Tag Archives: Rob Bohane

Open water swimming and marathon swimming is dangerous

Eilís
Coach Eilís

In November 2010, Cork and Sandycove Channel Coach Eilís Burns held one of her irregular brief seminars for prospective Channel solo swimmers for the 2011 Channel season.

It wasn’t an open-to-all seminar. Those attending were people who had contacted Eilís asking her to coach them. Eilís is careful in whom she agrees to coach, requiring a proven desire, a willingness to do the required work, and the temperament to do what she says.

As part of that seminar Eilís had asked four of the local Channel swimmers to attend and speak briefly on subjects of our own choice. The four were; Lisa Cummins, two-way English Channel solo; Imelda Lynch, first Sandycove and Cork female Channel swimmer and a local legend amongst Sandycove swimmers for her tenacity and tough training regime; Rob Bohane, aka The Bull, who as part of the Magnificent Seven, first attempted the Channel in 2010 a few weeks after me; and the fourth was myself.

Six of The Magnificent Seven. From left; Ciaran Byrne, Donal, Liam Maher, Jennifer Hurley, Rob Bohane, Gabor Molnar. Channel swimmers one and all.
Six of The Magnificent Seven. From left; Ciaran Byrne, Donal, Liam Maher, Jennifer Hurley, Rob Bohane, Gabor Molnar. Channel swimmers one and all. Not a gram of fake tan between us.

I remember all the presentations with varying degrees of clarity. But my own and Rob’s are much clearer.

Rob had attempted the Channel in late August, a couple of weeks after Jen Hurley and I had swum, and within 12 hours of Ciarán Byrne soloing. Liam Maher, Jen Hurley, myself and Ciarán had all succeeded, the first four of the Magnificent Seven, with Rob, Danny and Gábor still to go.

All through training, and Eilís’ training regime for us was brutal, we became increasingly convinced we would be one hundred percent successful as a group. The Channel taught us all otherwise. Rob encountered the horrendous weather of which the Channel is still capable of throwing at Solos even with modern forecasting. Ciarán had gotten to France before getting shut out by the Channel but Rob ran into the full force of the Channel’s brutal face. After a dozen hours of swimming, Rob was pulled from the water by hos crew and later hospitalized with cold water pulmonary edema. That story continued because Rob recovered and on his second attempt in 2012 he was also denied with more horrendous weather. But he eventually prevailed and indeed Rob went on to set the Sandycove club Channel record. Less than the fast time, what is far more important is Rob’s journey to get there.

Wearing the Hardship Award Hat in 2011
Wearing the Hardship Award Hat in 2011

In 2011, following a visit to the Cork University Hospital Emergency by Liam Maher after a particularly … challenging, Sandycove Island Challenge race, a new Sandycove Island Swimming Club annual award was introduced for the most dangerous swim undergone or most damage suffered by a club member, known as the Hardship Award. I was the retrospective inaugural 2010 winner for my Channel solo, followed by Liam, then Rob, with Ned being the 2013 winner for the emotional damage he suffered for losing many of his records in 2013 to other club members. The not-at-all-coveted Hardship Award is a Hard Hat!

At EilÍs’ 2010/2011 seminar, still raw from the first crossing, Rob spoke eloquently of how he had a great family and life, and that if not making it across the English Channel was the worst that had happened him, then he was a very lucky man.

My own input was brief, I only wanted to say one thing really:

I told the assembled aspirants that the thing they most needed to comprehend themselves, that they most needed to discuss honestly with their partners or parents or family, is that solo Channel swimming is dangerous.

We don’t like to discuss this aspect. We like even to pretend otherwise.

In 2010 I had my own near-lethal experience in the Channel and then Rob had been hospitalised. Lisa had been hospitalised after her two-way Channel swim, Ned had been hospitalized after Santa Barbara. Four members from one club, and while I was the only one of that four not hospitalized the experience was no less dangerous. (BTW, as Evan once pointedly asked me, just where is the full account of my Channel swim, given the other swim’s I’ve covered? The answer is, it’s a long comprehensively written account and part a longer term project that may never see light and so may eventually surface here, Frankly the story is far too often told and repeated as a rumour in Ireland, such I’ve been asked, “did you hear about the guy who swam and the Channel and …”).

Let me repeat: Open water swimming is dangerous. To be responsible to the others we help, advise or even inadvertently inspire we MUST honestly acknowledge this. Channel swimming is especially dangerous.

2012 we lost Sandycove swimmer and our much-loved friend Paráic Casey in the English Channel. In 2013 the Channel swimming community and her family and friends lost Susan Taylor in the English Channel. I mean no disrespect to any others by not continuing a roll call, as part of my point is these are the dangers and losses incurred within the community of people I know myself. (I’d met Susan in Dover in 2012).

I looked at those people in Cork at the seminar and told them this was their first task as Aspirant Channel swimmer: To be honest with themselves and the people important to them. Open water, Channel and marathon swimming is dangerous.

Regardless of our experience and skill, the sea particularly is a vastness beyond us. To accept this and the inherent risk is to improve our ability to survive.

If you can accept that fact, integrate it as well as it is possible for anyone who thinks they the measure of their own dreams, you have taken a significant first step to being a real open water swimmer.

After that seminar, one of the attendees, who had been present with their partner, decided against the Channel. As someone who encourages open water and Channel swimming, I considered and still consider that a good result. 

I am obviously not against people being open water swimmers or setting their sights on extreme swimming goals or following dreams. But I do strongly believe that you should do it from a prepared base. I will not help someone whom I don’t think takes the risk seriously.

I’m (mostly) a lone swimmer. As a consequence I am not reckless (despite views to the contrary) but consider carefully both my own abilities and thresholds, and each day’s conditions, and weigh each and every swim before I start.

By accepting the existence of risk and hazard (the potential outcome of risk) we actually gain another tool in our repertoire.  By being brave enough to stand our ground and know when not to swim, when not to risk our limits is to know ourselves.

