Five Complete Swim Around The Island Of Cork City

Five Complete Swim Around The Island Of Cork City

Courtesy of Ned Denison, Cork, Ireland.

Five swimmers completed the swim around the island of Cork City in Ireland on June 9th.  This 7 km swim in the River Lee was completed in times ranging from 2 hours 10 minutes to 2 hours 54 minutes…….here is the story:

The Challenge:

The swim is dominate by several technical factors:  high water tide height, flow release from the hydro dam two hours before the swim, normal flow from three rivers into the Lee below the dam, trees lodged against bridge footings and start time (versus high water).  There needs to be enough water to swim the shallow starting and finishing sections and clear the weirs – and not so much water that the swimmer can’t safely get under the road bridges or beat the adverse current on the second half of the swim.  Then it is down to the swimmer. What is their speed downstream over the shallows and weirs and upstream along the banks and over the weirs?  What is their courage in getting past bridges with little clearance; along the last 3 km tight against the natural banks dodging branches, stumps and rocks; and dealing with debris and street run-of along the high city-side walls.

The 2020 – 2021 Planning and Organization as part of the Cork Harbour Festival:

Jack O’Keefe has kayaked around the city many times and he advised on expected conditions, negotiated the flow with the dam operators and assembled the team of 8 kayakers. 

Robert Bohane is an English Channel solo swimmer and assembled and managed the 10+ shore safety crews.  They provide bottles of liquid feeds for the swimmers, manned possible exit points, observed after bridges too low for kayakers to navigate and coordinated with the Port of Cork as the swimmers traversed the commercial port waters.

Together they all helped portage the kayaks around bridges and across the city.

Both held the same roles in 2019 for the only previous swim. The technical factors then were very high tide, little or no clearance (requiring one underwater swim) under five bridges and massive flow from the dam resulting in very strong adverse current on the second half of the swim.  The goal was an easier swim in 2021.

The Swim:

The five swimmers were experienced English Channel solo swimmers (10+ hours to cross), used to adversity and unlikely to panic.  They set off, one at a time at the split weir just downstream from the Kingsley Hotel, to ensure they could clear the early weirs single file.  The initial shallows required a bit of “superman swimming” > gliding with one arm in front as the water wasn’t deep enough to allow an underwater pull.  They had a good current from behind and soon were in the middle of the South Channel flying past University College Cork.  Each took a few scratches going, head up, over the Gilabbey weir.

The advantage of the low water meant more clearance and Trinity Bridge was passed without an underwater swim, but the next bridges didn’t allow their normal over the water stroke recovery.  This brought them around the Port of Cork sign in the commercial harbour and a “welcome” from the outgoing tide and normal current of the North Channel.   It would be their friend for the next 1-2+ hours.   Clearance under the next two bridges was tight which forced the swimmers into the middle of the river against the greatest current.

They then moved to the left-hand city wall and a liquid feed (carbohydrate powder mixed with water).  Safety crews assessed each swimmer and, unlike 2019, the water was warm enough to avoid the shivering.

Jim Shalloo leading at first feeding stop

All urban rivers with high concrete walls will generally present less current along the walls – but the catch is floating debris and normal street run-off.  At the old distillery, the swimmers cross to the right-hand bank for low adverse flow.  With the kayakers’ help, the swimmers dodged overhanging trees, stumps and rocks. 

Last push up the scenic North Channel

As expected, the most difficult spot for migrating salmon and swimmers involves get up, over a weir, against a strong flow.   This was the Sunday’s Well weir – with shallow fast-moving water.   Each swimmer had to find a special drive and reserve to clear this obstacle (walking was considered cheating!)   Then the last 1 km back to the other side of the spilt weir.

The Tale of the Tape:

The 2019 swim was done on a 4.5-meter-high tide with a massive flow of 65 cubic meters/second resulting in a fast swim down the South Channel, no shallows to start, tiny and no bridge clearance and so much adverse current in the North Channel that the support crews (and swimmer) feared it would not be a success.   Ned Denison completed, chilled in 2 hours 24 minutes 49 seconds.

The 2021 swim had one more favorable factor – a flow of 10 cubic meters/second (85% less than the previous swim). Together with a lower high tide 4.2 meters – this gave the swimmers more shallows, more bridge clearance, a slower trip down the South Channel and less adverse current up the North Channel.  The water was also just a bit warmer.  Ned Denison took 15 minutes off his previous time (2 hours 10 minutes 3 seconds) followed by Jim Shalloo (2 hours 12 minutes 42 seconds), Liam Maher (2 hours 32 minutes 42 seconds), Bernard Lynch, (2 hours 38 minutes 52 seconds) and Rosie Foley (2 hours 53 minutes 38 seconds) from County Clare, who commented:  “What a lovely way to see the city.”

Jim Shalloo, Ned Denison, Rosie Foley, Liam Maher, Bernard Lynch completed a 7 km swim around Cork in Ireland.
From left to right:  Jim Shalloo, Ned Denison, Rosie Foley, Liam Maher, Bernard Lynch

Thanks:

It takes a team to pull these things off.  Special thanks to Jack and the kayakers, Robert and the land-based crew, Joya and the Cork Harbour Festival, and the Port of Cork.  Now for 2022 – the festival runs from June 4th – 11th.

Can we get 30 swimmers interested, in the water, and around successfully and safely?

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Steven Munatones