Santa Splash 2016 – Portrush

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Portrush’s East Strand was a hive of activity when I arrived. I did wonder where I should go to register for the swim but the steady stream of people all sporting various Santa hats assured me I was at the right place. It looked as though most of Portrush had turned up, all bedecked with festive regalia besides the customary hats. One chap had an extremely smart Christmas jacket, there were many woollen jumpers and in the crowd I spied a very fetching reindeer onesie, I may have to ask Santa for one of those myself… cosy after a swim.

I followed the surging crowd and we wound our way along the prom towards the Arcadia Gallery and small beach. Up the steps facing the beach at Café 55° North the queue condensed as we all pushed our way to sign up for the swim and pop a donation in one of the many buckets. This year, the 8th of the Santa Splash, the chosen charity was the Children’s Heartbeat Trust, a local charity.

Over the past 7 years the Arcadia Bathing Club have raised several thousands of pounds for various charities. Each year they choose a charity that someone in the club has links to.

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The first Santa Splash was very low-key, just a few pals asking for sponsorship and taking a dip at the Arcadia beach. Each year the numbers grow and they have had to move to the East Strand because Arcadia beach isn’t big enough!

Little islands of discarded clothing soon formed on the sand and we crowded on the steps for a short pre-swim brief, I’m afraid I have no idea what was said but next I knew the hooter sounded and we all began to race down to the sea. Photographers braved the stampede of swimsuits and Christmas hats as several hundred charged, one aim in mind, hit the water running!

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The Santa Splash is certainly the biggest Christmas dip I have seen with a massive crowd cheering from the side lines. Once dressed the party went on at 55° North with hot food and mulled wine being served to the swimmers, music and a raffle.

Stephen, chief organiser on the day, told me a little about the ABC. Formed as it was many years ago it was recently resurrected by Stephen and several pals. “We used to have silly rules, like no over-arm strokes in the summer months. In the winter you were allowed swim front crawl to keep a bit warmer. We’ve abandoned that as now we have so many swimmers!”

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ABC swimmers meet every Sunday, 10.30am, all welcome but to get a member’s certificate and be eligible to buy their fleece you must swim a minimum of once a month for twelve consecutive months. I might just try that…I do like their swim cap!

Thanks Arcadia for a great splash see you very soon!

Dunagree Point, Inishowen Peninsula, Co Donegal

©Paul McCambridge - MAC Visual Media - 2014 Wild swimming in Donegal

Maureen McCoy

Photos by Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media

Follow the road out of Moville towards Inishowen head and you can stop at almost any hole in the hedge, park your car or bike on the roadside and take a peek through that gap and you will likely find a cove or tiny beach all to yourself, if someone is there and you want solitude, there are plenty more to explore. I have selected some of the best I have found.

©Paul McCambridge - MAC Visual Media - 2014 Wild swimming in Donegal

Dunagree Lighthouse, sitting proud in its private gardens and flanked by two white sand beaches, the first, petite and sheltered with its soft white sand quickly shelving to deep water. The second is larger, has a car-park and life guards hut yet holds a quaint old-fashioned Irish-ness about it. The light house watches from the dunes and at the other end of the beach, the rough and craggy rocks carry an old concrete bridge spanning across and beckoning one to explore. This bridge once led to a diving board, long since gone but never the less it still draws one to step across.

One other tent was pitched on the beach, tucked in nicely out of the wind and hidden from view when you first walked onto the beach, a perfect spot. Towels hung on every guy-line and soon I met the occupants; four young girls who had persuaded Mum to let them camp out; “for just one night?” and where still here five days later. Mum, keeping a watchful eye from their own house only a few metres away across the road, supplied daily meals, life guard cover and fresh towels, yet gave the girls the freedom to have a ‘local adventure’. I joined her during life guarding duties and we watched the girls playing and diving under the surf, getting knocked over and picking themselves up, long salt-ridden hair whipping across their faces in the wind and spray. When finally the cold worked its way through their wetsuits and their lips began to take on a slight bluish tinge, the girls agreed it was time to leave the water. Running up the beach they shouted goodbyes and “Will you swim with us tomorrow?”

©Paul McCambridge - MAC Visual Media - 2014 Wild swimming in Donegal

Later, as the sun was going down, a procession arrived, dressed in fleece “ones’ies” (perfect attire after a days’ swimming), to say goodnight.

I ended the day cooking over my camp stove on the beach as the sun lowered to a beautiful sunset, the sea calm and the soft swish of the waves on shore lulling me to sleep.

