Tag Archives: Tramore

Cork Distance Week Copper Coast swim

Cork Distance Week has become increasingly well-known over the past few years since it started by Ned Denison in 2009, succeeding the Champion of Champion races of the previous two years. I’ve been involved every year either as a swimmer or a volunteer and last year I hoped to bring the Camp swimmers over to the Copper Coast for a swim, but as ill-luck had it, we had a 48 hour south-easterly gale before and on the planned day, the one wind which makes the entire Copper Coast and much of the rest of the south coast unswimmable.

A brief précis of Distance Week is enough to tell whether you have distance swim genes. It’s held over nine days, with twice daily two-hour swims at six am and six pm with a Torture swim on the final Saturday, and a six hour qualification swim of multiple laps of Sandycove on the final day. Most swims are around Sandycove but the Camp travels to the Blackwater, Inishcara lake, Lough Hyne and other locations. Total swim volume over the camp is from 80 km to 140 km, depending on year and whether you can get through every swim. If this sounds in any way attractive, you have the illness.

Given the two and half hour drive from Kinsale to Tramore, Distance Week organiser Ned wasn’t keen to include the swim this week. So I engaged in some blackmail, favour for favour, and the swim was added.

Busy morning in the Newtown & Guillamene car park
Busy morning in the Newtown & Guillamene car park

Those of you here will know this, since its the entirety of our world now, but for everyone else, Ireland is having possibly its hottest June and July in a generation. It’s welcome since we literally had no summer last year, as it started raining on the first of June and rained for the rest of the summer, and this was followed by the coldest spring in sixty years.  Previous to the last year we didn’t have any real sunshine for the five years before that, and the last year considered a good summer was … 1996. (Weather everywhere seems to be about extremes and records now, which the Climate Change Deniers and Luddites will tell you has absolutely nothing to do with the highest recorded atmospheric carbon).

Not long ago we were suffering in unseasonably cold air making the cold water tough and in a mere few weeks of continuous sunshine water temperatures have risen sharply reaching the magic figure of 14 Celsius a couple of weeks ago and continuing upward. Further increased heat had the water in Tramore Bay reaching 15 to 16 degrees by mid-day when I did a scouting swim over the planned course at low tide. Jellyfish were disappointingly absent, especially since I’d been stung all over my face myself only a few days previously.

With the good weather, it seems the entire population had decamped to the coast. The club (Newtown and Guillamenes) allocated precious parking spaces in the car park for the swim and word was working it way around the area that “there’s a big swim on”.  One person was heard to say that the lobster pots about two hundred metres out in the bay were “the inner line for the big race. Off out there!

The swimmers started to arrive by five thirty. Former Club Chairman and Mayor of Waterford Ollie said a few words welcoming the swimmers and giving a brief overview of the club’s long stewardship of the area.

Gabor, Sylvain, Donal IMG_6632.resizedWe had twenty swimmers including one world record holder Hayden Welch. Globally know Australian marathon swimmer Penny Palfrey, swimmers from the UK, USA, Canada, Malawi Waterford and Cork, friends from previous distance camps included Carl Reynolds and Helen Gibbs. And my boys, my Hungarian stepson Gábor and world record Aspirant Sylvain Estadieu.

I did a quick swim briefing with a large map so the swimmers would know the course, gave them the waypoints and turning points, local swimmer Colm Breathnach the only one who knew the course. I had also anticipated asking them a question I hoped they’d never been asked previously in a swim briefing; does anyone suffer from claustrophobia  (No-one did). And there was a follow-up question, was there anyone who hadn’t done a night swim? The group was made up of very experienced swimmers and most had swum at night, though a few hadn’t. With sunset still four hours away, I explained that the course would include a long cave swim!

 

Newtown Cove exit
Newtown Cove exit

Given the large crowds, I decided to start them at Newtown Cove off the shingle beach (for a bit of extra Dover training simulation) and we all trooped down, the line of tanned and elegant Speedo and swimsuits-wearing models capturing everyone’s attention.

