Coming in next year’s Loneswimmer clothing range
I have tingles in both hands. One is from jellyfish stings, one is from sensation returning after an almost two hour June swim. I can’t tell which is which. The Blue Stinger appeared in front of me at the surface, right as I reached forward. Its tentacles enveloped my hand, arm and shoulders like a net. Newer visitors, what we call the pink shuttlecocks, a transitional state of some jellyfish species are on the increase. I see occasional massive Barrel jellies down low. On good years, I’ll swim through a Moon jelly bloom, the water like jellyfish soup, thick with the solid bumping on my arms and legs. I must remember to change my towel when I get home, because it’s so encrusted with salt that it will no longer dry me, after just four days of sea swimming. Apparently I am the only swimmer in the world who does not change their towel after every swim, dirty swim hobo that I am.
I return to many of my favourite caves, having visited the Cave of the Loneswimmer in an earlier month; The Moon Cave, the Barrel Cave, the Drop Cave, the Waterfall Cave and of course the Cave of Screaming Terror
. On two consecutive days I get stung on the face and lips in the dark of two different caves.
Afterwards, I walk through a supermarket in Tramore after a swim on a sunny day when everyone else is in shorts (an opportunity that doesn’t arise that often in Ireland). I’m wearing a hat and full length fleece Surf Fur parka. Even though I don’t feel the deep cold like the cold of February
, I try to avoid the freezer aisle, because the waves of cold rolling out from the open display cabinets seems to negate both my feeling of returning comfort and the laws of thermodynamics (science joke there). I buy too much chocolate and junk food to eat in the car, and feed the overwhelming hunger that can’t wait until I get home.
At home in the shower, my untanned arse glows like the old Coppertone Baby advert. I am of the sallow Irish stock, rather than the pale blue Irish, indicating that we interbred with some surviving sailor of the Spanish Armada, and in a totally unscientific way, explaining my love of Spain and Catalunya. My tan does not completely fade in winter, even in the northern latitude Irish winter, being a year round swimmer (if only a couple of days a month in winter) that builds that “base tan” yer mammy used to talk about, and before long people are asking if I’ve been out foreign.
I display a range of different predominant body odours: Chlorine, salt, lanolin, or Lemon Thyme from the dishwashing soap I use to remove the lanolin.
The weather cheats, lies, and plays games. One day early in June I swim for 50 minutes under heavily overcast skies and unseasonably cold air even for Ireland and take two hours to fully rewarm. A week later, another weather change, days of coastal sea fog followed by a little sunshine, a little onshore wind and the water rises to almost twelve degrees, and I swim for 90 minutes quite comfortably. By the end of June, the time and temperature have dropped again, and Force Five north-easterlies dominate the coast and weather, while the rest of Europe swelters. Afterwards I still need to have a belt on my pants, because the mini-Claw I developed stops me from being able to fasten the top button keeping them up. I look at my notes, for Junes, and Junes, and more Junes, and see 10.5 to 13.5 degrees for the first three weeks every year except the outlier that was the Herald of Climate Change, the summer of 2018.
Look closely – Loneswimmer heading out in choppy June water
Numbers continue to grow at the Guill. Late in the month, Saturday and Sunday afternoon crowds grow. Someone pulls an inflatable “kayak” down the steps through the crowds into Force Three breezes, and I bet myself they will either drown, or retire the inflatable for ever before the end of July. Some of the dippers wait until the first sunshine of June and the water reaching ten degrees to go back in the water. I am pushing out, from the first cave of May to the first full Tramore Double in June, from the Guill to the beach, out to the Metalman and back to the Guill. I reach two hours in the water on the right day. I swim at Gararrus, Boatstrand and Kilfarassey, maybe guide someone out to Loneswimmer cave.
Jellyfish pulse in numbers, sometimes absent, sometimes waiting in the cave to sting my face in the darkness. Lobster pots proliferate. The club’s 250 Metre buoy is now out at 380 metres, and no-one believes me, because for the few that swim out to it, it’s a big deal to reach it, and no-one want to me hear say it’s a safety issue because it sits in a current, especially the people who most like to tell me I should not be swimming off by myself, and yet who themselves never swim more than fifty metres total.
June 2019 Sandycove Solstice swim
Each summer solstice evening since 2012, we get together at Sandycove to swim a lap, or two or three, to remember and celebrate our friend Paraic Casey, who died while swimming the English Channel that year. We eat barbecue burgers right after swimming, a rare luxury of transitioning from swimming to eating with no waiting. Not everyone is there every year, but mostly, we all meet, and talk with the people who we understand and who understand us. As the years pass, the swimmers who knew Paraic are outnumbered. And it’s all good, because we need new blood.
This year’s Channel Aspirants are struggling with the unusually low temperatures this year. We commiserate, talk about our own years. When I return home, I check my notes and see June 2019 is similar to June 2010.This, as much as the Channel itself, is what we share. Only we know the miles, the cold, the hunger, the gradual breaking down of our strength in preparation for the assault on La Manche. One June I swam 241,900 metres, every metre in open water. Another June I only swam 44,000 less than half in open water. Somewhere in between there, may be the best explanation of what June is, or maybe not. Getting out of the water cold to feed, only to get back in colder and swim through The Fridge Door at Sandycove. Only we know that that gradual breaking down of our physical strength in preparation for the battlefield of La Manche is also the building of our mental strength.
June is the month that forges some of us, or who we will become.