Tag Archives: Copper Coast

Review: Is this the ultimate open water swimmer’s beer?

Craft beers are the thing, right? Local, interesting, more flavour, more fun. One of humanity’s oldest craft’s giving the blandness of the global industrial homogenisation of food and taste a hopeful poke in the eye.

One of the better things of living in Ireland, because of the country’s still large agricultural sector, is our access to local fresh food of extremely high quality. (America, I’ve had your bacon. It’s a pale imitation of our rashers).

As a country with a proud and long tradition of making, and a not-so-proud tradition of consuming alcohol, we nevertheless suffered in the twentieth century a reduction Irish-made spirits and beers. A desperate attempt to maximise revenues coupled with a ban on selling into Commonwealth countries reduced the once proud Irish whiskey tradition to a few brands. Prior to World War II Irish whiskey was the actually the world’s most popular spirit, before being over taken by Scottish whisky. (Though Irish whiskey is once again the fastest growing).

The brewing industry in Ireland was also large and also contracted hugely over the Twentieth century though not quite as much as the distilleries. Bushmills Distillery remains the world’s oldest operating distillery, and of course Guinness stout is globally known.

Dungarvan Brewing Co

copper_bigLocal micro-breweries started to open in the 1990s, and in 2010 local brewing company The Dungarvan Brewing Company began operation. Unfortunately I didn’t discover their beers until last year, but once I did I sought out and tried them. For blog research purposes.

The various beers, different types of stouts and pale and Irish red ales  are named after local geographical features such as Comeragh Challenger, Mahon Falls, some after my swimming locations, Helvick Gold and Copper Coast, and the notorious Black Rock, the swim out to which has eluded me for a few years. Not because of the distance or the water, but because it’s in the middle of Dungarvan Bay navigation channel. All are excellent. Black Rock stout, Copper Coast red ale, and Helvick Gold blond ale are the three main beers, with the others being seasonal.

I particularly like Copper Coast, an Irish Red Ale, but maybe more than most people some of that pleasure derives from swallowing more of the Copper Coast. Something I’m sure I’ve already done more than others.

But one, like the Black Rock in the bay eluded me, the only one not named after a local feature: Their winter beer, Coffee and Oatmeal.

Just the name: Coffee and Oatmeal. Two essential ingredients of breakfast for any long swim. How could an open water swimmer not be intrigued?

I was trying to find it in off-licenses, before we finally just did what we should have done originally; I asked Clare. Clare Morrissey is the person who inveigled me into open water swimming, was on my Channel crew, and is an all-round experienced sportswoman; solo sailor, Channel relay swimmer, scuba diver and national level rower. Thus we finally settled down in The Moorings pub in Dungarvan with Clare to enjoy a pint of Coffee and Oatmeal.

Coffee and Oatmeal stout Dungarvan Brewing Company IMG_0861.resized
Stout on the bar, the glow of the wood, the babble of the craic, telling stories until my voice started to croak.

The first taste reminded me of the old Guinness pint bottle stout. Not the stout of cans with widgets, nor the extra cold stout of modern draught (draft for those of you overseas) or even small bottles. No, it’s like the single stout bottle my Grandfather used to drink a week, when I was sent up town “to do the messages“, and sent to procure a single bottle, in a small town where it was fine to sell alcohol to a ten year-old. The bottle “with the shoulders“, as it was described, or more commonly a large bottle.”I’ll have a large bottle please“, meant only one thing.  The bottle sometimes drank at home or at a wake. Not refrigerated. With a small head, and an intense taste, very different from draught Guinness stout, to which people will unfortunately compare any stout.

Dungarvan Brewing Company’s Coffee and Oatmeal has a slightly initially slightly gassy taste. It has bundles of taste and is huge in the mouth, with a big flavour. The gassiness passes and you taste the smooth richness of the oats. (By the way, the oats come from Flahavan’s, a local well-known Irish local company producing oatmeal for over 200 years). As you swallow the full oat taste is joined by  the coffee flavour, and then as you swallow you experience a slight chocolate aftertaste. It’s super. It’s a luxurious, even adult, stout, if that’s not an oxymoron, that harkens back to the great days of Irish stout brewing. It was this taste that summoned the reminiscences of my grandfather, an Irish version of Proust’s A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu and his famous madelaines,

This is far beyond the generic stout that even Guinness now produce.

Stout. Oatmeal, Coffee. Chocolate. What more could a swimmer want?

Now you may say that it’s elusiveness is a negative. But that just means that like my beloved Copper Coast, it’s here for me to enjoy.

You’ll just have to visit.

 

The Atlantic – I

The Atlantic Ocean is in me.

For almost 20 years since it got its hook into me, I’ve been haunting, (in a moderate non-weird way), the Irish Atlantic coast, primarily the west, south and my own Copper Coast in the south-east.

For many years, in the depths of grim nights, I have stared into the dark and summoned the ocean as a blanket. I can float on groundswell as it pulses and lifts and lowers me. Experience the ground vibrations from huge breakers. Smell the plankton. Feel the wind tighten my face. Taste the salt. The Atlantic became as much part of me as I become a miniscule part  of it.

It’s a grey ocean. Grey, not gray, my American friends. The word was surely invented for the Atlantic. Not a dull description of colour, it’s a dimension, a world, a universe, The Soulstealer Sea. The Grey Atlantic, not the Blue Pacific. It’s a metal ocean. Steel and iron, verdigris if you are lucky. Hard.  Complete.

Welcome to my ocean.

{The photographs of the Atlantic in this three-part series are the best I’ve  taken, over a two and half year period, of various representational of elements of the Atlantic. It’s a personal, creative and a continuing journey. It is as important to me as taking the photographs to let them be seen. I feel like a photographer for once. All are better on full screen for a more, well, immersive experience.}

A Wave
A Wave
Winter Horizon I
Winter Horizon I
Winter Horizon II
Winter Horizon II
Sky & Sea
Vast
I - Swell.resized
Visitors from Far Away
The Sky In The Sea
The Sky In The Sea
Squall
Squall
A Reef
A Reef
The Storm Will Pass
Storms Always Pass
Local
Local
Evening Sea With Two Islands
Evening Sea With Two Islands

 

Force Nine
Force Nine

Cork Distance Week Copper Coast swim

Cork Distance Week has become increasingly well-known over the past few years since it started by Ned Denison in 2009, succeeding the Champion of Champion races of the previous two years. I’ve been involved every year either as a swimmer or a volunteer and last year I hoped to bring the Camp swimmers over to the Copper Coast for a swim, but as ill-luck had it, we had a 48 hour south-easterly gale before and on the planned day, the one wind which makes the entire Copper Coast and much of the rest of the south coast unswimmable.

