This post is now part the My Swimming Life, 2012 series.
I must start with the Guillamenes and Tramore Bay and Kilfarassey of course, my main swimming locations. My usual range in Tramore Bay is between Newtown Head (under the pillars) to the beach, along the west side of the bay, most of the range seen in this first photo, with much less regular venturing across or out deep. (I also regularly leave the bay by passing around Great Newtown Head into Ronan’s Bay).
Swimming range in Kilfarassey is mostly based around swimming out and around Brown’s island, Yellow Rock and the big arch. Once the water warms up I will up past Sheep Island.
Other locations on the Copper Coast: Bunmahon, Gararrus and Ballydowane. I didn’t, that I recall, swim at Kilmurrin, Ballyvooney or Stradbally this year. Funny how you just don’t make it to some places each year.
Clonea beach, but only a couple of times. I didn’t swim at Baile na Gall.
Sandycove, Garrylucas, Ballycotton, Myrtleville and across Cork Harbour.
Garrylucas, April 2012. Most boring photo of the year?
Round Beginish Island, but I missed swimming at Derrynane, Finian’s Bay or Kells this year, which are usual Kerry locations for me most years.
Kingsdale to Deal, Dover Harbour, and Cap Griz Nez.
Dover Harbour from Dover Castle, July 2012
Inishcarra, Coumshingaun and Bay Lough are the lakes I can recall swimming. First year not swimming in any of the Kerry lakes for a while.
Bay Lough, Knockmealdown Mountians
And of course Coney Island’s Brighton Beach and Around Manhattan.
Continuing to take advantage of unusually warm water that is completely out of sync with the crap summer we are experiencing, I’ve been revisiting some of the caves and arches from last year’s Project Copper now that I have a waterproof camera (oop, just realised I must do a review of it) to take some photos of the more memorable and less accessible locations. And in the course of this you’ve seen that there are also some new discoveries.
Since so many enjoyed last week’s cave swim, here’s a longer more detailed video I took a few weeks ago. Without a professional camera rig and lights, it’s hard to film on a handheld camera 60 metres from daylight. This isn’t national Geographic you know. Shoestring budget and all that. And when I say shoestring, I mean the one holding my swimsuit on.
While not new for this year, there’s also the shark-fin of St. John’s Island, a former promontory now separated from the mainland.
I passed John’s Island a couple of times last year before I noticed the arch entrance. It’s quite narrow and like many, if you breathe to the other side just at that moment, you miss it.
It was only that last year I decided to swim around the island that I noticed the island had a hollow heart, not noticeable even from out at sea where I’d gone past it.
But the island is an island in truth only at high tides. I swam around the back on a lower tide and discovered there were two reefs leading away from and protecting the hollow heart at lower tides.
In fact how do you decide what’s a cave and what’s an arch? The hollow heart of John’s Island is like a natural place of worship for swimming pantheists, a church of rock and sea to worship the wonder of nature. At one side of the island is a narrow entrance, at the other the entire side of the island has been scooped out and washed away, the minerals swallowed by the Celtic Sea, like a cone or a funnel laying sideways through the Triassic sandstone.
Swimming through St. John’s Island video
Want to worship nature with an atheist/pantheist? Come swim with me! Some of the Sandycove Island swimmers are starting to talk about it. Organise a bus trip!
We’re almost done. Only one more post of caves and arches to go.
This is Project Copper Coast swim number nine. Yes, I know I’ve haven’t put numbers on them until this but I only foresaw one swim after this to finish.
I first visited Ballydowane as a small child with my family, and never knew the name nor location, until I visited it over 25 years later, looking for surf and recognised it instantly, the high red surrounding cliffs, the small bay and the narrow boreen down to it, that had remained present from childhood dreams. It’s another gorgeous little cove where apparently there’s something called a ripple current according to the sign. :-)
Years later, after the surf hunting, at the start of my second year of open water swimming, Dee and I visited there on Sunday morning for my first non-wetsuit swim of the year in spring. It’s from that visit (and one other) that I still recall the physical fear that I felt before getting in the freezing water.
