Category Archives: The Sea

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.”


The Sea and the coast, it’s about waiting.

Some weeks ago I had an idea for a series of posts that led me to taking more video (with Dee´s video camera). The idea hasn´t worked but I ended up with a lot of video clips as a consequence.

At the start I was trying to capture some specifics, and I would talk as I was recording. I quickly decided that it was crap, that I was crap and that the idea wasn’t working, but being a sea lover I realised I liked filming the coast, so I started just recording the sea for a brief period every day that I was there, for a few weeks.

I could have filmed the sea itself but without reference points and with an ordinary (non-HD) camera I was limited also. I needed context, so the sea becomes the sea plus the coast, the picture needs the frame.

I hope you enjoy it, I’m very happy with it. I decided against a shorter movie of just a few minutes long, with lots of quick cuts through different clips. Modern media teaches us to be impatient, but the sea is about waiting.

I wanted longer segments just watching the waves and absorbing the movements so the result is 18 minutes long. I’m no film-maker but I enjoyed making this, which is all that counts. If some of you enjoy it, that is the icing on the cake. I have a question though. Can you sit and watch the sea for 18 minutes? And if you can’t, does that mean something? You decide.  We are taught that we have a place and that there are things we can’t do. I reject that imposition. We are all whatever we want to be. We just need to free ourselves. Sometimes we need to free ourselves to do nothing.

So that is what I started filming. Waves breaking on rocks and reefs and cliffs and promenades. Calm water. Birds. Big surge and small breakers. High, middle and low tide. Even occasional people who entered the frame or whose voices are captured, surfers, fishermen, teenagers and even a couple of swimmers. Wind and wave sounds. Clouds and sun.

We imagine the sea as much as we view it. Without a context the sea is the Abyss, we can´t really stare at it for a long time, we are too small to be able to let ourselves flow into it or let it flow into us. People call it boredom, but it’s not, it’s a clash of scale. And we wish to anthropomorphize the sea, to abrogate its alienness and yet we never can, the best we can do is call it home.

So here instead is a representation of the sea, in a way we can handle it, a series of clips of the Copper Coast, days of sea.

There’s a high-resolution version, I suggest you choose it. As far as I’m concerned, it’s Creative Commons Licensed, despite Google forcing a YouTube license on it, so you can do what you want with it (edits, cut, change, once you only acknowledge the source).

If you wish to download the 700mb original file to watch it on a TV or offline, here’s a Rapidshare link. I’ll add a Vimeo link later also.

Fog (aka Indian summer my arse)

Foggy famine ruins in Kerry

From a quick check on the M5 buoy, I knew what the conditions were. But when I neared the coast for a new swim, the mist and fog closed in. I knew it probably wouldn’t be better right on the coast, and such was the case. Visibility was about 500 metres. Not too heavy but still not great. If I was at the Guillamene it wouldn’t have bothered me since I could follow the cliffs. But since I had hoped to tackle a new swim, I decided against it.

Indian Summer-like conditions were forecast for Ireland for this week. For the entire south coast yesterday and today however, the prevailing conditions are fog and low-lying cloud and mist.

Fog is very dangerous for swimmers. A swimmer is less visible to boats, and it’s easier to lose track of progress or location. (One way of differentiating fog and mist is that mist has a visibility of greater than one kilometre, while fog is visibility of less than one kilometre).

Fog is a prevalent feature of coasts, and some places such as London or San Francisco are notorious for fog.

Fog is the condensation on your kettle or your bathroom mirror writ large. It happens when warm moist (saturated) air meets cool air and the moisture condenses into small drops as the air rapidly cools and can no longer hold the moisture.

So the times and places fog is most likely encountered are when the possibilities of air masses with different temperatures are greater. That is what has happened this week with suddenly warmer air meeting colder air on the south coast, (rather than coming in from the more usual south-west direction). Coasts are conducive to fog. Cold air can roll over warm water and cause coast fog, or roll down off mountains and do the same or can form ahead of warm weather fronts as happened yesterday.

Less than 50 metre fog at Vista point on the Ring of Kerry - high summer


In Ireland, if my experience is anything to go by, Kerry and the Iveragh Peninsula are particularly prone to very dense summer fogs, which can last up a couple of days.

Historical-Map-Great-Britain John Speed 1610

Map monsters, and explaining Ireland and Great Britain

The famous map of Great Britain we often see around the place is John Speed’s 1610 map.

Historical-Map-Great-Britain John Speed 1610

Have a look at the west coast of Ireland and the “sea monster” there.

