Safe Outdoor Swimming #SOS

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by Maureen McCoy and Paul McCambridge

Outdoor swimming is a great year-round sport and growing fast in popularity, but this is not the controlled environment of the swimming pool. There are often no life-guards, the shore may be further away than you think and the water is much cooler; the average public pool temperature is around 27’ – 28’ Centigrade, the average sea temperature around Ireland ranges from 8’ to 18’C. Add to that, wind chill and water movement and in February temps can get really low (I have personally recorded swims at 3’C!) Lakes tend to warm up and cool down quicker, some getting to icy depths in winter.  

If you can swim, you can swim outdoors, just as with any other outdoor activity, wild swimming is only dangerous if swimmers take unnecessary risks. Common sense and a little preparation can make it safe and fun. 

Remember that outdoor conditions – rain, wind the tides, ambient temperatures – change all the time. You will never have the same swim twice. This is why swimmers keep coming back for more, because wild swimming is never boring!

NEVER SWIM ALONE

The number one rule of swimming; always swim with a buddy, it gives you each a safety back-up and it’s more fun as a shared experience.

BE VISIBLE

Wear a bright swimming cap to make yourself visible to any boats or craft in the area. All that will be visible is your tiny head, which any wave more than a few inches will hide, and your flying arms – unless you breast stroke, in which case only your head will be visible. This is where tow-floats come in handy – much more visible to craft. 

SWIM PARALLEL & CLOSE TO SHORE

You can get back to safety more easily if you swim parallel to shore than if you swim straight out to sea or to the middle of a lake. 

Swim Failure can happen to ANY swimmer, this is when the muscles are too cold to respond to the nerve signals and the swimmer can no longer keep themselves above water. If you stay close, in depth and swim with a buddy this will not end in tragedy.

GET OUT WHILE YOU STILL WANT MORE

Your body temperature will continue to drop as you swim and in cooler temperatures (below 10’C) you may soon risk Swim Failure (mentioned above). This starts to take effect in as little as 10 minutes. Add to that, the body continues to cool after swimming for a further 20 minutes. Get out wanting more and your whole experience will be a positive one!

WATCH THE WEATHER

Don’t try to swim in very rough conditions; no matter how strong you think you are the water is always more powerful. It is very difficult to breathe or navigate in choppy water. In FOG you will lose your bearings and will not be visible to others.

BE AWARE OF THE COLD

Recent findings state that around 60% of drownings in Britain and Ireland are due to Cold Shock Response the immediate physical response to sudden cold which causes involuntary inhalation. In waters around 15’ C it can be difficult for even strong swimmers to hold their breath when suddenly immersed. It takes an inhalation of only 1.5 litres of water to drown an adult.

The solution? DO NOT jump straight in – no matter how inviting the water looks. Instead follow the ritual of seasoned outdoor swimmers; get in slowly, wet your arms and face, lower yourself in gently, swim head up at first to acclimatise and control your breathing. Then, once you are no longer gasping or out of breath you may put your head down and speed off. 

Body temperature drops extremely quickly in the water and after swimming you may experience a further drop – after drop. Be sure to have warm clothes to change into, a hat and warm drink after your swim.

KNOW YOUR LIMITS

Know your own swimming ability, how well you can function in the cold and your knowledge of currents, tides and your ability to read the conditions. If you are less confident, swim with an experienced group or buddy, stay within your depth and close to an easy exit point. 

TOW FLOAT

Tow floats are NOT life-saving devices so do not rely on them for that purpose. They do, however, make a swimmer much more visible to other water traffic. They can also be used if you need a short rest on a long swim but remember that your temperature will drop very quickly when you are inactive in the water.

Again, the most important piece of equipment is yourself; your own competence and judgement.

ESSENTIAL KIT

A SENSE OF ADVENTURE! 

All outdoor swimmers have a little rebel streak in them. Celebrate that and enjoy the exploration of new places, or old ones seen from a new perspective.