It was also a rough day and on trying to immerse myself, a wave washed over me, and took the decision out of my hands. I recall like it was yesterday, swimming across the cove, the burning and acid-like sensations over my whole body, until I went numb. On exiting the water, exhilarated and frozen, after 15 minutes, I discovered Dee and Luis hadn’t been able to see me due to the waves, and thought I was gone, drowned. At which point I made the situation worse by starting to hrr-hrr (laugh) through frozen jaws. Mr. Sensitivity.
I know the outside of the cove can have a current across it, but not strong enough to stop progress and from the swim from Bunmahon where I’d encountered the start of one, I assumed it flowed west, though I would be heading out across the far side anyway.
It was an hour or two after high tide. Bare northerly offshore breeze, so the water was completely clear and flat with a partly sunny sky. Out past the rocks on the right, this stretch of coast doesn’t jut outwards, instead it’s more concave, therefore I didn’t expect too many difficult currents.
The cliffs at this end of the Copper Coast are more attractive, there seems to be a slightly different range of colours and shapes but I though it might only be because it’s all new water so I’m far more conscious of it.
However on looking at a simple geological map of Waterford, it transpires that yes indeed, the rocks change east of Ballyvoyle Head from older Ordovician (volcanic, shale and sedimentary rocks) to younger Devonian (sandstones and siltstones).
I’d checked the OSI map, and it seemed from it that there are six promontories between Ballydowane and Ballyvooney, if I was to make it that far, which was by no means certain. But of course from the water, it seemed like nine of ten. It was thirty minutes before I could easily see Gull Island, the largest one of that name on the Copper Coast, (there are a few) on the far side of Ballyvooney.
Having passed what seemed many more than six promontories, I didn’t reach the outside of Ballyvooney Cove until 55 minutes, once again a cutoff time, since I also knew that I would need more time when I returned to Ballydowane.
After I turned, instead of curving back around the coast as I had on the outward trip, I swam directly across toward St. John’s Island and the thin vertical needle of the unnamed rock beside it, and I was able to hold a nice straight line by keeping the sky behind the rock spire.
I passed the turn into Ballydowane and swam across the cove, slowing down as I encountered the adverse current. I needed to overlap the finishing point of the previous day, to meet my own criteria that I’ve swam every metres of the coast.
I turned into the side of St. John’s island, where I stopped previously, then swam around the island to the east side on the other side of a reef, where, I realised, the island was virtually hollow, a huge cave being scooped out of its side. My goal was to see if I could swim around this so-called island so I swam around and behind another long reef extending outward and into the area between the island and the edge of the cove, only to discover a jumble of rocks. Only at the highest spring tide does it really become an island, and even then it’s unlikely to be navigable by a swimmer. So I swam back around the reef to have a look at the cave weaving though the reefs across the entrance.
And I realised that it wasn’t just a small cave resulting from a collapse of the sandstone but a cave and tunnel leading through the island. The combined tunnel and cave was 50 to 75 metres long and a total joy. This was no narrow tunnel, but it opened inside to a wider cavern with echoes from the pneumatic sound of water being compressed into nooks and crannies and the washing around of the water. It was bright, because the eastern-side entrance was wide enough to allow in sufficient light from the sunshine which reflected around the rocks and it was utterly magical. Only weeks ago the only caves I’d ever swam into were the few beneath Great Newtown head, but by now I’ve swum through a range of caves, arches and tunnels, leading to this stunning location.
Exiting the tunnel I realised why I hadn’t seen it. There’s a reef completely hiding the entrance for the low-level view of a swimmer, and since it faces west, it can’t be seen from the cove. It’s probable canoeists know about it, no-one beyond that. And now you know and I can’t recommend visiting it highly enough.
From there into the beach and done, another 6 k. A hike up the cliff to see if I could get a photo of the coast and by going out to the edge of the one of the promontories I was able to photograph the tunnel .