No-one swims, or at least no serious open water swimmer, with the thought of not returning, any more that mountain climbers or polar explorers do. But the possibility is part of what makes open water swimming what it is and a properly cognizant open water swimmer is pursuing a type of existentialism, not fatalism. By realising that understanding our constraints and boundaries and the immutable superiority of nature, which we don’t actually conquer, but temporarily deceive or elude, you are making yourselves a more capable and adaptable swimmer. 

Be safe.

The race that wasn’t

Finbarr started it with the idea of a Sandycove three-lap invitational race at the end of October. With two weeks to go and no mention, Carol Cashell and I raised the idea again and discussion ensued.

With less than a week to go the starting lineup was small. The forecast for the weekend showed the Irish south-coast would catch the spin-off of storm Saint Jude. (I know, I’ve never heard a storm called after a Saint either). Winds were forecast to be Beaufort Five minimum.

Excellent! A bit of rough water was ideal to level the field. After all the Sandycove locals have it too easy at times, when the weather blows out they just start swimming inside the island. Pfft.

The worse the forecast the better, as far as Carol and I were concerned. Although as the fastest of the group, it wasn’t like she needed an advantage. By Thursday the weather forecasters were all getting excited like we don’t have big storms every year. Jude would bypass Ireland and clobber the UK, and Ireland would be assailed by nothing worse than Force Nine or so. The worst of Saturday’s weather was due to hit before mid-day when the worst of the storm would arrive on the south coast. We were aiming for TITW at 11.30am.

Email negotiations about all the various safety requirements, race rules, evacuation procedures and volunteers led to a concise rule set:

  • Two laps, handicapped.
  • Cake to be proved afterwards by Carol.
  • No rubber knickers.
  • Finbarr was allowed to drown anyone foolish enough to get within an arm length of him (a rule on which he insisted, disguising it as English Channel Rules).

Despite beating Rob and Craig this year, I was due to get an excellent three-minute handicap over both of them, which i didn’t refuse. All’s fair. Rob Bohane is a member of the “M” 1000+ lap club, as is Finbarr and Craig Morrison is a member of the “D” 500+ lap club,. Eddie Irwin, Carol Cashell and myself are all “C” swimmers of 100+ laps. All highly experienced marathon swimmers with many and varied skills.

The local forecast for Sandycove showed winds peaking between 10am and 1pm, anywhere from Force 6 to Force 8.

Second Corner IMG_0094
Second Corner to third corner, buoy in the distance.

The second corner looked quite reasonable when I arrived, though the rain meant I could only take one quick shot. The wind was still rising. Down at the slipway, another M club member (1000+), Mags Buckley (no relation) said the water was lovely and warm but she’d stayed to the inside.

From the slipway we could see the waves breaking across the first corner, and the outside wave that only breaks when winds are getting high, reaching into the corner. The expert round beside the first corner was impossible. The normal route outside first corner was impossible. Even the cowardly route outside the normal first corner was … (f)risky. I like (f)risky.

At the last minute, the handicap and race was thrown out. Then the five others started swimming just as I was on the slipway. The water was indeed warm, an extraordinary for end of October fourteen degrees (57F).

Just getting to the outside was testing. The narrow point between the island and mainland produced an unpredictable wall to swim through, which ripped my goggles off. Going over the top resulted in a crash into the trough. Unlike a breaking wave, it wasn’t predictable. Meanwhile waves were peeling off the corner rocks where the expert Sandycovers normally cut inward. The first corner was froth but all the guys were waiting beside the outside break. I took a slightly inside line, watching for the rock that is only exposed to air in conditions like this, having seen it once last year from above in similar conditions, and therefore having its location well imprinted. I stopped to fix my goggles a second time, something that was to continue for the whole swim as they were constantly loosened by the waves. Then we were all off again.

The waves were about three metres, not at all unusual for a Tramore Bay swimmer, and in the “lumpy” category. But outside the island, things change. Apart from being in the direct path of the south-west wind coming over the Old Head of Kinsale, some wind was diverted at water level along the side of the coast. Waves climbed out of deeper water onto the island shelf to produce one of the most unpredictable of water states, that of reflected waves over rock.

First corner. Note the outside wave, which had grown by the time we started.
First corner. Note the outside wave, which had grown by the time we started.

The waves hit the island and bounced back, doubling up with incoming waves at different times and places, causing sudden occasional peaks of four to five metres or shelving waves to scend suddenly, like a punch of water. The 360 degree horizon was mere metres away for everyone, all of us sunken into watery bowls, except for the island’s grassy profile, the wind and rain and spume filling the air, grace in the water impossible even for a swimmer of Carol’s style.

It was excellent fun, that feeling of being hurled and thrown by an ocean that would be terrifying for beginners but feels like an opportunity to revel for a more experienced swimmer.

One moment we were two or three metres apart, the next we were thrown onto each other. I picked up a scrape, not from rocks, but from Rob being thrown onto me fingernails first.

The second corner is where expert Sandycovers risk the limit. The interface of gradually descending reef and pushing swell. How close? How much risk can you take? We love the second corner. Approaching out of the kidney bean shape, you can be too close or too far out, and even if you get a great line, you still have others to deal with. Others who put you on the reef, or risk the reef themselves, and laugh. People like Finbarr, Craig, Rob, or me. The second corner is a melee, a game of chicken played not with other swimmers but with rock. Unthinking, unmoving and therefore always triumphant rock.

But not that day. The second corner was instead a marine Jackson Pollock, the reef as canvas, the sea as paint, the wind as artist. From outside we could only see the precipice of the artichokey-feldgrau waves as they crashed onto the corner. We all went wide, to a greater or lesser extent. Carol and I cut in a little as we passed the first two hundred and seventy degrees of turn, catching a wave to pass the trailing end of the reef.