We let the two slowest swimmers off first, then I led the next group out toward Newtown Head, to be followed by the fastest swimmers, as I wanted to group everyone under the Metalman before proceeding and I didn’t want anyone getting cold while waiting, though given the warm water and sunshine this wasn’t a significant concern.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe assembled in the water, the RNLI rib under command of Raymond Cowman keeping us company on the outside. I indicated the darkcave under the headland, the Sun now sliding into the west actually making the entrance less darkly intimidating that it is in a mid-day Sun, when the shadow is impenetrable.  And then I led them all into it, stopping under the rim to show that once into the shadow it’s not as dark. We then swam into the inner cave, the water quickly going pitch black.

Inside the Cave
Inside the Cave

I have to say that reaching the inside and looking back to see twenty swimmers follow me, with Gábor and Sylvain right behind me, into a place where I usually swim by myself, was as much, if not more a thrill for me as the cave was for many of the swimmers. There was plenty of hooting and then we (mostly) exited on the right-hand side of the west side entrance.

Leaving the cave

There were a couple of young anglers on the rocks on the far side of the Headland, and from being alone, suddenly twenty swimmers swam out of the cave.

Cave entrance
Cave entrance

From there it was back around the headland and the swimmers set off of the pier of the beach. I waited until all swimmers were in front of me, and had a chat with the RNLI crew.

Rib and main group passing the pier (not visible)
Rib and main group passing the pier (not visible)

I exited at Newtown Cove (as did a couple of others who wanted a break from all the swimming and travelling) so I could get changed and watch the group from the cliffs. I had time for a few chats before I moved to above the Comolee’s rocks. Two swimmers were passing underneath having turned at the pier, and in the distance the main group had passed the pier on the way back from the beach.

Classic open water swimming pack formation
Classic open water swimming pack formation

Gradually the lead fast group came closer and in the zoom lens I could make out Ned, racing as usual. Tern minutes from the Comolees saw the final  swimmers round the rock into Newtown Cove, the late evening Sun directly into their eyes, and threaded between all the casual swimmers. Depending on the speed and lines taken by the swimmers they had swim up to seven kilometres in the two hours.

Finishing_MG_6617.resized

We had a chance to stand around chatting a bit afterwards, I got to meet most of the swimmers, some finally in person after previous online correspondence, whether Twitter, my blog or the marathonswimmers.org forum.

Distance Camp Copper Coast group shot
Distance Camp Copper Coast group shot

I was very happy and indeed honoured to have so many marathon swimmers visit my usually solitary playground. I appreciated that it wasn’t a short trip, and I certainly hope they enjoyed themselves.

Next year I’ve got a longer cave for them.

Unusually good weather

The weather in Ireland has been broken for the past five days. It didn’t operate as normal. It’s the end of March and instead of the usual dull cold grey, it’s been warm, bright and sunny. So like quite a few others I changed to a few days of sea swimming and even did a 5k, which is a first for me for March. Last year I didn’t do 5k open water until June, in 2010 it wasn’t until the middle of May.

My assertion is, despite belief to the contrary, Irish people are actually optimistic based on the single fact that whenever the weather the good, we believe it will last forever,  even though we’ve had entire summers without five consecutive days of any good weather.

I’ve recently purchased a Kodak Playsport camera, which is waterproof and shoots HD video, for a very reasonable price of about £80. So finally, finally, I’ve started taking some video of Tramore Bay and Newtown Head to share my playground with you all, instead of just the usual static images. The water is still only 10 degrees Celsius so I couldn’t spend too much time floating and getting cold, but I’m delighted to have made a start. A couple of these were shot on cold bright days a few weeks ago.

Don’t forget to select YouTube’s HD option for each.

Lowest low tide of the year. Shot with camera sitting on rocks underneath normal low tide mark.

Looking out to the Metalman and Newtown Head.

Looking up at the Guillamene.

Out further toward Newtown head

Suddenly … Gráinne!

Newtown Head. Wait for the underwater bit at the end, and see the colour of my dreams.

 

 

Donal swimming in front of Brown's Island, Kilfarassey

Project Copper – reflections and debrief

You Are Now Leaving The Copper Coast - Safe Home

Reflections on Project Copper.

I’ve swam about 54,000 metres to cover the 25 kilometre coast, which were swum as a series of out and back swims, so every metre of coast was swam twice.