#SWIMSENSE

It seems tedious to re-iterate but use your noggin! If your gut feeling is it’s a bad idea – then it probably is. Confidence is all very well but competence is key; know your own limitations in swimming ability and your capacity to deal with the cold. Seek advice from others and start gently, enjoy building your confidence, skill and power in the water.

DESIRABLE KIT 

SWIM SUIT

Essential at popular beaches but there are plenty more places where this is optional!… 

GOGGLES

Great for seeing clearly underwater, keep your eyeballs from feeling as if they are going to freeze and generally for seeing where you are going. They have a nasty habit of steaming up, though, so prepare them beforehand (with a smear of baby shampoo then wipe dry) or a generous amount of spit may be required.

CAP

Keeps hair out of your eyes, can help to minimise water in the ears (when pulled down enough) and provides a layer of insulation (there are times when you are glad of that few millimetres of silicone). Caps come in a range of types, styles and of course colours, if sea-swimming go for bright neon’s which are more likely to be seen. Silicone caps beat latex for thickness and insulation and are less likely to tear. Neoprene hoods tend to be favoured by triathletes and some winter swimmers, they give more insulation but swimmers used to caps may find the chin strap inhibiting.

CHANGING TOWEL

Keeps you decent on busy beaches and provides something of a windbreak. There are many on the market and budget is your only limitation – I still love my trusty hand-crafted version, modelled on the ones mum made for my brothers and me when we were small.

HOT WATER BOTTLE

Part of my essential winter kit, either already filled with my socks tucked inside the cover (heavenly!) or a spare flask of hot water ready to fill it when I get out. 

FLASK OF HOT BEVERAGE

Smooth, creamy and indulgent hot chocolate is a popular choice but any warm drink is a great way to warm up after a swim. Most will accompany this with a sweet snack.

THERMAL UNDIES

Not the most flattering but they are simply great. 

VERY WARM BOOTS

For after the swim, especially winter swims, a fleece-lined boot you can pull on is oh so nice – I’ve been known to stuff disposable hand warmers into my socks too!

BEST REASONS TO SWIM OUTDOORS

“Going swimming” now means a day trip to the beach or lake or mountains with a warm-up drink and scone after, or better still the pub where you can cosy up to the fire sipping Guinness. (Let us hope those times return!)

Boosts the immune system; this is not yet backed up by medical evidence but any year-round swimmer will tell you when they swim through the winter they simply don’t get a cold. (Since time of writing there has been increased research into health benefits of cold water swimming.)

Feel good factor – undoubtedly the best reason for doing it is that it’s fun!

Excerpt from Wild Swimming in Ireland 2016, ISBN 978-1-84889-280-4

Still to come

Tips for Winter Swimming

Tips for Night Swimming

Tips for Front Crawl 

Full Moon Calendar 2021

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@Paul McCambridge/MAC Visual Media

Last year hundreds more people took to the outdoors to swim and I know many of you are enjoying the exhilaration of this new adventure continuing through the winter. With the short daylight hours evening and night swimming has increased in popularity and a very special part of this are Moonlit swims, so below I have listed 2021’s full moon calendar – (times are for Ireland and UK)

JANUARY        28th 19:18        Wolf Moon or Chaste Moon 

Coinciding with a lunar eclipse this year, this moon represents renewal, cleansing and transformation, let the past wash away and set new goals

FEBRUARY      27TH 08:19       Ice Moon

The coldest temperatures in the water, we look forward to spring and the lengthening of days

MARCH           28TH 18:50       Storm Moon

Spring is beginning to peep its head above ground but despite the crocuses bright flowers the water is still very cold, frost and the chance of snow have not yet departed

APRIL              27TH 03:33       Pink Moon

A Supermoon this year, the days are stretching and the water temperature just beginning to rise

MAY                26TH 11:14       Hare Moon

This is the 2ndSupermoon of 2021 and represents the birth of animals and giving of life

JUNE               24TH 18:40       Strawberry Moon

Summer Solstice is upon us, a social time. The Celtic Druidic name is Alban Hefinmeaning ‘Light of the Shore’ – the seashore is a special place where the three realms of Earth, Sea and Sky meet

