Pictorial review of the 2014 swimming year – II

Part I.

July saw a trip to the North Channel to crew for Finbarr Hedderman’s successful North Channel solo, and where I was to return later in the summer for another solo crewing task (which ended differently, but more importantly safely).

Finbarr and marine traffic share the North Channel.

Finbarr and marine traffic share the North Channel.

After the North Channel I spent the rest of July on the Copper Coast enjoying the unusually warm (for Ireland, 16ºC) water.

I shot some video while swimming through one of my two favourite caves, video that produced an unexpected surprise!

The Distance Camp swimmers came for what many reported as their favourite ever swim, one glorious evening of caves, arches and islands.

Jellyfish Alley, a gentle introduction

Jellyfish Alley, a gentle introduction for the Distance Camp swimmers

The following weekend, last of Distance Camp, I travelled down to Sandycove to do my usual crewing job on the Torture swim. Lost a swimmer, found him again (hey Danni!). Then on Sunday I decided to join the fun for the six-hour qualification swim. I was first in the water and thought about staying in longer than the six hours, but when I returned to my feeding station on Finbarr’s Beach at about six hours and twenty, all the helpers had abandoned the beach and taken all my feeds with them so I was over. First in the water and last out.

I was swimming off Kilfarassey one day a couple of weeks later, when I got thinking, as I do, about the terrors of the deep that so many seem to suffer. The greenblack depths underneath me don’t affect me in the same way. I like to imagine huge eyes and the gaping voids of devouring maws: Leviathan, Kraken, the Avanc or the Megamouth shark rising beneath me. So I took a photo of my legs and the greenblack depths, with the sunlight hitting my feet and later did some compositing. After all fear is not something external, but something within ourselves. It is something in ourselves looking back out at us. It struck me that being both an open water swimmer and developing photographer does present occasionally some great opportunities to not just take landscapes, but to conjure images no-one may ever have considered previously. The result was my most viewed ever composition.

The Sum of All Fears

Into the Abyss: The Sum of All Fears

July was warm and indeed we had a rare warm and mostly dry Irish summer. If you are used to good summers, if you take them for granted, you can’t imagine what that is like, how it buoys the entire national mood to wake to sunshine, to have the sea warm beyond 14 degrees Celsius. In 2014 by late July the sea was a glorious 16 º C. (50.8º F). You could swim, well, forever.

As anyone familiar with Channel or marathon swimming will know, a regular photograph taken is of the swimmer leaving a beach at night, a glow stick or two strapped on. The crew, knowing the difficulty, but still wishing to capture the moment for the swimmer, shoots a photo. The result is always the same. A field of black, and if lucky at best a mere pixel or two of a red or green spot. Tripods and long exposures are no use on the moving platform of a boat. So I wanted to capture that, to merge both my love of night-swimming, and photography to give a better sense of the swimmer at night, to apply the techniques of long exposure to a swimmer.

Nightswimming IMG_9698.resized


A ten kilometre unplanned swim in late July from the Guillamenes to Annestown produced my toughest and yet most enjoyable swim of the year. It reminded me of everything I love most about open water swimming, lone swimming, rough water, isolation, unpredictable currents and risk.

Lone Swimming

Lone Swimming

During the summer, Dee and I did a lot more hiking in the local Comeragh Mountains. After hiking the lake rim a couple of times, which is probably the best local hike, I finally got around to swimming Coumshingaun in August, a lake in which I actually like swimming.

That perfect moment: Unbroken water, and a swimmer in flight

That perfect moment: Unbroken water and a swimmer in flight

Dee and I did a few other escorted swims in August. Another swim I’d previously missed was a circumnavigation of Ballycotton Island. Though I’d swum the Round Ballycotton island race a couple of time, each time the weather had been rough to circle the island. A short 4 kilometre swim, the outside of the island is usually quite rough and the Ballycotton Lifeboat is unsurprisingly one of the busiest and most famous of all RNLI stations.

Ballycotton Island and lighthouse beyond the nearby low island.

Ballycotton Island and lighthouse beyond the nearby low inside island.

Another day we finally ticked off a swim that had long eluded me, out to Black Rock in Dungarvan Bay. Though at the nearest point it’s only about a mile and half from Clonea beach, it lies across the navigation channel and I had to abandon every previous solo attempt when I reached the inner Carricknamoan (east) Rock. So with Dee kayaking I decided to extend the swim and we started from the east end of Clonea beach to make it an 8k swim. On the return I ran foul of an cross-shore current about a mile and half out that swept me quickly and suddenly east, parallel to the coast, which required an extended swim with the hammer fully down to break through.

Carricknamoan & Black Rock beyond

Carricknamoan with Black Rock barely visible beyond. Seems quite close, but there are strong currents around nearby Carricknamoan

August also saw the first Copper Coast Champion of Champions 9 mile swim, which was a lot of fun.

Low tide on the course at Rock Bottom & Boatstrand. Race start bottom right outside the harbour

Low tide on the course at Rock Bottom & Boatstrand. Race start bottom right outside the harbour

I was still, as always, wandering around the Copper Coast.

The season and summer ran down into autumn. Sam Krohn and I got together for a cave swim which produced his extraordinary movie, The Cave of Light and The Cave of Birds, a lasting treasure (for me).


Having returned Owen’s kayak and with the season dwindling, options were limited. We returned to where we started, to County Wexford, this time for another challenging swim, around Hook Head starting from Slade.

Swimming into the tiny cove with the Hood Tower behind.

Swimming into the tiny cove with the Hood Tower behind.

And that was it. While there was still a couple of hundred thousand metres still to be swam, increasingly in the pool, it was a successful open water swimming year. But as interesting yet relatively nearby locations at which I haven’t swum become increasingly rare, similar years are less likely in the future.

I guess I was trying to understand something, or maybe remind myself of something. That in the absence of expensive far-flung marathon swims, for the lone swimmer (and their friends, and photographic assistants Dee & Scout), the sea and the local region can provide all the adventure, challenge and excitement of the most exotic locations.

Get out there, and have fun.

I’ll leave you with a photo I took near the year’s end that explains this a bit more.

The Ocean Is My Sky

The Ocean Is My Sky


4 thoughts on “Pictorial review of the 2014 swimming year – II

  1. Excellent photo collection and thoughts, Donal. I was especially struck by the Nightswimming one: well done! I used to do night surfing at Malibu Beach (California) around midnight. There was a whole crew of people doing it (you wouldn’t believe how crowded Malibu is during the day); all with their green glow sticks. Maybe do some more of these?


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