Tag Archives: Ciarán Byrne

Open water swimming and marathon swimming is dangerous

Eilís
Coach Eilís

In November 2010, Cork and Sandycove Channel Coach Eilís Burns held one of her irregular brief seminars for prospective Channel solo swimmers for the 2011 Channel season.

It wasn’t an open-to-all seminar. Those attending were people who had contacted Eilís asking her to coach them. Eilís is careful in whom she agrees to coach, requiring a proven desire, a willingness to do the required work, and the temperament to do what she says.

As part of that seminar Eilís had asked four of the local Channel swimmers to attend and speak briefly on subjects of our own choice. The four were; Lisa Cummins, two-way English Channel solo; Imelda Lynch, first Sandycove and Cork female Channel swimmer and a local legend amongst Sandycove swimmers for her tenacity and tough training regime; Rob Bohane, aka The Bull, who as part of the Magnificent Seven, first attempted the Channel in 2010 a few weeks after me; and the fourth was myself.

Six of The Magnificent Seven. From left; Ciaran Byrne, Donal, Liam Maher, Jennifer Hurley, Rob Bohane, Gabor Molnar. Channel swimmers one and all.
Six of The Magnificent Seven. From left; Ciaran Byrne, Donal, Liam Maher, Jennifer Hurley, Rob Bohane, Gabor Molnar. Channel swimmers one and all. Not a gram of fake tan between us.

I remember all the presentations with varying degrees of clarity. But my own and Rob’s are much clearer.

Rob had attempted the Channel in late August, a couple of weeks after Jen Hurley and I had swum, and within 12 hours of Ciarán Byrne soloing. Liam Maher, Jen Hurley, myself and Ciarán had all succeeded, the first four of the Magnificent Seven, with Rob, Danny and Gábor still to go.

All through training, and Eilís’ training regime for us was brutal, we became increasingly convinced we would be one hundred percent successful as a group. The Channel taught us all otherwise. Rob encountered the horrendous weather of which the Channel is still capable of throwing at Solos even with modern forecasting. Ciarán had gotten to France before getting shut out by the Channel but Rob ran into the full force of the Channel’s brutal face. After a dozen hours of swimming, Rob was pulled from the water by hos crew and later hospitalized with cold water pulmonary edema. That story continued because Rob recovered and on his second attempt in 2012 he was also denied with more horrendous weather. But he eventually prevailed and indeed Rob went on to set the Sandycove club Channel record. Less than the fast time, what is far more important is Rob’s journey to get there.

Wearing the Hardship Award Hat in 2011
Wearing the Hardship Award Hat in 2011

In 2011, following a visit to the Cork University Hospital Emergency by Liam Maher after a particularly … challenging, Sandycove Island Challenge race, a new Sandycove Island Swimming Club annual award was introduced for the most dangerous swim undergone or most damage suffered by a club member, known as the Hardship Award. I was the retrospective inaugural 2010 winner for my Channel solo, followed by Liam, then Rob, with Ned being the 2013 winner for the emotional damage he suffered for losing many of his records in 2013 to other club members. The not-at-all-coveted Hardship Award is a Hard Hat!

At EilÍs’ 2010/2011 seminar, still raw from the first crossing, Rob spoke eloquently of how he had a great family and life, and that if not making it across the English Channel was the worst that had happened him, then he was a very lucky man.

My own input was brief, I only wanted to say one thing really:

I told the assembled aspirants that the thing they most needed to comprehend themselves, that they most needed to discuss honestly with their partners or parents or family, is that solo Channel swimming is dangerous.

We don’t like to discuss this aspect. We like even to pretend otherwise.

In 2010 I had my own near-lethal experience in the Channel and then Rob had been hospitalised. Lisa had been hospitalised after her two-way Channel swim, Ned had been hospitalized after Santa Barbara. Four members from one club, and while I was the only one of that four not hospitalized the experience was no less dangerous. (BTW, as Evan once pointedly asked me, just where is the full account of my Channel swim, given the other swim’s I’ve covered? The answer is, it’s a long comprehensively written account and part a longer term project that may never see light and so may eventually surface here, Frankly the story is far too often told and repeated as a rumour in Ireland, such I’ve been asked, “did you hear about the guy who swam and the Channel and …”).

Let me repeat: Open water swimming is dangerous. To be responsible to the others we help, advise or even inadvertently inspire we MUST honestly acknowledge this. Channel swimming is especially dangerous.

2012 we lost Sandycove swimmer and our much-loved friend Paráic Casey in the English Channel. In 2013 the Channel swimming community and her family and friends lost Susan Taylor in the English Channel. I mean no disrespect to any others by not continuing a roll call, as part of my point is these are the dangers and losses incurred within the community of people I know myself. (I’d met Susan in Dover in 2012).