With the experience I’ve gained of the various currents on this stretch of coast, I now know there are longer swims that could be done unsupported, and still allow a decent safety margin (by my standards anyway). But I had to do it the way I did in order to learn that.

I’ve passed what must be literally hundreds of caves along the whole coast, many small, some big, a few huge, some rarely exposed to the sea, and many, usually the biggest, only visible from swimming out at sea. I’ve swam around every large rock on the coast and found the names of places and rocks I’ve always wondered about. Apparent synchronicity is usually an emergent feature of deeper interest.

I’ve walked miles of occasionally precarious cliffs photographing places I’d swam or planned to swim and I’ve climbed over hedges, walls and hopped many an electric fence and ditch, visited historical sites, and walked across what’s left of a few neolithic promontory forts. I’ve taken hundreds of photos for your edification and enjoyment (and have shown you the best ones) and written thousands of words, which has often taken longer than the actual swimming.

Sea Ivory above Garrarus

I’ve seen emerald samphire and orange crocosmia, blue grass and vivid red poppies and verdant ferns, actinic sea-holly festooned with beautiful metallic six-spot burnet moths, and heathers and daisies and daisy-like flowers, grey sea-ivory and a few faded remaining sea-thrift all along the cliffs and come to appreciate even humble lichen, Verrucarria maura, and particularly Xanthoria parietina, which adds so much colour to this coast.

Fulmar

I’ve seen almost every kind of local bird including Cormorants, Guillemots, Shags, Swifts and Swallows, Herring and Greater Black-Backed gulls. I think I saw some Kittiwakes, a few Gannets, lots of Fulmars, occasional Terns and Sanderlings and other small birds I don’t recognise nor can separate. Herons, two Kestrels, a curlew and two groups of my new favourites, shy cliff-top Choughs and I was dive-bombed by fifty of so gulls off Gull island at the eastern edge of the coast, and I swam right off Google Earth’s current high-resolution map range.

Choughs on the cliff edge

I’ve seen, of course, all the local jellyfish, sprats, crabs large and small, and an occasional larger fish emerge from the green, usually only visible on northerly winds and around reefs, bass and mackerel hunting on the reefs and I’ve seen starfish and anemones and a seal, though less fish that you might expect, since I suppose they think of me as a particularly splashy seal.

I’ve talked with kayakers, lifeguards, fishermen (haven’t met any fisherwomen), divers, surfers, spearfishers, Paula from the Copper Coast Geopark office, (who introduced me to a great new book on the Waterford Coast which helped me identify various plants and fauna and place names), Ryan the 4th year UCC Geology Major who had a headache from all the different rocks in tiny Ballvooney cove, tourists and locals, children and adults and dogs.

I swam in calm and rough, chop, wind and groundswell, sun, rain and cloud, onshore and offshore and no wind and all tides. I’ve been scared and exhilarated and excited and delighted and entertained. I’ve swum through tunnels big and small, and sea-arches, around islands of every size on this coast, and into and across caves, coves, estuaries and bays.

I’ve started to think about geology more, and recognise both the transient and permanent natures of our coasts more than I ever did as a surfer, and seen the damage the Copper Coast is suffering from coastal erosion (up to 2 metres per year, in some places).

I haven’t seen a stretch of coast that doesn’t have some item of rubbish on it. I had the wits frightened out me by a large plastic bag floating (neutrally-buoyant) upside-down in the sea, and I contributed to the pollution by losing my own nalgene bottle on one swim.

Sea Holly

I actually finished Project Copper a week ago, but it takes time to write all this up. I didn’t set out to do a swim every day. One day was lost due to fog, another due to Carol’s Ballycotton swim.

Doing it in this incremental fashion gave me all these experiences and awareness and knowledge that a normal marathon swim wouldn’t have unveiled, and it’s been a pleasure to share as much of them as I could with you all.

I’ve seen all the colours of open water swimming. I’ve confirmed my long-held belief that Waterford‘s Copper Coast is one of the most beautiful and under-rated stretches of coast in Ireland.

