Tag Archives: Distance Camp

2014 Cork Distance Week & the Copper Coast swim

After repeated poor wet cold summers, 2013 was pretty decent by Irish standards. Or at least mid-May to mid-July were good. After that it reverted to recent type but did allow me to run a Copper Coast Distance Week swim which had been blown out in 2012 by a ridiculous summer storm which stopped swimming everywhere that day.

Cork Distance Week swimmers were to return to the Copper Coast in 2014 and for an unprecedented (seemingly for decades) second year in a row the early Irish summer was good and holding.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, Cork Distance Week is a  combination of mass delusion and fringe cult for marathon swimmers. It’s often called “the toughest week of open water swimming in the world“.

For nine days in July (it’s previously happened earlier) forty, fifty or sixty open water swimmers from around the world gather in Ireland. Because only here can you be guaranteed the combination of rubbish weather, cold water, jellyfish and challenging locations* required to make you a better, stronger more confident swimmer, ready for the English or North Channels or anything else the sea will throw at you.

More than just a boot camp, it’s Base Camp for those who aspire to the big horizontal wet challenges. It’s run by Ned Denison with  occasionally-allowed assistance and participation of other Sandycove swimmers.

The week revolves around swimming twice a day for two hours per session, often moving locations for the evening swims. It culminates on the penultimate day with the infamous TBBC, aka The Torture Swim on the Saturday, of which rumours abound. As a regular repeat Torturer I can neither confirm nor deny anything you may have heard that we inflict on the swimmers. Suffice to say I believe a public inquiry, media exposure and a prison sentence are real possibilities in the future for those of us who have acted as Torturers. And I’m not even joking.

On the final day swimmers complete a six-hour Channel qualification swim around Sandycove. (Except the Sandycove locals. We usually swim more, just for local pride and Irish pig-headedness. Oh, and an insane coach).

Total weekly distances, if a swimmer completes every swim, vary from a low 85 kilometre one year to 105 kilometres in 2014, and the astonishingly high 150 kilometres in 2010, the year of The Magnificent Seven, (of which Rob Bohane and I completed 140 k). Yes folks, things really were tougher in our day. :-)

After years, and using a new-fangled device called Google Earth, in 2012 I was finally able to prove to the People’s Republic of Cork swimming citizens that in fact Ireland does have locations east of Cork which aren’t called Dublin, the only eastern location Cork people have always (grudgingly) admitted as existing.

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Kilfarassey IMG_3834-IMG_3837.resized
Earlier in the day, an unusually calm Kilfarassey hides its many charms

With no idea of the attending numbers, I wanted to stage a different swim to last year by moving outside Tramore Bay, which required more obliging winds than prevailing onshore.

The early week forecast was good with light winds forecast so on Monday I was able to plan for a swim at Kilfarassey for the group.

Dee & I arrived early afternoon in order to grab parking spaces as they became available, using police bollards I’d borrowed from Tramore Garda station. There was some muttering from a few people  that we’d taken spaces in the small car park but the Garda (Irish name for police) bollards, a large sign and table we set up and ready explanations for anyone asking questions helped alleviate any hostility.

Dee & Doglet setting up  IMG_3832.resized
Dee and the Doglet setting up early on

Like a lot of distance swimmers, I find beaches somewhat dull. Due to the presence of the small Burke’s Island slightly offshore, Kilfarassey looks only slightly less dull than most beaches. Its treasures are hidden and only available to those who swim more than a couple of short kilometres.

Arriving later than the originally planned start time of 6 p.m.  almost half of the Distance Camp swimmers had made the two-hour drive across.

I’d chosen a complicated looping seven kilometre route. So it required guiding by kayakers and splitting the swimmers into three different speed groups. I was joined by local marathon swimming friends Owen O’Keefe and Conor Power and Alex, partner of one of the visiting swimmers, all kayaking for the event. There was also a shorter three kilometre route for swimmers wishing to have an easy swim.

Starting off IMG_3866.resizedI’m not going to do a breakdown or map of the routes here, because while I’ve shown all the parts of the swim here, I’d prefer to keep it to myself, unless I get to guide someone around it. So if you want to see and experience its delights the only way is to come here and have me take you around.