I looked at those people in Cork at the seminar and told them this was their first task as Aspirant Channel swimmer: To be honest with themselves and the people important to them. Open water, Channel and marathon swimming is dangerous.

Regardless of our experience and skill, the sea particularly is a vastness beyond us. To accept this and the inherent risk is to improve our ability to survive.

If you can accept that fact, integrate it as well as it is possible for anyone who thinks they the measure of their own dreams, you have taken a significant first step to being a real open water swimmer.

After that seminar, one of the attendees, who had been present with their partner, decided against the Channel. As someone who encourages open water and Channel swimming, I considered and still consider that a good result. 

I am obviously not against people being open water swimmers or setting their sights on extreme swimming goals or following dreams. But I do strongly believe that you should do it from a prepared base. I will not help someone whom I don’t think takes the risk seriously.

I’m (mostly) a lone swimmer. As a consequence I am not reckless (despite views to the contrary) but consider carefully both my own abilities and thresholds, and each day’s conditions, and weigh each and every swim before I start.

By accepting the existence of risk and hazard (the potential outcome of risk) we actually gain another tool in our repertoire.  By being brave enough to stand our ground and know when not to swim, when not to risk our limits is to know ourselves.

No-one swims, or at least no serious open water swimmer, with the thought of not returning, any more that mountain climbers or polar explorers do. But the possibility is part of what makes open water swimming what it is and a properly cognizant open water swimmer is pursuing a type of existentialism, not fatalism. By realising that understanding our constraints and boundaries and the immutable superiority of nature, which we don’t actually conquer, but temporarily deceive or elude, you are making yourselves a more capable and adaptable swimmer. 

Be safe.

Images of 2013 – 1 – Swimming People

I wrapped up 2012 with a few posts on some photos I’d taken through the year related to swimming. About the time I writing those posts, I embarked on what is known as a 365 Project, taking a photograph (often many more) every day for a year, which I completed this week. (I started it thanks to Sandycove swimmer Riana Parsons and those 365 photographs can be seen on my Blipfoto account.

Portraiture is a difficult aspect of photography for some, including me, as it requires either a willingness to demand co-operation from subjects or a constant almost covert imposition of a camera. I’m not comfortable with either, but I have been learning to pursue the form. The number of portrait photographs from the year is still low and time goes by when I completely forget to take any.

So here are a few of my preferred shots of swimming people from the year. Once again, i chose mainly based on photographic merit rather than any personal relationships, but the range illustrates, I think, what attracts us about this sport, the people we met, the friends we make.

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My swimming Dad: David Frantzeskou, along with Evelyn, the owner of Varne Ridge Caravan Park outside Dover, one of my favourite places and amongst my favourite people, with so many different and enduring memories. It took some convincing of both David & Evelyn that this was a shot that I was proud of, displaying that slightly perplexed look we know so well on David’s face.

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I was fortunate to be part of another World Record English Channel swim crew for the second year in a row, this time with my friend Sylvain Estadieu. While images of Sylvain butterflying away from the White Cliffs or standing triumphant with the French tricoloeur are popular, this one is my favourite, the moments before the swim, a glimpse into Sylvain.

Liam MaherOn a grey day in summer we took to a few laps of Sandycove to wish our 2013 Manhattan Island Sandycove swimmers, Liam, Carol & Lisa the best. One of my shortlived waterproof cameras from this year (three!) caught a typical Liam Maher pose, English channel swimmer in front of Sandycove’s famous Red House (now beige). The Red House is used to mark final 400 metre sprints, the best line for the slipway and for the marathon swimmers of the club, could be seen from about two kilometres out for those who have braved the Speckled Door to Sandycove swim. The laugh on Liam’s face is entirely typical.

Eoin, Carol & MaeveIMG_9712.resizedAfter the Global Swim Conference visitors had all left the island, there were a few local Sandycovers hanging around chatting. Probably eating cake. Left is Eoin O’Riordan, middle is Carol Cashell and right is Maeve Moran. Eoin joined Carol in an English Channel two-way relay team as a substitute and did some great training, and the team went on to set a new two-way six person national English Channel record, after Carol had returned from getting second placed lady in the Manhattan Island Marathon swim. Maeve is another Sandycove regular and perennial and invaluable volunteer who will be swimming an English Channel relay next year.

