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An introduction to swimming at Sandycove – Part 2

Part 1.

The first few hundred metres out to the first corner are the most shallow and generally considered difficult swimming on a low tide due to heavy tough seaweed. Around the fourth (nearest to slipway) corner is also very shallow and can require a long detour if approached from the third corner on a multi-lap swim.

feeds on Finbarr's beach during 2012 Distance Week's  final English Channel qualifying swim

Directly across from the slipway is a small sandy beach known to local swimmers as Finbarr’s beach after Finbarr Hedderman, who was first to start using it as a feed location during his English Channel training, a practice now common to all of the local distance swimmers, and swimmers swimming out to the island towing feed boxes behind then has raised an occasional eyebrows amongst tourists.

First corner at dropping  tide

If you have not swum regularly in Ireland or the UK, it’s important to note the tidal range, which ranges from the lowest, which rises about 3.3 metres above a ocean mean of zero, on a low neap tide, to almost six metres on a high spring tide . This tidal range has a number of implications, the first of which is that already mentioned of the much-reduced swim range on the first stretch the inside of the between the slipway and the first corner. Next is the  variation in distance around the island from low to high tide of two to three hundred metres. Navigation of the first and second and fourth corners changes significantly. The first corner particularly is a jumble of reefs submerged or exposed by different degrees during the tide with many rocks all around the actual reef of the corner. Only significant experience around the island combined with an indifference to contact and probable lacerations will allow safe navigation through these.

The second corner is a sloping terraced reef on the approach which splays out in ridges as the corner is passed. Lacking the local experience it is best to swim wide around the first and second corners.

Leading side of Second Corner as seen from the island

The island is generally described as kidney-shaped, as seen in the map. Even so locals describe it as having four sides, two short (the near and far sides) and two long (inside and outside).  and personal preference and speed dictates how the outside is swum. Whether close in to take a longer line, wide to avoid wave reflection off the island on lumpy days or straight to the second corner for the shortest line. Taking the straight line takes practice as initially it is difficult to see the line. Taking a close line results in swimming very close to into the terraced reefs which jut out into the sea at all tides. The second corner is the corner most likely to cause injury and is the one most exposed to incoming waves and swell. Most local swimmers will attest to injuries from trying to see how tight to the corner they can go, and many swimmers who get it wrong and end up on actually the reef including locals and visitors.

Yacht moored in the Sandycove estuary beside third corner
Yacht moored in the Sandycove estuary beside third corner

Crab and lobster pots are occasionally placed on the outside of the island and it is possible to swim into submerged lines. The far side can be deceptive as in direct sunlight it is possible to swim into or even behind more reefs, but it is also one of the two location’s on an island location most likely to be slightly warmer. The third corner which leads around onto the inside is straightforward for swimmer and it’s possible to swim fairly close on most tides. It is al important to note that boats, both powered and sail, that come out from Kinsale often power into the cove to berth and great care should be given to the real possibility of unfamiliar boats running over swimmers on the third and inside sides. For single laps, having come around the third corner there is a long straight to the slipway. the well-known Red House (well known to anyone who knows anything about Sandycove Island that is is to the right. The Red House is also visible through the gap from many miles up the coast to the west). The best way to head for the slipway is a matter of debate and personal preference and can be critical in races and is also one way for the most experienced multi-lapper 500 and 100 to excel.

Morning view from the outside west entrance with the sun in the east. The slipway is on the left, some of the reefs at the first corner are appearing and the tide is dropping toward low.

There are boat moorings between the Red House and the island and during summer months boats are regularly moored here. For multiple laps the line to the fourth corner is straight but the lower the tide the wider the line that must be taken to get around the fourth corner or the swimmer will either swim onto sand or into the reef just past the corner, another long outward leading and mostly submerged reef which most multi-lap swimmers have swum directly into at some point. On lowest tides swell can wrap entirely around the island and produce small clean breakers inside the fourth corner.

Sandycove Island from Google Earth high-res (annotated)
Click for better detail. Major landmarks and hazards indicated

There are other wrinkles to swimming around Sandycove Island that come with time and experience. The best way to learn those is to swim with locals.

Red House and Yellow House

First Corner and Comalees.

Second Corner Stand of trees.

Red House Yellow Bungalow.

Guillamenes and Sandycove.

Say my little swimming ditty out loud, it both scans and rhymes, a major achievement for me. :-) (It works for me, but you see, I really can’t write good poetry).

When you swim the same open water locations regularly, they become familiar to you in the  way the road outside your house does. maybe more so for a lot of people, because every metre is immediate, all progress is measured by arm-strokes, by body-lengths, by climbing and pulling your way through the all-too yielding water, the molecules slipping and sliding away.

When you are swimming in cold water you have time. You are connected to the world, everything surrounding you, that you can see, is real, and in a way, nothing else is.

The repeat swim distances in Tramore and Sandycove are different. A Sandycove Double, two laps, takes 50 to 55 minutes for the wider range of swimmers (3200 to 3800 metres). A Guillamene Double, out to Newtown Head, into the pier or the beach and back, which is my own standard as almost no-one else is around to swim it, is much further, taking about one hour and forty minutes, so the shorter winter laps are to the pier and back (40 to 45 minutes) or Newtown Head and back (35 to 40 minutes).

In Sandycove we mark our lap progress by the First Corner, Second Corner, and Red House. Second Corner is the half way mark, and the by-now famous Red House, emblazoned on the SISC t-shirt, marks the final sprint, only about three or four minutes out from the slip.

Tramore Bay has two possible initial swim directions. (Sandycove does too, but we almost never swim clockwise, to have done so is probably a sign of a Sandycove Veteran). Unlike Sandycove, there’s no fixed lap in Tramore. When swimming inwards toward the pier,  the first landmark are the Comalees rocks, popular with fishermen, and where the most recent cave on the coast has collapsed (sometime in the last 50 years).

Sandycove Island. Red House on the left, Fourth Corner on left, First Corner on bottom right, Finbarr's Beach bottom left of the island.
Sandycove Island. Red House on the left, Fourth Corner on left, First Corner on bottom right, Finbarr’s Beach bottom left of the island.

After turning at the pier, or under the Coast Guard station or Doneraile Head, or at the beach, the next marker is the stand of pine trees about 200 metres before the pier, above the coast road. Usually the worst part of the swim because it’s often the place where a slight contrary current slows you down, and you seem to spend five minutes looking at those trees.

Looking out from Doneraile Head at low tide, past Tramore Pier, past the Comalees rocks, past the Guillamenes to Newtown head and the Metalman. The Yellow Bungalow is in the centre, just over half way up.

Then the long haul back toward the Comalees, but on the return, it’s no longer the Comalees, but instead the Yellow Bungalow, above the Comalees, the last house you pass on the return and just under 400 metres from the Cove, time for that sprint.

Guillamenes landmarks

First Corner and Comalees.

Second Corner Stand of trees.

Red House Yellow Bungalow.

Guillamenes and Sandycove.

Sandycove landmarks