The Legend of Jenny Watt

The Legend of Jenny Watt by Brian Meharg, Bangor Boats

Beautifully illustrated by Janet King

Book Cover 1

Bangor’s first children’s book by North Channel Pilot and amateur historian Brian Meharg has captured the imaginations of children and got them wanting to get outdoors and explore their local area.

Reviews:

Esther aged 8years

Esther Smith 1

“The whole idea of the Jenny Watt… it makes you want to find out more and maybe go to the place where the war was. Maybe if you went digging there you might find something magical. This book has a very good sense of adventure and it was very easy to read. I loved where in the very same spot where Jenny Watt was found there was a puppy. That book was just amazing. I love reading new books and I think this was one of the best books I’ve ever read… I thought it was just gorgeous.”

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Elijah aged 11years

Elijah Smith 1

“I thought this book explained the story very well. It made me think what it was like back then when there were smugglers. Whenever they got on their little boat and started smuggling the story got really intense. I loved it so much I read it all in one sitting. The Jenny Watts cave was so cool it made me want to go there and shout “Jenny where is Con” and she would hopefully reply.“gone”. I would recommend this book to children of all ages.

Ps. When I asked for a great book to read I defiantly got one.”

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Lovely reviews from 2 of my swimmers.

Author Brian Meharg signing my copy at Helens Bay…

Brian Meharg and Mo 1

Printed by Impact Printing, Coleraine & Ballycastle – 2018

ISBN 978-1-906689-84-1

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“11 Feet” Never gave an inch to conquer North Channel

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L-R Adrian, John, Jacqueline, Alison, Barry and David

’11 Feet’ – Never Gave An Inch!

Words by Maureen McCoy

Picture by Paul McCambridge – MAC Visual Media

When David Burke was asked to sign a piece of paper without reading it, he knew he had let himself in for a big challenge.

Having had his left leg amputated above the knee, at the age of only seven, after being hit by a car while watching a stock-car race in Dundalk. David was then determined to learn to swim, he told me how, when he went to lessons with his school, the other children would play and splash about but “I worked and worked at my swimming.” He went on to compete at the Paralympic games in the 400 metres Freestyle; “I never liked sprinting!”

David recently returned to swimming through triathlon events, “I saw people posting their achievements online and I thought; I could do that.” So his open water journey began 3 years ago, training with the Newry Triathlon club, Co Armagh, and then venturing into Camlough Lake.

Last years “Around the Rock” 1.5 km swim at Warrenpoint almost stopped his ambitions. “It was brutal. I was upside-down and thrown everywhere. I came out of that swim petrified. I wasn’t going to swim again.” But he was signed up to swim the following week in a triathlon.

The day before the triathlon, his friend and mentor, Padraig Mallon, completed his own English Channel solo. “After Padraig achieved that I can’t pull out of a 1 mile swim!” so, David faced his fear. “I had a fantastic swim! The quickest amputee there!” he joked. “Towards the finish line I realized I was alone. I thought; either I’m the very last and everyone’s gone or I’m out in front.” It wasn’t until he crossed the line and looked back that he found he was indeed ahead, finishing in 4th place.

Why the North Channel? “I was press-ganged. After last years’ Camlough 5km swim, Padraig took me for a meal, he passed me a piece of paper and said – Sign this, don’t look at it, just sign it, you can read it after. Another friend at the table said; I’m a Doctor, I’ll witness it.” So David signed and was then allowed to read the challenge, a North Channel relay attempt, signed and sealed, two years to deliver.

Training began and winter swimming was on the table, the whole team worked together, supporting each-other through the highs and lows of winter sea swims and building stamina in the pool. The Feel Alive Club was born and stalwarts Alison Cardwell, Jacqueline Galway, Adrian Poucher, John McElroy, Barry Patterson and David were joined by many others in their regular dips in Carlingford Lough. Alison, the most experienced swimmer on the team, has competed for several years in ILDSA events and won Ulster Open Water swimmer of the Year 2013, after completing, amongst other swims, the 25km Lough Erne Challenge. Although the entire team have taken part in various open water events and triathlons for a number of years, the North Channel, a 21 plus mile swim in waters rarely above 12’C is no light under-taking.

Social media messages fired back and forth and as the year progressed the training became more intense. David told me in March how he was feeling more ready, “Compared to how I felt four weeks ago, I now feel more mentally prepared, I know there’s a long way to go yet but every time I get in I learn something more.”

By the 5th of July the lessons learned have paid off, the six strong team of Alison Cardwell, Jacqueline Galway, John McElroy, Adrian Poucher, Barry Patterson and David Burke – “11 Feet” achieved their goal by swimming the North Channel in 12 hours 52 minutes. Each taking a 1-hour stint in the water with David having the honour of both starting the swim and taking the final strokes to the Scottish shore. “I was absolutely shattered, the tide was pushing us from right to left and the wash was bouncing back off the shore. I hit more jelly-fish in the last 20 minutes than in the rest of the swim!”

