Ned Denison on “Relative safety” in OWS

Ned Denison shared his thoughts on safety on Facebook and email.  Re-posted here as food for thought for all open water swimmers:

So – the topic of “safety” in our local waters seems to have come up again.
I have to confess I don’t like the word. It is a terrible way to judge open water swimming.

Is open water swimming SAFE?

For me, it is all about “relative safety” and “sense” – which only an individual can judge depending on their open water experience, water speed/power and consequences.

Pool swimming, with a lifeguard on duty, is relatively safer than open water swimming.

Getting into the water at Myrtleville in crashing waves is relatively safer than getting into Sandycove with waves crashing on the slipway.

Swimming at Myrtleville (with the exception of right around the Dutchman Rocks) is relatively safer than swimming around the back of Sandycove Island.

Swimming in a well fitted wetsuit (made for swimming not surfing!) and with a red float attached is relatively safer than swimming in togs.

Swimming in 15 C water is relatively safer than 10 C.

Swimming in 10 C water is relatively safer than swimming an ice mile in sub 5 C.

Open water swimming is relatively safer than using a mobile phone (even with headset/speaker) while driving. So, I would advise anyone talking about safety to start with their car activities.

I would submit that the above statements are simply correct and can’t imagine anyone questioning them.

Please take a close look at YOUR open water experiences – they can help YOU better evaluate YOUR relative safety. One way is to look at the Cork Long Swim List….if you have a couple of recent entries than you probably were swimming for at least 90 minutes doing a 5k or more. It is an experience that will help you reduce your chances of panic in the water.

If you have gone around Sandycove Island 200 times, in different conditions and year round…..then unless you are alone, very unwell, drunk or the conditions are the worst you have even seen – then your next lap will probably meet your definition of relatively safe.

I am NOT comfortable out near the Dutchman Rocks – I don’t know them well enough and probably never will – so I try to keep well clear. I am pretty comfortable in the gap at corner 1 of Sandycove Island – I know it pretty well. I suspect Bernard Lynch would have the opposite feelings!

How fast are you? Normally it doesn’t matter – BUT can you beat the mid-tide current around the back of Sandycove Island? OK – so you only swim at the published swim times which are around high tide – not a bad move!

Is this a bit mean of me? Remember the 2 k race a few years ago – Myrtleville to Church Bay, when lots needed to be rescued when the tide was winning? And on one of my nearly 1,300 laps of Sandycove Island – I went backwards at the house that used to be red. Trust me…there are tides and currents SO STRONG that nobody can beat them. Speed can beat some current, some weather and some low temperatures….the more experience you have the better YOU can judge your relatively safety in the next swim.

How much power do you have in the open water? Could you drag in your swimming partner 500 m if needed? Most interestingly – could they drag you in? When was the last time you tucked your goggles in your togs and swam back 500 m? If you haven’t done so recently….please do. It is a bit like getting a 17 year old to change the tyre on the car…..some day they may NEED to know. I think you need speed and power to beat some chop and some big waves. And – trust me there is a 10 fold difference between a 30 minutes swim in nasty conditions – compared to a 60 minute swim – so YOU need to judge YOUR time in.

Consequences……I am 58 with no kids. I would expect a parent of kids below 10 years of age to have a different individual measure.

Thousands of swimmers have done a lap of Sandycove Island. Fewer than 200 have done a single 6 hour session of 10+ laps (most training for the English Channel). Fewer than 20 have done a lap with pretty severe waves/chop – I think I know them all and they were all able for those conditions (on one lap…….probably not two!).

I have seen two GREAT swimmers make a hash of their first lap of Sandycove Island…I was there. One turned right at corner 1 and I chased them down…eventually. The other missed the turn at Corner 2 – nobody was near them. Then it got dark….they had swum into Kinsale Harbour and then came back…somehow.

Be cautious your first time….in a new place or new conditions. I am a fan of PUSHING your personal bests: longest distance, longest time in the water, lowest temperature and roughest conditions. UNDERSTAND that you are pushing it – take extra precautions and once you have done – your base of experiences deepens and you WILL BE RELATIVELY SAFER in the future.

Respect the open water – don’t fear it.

Ned Denison

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