I had missed two days swimming so I figured I had better get in the water. There was a Force 1 offshore so the water was almost dead calm in Tramore Bay. I’ve been looking for the right combination of day, weather and water to do a solo unaccompanied Snamh Mór Fáda. But it wasn’t quite right, since I hadn’t planned (i.e. eaten) for a two and half hour swim.
I could see the Coast Guard helicopter across the bay at Brownstown, their usual winch training location, and visibility was great. Even the slightest northerly means cold water also, though it usually also brings crystal clarity. It was also low tide so I decided on a quick hard swim out past the Metalman and around.
The Guillamene was very quiet because it was a cool day and low tide in mid-afternoon. There were plenty on anglers on the rocks. I sped outward, arcing around as I always do, rather than swimming through lines, and came in close toward Seal Rock under the Metalman, coming closer than usual because of the rare flat water and still undecided what I’d do next, sea caves or next point. I’d reached level with the Metalman in 16 minutes, fast-ish, and there also anglers under the Metalman, another sign of how calm it was. As I swam around the rock, finally moving out of the bay, I saw the CG helicopter arrive across the bay heading into the Guillamene.
And I knew, I just KNEW that in minutes they’d be coming outward.
I swam around the rock out of sight of the side of the bay. And yes, minutes later I could see the heli swinging around. I had passed less than 10 metres from the rock and was swimming in the area between the Metalman and the next point, no more than 100 metres from, for once, a calm exit. They circled, about 50 metres up. I stopped. No-one in the door though, so I gave a wave to the pilot and they headed off again. Yes, my second time having the Coast Guard called out looking for me.
Here’s the thing, or rather, here are the things: When they were called from Brownstown Head, I couldn’t have been in the water more than seven or eight minutes. In completely calm water. Heading outwards fast. With a deep tan and bright orange hat. With my box which indicates that I’m a distance swimmer, always visible to view at the Guillamene. In an area where I’m very well-known. In a place which has been used for open water swimming for at least 75 years. And parallel to the coast.
So after I returned, changed, went back to the car park, I saw a few guys having a chat. I asked them if they’d been there when the Coast Guard arrived. Well, it turned out one of them was from the Coast Guard (which has a big station in Tramore) just in the road, though the helicopter is based in Waterford airport about five miles away. The person who called the Coast Guard was a lifeguard. (Not a local lifeguard, we don’t have them at the Guillamene). No, it was another lifeguard who happened to be visiting the area, who panicked, because they failed to understand the local situation, just like last year. The Coast Guard guy had asked her why she called it in, or if I displaying any signs of distress or calling for help. No, I wasn’t, she admitted (she’d left by the time I arrived).
She had an idea of what people couldn’t or shouldn’t do. Her perception of possibilities was limited by her training.
The Coast Guard of course knew Jim Swift, the area’s other Channel swimmer, from call-outs from people panicking about him. Along with myself and Alan Smith, (heading off to Dover today by the way for his second Channel attempt). I think the Coast guard should award us a special patch or something.