Swim Safety – READ THIS

For those who don’t access Facebook, this is a really important article from Ned Denison.  Please read it.

Time to tell the disturbing stories of the last two Cork swims. There are too many safety issues to summarize – so read to take them all in. The purpose of this story is to EDUCATE the openwater swimming community and IMPROVE going forward:

Sherkin Island

As with every year and every West Cork openwater swim – the last swimmers arrived late. Perhaps they failed to allow enough time; a few tractors on the road or they failed to count on 20 minutes needed to park, walk to registration, change, drop a bag and walk to the ferries.

The ferries were chartered for specific times so the first swimmers hurried on.

Safety Impact 1: No real safety briefing possible (an abbreviated version for some swimmers)

The time between the first ferry and mass start was at least 20 minutes – thankfully the early morning bitter cold had passed. Some swimmers still haven’t figured out to stay warm before getting wet.

Safety Impact 2: A swimmer cold before the start is more likely to have difficulties in the swim.

The mass start was ok. Because times were not being offered the swimmers safely shuffled forward and started with the fewest possible collisions. The slipway is pretty narrow and a record 300+ swimmers – so the mass start will always involve a difference of at least 1 minute for the first and last swimmer getting wet. There were sufficient ribs/crews and a line of kayaks to keep the swimmers all on one “path” (the best ever in the event’s history > THANKS ALL).

The water was a tiny bit rough but very swimmable. Again, at least 10 swimmers were unable to complete the course even close to the maximum time.

Safety Impact 3: Not able to finish in the maximum time has so many possible safety implications – we’ve added some since the last group message.

The swimmers get cold and tired, the spread of swimmers is too long, injuries possible in trying to pull swimmers, volunteers want to get home and IT DELAYS THE FINAL CHECK OUT PROCESS. It was at least 30 minutes after the maximum time before the last swimmer was checked out. So – more time passes before an alarm can be raised.

The overall tally matched registration – but 3 swimmers numbers were noted as “??” No numbered bags were left to be taken and the organizers relaxed considerably. Because of the late finishes the swimmers were now spread from the showers to cars to pub to 50km down the road in their cars going home. The three missing names were yelled out at the pub and two quickly identified. The last was phoned and phoned and phoned.

Eventually the emergency contact was called (his wife).

Hopefully this last line hit you like a slap across the face.

Yes – “any chance you heard from your husband who was unaccounted for after the swim? But don’t worry one person came out and we didn’t get their number – so pretty sure he is ok somewhere.”

Now is probably not the time to mention that we are always looking for swim organizers…a lot of work and some really horrible tasks.

An hour had passed since the maximum time for the swim passed. The ribs, crews and kayaker were all in (accounted for – yes you need to account for them as well), the RNLI was not called > nobody is searching the water for the missing swimmer.

Then it became known that one swimmer, running late, skipped registration, jumped on the last ferry and swam.

Turn your face for a slap to the other side.

So, the overall count might just be short by 1 – unless of course several folks were running late?

Safety Impact 4: Swimming without registering is stupid, theft, inconsiderate and puts others at risk.

Absolute best practice (as seen in Lee and Sandycove Island Challenge [and some other swims]) is that swimmers are checked thru a gate into the water and back out again. No problem – get another 6 volunteers, hire barriers and try to keep back families at the finish. Perhaps get timing chips and raise the fee by 15 Euro and of course do timed waves and lengthen the time of the entire event and keep swimmers lined up getting cold longer (aaaggghh). And we have to have the swim late in the year when harbour traffic is at a minimum. Perhaps we then fight with swimmers to force them to wear the event cap and lay on two more volunteers to deal with lost caps before the start because once on the Island we can’t imagine successfully telling a swimmer without their cap that they can’t swim.

Still not to late to volunteer to organize an event….

Thankfully the missing swimmer (the one we knew was missing) called in (and spoke to his worried wife). He chose not to finish the swim and got out into a friend’s rib. He was dropped at stairs (correctly the rib didn’t try to come to the finish slipway). He walked to finish but failed to tell the “check-out crew”. He was mortified and apologized.

The person who failed to check in had never paid/registered. They planned to pay/register on the day but were running late and knew another swimmer who had paid and wasn’t coming. Their initial reaction was that it was funny. We are hoping for a change of attitude and considering options from public outing of the name to selective to wide-scale banning. Something MUST happen – it doesn’t end as a joke.

Now – we examine the timing and negative possibilities. If the organizer had called the RNLI 90 minutes after the end of the swim to report a missing swimmer – who died of hypothermia after hanging on to the big green navigational buoy for 2 hours. Or, if a body with number 535 (made up) on their wrist washed up in the morning.

We are trying to run safe events. We need more HELP and for sure we need fewer swimmer avoidable mistakes.

Swimmer organizers Ned Denison and Bernard Lynch have had the experience of FORMALLY DECLARING a missing swimmer. The organizer can’t breathe, the world collapses and you scare EVERYONE despite trying to be matter of fact. The RNLI are called, all swimmers look, crews search the waters/shores and land-based folks look for the missing swimmers. Thankfully the swimmers were ok in these past situations.

