The Myrtleville Challenge: 24km

My first time swimming in Myrtleville was last April.  Bernard Lynch swam very slowly with me as I struggled out to the rock (nearly) and back.  Getting out, I fell gracefully in the hole made by the spring on the beach.  I now warn every new swimmer to watch the spring hole.  I’ll come back to that.

Shortly after I started swimming with him, Bernard said he had an idea that it should be possible to swim from Sandycove to Myrtleville or the reverse.  About 24k (maybe 23.5 in a very straight line!) around lots of headlands in real open water.  It would be a real challenge.  Over the Summer  I was improving, so I reckoned I’d give it a shot and go with Bernard.  In my wetsuit.  Not in togs  – my swimming hasn’t come on that much.

Bernard did all of the organising and I just tagged along.  Two RIBs, five fantastic crew (Tom McCarthy, Frank Lynch, Billy Kelleher, Aidan Foley and Dominic Baxter) and a planned Sept. 15 start.  This then moved to Sept. 19 as the weather wasn’t right.  August would be the plan for next time – the water was getting colder for the last few weeks.  Under the master guidance of Tom McCarthy, the route was chosen as Sandycove to Myrtleville rather than the other way, with Westerly winds forecast.  Tom not only viewed the route by water, he walked it to try to judge tides.  Fantastic support.

We started at 1.15, with one hour to low tide in Sandycove.  It’s the first time I was ever in Sandycove. I’ve never done one of the famous laps!

The water was flat calm for a few minutes behind the island, then into the chop of wind against tide as we began to cross the mouth of Kinsale harbour.

First feed was after an hour and Tom said we had 3.5km done, which was good, as we expected to get some benefit from the tide after another couple of hours.  It was rougher than I expected.  The wind was on our toes and the swell made it hard to stay on line.  If I’d known that was one of the easier parts of the swim, I’d have been considering my options!  I had 30 minutes of cramping in my knees and calves but this didn’t go full blown and went away from then for the rest of the swim.

Bernard Lynch crossing Kinsale Harbour

Bernard Lynch crossing Kinsale Harbour

We went inside the Sovereigns towards Blinknure point, just past Oysterhaven, then across Newfoundland Bay towards Barry’s Head and on to Nohaval Cove at around three hours.  We got separated for a bit, but then swam side by side for an hour or more.  Feeding every 30 minutes, Bernard was feeling the cold after three hours and wisely went for Nohaval to finish in 3 hours 30 minutes.  Frank, Dominic and Aidan took the RIB in with Bernard and I continued with Tom and Billy, towards Reanies Point next.

The next hour was with full tide but the swell had come up and there were lots of waves going from my toes over my head.  This meant I didn’t get as much of a benefit as I had hoped, but still covered 4km.  At feed eight, four hours and thirty minutes in, Tom told me if I kept going I’d finish in another two hours and twenty minutes.  I spent the next thirty minutes trying to figure out how he could be so precise.  Then I gave up and just kept swimming.   I had a couple of Gu gels with the feeds (thanks, Carol Cashell) and also tried a choc roll.  That was a mistake.  Hard to open, bitty in my mouth and stayed stuck on my teeth.  Didn’t happen on dry land!  Still, the feeds worked well.

Feeds

Feeds

I was going from headland to headland, across the bays, Newfoundland, Reanies / Nohoval, Man of War, Rocky Bay, Roberts Cove.  Each time I got close to a headland I was reminded of Ned Denison’s advice to Bernard that you couldn’t be sure what you’d come up against at each one, with unpredictable currents, swirls and eddies.  Not surprisingly, Ned was right.  I spent my time pushing to reach each headland then dreading it as I did.  The worst was Rocky Bay.  I seemed to spend a long time admiring the stones at the end of the point and feeling like I was going nowhere as the waves rolled up my body and over my head.  Fortunately, I could regularly see Tom doing his crossword so I knew things couldn’t be that bad.  If he wasn’t worried, I wouldn’t be.  Billy’s hand signals to move out or in were a great contact to have also.

Nautical Chart - Old Head of Kinsale to Power Head

Nautical Chart – Old Head of Kinsale to Power Head

Around Roberts Cove and Cork Head, I could see Roches Point and the houses at Myrtleville. This sounds great, but the bloody things didn’t seem to get any closer for a long time.  However, as Billy said, the sun came out to brighten things up (as it began to set!)  and it was definitely calmer for the last hour.  My last line was on the water tower over Fennell’s Bay, but it started to get dark and was grey on the skyline so I watched the RIB lights and finally could see Bunnys’ lights go on.  I stopped for a last feed then headed for the beach.  Each feed from five hours on, my shoulders hurt a lot getting going again.  Four hours was my longest swim before this one, so not a surprise.

I reached the beach in 6:55, two hours and twenty five minutes after Tom told me two twenty was left.  His knowledge of the sea is incredible.  To my surprise there was a small group waiting so I got a round of applause and promptly fell over in the spring hole.  Very gracefully, of course.  Brought me right back to April and Day One.

So that’s it:  the Myrtleville Challenge.  24k, open water.  Bernard is going next August.  If you can supply a RIB and crew, take the Challenge with him.  I don’t know if I’ll have improved enough to try it in togs, but it’s something to work for.

Damian O’Neill

Myrtleville Challenge route: 24km

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