We stopped again to regroup. Past the second corner is a favourite spot of Sandycove swimmers, inside the mush, behind the reef, where if you are not racing, you can stop and chat, before you race back anyway.

Inside channel IMG_0101
Inside the island, deceptively calm an hour earlier

Assembled again we all re-started, as I grabbed the positional advantage. The visibility decreasing as the wind of the leeward side funneled around the low third corner. Then around into the inside. Sheltered from the outside storm, the visibility, already poor, actually decreased. The wind poured up the inside, driving rain and chop head-on. The Red House (now grey) took ages to pass swimming against the wind. Eddie passed on my left. Carol passed me on the right, their better strokes more advantageous in the lesser size of these conditions. Was I middle of the Channel or left of right? I couldn’t see. The water here lacked any visibility also. Any one stupid enough to be on a boat in the channel on the day better be keeping an eye out for the even-more-stupid swimmers.

Past the Red House eventually, the forward chop constantly slapping me in the face. Stay low. Get under it. I know where the slipway should be, but instead I swing left. The fourth corner seems miles away on my left. It’s an island though so I can’t get lost.

Had to line up for the first corner again. From this angle you normally approach really close in. But there are rocks beside the island between fourth and first so outward, back through the middle of the gap, once again getting hit by the waves of the narrow point. Further out this time, the waves looked bigger. Outside the corner, finally out of the head-on rain, I stopped and looked around. No sign of the others. Ha! Loneswimmer alone again.

No further waiting I set off again, enjoying the outside once more, watching for the pure white water indicative of a sub-surface reef, watching for square waves within two metres of me, sliding along the faces of the sudden peaks to surf in and swim back out, tacking and gibing my way around the island, going wider around the second and third corners to enter the inside channel again, and to cruise back to the slipway, the driving rain dropping but the water visibility still being impenetrable, until I crashed into the slipway, the other five already changed having only completed one lap each. Default winner of the race that wasn’t! Didn’t even bother towelling dry in the rain. Cakes and buns from Carol and Maura Morrison.

Thirty minutes later the wind had almost died, the rain was gone, and the water settled. We had got the timing exactly right. By accident.

I once suggested Mike Harris’s “It’s a bit lumpy, chaps” could the club motto, and this day was the epitome of that attitude. Rough water is fun (once you know you don’t have to swim through it for the next twelve hours).

The Diana Nyad Controversy, a personal reflection – Part 5 – Probity & Integrity.

Parts 1, 23, 4

No precept is more sacred to marathon swimmers than the forbidding of a deliberate touch between swimmer and anything else; boats, people or equipment other than feed supplies. That is the way we disqualify ourselves or how we signify that a swim is over. Until you have been there, until it has been you or until you have seen a swimmer agonise for long minutes in the water, knowing there is no hope of continuing, but knowing they or you have to reach out and touch the boat, you can’t understand this.

It’s a really, really, really big deal for us.

Everything about swimming reduces to those moments. It’s difficult to explain how it feels to try to push a swimmer beyond any possibility of continuing a swim, beyond what you want to push them, so they will know afterwards they did everything. It’s different from pushing yourself. You almost hate yourself for pushing them. So the swimmer will have no doubts that when they reached out to touch the boat, it was the right and final act. When you dismiss or wilfully and repeatedly ignore these essential facts, disregard this moment of truth and subsequently lie about it, you guarantee the animosity of the marathon swimming community.

Let me be repeat what I said earlier in the series:

I do not really care what the general public thinks about Diana Nyad. The world is full of crooks, cheats and charlatans who had public support, from Lance Armstrong to Silvio Berlusconi. There is nothing new in this. Diana Nyad needs public worship and adulation. I’m happy with just having friends.

Maybe Diana Nyad will somehow square this circle and be proven to be a paragon of virtue, despite all the items of concern outlined below. Though I do not think this will happen, nor do I believe it’s even possible. But if it does happen, it will be great for swimming and we will have served the purpose of keeping marathon swimming honest.

No-one should forget that without the forum and the questions of a few, the public would have fawned all over Diana Nyad with blind adulation, everything would have been accepted. Because Diana Nyad is not truthful and all her claims to be so are empty.

If you hate me because I don’t share your hero-worship of Diana Nyad, I don’t care. If you have bought into the hype, (possibly literally), I don’t care. If you hate me because you think I am a “hater“, I don’t care (and you need to understand what irony means. Hint: listening to Alanis Morrisette won’t tell you).

I care about Rob Bohane stepping into the English Channel for a third time, knowing what he had gone through twice already, no fanfare, no merchandise, no bullshit. Just courage and what Channel Swimmer Sarah Thomas so memorably called on the forum, integrity. I care about all the others, stepping off a shore in the unknown, sharing common values in how they swim. In their heads only fear and excitement, a goal, a dream. To swim across. Not a movie, not adulation, not chat shows. Not deception. 

Courage and integrity. A fitting epithet for marathon swimmers.

Trent Grimsey picking up litterSylvain Estadieu publicly seeking prior discussed rules for his English Channel butterfly crossing. Lisa Cummins making sure no-one could touch her when she stood up on a dark empty beach before wading back in to swim back to England. Trent Grimsey picking up litter on Dover beach. Wendy Trehiou. Jackie Cobell. Paraic Casey. Susan Taylor. Kevin Murphy. Alison Streeter. Steve Redmond. More. So many more. A roll call of courage and integrity.

It’s not that I am bothered about Diana Nyad’s media presence. It should be great for our sport. I certainly loved the coverage of Jackie Cobell, Sylvain Estadieu, Lisa, Cummins, Stephen Redmond. But I do care when the media coverage is so overwhelmingly based on what I believe to be Diana Nyad’s misrepresentation. I believe that coverage should be accurate and represent our shared values and portray the reality of our swimming world. When Diana Nyad’s actions sully past, present and future swims and swimmers, she essentially attacks friends and people I respect. So it becomes personal.

