Tag Archives: Irish Sea


“It’s kind of fun to do the impossible”. Lisa Cummins officially announces her 2012 swim

I have waited a long time for this official announcement and am very proud and honoured that Lisa has chosen loneswimmer.com to announce her big swim for this year.

But before we get to that …

For those of you who don’t know, Lisa Cummins was the twentieth person to swim a two-way English Channel solo in September 2009. She was the first woman to so do WITHOUT having first done a solo, and she was quite regularly told it would be impossible, by some well-known people in the marathon swimming community. Her time was an astonishing 35 hours (exactly).

I shall never forget the night in February 2009, during a charity Swimathon in Source swimming pool organised by Coach Eilís, when I heard of the plan. And the thought that I had then has never left me, of the sheer audacity of Lisa’s vision. I was completely captivated. At that time Lisa and I hadn’t become friends, she wouldn’t have known me from any other swimmer and when we greeted her in Cork Airport on her triumphant return, I was a face amongst many. I told her she was an inspiration for all and in her typical self-effacing manner for those who know her, she dismissed the notion. But I hold to this assertion, and know many agree with me.

Lisa’s two-way English Channel chart

I have maintained that Lisa’s two-way English Channel swim was one of the greatest amateur Irish sporting achievements. Ever. (For me, it’s actually the greatest). But not just that, it was a world-class swimming achievement. Suzie Dods, a well-known US marathon swimmer, said of Lisa after her swim: “Shows you what the mind can imagine, the body can do”.

To have any chance of understanding Lisa you should know that her inscription in the White Horse in Dover says; “it’s kind of fun to do the impossible“.

Lisa’s White Horse Inscription

Lisa started training seriously while we were in Dover last September and has been training hard since, regularly swimming 75,000 metre weeks and has already done many multiple hour sea swims up to eight hours, under twelve degrees Celsius, done while many of the rest of us were struggling to get four hours done. It’s not for no reason that I call her (and Finbarr) two of the world’s greatest cold water swimmers.

She is already the Queen of Irish open water swimming and her next swim attempt will further decorate that crown.

Lisa recently, by the way, submitted her Computer Science Ph.D. Thesis, completed while doing the training! It’s an open secret among the Sandycove swimmers, that I’ve found it hard (but managed) to keep for two years. You have no idea how many times I’ve asked for a guest post, but in fairness, I’ve learned so much from her, that much of what appears here comes from her indirectly.

In September 2012, Lisa will attempt a swim never previously done, crossing the Irish Sea from Wales to Ireland. She estimates it will take a minimum of 40 hours with a minimum straight-line distance of 56 miles, (excluding tides, of which she will swim through many).

She will face unknown tidal currents, cold and clouds of stinging jellyfish (Lion’s Mane, Portuguese Man O’War, and our friendly Purple Stingers).

Her crew will once again be her mother Margaret, who was bedrock of calm and control on the two-way, and who will surely get even more knitting done on the next swim.

Her many friends, supporters and admirers have no doubts about her world-class tenacity, her ability to tolerate and endure, and while doing so, to even have fun doing the impossible.

Two heroes, Lisa and Capt. Webb.

You can follow Lisa on Twitter, and her New blog for this swim is http://lisaslongswims.wordpress.com


The local neighbourhood -The Irish & Celtic seas and the Western Approaches – Dangerous Seas

  • The Celtic Sea is that section of the Atlantic off the south Irish Coast.
  • The Irish Sea is the sea between Ireland and the UK.
  • The Western Approaches is the large rectangular stretch of water south and west of Ireland and the UK, i.e. the Atlantic Isles, including these two seas.
The term Western Approaches arose in the First World War and became better known in WWII as it was the Royal Navy’s designation for the area of intense sea-borne battles and loss particularly in the Merchant Navy.
From a modern point the term is not used much anymore but familiar to those who “go down to the sea in ships”.
The Irish Sea is defined by the IHO as On the North. The Southern limit of the Scottish Seas  defined as “a line joining the South extreme of the Mull of Galloway (54°38’N) in Scotland and Ballyquintin Point (54°20’N) in Ireland“. On the South. A line joining St. David’s Head (51°54′N 5°19′W) to Carnsore Point (52°10′N 6°22′W).
The western boundaries of the  Celtic Sea are delimited by the edge of the Continental Shelf.
The Irish Sea is cold, swarms with stinging Lion’s Mane and Portuguese Mar O’ War jellies AND the east coast of Ireland is rife with very strong sea currents, particularly up through St. George’s Channel around the South-east “corner” near where I am, but luckily starting further east, and also with an amphidrome near the Isle of Man, and with high traffic as there is no land bridge between Ireland and the UK.
The Atlantic Isles rest on the European continental shelf, and the waters around are not very deep only going to about a hundred and fifty metres.
However these seas are notoriously dangerous for sea-craft (the list is far longer than that), as we were reminded only last week when a ship went down of the south-west of Wales and fishing which is a particularly dangerous occupation is especially dangerous of the South Irish Coast,
In 2007 two trawlers, Honeydew II and Pere Charles were lost with seven hands within hours of each other, (and Damien Tiernan’s book on the tragedy, Souls of the Sea is a great, educational but bleak read).