Jack Sail-By-The-Wind or Velella Velella

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Jack Sail-by-the-Wind or Velella Velella

Words by Maureen McCoy

Photography by Paul McCambridge

A strange creature has been washing up on the beaches of Donegal, at first sight I, and many others on the beach, thought they were mussels. Why would mussels, usually holding so firmly on to rock or rope, have detached themselves from their beds? On closer inspection these dark blue shells were perhaps only half the mussel, broken apart by stormy seas? As each wave flushed more to be stranded in the sun, it looked as though the top layer of shell was peeling off. Like fine clear silicone with a spider web pattern, but this wasn’t mother of pearl with its rainbow colours and pearlescent sheen. This was transparent and it was not a layer peeling off but a tiny sail atop a tiny raft. Twisting slightly as it stretched over the length of the shell in a long thin S shape with fine spokes fanning out connecting a series of concentric growth rings, a delicate pattern so like the spiders web.

I picked one up and as I set it on my hand I was surprised to feel its soft underbelly on my skin. I immediately thought of oh-so-innocent looking jellyfish with their vicious tentacles and decided that perhaps it was not a good idea to handle them – I wasn’t stung though.

 

No-one seemed to know what they were, so snaps were taken and google was activated, I introduce you to –Jack Sail-by–the-Wind (or Velella velella)

 

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The science bit;

About 6cm long they are widespread in the oceans where they float on the surface with their tiny sails driven by the wind. There are two kinds with the sails running in the opposite diagonal across the raft, so some will always sail to the left of the wind, some always to the right.

The little raft is a float, filled with many air sacks, on its underside are attached a colony of cnidarians – (specialized ocean surface animals which include the Portuguese man o’ war) but although they do possess nematocysts – (the stinging bits of jellyfish) they are relatively harmless to humans – (some people can be irritated by contact so best not to rub your eyes or face after handling them). They are related not only to jellyfish but to anemones and coral.

Also known as Sea raft, purple sail, little sail.

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Moville Lighthouse Swim – Co Donegal

Moville Lighthouse Swim (Dolphins included) – Co Donegal

 

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Written by Maureen McCoy

Photography by Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media

The sun was shining on lough Foyle as a small crowd gathered at the harbour. Keen long distance swimmers and some completely new to open water were there to brave the sea on the 3rd annual Moville Lighthouse swim – 1.2km out from the harbour, around the lighthouse sitting pretty on its stilts and back to the slipway.

As the 38 swimmers, mostly “skins” (normal swimming togs) with just a few in wet-suits, walked down the slipway to ready themselves for the start of the race, an audience of family and friends cheered them on. Kayaks sat a little way off waiting to guide the swimmers and out near the main channel rescue boats hovered. As the field began to spread a huge container ship sounded its horn as it slipped on down the Foyle.

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The organiser Peadar’s comment before the swim, “Those of you not racing for a fast time, when you get to the lighthouse just take a moment…look back at the scenery” was ringing in my ears as we watched the swimmers finishing and a pod of Dolphins appeared, jumping and riding the wakes of the safety boats.

A spectacular show followed and I was jealous of the lucky devils out there in boats and kayaks with those magnificent creatures showing off around them.

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My apologies now to the swimmers, you did great but the Dolphins stole the show!

Certainly this event will continue to grow in numbers, it’s a beautiful swim, well organised and I am keen to sign up for next year, especially if there is a chance that the dolphins might return and I will be taking a camera with me!

 

Swimmer and spectator quotes

   “Moville Lighthouse Swim completed today. Can’t believe a few months
ago I started swimming. If you had said to me I would have done a
triathlon and an open water event, I would have laughed out loud. To top
off the swim today I was literally swimming with dolphins. Happy Happy
Happy.”

 “Congratulations , another superb event . We are getting bigger and
better each year , the dolphins were a master touch!”

   “…a great swim today.  I had the added bonus of swimming with the
dolphins for part of it. I look forward to next years’ swim.”
 

“Mammy, when will I be old enough to swim around the Lighthouse like them?”  – Comment by 5 year old boy to parent

19th July 2014

 

MURLOUGH BEACH – Newcastle

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Twilight swim at Murlough
Words by Maureen McCoy
Photography by Paul McCambridge
As I stood and looked out on the evening calm the air stirred and breathed in my ear, everything was still. A gentle sigh as the Sea swept across the sand and clouds drifted low on the Mournes in a smoky evening sky as the last few dogs and their walkers left the beach.
With the lights beginning to twinkle on in Newcastle I walked to the waters’ edge. Toes numb as sharp pins pricked my calves, my knees felt the pain of cold then my thighs raised in goose-bumps as I walked on, glad there were no waves to shock my still warm and dry upper body. I dipped my hands in, oh the shiver as I gently lifted the water and smoothed it down my arms, more boldly passing it over my shoulders and the back of my neck. I grit my teeth and dipped under, bouncing up again quickly – the air warmer than the chill sea.  Again a dip under and this time remaining submerged I took a few strokes, my back tightening in protest against the cold, the skin pulling taut across my muscles, but yet I was able to swim, even the icy cold across my face did not deter. I was glad of the two caps pulled down well over my ears and tight to the rim of my goggles. The seal was good and no water leaked in, yet I could not help but shiver at the thought that some of that icy brine could seep its way under my cap and creep into my ear.
I ran from the water and jogged up the beach, my body warmed and I felt revitalized, alive, almost glowing.  The ridges of sand were hard underfoot and I kept on my toes, splashing through the shallow puddles left by the low tide, warm now but soon to be swamped by the returning sea.
Dressed again I walked back through the dunes as the dim light seeped away.