A brief précis of Distance Week is enough to tell whether you have distance swim genes. It’s held over nine days, with twice daily two-hour swims at six am and six pm with a Torture swim on the final Saturday, and a six hour qualification swim of multiple laps of Sandycove on the final day. Most swims are around Sandycove but the Camp travels to the Blackwater, Inishcara lake, Lough Hyne and other locations. Total swim volume over the camp is from 80 km to 140 km, depending on year and whether you can get through every swim. If this sounds in any way attractive, you have the illness.

Given the two and half hour drive from Kinsale to Tramore, Distance Week organiser Ned wasn’t keen to include the swim this week. So I engaged in some blackmail, favour for favour, and the swim was added.

Busy morning in the Newtown & Guillamene car park
Busy morning in the Newtown & Guillamene car park

Those of you here will know this, since its the entirety of our world now, but for everyone else, Ireland is having possibly its hottest June and July in a generation. It’s welcome since we literally had no summer last year, as it started raining on the first of June and rained for the rest of the summer, and this was followed by the coldest spring in sixty years.  Previous to the last year we didn’t have any real sunshine for the five years before that, and the last year considered a good summer was … 1996. (Weather everywhere seems to be about extremes and records now, which the Climate Change Deniers and Luddites will tell you has absolutely nothing to do with the highest recorded atmospheric carbon).

Not long ago we were suffering in unseasonably cold air making the cold water tough and in a mere few weeks of continuous sunshine water temperatures have risen sharply reaching the magic figure of 14 Celsius a couple of weeks ago and continuing upward. Further increased heat had the water in Tramore Bay reaching 15 to 16 degrees by mid-day when I did a scouting swim over the planned course at low tide. Jellyfish were disappointingly absent, especially since I’d been stung all over my face myself only a few days previously.

With the good weather, it seems the entire population had decamped to the coast. The club (Newtown and Guillamenes) allocated precious parking spaces in the car park for the swim and word was working it way around the area that “there’s a big swim on”.  One person was heard to say that the lobster pots about two hundred metres out in the bay were “the inner line for the big race. Off out there!

The swimmers started to arrive by five thirty. Former Club Chairman and Mayor of Waterford Ollie said a few words welcoming the swimmers and giving a brief overview of the club’s long stewardship of the area.

Gabor, Sylvain, Donal IMG_6632.resizedWe had twenty swimmers including one world record holder Hayden Welch. Globally know Australian marathon swimmer Penny Palfrey, swimmers from the UK, USA, Canada, Malawi Waterford and Cork, friends from previous distance camps included Carl Reynolds and Helen Gibbs. And my boys, my Hungarian stepson Gábor and world record Aspirant Sylvain Estadieu.

I did a quick swim briefing with a large map so the swimmers would know the course, gave them the waypoints and turning points, local swimmer Colm Breathnach the only one who knew the course. I had also anticipated asking them a question I hoped they’d never been asked previously in a swim briefing; does anyone suffer from claustrophobia  (No-one did). And there was a follow-up question, was there anyone who hadn’t done a night swim? The group was made up of very experienced swimmers and most had swum at night, though a few hadn’t. With sunset still four hours away, I explained that the course would include a long cave swim!

 

Newtown Cove exit
Newtown Cove exit

Given the large crowds, I decided to start them at Newtown Cove off the shingle beach (for a bit of extra Dover training simulation) and we all trooped down, the line of tanned and elegant Speedo and swimsuits-wearing models capturing everyone’s attention.

We let the two slowest swimmers off first, then I led the next group out toward Newtown Head, to be followed by the fastest swimmers, as I wanted to group everyone under the Metalman before proceeding and I didn’t want anyone getting cold while waiting, though given the warm water and sunshine this wasn’t a significant concern.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe assembled in the water, the RNLI rib under command of Raymond Cowman keeping us company on the outside. I indicated the darkcave under the headland, the Sun now sliding into the west actually making the entrance less darkly intimidating that it is in a mid-day Sun, when the shadow is impenetrable.  And then I led them all into it, stopping under the rim to show that once into the shadow it’s not as dark. We then swam into the inner cave, the water quickly going pitch black.

Inside the Cave
Inside the Cave

I have to say that reaching the inside and looking back to see twenty swimmers follow me, with Gábor and Sylvain right behind me, into a place where I usually swim by myself, was as much, if not more a thrill for me as the cave was for many of the swimmers. There was plenty of hooting and then we (mostly) exited on the right-hand side of the west side entrance.

Leaving the cave

There were a couple of young anglers on the rocks on the far side of the Headland, and from being alone, suddenly twenty swimmers swam out of the cave.

Cave entrance
Cave entrance

From there it was back around the headland and the swimmers set off of the pier of the beach. I waited until all swimmers were in front of me, and had a chat with the RNLI crew.

Rib and main group passing the pier (not visible)
Rib and main group passing the pier (not visible)

I exited at Newtown Cove (as did a couple of others who wanted a break from all the swimming and travelling) so I could get changed and watch the group from the cliffs. I had time for a few chats before I moved to above the Comolee’s rocks. Two swimmers were passing underneath having turned at the pier, and in the distance the main group had passed the pier on the way back from the beach.

Classic open water swimming pack formation
Classic open water swimming pack formation

Gradually the lead fast group came closer and in the zoom lens I could make out Ned, racing as usual. Tern minutes from the Comolees saw the final  swimmers round the rock into Newtown Cove, the late evening Sun directly into their eyes, and threaded between all the casual swimmers. Depending on the speed and lines taken by the swimmers they had swim up to seven kilometres in the two hours.

Finishing_MG_6617.resized

We had a chance to stand around chatting a bit afterwards, I got to meet most of the swimmers, some finally in person after previous online correspondence, whether Twitter, my blog or the marathonswimmers.org forum.

Distance Camp Copper Coast group shot
Distance Camp Copper Coast group shot

I was very happy and indeed honoured to have so many marathon swimmers visit my usually solitary playground. I appreciated that it wasn’t a short trip, and I certainly hope they enjoyed themselves.

Next year I’ve got a longer cave for them.

Spring is swum

Real spring arrived most tentatively and late in Ireland this year, following the coldest early spring in 50 years. The water has been cold at its usual lowest point in late February, but recovery from the bottom took longer to occur than usual and many of the coldest days swimming have occurred after the normal coldest point of the year.

My swim times have stayed short, shorter than in a few years, swimmers have widely been commenting about the combination of cold water and cold air making weekend open water swims difficult and brief, not complaints often heard amongst Ireland’s experienced cold water swimmers.

But finally, only two weeks, the northerly air flow shifted away and temperatures moved about low single digits.