JULY                24th 02:37        Thunder Moon Or Buck Moon

A time for thunderstorms and gathering herbs to dry for winter

AUGUST          22ND 12:02       Hungry Ghosts Moon

To provide light for lost souls to find their way safely back into the afterlife people would light water lanterns and float them on lakes, rivers, and pools. Also known as the Sturgeon Moon a time of abundance and satisfaction

SEPTEMBER    20TH 23:54       Harvest Moon

The well-known Harvest moon celebrates abundant times, although the air is getting colder the water still retains a little of summer

OCTOBER        20TH 14:57       Blood Moon

A time to prepare for winter, the Blood Moon or Hunters Moon scatters blue light so more red light reaches your eyes.

NOVEMBER    19TH 08:59       Mourning Moon

The time to prepare for winter, for Pagans after a full year of accumulating it is time to let go of old unnecessary things and give yourself permission to mourn their passing

DECEMBER     19TH 04:37       Cold Moon

Also known as Moon before Yule or Oak Moon – a time for strength and preparation.

SAFE SWIMMING AT NIGHT

©Paul McCambridge/MAC Visual Media

Night swimming is a magical experience with only the moon and stars to light our way but with this comes additional risks, so please be safe;

Never swim alone. Swimming in pairs or small groups will still allow you to enjoy the stillness and peace but afford a safer environment.

Check your exit. It’s very easy to lose sight of your exit point so place a marker, fairy lights draped over your bag, a glow-stick or torch placed where you can see it, or where it’s appropriate a small fire is lovely to return to.

Swim parallel to shore. All too tempting to follow that elusive silver trail of moonlight across the water but be wary of venturing too far from shore, cold incapacitation can hit suddenly and can hit any swimmer.

Get out while you still want more. As we head into the beginning of the new year the water and air temperatures are plummeting, cut your swim time accordingly, you will enjoy so many more swims this way.

Organise your kit. When you’re cold and shivering the last thing you want is to be fumbling in the dark for your woolly hat etc, so set out your gear in the order that you like to get dressed to make it as quick and easy as possible.

Enjoy a warming cuppa with friends. Finish the experience beautifully.

Respect others. Some people want to have a quiet and personal swim, be sensitive to your fellows, respect their space and enjoy.

Stay Safe!

Dennis Bree Swims a Mile a Day at Helens Bay to #EndFoodPoverty

Photos by Paul McCambridge, words by Maureen McCoy 

Many of us will have set ourselves a personal challenge at one time or another and this year has proven to be particularly apt with gyms, pools and sports clubs closed and a lot of folks either out of work or working from home, solo and outdoor challenges have soared. For many it’s a personal thing, health and wellbeing, a better lifestyle choice but sometimes we find a cause that we feel is so much greater than ourselves and incites us to use our talents to raise others awareness. 

Dennis Bree with his big wee brother Andrew

Dennis Bree, freestyle swimmer and brother of Olympic Breast-stroker Andrew heard of the plight of undernourished children in Belfast and decided he would help by raising funds for Life Hub NI, Belfast’s own food bank charity.

Dennis’ challenge; swim a mile a day in the sea for the entire month of November. 

His aim; to raise £10,000 

“I listened to Dr Julie-Ann Maney on local radio talking about the infants and children she treats in Belfast. Children who are so undernourished and hungry that they will tuck toast into their nappy in case they don’t get anything else to eat again that day.

This is 2020, this is so heart breaking and we have to do something to help.” 

Dennis was so moved by hearing Dr Julie-Ann Maney speak that he searched out the Belfast charity Life Hub NI and resolved to do what he could to support them.

Life Hub NI was set up in 2017 by Edmund Aruofor to provide fresh food parcels to support families and people in need in the Belfast area. 

With an energy and enthusiasm that belies his 60 years, Edmund told me how he starts his day at 4.30am, driving to supermarkets and independent stores who donate foodstuffs.

With a cheeky grin he says; 

“I’m 60 and I don’t feel it! I believe if you have a passion and a vision you don’t have time to get old!”

Working long hours every week and with the charity not closing for Christmas or Easter when would he find time to age? 