In Irish mythology dragons were called peist (pronounced: pey-ssht) and were typically water monsters, whose abode was primarily lakes and rivers. I like that this one is holding a harp, the official and modern and ancient symbol of Ireland (not the shamrock) as each on the map is here used to indicate a country or region of Great Britain..

Sea monsters were added to maps to indicate mainly that these were unexplored areas or at least areas about which little was known, and it had stopped by about the 17th century. There’s a brief article on sea monsters on maps here. Here Be Monsters was apparently only ever used on one map, despite that we all know the phrase.

Now, before the Irish people castigate me for using the term Great Britain to reference all of Ireland and the United Kingdom in the first image above, let me say that was in the historical context.

For those of you overseas who are perpetually confused by the geographical boundaries and differences between Ireland, the United Kingdom and Great Britain, here’s a simple graphic.

Great Britain is three countries ONLY, England Scotland and Wales.

The United Kingdom … is Great Britain AND Northern Ireland.

Ireland is The Republic of Ireland AND Northern Ireland. It is NOT part of any political amalgamation that includes the United Kingdom or Great Britain.

The sovereign state of Ireland is called The Republic of Ireland (or Éire, or Éireann, not often used). Colloquially, Ireland is also used to refer to The Republic of Ireland.

People in Ireland DO NOT USE the term British Isles. The Irish State and Government do not acknowledge it. The preferred geographical term is the Atlantic Archipelago (which includes The Channel Islands and The Isle of Man), or even the Atlantic Isles, though these are rarely used.

Great Britain and Ireland, or The Islands of Ireland and Great Britain, are more commonly used. Except in Great Britain where they continue to call the region the British Isles. (And of course Dee, who will shortly argue with me about this article).

(The writing is more complex than the graphic, it’s easy).

These sounds …

I swam toward the promontory, passing various unsurfable reefs, the vertical cliffs high and bright in the southerly sun, reminiscent of Dover and the White Cliffs, except red and ochre, and my own. About three-quarters of the way down, I stopped to listen. To the sound of swell.

You know what waves sound like. But do you know waves from wind sound different that waves from groundswell? Swell waves are more regular, and produce a deeper sound. If the swell is big enough, the sound will be of course be loud, and on the West Coast of Ireland at Spanish Point  and Lahinch and Doolin, on huge swells, I’ve felt the swell and breakers shake the ground, literally shake it. But that’s not the sound of which I’m thinking.

There’s another sound, a deeper, more visceral sound. It’s the sound of the swell coming into the coast, the sound of the actual water moving, not the breakers. And the sound of the ocean bottom being rearranged and being transmitted, being transducted, from beyond your sight to your other senses.

You hear below it your hearing.

You feel it and taste it and smell it, like it reverberates at the resonance point of the long bones of your arms and legs and ribs, rattling your heart and the drum bone of your skull where it beats you into submission and it becomes a synaesthesia of sensation, and once you’ve realised it, it will forever be a part of you.

And in the quiet, when you give yourself the space and the freedom of imagination, you will always be able to summon it because now it’s inside of you, always reverberating and echoing in your spaces, the interstices of your imagination and your living.

And there before, during and after is also another sound, one I can never capture, regardless of equipment. The sound of myself in water. I hear my breathing modulated in a liquid medium. I hear the splashing of my arms, legs and head. I hear the water wash around me. I hear my exhalation fed back to me. The sound of life becomes solid and tangible. I can see my life in the water.

These Sounds. Of swimming and the sea.




These are my favourite posts to write, the ones where I am inspired by the pure actual act of open water swimming, where I feel free enough to start working on the idea. Something like this often takes me hours to write, short as it is, and will often be months from the first idea to publishing it. I started this one about six weeks ago, one of a pair, the other still to come.

Thanks Google, for fixing my storm videos

Google added Video Stabilization to YouTube, a boon for crap video takers, mobile phones and video shot without benefit of a tripod (all apply to me), (and a frightening indication of just how much CPU processing power they have available). I stabilized both the Shakespeare Beach Storm Force 10 videos and they are much improved. They were shot in howling wind, so there’s still shaking but they’re much better (I could see them side by side and see the difference).

30 sec one:

1 minute one:

Here’s a fun 8 second video from Malin Head on Monday of the full force of Hurricane Katya, beats my leaning into the wind at Varne. I wish I’d been out west to take some good footage for you. I’ve been out there in Force 10 before and it’s a sight to behold.

Donal on Varne cliffs in Force 10

Reminded of an old open water fear

The subject of open water fears has come up here and elsewhere occasionally, and I often get asked about dealing with it, whether it’s fear of deep water, jellyfish, cold or sharks. Particularly sharks. And anytime I ever mention sharks, you all go for it like people for whom the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week just isn’t enough.