SandycovePanorama.resized

This prompted my first visit of the year to Sandycove. How did it get so late? Only a week previously the water temperature in Tramore Bay had still been only seven degrees, but the Sandycove visit provided a lovely ten degrees. Having been ill with a chest infection for a few weeks, I’d approached the swim with slight trepidation (the only time I’ve ever thought I might have a problem with a lap) but on measuring the warm water that concern disappeared and Owen, Dave Mulcahy and I each cruised around for a pleasant sunny lap, Owen being faster was first around and utilizing his new Finis GPS for a map of a standard high-tide island lap. Some chat was had afterwards, with Mike Harris and Ned Denison out for a visit also. Ned indicated that he wouldn’t be integrating my suggested Copper Coast swim into this year’s Cork Distance Camp, “as it doesn’t suit“, whatever that means. I’ll just have to get some of the swimmers over myself!

Saturday just gone was also a mild sunny day, with light fresh northerly breeze not being too cold and therefore ideal for jellyfish-hunting. This is what I call my early spring loops of Kilfarassey’s Burke’s Island. I abandon Kilfarassey’s playground except for beach walking during the winter months as its southerly aspect is too exposed for the depth of winter and I can look forward to returning to it with increasing anticipation as spring progresses. With a light offshore and a sunny sky, the island, whose nearest point is only about ten minutes away, looked inviting. The tide was low, just off a spring and the guard-line of reefs that separate the island from the mainland were showing.

Burke's Island
Burke’s Island, low tide, offshore

I was concerned that Waterford’s deeper and more exposed water, almost always colder and slower to respond than Cork’s, despite being only about 60 miles apart, would still be only seven to eight degrees, but it was also ten degrees in the sun-warmed beach-edge water of Kilfarrassey, I doubt the Guillamene’s deeper water would have so improved.

It’s a shallow entry, and as I waded in there was a horse being ridden out in the shallows, the rider looking askance at me. The island and a string of reefs protect the beach, but once past the half-way point of the island the water depth starts to drop and I swum counter-clockwise around the outermost reefs, stirring up all the sea-birds who are far out from the mainland and therefore unused to much human traffic excepting the occasional kayakers or local fisherman. As I passed the island the temperature gradually dropped, and I guess the water around the island was about nine degrees.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The channels at the back of the reefs & island – my playground

Apart from the main island, there are actually lots of reefs and rocks and I swam into the main channel at the back of the island through many of these, my secret playground. The tide had now bottomed and heavy kelp was visible above the water. The first sea-anemones I’ve seen this year were visible on a couple of the deeper rocks and the water was crystal clear.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd what would a day to Kilfarassey be without a swim through my favourite arch, which I’ve termed the keyhole, about 25 metres long and always fun even on a calm day, though narrowest at low tide.

Kilfarassey is the location where I see (and suffer) jellyfish the most, it’s exposed and deep enough with enough calm pockets, reefs, currents and caves to hold many of them in place, but there were no jellyfish this day. The first jellyfish scouting expedition returned without a single one encountered, but it won’t be long now before our annual battles begin.

The swim was only forty minutes. But forty minutes of cold, clear heaven. Forty minutes where for the first time in weeks I felt I was where I was supposed to be, the first place where I’d felt truly and utterly free for some time, when I remembered that I started this blog over three years ago by exhorting you all to seek freedom. I write about the safe way to swim, the educated way to swim and I write about the mechanics. But it is this sense of freedom that is so essential for my own psyche and so fundamental to my own reasons for swimming. In the water, outside the island, over half a mile from the mainland, that I am ineffably myself and in that place of so little control that I feel so much confidence.

My Swimming Life 2012. Almosts.

Continuing the series I started with the Swimming Locations of 2012, followed by Swimming 2012 Continuing the Pictorial Tour, this is the second post of “runners-up” for my favourite photos of the year. And a rename of the series, people seem to be enjoying, very gratifying for my moderate skills. There will be two more, of what I think are my best/favourite photos from 2012. You know what they say, just keep taking photos.

Dover shingle
Dover shingle

An unoriginal photo, but a nice contrast of colours and high tide of the Dover shingle I mentioned in the last post.

Owen at sunset over the Channel
Owen at sunset over the Channel

The Fermoy Fish is making quite a few appearances in this series. Looking over the Channel and Folkestone Harbour in the late evening. I think in 2012 Owen appreciated the magnitude of his Channel solo, when he became (and still is) Ireland’s youngest ever Channel swimmer. He’s also a very experienced crew person whom I can’t recommend highly enough. On the horizon is Dungeness Nuclear Power Station, rarely visible from Varne, where Lisa Cummins became the first (and only) person ever to land on her second lap of the Channel. Not even Kevin Murphy, who has done just about everything Channel-wise, has landed there.

River Suir
River Suir

I’ve taken quite a few photos of the local traditional design Knocknagow fishing boats, an easy local subject that just keeps giving. Clinker-built with a flat bottom, as the river is tidal up past Carrick-on-Suir with lots of mud flats. They often sit idle in the estuary in the winter, filling with rain, and often even sink, only to be refloated and repainted in the spring.

Skelligs
Skelligs

I have taken many iterations of this same photograph over the years, one of my other favourite places on Earth, the Skellig Island, last vestige of Europe, twelve miles off the Irish south-west coast, here framed by the twin chimneys of a ruined cottage in Finian’s Bay. I probably took 30 or 40 photos on the day I took this one. To add to all the others over the years.

Copper Coast sunset
Copper Coast sunset

Shooting directly into the setting sun above the ruins of the Cornish Engine House situated on the cliff top at Tankardstown, above the old deep copper mining shafts. To get the sun and ruins silhouette, I had to use a high ISO, so there’s a lot of noise (grain). It came out as I wanted, though this is another subject that I revisit.

Brooding Copper Coast clouds
Brooding Copper Coast clouds

Clouds are rarely worth taking. But some days seem dramatically perfect for aerial shots, with a calm sea beneath. Tramore bay in the autumn.

Racing the spray (healed,cropped,).resized_modified

From that summer storm post again, I was pleased with the candid fun nature of this photo.

Dover Light
Dover Light

Dover has three lighthouses within the harbour, one at each side of the harbour mouth, (the northern one seen in the blog banner), and this one is on the end of the Prince of Wales pier. The curved nature of the small lighthouse helps reduce the photographic no-no of converging perpendiculars usually associated with taking high building from ground level.

Folkestone Harbour dawn
Folkestone Harbour dawn

One thing I am (very slowly) learning about photography, is to the chase the light, particularly early morning and late evening. Harder in the northern latitude when the days can be up to 18 hours long and I don’t really like getting up very early.

ZC2
ZC2

I wrote on the marathonswimmers.org forum that I’d long wanted to get a good shot of ZC2 as it was one of my original ideas for the name of this website. I didn’t choose it as a name because it was too esoteric, too easy to mixup in casual conversation. ZC2 is a key waypoint for Channel solos. Being too far north/outside of it, as you sweep south-easterly on the ebb tide, means you will likely miss the Cap after the tide turns. I took this during Alan Clack’s Solo, he was within metres of it, whipping past it metres every second with the tide, passing on the inside. The day wasn’t perfect for my ultimate ZC2 shot, but it will suffice. A lot of the time I imagine a shot I want while no-where or no-when near the subject, then have to chase it.

