Sometimes an idea is so obvious you wonder why it hadn’t occurred to you previously. Ideas or inspiration though are often just a product of two things; timing and interest.
It was a few years ago that I first heard about San Francisco’s South End Rowing Club’s Bay to Breakers swim. Ten kilometres swims are rarely exotic or interesting enough to catch anyone’s attention when they are 5000 miles away. But I’d spent three months in San Jose south of San Francisco in the 90’s, and while most of my time was spent working, I’d loved San Francisco, the Golden Gate and the Pacific coast south of the bay. The Bay to Breakers 10k starts in Aquatic Park, home of both famous open water swimming clubs Dolphin and South End Rowing Club (SERC) which hosts the swim. It passes Fort Point, goes under the Golden Gate, bends back around to the south west and eventually finishes on the exposed Pacific Beach.
Earlier in 2014 ,my online friend/partner Evan (Morrison) wrote a memorable and exciting race report of his 2013 Bay To Breakers swim. The report of a dangerous finish in fog, big swell while dodging rocks may sound unattractive to others, but rang all my bells.
It’s so obvious, why did it take me so long?
Tramore Bay to Annestown Beach: A Copper Coast Bay to Breakers. A shade over 10k, just for fun, just for myself.
The opportunity arose that one morning in July Dee and I had a day where it was just the right thing to do. “Want to do a swim?“, asked my non-swimming Enabler. No tide or weather planning, no crew, no boat. Just free swimming on the coast I love.
All I knew was that the Sun was high and the forecast was for one of the warmest days of the summer.
Usually if I swim a 10k by myself I have to base myself at the Guillamenes and do 2, 4 or 6k loops, allowing me to feed from my box back at the Guillamenes if required. A single direction 10k is rarely practical for a single swimmer for obvious reasons of safety and transportation at one end or the other.
But for this I could start at the Guillamenes, have Dee feed me from Gararrus and Kilfarassey beaches and finish at Annestown beach or maybe even at Boatstrand Harbour another two kilometres further on.
Instead of heading to Tramore, we reached the coast west at Kilmurrin and drove the Copper Coast Drive route back east along the coast. As we breasted the hill above Boatstrand however, the water wasn’t in tune with the warm sunny day. Winds were Force Three to Four and the surface, while blue, was rough and the many sparkles were sign of just how rough. What the hell, I didn’t care.
After greasing up, and using plenty of sun lotion, Toes In The Water (TITW) were just after 1.30 pm after we’d synchronised stopwatches and two hours before a quite low tide (0.2 metres). Since the coast from beyond Newtown Cove to Gararrus is inaccessible, the next time Dee would see me was when I rounded the rocks outside Gararrus, after about 3.5k.
The tiny cove was calm as I swam out to past the angling rocks.
I was less than two hundred metres from the Guillamenes when I realised two things: It was rough and choppy even in the bay and I’d worn the wrong goggles.
Since I wear Swedes when swimming by myself, I’d put on my summer clear pair (all the better to see underwater my dear). I’d brought but forgotten a pair of tinted gasket goggles, my backup Speedo Vanquishers. Swedes just don’t handle rough water for me and Vanquishers are my rough water goggles of choice, (one of the only the two great products they make). And since I had sun lotion on, that ran and impaired the seal. I should have turned back, I would have spent no more than five or six minutes and I could have restarted the count, but I choose to continue, partly because I though I could sort it and partly because things happen so sometimes it’s good to just put up with them.
I could barely see during the swim out to Great Newtown Head and past the Metalman. I reset the goggles three times, but couldn’t get a good seal. I swam in a blur. As I approached Great Newtown Head, I moved in close to the rocks. I felt the first real wave wrapping around the reefs, about two metres in amplitude. I stopped, pulled off the goggs again, and saw that the gap between Oyen (Bird) Rock and the cliff was impassable which alone was an indicator of the conditions ,as I know this gap well and can usually risk it. This was to be the case with every single gap or shortcut along the coast.
Goggles up, I also checked the time, and 25 minutes had passed, when this stretch usually takes about 18 to 20 minutes. Outside Oyen Rock, I once again reset my goggs, and finally, finally got them set.
I’d told Dee that if there was one place that I was most likely to be delayed, it would be crossing Ronan’s Bay to Ilaunglas . Ronan’s Bay is the next bay past Newtown Head, a 800 metres wide bay that can often times have a very strong head current, and the location where I ran directly into that still unexplained event from a few years ago.
I crossed Ronan’s Bay, and without the shelter of Newtown Head, the swell driven by the south to south-west wind was slightly larger with chop on top of it. I passed Ilaunglas, (“Green Island“, actually a yellow/green guano-covered rock) after 50 minutes, now close to ten minutes behind. Ilaunglas is one of the rocks where various seabirds are most numerous and most disagreeable of intrusion and above me 50 or 60 birds leapt skywards and kept close track of me, some dive-bombing to mere metres above my head to scare me off.
Past Ilaunglas I knew it was worth stopping momentarily. From here, the Copper Coast opens up. In glimpses from cresting waves I could see from Powerstown Head five kilometres east and behind me at the far side of Tramore Bay, ahead to Burke’s Island another five kilometres to the west outside Kilfarassey.
Passing Ilaunglas I was close in, the eddies moving me around, the swell hitting the reef and reflecting back on me. Apart from when I stopped, I could see little except water moving around me. The coast here cuts in out with three inaccessible small hidden beaches. The wind was constantly pushing me in with reefs and promontories adding to the rough surface.
After about an hour I was close to the area I think of as The Little Playground, which are the stacks and reefs east of Gararrus, not visible from the beach as a promontory reaching out from the east end of the beach entirely blocks the view. I threaded through the reefs. Seeing that the arch into Gararrus was unsafe so I had to round the outside of the promontory for the 200 metre swim into the beach through the very dense seaweed soup that accumulates sandwiched between the lee of the promontory and the Gararrus beach reefs. Dee was on the beach with the Doglet who was backing frantically as I approached. She was concerned because the three and a half kilometres had taken me an hour and twenty-five minutes. I drank half a 600 ml bottle of Hammer Perpetuum while staying in the water and while she ran back for a requested change of goggles.