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.
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.
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.
I’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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.