Tag Archives: The best safety decisions are made outside of the water

Swimming a new location: Ardmore & the wreck of the Samson

Regular readers will know from past posts such as Ballymacaw, Portally, and Whiting Bay that when I am swimming a new location by myself, I try to understand as much as I can before I get in the water. When swimming a new location, it’s always well to remember my safety motto: The best safety decisions are made outside of the water.

Ardmore is a small and very pictureesque seaside village in west Waterford. It has previously won Ireland’s Tidyiest Village awards on a few occasions, and was the site of Ireland’s first Christian monastery 1700 years or so ago. The village is nestled into the west side of the bay under Ram Head, to provide protection from the prevailing south-westerly winds. Ardmore literally means the big height. The bay itself is shallow and there is no protective natural boat harbour (apart from a small concrete pier, with water too shallow for fishing or large boats).

It was a public holiday weekend and the Sun was shining and the day was warm. That’s consequential. We’ve had no summer to speak of for a couple of years and have just exited the coldest and most protracted spring in over sixty years. Meteorological reports of 2012 showed it started raining in early June and there was NO sunshine after that. Cold, wet and grim. Sunshine is therefore the rarest treat.

Ardmore to Samson

Ardmore is about an hour away from home, a bit too far for regular open water swimming trips. I wanted to take a close look at the route again before I’d swim it later in the summer. The potential swim is out of the shallow bay out along to the headland where it’s possible to climb down the rocks which are a popular sea angling location, around the headland and past another to the slight cove with the wreck, about 700 metres further.

Refraction patterns. Click for large.
Refraction patterns. Click for large.

From above on the cliff, with a light Force two breeze the water surface was merely rippley. The south westerly breeze was creating interesting refraction patterns around the headland. The cove which contains the Samson is slightly more protected by another headland and the wreck itself if at the cliff base. A protected path runs in a large circle past the Cliff House hotel, past the ruins of St. Declan’s Monastery, around the outside headland past the World Ward II (The Emergency as it was known in Ireland) around the back of the town past the Round Tower from the days of Viking depredations.

St Declan's _MG_4567-resized

Every indication for a swim that day was good, rather than waiting a future uncertain day. Though still cool the water had been 11 degrees in Sandycove the previous day for five laps of the island, about 8,000 metres. Out to the Samson and back was only about 3,200 metres. The day was very warm for Ireland, about 20 degrees. The sky was cloudless and during early afternoon the Sun was shining with no clouds along the whole course. Two anglers fishing off kayaks in two different locations didn’t seem to be drifting so there was no visible strong current. With the cliff path, Dee would be able to keep an eye on me for the entire swim for once and even get some photos. It seemed almost a perfect day. If it wasn’t for the jetskiis towing boarders around the moorings under the hotel. Why these exploratory swims seem to coincide with jetskiis…

We moved the car down to the slipway and I quickly grabbed a chocolate bar as a pre-swim snack. My final instructions to Dee, since I’d had a good look at the water included a 90 minute cutoff.

Donal IMG_4624.resized

I entered the flat cool water, about the same temperature as Sandycove the previous day. Dee would have to walk back up the hill, pass the hotel and out onto the cliff path.

I was past the hotel quickly and through the buoy moorings. I stopped after ten minutes to see if I could see Dee on the path. Not wearing my glasses and there’s being plenty of people walking, I couldn’t see her. I swam on and stopped before the headland, when I could see someone frantically rushing. For once I’d managed to travel quicker. I didn’t swim as close to the rocks as I’d expected due to the presence of a few sea anglers. I could see constant interest from people stopping on the cliff.

Dual lines IMG_4643.resized
Divergent wake lines

As soon as I rounded the headland, there was a bit of swell, only about half a metre though and I didn’t feel slowed down. The photo though is interesting, showing divergent wakes behind me, one from swimming, one from wave interference.  The glare was stronger and I couldn’t see anything in front of me but I knew I only had to pass the next surface rocks to reach the wreck cove. Another ten minutes and I was only able to make out the wreck by removing my goggles. I decided to approach from the far side to reduce the glare and I was at the wreck at about thirty-five minutes from the slipway. The path above the wreck is further inland due to a steep slope down, and I’d told Dee she would have to stay a couple of hundred metres back on the path to see me.