A politically-incorrect view of the Ronan Keating/Richard Branson Irish Sea relay swim

A map of the Irish Sea Major ports shown in re...
Image via Wikipedia

Most of the swimmers and many others reading this will have heard of the Richard Branson / Ronan Keating Irish Sea Relay swim. By the way, look at some of the headlines. (“Richard Branson to swim the Irish Sea”). We had a bit of fun about it on the Sandycove email list when it was announced. But a few times I’ve seen statements to the effect of “it’ll be good for our sport because it’ll raise its profile”. And of course, since it’s a big charity fund-raising event, it’s considered crass to question this aspect. To question these basic principles is to be churlish, egotistical or selfish. So one has to keep quiet. I disagree. (And I know I’m not the only one). Think about the Olympic stadii in various places around the world. Those in well-developed and wealthier countries become part of the national sports infrastructure. Some others don’t fare so well, like Greece. Greece was the smallest country to host an Olympics. Apart from the huge cost, even before their current problems, four years after the 2004 Olympics, the various facilities were mostly unused. Partly because Greece isn’t big enough to support their ongoing use efficiently. That huge investment doesn’t translate into useful facilities or any resurgence in sport in Greece. Instead it left a debt that will have to be paid for a long time. I believe the analogy to the Richard Branson swim and Open Water is similar. But I’ll try to be more specific.

  • Richard Branson and Ronan Keating don’t love Open Water swimming.

You know how I know that? Because that’s the main reason we do what we do. Because every one of us prefers the sea to a pool. We all love swimming. To be out there. For the challenge or the camaraderie or the sheer existential pleasure. It’s a tautology. We swim because we are swimmers. Sure, we all had to start, we all developed the love of it. Maybe they will too, you say. Maybe they will indeed. But have you read anything about it so far that indicates they love it? No. There’s only moaning about cold and not being good swimmers or being afraid of the water. I also believe that you would have to be fairly naive to believe there’s no self-promotion for Richard Branson going on here.

  • It’s disingenuous.

In the early advertising there was much claims about a so-called World Record. Repeatedly it asked what record before this tag was dropped. I emailed the Marie Keating Foundation months ago and asked this question myself, but received no response. For the benefits of publicity they exaggerated the difficulty. It’s a team of 12 swimmers for dog’s sake. Those of us with big swims done know we like to try to explain the difficulty. We also know how some people with little or no experience sometimes belittle our achievements. (Or our friends, which I have a real personal difficulty with, when people put down my friends, but that’s another story). But never, ever have I heard a swimmer exaggerate one of their swims. Many are downright self-deprecating, like Lisa or Finbarr. We celebrate real achievement and don’t like to see others claiming something is more difficult that it was.

  • It will not bring any people to the sport.

How anyone can think it will bring people to Open Water is beyond me. Let’s call it  the David Walliams effect. All English Channel swimmers know this. “If David Walliams (an English T.V. comedian) can swim the Channel it can’t be that hard”. The same people don’t know David Walliams was a swimmer all his life and trained like we all do. We all respect him because there’s no way to cheat the Channel. He’s one of us. He’s the real thing. Anyone who gets across does it by hard work. It’s one of the reasons all Soloists respect each other. We all know what it takes. So a few years later is there one extra person who became an open water swimmer because of David Walliams swimming the Channel? I’ve never met one, though I’ve met a lot who knew about it. That’s hardy absolute. But if you wish to refute, please provide some figures. The same thing will apply to the Branson/Keating swim. If you are the kind of person who needs a Celebrity Endorsement to take up Open Water swimming, you will NOT take up Open Water swimming … because what it needs more than anything else are the love for it I mentioned above, and a sense of determination. Who is going to get into cold Irish or English water because Ronan Keating did? In a wetsuit.

  • Big charitable events take from smaller events
In over a year I raised about €2000 for the RNLI. By swimming the Channel solo. I’m not a great self-publicist. And I was busy training. While charities will no doubt benefit, it’s also highly likely, as this pattern always repeats, that others will suffer. Someone who knows nothing about swimming who donates €50 on the Marie Keating Foundation “because it’s such a brave thing you are doing” is not going to do the same to the girl in the next town doing a Solo but without much publicity. In this case charitable donations are a zero-sum game. The donations are not really for the swim itself, but for the publicity.
  • Much fuss about little.
It’s a 12 person team. Seriously. I was part of a double English Channel relay of five. Lots of you are also relayists. This was actually the bit that made us all chuckle so much initially. Who out there thinks this team are going to be hanging off the back of a re-purposed trawler or sitting on rolls of rope vomiting in the rain while waiting their swim leg? Of course I could be wrong about this.
I am reminded of an incident in Irish Swimming a few years back which some of us will recall. Someone we know here made a very difficult and brave decision to go public on a reported North Channel swim and publicly question its validity (a swim that has never since been validated). He did it because he loved the sport and believed that an unsubstantiated North Channel swim would have severe consequences for the sport if left unchallenged. I think the Richard Branson swim will actually have a similar effect. It will detract from our sport. Celebrities parachuting in, taking lots of media attention, for a not very significant swim, will detract from actual achievements in open water swimming.
Call this what you want. Churlish, ungracious, selfish, unsubstantiated or wrong. Get started on the hate mail. (Yes, I get hate mail).
But don’t call it an isolated opinion.