Ronan's Bay and Illaunglas from Great Newtown Head - large panorama

What did I learn? You can find adventure anywhere. You don’t have to swim the English Channel or cross the Antarctic or spend a fortune. There are plenty of Firsts out there if you want to seek them out.

Go to the sea. It’s waiting, always, always waiting for you.

Swimming in front of Brown's Island, Kilfarassey

The Project Copper Idea. Criteria and range.

The ten swim expeditions

  • Guillamene to Sheep Island: Exposed. No exit from Guillamene to Garrarus. Westerly current. Higher marine traffic. About 9.5 kilometres.
  • Kilmurrin to Boatstrand. Various strong and often contrary currents. Water can be very rough when not rough elsewhere on coast. Interim exit possible only on west side of Dunabrattin head. About 4 kilometres.
  • Kilmurrin to Tankardstown. Strong westerly currents. Water can be rough when not rough elsewhere on coast. Exposed, no exit, scary. About 4 kilometres.
  • Bunmahon to Tankardstown. Can be rips on Bunmahon beach. About 4 kilometres. Interim exit possible at Stage Cove.
  • Annestown to Kilfarassey. Along long beach, easy exit from water almost entire length but a long walk along beach which is cut off on high tide. Watch for hidden reefs along surf line. About 5+ kilometres.
  • Annestown to Boatstrand. Can pick up and amplify swell when nowhere else does at Boatstrand end. Safe exits. Lots of pots and lines and some fishing boats and possible seals near Boatstrand fishing harbour. About 6+ kilometres.
  • Kilfarassey. Above mid tide only. Lots of hidden reefs. Easterly current between Sheep Island and Brown’s Island. Surging waves on beach above mid tide. About 6+ kilometres. Possible exits on about 70% of length.
  • Bunmahon to Ballydowane Cove. Exposed and hidden from rest of coast. Westerly currents. Hidden reefs. About 5+ kilometres. Possible exits but no way to walk back, except first kilometer on low tide.
  • Ballydowane to Ballyvooney. Westerly currents at Ballyvooney end, easterly current at Ballydowane end, reaching St. John’s Island . No exits. About 6 kilometres.
  • Ballyvooney to Stradbally. Very strong westerly current between Gull island and Stradbally. No exits. About 4.7 kilometres.
All swims marked on the same (large) map below.

The Project Copper Map - completed

Spring at the Guillamenes

Problem: Out of ideas of what to write about next.

Solution: Go for a swim.

From the Guillamenes down to the pier and out the headland, ( the “Guillamenes Double” as I call it, though I only went halfway out to the headland yesterday, due to Half-Claw). Water was 9.c C under the ladder, maybe quarter to half a degree warmer than outside, though with a warm spot out past Newtown Cove.

Result: Come back with a list of ten possible things to talk about.

Renewed by the sea once more.

Here’s a picture popular with the tourists that I should have posted a long time ago, but kept forgetting because I’m so used to seeing it, in fact I never actually took one myself until yesterday. The well-known sign from the Guillamenes.

Guillamenes sign-resized

The context for that sign , with Tramore Bay and Tramore beach and town behind.

 

Here are my two travelling companions, who haven’t appeared enough here also, elderly siblings (14 years old) and along with Dee my best friends Toby and Jo-Jo.

Though siblings, the Tubster (aka The Small Emergency Backup Dog, no longer small) likes water, (but not waves) while Joey (the boss) prefers hills.

Club Chairman Eddie Kelly was around but I forgot to take his picture or the Cabin ( a converted shipping container, much used for summer lunches by the Club, with sausage sandwiches of the traditional Waterford Blaas being popular). A blaa is a soft bread bap and is pronounced like the sound a sheep makes by the way.

Much work has been done at the Guillamenes since the end of last summer. There are new wider steps down to the water, new railing on the steps, all the steps have been re- concreted, a new stone and wood picnic table, all the metalwork repainted and in some cases replaced, new signs, new fencing along the top cliff and a new retaining wall added on the outside of the platform to increase the area for changing, mostly funder under a European Partnership Funding initiative, with plans for further work if the Club can raise more funds.

You coming?