Calais traffic
Calais traffic

We know and talk about the English Channel marine traffic. Many swimmers will have big ship or two pass within a couple of hundred metres. But as you look out from Varne or the Cap, that traffic volume isn’t readily obvious, distance and haze and light obscuring it. This photo was taken with a 200mm telezoom just before a late dawn on a November Sunday morning on the Varne cliffs, of the traffic outside Calais. I rarely find a use for the zoom, as my eldest, a much better photographer than I warned me, but when you need it, it’s invaluable.

Cap Gris Nez, dawn traffic-resized
Channel Dawn, Cap Gris Nez and the Separation Zone

Cap Gris Nez is directly across from Varne, often visible. Once again the telezoom before dawn shows the middle of the Strait and the far side traffic, directly in front of the Cap and the radar station on the Cap itself. Foreshortening diminishes the width of the Separation Zone, at its narrowest point in front of the Cap of about a mile width, and seen here graphically between the northeastward-bound and southwestward-bound ships.

Channel Dawn, the Seperation Zone
Channel Dawn, shadows and light

I have a great fondness/weakness for photos of shadows and light on the sea, caused by clouds and/or under-exposure. Just an occasional time, some of them work. In truth, I love almost any kind of photo of the sea.

You know, people buy cheap prints in TK Maxx and Home Furnishing stores to put on their walls and everyone has the same ones, the Brooklyn Bridge, a random beach, whatever. Contact me and you can get an original canvas print for yourself!

Swimming to the Emerald City
Swimming to the Emerald City

Swimming Manhattan. Dee took a photo of my and kayaker Brian swimming down the Hudson that I have a liking for, I’ll always think of it, (whimsically), as swimming toward the Emerald City.

Paraic's bench
Paraic’s bench

This is a bench erected at Varne Ridge, following an idea from Rob Bohane, by friends and  members of Sandycove Island swimming club, in memory of Páraic Casey.

A pictorial tour of my 2012 open water swimming locations

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).

Tramore Bay
Tramore Bay, May 2012

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.

Kilfarassey, August 2012
Kilfarassey to Sheep Island August 2012

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.

Tankardstown, past Bunmahon & to Tempevrick
Tankardstown, past Bunmahon (in behind the middle medium island) to Tempevrick
Ballydowane Cove across to St. John's island
Ballydowane Cove across to St. John’s island
Gararrus across to Sheep Island
Gararrus across to Sheep Island with Eagle Rock just visible behind

Clonea beach, but only a couple of times. I didn’t swim at Baile na Gall.

Clonea beach across Dungarvan Bay to Helvick Head, new Year's Day, 2013
Clonea beach across Dungarvan Bay, past Carricknamoan, to Helvick Head, New Year’s Day, 2013

Sandycove, Garrylucas, Ballycotton, Myrtleville and across Cork Harbour.

Sandycove panorama
Sandycove panorama, the first and fourth corners of the island to the Red House
Garrylucas, April 2012
Garrylucas, April 2012. Most boring photo of the year?
Ballycotton Lighthouse
Ballycotton Lighthouse
Myrtleville beach at dawn, Oct. 2012
Myrtleville beach at dawn, Oct. 2012
Roche's Point to Power Head
Roche’s Point to Power Head

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.

Valentia Island and Sound panorama with Caherciveen bay and the small islands, July 2012
Valentia Island and Valentia Sound panorama, with Caherciveen bay and the small islands, July 2012

Kingsdale to Deal, Dover Harbour, and Cap Griz Nez.

Kingdale Beach
Evening on Kingdale Beach
Dover Harbour from Dover Castle, July 2012
Dover Harbour from Dover Castle, July 2012
Les Hennes to Cap Gris, July 2012, taken on one great day with good friends.
Wissant beach to Cap Gris nez, past the WWII bunkers, July 2012, taken on one great day with good friends.

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.

Inishcarra reservoir
Inishcarra reservoir
Coumshingaun Lake panorama
Coumshingaun Lake panorama, Comeragh Mountains
Bay Lough
Bay Lough, Knockmealdown Mountians

And of course Coney Island’s Brighton Beach and Around Manhattan.

Brighton beach, Coney Island
Brighton beach, Coney Island
Lower Manhattan
Lower Manhattan

All photos are of course my own.

Summer swimming on the Copper Coast 2 – Cave Exploring

Summer swimming on the Copper Coast 1 – Islands and Arches

Having swam at Kilfarrasy with Lisa, a more extraordinary cave swim came two days later when we swam another section of the Copper Coast.

First we swam into one cave, exited and swam around a tall overhanging sea stack, getting gently pushed and pulled through the canyon between the cliffs on the half metre off shore swell.

We swam around and back, into another large and regularly scary looking cave, because it’s deep, completely black from the outside, and with even the smallest water movement sound booms out from the inside. Inside we made an extraordinary discovery.

The two separate caves were actually joined deep inside by a tiny shingle beach 50 to 75 metres from the sea. It’s dark but once you are inside, bright enough to see around. Video and photographs struggle to capture the conflicting darkness and bright cave entrances, with no flash on the waterproof camera. Even on small swell the waves are compressed and break onto the little beach with the sound amplified by the walls and cave roof. It felt like an extraordinary discovery, that we might be the first people to ever discover this as it seems possible that the kayakers, the other Copper Coast adventures along with myself, wouldn’t have entered the whole way for fear of being unable to turn or reverse their kayaks.

And even if not, surely we were the first ever swimmers to penetrate the cave system, which must 100 to 150 metres long in total.

A few short clips of the cave edited together.

I’ve said before, every day in the sea is mini-adventure, few though rarely so exciting as this. Want to find out where it is? You’ll have to come swim with me to find out. :-)

Lisa at Kilfarassey.resized

Summer swimming on the Copper Coast 1 – Islands and Arches

Summer in Ireland! See for yourself.

In the middle of a horrible summer, some swims can still just be so much … fun. You don’t always need racing or swimming big distance or doing challenges. Sometimes just easy swimming with a friend can result in a truly memorable swim. Here’s a quick reminder of how stunning Kilfarassey can be for two days of summer, when all these people decide to show up on my normally almost-abandoned playground.

Kilfarassey, August 2012- it only looks like this two days a year!

A recent visit by English Channel superstar Lisa Cummins saw us doing a couple of fun swims on the Copper Coast, as my attempt to introduce this incredible swimming location to others continues. The first day we had a great swim at Kilfarassey around the playground of Burke’s Island.