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Nick Adams, President of the CS&PF and multiple English Channel soloist and other swims, celebrates being inducted into the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame as the Global Open Water Conference in Cork. With him is English Channel solo and many other swims, Dr. Sakura Hingley. Nick and Sakura had been married only recently, on August 25th, the anniversary of Captain Matthew Webb’s first English Channel solo. Both have been promising me articles for this blog for over two years. I am starting to lose hope.

Lisa IMG_9716_01.resizedMy very good friend Lisa Cummins, now living down-under and getting a free summer, well-known to all as one of the legendary two-way English channel swimmers. Lisa and I were once again on a few adventures this year, and therefore she had to put up with many attempts at portrait shots by me before I finally found one I was pleased with, in Sandycove of course.

Ray IMG_9237_01.resizedRay is a member of the Newtown and Guillamenes swimming club, my other (non-racing) club. Every day of the summer, from May until the end of September, Ray empties the bins, picks up rubbish and litter, keeps the coves and lawns of  Newtown and Guillamenes pristine, and even cleans the public toilets for the tourists, after the town council refused to so do. Ray is one the quiet heroic volunteers without whom no club in the world could survive and I have enormous respect for him.

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Left to right, Ciáran Byrne, Eddie Irwin, Craig Morrison, , me being manhandled, Finbarr Hedderman in back and Liam Maher, after a spring swim in Sandycove. Channel Soloists all. I didn’t take this shot, but handed the camera to Maura (Hynzie) Morrison. When you are being manhandled by Finbarr (6’4″) & Liam (6’8″) it’s like being caught in a landslide, there’s no fighting it. It’s good to have such friends.

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Billy Kehoe, President of the Newtown and Guillamenes swimming club, 85 years old, and swimming at the Guillamenes for 75 years. I don’t think a single occasion has passed over the years that Billy hasn’t used the same joke with me, that I am not to swim past the Saltees (Islands), despite my offering to write him some new material. Billy is currently working on a history of the Newtown and Guillamenes swimming club that hopefully is almost near completion and to which I am really looking forward and will hopefuly publish her and on the club website, which I have completely neglected .

Paul Foreman IMG_8489.resized

Channel Swimming & Piloting Federation pilot and gentleman, Paul Foreman. Formerly of Pace Arrow, now of the Channel fleet’s best boat, Optimist, pilot for Gábor Molnar and Jen Hurley and our tragically lost friend Páraic Casey, Paul holds a special place of affection for many Sandycove swimmers who know him and were friends of Páraic.

Freda IMG_8419.resized

If you were to come up with any list of the ten most important people in the history of Channel swimming, Freda Streeter would be on that list. Mother of Alison, the Queen of the Channel and CS&PF Channel pilot Neil, Freda has trained hundreds of Channel swimmers and was instrumental in the formation of the CS&PF. For thirty years every weekend from May until September, with Barrie and Irene Wakeham and many others who assist, Freda runs a free Channel training camp for all comers.

Roger Finch IMG_8411.resized

I finally met cheeky chappie and South African Channel soloist Roger Finch in Varne Ridge, where all Channel swimmers eventually meet and then one day on Dover beach. He was training with Otto Thaining, whom I briefly met later. Otto was training to be the oldest Channel Soloist. Roger and I knew many people in common. Unfortunately Otto got weathered out, but my money is on him both returning and being successful next year. With the ebullient  Roger in his crew he’s all set.

Owen O' Keeffe closeup

My young friend Owen, the Fermoy Fish and I voyaged together again this year, most notably on his pioneering Blackwater swim. After Trent Grimsey’s swim last year, I’d come to the conclusion I may have taken my best ever photo of a swimmer. I guess my development as a photographer now leads to me realise that was a laughable conceit.  Reviewing my pics of the year, I’m currently of the belief this is the current best photo of a swimmer I’ve taken, getting past the stroke, the conditions, and inside Owen, as close metaphorically as I can get into another swimmer’s mind.

Group shot_MG_6640.resized

During Sandycove Distance Week, about 20 of the less lazy of the swimmers came over for a swim with me on the Copper Coast. It was one of the best days of the bet summer in a generation. There were complaints about the water being too warm! granted, this photo wasn’t chosen for its photographic merit, but for the sheer pleasure I derived from so many visitors.

Dee on Kilfarrassey Beach B&W _MG_5674.resized

Constrained as I am from publishing a photo of her, here’s my silent partner in most adventures and supporter in others. 

I look to meeting you all and capturing your images in 2014.

Guest article – Ciarán Byrne – Lough Iochtar Ice Mile

As long-time readers will know, Rob The Bull Bohane, Ciarán Byrne and Finbarr Hedderman are all Sandycove Island Swim Club members, English Channel Soloists and very good friends. Ciarán and Rob are two members of our 2010 Magnificent Seven Channel training squad. All three are very experienced open and cold water swimmers, and are three of the people I most like and trust swimming with (when Finbarr is not trying to drown me). 

