Tag Archives: sandycove island swim club

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.

An introduction to swimming at Sandycove – Part 1

Inside Sandycove Island
Inside Sandycove Island, from Third to Fourth Corner

I’ve been meaning to put this post for the past two years before the start of each year’s Distance Training Week!

Let’s start with a caution: Sandycove Island in Cork is a location for experienced open water swimmers. It should not be dismissed because it is (now) well-known or because there are many local swimmers. You should as always be aware of the tide and wind conditions and it is preferable to swim around the island with others according the local schedule. Any of the most experienced local swimmers can tell scary stories about swimming around the outside. 

I’ll also point out that there is a Sandycove Island Swim Club website. Tide times are not posted at the slipway but are posted on the website in the daily schedule (below). There are six current swimmers (crowned with special M Club swim caps) in the Thousand Plus Lifetime Laps club. There are more members of the 500 Lap L club and I myself am a far-flung member of the C Club (100+ lifetime laps) having only notched up about 150 laps, (but given I live two and half hours away…). Sandycove Island from Google Earth high-res A minimum of ten swims in different weather and tide conditions will start to give a good understanding of a particular location and obviously the more one swims at any location the better one understand its vagaries. Any of the C club members or up have a very good understanding of the island and have come to understand a lot of the finer points, in some cases literally.

Organised swims according the club schedule are held about one hundred and fifty days of the year and the annual calender is on the website (2013 schedule). With intermediate and distance and triathlete swimmers all swimming locally there is nearly always someone around for the scheduled swims. Sandycove and Sandycove Island are situated on the south-west Irish (Cork) coast outside the town of Kinsale. To the general population it is not anywhere near as well-known as Ireland’s other more famous swimming location of the same name but is better known amongst open water swimmers and is the swimming home of many experienced long distance and proficient sea-swimmers.

The group includes three Triple Crown swimmers, and currently nineteen English Channel soloists with many more swimming achievements, a list of which is kept on the Sandycove Swimmers website, (updated at the end of each swim season). A few miles to the west of the cove is the Old Head of Kinsale, which stretches out six kilometres and protects this stretch of coast from some of the prevailing south-westerly swell and storms. The cove offers the possibility of inside laps when the conditions outside the island are too rough and it’s possible to swim up into the usually warmer estuary behind the island (which also has more boat moorings) but not on low tide.

A south-easterly wind is generally considered the worst condition for swimming anywhere in the cove, and in this wind even the inside of the island is exposed with only the very short near (west) side being protected.

Around the island swimming is almost exclusively anti-clockwise (counter-clockwise for my North American friends) around the island, partially due to being easier to navigate the various rocks and because it is easier and safer to navigate into the cove from outside the island. Since the direction is now established it is therefore safer to be swimming in the same direction as others. Anti-clockwise swims tend to only occur on multi-lap long swims that go through the low tide period.

American Channel swimmer Jen Schumacher negotiating the kelp at low tide
American Channel swimmer Jen Schumacher negotiating the kelp at low tide

Water temperature around the island is variable, as is depth.  Amongst the coldest parts is the shallow entrance where all swims start at the slipway, as there is a cold stream feeding in. The stretch out to the first corner is slightly warmer. Passing outside the “first corner” is usually cold especially having transitioned from warmer water inside. Inside the island, protected from the exposed sea, or after the second corner where the river estuary can improve temperatures can also be warmer but not necessarily so. On occasion, these conditions can reverse with the outside being warmer. This variability and daily unpredictability is part of the difficulty and attraction of Sandycove for long distance training and it is common to hear it said that the temperature range around the island can be two degrees on a single lap. This may sound insignificant but the difference between ten and twelve degrees Celsius is very wide.

There is sea life. There is at least one local common seal, not often seen but which does occasionally shadow swimmers. The protected location means jellyfish infestations are light and the far side of the Old Kinsale Head only a few miles west has much higher numbers. The waters are home to the usual denizens of seabass, sprats and shellfish and occasionally mackerel shoals outside.

The water is clean though it does taste somewhat interesting as one swims the last hundred metres into the slipway. Water visibility has the same range as the rest of the Irish coast from clear to impenetrable with the clearest days usually following a northerly wind (and therefore often the coldest days).

Apart from windless days, the calmest conditions are on northerly and north-westerly winds as these are offshore for both of the two “long sides” of the island. Calmer days are not often the warmest unless during an unusually sunny long spell during the summer. Long periods of windlessness or sun are rare in Ireland.

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. Lower tide , much more of the Fourth and First Corner’s reefs exposed.

Part 2.