KINBANE CASTLE NORTH ANTRIM COAST

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Words by Maureen McCoy

Photography by Paul McCambridge

Pulling into the small car park on the cliff at Kinbane I looked across to the clearest view of Rathlin Island I have ever seen.  The island is approximately seven miles from Ballycastle but looks so close today.  Behind the island the hazy shore of the Mull of Kintyre with calm deep blue water in between.  One thinks it would be easy to swim, but this is some of the coldest water around our shores and it would take many hours.

Following the steps which snake down the cliff led to a small cove with the remains of the old castles watch tower on a rugged outcrop.  Along the shore a roofless cottage with the rusting remains of a winch and then we could see the cave under the castle ruins that was to be todays swim.

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Clambering over rocks and forests of kelp we used a variation of dog-paddle and crawling, pulling ourselves through the weed until it was deep enough to swim. We made our way deep into the cave and seeing a glimpse of sky, ventured on through the arch carved by sea, under the ruins to emerge on the sea-ward side of the island.  Here the draw of the waves was powerful and sea birds above whistled and called. As we returned we were pushed forward on each wave then suspended, waiting for the next rush, as if on a swing we were drawn back and forth by the sea.

Cave at Kinbane

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An advanced swim due to the strength of tides here, a good knowledge of the tides and currents essential.

Beautiful spot to picnic and explore

Car park with toilets.

Long climb down steps to get to the cove.

THE “SLOUGH” – DUNSEVERICK – NORTH ANTRIM COAST

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Words by Maureen McCoy

Photography By Paul McCambridge

Early evening and nearing the end of a super day exploring the North Coast, the weather was glorious, the warmest day we’d had in weeks.  The evening sun lit up the grassy field as we parked the car on the roadside behind many other cars and climbed over the stile to follow the path down to the Slough.

On the far side of the inlet, nestled on the small patches of sand between large rocks were a couple of extended family groups, with children ranging in ages from a very vocal two year old to teenage.  With wind-breaks pegged into the sand and folding chairs set up, they had been there for the whole day.  Another family picked their way across the rocks, barefoot and in wetsuits to jump from the lower ledges, gaining confidence to later try the high rocks on the opposite side.

As we got closer and the whole of the Slough came into view, a bright pink li-lo starkly contrasted with the teal-green deep water.  Drifting on this was young man, long hair tied back calling instructions to his friends on the rocks.  Another then threw down a large rubber ring and took a great leap from on high to land in the centre.  We all laughed and clapped at his display.

Kealan and I headed to these high rocks.  Kealan jumped first and as I stepped forward I felt a twinge of nerves.  My cautious nature made me hesitate and assess the depth, judge the distance I would need to jump out to clear the rock walls and my heart beat faster as I realised there was no turning back.  3-2-1- jump!  I think I might have squealed a little!  My feet hit the water and I pulled my arms in close to my body, as soon as I was underwater I opened my arms and used a breast stroke kick to stop myself from hitting the bottom.  I needn’t have bothered, wearing my wetsuit I was so buoyant that I popped up again like a cork and bobbed about in the gentle ebb and flow of the inlet.  Barefoot I climbed back up the rocks for a second go.  Then it was time to lose the wetsuit.  The black rocks were warm with the sun beating on them all day and after a few more jumps, and Kealan somersaulting a couple of times, I felt a dive was in order.  Nothing spectacular, just a clean straight dive, start low and work up to one of the higher rocks.

I tested myself on a low rock, ever cautious of the depth, and executed a passable straight dive, next step, a little higher.  The higher I went the more respect I felt for cliff divers, I would never be brave enough for that.  A couple more dives and then I thought I should quit while I was ahead and embarrassment free, maybe with some diving practice I’ll return brave enough to resurrect my somersault, I don’t promise anything though.

I warmed myself on the black rocks as the groups of people began to disperse and we agreed that a long days swimming and exploring now warranted a good feed, the evening sun still strong as we dressed.

Slough at Dunseverick

A lovely inlet with varying levels to plunge from which should satisfy most age ranges.

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