Yes, this post has been published twice. There was a backend problem on WordPress. Sorry.

NASA just released a cool new map of the world’s ocean’s salinity. I wish we could see the North Atlantic in better detail. It’s still early days for this though so there’ll be more to come. I look forward to seeing more detail for the North East Atlantic, English Channel, Mediterranean etc.

“On the colorful map, yellow and red represent areas of higher salinity (or salt content), with blues and purples indicating areas of lower salinity. Areas colored black are gaps in the data.

Known as Aquarius, the instrument is making NASA’s first space observations of salinity variations on the ocean surface — a key component of Earth’s climate that influences ocean circulation and is linked to the cycling of freshwater around the planet.

So far, the instrument is performing better than NASA scientists expected. The new map was made from Aquarius’s first two-and-a-half weeks of data.

[ ...]

The new Aquarius map reveals predominantly well-known ocean salinity features, such as higher salinity in the subtropics, higher average salinity in the Atlantic compared with the Pacific and Indian oceans, and lower salinity in rainy belts near the equator, the northernmost Pacific Ocean and elsewhere.

These features are related to large-scale patterns of rainfall and evaporation over the ocean, river outflow and ocean circulation. Aquarius is built to monitor how these features change over time, and study their link to climate and weather variations.”