Saturday, October 11, 2008

Blackrock to Cobh 2008

Last Sunday I had my last long race of the season...a 12.5km (flow assisted and tide assisted!) river swim from Blackrock (my home town!) to Cobh island. I was very excited about the swim when I first signed up for it a couple of months back, I was really looking forward to swimming past all of the local landmarks that I had seen from a rowing boat many times in the past! But as the day grew closer I looked forward to it less-I remembered how much I don't really enjoy swimming in fresh water (it's much more murky and less pleasant than the sea) and how much nicer it would be to be down in Sandycove doing three or four laps instead as we've often done on a Sunday morning recently. And then the night before it was rainy and windy as I went to sleep, it sounded like it was going to be a horrible night-not very promising for the day ahead!

But it turned out quite the opposite-it seems that the storm blew itself out overnight and I woke up to a lovely bright, sunny morning, which made me more optimistic about the swim! I headed down to Blackrock village where there was already a good group of people gathered. The big question on everyone's lips-how cold was the water? I was just hoping that it was about the same as Sandycove at around 13 or 14 degrees, anything much lower than that and I knew that I'd be uncomfortable for such a long swim. But we were assured that it had been measured at 14, both in Blackrock and in Cobh, so no need to worry!

All of us listen attentively to the safety briefing!

We had our safety briefing which included a description of the course-which totally went over my head because my geography is so bad! But I just hoped that my kayaker had a better idea than me-I didn't intend to do any navigating at all besides trying to stay in the flow as much as possible to make it easier!

My mother looks frozen as she waits for us to head off!

The start was handicapped (faster people start later to kinda give everyone an equal chance of getting in first) with four starts, each 10 minutes apart. I was in the second group to start, so once the first group headed off I headed off to get myself ready. Then there was the big decision-do I want to jump in or wade in? We had been advised to jump because of the possibility of glass on the slip but I decided that I'd take my chances with the glass and give myself a couple of minutes to get used to the water while we were waiting to start!

A crowded start

The 10-minute mark came quickly and we headed off-I think ours was the biggest group, there were 9 or 10 people all starting at once, so between all of us, the kayakers and the boats scattered around the place, the first few minutes were mayhem! But we soon spread out, found our kayakers and headed off at our own pace. I was pleased to find that the water wasn't as murky as I had thought it was going to be-it was actually quite pleasant, like the sea on one of the not-so-clear days. I didn't want it to be too clear since I didn't really want to see what was under me!

As we swam down towards the castle, I fell into pace with Jen Hurley, who's training for the 19km Rottnest Channel swim in February. It's always nice to have someone to swim with, it makes it easier to keep the pace up and I'm sure that it's nicer for the kayakers to have someone to chat to too! We passed by Blackrock Castle and headed down towards Loughmahon. By the time we were in line with MahonPoint shopping centre, 45mins had gone by and it was time for my first feed stop. I was having warm High5-the same drink that I'd had on the Inishbofin swim, but this time it wasn't going down so well-I was gagging on it and it didn't go down well. I need to find a replacement, but I knew that anyway-High5 has electrolytes in it and when used for a long period of time these can cause an electrolyte imbalance in the body which will cause sickness, apparently it's better to use a pure carbohydrate drink and just take electrolytes every few hours-so it's time for me to go and order some Maxim I think.

So after the first feed stop I was basically lost-my geography is useless, I knew the Blackrock/Mahon area because I've lived there all my life, but once we passed Rochestown I had no idea what was coming next! So I just trusted that my kayaker would know where we were going and I figured that the river would eventually take us to Cobh anyway!

It turned out that the next town we were coming to was Passage. As we got into Passage the river got narrower so the flow got much stronger and made swimming much easier. Unfortunately it made navigation that much harder because we were moving faster and the kayak was being pushed by the flow-plus the fact that there were a whole load of small boats in the way-I thought I was definitely going to crash into a few of them! Thankfully I didn't, although I did hear afterwards of a couple of people who did! I stopped for my second feed at that stage, and as I was stopped I was still drifting down past the boats-it was a great feeling to be still making progress and not having to put any effort in!

My next big adventure was passing the Rushbrooke ferry-there's a ferry that brings cars from the Passage side of the river across to the Cobh side and back, and our big warning that morning was "do NOT race the ferry-you will not beat it!" basically, we were to keep out of its way! So I spent about half an hour watching for the ferry (as I said, my geography is useless!). And then I saw it-taking off from the other side and heading towards us. At the same time one of our safety boats passed us going upstream and didn't seem worried about where we were, and my kayaker was still going forwards, so I kept swimming. But I could see it coming closer and it seemed to be coming straight for us and I was really getting quite worried that I was going to end up under it at this stage! So...very stupidly...I stopped to shout at my kayaker to make sure that we were actually going to make it-not realising that the place that I stopped was the very place that the ferry was heading for! He was very calm and told me that yes, we were fine and to just keep on swimming. So I put my head down and swam as fast as I could until I saw the ferry swing back towards Passage and I could see then that we were well out of its path. Big lesson there though-don't stop in the path of a big huge boat that could potentially kill you! And another big lesson-trust your kayaker...that's a hard one for me because I like to know exactly where I am and exactly where I'm aiming for. I don't like following someone without being totally sure that I'm going in the right direction. But I just need to get used to the fact that they can see a lot further ahead than I can from the water!

After all that drama and a big apology from me to my kayaker for being so silly, we continued on down the river towards Monkstown. At this stage the river opened back up and we needed to cross the channel to head towards Cobh. This was a more difficult task than we imagined as, just as we were getting to the point where we were supposed to cross, the river suddenly got busy and we had a number of large fishing trawlers heading out of the harbour. Since I didn't really feel like racing any more ships(!), we waited until they had gone, and then, with perfect timing, one of the safety boats appeared and told us that there was nothing due for a while so we could head across.

At this stage I could see Cobh harbour in the distance, but I'd been warned by a few people that did the swim last year that it was further away than it looked! I had my last feed and decided to stop trying to figure out where the end was and to just keep swimming and following my kayaker. We passed a stony beach and I could see some people looking at us-I thought that it was just some people out for a walk curiously looking at these people swimming past, but it turned out that it was my grandparents who had come down to see us as we finished! So I stopped for a couple of minutes, and then continued on only to see Ossi a few minutes later shouting encouragement! Having people on the bank like that always gives such a boost, it was great :) So then I figured I'd better start putting a bit more effort in since I was nearly done I upped the pace a bit and soon the tugs that we were swimming towards were in sight...and so were the long line of seaweed-covered steps that we had to climb up!!

There was a great crowd at the finish-the good weather on a Sunday afternoon made sure of that! I hurried to get dressed before I got cold-it was such a nice day though that I warmed up quickly. We hung around and watched the rest of the swimmers finish (there weren't too many after me though!) and then headed for yummy soup and sandwiches to replenish any calories that we may have burned along the way (a very important task!)!!!

Tadhg is trying to get every bit of warmth from his cup of tea!

It was a really enjoyable swim-I was so glad afterwards that I did it...the water wasn't at all horrible the way I'd dreaded (much better than the Lee Swim even) and it was such a beautiful day for it. And of course I got to see some of the gang that I'd met from other swims over the summer, and a couple of new faces too which is always good!

The (approximate!) swim course

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