Most of the maintenance of this area is carried out by the Club members, some of them swimming in this area for well over 50 years. In an era long before the modern concept of environmentalism, these people looked on the sea as a shared heritage for all, and sought to protect it and improve the local amenities. This is true local environmental action.

The steps down to the platform, not as long nor as steep as they seem in this picture, only about 30 steps.

And then there are the sea and the rocks. It was low tide when I took this, on a nice semi-sunny day, mixed clouds and sun. It was afternoonish so the sun had moved west from it’s usual southerly position when I’m there allowed a few better pictures.

Looking from the top of the steps toward Donerail Head and the Pier. It’s about an 18 minute swim down to the pier (average) and 25 minutes to below Doneraile Head. Down and back to the Pier is 40 to 45 minutes. Currents often form off the pier end. At low tide there are heavy kelp stands that need to be negotiated.

Here’s the platform from above. You can see the Compass Rose which indicates why this is a good spot in a westerly or southwesterly. In fact yesterday there was a brisk southwestly but the swim route was nicely sheltered. The blue pillar marks one side of the tiny covered alcove that gets more used in windy winter days.  The far end of the platform was the location of the diving board until it was broken the year before last. Hopefully we’ll have a replacement this year. There are also two locations where it’s possible to high jump from rocks, one of them is more visible as the light coloured area about half way up the nearest tall rocks, above the high tide line, the height obviously tide dependent, up to about 40 feet and another far more dangerous higher spot on the far side, which had a fatality a few years back.

Those No Fishing signs are important. The rocks are popular with local anglers. These ones between the Guillamenes and Newtown Coves have the favourite spot, and I’m the only regular who swims that way, just where the rocks stick. I’ve yet to be caught in a line.

And below are some Sea-spray flowers with Brownstown head across the bay in the background.

Below, looking out toward the headland, over Newtown Cove, with the three Navigation Pillars on the headland visible.

Rocks are more interesting than sand don’t you think? A landlubber can walk along a beach, yes, in itself a pleasant activity. But show a sea swimmer some cliffs or rocks and what do you have but something that divides us from our landlived lives. You must enter into or upon the sea to navigate and appreciate the obstacle and the view.

And where would this be without a picture of the famous Metalman, now redundant as so many navigation aids, yet which retains the affection of seafolk and locals.

Now I see him point not at danger, but at enticement, at my other home.

Hope to see you all down here for a visit sometime. He’s pointing the way

Tramore Bay again

A few better pictures today. Click to embiggen for detail.

First is old Tramore town from the beach, out to the Metalman. That church on the horizon is a useful landmark for aiming toward Doneraile Head when swimming in from outside.

Next is Brownstown Head on the east side of the bay also obviously from the beach. There was a lovely steel grey sea and mixed with a hint of offshore. Because it’s somewhat overexposed, being due south, it looks darker than the day was, which was quite nice, if overcast.

Next the Metalman, which you can’t see situated as clearly from much closer out at the Guillamenes. One of my two most regular swims, along with Clonea, is to swim from the Guillamenes out to Great Newtown Head and The Metalman, under those cliffs. (I’ve never seen anyone else swim out there unless I’ve taken them out, anyone else swimming from the Guillamenes will head in toward the pier).

Under the cliffs are a couple of large sea caves into which it is possible to swim on a calm day. My favourite cave requires a swim around the headland.

Finally it’s that stretch of coast from the Guillamenes to the Metalman.

On the right is the car park and the steps leading down to the cove. From the cove out to headland 12 to 20 minutes depending on the day.

The Metalman itself and the other two pillars were erected in the early 19th century after a famous shipwreck in the bay.

In a large onshore storm, the Seahorse, a military transport, came east past the headland. Thinking it was past Brownstown Head and into the safe Waterford Estuary, it was driven into the shallow bay and wrecked with the loss of about 350 lives, men, women and children and the Metalman was erected some years later to indicate that the next headland (Brownstown Head, which now has two pillars) was the headland to enter the estuary.

