Tag Archives: Dunmore East

Ballymacaw – Swimming a new location 2

I love swimming at my favourite places such as Kilfarassey, Sandycove and the Guillamenes. but I also love swimming at new places and there aren’t that many left to me on the Waterford Coast. It’s been some time since I did Project Copper Coast, swimming from Powerstown Head as far as Stradbally. There’s a gap of about two kilometres still unswum at Ballyvoyle Head, then all of Dungarvan Bay is swum (I hope to close that gap this year). There’s a long inaccessible stretch of coast with high cliffs from Helvick Head to Ardmore Bay, which stretch of coast is home to Ireland’s highest lighthouse at Mine Head and also still untackled apart from a couple of swims off Clare’s boat back in 2010. In 2011, I wrote a post on swimming a new location (Whiting Bay) and how I went about it, and this covers a similar theme of swimming a new location, but with different considerations.

Last year I travelled away from the Copper Coast closer to the Waterford Estuary, on the far (east) side of Tramore Bay and before Dunmore East, a less-travelled stretch of coast, and did an exploratory swim out of Portally Cove, where I discovered strong westerly currents running toward Dunmore East. 

The May Holiday weekend brought some very rare sun and a little bit of warmth, and a belief that I was finally recovering from a protracted chest infection. The water temperature seemed stable at around 10 degrees in Kilfarassey, so I decided I’d spent the day on the coast at the far side of Tramore Bay again.

Saleens warning sign
Saleens warning sign

We started the morning at the Saleens, the beach and channel at the east side of Tramore Bay. The channel separates the Back Bay, a tidal lagoon from the main bay and as such has a very strong current running through it.

From there we moved onward to Ballymacaw on the far side of Powerstown Head, which I’d only ever visited twice previously on a bad day and low tide. This occasion was a nice day, close to high tide. Like Portally, Ballymacaw is another tiny narrow and short high-sided cove, on the west side of the estuary but away from any  main road. If you remember, tidal range here in Ireland is about 5 metres average so at low tide both Portally and Ballymacaw Coves are almost dry and at high tide the coves are completely flooded. Prior to swimming Dee and I walked the path through the dense gorse bushes out to the old slipway, and then out beyond the cove entry for a good look outside the cove. Eastwards the next headland is Swines Head, to where I had swum from out of Portally. West from Ballymacaw is toward Powerstown Head and inaccessible from land, though the coast and cliffs are typically only about five to ten metres high, there are no roads.

Ballymacaw Cove
Ballymacaw Cove & the old slipway – (the new lens Polarizer is working out!)

The wind was fresh, about Force Three and there was plenty of movement in the water. With still cool water, it was earlier than usually to be doing an exploratory swim so it would need to be short. Not least because with my weight loss and less exposure training than usually, I’ve lost some of my hardening and feeling 45 minutes is about enough currently without wanting to push hard into a colder state. For this short exploratory swim at a new location, I had a number of things to evaluate and weigh beforehand

  • Swimming time
  • Currents
  • Rocks
  • Water state (roughness)
  • Wind direction
East from Ballymacaw to Swines Head
Looking east from Ballymacaw to Swines Head

Our walk out to the cliff outside the cove entrance gave a good view of the coast on either side. Also the water state of the sea and a good look at the rough water around the cove entrance. The cove itself was completely flat but right at the ten to fifteen metre-wide entrance there was a lot of movement in the water and reefs just visibly breaking the surface on the west side. The sea outside the cove had plenty of onshore wind, blowing south-westerly onto shore at a slight angle and the water was very choppy though with no big swell. Chop waves were one to two metres high.

Ballymacaw Cove entrance
Ballymacaw Cove entrance and the old slipway

Back at the car, I changed and explained my plan to Dee. The cove is about 300 metres long at high tide, it might take me four to five minutes to reach the entrance and the rough water at which point I would disappear from her view. With the wind blowing onshore but with a slight westerly element, I would swim into the chop. It was high tide, and though most people don’t believe me, high on the Waterford coast is NOT slack tide and I knew the tidal current would still be running east, though I couldn’t estimate any local eddy current effects which would run anti-clockwise. I also knew that there had been strong westerly currents from the west moving in this direction previously when I’d swum out of Portally and I would always choose to swim into an unknown current when heading out. The obvious rationale is that I don’t want to get carried too far away from a starting place by a strong current, and possibly have too difficult a swim back while getting cold.