I’m using the full resolution version of this as my desktop wallpaper

Swimming out, a heavy squall we’d seen approaching from the South East caught us on the flattish low-tide and resulted in one of these beautiful views of rain hammering the surface into a beaten grey/green cloth.

Shortly afterwards  the sun came out and we swam around the very low channels and reefs, having to forego a couple of options as the tide was too low. We got pulled and pushed through the main channel after watching it from outside to see if we could enter it between waves and had to pull ourselves over kelp in a few places. Lisa and Owen O’Keeffe, another recent visitor, have both commented on the thick leathery nature of the kelp (kelp/mayweed/sea hedgehog) on the Copper Coast, something I’d never thought of, so used to it am I at low tide, but it’s very different to the Japweed and Deadman’s Bootlaces seaweed more common at low tide around Sandycove Island due to the fresher nature of the water there, and if you hit a big patch of the Copper Coast kelp at low tide, you can’t swim through it, but must pull yourself over it.

Then we shot the Keyhole arch at a nice speed …

…and a great visit into the Barrel cave under the island. (I just call it the Barrel cave for no particular reason, like the names I have on some of the others, just what comes to mind).

Lisa exiting the Burke’s Island cave
Bollards

Summer Storm Force on the Copper Coast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The categories for which I’ve been nominated are;

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

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

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

Lots of thrift.resized

The Copper Coast: a Thrifty shore

Powerstown head from the Guillamenes

Sea Thrift that is, Armaria maritima, also known as sea pinks.

First thrift of 2012

Ireland’s Copper Coast has a lot of it, growing all along the coast on the cliff edges, in rock crevices and stony ground where nothing else grows.

Growing on otherwise clear stony rockfall

It’s a perennial which has a high drought and salt tolerance, in fact it seems to do best in the driest, most exposed locations, especially along cliff edges.

Faded Thrift on clifftop above Kilfarassey

Older plants will grow larger clumps of leaves and roots.

On top of a rock spire at entry to Gararrus

It’s apparently highly copper tolerant, and flourishes along the Copper Coast, and in fact if the Copper Coast were to have an icon flower it would have to be the thrift, which displays a subtle range of colour from pink to mauve and purple from plant to plant.

Its season is early summer, so the coast is rampant with it at the moment, one of the signs of summer for a south-east open water swimmer, water reaching 10 degrees Celsius, and passing the thrift on the steps down to the Guillamene.

When I think of it, and therefore the photographs I take, are as I most commonly see it, silhouetted against the sea or the sky, framing events in the sea, or faded but still present during the winter, and always standing against the onshore Atlantic winds.

Thrift & Sheep Island, sea, sky and flowers.

When you can appreciate thrift in such extraordinary scenery, why would you want to trap it in a domestic garden?

Thrift against sea and canoes at Kilfarassey

It seems I’ve taken a lot of pictures of thrift (there are 98 tagged in my library so far and many more I still want to take, so you can image it was difficult to choose just a few), from early season buds, to summer blooms and late season stragglers to dead winter flowers.

Winter Guillamenes thrift

Apparently … I love sea thrift.

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
Kelp

Ballyvooney to Stradbally – the last Project Copper swim

Ballyvooney Cove and danger sign

Ballyvooney Cove is on the smaller coast road between Stradbally and Bunmahon and is not well known. It has heavy shingle and is difficult to walk on above mid-tide, like some of the others along this coast like Annestown. It’s only a couple of hundred metres across and the same to the flanking rocks.

To the south-west is Gull Island, the largest of that name along this coast, and the cliffs rise steadily from the relatively low height around the cove to highest and most vertical on the Copper Coast. The only break between Ballyvooney and the north-eastern end of Clonea’s beach and Ballyvoyle is the narrow and shallow cove at Stradbally, cut out by the river Tay. Stradbally Cove is invisible from the east until you are right outside it. Further on is Ballyvoyle Head which is pretty inaccessible from land and is the headland which juts out furthest in the sea on the entire Copper Coast.

Project Copper Last Swim - I wish I was smiling in this picture, I was enjoying myself after all

It is the last swim of Project Copper, and the shortest distance.

With the coast curving around (westerly) toward Stradbally before curving out (south-westerly) toward Ballyvoyle Head, I hoped that the curve would mean I wouldn’t be exposed to too many currents. However, I would be swimming out of range of Goggle Earth’s high-resolution images, and back into an area covered only by the very low resolution images I’d previously had for everywhere on the Waterford Coast, useless for swim planning or even accurate distance measurement, until this year, when the high-resolution images were added.

Gull Island

Hoping I’d have time to play with, and remembering the previous swim, that I hadn’t made it the whole way to Ballyvooney, I’d have to finish this swim by swimming back into the range of the previous swim, I swam directly for the outside of Gull Island, but didn’t make the far outside of it for twenty minutes. Oh-oh, might be another current.

Gull Island closeup

At the island, unsurprisingly given its name, there were good numbers of seabirds, all the usual suspects, who took to the air en-mass to wheel around, cry and dive for closer inspection. At least 50 birds must have taken wing, probably the largest number of seabirds I’ve disturbed.

After passing outside the island I continued diagonally in toward the coast, aiming for the next headland, guessing Stradbally would be past it. I was watching the section of high cliff for a minute or two before realising, I shouldn’t have been noticing it so much, so that meant I wasn’t making progress. After five minutes I was sure that I was making no forward progress, and not knowing from which direction the current may be coming, I started to zip-zag. First I tried outwards and still not making headway, before finally starting to move again as I tried headed toward the cliffs.

Stradbally Cove beach

I turned the very interesting headland around Stradbally at 50 minutes, 10 minutes longer than my estimate, and spent another ten minutes swimming into the cove, turning, swimming around a few stacks outside the Cove and heading back to Ballyvooney. I covered in about five minutes the distance it had taken me twenty on the way outwards, by far the strongest current I’ve encountered on this entire stretch of coast, a sting in the tail of Project Copper. Returning, this time I passed inside Gull Island , then swimming across the Cove again to overlap my previous swim, and then into the cove for a difficult climb out on the shingle, in a time of about an hour and thirty, longer than anticipated.

Shale cliffs

I met Ryan, a 4th year UCC geology, and asked him a few geology questions beyond the basics I’ve picked up over the years, before I swam. Ryan had chosen Ballyvooney for hist 4th year project and had been on site for over a month and still had a lot of work to do, due to the complexity  of geological features in the tiny cove.

Black & white worn rocks at tide line

And walking around it shingle and beneath the low cliffs, the riot of colour just in rocks alone was beyond any other location I’d seen, and I’d seen a lot of colour already.

Yellow rocks

Ryan had gone (I’d suggested a visited to the Old Red Sandstone est of Ballydowane Cove after he said he preferred sedimentary rocks, maybe he went) so I couldn’t ask him about the particularly striking small section of pale and golden-yellow rock, with a few sparse growths of seaweed attached.