Steve Redmond’s Homecoming

If you are in Ireland, you know Steve is getting pretty great coverage and reception here in Ireland, as it should be. Many interviewers don’t really get it, you can hear the bemusement in their voices. But in fairness to them, those of us who are swimmers have trouble wrapping our heads around it.

For most of the world, to swim ONE of those swims is only a dream. Only the tinyest percentage of people complete one or two.

Steve, for now, is the only person, ever, to complete all seven swims and will always be the first.

Just pause there for a moment: Three years, seven Channels, eleven swims.

Hundreds of people met Stephen and Noel Browne, one of Steve’s most trusted friends, Tsugaru crew and significant organiser and behind the scenes powerhouse, when they returned to Cork, the Rebel County, and the real capitol at Cork Airport last night. They had spent almost all the time from immediately after finishing Tsugaru on Sunday travelling home.

Media interviews

Many travelled in convoy back to West Cork through Clonakilty with car horns honking toward Ballydehob, with bonfires blazing on the hills, a Celtic tradition thousands of years old. “Home is the sailor, home from the sea”.

Stephen & Ann, Noel & partner

There were special greetings and homecomings in Cork. Steve’s wife Ann was at the airport, as were his two kids, little Stevie and Siadbh, family, friends, supporters and swimmers.

If you’ve read Steve’s previous accounts of swims here, you will know that his mantra while swimming is to repeat his children’s names, and as Ann said last night to Sandycove Island Swim Club Chairwoman Liz and myself, when things get tough he adds her name!

Stephen and the Lough Ine swimming & support Crew

Stephen was grabbed by national TV on exiting the gate to much cheering, but he moved to grab his family and close friends, including close friend and Lough Ine training partner and Sandycove Island Swimming pioneer and Channel swimmer Steven Black.

Stephen & Steven

We waited around, talked a lot of swimming, and then the man himself came over, lots of manly and womanly swim hugs and we got time to talk with him, and he shared some details of the Tsugaru swim, that made all us swimmers feel like we were there. As Liam said, that moment alone was special. Stephen said to me he’d already written up the Tsugaru swim report for me, and I hadn’t even asked this time, I figured he had more than enough professionals hanging on his time and every word. We were there because we are all open water swimmers and admirers and he is one, in fact right now he is The Swimmer.

We took a picture with the members of Sandycove Island Swim Club who were able to make it.

Back l-r : Lisa Cummins, Steven Black, Ciaran Byrne, Finbarr Hedderman, Liam Maher, Stephen Redmond, Owen O’Keeffe, Noel Browne, Liz Buckley
Front l-r: Ossi Schmidt, me, Gabor Molnar

Being an unashamed fanboy, I of course got his autograph, not for the first time.

Welcome home Steve. You make us all proud to be Irish, proud to be swimmers, and proud to know you. Arise Cork, and take your place among the nations of the world.

So, Stephen’s Tsugaru swim report, coming in two days!

The Sandycove Swimmers Annual Achievement List released – a must-read

Some time ago I discussed Ned Denison’s 3,5 & 9k annual swim list which runs each year and is available here on the Sandycove Island Swimming Club website.

For some years now, Ned Denison has also maintained a list of swimming achievements by Sandycove Swimmers and those swimming within the area. For the last few years since the actual club was formed, after season’s end, relevant swims for the year are added and the committee discuss and ratify the final list before release.

Actually known as the County Cork & Bit of Kerry list, the list includes the Sandycove regulars, other distance swimmers within the region, and visitors, particularly those who have participated in the Cork Distance Week (which originated in the 2008 & 2009 Champion of Champions swims, for those of us who were there). It also includes swims on the Waterford coast. The list includes swimmers from Cork, Kerry, Waterford, Dublin, Clare, the UK & USA, Australia and some others.

This year’s list was discussed back in October and it was released this week.

At this time of year, when the media is full of Best-Of lists, and reviews and recommendations of sports books of the year thus has become, in my view at least, an astonishing record of (primarily Irish) swimmer’s achievements.

Starting with Lisa’s double English Channel solo and leading through swims around the world and all over Ireland, I think this is one of the great documents of Irish sport and probably one of at least some interest to open water swimmers around the world.

The committee accepts the word of swimmers (in good standing) where such swims as don’t have observers are added (like the 5k+ swims that I did on Project Copper this year)  or Craig and Gabor’s swims, or where club members are observers.

This link will take you directly to the Google Docs file where you can view or download it as a PDF, (or here where I’ve added epub & mobi options).

Every year this list grows, every year behind every name and distance and location is a world of interest. Each swim carries its own story, its own joy reduced to these entries. As Ned says, if you are not already on this list, maybe next year will your first entry. Or maybe it’ll be your most successful, longest or toughest entry. maybe you are coming for the Distance Week. This is a great document to be part of, because it’s a great group of people to be part of.