I care about my sport. My friends. My interpretation of right. My sense of trying to live up to the people I respect. I need to be able to look my friends in the eye knowing I have been true both to them and to myself, (even if they are not making the same judgement). Nothing anyone can say can take away what is for me a fundamental precept, that I require of myself. Therefore Diana Nyad has tested me, had forced me to this series and maybe that’s why this was such emotive stream-of-consciousness writing for me. The Diana Nyad controversy has sullied things I care about and I intend to reclaim those values for myself and my friends.

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During the height of the controversy and discussion on the marathonswimmers.org forum, the forum went offline a couple of times over the weekend of the seventh and eight of September. Until now we have said publicly that was due to traffic. In fact it was due to repeated Denial of Service (“cyber”) attacks. We do not know the origin.

When they are trying to shut you up, you know you are surely doing something right.

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win“. – Gandhi

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What it all boils down to

The items below are based not just on the panel, but include previous events and events which have since come to light. The list below is why the onus is on Diana Nyad to prove that despite her protestations of being “ethical” that she is trustworthy and that the swim has any credibility. In this case the swim and the swimmer cannot be separated.

Despite her protestations of honesty, the case against Diana Nyad’s integrity is very strong and includes the following very extensive list.  References for almost everything in this list can be found on the marathonswimmers.org discussion thread. Her comment on Facebook alone contains multiple problems.

Diana Nyad on Facebook - so much bollocks
Diana Nyad on Facebook – so much bollocks

Rules & Observation

  • Despite repeated calls from marathon swimmers (including myself), Diana Nyad never published any rules before any Cuba to Florida swim.
  • Her methods during her 2011 and 2012 Cuba to Florida swims include getting onto the support boats. What would she have claimed had she been successful, given her assertions that she’s never been assisted?
  • Her claim that she couldn’t remember touching the boat in 2012.
  • Conflicted reports by team members of what touches were carried out. (There are actual photos exist of her being held).
  • Her conflicting claims that she never touched anything in the recent 2013 swim, yet later admitting she had been touched.
  • Her repeated continuing claims in the press of some undefined world record.
  • Her claims of not knowing about Observing requirements (to me).
  • Her previous use of conflicted Observers who were simultaneously promoters, journalists and a sponsor.
  • He claim that her Observer’s belong to a non-existent organisation (Open Water Swimming Association).
  • Her use of unknown Observers with no experience and no recognised training, reputation or affiliation. Her own team members ironically say a qualified team is essential.
  • No publication of any standards or rules according to which any Observer would be judging.
  • The casual retrospective dismissal of the well-documented by her own team, 7 1/2  hours without feeds, as a misquote. (“That was a mistake”), not corrected or ever mentioned by the team until raised by the forum.
  • Her post-panel deliberate TV statement that the team had provided all the requested documentation, (they still haven’t). She said this was because she doesn’t know how to upload documents.
  • Diana Nyad team member’s posts on the forum are contradictory in establishing what rules they might have been following. Much of their talk of rules seems to have been derived from the actual post-swim forum discussion and to be conflated with a non-swimmer’s understanding of English Channel rules and other rules and how, where and why these are used.
  • Use of an iPhone as a stopwatch. (That says a lot about the standard of rules and Observation. Strictly forbidden in almost any sport).
  • During the storm, both Observers were away from the swim and swimmer on a different boat. (This account was published two weeks after the panel).

Integrity and Probity

  • The events surrounding Walter Poenishes first assisted Cuba to Florida swim, before and after, contain multiple problems for her claimed integrity, including actually libellous personal attacks, subversion of sponsors and media for her own ends and ultimately the ruining of a man’s life. Mr Poenisch had to take legal action before Diana Nyad withdrew her attacks but he was never able to repair the damage she had already done.
  • Her dismissal of Suzie Maroney’s Cuba to Florida swim also as assisted (which it was) but never acknowledging that she herself was assisted.
  • Any assertions that the community now accepts that she swam the distance. I myself don’t say this. Without reputable experienced Observers (more than two are required for 48+ hours) and original Observer Logs that can be proven to be created on the relevant dates. There is no way to know. In fact I don’t seen now how this can ever be proven. The requirement for stringency has been caused by Diana Nyad having heard all questions in public after the swim was over before she ever set out to clarify.
  • Her repeated calling on some unknown higher authority called “the sport of open water swimming” or “the auspices of the sport” for the media. (Please refer to the vote above).
  • Her claim of no contact to her from the marathon community.
  • Her ignoring an offer to help set up an Observing Organisation specifically for her and the Florida Strait.
  • Her implicit denial that such an offer was made to made.
  • The apparent denial of what her own jellyfish advisor Dr. Yanigahara says was essential safety treatment, to Chloe MacCardel for her Cuba to Florida attempt.
  • Her 36 years of false claims about her Around Manhattan swim.
  • Her untrue assertion that “my own peer group, instead of coming to me and asking me questions went to the media“. (In fact the media contacted us, Diana Nyad is the one who courts the media. I answered one media request early on and ignored the few subsequent requests).
  • The lack of real explanation about the apparent contradiction in her own video evidence of the navigator versus the public claims.
  • Her disrespect for other swimmers.
  • Her hypocritical treatment of Penny Palfrey and Chloe McCardel, with public claims of well-wishing, contradicted by post-swim statements hoping they would fail.
  • A Team Nyad source told of her later instruction to her team “do not the feed the trolls” specifically about the forum, whom she also called peers when it suited. somewhat at odds with this statement: “They want to know how the facts came down so they can understand it. They have every right to ask all these questions, and we have every intention to honor the accurate information.
  • Confusion over apparent discrepancy between publicly available Florida current satellite data and Diana Nyad’s post-swim Florida Current data, for the same days.
  • Her appeal to the Court of Public Approval, (in science, one of the most conclusive demonstrations of fraud).
  • Her utter public disrespect for volunteers, calling them “traitors”.