I took a lovely image of some shale with embedded quartz, which, like those picture of beach stones and pebbles that I like, also makes a great desktop wallpaper on full size.

 

 

Project Copper is over. I’ve swum the entire Copper Coast, unsupported. I’ll do an overview separately.

Shale desktop

Ballyvooney Bridge

Ballydowane to Ballyvooney – The penultimate Project Copper swim

Ripple currents sign & entrance to Ballydowane

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. :-)

Old Red Sandstone cliffs at Ballydowane

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.

Toward Ballyvooney & Gull Island in the distance

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.

St. John's Island

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.

The tunnel through St. John's Island

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.

Swim route around and through St. John's Island

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 .

Project Copper. Almost done.

The sea, the colours ...

Kilfarassey – a swimmer’s paradise

In 2010 while Channel training I did the majority of my Waterford training at Clonea, trying to eek out some fractional comfort from the average extra 0.25 degree Celsius water temperatures, after spending the previous few years mainly swimming at the Guillamene, where I returned again last winter and this spring and early summer.

Kilfarassey signposts

But by mid summer I was looking for another location and this time as I explored it more, I grew enamoured of Kilfarassey as a swimming location and it was influential, along with the Guillamene to Sheep Island swim, as the genesis of the Project Copper idea. I was looking forward to talking about Kilfarassey particularly. Prepare yourself for effusive gushing and lots of photographs. In fact it was hard to reduce the number of images I wanted to use here.

Kilfarassey beach & Brown's Island & Sheep Island panorama

The beach is about 6 kilometres from Tramore by sea, as I now know more accurately from the first swim of Project Copper.

Beach cut off by tide sign

At high tide most of the surrounding beach is cut off from the small car park but at a mid to low tide it’s possible to get around the headlands and walk from the west end of Kilfarassey beach to Garrarus car park, three kilometres away.

Brown's Island & rocks from cliff

Right in front of the car park is Brown’s Island, which looks like a single island from the road but is actually a collection of rocks and the larger island in a line.


Brown's Island and rocks
Western end of Kilfarassey beach

To the west end of the beach is a very large sea arch, passable from about half-tide, or lower if you are swimming, since it’s protected by reefs on the east side, but through which you can still swim. This arch could fit three or four swimmers side-by-side and is as high or higher than a room and about 50 metres long.

Western arch and Yellow Rock sea-stack

All along the beach are reefs peeking out are various tides but at high tide giving the impression of fairly empty water.

 

 

 

 

 

There are two particularly tall and imposing sea-stacks, one at either end of the beach, the one at the west end called Yellow Rock.

The western arch end is only about ten or twelve minutes swim from the car park, the east end is further, about twenty minutes or twenty-five minutes away.

Sheep Island & Orthanc and eastern end of Kilfarassey

At the eastern end , around an outcrop of cliff, is the rocky section down to the next promontory and Sheep island outside it. The promontory itself looks like an island with a sandy gap between it and the cliffs.

Promontory inside Sheep Island

Sheep Island is separated by a narrow gap of only a couple of metres. And there is a long narrow tunnel about 75 to 100 metres wide through the back of the promontory. There is a very big sea stack just west of Sheep Island, which I’ve dubbed Orthanc for myself, onto which you can climb on a very calm day with a nice jumping location on the south-west side, from about 4 metres up. There are reefs all over the place down here, and the outside of Sheep Island picks up a stiff easterly current, but even on a rough day, I’ve been able to swim in the narrow gap separating Sheep Island from the promontory.

Long tunnel closeup

Once beyond Sheep Island to the east you are into Gararrus Bay, with the island I’ve previously dubbed The Watchtower just on the other side of Sheep island, on the Gararrus side.

Eastern promontory arch with Dee for scale at low tide

There are huge arches through the promontory inside Sheep Island, which can just be swum at high tide and are portaged by canoeists.

Brown's Island from east side

On prevailing onshore winds the area is of course rough. I’ve swum out to Brown’s Island, it takes about 10 minutes to get to the near side on a calm day and you can add five minutes for a rough day, and another ten to circle around to behind all the rocks on the far side.

Reefs seen through old cliff wall

Once out at the island, there are plenty of opportunities for swimming between the rocks, in fact it feels like there are two arms of reefs reaching out from beyond the the main island that you can swim between, and the largest of the reefs also has another narrow, one-person-wide tunnel through it. The reefs are light coloured rock beneath the water and on a sunny day are fascinating with the variation of colour and shape and kelp and fish. There’s something that I love about looking at the steep reefs while that drop off suddenly underwater, it’s like flying around mountains.

The sea, the colours ...

The only downsides of Kilfarassey are its exposure to onshore prevailing winds, and the fact that at low tide too much reef is exposed, restricting the area that can be swum. On a bright day the area is spectacular from the cliffs, although this also applies to the entire Copper Coast.

Tipperary colours, blue & gold

There are all the usual Mid-Waterford coast sea birds in the area along with choughs and plenty of cliff to walk on both east and west sides of the car park.

Chough in flight

The erosion of the cliffs can also be easily seen, there are regular overhangs where all that is left is the final bed of topsoil with plant root systems holding it in place, so keep your distance from the edge.

All the colours and more

Kilfarassey has become a swimmer’s paradise for me. I wanted to wait until I’ve done a lot of swimming there before I “unveiled” it here, as it’s not like I’ve discovered it, though I guess like the rest of the coast no-one has anywhere near the same amount of experience swimming it as me.

They say green and blue should never be seen together. They're wrong.
Cormorant and Fulmar on The Watchtower

The entire coast is hugely popular with canoeists and kayakers for the variation in geography, and it’s been many the time that I’ve been getting in the water this year after passing Mick O’Meara’s seapaddling.com‘s van. Mick is a veteran of a round-Ireland canoeing expedition, who arranges trips and training all the way along the coast and the gallery on his site shows a lot more of the arches and tunnels, since he can actually carry a camera with him. I’ve actually talked to more canoeists this year since I started moving up and down the coast more, but have yet to talk to Mick at sea. Mick, I’m the guy in the orange hat!

Faded Thrift through cliff wall

In fact one day I swam around the back of the Brown’s Island rocks, and there, standing precariously on one of the small rocks, was a guy in a high-vis lifevest. He had his kayak (not canoe) hoisted onto the rock and he was barely balanced there. I don’t know which of us was more surprised. I stopped to talk. But it turned out that he was Polish, and didn’t seem to have great English. I asked if he was okay, which made me laugh afterwards, he had a boat, I had a pair of goggles and we were a kilometre from the coast, what could I do?

Divers at low tide

On this picture I didn’t even know there were divers out there until I saw the photograph.