So here’s another shark pic to keep you going.

But that’s not what this post is about.

I don’t have really suffer many of these fears myself (except when I do stupid things, like parts of Project Copper) so there’s rarely much constructive advice I can offer. Because I know we have no bitey fish here in Ireland, I don’t worry about them. I’ve been stung too often to worry about jellies, and I’ve spent too long in cold or deep water to fear it.

A lot people mention one thing specifically: the movie Jaws. One guy told me it almost ruined all open water swimming for him and it took him years to return to the water after seeing it.

Recently, on a break from writing here, I was watching the BBC’s Monty Hall’s Great Irish Escape, with the eponymous biologist/broadcaster. Great program, by the way, the BBC brings its fantastic camera work to Connemara and the West Coast, something our State Broadcaster seems incapable of, and as such has always annoyed me. We live in a spectacular country, if RTE had any intelligence they’d keep showing it to us, and to others, instead of throwing money at tosspots like Ryan boring-and-ignorant-old-man-in-a-young’s-body Tubridy. Am I right Lisa? Lisa? Back to the subject, okay, okay. Monty Halls was out on what he’d heard was the best dive location in Europe, around Roundstone. Why was it so good? Because of the Conger Eels.

Oh, Dagon. Just writing eels. Ugh. Watching the program a very old fear came back. So old I’d forgotten it. After Jaws, Peter Benchley’s next book was called The Deep, about giant Moray eels, which book I’d read when I was quite young, and still remember the fear of the notion of giant eels latching on to me with their ugly faces full of sharp teeth, and not letting go.  Actual shivers up my spine right now.

Anyway, until the BBC hunts me down and makes me remove it, here’s the clip.

What can you say about a creature that is ugly as sin, bites and is one-third gonad? Did you get that? One third gonad. Lovely. I have no idea why that in itself is so disturbing.

Maybe it’s because I’ve known some men who act like that.

Sure Monty, you can put a nice tourism spin on it but I know, I KNOW, that that eel is the spawn of a Great White Shark and the last fictional snake kicked out of Ireland (apart from the remaining two-legged political kind that is).


How To: Studying weather online during a Force 10/11 blow

When you are in Dover weather is the beginning and end of everything. We felt we had a better handle on the coming storm to hit Ireland as we were trying to get a good of idea of what coming toward the Strait.

Everyone in Ireland today knows it’s windy (but really unusually it’s dry, even sunny). The remnants of Hurricane Katya are over Sea Area Rockall. But what you do for a better understanding of it? I’ve written before about how to understand weather forecasts.

And also about using the Marine Buoys to “know before you go”.

Well first I’ll check the MET Eireann sea area forecast. (MET Eireeann also have a nice explanation of terms).

Gale warning: in operation. 
Small craft warning: see gale warning. 
Meteorological situation at 0300: A storm depression 160 nautical miles northwest of Erris Head will track northeastwards. 
Forecast for coasts from Valentia to Rossan Point to Fair Head 
Wind: Southwest gale force 8 to storm force 10. Occasionally reaching violent storm force 11 this morning between Erris Head and Malin Head. Later today, winds will decrease force 7 to strong gale force 9. 
Weather: Scattered showers, some heavy in the north. 
Visibility: Moderate to good. 
Forecast for coasts from Fair Head to Carnsore Point to Valentia and the Irish Sea 
Wind: Southwest force 7 to gale force 8, occasionally reaching strong gale force 9 today. 
Weather: Patchy rain or drizzle, clearing to isolated showers. 
Visibility: Moderate to good, occasionally poor at first. Becoming mainly good today. 
Warning of heavy swell: nil. 
Outlook for a further 24 hours until 0600 Wednesday 14 September 2011: Gale force westerly winds will persist on Tuesday for many sea areas, with strong gales at first in northern sea areas. On Tuesday night, winds will decrease fresh to strong. Further showers, mainly in the north. 

Irish Sea Area Map

Remember you need to know where these areas are for Ireland. For Ireland particularly, as you can see from the Sea Area above, we use Headlands instead of the larger Areas that are used by the UK Met Office Shipping News.

(Last week in Dover for example , we were watching Shannon, Fastnet, Sole, Biscay, Dover, Fitzroy because we were trying to grab any hope/prospects from the big picture).

Oh, by the way, the video of Shakespeare Beach from last week was hugely popular. I had about a thousand views on YouTube. Big Time!

Today I look at the satellite radar and Infrared imagery, something I might only do once a year.