Swimming out
Swimming out

The long route featured such delights as Jellyfish Alley, The Cave of Screaming Terror, LoneSwimmer’s Playground, The Keyhole, Barrel Cave, Rat Island, The Toughest Kilometre on the Copper Coast and The Jellyfish Nursery.  Despite or because of the ominous sounding names, some original but most my own, it’s been my favourite two hour swim on the Copper Coast for a couple of years now. I usually only swim it during July and August.

The route featured multiple caves, arches which included one that prompted an explosive “you have got to be fucking kidding me“, (which is a lot of shouting for a swimmer and was a delight to me), rocks, circumnavigations of two islands, adverse currents with wind against tide, feeling utterly lost, tunnels, reefs, huge jellyfish and swimming blind into a setting Sun.

Jellyfish Alley, a gentle introduction
Jellyfish Alley, a gentle introduction

I think you can tell if you are a marathon or aspiring marathon  swimmer if all this sounds like fun.

Of those who visited, some were already LoneSwimmer regular visitors and it was great to put faces to names.

Copper Coast Keyhole Arch
The fast group after swimming through The Keyhole Arch

Adam Walker has since completed the Ocean’s Seven. Kate Robarts, Hazel Killingbeck (an incredible 16 years old, same as Owen when he became the youngest Irish person to solo the Channel), Jason Betley and Dani Lobo have all completed the English Channel. Coleen Mallon has completed the North Channel and Phil Hodges won the brutal Loch Lomond swim which had an attrition rate of 75%. A huge congratulations to all! Two others are awaiting their swims this year and more will be swimming next year. The group also included a number of existing Channel swimmers including Ned, Zoe “Matron” Sadler, Zara Bullock and Distance Camp repeat offenders Helen Gibbs and Sarah Tunnicliffe, who really should know better by now. Proof I’d like to think that Irish waters are the best swimming waters! Almost as impressive is that excluding Ned, three Cork swimmers, Fergus Galvin, Carmel Collins and Gordon Adair actually left the warm embrace of the People’s Republic to travel east, surprising since, as every Cork person knows, Cork is the world.

The Copper Coast Distance Camp swim is one of my swimming highlights of the year, even though I’m not actually swimming. My love for the glorious and little known Copper Coast  has grown year over year and I have a very proprietorial sense of ownership of its beauty and wonders that I like to share. I’ve swum every metre of all these routes, exploring new wrinkles and features but mostly doing so by myself. So it’s a thrill to share with swimmers whose capabilities I don’t have to worry about and whom I know will appreciate its challenges and beauty.

There’s also something really special for me about having a big group of Channel and marathon swimmers arrive just to swim my coast. No media, no reporters, just marathon swimmers, on a Thursday evening, doing what they do. No hype, no trumpets, none of the fake nonsense associated with so many sports or other pursuits. A simple bunch of simple-minded swimmers sharing simple water. Doing something that often takes years of perseverance and training and experience to develop, all done just for the love of a dumb thing.  If there isn’t a lesson in that, well I guess our worlds are different.

Distance Camp Copper Camp swim: Reefs, rocks, tunnels, islands, arches and caves. Oh my!I am left with one dilemma, (and you know I already have a lot of those). Some of the attendees commented that it was “the best swim ever“. There is no better compliment a swim organiser can receive. So my dilemma is: what can I do next year?

But I’ve been thinking and I’ve had one idea…

Will you be here? You really should be.

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My thanks go to Owen, Alex and Conor for kayaking, especially on my circuitous route. To Ned for keeping the Copper Coast on the Distance Camp schedule, and for not inflicting the American camera crew on us. To Keith Garry for loan of the camera and use of the images. To Alex for stepping in as extra kayaker at the last-minute and acting as a communications conduit between the groups. To Lisa and Ned’s partner Catherine for helping out on land and of course my partner Dee, who as usual was the organiser behind the food and organisation and who kept my head from popping off.

The 2015 Distance Camp is already about one-third full and filling fast. Due to the success of the Copper Coast swim, it’s already on the 2015 schedule, for the first time this early.  Attendance at Distance Camp is by invitation only, which means you need to ask Ned Denison for an invite. If you can’t find it elsewhere, you can use the contact form on the About tab to ask me for his email privately, or contact Ned through the Marathon Swimmers Forum.

* Challenging means middle of nowhere, bad signposts, little parking, no changing or shower or toilet facilities and miles from food, often in rain and wind.

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.