Occam’s Razor

  • Diana Nyad, with a lifelong history of braggadocio and deceit about swims, including exiting the water, and with a tenuous relationship to the concept of rules, with no Independent Observers, claims to have done an unassisted swim , which includes a previously uncharted current that allowed her more than double her swim speed in open water after 30 hours.
  • Diana Nyad followed a lifelong pattern of deceit about swimming for self-aggrandisement and ego.

Ceteribus paribus. All things being equal, the simplest explanation is usually the best.

*******

When you are sitting in the changing room of your pool or at the beach or somewhere and someone says to you “did you hear about that woman who swam from Cuba to Florida …“. Take a breath. Don’t shrug it off. Don’t worry about seeming like a crank. Instead say “well, actually, let me explain about that to you…”

I struggled with how I could wrap this up. What could I say that could make any difference?

Then again, I realised I didn’t have to make a difference. I only had to do what I have done. Write and let sunlight disinfect Diana Nyad. But something else happened as I wrote, as I got further into this series. I started this series with a sense of grim resignation, frustration and ennui. But as I wrote, I felt better. I felt better and I felt more able to be completely  honest about what I think of this debacle. As I wrote, we all took back our sport.

Further, I realised I could make a personal decision, a decision just for myself.

I am a channel swimmer. The title is one of my proudest possessions. I can use it because of the trust and integrity of the worldwide marathon swimming community (any Channel applies), and I choose to use it because of the respect I have for friends and swimmers far greater than I who hold that title.

You know that one decision I can make about Diana Nyad? You’ll laugh. It’s not all this writing. It’s not the forum, the panel, the conversations, emails, messages or even this series.

The strongest personal statement that I can make, here and now, is that I would not let Diana Nyad sign my marathon swimmers autograph book. I do not believe Diana Nyad swam from Cuba to Florida.

Diana Nyad does not appear to have the probity or integrity that I require of her.

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Primus Inter Pares.
Primus Inter Pares.

Thanks for sticking with this and thanks for all the supportive messages.

For whatever it’s worth, I feel cleaner now. See you on the Copper Coast, in Sandycove or in Dover.

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{While I have you, I’d like to point out something else that I wrote, that I think is just as important, in which I also address something which directly addresses swimmers, but the ending of which was overwhelmed by the Diana Nyad fiasco, and that’s the omni-shambles of 2013′s MIMS and the implication for future MIMS applicants}.

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Guest article – Ciarán Byrne – Lough Iochtar Ice Mile

As long-time readers will know, Rob The Bull Bohane, Ciarán Byrne and Finbarr Hedderman are all Sandycove Island Swim Club members, English Channel Soloists and very good friends. Ciarán and Rob are two members of our 2010 Magnificent Seven Channel training squad. All three are very experienced open and cold water swimmers, and are three of the people I most like and trust swimming with (when Finbarr is not trying to drown me). 

Recently all three took part in another ice-mile, the week prior to the Lough Dan Ice Mile and I’m delighted to have Ciarán’s account of the swim.  (I was to be part of the attempt but for various reasons decided against it). I’ll stress that these three swimmers have a wealth of cold water experience, and the helpers and assistants as you can see below also have great experience. The location was in the Kerry Mountains in the south-west of Ireland. (Lough is the Irish for lake, by the way and is pronounced “lock”).

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Ice Mile Lough Iochtar, Kerry, 10th Feb 2013.

Ram Barkai from South Africa set up the International Ice Swimming Association in 2009. To become a member you must swim a mile (1609.3m) in water of 5.0°C or under. At time of writing there have been 51 recorded ice swims by less than 50 swimmers.

Sandycove Island Swim club decided to join the fun. We scouted the sea and lakes in Cork and Kerry. Through Rob’s Kerry connections 3 lakes about half way up Carrauntoohil (Ireland’s highest mountain at just over 1000 metres- Ed.) were identified which were accessible by 4×4 vehicles.

Lough Iochtar
The peak of Carrauntoohill on the bottom right, small Lough Iochtar on the upper left, Coomloughra Lough in the middle and Lough Eagher on the right respectively.

Rob, Finbarr and I agreed to try one of these lakes on Sun 10th Feb.

Leaving Cork on the morning of the 10th the weather was great. Clear blue skies ahead. We went first to Lough Acoose to meet the great support team from the Sandycove Island Swim Club. Lisa (English Channel Two-way swimmer), Eddie (Triple Crown Swimmer), Carol (Lake Zurich silver medallist and Irish Masters Squad member) and Pascal (Finbarr’s dad).

We met the Kerry Mountain Rescue team of John Dowd, John Cronin and Angela O’Connor near the water treatment plant. We headed up in two 4-wheel drive cars including the fully equipped Kerry Mountain Rescue Ambulance.

When we reached the first of three lakes, Lough Iochtar, we stopped for a look. Lough Iochtar is a small lake approx 300m long and approx 75 metres at its widest point. It’s at 440m elevation. There was a small stone beach near the road. It looked ideal.

The next check was the water temp. Below 5C. We were in business. The temperatures taken
during the swim were 4.5, 4.9 and 4.8C. Average 4.7C. The air temp was 3°C. There was a cold wind and the wind chill was -3C.

The altitude didn’t adversely impact our breathing. That was something that had concerned us about the location. We unloaded the jeeps and set to measuring the swim distance. We went for old school. Rob had brought a measured 50m length of line. Rob and John used it to measure out a 100M course. We marked the ends with fluorescent jackets.

DSCN0047.resized

The plan was to complete eight loops of the 200M course, which was marked 10 metres from the start, the ends of the course to be marshalled by observers. The wind was picking up so we got a group photo and then got changed.