Katya Northwest of Ireland

And of course, M5, the buoy off the South East coast. Today I’ll even look at the hourly data from it, just to see the wind trend and gusts.

M5 hourly data for Hurricane Katya

Note especially the hourly Speed of maximum Wind Gusts, which are up to 49 knots. This means Force 10, Violent Storm.

Another by-the-way: one knot is about 1.15 miles per hour or roughly two kilometres per hour for easy calculation, so those Gust speeds mean approximately 100 kilometres per hour currently.

I keep reminding you of the Beaufort Scale, which I believe and also written about previously with explanation is an ESSENTIAL observational skill for Open Water Swimmers. Knowing at least the lower numbers is a tool that allows you to gauge what you may be able to do and allows you to take other’s observational bias into account. It takes practice to able to read the water. MET Eireann’s page linked above is a nice simple page on the Beaufort Scale. By the way, the Beaufort Scale was the invention of an Irishman over 200 years ago.

All of this is what I do for Ireland. It’s entirely relevant for everywhere else, just learn what your locals buoys are, where to get the Marine forecast. And learn it. Then understand it. Gauge your experience by it.

Older people will remember when TV weather forecasts included the Synoptic (Pressure) Charts. These are still the basis of understanding weather.

Last night’s synoptic chart. I’m going to do a separate post on this.

Crazy water in the English Channel

Waves attacking the east Dover Harbour Wall

I’ve watched a lot of water and I’ve been in my share. Heavy waves on Crab Island, 11 metres swell in a cross wind on the west coast, Pacific Beach in San Diego and San Francisco, howling onshores on the north Scottish coast, the North Sea and Cornwall and I live on the Irish South East Coast, a notorious stretch of water.

But I have never seen water like we saw in Dover yesterday. These were taken on the rising tide.

I say it’s good enough for a relay.

Crashing over the harbour wall. I think I spot a gap.
Think the English Channel can't be as bad as the Atlantic?

Slightly longer (1 min) and different video..

Even inside the harbour was unswimmable with waves breaking over the outside harbour wall, and breaking up onto the prom.

Dover beach

Mixing waters

A fantastic Flickr pic from user kentsmith9. Two different bodies of water meeting in the Alaskan Gulf. One is fresher water. So they have different salinity and therefore different densities. The heavier saltier water will drop underneath, leaving a line of DOM at the meeting point. Click as always to embiggen.

Mixing of waters in the Alaskan Gulf

We can occasionally see a local version of this in Tramore bay. While the mixing waters there are fresh and salt, they are of two different densities also due to temperature differences. There will be a specific post about those in the future, I have plenty of photos of the changing Tramore currents.

Sí Gaoithe (dustdevils) in Ballycotton

I’m only linking this video because of the beautiful Irish name for dust devils, (minor whirlwinds), Sí Gaoithe, meaning Spirit Breeze, from the old Irish word I’ve mentioned before, the Sí, also Sidhe, pronounced Shee, who were the Irish fairy folk, more usually known (previously) as the Good Folk or the Gentry, (so as not to offend them).

The Sidhe are thought to be the Tuatha De Danann, one of the waves of neolithic pre-Celtic invaders and later inhabitants of Ireland, having defeated the previous folk the Fomorians (leprechauns and luarachauns are thought to be representative of Fomorians).

When the next wave of invaders arrived and defeated the Tuatha De Danann (People of Dana), they (the Tuatha) went underground where they still live, exiting twice a year from fairy mounds or forts, to move to other kingdoms.

Sí Gaoithe, pronounced Shee Gway-ha, spirit breeze.

Donal swimming in front of Brown's Island, Kilfarassey

Project Copper – reflections and debrief

You Are Now Leaving The Copper Coast - Safe Home

Reflections on Project Copper.

I’ve swam about 54,000 metres to cover the 25 kilometre coast, which were swum as a series of out and back swims, so every metre of coast was swam twice.

With the experience I’ve gained of the various currents on this stretch of coast, I now know there are longer swims that could be done unsupported, and still allow a decent safety margin (by my standards anyway). But I had to do it the way I did in order to learn that.

I’ve passed what must be literally hundreds of caves along the whole coast, many small, some big, a few huge, some rarely exposed to the sea, and many, usually the biggest, only visible from swimming out at sea. I’ve swam around every large rock on the coast and found the names of places and rocks I’ve always wondered about. Apparent synchronicity is usually an emergent feature of deeper interest.

I’ve walked miles of occasionally precarious cliffs photographing places I’d swam or planned to swim and I’ve climbed over hedges, walls and hopped many an electric fence and ditch, visited historical sites, and walked across what’s left of a few neolithic promontory forts. I’ve taken hundreds of photos for your edification and enjoyment (and have shown you the best ones) and written thousands of words, which has often taken longer than the actual swimming.