Recently all three took part in another ice-mile, the week prior to the Lough Dan Ice Mile and I’m delighted to have Ciarán’s account of the swim.  (I was to be part of the attempt but for various reasons decided against it). I’ll stress that these three swimmers have a wealth of cold water experience, and the helpers and assistants as you can see below also have great experience. The location was in the Kerry Mountains in the south-west of Ireland. (Lough is the Irish for lake, by the way and is pronounced “lock”).

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Ice Mile Lough Iochtar, Kerry, 10th Feb 2013.

Ram Barkai from South Africa set up the International Ice Swimming Association in 2009. To become a member you must swim a mile (1609.3m) in water of 5.0°C or under. At time of writing there have been 51 recorded ice swims by less than 50 swimmers.

Sandycove Island Swim club decided to join the fun. We scouted the sea and lakes in Cork and Kerry. Through Rob’s Kerry connections 3 lakes about half way up Carrauntoohil (Ireland’s highest mountain at just over 1000 metres- Ed.) were identified which were accessible by 4×4 vehicles.

Lough Iochtar
The peak of Carrauntoohill on the bottom right, small Lough Iochtar on the upper left, Coomloughra Lough in the middle and Lough Eagher on the right respectively.

Rob, Finbarr and I agreed to try one of these lakes on Sun 10th Feb.

Leaving Cork on the morning of the 10th the weather was great. Clear blue skies ahead. We went first to Lough Acoose to meet the great support team from the Sandycove Island Swim Club. Lisa (English Channel Two-way swimmer), Eddie (Triple Crown Swimmer), Carol (Lake Zurich silver medallist and Irish Masters Squad member) and Pascal (Finbarr’s dad).

We met the Kerry Mountain Rescue team of John Dowd, John Cronin and Angela O’Connor near the water treatment plant. We headed up in two 4-wheel drive cars including the fully equipped Kerry Mountain Rescue Ambulance.

When we reached the first of three lakes, Lough Iochtar, we stopped for a look. Lough Iochtar is a small lake approx 300m long and approx 75 metres at its widest point. It’s at 440m elevation. There was a small stone beach near the road. It looked ideal.

The next check was the water temp. Below 5C. We were in business. The temperatures taken
during the swim were 4.5, 4.9 and 4.8C. Average 4.7C. The air temp was 3°C. There was a cold wind and the wind chill was -3C.

The altitude didn’t adversely impact our breathing. That was something that had concerned us about the location. We unloaded the jeeps and set to measuring the swim distance. We went for old school. Rob had brought a measured 50m length of line. Rob and John used it to measure out a 100M course. We marked the ends with fluorescent jackets.

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The plan was to complete eight loops of the 200M course, which was marked 10 metres from the start, the ends of the course to be marshalled by observers. The wind was picking up so we got a group photo and then got changed.

Ice Mile team. Finbarr, Ciaran & Rob are the centre three
Ice Mile team. Finbarr, Ciaran & Rob are the centre three

Eddie and Carol put on their wetsuits in case they needed to help any of us out of the water.

Lisa helped set up the GPS tracker on my goggles. We were going for high and low tech on this swim. We each had an observer to count strokes and watch for signs of hypothermia. Eddie for Rob, Carol for Fin and Lisa for me. We had agreed that if there was a sharp drop in stroke rate that we’d be pulled. We pre-arranged a signalling system to warn us when we had to come out. The back-up was that in the event of no response Eddie or Carol would swim in to get us out.

We got changed on the beach. One standard silicon cap, ear plugs, one pair of standard togs and goggles. A little Vaseline under the armpits for chafing. Pascal gave words of encouragement. We shook hands and set off. The large stones were sore on the feet. The water biting at the feet.

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The first couple of metres were shallow. There was then a sharp drop off so we slid into the water and into our stroke. The experience in the first 100M was not unlike our experience in Tooting Bec Lido at the UK Cold Water Swimming Championships. The hands soon got icy cold. The arms felt tight at the stretch. The first 200M passed quickly. I had completed the Endurance swim (450M) at the CWSC so I knew I could go that far. However I was concerned that I was so cold so early. The next 200M were tough. My hands were as cold as they were in the endurance swim and I had another 1200M plus to go! Nothing for it but to keep swimming. Concentrate on the stroke.