The wreck. Mine Head, site of Ireland's highest lighthouse is in the far distance.
Remains of the Samson. Mine Head, site of Ireland’s highest lighthouse is in the far distance.

The Samson was a crane barge. In December of 1987 it was being towed from Liverpool to Malta when a storm cut her loose with two crew from her tugboat off the Welsh coast. the crew were rescued and she eventually crashed a couple of hundred miles away on the Ram Head rocks and has been rusting away ever since.

Cruising In IMG_4782.resized

Under the cliff’s shelter the water was clear and cold and the direct overhead Sun made in-water photographs difficult.  There are some interesting looking caves for future swims.

Samson wreck

I spent about five minutes swimming around and taking shots as I cooled and then I struck out for the return.

Samson wreck underwater
Samson wreck underwater

After I rounded the angling rocks again, the flatness of the water was a rare treat and I sprinted for the slipway, an uneventful final stretch and I cruised onto the beach after 65 minutes, about 30 seconds ahead of Dee.

Donal swimming back from Samson in Ardmore-resized

HOW TO: Open water swim tips for triathletes

This follows up Part 1 and Part 2 of common triathlon swimming techniques and remedies, and Evan’s tips on the best use of a public pool for training and a simple effective front crawl stroke tip.

I’ve written various How To’s about different aspects of open water swimming in detail. This post is intended to be a general round-up of maybe useful advice for triathletes (based on substantial open water swimming experience).

(By the way, I’ll be indexing the How To articles soon similar to the Cold Water Swimming Index, to make it easier to navigate).

  • Open water practice is different and separate to pool practice, and equally essential. You need both.
  • Breathing and sighting are two SEPARATE activities. Breathe to the side. Sight from LOW over the water (think of it as crocodile eyes).
  • Getting through large breaking waves is simple and quick (once you’ve practised it). Dive under them. Don’t try to go over or through.
  • Different wind strengths and directions (to your swimming direction) change the water conditions in different ways. Practice in all weather conditions.
  • My idea of cold and your idea of cold are different because you are wearing a wetsuit. I prepare for my temperatures, you MUST prepare for yours, even with a wetsuit.
  • Practice in open water well in advance of your event, and practice repeatedly.
  • Navigation is a learned skill. Pick something above the water and work out how often you need to sight forward to swim straight. Expect the number to be low at the beginning.
  • Few people are as good at sighting as they think they are. Most are worse. There are too many variable to always be certain you are swimming straight.
  • Practice turns around buoys.
  • Common technique causes of drifting off-course are crossing over the body centreline with your arm and breathing to one side (where it unbalances the swimmer). Address these in your pool training.
  • Controlled breathing is important. Don’t hold your breath.
  • Don’t concentrate on lowering your stroke rate, or gliding. (Yes, I know many of you try to do the opposite).
  • Do increase your stroke rate. And train for this.
  • Forget Total Immersion.
  • Don’t kick hard.
  • Don’t sprint at the start.
  • Don’t wear new goggles for a race.
  • Don’t start at the front of a race wave if you’ve never done so before.
  • Expect full contact with other swimmers. To avoid contact start slightly behind the pack.
  • Swim to the side of the pack.
  • Don’t trust that the pack knows where it’s going.
  • My sport is more extreme and dangerous than yours but yours is more popular and with a higher fatality rate. That can be improved by better understanding of and preparation for open water.
  1. Just because water is soft, doesn’t mean it’s easy. Train appropriately.
  2. The best safety decisions are made outside of the water.
  3. Your wetsuit is NOT an open water safety aid. Don’t use it as such to enter a swim you are not sure you are capable of completing.