“I believe everyone who needs help should be given help”. 

Edmund has seen a huge increase in the amount of people needing this help since the pandemic with an average of 19 additional families every week earlier in the year, this week alone saw a staggering 30 new families reach out for aid.

It’s a far cry from his career as a printer in London and subsequently a Teacher of English as a Foreign Language when he settled in Belfast 5 years ago. Before that Edmund hadn’t been involved in food banks but his wife had. When he saw the need amongst his pupils’ in Belfast he knew what he had to do, and Life Hub NI was born. 

Edmund was aware of the amount of food that is wasted and believed he could get that food for free. He was right and M&S Forestside and Lisburn Road branches have supported Life Hub NI from the outset, he is now hoping wholesalers will come on board and be able to add to the produce it is his mission to collect and distribute.

As Christmas grows ever closer, more people are treading a fine line, we often hear of the plight of those having to choose between “heating or eating”, Edmund and his volunteers are doing an amazing job to try to alleviate at least part of the equation. 

With the generosity of Slims Healthy Kitchen, Life Hub NI have secured Christmas dinners for 250 adults and 110 children.

Funds raised by Dennis and others will help keep the vehicles on the road to gather and distribute supplies and aid in the running costs of storage and the Life Hub NI distribution centre in Townsend Enterprise Park.

To date (30thNovember 2020) Denis has smashed his £10k target and raised £10,480 

Donate at

http://bit.ly/32J1eH5

Or

https://uk.gofundme.com/f/help-stop-food-poverty-ni

#HubLife#EndFoodPoverty

Other ways to help;

With covid restrictions, Life Hub Ni have set up a bubble to which currently no more volunteers can be added but Edmund is calling out for businesses and wholesalers who may be able to help.

©MAC Visual Media – Belfast – 29th Nov 2020 Dennis Bree from Helen’s Bay, fist bumps Edmund Aruofor of Life Hub NI, after completing his penultimate one mile swim to raise funds for the food bank charity based in Townsend Street, Belfast. Picture by Paul McCambridge/MAC Visual Media.

Derrynane – Iveragh Peninsula

©Paul McCambridge – Sunset on Derrynane Beach

Viewed from the road above, Derrynane Beach, once notorious as a smugglers’ port, makes the swimmer itch to get down to it. The road is long and winding and seems to take you far past the first tantalising view but persevere and follow the signs for Derrynane House. These will eventually lead down to the shore and this gorgeous string of beaches, a series of sandy coves, each a different size and shape. The water virtually calls out for one to run down the strand and dive right in. Picture-perfect, the white sandy beaches curve around between the scattered rocks where one can happily while away an entire day swimming and rock-pooling in this natural harbour. 

Take care at the largest stretch of beach as it is prone to strong currents but there are plenty of coves and bays to explore and swim. The sunsets here are unparalleled, bathing the cove in pink and purple hues.

Excerpt from Wild Swimming in Ireland, 2016, ISBN 978-1-84889-280-4

‘Goose’ the Eider duck growing fast…

120720 - Goose 7a WM

©MAC Visual Media – Picture by Paul McCambridge – Catch me if you can Luke! 

Goose’ the young Eider duck gained her name, partly after Tom Cruise’s wingman in the 1986 film Top Gun and partly as her rescuer liked the irony of calling a duck goose! 

120720 - Goose 5b Wm

©MAC Visual Media – Picture by Paul Mccambridge. ‘Goose’ learning to forage 

 

Jack Childs, 14yrs, had kayaked over to the nearby Trasnagh Island on Strangford for a mini adventure when he came across the sad scene of devastation. Duck nests were trashed and feathers all around with no sign of any surviving ducks. That is, not until he got back to his kayak where a lone tiny duckling sat, in the cockpit seat.
“I lifted her out and looked for adults but there were none. When I turned she had climbed back in!”

120720 - Goose 4b Wm

©MAC Visual Media – Picture by Paul McCambridge ‘Goose’ being told off!