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Eddie manned the nearest mark and Carol the far one. Turning at the end of the 100M was a
challenge. Once you passed the fluorescent vest you had to turn in deep water. I had a near collision with Rob after the 600M turn. He had turned ahead of me and I was breathing to the right looking for the mark. No damage done and quickly back into the swim. After 600M I started to settle into the swim. I was closing in on the half way mark. I wasn’t getting any colder. My stroke was holding up. The sun had come out and was very welcome. After 1400M my feet got very cold and borderline cramping – I knew if I kicked too hard I would cramp. We got the whistle for the final loop. Head down and go for it.

I came into the finish. Fin had finished first, well ahead. The Lough Iochtar Monster. He came into his own in the second half of the swim and left us behind. Rob was in next and I came in not too far behind.

After the turn
After the turn

I tried to get in as close as possible to avoid wading in over the rocks. They were going to be painful. I was very unsteady on my feet and Pascal helped me up and gave me my crocks. Lisa was waiting with my towel. Carol came over to help Lisa get my jacket on. Then straight into a warm Jeep to get dressed. Lisa was great, organising my clothes, getting tea and making sure I was ok. Once dressed I got into the front into the heated seat – pure luxury.

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We were all a bit unsteady on our feet when we go out. Fin didn’t need the car to get changed. He seemed unfazed by the swim and probably could have done a double. Rob got changed outside but soon joined me in the jeep and recovered quickly as well.

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After about 20 mins we were all in good shape. The wind had picked up and it was starting to rain. We certainly got the best of the weather for our swim. We decided it was time to get our gear together and head back down to Killarney.

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I’d like to thank the great support we got from our Sandycove friends, Lisa, Carol, Eddie and Pascal, Angela from Caherciveen and the two Johns from the Kerry Mountain Rescue. These events are not possible without volunteers who freely give their time to help others reach their goals. We believe this is the highest altitude ice mile in Europe.

IMG_2617Donal in mid Harlem.resized

MIMS 2012 – Part 4 – The East and Harlem Rivers

Swimming past the Empire State Building

For the three people who asked for this, sorry for the delay, it’s been a busy few weeks, Stephen Redmond and Channel swimmers are far more important.

Somewhere in the East River section I saw a boat coming up on my right with an Irish Tricolour flying above the cabin. I guessed this had to be Ciarán’s wife Margaret’s innovation (as it so proved). So the third wave had certainly caught me due to the Hold at the Staten island Ferry. Nothing to be done except swim.

UN Building

We had passed a couple of river bends and within ten minutes entered a wider stretch of river aiming north toward United Nations Plaza. After passing under the United Nations buildings, the river narrowed between the west bank and Roosevelt Island, and we were squeezed northwards like wet soap between giant concrete hands, speed unabated, passing under the Queensboro Bridge, one of the last I was to recognise, and the sounds of the traffic overhead as I flipped to backstroke again, sixteen strokes before emerging back into the sunlight and forward.

The spires of midtown Manhattan, notably the Empire State and the beautiful Chrysler building, the one building in New York I had wanted to see for myself for many years, slipped away into the past and the behind.

I thought about Christopher Priest’s mind-bending novel Inverted World, where a city on rails is always moving toward the horizon, striving for The Optimum, time compressing and slowing in front of the city and diluting and speeding up in the past. I never know what book will come to me when I’m swimming, but it seems to happen like songs come to other swimmers, but almost all are welcome and never hang around annoying me like songs. Here I was, not Helward Mann, the book’s protagonist, but just a man, swimming up into the Future, my arms the rails I must pull myself along, the Optimum always in front of me, never quite catching it.

All this time a few of us seemed, from my vantage at least, to be jockeying for position. I could pas a swimmer, get ten metres on them only to see them do the same on the other side five or ten minutes later. With a long swim ahead, there was no sprinting to put clear water between us, everyone settled into their long strokes. Since we were all wearing the same fluorescent pink RCN caps, sometimes I was sure it was the same person, at other times I seemed to randomly assign a name. Was that Graham from Jersey? Am I still just behind Genevieve from Canada? Is that George? Is that Elvis?

Ciaran and boat

At around two hours we passed Gracie Mansion and entered Hell Gate, the confluence of three rivers Harlem, East and Long Island, and so named from a corruption of the Dutch (because of the shipping lost there) and now an area for the swim that would see the blazing progress begin to slow, and an area often notoriously choppy. My second feed was good again and a quick glance while I was feeding and facing backwards while kicking showed Ciarán’s boat just behind. I don’t waste time on looking where I’m going, except inadvertent fraction-of-second glances from the top of a wavelet. It’s worse than pointless as it slows the swimmer however momentarily and being long-sighted without prescription googles meant I would gain no valuable information.

