Tag Archives: Annestown

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 (loneswimmer.com)

Waves for swimmers, Part 2 (loneswimmer.com)

Exploring freak waves (loneswimmer.com)

Grid waves (loneswimmer.com)

Tides for swimmers, theory (loneswimmer.com)

Tides for swimmers, local effects (loneswimmer.com)

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.

Fulmar

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

Annestown to Kilfarassey

Back at Annestown within a couple of days, when I doubt I’d been here for a year.

Annestown beach with groundswell, Dunabrattin Head in the distance

I’ve described Annestown from a surfing point of view in the Annestown to Boatstrand post. When I arrived, it was a bit different. There was some actual groundswell (not very large), the sky was blue and the day was warm. Hooyah.

(I’d originally written that sentence as “when I showed up”, which made it seem like it was an event, which made me laugh when I re-read it).

Danger - Unprotected Cliff Path

The tide was dropping and near low tide. This could mean only one thing. And a walk up to the cliff edge only confirmed it.

Surfers on the reef on a small clean swell

Surfers on the reef.

Obviously surprised by the timing and sudden brief swell there were only four out, with a couple on the way. How many times have I climbed the cliff myself to look down at the reef over the years?

I’ve often been out there myself surfing, wondering and talked vaguely about the long beach disappearing east, if there were more surf-able reefs further on? I’d heard there might be. But one of the surfer’s sayings is never leave a good break looking for a better one. And this could be a very good break. And I recall what it was like to sit there, with Brown’s Island on one side, a seemingly endless beach on the other, cliffs in front and waiting for swell, and how everything seemed so big.

My friend Bill, who grew up surfing in San Diego in the 60s, once told me that he’d never had to paddle more than about a minute to get to waves. Part of that is the small California tidal range, maybe other reasons. On a different subject, maybe some day, if he agrees, I’ll publish my story about some of Bill’s adventures here. I wrote some of them up last year, he’s one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met, and he’s got stories that will chill you.

It’s completely normal for surfers in Ireland to have to paddle five minutes to break, maybe more, Crab Island, a world-famous and pretty dangerous surf location in Clare can take up to 20 minutes depending on conditions. But even as a surfer a 20 minute paddle on a board is a long time. You don’t really do that voluntarily. Not like you do as a lone swimmer.

The low tide had drained the gap between the coast and Brown’s Island. So I walked across the new sand, meeting local surfer and ex-pat Aussie Brett, whom I hadn’t seen in years, probably the best longborder in the country, before stumbling and falling across the rocks. I gave up and crawled into finger deep water and dragged myself through the kelp and across the rocks, and within a long 20 metres I was into clear water.

Brett on the reef

Taking a direct line along the coast I swam along the line of the swell, and came to the Reef within minutes. It was odd, swimming through the surfers, bringing back a host of memories. I didn’t stop to talk, just swam though the bunch, precisely on the line of the pre-breaking wave. I wondered what my reaction would have been back then if some lunatic with a swimming cap and nothing else swam through the pack, heading into the distance. I’m pretty sure I would have thought that as a surfer I knew more, that the poor swimmer was obviously either 1:) an idiot, 2:) ignorant of the sea, 3:) demented, 4:) all of the above.

I swam toward the promontory, passing various unsurfable reefs, the straight cliffs high and bright in the southerly sun, reminiscent of Dover and the White Cliffs.

Brown's Island to West Kilfarassey Promontory with Burke's Island

I reached the promontory at around forty minutes. The water past Hawke’s Cliff at this end wasn’t as nice, though the wind hadn’t changed. Once again it was probably the effect of the swell being pushed and compressed into the area between the beach and the promontory, and since it needed somewhere to go, it pushed back out in channels, and reflections.

The sea arch at Kilfarassey under the western promontory, in the centre of the image

One look at the large sea arch, one of the largest on the local coast, I knew it wasn’t safe to swim though on the swell, so I swam around the promontory and over the large sea stack, with Kilfarassey beach directly in front of me, less than ten minutes away before turning back and swimming under the promontory to inspect the entrance on the opposite side of the promontory, but the reefs at the entry were exposed, leaving only a narrow entry, ad the arch too unsafe in the swell even from this side. No matter, I’ve swum through it before.

Annestown and Hawkes Cliffs

So back around the promontory and back down along the beach beneath the cliffs, the conditions improving and the water calming once I passed about halfway down the long straight stretch. halfway down I swung outward to pass two reefs on the other side, with the swell dropping quite quickly, as it usually does, unlike chop.

Once again I swam through the surfers, but as I approached Brown’s Island I could see the tunnel was exposed and dry, so I turned outward, to swim around Black Rock. How many Black Rocks and Gull islands are there around Ireland’s coast I wonder, or even around the world?

East (back) side of Brown's Island and Black Rock

The current from a few days previously was against me, but the distance was short, and once on the outside, I stopped to appreciate the view and bird population on the outside, with this being one of the few places which had Cormorants, Guillemots and Shags all together along with the usual Herring and Lesser Black-Backed gulls.

From there it was a five-minute swim into the beach with the dropping swell, where I body surfed a few waves and used the last wave to lift me up and put my on feet in knee-deep water. Another slightly over five kilometres new swim.