So I would swim west for 15 minutes after leaving the cove, evaluating travelled distance as I went. If there was no current I would be then have 15 minutes back, plus another few minutes getting back to the beach, 40 minutes total. I wear a watch always when swimming open water so I’d be able to judge. Dee asked at what point should she start worrying, so I said 45 minutes, at which point she could walk up on the path to give her a better chance to see me.

As I was about to get ready a couple of guys were also getting changed into scuba gear. They were somewhat familiar with the cove, and indicated no items of concern, except a steep drop-off to 10 metres at the eastern exit of the cove and a consequent sharp drop in temperature. Just before I was ready to get in however, the worst of all possible arrivals, appeared in the bay: Three jetskis. Even in the flat water of the cove I didn’t want to risk getting in so I got back in the car. The jetskis tied up to the outside old slipway, and the guys came inland along the winding gorse path. they could only have come out of Dunmore East, the only possible water entrance for many miles. They came along the path, obviously heading for the pub near the cove. I had a chat and let them know I was heading out and there were already divers out there. They were nicer chaps but while I can’t be certain they were going for a drink, there was no-where else to go on that road and drinking and being on jetski isn’t illegal here, as far as I know. Another reason to add to my nervousness about jetskis.

Ballymacaw angler
Ballymacaw angler

It’s a very long lead-in for a short swim. As expected I reached the cove entrance after four and half minutes and immediately hit a line of choppy water. Just under the surface was a long reef reaching out from the west side of the entrance. I passed an angler who was positioned on rocks at the est side of the entrance and headed westward. The chop was coming south-westerly with the wind, about a metre and a half high. The jetskiers had warned me it was “big out there”. One a half metres of chop isn’t big, just messy and slow. After fifteen of grinding through it, I had travelled the glorious distance of maybe 400 metres! The westerly tidal current I’d expected was running strong. I released Duck #4 and turned back to the Cove entrance, impossible to see from seaward unless you are directly in front and close. The swim that had taken 15 minutes out took 5 minutes back!

Ballymacaw Cove entrance
Ballymacaw Cove entrance from the sea

Getting into the cove was quick over the reefs with the waves at the reef entrance providing a quick surf into calm water. I’d had been 30 minutes, so I swam to the beach in the warmer water at the high tide mark, and turned back for a couple of laps. I’d forgotten how tough it was to swim out of water that had helped you recover from much colder water. Warm water  feels nice…if you are not leaving it for cold water. Swimming back out the cove was brutal. The warmer water had restarted my circulation so I had inadvertently initiated Afterdrop, cooling faster, and now I was hit by colder water again. I lasted another 10 minutes  before I I was out of the water.

But the purpose of the swim, an initial scouting swim at a new relatively unknown location, though short, was successful. I’d like to stress that when swimming a new location, having a plan, an understanding of the constraints and possible problems and an idea of how to approach it, are all important.

I repeat that tides are a vital consideration for many locations and a solid understanding is essential for safety and swimming new locations in tidal areas. 

Sea pinks against the sky. yes, it's time for me to start taking lots of photos of sea pinks again.
Sea pinks against the sky. Yes, it’s the time of year for me to start taking lots of photos of sea pinks again.

Swimming a new location: Portally Cove to Swines Head

While I like visiting Dunmore the area isn’t one of my main swim locations.

The advantage of Dunmore is it is inside the Waterford Estuary and is protected for the prevailing south-westerlies and southerlies. On a big blow, one that needs to last for at least 24 hours at probably Force Five or above, some good surf can then hit the beach as the swell comes right around the head and the wind can be offshore at the beach which can produce a short, good, dumpy wave. I once saw a very talented surfer I knew from Tramore snap both leg bones when hitting the sand bank in the middle after an elegant dismount in shallow water

Above Portally Cove

Anyhoo… Just outside Dunmore is Portally Cove. It’s a tiny sheltered cove, probably only 2 kilometres from the town, and is also connected by a cliff walk.

