Irish Coast Rescue Helicopter 117 gets called out. To me.

So I get grief for swimming alone and offshore. Eilís has thrown the head at me occasionally. Dee also has to control her panic. The other guys have berated me on occasion.

Partly because of that (and partly seeking warmer water), I’ve been swimming a lot at Clonea this year.

It’s been rough cold water, winds and rain for the past four days and I was sick of it…again.

When I got to Clonea it was Force Two to Three South West, little bit of chop, one hour from high tide. Clouds with a bit of sun. Better than we’ve seen over here in a few weeks.

Clonea is a shallow beach. My swimming area ranges about one and a half miles either side of the car park, three miles total length. But you can only swim west (to the right) for a couple of hours around high tide, and the tides just hadn’t co-operated much this year. I was sick of going left.

So with the chop not too bad, and the spring tide coming in, I decided to go right, “up the beach” which is also usually slightly warmer than down the beach. The temperature was ok for the first time in a few weeks also.

The point past Ballyclamper is about twenty minutes away. I decided to continue on up to Ballinacourty Lighthouse, the full mile and a half from the car park, giving me a little bit longer before my first break and making the four hour swim feel shorter.

Once there I turned back and outward toward Carricknamoan Rock, the tiny island about eight or nine hundred metres out, taking a diagonal path directly out. It was now about high tide. Swimming out to Carricknamoan from this direction (west), even at high tide, the water is shallow enough to stand on rocks. from mid tide it’s a rock causeway most of the way out. I reached Carricknamoan at about the hour mark. No seals today but plenty of Shags.

From there I could either head toward the point or swim directly diagonally back to the car park. Going back by the point would add ten minutes, but I prefer the direct diagonal swim back.


At one hour twenty minutes I was cruising along. I was about two hundred to three hundred metres out from the beach and maybe five hundred metres from the hotel/car park.

I caught a glimpse of something in my left eye.

No rush. I’d see it when I next breathed on my left side in about eight seconds time. Breathe right…three strokes…breathe left.

It’s the Coast Guard helicopter heading for Ballinacourty. Must be problem just over in Dungarvan Bay, they’ve come out from Waterford.

Three strokes, breathe right…three strokes…breathe left.

Damn. The helicopter has turned. It’s coming back.

Ok, keep swimming. Glimpses of the ‘copter in both eyes now. It’s circling overhead.

Stoke for another minute. Stop. The ‘copter is directly overhead, maybe eighty feet up. I look up, there’s a head looking down.

What the hell?

What can I do? Swim away. Another minute swimming, and the RNLI Inshore Rescue Rib, shows up coming from the hotel side, crewed up.

Ok, time for a chat. ‘Copter is still on station overhead, high enough there’s no rotor wash.

“Problem? Someone panic?”

“Hang onto the rope…We heard there was a missing swimmer”.

“You know I’m out here training for the English Channel?”


“And I’ll be out here for another three hours.”


“And I’m raising money for you guys!”

“Ok! Money well spent. I guess you’re ok then”.

“Thanks guys”.

Swim the last two hundred meters to the park…where there are a few hundred people watching the show. Including, on a surf kayak, carrying a rescue buoy…a beach lifeguard, who had called them.

I’m telling you, the next two and half hours passed quickly in a mix of embarrassment, amusement and irritation.

Apparently they think I should to register my “flight plans” with the beach “control tower”.

With people who only have to work there from the first of June for eight weeks, not in the middle of winter or when I’m out in overhead swell or Force Five winds, or before eleven in the morning, or after seven in the evening or who don’t know about Clonea’s long shore drift, or that there are rocks and sand I can stand on for the entire three mile length.

So I should only swim between the hours of eleven am and seven pm and only in the short section in front of their hut. I’ll do that then.

So here’s a postscript.

Just as I was swimming in, I pass someone in a yellow hat. It look over and it’s Clare. I thought she was still sailing off Cork and not back for a few days.

She was mooring Orca when she heard the VHS Mine Head Alert on the emergency channel.
“Swimmer missing in the water after forty minutes. Yellow hat, blue Speedos”.
Her thought was, it’s too late to stop them. She had zero concern, rightly. It takes a while to moor in Dungarvan because of the hard running tide in the Back Bay. By the time she got over I was just finishing. They’d called it in after forty minutes, (maybe fifty). I’m guessing it took twenty to thirty minutes to scramle the ‘copter, get the on-call RNLI crew and come out. By which time I was approaching directly in front of the car-park to provide the show.

Of course I’ll now appear in the Dungarvan press as RNLI Notes on the Call-out!

So, you see the irony. When I swim one of the safest places I know, the Rescue Services get the full call-out.

2 thoughts on “Irish Coast Rescue Helicopter 117 gets called out. To me.

  1. i never laughed so hard when i read that!my sides are splitting:) just gos to show you Donal, at least they do look after us in the water, so its defintely good money well spent!


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