Crossing Hell Gate

Hell Gate progressed slowly, but it was not the trial I’d expected, where and when I’d expected to possibly have to put the hammer down in the third hour for anything up to an hour. I had my third feed before I crossed it, my feed plan calling for larger feeds on the hour for the first two hours, then a feed after 30 minutes for the next two feeds, until three hours had elapsed, and then changing to feed every 20 minutes, reducing time spent feeding in the early stages when there wasn’t as much to be gained from it. Of course that plan had been written in cool Ireland, though I amended liquid amounts once we realised the heat would be a factor, but only increasing the volume by 50 ml for the twenty-minute feeds. Every time I looked Dee was there on the stern on the gunnals, watching, looking intent but with everything in control, calling Brian in for feed bottles, occasionally taking a photo. I wondered what Brian thought. Apart from the words shouted from South Cove, no further word had escaped my lips. I’m not a smiler when I swim (unlike Gábor). Brian gave me the bottle. I fed, I swam on. When he spoke I looked at him and nodded from behind my dark Vanquishers if I thought it necessary, which wasn’t much. Business. I must have looked like Mr. Grumpy.

During these hours I flipped between feeling good, and feeling everyone was passing me and with everything out of my control beyond turning over my stroke. It was a huge distance to have travelled in a short two hours, quite an average training distance. Bridges had passed of different heights and widths, whose names I no longer knew nor could remember their locations.

Donal in the Harlem river

The real beginning to the Harlem river is at Ward Island Bridge. As we closed on it I realised Reel Passion was slightly wide and right of the bridge’s left stanchion heading under the main span. I kept left forcing them to readjust and I passed the left stanchion within arm reach. As I exited I saw a large industrial digger out of my left eye and as I did the water quality changed like entering a sluice. It had previously been good once the first hour’s constant diesel slicks had passed but now it tasted … nasty. Evan described it as industrial, and I felt it tasted like the stale dishwater mixed with an oily tang, a failed vintage.

Minutes later, the bridge still visible behind me, the sides closer and surrounded by mundane post-industrial landscape, Ciarán’s boat appeared right behind Reel Passion and moved quickly up beside it. Crossing Hell Gate I’d caught and left a swimmer, it seemed, who had previously been ahead. I’d had a better line I’d felt, through the decisions of my kayaker and crew. Now Ciarán was doing the same to me. His boat disappeared behind Reel Passion’s outline, he was moving much faster than me.

The next feed came, now onto the twenty-minute interval feeds, and I checked and Ciaran was forty to fifty metres behind. I switched breathing doing a minute of right-side-only breathing allowing me up my rate slightly, then reverting to bilateral breathing and kept this up for some time, maybe until the next feed. It wasn’t a sprint or anywhere near it, but an increase of pressure.

And then I got confused. All the way up the east side, the Sun had been over my right shoulder, then it moved to over my left shoulder. I began to think I was approaching the sharp swing west of the river. I was wrong, and the Sun back moved again over some time. A tower appeared in the distance. I swam toward it and the river continued moving north according to the Sun, even allowing for time elapsed.

Kayaker Brian and Donal in mid Harlem, all going well

Time passed, bridges passed, many bridges. With twenty minutes feeds I lost track of the former and had no idea of the latter. I remembered reading how Evan had felt his arms starting to ache and therefore worried at three hours. I couldn’t remember where he said he was, I was guessing Spuyten Duyvil. Just thinking about it first made me worry that my shoulders would get sore. But I’d take a few prophylactic Ibuprofen before the start and everything felt fine. Then it was the thinking about it that bothered me slightly. So i stopped thinking about it.

Not actually the Vulcan Academy of Science

The field has spread, I had no swimmer within 50 metres of most of this time. Progress felt slow, by which I mean normal. Something loomed again, it turned out to be a building I immediately thought of the Vulcan Academy of Science, looming over the east bank. Brian left for his break at the Boathouse. I was surprised because I thought we’d already passed that point. Dee was preparing to feed me when he reappeared, both Brian and Reel Passion almost always on my right hand side where I’d requested them to suit my preferred breathing and better vision. Though I wasn’t aware of it at the time, the GPS seems to shows this as being the slowest section of the race. I saw a big Target and Marshalls in a crook of the East bank and as I passed them, I was finally certain I was heading west into Spuyten Duyvil.

Lower Manhattan from the Staten Island ferry, Battery Park (left) to the Ferry Terminal (right), the first 10 minutes of the course

MIMS 2012 – Part 1 – Three Rivers

New York maps show Manhattan Island plumbing a line from north to south, bounded by three rivers, the East and Harlem rivers circumscribe the east curve of Gotham with the East River swerving out and around lower Manhattan, up through Hell Gate and the confluence of the East and Harlem rivers and the Long Island Sound, and then the Harlem river arcs back northwest and cuts through the gash of Spuyten Duyvil, and bludgeons into the Hudson, which delineates the long straight west side of the island, arriving back at the southern tip.