In Portally, you actually feel quite isolated, and on a sunny summer day it’s like you are visiting the Aegean or somewhere, as the shallow cove seems quite green.

It’s only about 200 metres or less from the beach at high tide to outside the cove so for a swimmer, it’s attractive mainly because it’s sheltered but it’s too small for any swimming. I’ve made a few visits to investigate how useful it might be in the winter if I want a sheltered swim.

Portally Cove, looking weird because of the stitching software

Dunmore East to Tramore or the Guillamene has been swam at least twice as far as I know (and one abandoned). There are pretty strong currents at various places along the coast. I’ve been out there once with Clare (the Tall Ships) and we also talked previously about the stretch of coast.

So with some rare blueish sky and a light wind, I headed out. The beach is a mix and sand and stone that would be difficult in the winter, which was what I had in mind. The couple of rowing boats moored might be absent, hopefully because when moored they are held in place by ropes that stretch across the narrow cove just under the surface.

Brownstown Head from the east

Once outside the cove I headed right, i.e. west, toward Swines Head and Brownstown Head.

I passed a couple of anglers on the rocks about 15 minutes who must have been surprised. There was swell coming from the south-west, about one metre, but not windy, only a light southerly Force Two. Once I had passed the next rock promontory I could see Swines Head and the rocks out from it maybe 500 metres away. On the way I passed a huge sea cave. The cliffs here are lower and more stable than the Copper Coast on the other side of Tramore Bay,

Swine Head in the distance

It took me 20 minutes to swim those 500 metres, longer than it would normally take to swim a kilometre. It was a slog. The wind had picked up fractionally while I trudged across this section, into low Force Three. I eventually made the rock outside Swines Head, scaring off the resident cormorants and turned back. It had taken 40 minutes for the distance. Coming back I had the swell, current and wind behind me, and the return was ten minutes shorter. It’s a nice swim on a calm day, but the currents were difficult as predicted. It’s high tide only also for swimmers.

There’s some great scenery, nice cliff walks on both sides but I doubt I’ll be adding it as a regular or even irregular swim.

Eastward is the estuary into Waterford.

Hook Lighthouse, with ship in the distance

South east is Hook Head and Hook Head Lighthouse, the most geographically remote lighthouse in Ireland and the oldest operating lighthouse in the world.

Dangerous waters

The waters of the Celtic Sea south-east of Ireland are dangerous. They become the Western Approaches the UK, made so famous during the Battle of the North Atlantic in World War Two.

Coming round the headland

Fishermen and ships plying these waters are always at risk, as everywhere at sea, but the south-east is littered with wrecks and tragedies, even up until recently.

Starlight of Dunmore East

Coming into Waterford Estuary and Dunmore must always be a relief.

Blue water, red boat

Going home.

Heading to Dunmore East
Hook Lighthouse, with ship in the distance

Some of the colours of the South East in summer. My tagline for the site used to be “These are the colours of open water swimming”. Not just the water, but the sky and the sea-coast environment.

Yellow lichen on the cliffs.

Yellow cliff lichen and cave

Fishing pots overgrown with thistles.

Pots & thistles

A funnel spiderweb and lichen.

Funnel web & lichen

Who knows when we’ll get sufficient sun to appreciate these colours again?

Hook Lighthouse
Portally Cove to Swines Head Map

An Snámh Fada 2011

A last-minute decision was made. What the hell, I might as well do it. It’s the closest swim and the swim run by (one) of my own clubs and at my most regular swimming location. I’d met a few of the club regulars the day before when I made a failed attempt at my own Mo Snámh  Fada Mór (My Big Long Swim), swimming across the bay and back unaccompanied .

Newtown and Guillamene swimming club has been in existence since the 1930’s. I’ve just started putting together a website for it (though there’s nothing much there yet).

Every year in late July or early August, depending on tides, the Club runs An Snámh Fada (The Long Swim, a swim from the Guillamene to Tramore Pier, a little over 1 kilometre. Essentially too short for me, I’m not a sprinter. And you know, swimming down to the pier and back is still a short swim, for early spring colder water only.