Jack phoned his parents asking what he should do and, knowing a friend that could advise them, they agreed he could bring the orphan home and they’d care for her.
“I put her in my hat and she fell asleep on the way back”

120720 - Goose 3b Wm

©MAC Visual Media – Picture by Paul McCambridge – Hitching a ride!

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©MAC Visual Media – Picture by Paul McCambridge – ‘Goose’ Foraging

Goose loves swimming with the Childs family, Clare says, “ She can stay with us as long as she wants, she is a wild duck after all.”

120720 - Goose 1b Wm

©MAC Visual Media – Picture by Paul McCambridge – Strutting her stuff!

100 Image Retro – Couch to 5k + ILDSA Lough Erne Swim

Shame we weren’t able to run the 2020 Couch to 5k with Waterways Ireland and the Share Discovery Village Fermanagh but here is a wee retrospective of the last 4 years courses and ILDSA Lough Erne Championships… Here’s hoping 2021 sees us getting back to training proper…

 

Flow Swimming Northern Ireland Open Water Coaching and Swimming with Mo McCoy + Paul McCambridge

Silver Strand + Malinbeg Harbour Donegal

©Paul McCambridge 2015 - MAC Visual MediaSilver Strand, Malin Beg, Co Done

©Paul McCambridge – Silver Strand, Malin Beg, Co Donegal

Words Maureen McCoy – Photography Paul McCambridge

On the far western shores of Donegal not far from the great cliffs of Slieve League sits the pretty curve of Silver Strand at Malin Beg, 400m of golden sand beside a small harbour favoured by divers.

Six kilometres from Glencolmcille is the pretty Silver Strand beach at Malin Beg. It is a steep climb down the steps from the car park to the enticing white sands of the horseshoe-shaped Silver Strand at Malin Beg but worth every bit of effort. At approximately 400 metres long and gently shelving waters, this beach provides excellent swimming and set as it is down such a flight of steps, the strand is never crowded. Nestled beneath the grassy headlands it is as close to a perfect beach as you may likely find. Count the steps going down and on the way back up to see if you can get the same number!

The nearby harbour at Malin Beg is rich in sea life, making it popular with divers and snorkelers. The harbour is set in a neat natural cove, making it extremely well sheltered.

Excerpt from Wild Swimming in Ireland – the Book

50 - Donegal - Silverstrand + Malinbeg Harbour 05a Wm

©Paul McCambridge – Silver Strand and Malin Beg Harbour, Co Donegal

 

Benderg Bay, Lecale Way, Co Down

©Paul McCambridge 2015 - MAC Visual MediaBenderg Bay, Lecale Way, Co Down

Benderg Bay, Lecale Way, Co Down

Words by Maureen McCoy, photography by Paul McCambridge                                      

Walk through the grasslands of Killard Nature Reserve to the beautiful Benderg Beach, home to sand martins and seals. Perfect to spend a sunny day swimming, picnicking and investigating the rock pools.

This superb strand stretching just over half a kilometre from the rocks of Killard Point to the sand cliffs and farmland which separate Benderg from its more popular neighbour Ballyhornan Beach.

You may see seals lounging at Mill Quarter Bay, where the strength of Strangford Lough’s tidal run creates whirlpools. This is not the place to swim, leave it to the seals. A twenty-minute walk from here through the orchid-filled grasslands of the nature reserve leads to the Beach. Tucked out of the way of Strangford’s powerful tidal race here you can swim in crystal-clear shallow waters as sand martins swoop from the cliffs across the bay.

©Paul McCambridge 2015 - MAC Visual MediaBenderg Bay, Lecale Way, Co Down

©Paul McCambridge 2015 – MAC Visual Media Benderg Bay, Lecale Way, Co Down

Getting there: take the A2 Shore Road out of Strangford. At Kilclief veer left towards Mill Quarter Bay. Park at the roadside lay-by from where signs point to the track leading into Killard Nature Reserve. Follow the path past the mouth of Strangford Lough. The rough track cuts through the grassland to Benderg Bay Beach. Roadside parking, no facilities, twenty-minute walk to beach.