I picked one particular swim for this post, and, given how long this post already is, I’ll only give brief synopsis.

Kilfarassey swim map

West from the car park, around Yellow Rock, through the arch, back around the promontory, across to Brown’s Island and outside reef, weave through the reefs and swim through the small tunnel in the second rock, swim around the big island, then strike out across to Sheep Island, passing Orthanc on your left, a swim that feels a bit longer as you are swimming into an adverse current, swim back out around the outside of Sheep island, again weave through the reefs and swim in the narrow gap separating Sheep Island to the big promontory, swim the inside of Orthanc, up along the beach, back out around the next reefs  and into the main beach. There are plenty of variations.

Oh, there’s one other problem with Kilfarassey. I’ve been swimming it solo, when I want to share with friends. Describing it is like being Steven Black, Mike Harris, Liz or Finbarr fifteen years ago trying to explain Sandycove before it became the world-famous swimming location it is now. Kilfarassey is fantastic, and right now it feels like I’m the only swimmer that knows it.

Hope you enjoyed this post. If you feel like exploring Kilfarassey, drop me a line.

Bunmahon to Tankardstown

I thought I’d already posted this swim, as in the swim report for Bunmahon to Ballydowane, I alluded to previously discussed knowledge of Bunmahon from years visiting it and as the surf spot that I know best, even better than Kilmurrin. I must have spent hundreds of hours surfing here. As a swimming location it can be dangerous on swell, producing a powerful undertow at a higher tide, and it’s taken the lives of a couple of people over the years. This swim was a companion specifically to the Kilmurrin to Tankardstown swim, to complete the same stretch of coast.

The small beach break belies its unprepossessing appearance by producing a series of shifting, fast, steep and occasionally very big waves and as such is much-loved by local surfers. Even on swell though it’s pretty mushy and mundane at low tide with the power best unveiled on a rising tide.

West end of Bumahon at low tide

It was raining and low tide when I arrived, utterly uninviting, with a solitary person walking a dog, a couple of kids in wetsuits with foamies, and the two lifeguards, Bernie and Kate, sheltering in the prefabricated metal lifeguard hut. Only in Ireland would we make beach lifeguard huts metal. After I’d explained what I was doing, I started from the west end of the beach where the locals and regulars park, even though it has only a small amount of the space of the main car park. The main car park is for tourists!

Bunmahon beach low tide

I swam away east, swimming along the beach through the mushy channel area, the tide being low meant there were none of the channels or rips that often occur in the centre of the beach apparent. I passed the Mahon river mouth and swam out of the small bay after about 12 minutes. I passed though a section of rocks, with the almost unknown slipway and difficult to access of Stage Cove up at the high tide line.

Stage Cove slipway

I wondered if I was going to run into the current and difficult conditions that typified the Kilmurrin to Tankardstown swim from the opposite direction, though even though there was a similar onshore wind, I believed I might be lucky with the low tide, and so it was, as I passed across the tiny Stage Cove and into the area below the cliffs, moving past the rock of Cassaunagreena, now exposed by the low tide. The cliffs coming from this side sloped more slowly up the height of the Engine House and old main mine shafts, all of 240 metres deep, well below sea-level.

Cassaunnagreana Rock

And then I had a slow-ish swim to pass under the Cornish Engine house until I was past, in line with Drumboe rock under CastleCoileen, and therefore sure that I’d overlapped the swim that ended around there on the Kilmurrin to Tankardstown, in much worse conditions.

The water conditions were nowhere near as bad as they were on a higher tide, with all the reefs now exposed, even though it was a cloudy and dull day, with the rain still falling.

Drumboe rock at low tide in the rain, reefs exposed

Because of the low tide of course, I was further out, and that also reduced the sensation of the menacing overhang of the cliffs. I’d reached turning point in a mere 40-ish minutes. The swim back was uneventful, a few turns around reefs  and to swim around the reef and rocks outside the Mahon estuary, and slowing as I swam up the beach, losing a few minutes on the return but finishing in about one hour and twenty-five minutes.

Old Mine Shaft Warning Sign and crab apples

Bunmahon to Kilmurrin is one of the most interesting sections of the Copper Coast, with the Cornish Engine House as the centre-piece, the surroundings nicely landscaped, new walking paths and guides all over the area. There are a lot of old mine shafts along this section but all have been safely cordoned off and sign-posted, some of the old signs in place for a long time.

Old Bunmahon mining industry area sign click for detail

Understand this and you will understand Ireland

Bunmahon to Ballydowane Cove

Bunmahon lifeguard flag

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.

Currents visible outside St. John's Island & Templebrick

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.

Templebrick Islands outside Bunmahon. If you swim around the back quite close, that rock arches out over you.

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.

If you understand this, you understand Ireland ...

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.

Poppies & daisies over Bunmahon

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.

St. John's Island from Ballydowane

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.

Bunmahon to outside Ballydowane Cove

way.

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.

Kilmurrin Cove to Tankardstown

Having explored Kilmurrin to Boatstrand, an obvious step was to swim underneath the 50 metre cliffs to the west of the cove, toward Bunmahon.

Currents trailing west from Cove Entrance, Captain's Rock peeking around the far headland with the far current just visible

The conditions were typically similar. Force Two onshore. Tide was lower though, only half in the cove.

Back of Captain's Rock, west, outside Kilmurrin

I left via the usual route on the left of the cove aiming to the left of Captain’s Rock, outside the cove. It felt like a long straight swim out.  After 15 minutes the cars above the beach were still visible, I had probably travelled only 500 metres. Ok, this meant I was right into another contrary current, the one I’d seen previously.

CastleCoileen, more currents visible from above

I changed direction, headed in a bit to under the cliffs and aimed for Drumboe rock, the next outcrop along. As I approached it, the ruin of the old Cornish Engine building and the rebuilt chimney stack, high up on the cliff, appeared. These were refurbished a few years backs as part of the Copper Coast Geoparks project.

The conditions here were particularly noticeable, maybe partly because of the isolation. But I’ve often looked down from the cliff top here, and the height strips away what may be happening below unless it’s very big.

Looking down from the cliffs

Once again, like the previous return to Kilmurrin, I was swimming in nasty conditions, not caused just by wind, but by topography. Swimming along the waves, I felt like I was in two to three metres waves and I was swimming across them, through troughs and up peaks.

Drumboe and Carrickadda rocks

I didn’t reach the coast under the mine until 45 minutes since I’d left, very slow. I have to say, it’s scary out there. The water has a different feeling that what I’d expected from my times looking down from the cliff. It’s very exposed, and like Dunabrattin, not for the faint hearted.  On the way back I was getting pushed in under CastleCoileen cliff and next in behind Captain’s Rock, before coming around with the Cove appearing in front. Once again I aimed for the centre of the cove. The large waves that I had been subject to on the other side of Captain’s Rock didn’t seem to however be behind me as I’d expected. Instead it was just choppy water, with a little push as I entered the Cove, and small breakers closing out onto the beach. Once again I picked up time on the return, 10 minutes this time.