Tramore Bay

Quick video taken from a few kilometers down Tramore beach at low tide. It was sunny so quite hazy.  Given how much I feature the Guillamenes, this situates it a bit better with respect to the whole bay. The Guillamenes is on the west side of the bay, seemingly most  of the way out to the Metalman headland from this angle. To swim from the Guillamenes to in front of the surf centre is 50 to 55 minutes. And that’s the bay I’ve idiotically swam across by myself a few times. Looking forward to doing it again this year! :-)

In the video you can see that most of Tramore town sits up on the hill.

Another stupid thing I’ve done. No. 5124 in an ongoing series, (i.e. my life)

Coming home from Cork yesterday, the conditions driving across by the Comeraghs were terrible, in fact from Dungarvan to Carrick there was often heavy snow for miles on end. By last night everything had frozen to lethality.   So when I looked out this morning and saw this: I of course immediately thought, “I must go for a sea swim”.

Doggits and myself into the car.   And then a long drive to Tramore. Normally a 30 minute drive, I was unable to cross the bridge at Piltown due to the conditions. Through Waterford, I actually took the toll bridge, the only other time I’ve done this was the Christmas swim in similar conditions last year. I hoped as I approached the coast that the snow and ice would disappear as happened last year. Instead, conditions that I’ve never experienced myself at the coast prevailed and the temperature dropped further as I entered Tramore Town. Unwilling to risk the steep hill through the town, I went up onto the bypass and approached the coast and the Guillamenes from the west side through the trees. I saw this view when I arrived outside the car park, having taken twice as long as long as normal to get there. The grant for redoing the platform at the Guillamenes came through a few weeks ago and so the car park is closed and access down the cliff steps is blocked. So, quick walk for the doggits.

Looking toward the town I could see snow right on the beach.

The steps down were ice sheeted and the platform and rocks were covered in snow and ice. The air temperature was -3.5C! The coldest air temperature I’ve previously ever swum in was about +2 or 3C.

There was also a light Force 2 Northeasterly breeze blowing, just to add to the fun. The water was calm.

I’ve many times swam here on a Saturday or Sunday morning when there are none of the regulars around, but in those circumstances the water conditions were always such they wouldn’t risk it. Today however the water looked lovely and calm. But the risk just getting to the Guillamenes & Newtown Cove was obviously too much.

The cold air temperature meant steam was rising off the sea.

The freezing air and wind meant by the time I got togged out with cap on, my hands were completely numb before I got in the water. I had to wear my coat right to the edge and hang it on the top railing, something else I’ve never done, but it was bitterly cold.

The second pour on the new steps was completed this week, and while the rails remain to be added the new steps are now wide enough to allow a few people to exit and enter the water simultaneously, though it does look like the railings are going to be put to the side instead of the center, which would make more sense and allow entry and exit at the same time, but I long ago ceased to expect foresight from Local Government, retaining now only a perpetual sense of disappointment. But maybe this time I’ll be wrong.

The water itself was of course fine. I loaned my infrared thermometer but I’d say the water was probably 9.5C.

I only swam about 20 minutes. The steam rising off the water mean a reduction in horizontal visibility while the sky was perfectly clear overhead.

My shoulders and back were cold due to air and wind exposure. (Otherwise just normal November water temperature). Because of the cold air, I cut the swim short at about 20 minutes.

It was one of the utterly memorable swims. Blue overhead & white and pink streaks towards the south, with that peculiar washed-out almost urine-like colour of the southern sky toward the horizon mixed with cold grey rain/snow clouds.

While out there I had the usual sense of being the only person alive in the world. But today, unusually, I actually also thought about Liz, Craig, Rob, Gábor and Lisa who were also swimming this morning in Sandycove.  I’m not far from passing my Sandycove C target, but it looks like I won’t reach it until the new year.

Because of the wind and air, getting dressed was the same as if I’d been swimming in 5 or 6 C water and dropped my temperature more significantly.

I had left my rubber changing mat on the concrete and it had already frozen and was as cold to stand on as the concrete! I was unable to towel dry, just pulled the clothes straight on. (One reason why I wear Merino wool when going swimming, it retains body heat while damp.)

As I left I could see snow out in the bay, and the steam still rising.

The trip home was worse. Getting off the Guillamenes road was difficult It took half an hour just to get out of Tramore. For a short local swim, I spent half the day.

Apparently the coldest November since 1973.

But it was fun, as always.