Excerpt from Wild Swimming in Ireland 2016

Scenic walk / family friendly / secluded / snorkelling / rock pools / adventure swim /

Grid ref:J 60722 43067

 

Pollock Holes, Kilkee

50 - Clare - Pollock Holes and Kilkee Diving Boards - 01a WM

Swimming at Pollock Holes, Kilkee, Co Clare.

Words by Maureen McCoy, photography by Paul McCambridge

At the mouth of Kilkee’s horse-shoe bay step onto the barren and exposed landscape of the Duggerna Reef. Revealed at low tide, the reef is a plateau made up of slabs of rock smoothed by the twice daily ebb and flow of the sea. As the tide recedes several pools are revealed, these are the Pollock Holes.

Slipping into these sheltered pools where anemones wave their soft tentacles in search of unseen creatures the colourful underwater world is far removed from the hard and flat grey stone above. Even as the Atlantic rages at the edge of the reef creating swathes of sea foam which blows across the pools, gathering like curds and whey on the surface, one can peacefully swim and snorkel. The yellows and purples of underwater plants lighting up the pale waters.

Paul McCambridge - Diving - WIld Swimming in Ireland 02 WM

Off season at the diving boards near the Pollock Holes, Kilkee, Co Clare.  Near the Pollock Holes there is a tiny gap in the wall of the coastal road leading to a curved stairway. Passing signs of; diving prohibited / unsafe, the steps lead down to two newly refurbished boards which strain out along the side of the cliff.

These pools have become an institution and although well-known and even busy during summer they are well worth the visit. Check out the stepped diving area close to Kilkee beach. Warm up in the café with scones and hot coffee after your swim.

Excerpt from Wild Swimming in Ireland 2016

CAMLOUGH LAKE, Co Armagh

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Irish International Triathlete Aileen Reid(nee Morrison) training in Camlough

Camlough Lake

I did a lot of my channel training at ‘Crooked Lake’ Camlough. The lake is calm, sheltered, with easy access from a wide slipway, providing an ideal training ground.

I love the days when I do a long swim down the lake, seeing the sun stream down over Slieve Gullion. Aiming for the V formed by the two hills at the far end, swimming past an old pontoon on the right hand side, a favourite spot for herons to perch. As the winter deepened the local fishermen looked on in amazement as I stripped down to my cossie and waded into the cold water.  Deep breaths as the cold chilled my skin, I would count –1 – 2 – 3 – GO!  Off with a fast front crawl to generate some heat in my muscles on the 250m out to the first buoy, I would then settle into my stroke heading around the second buoy to complete a lap of 750m at the slipway.

A co-incidental meeting in Dover the week prior to my channel swim caused me to bump into a group of fellow Camlough ‘training ground’ swimmers returning from their successful stag do relay swim.  Since then, this group of Camlough and Newry locals have been organising superb events at the lake.

This previously hidden gem in South Armagh hit the world stage when more than three hundred swimmers from all over Ireland and beyond joined the local community to continuously swim for nine days.  On the 9th of the 9th 2009 the Guinness World Record for the longest ever relay swim was smashed.

Following on from that success Camlough Lake has grown in popularity and 2010 saw the inaugural Camlough Water Festival, a weekend of kayaking, water-polo, short swims, 5k and 10k swimming races.

Go down to the lake in the summer and you will find something of a carnival atmosphere with children paddling, swimmers and triathletes enjoying the water, you are likely to be welcomed by some hardy folk, including Bridgeen, Micky or Milo, who have been swimming there since the mid 80’s.

More on Camlough Water Festival http://www.clwf.eu

Words By Maureen McCoy

Photography By Paul McCambridge

Enter from the slipway on the Crossmaglen road, where you will see marker buoys forming a 750m loop from the slipway – further buoys have been added creating a variety of circuits, detailed on the map below.  Newry Triathlon club have set up a container here providing a changing facility and storage for safety equipment.  They run events through the year, triathlons and occasional night swims.

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Above Open Water Swimmer Colleen Mallon 

Course Map and Safety Information Below

 

Camlough Lake 2020 courses