“We as a team set out to conquer a wee piece of water yesterday, six swimmers and a great support crew. I had the honour of finishing it but would not have unless everyone on board stood up and were counted. Whatever praise comes in about me being the first amp to do it is all your praise as we trained as team suffered as a team and succeeded as a team. To each and everyone one of you we really have done something that will forever bind us. To Padraig thanks for taking me to such a lovely place. To Martina my rock when I was tired and cold, thank you. My dad always blamed himself for my accident and went to his grave thinking that, but yesterday he swam beside me (pity he didn’t remove the jellies). So Dad this ones for you”

World’s First Lady, Seven Oceans Swim – Anna-Carin Nordin, Sweden

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Words by Maureen McCoy

Photography by Paul McCambridge

On the 8th July 2013 at 7.11pm, after 14 hours and 21 minutes swimming from Portpatrick in Scotland to Blackhead Bay, Northern Ireland, Anna-Carin Nordin made history as the first woman to complete the Seven Oceans Open Water swimming challenge.

Meeting up with Anna the day after her achievement, she looked fresh and was happy to talk about her journey from the English Channel in 2010, around the world in swims and back. After such a long day before she was still keen to get back in the water for a “cushy” swim and I had the honour of a relaxing dip with this history-maker on another sunny day at Ballyholme.

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North Channel swim…

Brian Meharg, pilot of Anna’s support boat and Anna took the controversial decision to attempt the swim on a spring tide as the race was on with Anna one of  three ladies hoping to complete the North Channel this year and scoop the Seven Oceans 1st Lady title.

“Tide and time wait for no man or woman.” Said Brian, “The weather is good you should go now.” So at 4.50am Anna was in the water at Portpatrick with her hand against the rock face and the swim began. In the first few hours she encountered the swimmers dreaded jellyfish, Anna said “They were below me and spread out so I played a little ‘tricksie’ and was able to swim around them. I was lucky, I didn’t get stung.” She weaved her hand as she spoke showing how she’d avoided the jellies. “At the start of a swim you don’t want to be stung, at the end you are too tired to avoid them.”

Seal of approval…

The highlight of the swim for Anna was mid channel when a large male seal appeared and continued to swim with her for an hour.  “It’s so nice to see something different in the water with you – not jellyfish!” With the water temperature ranging from 11.3’C to 13.8’C, Anna got colder as the day went on, “But I came here to finish the swim, not to fail.”  So she continued on her way into the history books. The petite blond 41 year old from Sweden had just completed the Seven Oceans Swim Challenge with a smile on her face.  Her blue eyes glinting, she told me “My swimming rivals will have to fight for second place now.”

Finishing at 7.11pm on Monday 8th July 2013, Anna was greeted by ILDSA President Billy Wallace at Bangor Marina and Stephen Redmond, the first man to achieve the Seven Oceans, ‘phoned the first lady with his congratulations. Anna will go home to Jattendal, Sweden to a hero’s welcome.

Well done Anna and thank you for the swim and the chat.

2010: English Channel in 12:00:59

October 2011: Molokai Channel in over 18 hours

1 May 2012: Strait of Gibraltar

3 July 2012: Catalina Channel in 12 hours 40 minutes

September 2012: Tsugaru Channel in 19 hours 11 minutes

8 April 2013: Cook Strait in 8 hours 17 minutes

8 July 2013: North Channel in 14 hours 21 minutes

Anna-Carin comparing tan lines with Maureen and Rachel Smith

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BALLYHOLME BAY Bangor, North Down

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When Paul and I arrived at Ballyholme Beach the sun was shining, there was a light breeze coming off the sea and the tide was beginning to come in.  There is a long stretch of sandy beach, broken at the western end by concrete “groins” running into the sea.  The ends of which are marked with tall posts, so there should be no risk of getting too close and swimming into the wall.

A few people were out enjoying this fine September sunshine, walking dogs and kicking off shoes to go for a paddle.  At the eastern end of the beach, where the strand is left open with no groins to spoil the sweep of sand, a horse and rider were enjoying the soft sands and shallow waters.

By the time I reached the rider she was bringing down her second horse for a swim.  We waded out together, chatting about swimming and the horses.  I think the horses were a little confused that this human was walking into the water with them and not on their backs.  It was my first experience of swimming beside a horse, (at a careful distance, I know how hard hooves can be.)

The sea was calm and clear, and a slightly surreal experience to be chatting to the rider as I breast stroked along, occasionally breaking into front crawl so as not to be left behind.  Although, I think I enjoyed my swim more than the horses.

The sun was warm on my back, the only movement in the water the small waves in the wake of the distant ferry that passed on its way into Belfast Lough, I could have stayed in for hours.

A little way down the beach, a group were wading out, trousers rolled up, they stood in a small circle and began to sing.  A girl stood in the centre of the circle with her head bowed, ready for baptism.  As I enjoyed my gentle swim, accompanied by my equine friends, this girl was having her own deep spiritual experience… I watched as she plunged under the water, washing away her sins as I wash away the stresses of the day each time I swim… rising up to the cheers and songs of her friends.

As I left Ballyholme, I will not forget the mix of the surreal and the sublime that I found that day.

Words By Maureen McCoy

Photography By Paul McCambridge