In 2010 during English Channel training Coach Eilís imposed certain strictures and deadlines. One of these was that on the first week of May we would swap from primarily pool training to primarily sea training.
May. It’s a word and name laden with the promise of summer. In Ireland and the UK may is also the name for blackthorn trees which cover the landscape, and are one of the primary trees which appear especially in hedges. (The old saying Cast not a clout ’til May is out, is often a misunderstanding, that the May referred to therein is the month when it is actually the tree. It means to not remove winter clothing until the blackthorn has blossomed). But for swimmers May can mean warming air temperatures but can also mean lingering bone-chilling cold water.
The days of short winter weekend 10 to 20 minutes swims are over as swimmers feel they have to start lengthening out their training times.
In 2010 the training schedule called for an hour on the first day. And that time to increase every subsequent day. The first hour was done on Sunday, the temperature was ten degrees. The second day I swam one hour and ten minutes and was moderately hypothermic, not remembering a conversation I had with one of the Guillamenes locals afterwards. Each subsequent day became harder and my times never got any longer. By Thursday I cracked, phoning Eilís and, shall we say, haranguing her.
I’ve thought of the first week of May ever since as Transition Week and I think it is the toughest week of training of the year for Sandycove Channel Aspirants. Each day is slightly tougher, each day’s cold bites a bit deeper and lasts a bit longer, and each day’s recovery takes a bit more from your reserves.
I didn’t do Transition week last year and this year I had no plans to do it until, deep shock, we actually got some sunshine on the May Holiday weekend and the tides were lining up nicely. So I decided to half-arse it. By which I mean I wouldn’t do anywhere the same amount of swim time, but I’d have a go at trying to get a swim each evening.
I started at Kilfarrassey on Saturday. The tide was high late morning and the wind was onshore. It was a longer than usual lumpy swim out to the far side of Burke’s Island where it was too rough to swim in the centre channel or through the arch. I was back at the beach after about 45 minutes and a bit chilly.
On Sunday I swam at Ballymacaw, as you’ve already seen, about the same time. But due to the cold water outside I got a bit colder.
On Monday evening I swam to Tramore Pier, just around high tide. The water was a bit choppy, the swim down took 18 minutes and the swim back against the tide took 32. I’m so used the location that I forget that it can actually display an adverse tidal current at high tide on an onshore wind. Total time was 50 minutes but I wasn’t very cold.
Tuesday evening I swam out to the Metalman, second of my usual swims in the bay. The other include under Doneraile Head and back, the beach and back, or the Tramore Bay Double, Guillamenes to beach to Guillamenes. Conditions were still choppy and the evening was cloudy and cooler. I only swam 45 minutes.
Throughout Wednesday the winds were building, but they were south-westerly so I hoped for some shelter from Great Newtown Head. However conditions were quite rough, with about a three metre swell. I love swimming in swell, even if, as was the case there was chop on top of the swell, but as I’ve said previously, the exit in choppy conditions is usually the most dangerous time in rough water. If the water is surging up the ladder and steps more than about six feet I forego the pleasure in favour of safety but this evening displayed the exception makes rule to my own safety rules. Because high tide was now in the evening, and it was also a spring tide with a strong onshore the water was washing up to the top of the steps. I timed the swell for ten minutes and found a period of about 10 to 12 seconds, despite the onshore wind.
I went back to the cliff top and looked at Newtown Cove just in case, but it was an unswimmable whitewater maelstrom and anyone trying to get back into the cove from outside was asking to be shredded on reefs. I returned to the Guillamenes and got changed. I very gingerly but still trying to be brisk used the railing to make it to the dropoff and threw myself extremely ungracefully into a gap. I swam very wide around the outside, heading east toward Powerstown Head for 50 t 75 metres before swinging south and down into the washing machine. This is the area directly outside Newtown Cove, along which runs a reef perpendicular to the coast which cause larger waves passing over it to rear up steeply, but usually not break. Swimming through or avoiding the washing machine was one of the early peculiarities I learned about Tramore Bay. I sat in the water and tried to take a few photos, and shot some video, just for fun and swam a few circles. In these conditions I was very wary about changes to the swell period or height that wouldn’t be apparent to me in the water so I didn’t want to stay out long. After 15 minutes I was back at the cove and I carefully watched a few waves while I set my position; not too close to the steel railings to be washed on the or the rocks right beside, not too far to make it in quickly. I darted in swimming well over the steel railings usually and grabbing the left side, trying to get braced before the next wave washed around the platform and across the steps. It was close, my footing was taken but because I was the seaward side of the railings being pushed onto them I was still braced. Had I grabbed the railings on the inside or on the right side, I could have been ripped off. Sharply to my feet again and out. A very short but fun swim.
Thursday’s winds were even stronger and ended the hoped-for seven days of sea swimming. Not a huge amount of swimming, but it was a fun start to the summer swimming. (Not a single jellyfish yet seen, which is becoming increasingly strange. I’m beginning to worry they might be preparing an ambush).
And so I call it “half-arsing transition week”.