The Reef

The reef. Should I say it reposes, lurks, or waits there? Whichever, it changes by weather, by season, by my direction, by my desire. It does all these things. Regardless, it posts sentinel beneath the headland of Great Newtown Head, breaking southerly seas from the eroding lower Old Red Sandstone terraces that encompass the entrance. As sentinel it protects the Cave of Light, (occasionally now called the Cave of the Loneswimmer). It sails kitty-corner to the prevailing south-westerlies, like a matador that has stepped gracefully aside from an oncoming charge, funneling and guiding the waves into the narrow gap that diffracts waves around the Head and into the bay.

The reef…sits on an invisible border between Tramore Bay and Ronan’s Bay, belonging therefore on different occasions to both and neither, guiding my way from one to another, and in that way, yet another belaboured metaphor.

The reef…marks the outside point of what I call the Tramore Double, one of my favourite regular swims, (and at six kilometres, much better than a Sandycove Double Lap) that begins at the Guillamene, reaches into Tramore Beach for the first turn, and then entails the lovely long straight three kilometre reach, best on a wind run, but more usually swim on a weather run, to use the sailing terms, passing the Guill to the Metalman and the reef, before returning back to a landbound life once again.

The reef…ofttimes is merely a marker that I pass as I head into Ronan’s Bay and the often adverse currents that are common out there. Sometimes I pass through the four metre wide gap between the reef and the Head when I pass back after swimming under and through the Headland via the caves. There’s an apparent gravity to the reef that manifests in a current that runs in the gap that pulls a swimmer closer to the rock, more hazardous on lower tides as it seeks to ground an unsuspecting swimmer. When it’s rough, you must adjust your line through away from the centre of the passage and hold closer to the coast than the reef. This is rarely a problem, as I’m usually the only swimmer.

The reef…was at first just the reef or the Metalman reef, considering its location. It had no name. Then for years I came to think of it as Seal Rock because the small twin central spires reminded me of grey seals reaching for the sky. Someone local said to me they had never heard of some of the names of places I used. For, still years ago, I trawled the old maps, I saw the reef had an old name from the tribe of the Decies: Oyen rock. Like so many names, an Anglicization of an Irish word, éin, meaning birds, therefore Bird Reef. I love the old names. I love that while there are aspects of the Copper Coast maybe only I have seen and named for myself to myself, I love that there are older names. For hundreds of years people loved this coast as I do, named the caves, the stacks, the rocks. I feel by using the old names, I am honouring the past, and honouring this coast and the people of this coast, of whom am I am but one in a line even if I am not of that lineage.

The a resting place for shags and guillemots to dry out their wings between dives. It provides a perch for gulls who ignore me. A mere eight hundred metres away on the far side of Ronan’s Bay, the same species at Ilaunglas are of a different temperament, trying to scare me when I get within a couple of hundred metres. Like any human street, those avians living within close proximity of each other are not uniform in nature or character.

The reef…has a small gap near its pinnacle. Close to high tide, water will flow through it. If the conditions are right and there’s a high tide and there is a small swell from south east or south west, the water will spill over the high point of the gap, momentarily making it look like the sea is overflowing. I know there is never enough water to swim through. But every couple of years, I stop and look and reconsider and reassess. Someday it will have eroded, long past my time here. I wonder, will anyone then want to risk swimming through a small gap? I doubt anyone has ever stood on the reef, (except me, and then I have only touched a foot to the sub-surface rocks). It’s close enough to the cliffs not  to be a particular shipping hazard, and lacks any space or reason for a kayaker to clamber atop.

The reef…though only a couple of minutes to swim around is akin an entire world. Around wide tideline it’s black. Underwater there are vertiginous dun-coloured cliffs and lesser ski slopes without any snow that are bulwarks against the Atlantic. In calmer water I can swim close, like a plane overflying a mountain, when suddenly it drops away, leaving me feeling a sense of awe, for the size is not important, only the contrasts. Above surface it is black and ochre rather than white, the coastal xanthoria lichen inverting the colour of snow on normal mountains but it is still reminiscent of the Tetons, the Andes or the towers of the Karakorum. Barnacles thrive up to the tide line, as on every reef. Kelp adheres to the more protected north west side. The waves break mostly on the south and west sides, and if you look and use your imagination, you can turn draining waves into cascades of immense waterfalls. Use that imagination more and you can see Jurassic Park or Skull Island in miniature,  or Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Lost World, the shags become enormous menacing dinosaurs looming majestic over their kingdom, watching this intruder circle their shore, as I become the kaiju to invade and spur a mega-battle worthy of a trashy mid-summer Hollywood blockbuster.

Reef under and over water

Oyen reef – My Lost World

The reef…is nothing to anyone else. The reef is something I love. It can’t be seen from the shore unless you descend the cliffs, whether to shore-fish or, as I saw that one time many years ago, to have sex in a really uncomfortable place, where they likely thought they’d never be seen by anyone, seemingly miles from anywherea nd then some idiot swim pasts a couple of metres away. I see the reef and swim past it and around it, and to and from it and I don’t think too much it. It’s part of my world but my world would be poorer without it.

The reef…is not particularly special as there are millions more like it. There are also other reefs I love. All the reefs of my Playground outside Brown’s Island, the reef I found that looks so extraordinarily like a seated lion, the reef with covered scallops that no-one has ever found, the necklace of reefs that protect Kilfarassey beach. I love all reefs. These Copper Coast reefs I know better,  know that some of them have particular characteristics. I love swimming them by myself. I love the barnacles on them that have given me so many scars as I love those reef scars. I love the kelp that moves around reefs like a veil providing tantalising glimpses. I love the way a wave pushedsme up toward the rock when I at in just the right place, and feel I am dancing with the water and the reef, I who never dance on land. I love the occasional anenome or starfish they harbour, the solitary or schools of fish that inhabit them.

I love the reef and feel sorry for swimmers who never leave the pool or the beach or the protected harbour and who cannot see that all of life  and the entire world is in a single, mostly-submerged rock.

11 thoughts on “The Reef

  1. Pingback: The Open Water Swimming Year – The Other Side of Summer | LoneSwimmer

  2. To read about these magical places that I may never be brave enough to swim to, but brought to life by the powerful imagery of your words…
    Well done…


  3. That’s a great pic, not least when you consider where the photographer is. I see from my dictionary that the word ‘reef’ comes from the Old Norse ‘rif’, meaning rib. Interesting corporeal and maritime connections. Although another derivation lurks below the surface; ‘hreof’, from Old English, meaning rough or scabby… do you have a preference? Or better still, a time machine?


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