Cork Distance Week – Trip Report – Part 2 – Days 4-6

Another day and more swimming!  Helen and I drove the hour or so up to Fermoy for the first swim of the day, in the River Blackwater.  This is the stamping ground of Owen O’ Keefe, speedy Wunderkind of Irish swimming, with an English Channel crossing in his pocket aged 16, in a time that was then an Irish record.

At 7 AM we started off up river from Fermoy.  I had put a good layer of resisto light blue sunblock on my back to try and protect against the Duck Flea Larvae that Ned had warned us about.  I hate those things, and they LOVE me, so I thought I would give them something to reckon with.

The river seemed benign and slow flowing, and the day warm with patchy sunshine.  A real pretty swim this.  I much prefer rivers to lakes.  The goal was to swim to Michael Flatley’s house, almost exactly 2 miles upstream, and back.  It was a lovely, easy, stretchy-out sort of swim, and 1 h 10 minutes later I was there.  Helen even swam with me, slowing her naturally faster pace down to mine, good practice for if she gets in and swims with me during my Channel Crossing (this is allowed under the rules, though only for short periods of time with gaps between).

There was a good little bit of head flow up by the twinkle-toed Irishman’s mansion, which we all then enjoyed coming back home, which was much shorter at only 45 minutes, though I did try a little harder and pushed on, though Helen was off and gone like a greyhound out of the traps…..

Ned photo courtesy Rory Fitzgerald.

The evening swim was one nearly everyone in the camp had been looking forward to.  The swim was to start in Loch Hyne, the worlds only (apparently) saltwater lake, then out through the rapids into a sheltered Lough, then out to the open sea, and down the coast to finish in Tragumna.  After arriving at Tragumna for the carpool to the start, it soon became clear that the latter part of the swim was not going to happen.  Fog engulfed the beach; opportunities for losing swimmers were obvious.  Ned quickly called it as a ‘Loch Hyne Only’ swim.  As it turned out, this was a brilliant call in every way, because Loch Hyne is just stunning.

As I mentioned earlier, Loch Hyne is a saltwater lake.  It is connected to the sea vi a a very narrow and shallow channel.  As the tide rises and falls every day, this causes water to flow in or out of the lake, over the rocks in channel, which creates a set of rapids.  Unlike most rapids, these change direction with the tides!  A unique place!

Loch Hyne

Loch Hyne

First was a roughly 1 km swim out past the islands to the rapids.   Boy was it cold!  Somewhere in the 12-13C range, and a real change from the relatively warm waters of the River Blackwater that morning.  As we neared the rapids, we could feel a push starting, requiring us to move to the right, to evade the flow, and clamber up onto a path running parallel with the channel.

The fun now started, jumping in at the top end, we were sucked into the flow, and catapulted down the rapids at high speed. The water was crystal clear, affording a fantastic view of the rocks and plants flashing in front of your eyes before you were flushed, whooping and exhilarated, out of the bottom and into the Loch.  What a rush.  This baby made the RMEP on the Nene look like a tiny stream.  Amazing power.  Truly the most fun I’ve ever had with my cozzie on!!

3 Times I repeated this trick, before slogging it out towards the open sea, against the current, stopping for chats with other swimmers, and some idle jellyfish spotting.  Then back from the sea to the rapids, through them one more time, and off back to the shore, at high speed, racing one of the locals to the shore.  What an awesome day!  6.4 km + 4 km = 10.4 km.


Wednesday started off with a bracing 3 laps of Sandycove Island at 9 AM.  4.8 km at about 12C.

Wednesday evening was a swim from Speckled Door, which is 5 km round the corner from Sandycove.  In waves according to speed, groups of swimmers set off around the headland, then sighting off the Red House (which is now kinda grey), all the way back to Sandycove.  A lovely swim in the evening sunshine.  The water up a tick at about 13C, a few jellies to see on the way, and a good fast swim too.  At about 1/2 way, a couple of the local superspeedies caught me up from their start behind.  I resolved to see how long I could stick with them.  Answer – about 1 km before I dropped back, and cruised into the cove.  5 km – 9.8 km for the day.


Thursday was a tester.  Many Channel swims start at a god-forsaken hour of the morning, depending on tides, and the first swim of the day, at Inniscara Reservoir mimics this.  It’s an hour or so to drive there, and toes in the water was 5 AM, only just starting to get light.  I REALLY struggled with this one.  I never really got into it.  While Helen and the speedies were thrashing it out, I was plodding horribly, before happening on Kate and Phil (fellow 2014/2015 EC aspirants) who were having an equally crappy day.  We had a nice chat actually, before plodding the mile or so back to the start.  Oh and Jeremy forgot to stop, and had a longer-than-anticipated swim.   I hate lake swimming.