It’s all a convenient and anthropocentric lie of course.

In reality there is only one river, the impressive Hudson, following an 167 mile fjord down from far up New York state, the East and Harlem rivers are just tidal straits (like the Kenmare River in Ireland is just a Bay). And there is the Atlantic, and the island is actually aligned closer to a southwest/northeast axis.

The rivers are convenient names and fictions to please mapmakers and give us humans that sense of control over the world we endlessly seek. Changing an island’s direction from reality to fiction gives us power over the world. Swimming around the same island may be another way of attempting to achieve a similar result. If you know why I swim, please tell me.

Dee & I landed in New York three days before MIMS 2012, in the middle of the first heat wave of the year, the sun above the city hammering us onto the streets with temperatures in the high thirties (97°F). It abated slightly over the next couple of days, bringing thunder storms, one of the potential difficulties with MIMS which can force delays or even stop the swim.

It’s not Sandycove. Brighton Beach, Coney Island, and some assembled MIMS and CIBBOWS swimmers

On Thursday Dee and I walked the Brooklyn Bridge, everyone else looking at the astonishing cityscape, and I mainly focusing on the East River below, watching the high volume of traffic.

Lower East River from Brooklyn Bridge ; East River & Staten Island ferries, FDNY & NYPD boats, commercial and leisure craft, all throwing wakes, and this was NOT the busier Saturday morning of the race

On Friday morning Magnificent Seven swimmer Ciarán Byrne, myself, and our crews met some of the MIMS Soloists and some CIBBOWS swimmers at their regular open water location of Brighton Beach. CIBBOWS is one of the world centres of Channel swimming, with Dover, La Jolla, London’s Serpentine, Chicago, Perth … and of course Sandycove. We met such luminaries as Dave Barra, (fastest Triple Crown ever and Director for 8 Bridges), Jim Fitzpatrick from California (once swam 700,00 yards in 30 days in training) and the remarkable Forrest Nelson and more.

Ciaran and Donal at Brighton Beach, partners in swimming crime

The water temperature was about 21° C, in the realms of “imaginary” until that point, and Ciarán and I swam an easy 45 minutes punctuated by some chatting. Very warm, (but not unbearably so we were relived to discover, as we’d been worried it would be too warm for us cold-water swimmers).

We were also relieved to discover that we both still knew how to swim, a ridiculous but perennial concern for swimmers coming off taper, all rationale, evidence and history to the contrary notwithstanding.

And very salty, similar to the English Channel’s one-percent salinity increase over our more open and exposed side of the Atlantic, where the water has more freedom than the bays and Sounds of New York to become more dilute.

Thunderstorms on Fifth Avenue

The forecast for Saturday had the thunder storms passed by Friday evening after the mandatory final briefing, when we’d met more of this year’s MIMS Soloists, of whom this year there would be a total of 38 swimmers.

Taking Back the Rivers 2012

A quick recap for those of you not familiar with MIMS, it’s NYCSwim‘s flagship event, and has been run annually as a race since 1993 1982, the island having first having been circumnavigated by Robert Downing in 1914 in under 14 hours (using a different course) and swum by many famous marathon swimmers since then. It typically runs in late June, and entries open in November, the available slots usually filling with swimmers from around the world within minutes, all of whom must already have completed at least a six-hour swim in the preceding 24 months. If I was to use my English Channel Solo as a qualification, it had to be this year or never and there would be very few Solo swimmers there without marathon experience, (a couple only having a single 6 hour qualification swim). No-one would be a beginner.

And it’s a race. With Argentina’s 2012 Parana swim cancelled for this year due to inclement weather, it would be one of the longest swim races in the world, with the record standing since seven-times World Champion Shelley Taylor Smith swam it in 5 hours 45 minutes, (only 15 minutes slower than the computer-estimated fastest possible time), in 1995, my friend Evan Morrison, a much better and faster swimmer than I, was second last year in 7:31, and other friends Eddie Irwin, Gábor Molnar and Ned Denison from the Sandycove club have previously successfully swum it.

With a later start this year than usual because of tides, the earlier online briefings were punctuated with warnings of increased traffic because of conflicting events on the rivers on the same day, and because we would be out there later in the day, and therefore winds on the Hudson would also be stronger and the water more choppy, and yet another boating event had been announced for the East river, adding to events of which we’d already been informed.