Sea Ivory above Garrarus

I’ve seen emerald samphire and orange crocosmia, blue grass and vivid red poppies and verdant ferns, actinic sea-holly festooned with beautiful metallic six-spot burnet moths, and heathers and daisies and daisy-like flowers, grey sea-ivory and a few faded remaining sea-thrift all along the cliffs and come to appreciate even humble lichen, Verrucarria maura, and particularly Xanthoria parietina, which adds so much colour to this coast.


I’ve seen almost every kind of local bird including Cormorants, Guillemots, Shags, Swifts and Swallows, Herring and Greater Black-Backed gulls. I think I saw some Kittiwakes, a few Gannets, lots of Fulmars, occasional Terns and Sanderlings and other small birds I don’t recognise nor can separate. Herons, two Kestrels, a curlew and two groups of my new favourites, shy cliff-top Choughs and I was dive-bombed by fifty of so gulls off Gull island at the eastern edge of the coast, and I swam right off Google Earth’s current high-resolution map range.

Choughs on the cliff edge

I’ve seen, of course, all the local jellyfish, sprats, crabs large and small, and an occasional larger fish emerge from the green, usually only visible on northerly winds and around reefs, bass and mackerel hunting on the reefs and I’ve seen starfish and anemones and a seal, though less fish that you might expect, since I suppose they think of me as a particularly splashy seal.

I’ve talked with kayakers, lifeguards, fishermen (haven’t met any fisherwomen), divers, surfers, spearfishers, Paula from the Copper Coast Geopark office, (who introduced me to a great new book on the Waterford Coast which helped me identify various plants and fauna and place names), Ryan the 4th year UCC Geology Major who had a headache from all the different rocks in tiny Ballvooney cove, tourists and locals, children and adults and dogs.

I swam in calm and rough, chop, wind and groundswell, sun, rain and cloud, onshore and offshore and no wind and all tides. I’ve been scared and exhilarated and excited and delighted and entertained. I’ve swum through tunnels big and small, and sea-arches, around islands of every size on this coast, and into and across caves, coves, estuaries and bays.

I’ve started to think about geology more, and recognise both the transient and permanent natures of our coasts more than I ever did as a surfer, and seen the damage the Copper Coast is suffering from coastal erosion (up to 2 metres per year, in some places).

I haven’t seen a stretch of coast that doesn’t have some item of rubbish on it. I had the wits frightened out me by a large plastic bag floating (neutrally-buoyant) upside-down in the sea, and I contributed to the pollution by losing my own nalgene bottle on one swim.

Sea Holly

I actually finished Project Copper a week ago, but it takes time to write all this up. I didn’t set out to do a swim every day. One day was lost due to fog, another due to Carol’s Ballycotton swim.

Doing it in this incremental fashion gave me all these experiences and awareness and knowledge that a normal marathon swim wouldn’t have unveiled, and it’s been a pleasure to share as much of them as I could with you all.

I’ve seen all the colours of open water swimming. I’ve confirmed my long-held belief that Waterford‘s Copper Coast is one of the most beautiful and under-rated stretches of coast in Ireland.

Ronan's Bay and Illaunglas from Great Newtown Head - large panorama

What did I learn? You can find adventure anywhere. You don’t have to swim the English Channel or cross the Antarctic or spend a fortune. There are plenty of Firsts out there if you want to seek them out.

Go to the sea. It’s waiting, always, always waiting for you.

Swimming in front of Brown's Island, Kilfarassey

The Project Copper Idea. Criteria and range.