The evening course was an entirely different affair.  A 2 hour drive east found us on the Copper Coast, home of the Loneswimmer Donal Buckley.  He had dreamed up a winding 5 km of fun and games around, through and under the rocks of Kilfarrasey.  Guided by Kayakers, including Donal himself, we set off.  This was many Distance Campers’ favourite swim of all, as it is not often marathon swimmers often get the chance to combine a bit of swimming slog with caving and arch-shooting.  I enjoyed it too, though I had goggle issues.  I think I had managed to get vaseline on my lenses, so could barely see anything useful the whole swim.  Between the second set of rocks and the third, there was a roughly 1/2 mile straight swim against a prevailing current.  This was good fun, but a slog, certainly took longer than the 12-13 minutes I would normally expect, especially as I stopped to have a good look at a MASSIVE barrel jellyfish I stumbled upon.  5 km in the end, but felt like 6 km!

3.2 + 5 = 8.2 km for the day.  55.8 km for the week so far.

Next up – you guessed it – Distance Week Part 3 – Days 7-9!

Cork Distance Week – Trip Report – Part 1 – Days 1-3

I had heard much about Distance Week over the last year or so.   I had heard that it was very tiring: it was.  I had heard it was very enjoyable: it was.  I had heard that the water had a tendency to be rather cold: it was at times!

Distance Week 2014 started as usual on a Saturday morning at Sandycove Island just a few minutes by car from Kinsale in County Cork.  This spot is enjoys great renown in the world of open water swimming.  A rich training ground for Channel swimming aspirants offering a great combination of beauty and a safe, sheltered spot to swim year round.  It also offers amusing water temperature microclimates, and wild goats on the uninhabited island itself.

Sandycove - just after dawn on Day 1

Sandycove on Day 1

The swim time was 6-8 AM on the programme, with 6 AM being TITW (Toes in the Water).   Distance Week organiser Ned Denison (more on him later) had prewarned everyone to be focused on swimming, rather than noisily renewing old acquaintance, and waking up the locals.

In we went at 6, and it was cold.  Surprisingly cold.  Ned had mailed people prior to the camp saying that the 17.5C water temperature of two weeks before had changed within one day to 12.5C.  I, for one, had written this off as one of Ned’s little jokes to get people worried about the camp.  Surely such gross changes in water temperature don’t happen in British waters did they?

Apparently they do.  It turned out that the water was about 13C for the first swim of Distance Week.  I hadn’t done a lot of swimming in the run up to Distance Week, so I set about my work feeling fresh and strong.  5 laps of the island to kick off the week, about 8 km in 2 h 10 minutes or so.

Distance Week was underway.  50 or so folks from all around the world come to test themselves, and make new friends.  Magical.

The second swim of the day was in nearby Cork, at the annual Vibes and Scribes swim in the River Lee.  This was very different, a mass participation event, covering a wide range of abilities, ages, bioprene and neoprene on display.  With an entry of around 500 people, participants were set off in waves of 30 based on speed quoted on the application form, with 2-3 minutes between each wave.  The course sent you down through Cork under a bunch of bridges, for about a mile, slightly flow assisted, followed by a turn, and a swim up the other branch of the river, to the finish point and against the flow, making a total of 2 km swum.

I was in the second wave, with the super-speedies in the first wave.  The start was from a raised platform, standing cheek by jowl with the other swimmers.

Photo Courtesy Vanessa Daws

Photo Courtesy Vanessa Daws

The swim was a bit of a scrum in all honesty.  I took it a little easy at the beginning to let the sharp elbows and non-existent sighting to settle down, and then concentrated on overhauling people one by one.  Despite this, there was an awful lot of contact going on, people cutting in, even some grabbing of legs from behind.  All the fun of the fair.  The swim also seemed to take forever, though in reality it was only 30 minutes 47 seconds.  27th Out of the non-wetsuiters, and 45th overall.  No speed records were broken that day, but another 2 km in the bank.

Day 2 of Distance week started with more circuits of Sandycove Island, this time at the more agreeable hour of 8 AM.  Only 4 laps this time, but slightly colder than the day before.   Some people claimed that it was measured sub 12C on the back side of the island.  It was really odd to get the feeling of face freeze that I hadn’t felt for so long.

The second swim of Day 2 was another organised affair, this time at Loch Allua.  Very different to the morning: overcast conditions replaced by warm sunshine, salt water by fresh, cold water by a balmy 17C by my biological thermometer.   A much smaller event than the previous day, it was again organised in waves, this time five of them, each with a dozen or so swimmers.   Again, wetsuiters and skin swimmers in equal measure.