Lower Manhattan from the Staten Island ferry, Battery Park (left) to the Ferry Terminal (right) and the Brooklyn Bridge, the first 20 minutes of the course

MIMS 2012

Ciaran Byrne and I take to the water around Manhattan on Saturday 23rd for a spot of fun with Dee crewing for me & Margaret and Jim for Ciaran.

Due to the usual communication difficulties, there will be no update to the blog. NYCSwim.org have told us we will all have Trackers, but as of right now, there’s still no detail available.

Check http://nycswim.org/Event/Event.aspx?event_id=2202&from=gps in the hope they finally add something there. I sandbagged my 1500m time too much and so I’m off in the second slowest wave, number 32. Ciaran is in the third wave (second fastest) two minutes later, number 21. (There are 38 Solos this year).

New York has been experiencing a heat wave since we arrived, with temperatures in the high 30s C.! When have Ciaran and I ever had to worry about dehydration? They’ve dropped a bit this evening though and should be a bit better tomorrow again. The water was 20 C+ at Brighton Beach today with some other MIMS swimmers and CIBBOWS swimmers!

The Maxim is mixed, the first layer of suntan lotion (SPF50 for Kids :-)) is drying, I’m off to the scratcher for me sleep, hopefully.

Inishcarra

Lake swimming

I have an irregular Brazilian open water email correspondent who is a lake swimmer, and is too far from the sea to have ever been able to swim in the ocean. He writes about the wildlife he loves on the banks, the calm warm (high 20′s!) water and the serenity of lake swimming and can’t really get his head around the existence of jellyfish and cold water and why on earth we swim in such.

We see things differently. The biggest advantages of lake swimming for me are twofold: after May lakes are warmer than the sea, and secondly they are generally calmer. So it’s almost purely utilitarian for me, using lakes to supplement training, to take a break from rough and/or cold water, and to get a long swim in on a day when the sea might not otherwise comply.

I don’t actually have any decent sized lakes near me, Ballyscanlon Lough is only about 400 metres long.

Inishcarra

So when a long lake swim is required the primary choice for the Sandycove swimmers is Inishcarra Reservoir on the Lee river. It’s a hydroelectric dam reservoir in the valley above Cork City. From the normal start it’s about 1600m to the usual turn point near the pump house, and a further 1100 metres to the dam itself if you require a longer swim, just so you can tumbleturn off the Dam.

The other popular choice is an anti-clockwise loop, since the lake is only about 700 metres wide this doesn’t add a lot of time between feeds.

Ciarán Byrne and I had a five-hour swim there last weekend, deciding to forego rough and cold in favour of a predictable location. We must be getting soft but frankly I’ve had enough of rough water swimming for the moment.

Lake swims start out nice, warm and calm. But in comparison to my Brazilian swim correspondent’s feelings, over a long swim I find them far less interesting. Fresh water at least means no sore throat as happens in the sea. But the water is darker so there’s less or nothing to see underwater and the loops and laps tend to be more monotonous. But most of all is the lack of buoyancy. I have no small sense of admiration for people doing 12 or 18 hour swims in lakes like Michigan, Memphremagog, Lough Ness.

After only four hours in a lake, my shoulders are getting heavy. My longest lake swim is six hours and my shoulders and arms were leaden afterwards due to the lack of buoyancy.

I have no plans to ever swim longer than six hours in a lake.

Lee Valley

The Last Mile Roadtrip – October 5th and 6th 2010

From left to right:

Channel Swimmer
Channel Swimmer
Channel Swimmer
Channel Swimmer’s Coach
Channel Swimmer
Channel Swimmer
Channel Swimmer
Channel Swimmer

Not seen in photo, 2 more Channel Swimmers and an Aspirant/Crew.

Okay, okay.

In the background, la Manche, from Cap Gris Nez, on a frisky Force 3 to 4 day.

Left to right,
Ciarán Byrne, myself, Rob Bohane, Eilís Burns, Imelda Hughes, Jennifer Hurley, Liam Maher, Gábor Molnar. Not visible are Craig Morrison, Paul Massey and Dave from Dover.

Some drinking, eating…and swimming was done. Eilís even swam sans wetsuit. Some lumps in throats and plenty of laughing and craic.

It was the best day.

Ciarán Byrne, English Channel Solo Swimmer, 2010

Well done my friend. Welcome to the club. Number Five of the Magnificent Seven. Fantastic swim, strong all the way. I painted my toenails again last night in hope for yourself and Rob. (At least, that’s my current excuse, I think I’ve discovered I got a thing for painting my toenails).

What a summer of highs and lows so far.
More parties…