Sandycove Island Challenge

So on to the Sandycove Island Challenge the next day. Funneled swimmers to start so best practice checking into the water. The conditions around the back of the island flared up before the swim – so an inside the island course was laid out. A problem however.

Three wetsuit swimmers ran into difficulty doing the first leg to the island. They needed to get into a rib. This took a rib out of the safety system and lowered the safety of all other swimmers. One was sea sick (it can happen – but possibly caused by too little experience in the sea?) and in the opinion of the organizers the other two swimmers would not have been able to complete the entire island swim in even flat calm conditions. Unfortunately, we didn’t record the two names. PLEASE – you will know who you are. PLEASE either get much more experienced or do not enter another similar event – you are putting yourself in danger and lower the increasing the risk for others.

Safety Impact 5: Not being able to swim the advertised conditions is worse than exceeding the maximum allowed time.

In a normal year these two swimmers would have needed a rescue from the water from the back of the island. In almost all respects wetsuits improve safety. The one negative is that the buoyancy/warmth can deceive a swimmer into thinking that a 2k swim is a dawdle.

In the last safety note I encouraged you all to keep a current swim resume. We don’t think these two swimmers ever swam a mile. Interestingly for the Myrtleville > Churchbay 2k swim the organizers “invite” swimmers who must be vouched for by one of 8 named swimmers based on recent openwater swimming appearance. It is their top safety measure and rigidly enforced. Easy to understand how they arrived at that position.

Folks – please take a minute to re-read the safety impact lines. Please try NOT to contribute to one of these safety issues in the future.

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Discount on SaferSwimmer floats

Libor Janek from 360swim has set up a 15% discount for us on his eShop.  

Go here: Safer Swimmer eShop

There’s a range of floats and drybags at various sizes and prices.

Just pick the product you want and at the checkout, enter MYRTLEVILLE in the Discount Code box.  Then hit the recalculate button beside the discount box to see 15% taken off.    

The tow float for example:

safer-swimmer

So, it’s now 15% cheaper to swim safe and you can order directly rather than waiting to get a bulk order together.  The discount pretty much covers the postage.  No excuses!

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

Low profile, black hats. For when you don’t want to be seen.

There was a bit of a discussion about swim hat colours at the beach lately, as the number of swimmers back in the sea grows quite quickly.  Not a fashion discussion – a safety one.  As the Summer season begins, it’s good to think about safety again.

A quick scan of safety rules for open water swims online came up with these:

  • Brightly coloured swim caps to aid visibility while in the water must be worn.
  • Standard kit would include wetsuit, goggles, high visibility swim hat, flip flops, towel, changing mat, and water proof watch.
  •  High visibility swim caps are worn by swimmers to make ocean swimming safer.
  • A high visibility swim cap shows where you are – especially valuable if there are boats passing by.
  •  All swimmers must wear a high visibility swim cap.

I stopped after five events – I reckoned it was clear enough.  I couldn’t find any that said “cool, black or dark, invisibility-inducing caps must be worn“.  I looked – really.

This, for example, is a high visibility swim cap:

 

It’s easy to see in the sea.  See?

Here’s one that isn’t high visibility:

sfs90bk_silicone_swim_cap_black

It’s cool, black, low-profile  – AND BLOODY USELESS IN THE SEA UNLESS YOU WANT TO PLAY SUBMARINES!

So, jokes aside, black is great in the pool.  Totes the coolest. For the sea – go bright. As bright as you like.

Absolutely worthwhile to re-read this from Tom McCarthy, as the boats start to reappear around Myrtleville as well: Stay Safe.  Swim Safe.

Monday nights and Safe Swimming: Always.

They’re back!  With the sea temperature around 9℃ and the forecast for a bit of WSW wind, tonight at 6.00pm is the first Myrtleville Monday evening swim of 2015.  Last year we had nights where between 5.00pm and 7.30pm over 200 swimmers took to the water.

Sea swimming is fantastic, but let’s just have a quick reminder that safe swimming is what it is all about.  Never take a chance in the sea.

Each individual swimmer is responsible for their own safety. 

We all swim at our own risk. 

Monday nights have become so popular because they give an opportunity to swim with others.   That’s great, but don’t make the mistake of swimming too far from the beach just to stay with a group.   Even in a group don’t go too far out to sea – stay inside (well inside) the line between the Dutchman Rocks and Bunnyconnellan. You don’t ever need to be more than 100m out from the coast – and less is better.

Plan your swim.  Go only as far as you can comfortably go, while remembering always that you have to get back to where you started.  There’s no point swimming 750m to the Dutchman and then struggling back, or needing help.  That’s not only pointless, but dangerous.  Why not swim 50m or 100m from the beach, then swim back?  If you feel good, do it again – as often as you want to and in complete safety.

There are always swimmers looking to do shorter distances – just speak up: ask what people are doing, see if it suits you and only do what you can accomplish safely.  Over time, you can build up to longer distances, if that is what you want to do. Be Safe – Always.