Ice Mile team. Finbarr, Ciaran & Rob are the centre three
Ice Mile team. Finbarr, Ciaran & Rob are the centre three

Eddie and Carol put on their wetsuits in case they needed to help any of us out of the water.

Lisa helped set up the GPS tracker on my goggles. We were going for high and low tech on this swim. We each had an observer to count strokes and watch for signs of hypothermia. Eddie for Rob, Carol for Fin and Lisa for me. We had agreed that if there was a sharp drop in stroke rate that we’d be pulled. We pre-arranged a signalling system to warn us when we had to come out. The back-up was that in the event of no response Eddie or Carol would swim in to get us out.

We got changed on the beach. One standard silicon cap, ear plugs, one pair of standard togs and goggles. A little Vaseline under the armpits for chafing. Pascal gave words of encouragement. We shook hands and set off. The large stones were sore on the feet. The water biting at the feet.

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The first couple of metres were shallow. There was then a sharp drop off so we slid into the water and into our stroke. The experience in the first 100M was not unlike our experience in Tooting Bec Lido at the UK Cold Water Swimming Championships. The hands soon got icy cold. The arms felt tight at the stretch. The first 200M passed quickly. I had completed the Endurance swim (450M) at the CWSC so I knew I could go that far. However I was concerned that I was so cold so early. The next 200M were tough. My hands were as cold as they were in the endurance swim and I had another 1200M plus to go! Nothing for it but to keep swimming. Concentrate on the stroke.

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Eddie manned the nearest mark and Carol the far one. Turning at the end of the 100M was a
challenge. Once you passed the fluorescent vest you had to turn in deep water. I had a near collision with Rob after the 600M turn. He had turned ahead of me and I was breathing to the right looking for the mark. No damage done and quickly back into the swim. After 600M I started to settle into the swim. I was closing in on the half way mark. I wasn’t getting any colder. My stroke was holding up. The sun had come out and was very welcome. After 1400M my feet got very cold and borderline cramping – I knew if I kicked too hard I would cramp. We got the whistle for the final loop. Head down and go for it.

I came into the finish. Fin had finished first, well ahead. The Lough Iochtar Monster. He came into his own in the second half of the swim and left us behind. Rob was in next and I came in not too far behind.

After the turn
After the turn

I tried to get in as close as possible to avoid wading in over the rocks. They were going to be painful. I was very unsteady on my feet and Pascal helped me up and gave me my crocks. Lisa was waiting with my towel. Carol came over to help Lisa get my jacket on. Then straight into a warm Jeep to get dressed. Lisa was great, organising my clothes, getting tea and making sure I was ok. Once dressed I got into the front into the heated seat – pure luxury.

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We were all a bit unsteady on our feet when we go out. Fin didn’t need the car to get changed. He seemed unfazed by the swim and probably could have done a double. Rob got changed outside but soon joined me in the jeep and recovered quickly as well.

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After about 20 mins we were all in good shape. The wind had picked up and it was starting to rain. We certainly got the best of the weather for our swim. We decided it was time to get our gear together and head back down to Killarney.

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I’d like to thank the great support we got from our Sandycove friends, Lisa, Carol, Eddie and Pascal, Angela from Caherciveen and the two Johns from the Kerry Mountain Rescue. These events are not possible without volunteers who freely give their time to help others reach their goals. We believe this is the highest altitude ice mile in Europe.

Swimming 2012, continuing the pictorial tour – faces of 2012

The chief inadequacy amongst my many photographic skills is the portrait. In fact I don’t think of them as portraits, but the more prosaic “pictures of people”. I really struggle with them, with imposing on people, especially when I know that it’ll usually be a waste of their time. So I try to grab snapshots unobtrusively where possible, and that’s when I remember. I have had to learn that people are mostly interested in pictures of people. And then I cheat in making them look better by using black and white. I’ve read a comment by a photographer I can’t find, that colour photography shows you the picture of their clothes, black and white shows you the colour of their soul. Take that for whatever it’s worth being repeated by an atheist.

Here are some of my favourite photos of swimming people from 2012. Apologies to all the important people, friends and family, in my life who aren’t here. And bigger apologies to those who are.

Alan Clack at Sandycove,
Alan Clack at Sandycove,

Alan Clack, aka the George Clooney of open water swimming. I actually took this on my phone, hence the slightly grainy look (which is not deliberate).

Man of the Year
Man of the Year

Stephen Redmond signing my book after returning from his final triumphant Ocean’s Seven swim in Japan.

President Billy
President Billy

Billy Kehoe, President of the Newtown and Guillamenes swimming club. Seventy five years swimming there and a gentleman.

The record-setters
The record-setters

English Channel soloists Craig Morrison (left) and Rob The Bull Bohane (right). Craig set a new club record for the English Channel. And then Rob set a newer club record. It’s worthwhile visualising the pair drinking champagne from a bucket on Sandycove Island one autumn Friday night at twilight… in a storm.  The bottle was in the bucket.

Liam Maher
Liam Maher

At nine feet tall, English Channel soloist Liam Maher is twice the height of the average four and a half foot tall French person, Sylvain Estadieu, the Flying Frenchman excepted. Sylvain is a strangely small four feet high but with a wingspan of nine feet.

Loneswimming
Loneswimming

Yours truly at Coumshingaun. How arrogant is that? I’m trying to overcome self-consciousness only exacerbated by this photo. This may not be the image to do it with. Photo taken by Dee.

Lisa
Lisa

She’ll kill me for this. Irish Queen of the Sea, Lisa Cummins, visiting the spot where she tumble-turned off France after her first lap of the Channel.

Finbarr
Finbarr

English Channel Soloist and King of Cold Water Finbarr Hedderman hides his happy face. He had just recently lost his flowing locks. Micro-seconds after this was taken, I sure was subject to the usual Corkonian abuse.