Annestown to Kilfarassey

Annestown to Boatstrand

So why not come at Boatstrand from the opposite direction? I asked myself. And then I answered. Why, no reason. No reason at all. of course, since yesterday’s post, you now know why.

Annestown is another part of this coast I know better from surfing. I’ve never even really seen a reason to swim here. It’s a nice little straight beach, outside Annestown village.

Annestown beach & village
Annestown Beach plaque

Annestown beach is fairly shallow. From a surfing point, it’s boring, the wave doesn’t have much power. Except in very large conditions, when the beach can actually hold a big wave and allow it to break. That’s pretty rare though. And being a beach break, getting out through the waves then becomes a problem, Unless you know the secret, not a channel in this case, but paddling behind some rocks in a narrow passage that allows you to get out behind the breakers.

Brown's Island at low tide

To the left of the beach is Brown’s Island, outside which becomes another few smaller islands when the tide is past half in, separated by narrow channels.

Brown's Island gap

At low tide there’s a sand (previously rock) gap between Brown’s and a two kilometre long beach on the other side, otherwise the far side is cut off, though there is a precarious cliff top walk as there is along most of this coast. Though I have no real idea, I’m suspicious of the sand in the gap. It seems too flat and uniform, so I’m guessing it was trucked in. I’ve seen this beach since before I was even surfing. I can remember when it was mostly sand on the main stretch. About 10 years ago a big winter storm covered it in rocks. It seems unlikely the gap would get covered in a nice level layer of sand. And there’s now an entry for vehicles through the rocks onto the lower beach.

Far side of Annestown and Annestown reef stretching to Hawke's Cliff and Kilfarassey

Also over on the other is The Incredible Wave, the “official” name for what local surfers call Annestown reef, a great and challenging reef break, the only one of its kind on the entire stretch of coast, and therefore a complete zone of bedlam, aggression and nastiness when it’s breaking. My surfing story from there? A guy having his eyeball popped out by a drop-in, (one of the worst sins in surfing), something I’d forgotten until I wrote this.

Get to the swimming! Okay. The area between Annestown and Dunabrattin Head is actually called Dunabrattin Bay, probably of how because the Head and the islands off Annestown reach out, rather than it being a true bay.

Dunabrattin Head & Bay (large image)

I started about an hour and a half after low tide. The sun was shining and the sky was blue. Is that the most mundane sentence ever repeatedly written? I’m happy to write it, since it doesn’t happen enough here. The wind was Force Two westerly, so I decided to head toward Boatstrand. I went out around the rocks I knew were in the middle of beach and headed diagonally toward the far rocks, passing inside Carrighdurrish Rock then threaded through the rest, passing in side the larger Corcoran’s Island stack, exiting the section and passing into the stretch of coast called Speedy’s by local surfers, passing the steps to Speedy’s at thirty minutes, and passing well inside the Carriginnyamos reefs. I entered the water before Knockane strand called, also by local surfers, Rock Bottom, after the next slight promontory. Rock Bottom is only known to the experienced local surfers. It’s hard to access requiring a clamber down the cliff, not popular when carrying a fragile surfboard. And it has a reputation of moving a lot of water in it, plenty of submerged reefs and being quite dangerous.

Annestown to Boatstrand & Dunabrattin Head across Dunabrattin Bay
Calm Sunny low tide Boatstrand Harbour a few days later

I reached the pier at Boatstrand and barely swam into harbour entrance before swimming out a hundred metres to Carrigaseach completely unregarded by the folks enjoying their afternoon on the inside strand.. The water had gotten quite flat in the last two hundred metres before Boatstrand harbour, being sheltered from the westerly wind by Dunabrattin Head. No seals around the rocks, I headed directly back this time,aiming for Corcoran’s Island as the yellow lichen on the pillar caught the sun and acted as beacon amongst the dark grey rock.

Rock Bottom and Speedys from Boatstrand

Passing Rock Bottom further out this time, I was surprised how large the swell grew for a couple of hundred metres. It was rolling through at about two metres! And I inadvertently swallowed a mouthful, which hasn’t happened in a long time. I stopped to coughing and maybe throw up , but I didn’t.

I felt like I was returning quicker, but as I reached Corcoran’s Rock, I was at most two minutes ahead.

I stopped for a quick position check and decision, and there, only an arm length away was a Herring gull, just hovering in the breeze and looking at me with its small dark expressionless eyes. I’m used to being followed or even occasionally dive bombed by sea-birds, but this was the closest one has ever come.

Current behind Brown's Island

At this point I decided on extending the swim slightly and head across well outside of Annestown to swim around the out-most rock. I stopped in line with the outside and could see there was a strong current pushing me east. No surprise, I’d seen it in binoculars from the cliff top before I started. Once past I turned in along the rock, then turned east again to swim though the first gap, and was now back on the western Annestown side. I passed the secret passage mentioned above, not actually secret obviously, just a narrow passage, and then, passing Brown’s Island, I saw the tide was right to swim through the tunnel  that goes through the island, which can’t be done at low or high tide, and got back the east side, and with the incoming tide now having covered the gap, I swam finally through the gap separating Brown’s Island from the coast.

The tunnel though Brown's Island

The tide had risen enough to be at the bottom of the steep rocky higher part of the beach and the exit was really difficult. One hour fifty-five minutes, a nice swim, just under six kilometres.