The ten swim expeditions

  • Guillamene to Sheep Island: Exposed. No exit from Guillamene to Garrarus. Westerly current. Higher marine traffic. About 9.5 kilometres.
  • Kilmurrin to Boatstrand. Various strong and often contrary currents. Water can be very rough when not rough elsewhere on coast. Interim exit possible only on west side of Dunabrattin head. About 4 kilometres.
  • Kilmurrin to Tankardstown. Strong westerly currents. Water can be rough when not rough elsewhere on coast. Exposed, no exit, scary. About 4 kilometres.
  • Bunmahon to Tankardstown. Can be rips on Bunmahon beach. About 4 kilometres. Interim exit possible at Stage Cove.
  • Annestown to Kilfarassey. Along long beach, easy exit from water almost entire length but a long walk along beach which is cut off on high tide. Watch for hidden reefs along surf line. About 5+ kilometres.
  • Annestown to Boatstrand. Can pick up and amplify swell when nowhere else does at Boatstrand end. Safe exits. Lots of pots and lines and some fishing boats and possible seals near Boatstrand fishing harbour. About 6+ kilometres.
  • Kilfarassey. Above mid tide only. Lots of hidden reefs. Easterly current between Sheep Island and Brown’s Island. Surging waves on beach above mid tide. About 6+ kilometres. Possible exits on about 70% of length.
  • Bunmahon to Ballydowane Cove. Exposed and hidden from rest of coast. Westerly currents. Hidden reefs. About 5+ kilometres. Possible exits but no way to walk back, except first kilometer on low tide.
  • Ballydowane to Ballyvooney. Westerly currents at Ballyvooney end, easterly current at Ballydowane end, reaching St. John’s Island . No exits. About 6 kilometres.
  • Ballyvooney to Stradbally. Very strong westerly current between Gull island and Stradbally. No exits. About 4.7 kilometres.
All swims marked on the same (large) map below.

The Project Copper Map - completed

Sperm whale beached in Dungarvan

Sperm whale beached in Dungarvan

Forgot to add this friday, too busy swimming and then partying but a Sperm whale beached and died on the Cunnigar sand spit in Dungarvan bay on friday. Took this pic on a rising tide last night while passing. Insert obligatory and predictable Call Me Ishmael.

Sperm Whale at Cunnigar


Ten things I’ve Learned About the Sea – great short movie

I love this video. Director Lorenza Fonza shot it over 17 days as passenger aboard a cargo ship going from Shanghai to Los Angeles. (There’s a brief interview here). It’s about 10 minutes long and well worth it. I love the title also but I wonder if I would now be able to do a post with a similar title without being contaminated by this video.

As the director says, this film requires ten minutes of your life and hopefully no phone calls during the screening. I recommend hi-res full screen and a set of headphones.

His Vimeo site is here, but WordPress and Vimeo don’t seem to play well together so luckily there’s a High-Res You Tube version.

Diana Nyad abandons Cuba to Florida swim

I don’t usually write anything if a friend of mine has a problem on a long swim. But I know a lot of you came here yesterday looking for the tracker (and I don’t know Diana).

Unfortunately Diana Nyad’s swim was abandoned within the last hour 12.15am EST after 29 hours. According to her Twitter, it was Diana herself who made the decision:

“Realizing the conditions of 5 to 10 knot winds and less than ideal currents, Diana herself decided to end the swim”.

Some CNN video from before the end said she had both shoulder and asthma problems, something all swimmers will understand. She was vomiting as she abandoned, which could be an indicator on sea-sickness also.

Best wishes and congratulations to Diana from us all.

Best wishes also to the crew (especially Steve), always forgotten by most people in these times, it’s always hard for them.

Aside: Not forgotten by her Number One fan (me!): Lisa Cummins spent 36 hours in the English Channel in 2009 and will always be my number one sports person, anytime anywhere, no disrespect to anyone else. And CS&PF President Nick (Hey Prez. Nick) unknown to anyone except the Channel community tackled a Double-Channel two weeks ago while Chloe McCardel attempted a Triple, neither were successful but our respect for those folks also remains stellar as we know them to be extraordinary athletes who are already successes in the Channel as is the respect I have for any Ultra marathon swimmer, successful or not, who puts in such a heroic attempt as Diana. 

From CNN:

Endurance swimmer Diana Nyad, who attempted to become the first person to swim between Cuba and Florida without a shark cage, was forced to abandon her effort early Tuesday morning — roughly halfway through her journey.

Nyad was vomiting when she was brought aboard a boat at 12:45 a.m. Tuesday — 29 hours after she jumped into the water Sunday.

“I am not sad. It was absolutely the right call,” she said.

Nyad, who is 61, struggled through ocean swells, shoulder pain and asthma Monday before she was forced to give up the 103-mile swim. Strong winds and less than ideal currents played into her decision, her team said.

“Earlier in the evening, she was surrounded by dolphins and a beautiful Caribbean sunset. But strong currents blew her 15mph off course,” her team posted on her Twitter account.

The attempt to swim from Cuba to Florida was the second for the swimmer, who said at a news conference Sunday that she is fitter today than she was in 1978, when she first attempted the crossing but was unable to finish.

It took several months to gain permission for the swim from Cuban and U.S. authorities. Bureaucratic snags repeatedly threatened to call off the effort — already called off in 2010 because of weather.

“To swim between these two neighbors, Cuba & the United States, who’ve been strangers all these years, is a moving thing for me,” Nyad had said.

She had been training for the event for two years, swimming up to 12 hours a day.