Now’s a good time to read for the first time or remind yourself of some very good advice on safe swimming in Myrtleville.

Open water, sea swimming in Cork, Ireland.

Swim at your own risk.

Swimming in Cold Water

As we head towards the lower sea temperatures, some swimmers are making a decision on whether to take some time out of the sea or continue with a wetsuit, or in togs.  This is an individual decision and should be made on safety grounds alone.  Don’t just follow a group – your safety is your responsibility.

We’re fortunate that much detailed thought has been given to cold water swimming and hypothermia by Donal Buckley on http://www.loneswimmer.com.  In making a decision on whether to swim through the Winter, everyone should read at least some of his many articles on his chosen specialised subject.  His recommended shortlist of articles to begin with are as follows:

WHY would anyone swim in cold water? 

The Ten Commandments of Cold Water Swimming.

“What temperature of water is too cold to swim in?”

How To – Understanding Mild Hypothermia in swimmers

Cold water and cold immersion shock, the first three minutes.

Ice Mile Dilemmas VIII – The Dangers.

If you want to know more, there are about fifty articles which he has helpfully put in this Index.

Swim Safe.  Swim Responsibly.  Educate yourself.  Remember – Cold Always Wins.

Tides and swimming in Myrtleville

From Bernard Lynch & Ian Venner

This note is intended for those new and not so new to coastal swimming and simplifies some of the calculations and facts which you may well expect to see.  Much of it is specific to Myrtleville.

The tidal streams (coastal currents) are the most important part of the tides you need to understand as a swimmer.  Most OW swimmers average between 2-3km/hr.  Tidal streams near the shore in the harbour can run at between 0.5 to 1.0 km/hr – so they can make a very big difference to your swim.  The speed of the tidal stream varies during each High Water/ Low Water (HW/LW) tidal cycle, and also varies between spring (very high/very low) and neap (not very high/not very low) tides.  Spring tides occur a day after a full moon and recede over a period of one week to a neap.

The spring/neap maximum flow rate can vary from 0.5 to 1.5km/hr.  The flow rate within a 6 hour tide range will be three times as strong at its fastest (in the middle of the six hours) as in the first and last hour. This is explained by the Rule of Twelfths.

Rule of Twelfths

The level of water does not rise or fall at a constant rate throughout the 6 hour duration of a rising or falling tide.  The amount by which it will do so can be estimated mentally by means of the following rough guide:

  • 1st hour rise or fall = 1/12 of Range
  • 2nd hour rise or fall = 2/12 of Range
  • 3rd hour rise or fall = 3/12 of Range
  • 4th hour rise or fall = 3/12 of Range
  • 5th hour rise or fall = 2/12 of Range
  • 6th hour rise or fall = 1/12 of Range

This impacts tidal speed too – the fastest speed being in the middle of the period between HW and LW. In the table below, assuming a 12 foot rise and fall in the tidal height (typical for Cork Harbour) and a maximum tidal flow rate of 1.5km/hr, you can see the how fast the tide moves and rises/falls.

Time after HW Twelfths Change in Depth in that hour Avg tidal flowkm/h
+0.5hr 1/12 1’ 0.5
+1.5hrs 2/12 2’ 1
+2.5hrs 3/12 3’ 1.5
+3.5hrs 3/12 3’ 1.5
+4.5hrs 2/12 2’ 1
+5.5hrs 1/12 1’ 0.5

What else influences tides?

Other factors can influence tidal heights and flow rates. Low pressure will increase tidal height (think of it as less atmospheric pressure pushing down on the water).  Lots of recent rain will increase the strength of the ebb, especially out of Cork Harbour and Fountainstown too (it’s just more water trying to get out).

How might this impact my swim?

So what does all this mean for swimmers?  Be conscious of the time of HW – not because the beach might be more or less sandy, but because it should influence where/how you swim.  Swim against the prevailing tidal flow, so that if you get tired you will have the benefit of it on the way back.  For example, you might consider a swim from Myrtleville to Church Bay and back on the third hour of a falling tide (tide against you going to Church Bay and with you coming back).  You should not consider doing it on the third hour of a rising tide (tide with you going to Church Bay and against you coming back).

In reality, the tidal flows between Myrtleville Beach, the Dutchman and Bunny’s are fairly limited.  There is a little more effect to consider if going Myrtleville/Fountainstown and particularly at Bunny’s point where the push or pull can be significant on the 3rd and 4th hour. If needed, there are plenty of escape routes onto the rocks between Myrtleville and Fountainstown – weather dependent. Going to Church Bay, however, puts you into much stronger tidal flows and you really need to plan your timings. Generally you would not plan a swim past the Dutchman unless the tide was ebbing (going out) for the return leg. Equally, anything further afield needs careful planning with someone who knows the area and tides.

So what direction does the tide flow?

The diagram below broadly illustrates the direction of flow of the tides around the Myrtleville area.  Tides, especially close inshore, are subject to back-eddies and counter-currents, and there are a few of these to be found in the area shown.

To check tides, either purchase a tide table or click on this link.

You should always know the tide before you swim.  Swim Safe.