Three amigos
Three amigos

Channel swimmers Rob Bohane (right), Ciaran Byrne (left), and myself (centre), after a training swim in Dover. Owen O’Keefe Maybe Lisa actually took this photo with my camera? I finally remember, it was Super Crewman Kieran O’Connor! The Fermoy Fish did well. Only after you’ve struggled out of the water up Dover’s almost-lethal shingle can you appreciate its difficulty.

The Authority
The AUTHORITY

Sandycove island Club Chairwoman Liz Buckley (no relation, fake half-sister) is mammy to us all, while Club Secretary Ned Denison downs a quick swig of gripe-water. Not at all like the Soviet Politburo. At all.

The perfect picnic
The perfect picnic

I said on the day it was the best picnic ever. Cap Gris Nez. This was definitely better in colour, as was the day. Left to right: Liam Maher, Rob Bohane, Lisa Cummins, Paraic Casey, Riana Parsons, Catherine Walsh, Craig Morrison.

Paraic & Riana
Paraic & Riana, Dover Castle

I need to swim now.

Six of The Magnificent Seven. From left; Ciaran Byrne, Donal, Liam Maher, Jennifer Hurley, Rob Bohane, Gabor Molnar. Channel swimmers one and all.

The Bull, English Channel Solo Swimmer 2012.

Remember 2010 here on loneswimmer.com? When one of the Magnificent Seven Soloed I posted their national flag. I haven’t done it since, not as from disrespect to any of my friends who have swum since, but just I guess because it was our thing.

This post has been waiting for two years. I can’t express how happy I am to finally post it.

In a time of 12 hours and 4 minutes, with pilot Andy King on Louise Jane, with his brother Neilus and Magnificent Seven Solo swimmer Ciaran Byrne as crew, the Bull, Rob Bohane, Soloed on Sept 3rd in a fantastic time of 12.04.

Welcome to the club, Channel Swimmer.

Six of The Magnificent Seven at Sandycove in 2010, for Rob Bohane’s first send-off swim. From left; Ciaran Byrne, Donal, Liam Maher, Jennifer Hurley, Rob Bohane, Gabor Molnar. Channel swimmers one and all.

 

Related articles:

Liam Maher, English Channel Solo Swimmer 2010

Jennifer Hurley, English Channel Solo Swimmer 2010

Donal Buckley, English Channel Solo Swimmer 2010

Ciaran Byrne, English Channel Solo Swimmer 2010

Gábor Molnar, English Channel Solo Swimmer 2010

 

 

 

The effects of a long swim on the human body

It’s long time since I wrote about Third Spacing of Fluids, the increase of fluids in intercellular spaces that occurs when a person is swimming for a long time, and causes all marathon swimmers to swell and literally bloat.

I though it might be best to show the effects more clearly.

The first video is a commercial my sister, a noted Film and TV producer made using me as the swimmer one typical day driving down to, and then swimming at Sandycove… Notice I look particularly slim, tanned and healthy from my open water swimming life, full of life and raring to go (and some might say, handsome, though that’s not for me to comment). Notice the grace and elegance and indeed, presence and sense of belonging in the water that I embody. Though I do note that my stroke technique was a bit off that day.

Next is a video taken after this year’s of Rob Bohane and I at this year’s Sandycove Distance Week six-hour swim, in 12 to 13 degrees Celsius water . Look at the profound effects. Our body are much enlarged. Swim, goggle and cap lines have created deep creases in the skin, sand and kelp have accumulated on the lanolin, we’re both somewhat clumsy once on land, and we’re quite a peculiar colour, the whole body enlarged. Rob’s demeanour has changed from his normal sunny self to a grumpy disposition and we’re certainly not looking our best, though Rob is looking even worse than me.

Rob & I after Sandycove Challenge 2010

Swimsuit models never look like Open Water swimmers

These are typical swimsuit ads, you see them all over the place. You know the only cold that this pair has ever felt was when he left his cashmere scarf behind that one time in that lovely little boutique in Chelsea after he came back from a weekend in a yacht in St. Tropez and he was feeling the chill of the April air and he met up with her for lunch after her fish pedicure and afterwards they walked her Chi-waa-waa in around Kensington. Or so I imagine.

Warning, get your sunglasses. Here’s me, 6 months ago, probably at my weight best! I weight about 4 kgs more at the moment after 6 months of open water swimming … but my tan is better!

Here’s another picture of Rob & I, just after finishing the Sandycove Challenge last year. We are the two without wetsuits obviously, and I’m the one without a cap. I was the exact same weight then as now, 78 kgs, and I’m 171cms (5’7″ … and a very important bit, which is technical height measurement term that IS NOT IN ANY WAY IMAGINARY). That’s the two of us in the centre of the picture. It’s sometimes called The Channel Body. Stereotypically handsome Irishmen! Not.

Rob & I after Sandycove Challenge 2010

Would you buy those togs after seeing that as an ad? Not those exact togs obviously, we’re OW swimmers, they get pretty skanky. :-)

And because I love opportunities to use these pictures, here’s my adopted Hungarian child. In his thong, same day.

Gabor!

Sometime earlier in the year I put up a post with pictures of the different types of athletic bodies across different sports. I was going to originally put the first picture of me above into it for the laugh, (which was why I’d edited in a black background). I think in theory everybody over the age of 30 dislikes the body composition issues we see in society, but at the same time, it’s difficult to be honest about ourselves when we don’t meet these bloody ideals. I’m not the most handsome man in the world. As a cold open water swimmer, I’m always a bit (to more than bit) overweight from carrying some extra fat for warmth (I had originally written little bit, without realising it, my subconscious still trying to compensate). You’d swear though that any fat was the worst thing that ever happened to humanity, instead of remembering that it has specific purposes, like insulation and energy storage, especially in our line of sport. Live an active life, and just keep doing stuff. In the long run, you’ll be fine.

So I guess all this rambling just means; get real, swim companies. There’s a whole world of real swimmers out here.