Still, I thought I might as well swim it once for fun. Dee & I and the dogs got there early. It was even more boring for Dee than normal as I was constantly meeting and chatting with all the club members and some other like local artist Vanessa Daws and her friend James.

Spot the tanned Loneswimmer

An Snámh Fada has the ugliest swim caps ever. That makes sure no one will want to keep them. They’re cloth so even if you did, they’re useless.

Club Member Joe gave a quick briefing about 11.20, then we were coralled like sheep into a steel dipping-pen for the start at the steps. Room for only about 4 abreast, with 60 swimmers signed up, I made my way to the front waiting group, climbing through the railings to get forward.

Joe had said, this is not a race. What this really means for many of us is, it is a race, but there are no prizes!

Flat for the swim

The bay was flat. Only slightest Force One airs. A pity. I prefer racing in rough conditions.They allow me to use my experience more. Flat short course is too much like a big swimming pool.

Denis gave us the go and we were off. For this course I had three options, narrow, wide or down the middle. The sea being so flat, wide was not the right move. But most of the remainder of the others to go out fast were already pulling ahead, as usual.

Youth, doesn’t it make you want to grit your teeth sometimes? They were heading down the middle. I went narrow, in toward the Colomene rocks. I felt I’d be only one doing it, and I was correct, (in so far as I could tell). I seem to have a thing for rocks, as has been seen here previously.

By the time we’d passed the Colomenes, about 400 metres out the lead group had well dropped me and there was fair gap back to the main group. I’m not that fast, I don’t like these sprints. I’m too old!

Even on a short race, the field quickly spread outs. Click to embiggen.

At 500 metres I saw I was closing on two wet-suited swimmers. I followed my line, and was getting closer and closer. Quickly we were beside each other. One adult male, one teenager. Sorry. The teenager got squeezed out. I was google to google with the man. He cracked. They were gone. Two more down.

Straight to the pier. The line was important. There was another non-wetsuit male swimmer outside me. 300 metres to go. I know exactly how the pier lines up. I kept narrow. I was closing. 100 metres to go. I was level and on the inside. 25 metres to go, still level but I had less to swim. He didn’t seem to know I was there. Unless he had a big final sprint, I was in.

And so it proved. I took about 20 seconds out of him at the end. Up the pier steps, a quick check with Denis, I was sixth overall but first non-wetsuit. Ironically a slow time of about 17 minutes due the flat conditions. It’s always the same, whenever I pick up a first, there’s never any shinies. But I enjoy myself regardless, indeed regardless of place.

Then a dive off the pier end, and swim back on the outside to the Guillamene. There’s no way I was swimming such a short distance and walking back.

After we took a trip to Dunmore East. On arrival we discovered there was cruise ship in the Estuary.

We went down around the rocks below the village.

And we took the dogs out onto the cliffs and rocks below the road and park. Each section of the cliffs and every tiny cove in Dunmore has a different name and access point, all quite old.

What's that? Over there. And there. And there.



There was a big Farmer’s and Artisan’s market on in the harbour which was very busy with thousands of visitors around the piers, the adventure centre and sailing club and around the village.



Waterbuses were taking trips out to the cruise ship and there were yachts, power boats, cruisers and ribs.

Scout was interested in everything. But the other dogs, not so much, they’ve seen it all.



There were plenty of good stalls, including a great Lebanese stall, which had the dogs interested and hopeful. In fact it was one of those occasions where dogs owners could happily mingle.

Dunmore East is a big fishing harbour and fish market and distribution centre.

There are newer large trawlers and a sizeable fleet of traditional fishing vessels, which were all moored together and looked very picturesque, in the way of fishing harbours the world over.


There were apperently disinterested anglers fishing on the rocks beyond the pier end,.

As we were heading toward the car, we passed Dunmore’s thatched cottages.

The sun just started to appear as we left the village up the hill, and the estuary and cliffs beyond Councellors Cove looked great through the pines.

The dogs were tired and thirsty.

And we weren’t even done for the day.