A team of more than 30 people supported Nyad as she attempted the crossing. She had 10 handlers to advise her as she swam, ocean kayakers towing devices to repel most sharks and divers and safety officers trained to distract sharks that were not turned away.”
Sea surface temps for us cold water swimmers:


Swimming in Europe: Blue Flag locations ranked and mapped

The Guardian published this map a few weeks ago.  According to them it’s “every location”, so of course I went to my usual locations and discover neither Sandycove nor the Guillamene is marked. So this applies only to locations that are entered for the European Blue Flag scheme. But it’s still useful. You’ll have to visit the Guardian page for the actual interactive map, sorry. They generated their data tables as far as I can see.

I’ve mentioned before I have reservations about the Blue Flag system, due to the sampling problems in it, I actually don’t think it’s strict enough.

But I’ve also seen how people who swim in locations that lose Blue Flag designation delude themselves about the reasons and still like to tell themselves their location is clean (Dunmore East is my favourite example, but it also just happened on yesterday’s post), or that the testing is too strict. In fact I’ve repeatedly said I don’t think the testing is strict enough and there are problems with testing frequency. But I have no doubt that it’s been hugely useful in cleaning up water quality around Europe and in Ireland. A similar system would be very useful elsewhere. I’ve swam and surfed in South California where locals warn you not to get in the water for 24 hours after heavy rain due to run-off causing health risks.

This Open Water swimmer’s words

Ocean. Green. Pelagic. Friends. Deep. Tide. Littoral. Headland. Cnidarian. Warm. Crab. Flood. Saline. Surge. Slipway. Gull. Springs. Diverse. Reef. Sand. Cove. Wet. Cetacean. Current. Ecosystem. Island. Clear. Lighthouse. Calm. Dream. Breaker. Dark. Coral. Foam. Neaps. Seal. Turquoise. Bay. Blue. Cape, Solo. Fun. Dive. Sprat. Aquatic. Wild. Thalassic. Swell. Glassy. Fish. Beach. Bio-luminescence. Grease. Offshore. Frigate Bird. Spray. Rock. Ebb. Pier. Shallow. Guillemot. Zooplankton. Shallow. Horizon. Separation Zone. Glassy. Marine. Adventure. Cliff. Wind. Kelp. Bilious. Habitat. Benthic. Channel. Lone. Cold. Human. Sea. Swim. Life. Live.


Would you believe this took me hours of work and it’s still not right?

Tall Ships 2011. Leaving Dunmore East

If you’re in Ireland, you’ll probably have been bombarded by the coverage of the 2011 Tall Ships Race, which was starting from Waterford, the second time it’s started from the port.

Last time in 2006 I visited the berthed ships, but this time Clare gave me the chance to go out with her on Orca. I met her in Dunmore East yesterday morning, which was glorious.

Dunmore East, yachts and the estuary in the morning

Thinking I’d be early at 9am instead it seemed like half the country had thought the same. And my attempt to outwit the traffic by taking the coast road was a waste of time. Once parked I had to walk about 20 minutes to the fishing pier to meet Clare on the dinghy. Not a long walk … unless you are wearing deck shoes. Bleeding heels by the time I arrived.

Dunmore was very busy. Roads had been closed since 7am and access to much of the low cliffs between Counsellor’s (the strand) and the harbour had been closed.

Blue sky and warm, it was one of those brief Irish summer periods, when the whole country takes advantage of some sunshine. There were tens of thousands in town, with thousands in the park and on the road looking down.

Crowds in Dunmore

There were a few helicopters around, including the Coast Guard. Since I was late arriving, it wasn’t long after we got out on Orca and came off the mooring that the first ship arrived out from the estuary, the largest ship in the fleet, the Russian sail training vessel Mir.

Mir passing Dunmore

Mir was followed by Gloria while the CG Helicopter flew overhead.

Mir & CG Heli passing LE Aoife

Gloria passed the Irish Navy’s L.E. Aoife and the crew lined up on the bow for the three gun salute that each of the first few ships received. With almost no wind, Clare iron-sailed out with the fleet. Tall ships, traditional fishing vessels, large yachts, old sail trawlers, pleasure crafts, modern yachts, ribs, pleasure cruisers and kayaks. (And a couple of those jet skis that practically every other marine person hates).

Europa with backed sails


Of the tall ships only Europa had sails raised, but with a very slight Force One onshore they were backed so she was sailing under power against the wind.




Orca from the bow


The line for the race start was actually five miles offshore and quite long. Clare has some problems with barnacles in the engine intake of Orca, so we had to stop twice to sort it out.