I had some nervousness about this swim for a few reasons. Having previously discussed my familiarity with Bunmahon, I’ve written about the dangers on the beach. These don’t worry me because it’s a very localised danger, for inexperienced or non-swimmers, that covers an area of a few dozen metres squared.
But I recalled a couple of times surfing there in clean large groundswell, when a strong south-westerly current developed pulling outward and around the headland at the west end of the beach and it was a current from which it took a look of paddling work to extract myself.
So I was apprehensive that there may be a continuous current running west and I’d be swimming back against it. My plan was to start to Bunmahon though and go westwards. I could have started at Ballydowane and come eastwards, but again I knew even less about the currents outside Ballydowane. So I decided the devil you know (or at least suspect) is always better.
When I got there it was about low tide or slightly after so for this area that meant I’d be running into a slightly increased tidal current, and, I’d be swimming a location of which the only knowledge I had, was my OSI map and Google Earth. Like all these swims, sailing maps are useless because it’s too close to rocks. The coast stretches south-westerly for most of the planned swim, changing to westerly then north-westerly ending in Ballydowane cove.
So I had to be more analytical about this swim, from a theoretical angle.
I decided I would swim try to get to the edge of Ballydowane cove as my target before tuning. It was hard to estimate possibilities. I decided to assume I’d start with a tail current, if it wasn’t present. The coast out there was complex, not the straight length of Annestown to Kilfarassey, nor the under cliff nature of Tankardstown. More like Dunabrattin Head but without a similar “wave-catching” setup. But potentially the current was also likely run in the opposite outgoing direction by the point at which I hoped to reach before turning, and to speed up, caused by John’s Island, into Ballydowane Cove.
Currents are more like to appear the flow is interrupted or compressed so islands or headland are usually the areas of concern. Also there were smaller landward smaller stacks and almost-headlands, and plenty of reefs. All I knew were the triangular rocks of — from seeing them from the cliff top from a few miles away, which was useless since I could only estimate which ones there were from the map but even know the shape of something is can be useful. Big triangular rock somewhere between Bunmahon and Ballydowane, but had to be one of the one that after the first third of the swim. Having maps doesn’t solve all problems since I wouldn’t have them with me in the water. Though I suppose I could have brought it in a ziploc bag. And maps are useless for vertical shapes, or remembering which headland was which until I’d swam passed them.
If the currents were a real problem, though, I had at least some exit points between reefs where I could potentially walk a hundred metres or so, and there were a couple of these. Also, since it was low tide starting going more into a rising tide, keeping inside the outside points might reduce potential flow, (though sometimes the exact opposite can happen). But then again I didn’t know how much area might be exposed by the low tide and force me out.
So what I ended with from my gedankenexperiment was a range of possibilities, of things that could happen that I might have to deal with, and therefore I wouldn’t be surprised.
Last things, given these possibilities: let the Bunmahon beach lifeguards (Bernie & Kate, hi ladies!), know I was heading out (I’d met them earlier in the week). And bring a bottle. I decided to forego a carb addition, I was estimating approximately anything from one hour thirty minutes (unlike) to two hours thirty (slightly more like, but think probably around two hours to two hours and fifteen minutes. Water would be sufficient but the sun was out again and I would be better to have it, so I put my trusty remaining OTG bottle, survivor of the Channel, and much else, on a string and d-clipped to my togs again.
Outward around the coast was straight forward, keeping away from reefs. About fifteen minutes saw the far east end of Bunmahon beach disappear and I passed lovely names Slippery Island, which with the tide out and its craggy sides was neither. And around then the triangular island of Templebrick that I know from the cliff top appeared. But it wasn’t really triangular from here. It was the shape of the dorsal fin of a porpoise, curving up out and back and underneath and there were two of them, large and small and black in shadow of the east side with the sun shining from the south-west ahead.
Swimming on a bright day is great, but on the coast it also brings deep apparently impenetrable shadow until you are close enough to see into it.