Beginish 2011 – open water racing on the edge of the world – Part 1

When Rob Bohane and Ned Denison planned the inaugural round Beginish Island swim (race) in 2019, I doubt they realised the position it would take as an instant open water classic.

Warm water (for us, about 14C), varied course, interesting and challenging location … and a great party.

Beginish Island

This is the edge of Europe. Past this coastline, for most of the history of humanity, the whole world ended where the water is big. Ireland may have been settled from the west and south-west, but they knew the Atlantic was a beast, perhaps the greatest of all beasts. Leviathan himself is a mere minion of the Atlantic.

Therefore as a nation we feared and respected it and when we went forth on it, we went almost naked in currachs, open to the sea.  (No barques or dromonds for the Irish, the hide-covered currach belies its modest appearance and is a most capable boat on rough seas, superbly buoyant and the basic construction was amenable to scaling up to larger sizes with sails).

You can not muscle the Atlantic’s big water. If you go forth, the ancient people surely must have thought, you must go forth as a gannet resting on the surface of the deep. Only in your acceptance of the power of the sea will Lír, the god of the sea and his son Mananán grant you passage.

Out west. Where only the brave, the foolish, the lost and the blessed went. Where were only the Skelligs, and the lands of Hy-Brazil (the land under the wave) and Tír Nan nÓg (the land of perpetual youth).

West, through the course of European literature and history, has become the noble direction. The direction of hope and challenge and promise. The direction of the eternal future and hardy people.

Summers can be harsh in Kerry, which makes it hard to convince others that Kerry is paradise. Each of the two preceding years, we’ve had storms roll in as the swim was finishing. In the middle of July last year, the new wooden boat pontoon in Knightstown was ripped out by the wind and had to be replaced by concrete this year.

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Beginish island itself sits in Valentia bay between Valentia Island and the south Kerry fishing town of Caherciveen, on the famous Ring of Kerry tourist route and is clearly seen from Geokaun mountain on the island, (the above photo was from the Daily News of Open Water Swimming).Beginish island & Valentia Harbour__View_from_Mt_Geokuan_Summit

Valentia island is both fascinating and fantastic. One location has fossil tetrapod tracks, about 385 million years old, amongst the oldest fossil trackways on Earth. There’s Cullahoo rocks on the northern shore where the waters rush in and out of blowholes even on calm days. Gleanleam House has sub-tropical gardens and the tallest tree ferns in Europe because it is completely protected from frost and the Atlantic winds. The slate quarry supplied much of the slate of the capital of the British Empire and its Houses of Parliament, commerce and transportation  and kept the local population from starvation during the Irish Famine.

Valentia was once the centre of the world in fact. The  first commercial transatlantic cable came ashore here and along with the slate quarry contributed to Valentia’s unique economy and demographics. A train line ran right to the opposite shore only hundreds of metres away to take away slate and bring cable operators and dignitaries until 1966 when cable operations were finally ended. It was the original internet, inter-network.

The U.S. Coastal Survey once ran an expedition to Valentia to accurately determine longitudinal position for transatlantic navigation and there’s a commemorative Valentia slate marker base and brass plaque. The display also demonstrates egregious misuse of an apostrophe in the memorial, proving bad grammar is indeed a crime that knows no borders.

Crimes against grammar

There’s a spectacular lighthouse, Holy Wells (like every second field in Ireland it seems), sea-cliffs, Bray head. The island featured in a Guinness ad from a few years ago. (If you’re wondering where that pub is, you need to head toward Cullahoo rocks and St. Brendan’s Well off the road on the northern side , up from the bridge to Portmagee). There’s been an RNLI boat or station there for one hundred and fifty years!

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As we drove down the Ring of Kerry, taking the long way, the weather deteriorated. By the time we reached Derrrynane, visibility was down to a hundred metres, just like our last visit two weeks ago. Fog is the worst of all possible conditions for open water swimming. It didn’t bode well.

The village of Knightstown has a population of less than two hundred. Dee and I have been coming here for seven or eight years and always love it.

How could it be possible to not love the one hundred and thirty year-old Knights Town Coffee?

HQ and accommodation for the race is the Royal Valentia Hotel, so named after some British Royal or other visited an hundred years ago. We met the other early arrivals, Ned was already there, Liz and Lisa arriving soon after. Last year Ned and I had gone for a swim out toward the lighthouse, as I tried to ensure that I didn’t miss a metre of training. No so this year. Dee and I visited Fuschia restaurant for dinner, and it was terrible. We almost always go Knight Town Coffee for dinner but we decided to try a change. We deeply regretted it. Poor food, and overpriced. Never again. Back to the hotel or our usual spot in future. A restrained night before the swim commenced. And we checked the wind forecast. It was bad. Gale force westerlies. No way we could swim around the island, the north-west and west coasts would be impossible. Tim, the main organiser for the past two years, announced the backup route, up the Sound inside Valentia Island from Portmagee to Knightstown.

Knightstown's photogenic Clock Tower.

Part Two.

The Last Mile Roadtrip – October 5th and 6th 2010

From left to right:

Channel Swimmer
Channel Swimmer
Channel Swimmer
Channel Swimmer’s Coach
Channel Swimmer
Channel Swimmer
Channel Swimmer
Channel Swimmer

Not seen in photo, 2 more Channel Swimmers and an Aspirant/Crew.

Okay, okay.

In the background, la Manche, from Cap Gris Nez, on a frisky Force 3 to 4 day.

Left to right,
Ciarán Byrne, myself, Rob Bohane, Eilís Burns, Imelda Hughes, Jennifer Hurley, Liam Maher, Gábor Molnar. Not visible are Craig Morrison, Paul Massey and Dave from Dover.

Some drinking, eating…and swimming was done. Eilís even swam sans wetsuit. Some lumps in throats and plenty of laughing and craic.

It was the best day.