At that stage it realised we weren’t go to got the full way out the start line. And with almost no wind the start itself was delayed anyway.



By now we were about three or four miles out from Dunmore, past Hook Head and the lighthouse. The Hook Lighthouse is the oldest operational lighthouse in the world.

The Hook Light

We were well east of Tramore Bay. About six miles from the Metalman and three from Brownstown Head which were quite hazy.

Brownstown Head from the east

By now the revised start time had been announced, 3.30 pm. Because of the poor wind and forecast, the fleet hove around to sail up the east coast instead.

Orca heading out of Dunmore

We were well on our back by this stage, and indeed most of the inshore fleet had already returned.

Clare dropped me off on the pier so she could sail back to Dungarvan.

Dunmore strand

Dunmore still had lots of people enjoying the remainder afternoon and the weather. It’s Ireland. It might rain for weeks from tomorrow. The VW camper van cost me a lot to arrange to be there just at that time for the photo.

From above, the estuary looked great in the sunshine.

I’m always happy to sacrifice a day’s swimming for a day’s sailing. But this day was the best of both, as I still had time to get across to the Guillamene for my first warm swim of the year there, as the water in the cove had warmed up in the low tide and sun to 13.5 °C. Outside it was about 13 °C. Even the previous day it had only been 12 °C.

I swam around the headland again, and into the entrance of another of the sea caves, the largest one, first time I’ve been into that one for some time. A couple of guys on an outcrop on the cliffs about three-quarters of the way out seemed astonished to see someone swim past because I could see them silhouetted against the sky as I went around Seal Rock, still watching me. (Seal Rock is what I call the rock outside and below the Metalman because of the shape of two rocks on the top of it. I’ve no idea what it’s actually called, but this is Ireland so every rock has a name. (Pictures if ever I can afford a waterproof camera.)

I picked up my first proper sting of the year, right across the nose, (which to be honest I’d forgotten about until I wrote this).

A good day messing about on and in the water.

Tall Ships arriving in Waterford

Waterford City hosts the Tall Ships 2011 race this week.

AIS, Marine Traffic monitoring, which we usually use for tracking swims, shows the various ships arriving in the estuary.

Tall Ships arriving in the South East on AIS

Make sure to zoom right in otherwise you won’t see all the vessels.

Christian Radich moored

There are some great images of the above vessel, Christian Radich and Sorlandet coming up the Estuary. This page lists all the ships.

There are some great images of those two ships above coming up the estuary here.

Penny Palfrey and crew CLEARED of shark killing allegations

I’ve been sitting on this news for a few days until it was officially released.

So I’ll start with what Steve reports on Daily News of Open Water. The Investigation reported on Facebook (of all places):

As organizers of Penny Palfrey’s Bridging the Cayman Islands swim, the Flowers Group launched an investigation into the reports and rumors that sharks were killed during this endeavor. 

We have reached out to various Government agencies and members of both the local and international crew.

The findings were that The Cayman Islands Department of Tourism contacted the individual named in the original report, Charles Ebanks, who confirmed that he did not kill any sharks during the historic Bridging swim and states that reports to the contrary are inaccurate. He stated that he “hooked the sharks and lead them away”, he further added, “I was there, I did not kill any sharks. They are assuming I did something which is not true and you can quote me on this.”

Charles stated that the boat captain from the boat asked him what he did with the sharks and he replied, “I got rid of them.” He said he thinks this could have been taken to mean that they were killed.

Based on Charles’ account, various members of the Bridge crew were conferred with, and corroborated this description. Images have also been reviewed from various individuals who were on the boats. From these findings, there is no evidence to suggest that any sharks were killed.

It is unfortunate that these reports caused such a firestorm of controversy. It is hoped that this puts this matter to rest and allows Penny much deserved accolades for this historic achievement.


When I first wrote about this on Monday, I put a non-involved swimmer’s point of view, not attempting to speak for anyone except myself. Not other swimmers. Not conservationists or environmentalists. And I said, also, let’s wait until full story is in. It’s now in.

And in the meantime I saw the story and abuse continue. It’s always easier to throw abuse and get judgemental than wait for facts apparently.

Now my next question: do you think all the people who attacked Penny, Chris, Steve and the crew and swim will now apologise? Yeah, right.

Regardless, Congrats again to Penny, Chris and Steve and crew.

Penny Palfrey

Any chance the rest of the critics would like to go back to doing something productive about the 70 million sharks killed every year? And maybe leave us real sea people to our selves and the sea?

It’s actions like the attack on Penny and crew that stop me from describing myself as an environmentalist a lot of the time.