Cornish Engine building and site

By staying close in, it’s a scary place to swim, that sense created by some of the higher cliffs along this coast, and the rough state of the water which is amplified once again by the sea floor topography and by the dark lowering sky and added to by strong currents. A short swim of about 90 minutes but not for anyone less than experienced open water swimmers, I think.

Kilmurrin to Cornish Engine at Tankardstown

Kilmurrin to Boatstrand

The first time I ever air-dropped a wave and stuck it was in Kilmurrin.

That’s surfer lingo. Something I’ve rarely used and sparingly. I refused to ever say gnarly, or stoked, for example. In Ireland, I always thought, we had sufficient command of expressive language and a predilection and culture for description such that surfer speak terms were mostly unnecessary.

The best and funniest surfer dude interview, by the way, just in case you’ve never seen it. Watch it. Steve, this one is from your front porch! Check out the remix on the playlist after it finishes also.

But some terms were invaluable to describe aspects of surfing or the sea. A heavy wave. Glassy. Jacking up. Closing outChannel. Not the Channel I usually refer to, but a way of getting through a break by using an outward flowing current.

Mike Parsons air drops

Air-dropping a wave and sticking it, meant the wave rose up so quickly and so steeply that the surfer trying to take off lost touch between the wave and the board, and dropped on the board though the air. Sticking it meant staying on the board and in control after landing, and surfing the wave.

My very old, and very battered, and to this day still never out of my car, the Stormrider Guide to Europe says of Kilmurrin: This is the last resort when storm surf is closing out everywhere. It has a big drop with little else. The wave breaks at the mouth of the cove – don’t venture out beyond it.

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The cove has a single house. Someone I surfed with for years lived there and I got to know Kilmurrin Cove better than almost anyone except maybe one or two other people. I surfed in double-overhead left-handed surf, on a crazy vertical A-frame peak (the air-drop), on high-tide kamikaze breaking into 20 centimetres of water surf, on pristine glassy right-hand tubes. I cut opened my head on a skeg there and had to go to the emergency room, the classic surfer’s injury. I once caught a single wave there in Force 11 after ninety minutes of trying to make it 50 metres to get in position, in wind so awful it ripped the door of my car off its hinges after I exited, while the other two people who knew it as well as me refused to get in the water with me, calling it insanity. But still wanting to watch to see what happened. I knew this place and Bunmahon up the road better than my own garden. I guess I even thought of them as my garden.

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Kilmurrin Cove & Dunabrattin Head

A few months ago a Twitter contact asked me about swimming from Kilmurrin to Boatstrand, the fishing harbour east along the coast, only a mile by road, on the other side of Dunabrattin Head. We tried to arrange it for last week but the weather and schedules didn’t co-operate.

Left to my own devices, I wasn’t as constrained by worrying about someone else’s safety and conditions.

Strong currents

I had a look at my OSI map. I figured there would be currents around Dunabrattin Head. And I knew from all that experience that there is a really strong rip across the mouth of the cove, running east, even if Stormrider hadn’t also mentioned it. Or if Waterford County Council hadn’t added a sign.

But the cove is only 50 metres across at the entrance, which is what makes it such an unusual surf location. That entrance focuses swell, and the sudden shallowing of bottom makes the wave rear up suddenly, like a watery beast and inside the cove widens to about 250 metres with the hillside around helping protect from wind, so waves can then refract across the cove.

Kilmurrin Cove

The only distortion in the photo are the joined waves in the foreground. It’s such a perfect little horseshoe that it looks like it was taken with a fisheye lens.

When I arrived it was Force Two onshore south-westerly, the prevailing conditions. There’s a channel on the left side of the cove that operates as a conveyor belt out to the entrance.

Dunbrattin Strand on the left

I turned left outside the cove and headed for inside Dunabrattin Head. It quickly became obvious that the easterly current was supplanted by a contrary westerly current and I was in it. As I approached the tiny beach on the west side of Dunabrattin, I adjusted outward to the head. And even more surprising, was that even though it was only Force Two the water was very rough. And occasionally underneath I could glimpse reefs suddenly coming toward me in the waves.

In all my time on this stretch of coast, I had never known Dunabrattin Head was a popular fishing spot. I suppose it wasn’t on my surf radar. But I could see people there as I approached. As I’d headed outward the current disappeared and I started to move at a normal pace.

Anglers on Dunabrattin Head

 

 

Close to the rocks I could see there must have been ten guys line angling. In my brief breathing glimpses, all seemed to have stopped to watch. Once again, I was certainly something they’d never seen before in that location.

I arced around the head toward Boatstrand harbour and the water calmed down significantly. There were quite a few skerries at this side. I stopped outside the pier wall in line with the small building I could see, which I assumed was a small ice house or office.

Boatstrand Harbour

Boatstrand is a small working fishing harbour, but I hadn’t been down to the harbour in maybe ten years, and then I was only thinking surf. It had taken me 45 minutes to get to here, a bit longer than I’d guessed, but no worries.

Skerries outside Boatstrand

Back around the head and passing the fishermen again, I realised I was bit slower coming back, so there was another current here. This time I didn’t follow the coastline but took a direct line across toward the cove entrance. And in this direction I could really see and feel how the topography amplified the south-westerly chop. Waves felt like they were being trapped between Dunabrattin Head and the short stretch between Kilmurrin and Dunabrattin, reflecting off the low ( 20/25 metre) cliffs. When surfing near a pier or promenade on high tide this occurrence is obvious. Reflected waves add to the size of the incoming waves, but increase the unpredictably. It felt like that, but quite a way out. It was both a slog and fight, the fight of utterly unpredictable water.

Currents heading west toward Dunbrattin

As I approached the cove, I moved toward the centre of the entrance. I didn’t want to be close the rocks as I had on the way out, with the possibly of random waves appearing behind me and throwing me onto the barnacle encrusted reefs.

I was back by one hour twenty-five minutes, having picked up five minutes on the return. In all, I’d consider the stretch as pretty sketchy and potentially dangerous because of the amplifying corner effect, and the various currents in the area, which will are also shifting depending on conditions and tide.

Kilmurrin to Boatstrand and back

I took a look again from the cliff above the entrance. And there were the currents quite visible. But though those are the current warned of in Stormrider, they weren’t the current that added to the difficulty, indeed the current across the entrance becomes an opposing current., Oh, and since this bothers some people, there are regular seals in this area, probably based behind the skerries in Boatstrand, but very regular visitors in Kilmurrin and along this stretch of coast, I saw one just outside the harbour wall.

Fáilte go Dunabrattin agus Boatstrand