I never really got into this swim.  It was very interesting and good fun from a course perspective, but I kinda copped out a bit, and just treated it like a training swim, getting into a nice ploddy sort of rythmn, but not racing by any means.  I wound up coming in in 1 h 57 for the 7 km which is decent, though with a slight assist.  Another 13.3 km for the day.

Basking in the sunshine, pre Loch Allua swim.  Courtesy Rory Fitzgerald

Basking in the sunshine, pre Loch Allua swim. Courtesy Rory Fitzgerald

Day 3, 5 AM, dawn was blustery and overcast.  I know this because I was in the water at the time, heading out from Foutainstown beach ’round the corner’ to Myrtleville beach.  A 45 minute journey, and time to get ready meant a 3:30 alarm call.  This is the joy of Distance Week.  Getting people ready to be up and swimming at stupid times of day, on little sleep, in the dark.

This swim was a lot of fun.  The water was around 13C, and the swim relatively short at 4 km.  The fun bit was the chop we had to battle through on the way back.  It was great fun ‘thinking my way through the water’.  It’s a bit difficult to explain, but I was trying to readjust my stroke in real time to get through the chop with the minimum of physical damage, and the greatest speed.  The fact that it was still only just post-dawn and 13C made it even more fun.  I wouldn’t want to to swim for hours and hours in those conditions, but it was an incredibly invigorating way to start Day 3, and a stark contrast to the lazy freshwater plodding of the day before.

Helen and I had been invited to go sailing later that day out of Kinsale.  The boat was owned and skippered by Mike Harris, Sandycove swimming veteran and resident of West Cork.  Rory and Kate had invited us to join them for a sail around the nearby Sovereign Islands.  Mike was a genial and entertaining host for the day, regaling us with swimming (and other) stories from decades past.  Mike has swum more than 2,000 times round Sandycove Island.  Each lap is roughly a mile – impressive stuff people!


Photos courtesy of Rory again.

The sailing was a great experience.  I won’t put it any stronger than that, because in all honesty, I felt sick as a dog for most of it.  We were out for nearly 5 hours, and the conditions were much cheekier than the advertised ‘light breezes’.  It was Force 5 and bumpy for a good part of it, and I coped badly.  I am VERY grateful that I am going to be swimming the Channel and not crewing, certainly if the winds get up!

Helen was also not feeling good with a stomach upset, so by the time we got back to Kinsale, we made a sorry pair.  So sorry infact, that we bailed on the swim.  It was to be the only swim we would bail from all week, but bail it we did.  A shame in retrospect, as you are supposed to be able to get in and swim regardless, but having been up since 3:30, and been feeling frankly awful for 5 hours, and not having had anything to eat, getting in the water did not appeal.

We missed Ned Denison’s ‘Follow Me’ swim that evening, which was apparently a lot of fun, but over 3 days I racked up 27.1 km regardless.

Days 4-6, and 7-9 in later posts!!

The Channel is Getting Closer

My time to swim to France is getting closer, and things which were previously somewhat abstract in my mind are coming into rather sharper focus.

Dover training continues; last weekend was a 3 + 6 hour allotment.  Saturday was rainy while getting ready, but soon cleared to a very bright, very blowy day in the harbour, with interesting swimming conditions, especially when fighting the chop to go back towards swimmers’ beach.  Freda gave us only 3 hours, expecting the conditions to worsen considerably.  They didn’t as it happened, but I stopped after 3 hours anyway, not wanting to pick up an injury, or get burned to a frazzle (I had neglected to put on suntan lotion that morning in the rain).

Sunday was better.  No sun, but much calmer conditions.  ‘6 Hours’ was spat out by ‘The General’ as Freda is affectionately known, and 6 hours was done.  Not very interesting, other than about an hour or so in the middle when a squall passed over the harbour, whipping up some chop and raining on the stoic swimmers.

On Monday Helen and I took the ferry to Calais.  It was great looking out over the water, seeing the crop of Channel Boats a couple of miles away to port as we steamed over to France.  Lunch in a very nice restaurant on the Calais beach front, watching the ferries ply up the beach towards the harbour, followed by a short trip down the coast, past Cap Blanc Nez and Wissant, to Cap Gris Nez, close to where Helen landed her Channel Swim in 2012, and where every aspiring Channel Swimmer would like to end up.

A gorgeous day in France, and another 9 hours training in the bank for the weekend.

Next stop – Ned Denison’s Distance Camp in Cork.  9 Days, and average of 15 km swimming per day.  Look out for blog updates from the camp!!