I passed outside the two islands, as they turned out to be. Passing, and having passed, the two islands I checked and double checked for currents. The first check however was initiated by something unusual, a large splash within a metre of my right arm. It seemed maybe one of the birds had dived right near me, but nothing came up near me, though I’ve often seen that Guillemots will usually emerge a distance from where they entered. On that check there was no noticeable current, thought on the second only a few minutes later, I’d picked up a slight tail current. But it didn’t seem too strong to come back against. So I decided to continue.
The track was now changing to westerly with the tall bulk of St. John’s island outside Ballydowane slightly north-west of me and I seemed to close the distance fairly quickly one of the scenarios I’d thought possible.
The colours of the coast here were spectacular in the southern sun, with deep golden lichens, the vegetation on the cliff varied and even the faded sea grasses growing in the salt wind and poor soil still had the vibrancy of summer verdure. There was a small estuary, where the lower cliffs dropped to shambles of broken rock and an invitational path inland that I later saw was marked on the OSI map as Coomeenmacarren.
On the map it’s a negligible but beautiful Irish word, the Coomeen-, indicative of its hollow topography, not jumping out at you until you see it physically, and separating Coomeenmacarren from the back of St. John’s Island is a short couple of hundred metres of vertical red sandstone cliff and fronted by a deep red sand beach, eroded from the cliff, glowing in the sunlight like almost consumed embers, which only say warmth, and not danger.
I reached outside the looming bulk St. John’s and into the edge of Ballydowane Cove, my watch indicating fifty-five minutes had passed and it was time to turn rather than swim into the beach and back. I took some water and started back.
I didn’t watch the time closely as I felt relaxed with no great difficulty and decided to go inside the Templebrick islands, stopping once again at another location where all the Phalacrocoracidae seemed to congregate, each looking like they were imagining having their picture taken for their album of 80’s New Romantic covers, Cormorant and the Guillemots, so that they were all trying to strike the most dramatic pose just in case Annie Leibovitz happened by with a Hassleblad. There’s something endlessly interesting about these birds.
Passing behind the island turned out to be difficult and the way through and over the kelp and reefs was circuitous before I emerged at the far side. For here I continued for about six or eight minutes to the inside of the next reef which required a reroute to outside. I decided to have a drink, pulled the string that had been trailing me and … my bottle was gone. Only the large lid remained, large enough that it had been catching water and straighten in the string enough that it seemed the bottle was there. It must have been on those shallow reefs and kelp on the back of Templebrick. I could turn back, maybe ten minutes, who know how long looking when anyway, the bottle would probably still be either moving or stuck on reef or trapped in kelp that I might not see.
No. This was fitting. Let it go. Farewell sweet bottle, yellow bottle, favourite bottle, God of bottles, the perfect bottle, that bottle that has survived the English Channel when its sibling was lost in the boat accident. The bottle than only last week I’d written a draft post on and which would now be its obituary. And yet, was it not fitting that this Nalgene OTG bottle was lost at sea? Is that not the very existential crux of everything a sports bottle or an adventurer is? Somewhere out there, is the bottom half of yellow bottle with #1 and DONAL written on it and affixed with transparent duct tape (an invention which should have been awarded a Nobel prize, yes, I know inventions don’t get Nobel prizes, duct tape should be the first). Should you ever find that bottle, well, use it well. I’ve kept the lid, someday it will feed me again.
Note to self: Next time put your email or website on the bottle also, you bloody idiot.
And then an uneventful finish now against another slight adverse current. The return in fact took me almost twenty minutes longer than the outward, finishing in over two hours and five minutes. Another leg of Project Copper done. An interesting but somewhat scary leg again, this time because of the isolation, there are no roads near the cliff-tops, no houses, nowhere you can be seen from and nothing you can see except the headlands of Ballyvoyle and Dunabrattin miles and miles away along the coast on either side, no fishing traffic and not many kayakers. This is quieter end of the Copper Coast, the coast I’ve set out to conquer, in my own way.