Tall Ships 2011. Leaving Dunmore East

If you’re in Ireland, you’ll probably have been bombarded by the coverage of the 2011 Tall Ships Race, which was starting from Waterford, the second time it’s started from the port.

Last time in 2006 I visited the berthed ships, but this time Clare gave me the chance to go out with her on Orca. I met her in Dunmore East yesterday morning, which was glorious.

Dunmore East, yachts and the estuary in the morning

Thinking I’d be early at 9am instead it seemed like half the country had thought the same. And my attempt to outwit the traffic by taking the coast road was a waste of time. Once parked I had to walk about 20 minutes to the fishing pier to meet Clare on the dinghy. Not a long walk … unless you are wearing deck shoes. Bleeding heels by the time I arrived.

Dunmore was very busy. Roads had been closed since 7am and access to much of the low cliffs between Counsellor’s (the strand) and the harbour had been closed.

Blue sky and warm, it was one of those brief Irish summer periods, when the whole country takes advantage of some sunshine. There were tens of thousands in town, with thousands in the park and on the road looking down.

Crowds in Dunmore

There were a few helicopters around, including the Coast Guard. Since I was late arriving, it wasn’t long after we got out on Orca and came off the mooring that the first ship arrived out from the estuary, the largest ship in the fleet, the Russian sail training vessel Mir.

Mir passing Dunmore

Mir was followed by Gloria while the CG Helicopter flew overhead.

Mir & CG Heli passing LE Aoife

Gloria passed the Irish Navy’s L.E. Aoife and the crew lined up on the bow for the three gun salute that each of the first few ships received. With almost no wind, Clare iron-sailed out with the fleet. Tall ships, traditional fishing vessels, large yachts, old sail trawlers, pleasure crafts, modern yachts, ribs, pleasure cruisers and kayaks. (And a couple of those jet skis that practically every other marine person hates).

Europa with backed sails


Of the tall ships only Europa had sails raised, but with a very slight Force One onshore they were backed so she was sailing under power against the wind.




Orca from the bow


The line for the race start was actually five miles offshore and quite long. Clare has some problems with barnacles in the engine intake of Orca, so we had to stop twice to sort it out.




At that stage it realised we weren’t go to got the full way out the start line. And with almost no wind the start itself was delayed anyway.



By now we were about three or four miles out from Dunmore, past Hook Head and the lighthouse. The Hook Lighthouse is the oldest operational lighthouse in the world.

The Hook Light

We were well east of Tramore Bay. About six miles from the Metalman and three from Brownstown Head which were quite hazy.

Brownstown Head from the east

By now the revised start time had been announced, 3.30 pm. Because of the poor wind and forecast, the fleet hove around to sail up the east coast instead.

Orca heading out of Dunmore

We were well on our back by this stage, and indeed most of the inshore fleet had already returned.

Clare dropped me off on the pier so she could sail back to Dungarvan.

Dunmore strand

Dunmore still had lots of people enjoying the remainder afternoon and the weather. It’s Ireland. It might rain for weeks from tomorrow. The VW camper van cost me a lot to arrange to be there just at that time for the photo.

From above, the estuary looked great in the sunshine.

I’m always happy to sacrifice a day’s swimming for a day’s sailing. But this day was the best of both, as I still had time to get across to the Guillamene for my first warm swim of the year there, as the water in the cove had warmed up in the low tide and sun to 13.5 °C. Outside it was about 13 °C. Even the previous day it had only been 12 °C.

I swam around the headland again, and into the entrance of another of the sea caves, the largest one, first time I’ve been into that one for some time. A couple of guys on an outcrop on the cliffs about three-quarters of the way out seemed astonished to see someone swim past because I could see them silhouetted against the sky as I went around Seal Rock, still watching me. (Seal Rock is what I call the rock outside and below the Metalman because of the shape of two rocks on the top of it. I’ve no idea what it’s actually called, but this is Ireland so every rock has a name. (Pictures if ever I can afford a waterproof camera.)

I picked up my first proper sting of the year, right across the nose, (which to be honest I’d forgotten about until I wrote this).

A good day messing about on and in the water.