Belgooly to Oysterhaven

Write-up by Ned Denison

6 July 2014:   Done and Dirty…the first time it was ever done.
Belgooly to the Oysterhaven Coast Guard Station:  5 miles/8 km

1So, start with the “dirty”.  My partner Catherine was at the finish but she swam around the corner to avoid seeing/smelling/touching me – leaving me to this dog who tried to knock me to the ground and roll on me.


It was a dreamed swim for at least 10 years.   Every swimmer drives along the River Stick for a mile or two on their way to Sandycove Island and again on the way back.  For me – we are talking about several thousand drive-bys in the last fifteen years.  In 2005 I swam half the way up from the sea before my arm went bicep deep in the muck.  Finbarr Hedderman had a similar experience a few years later.  But my dream didn’t die.  At high water it looked fabulous.  At low water it didn’t look so good.  So, here is the picture at low water.  It starts as rocks:

3Then it turns into a muck flat on one side with a meandering chocolate coloured dribble stream – about 1 yard/meter wide.   The fallen tree is pointed down-stream so nothing to worry about (?!)

4This turns then to just a flat bit of muck with several dribble bits of water:

5Past the hurling field – it further flattens and widens:

6Further downstream there is a turt of grass (only an island a few hours a day) with aggressive nesting swans who had scared away foxes for a few hundred years.  Just over the hump of muck, you can’t see it, is where the water festers.

7Past the swan nests – it doesn’t get much better:

8Then approaching the new road bridge.  The view from the bridge at low water wouldn’t get the average swimmer excited about the swim:

9For a bit of history there was the old, now condemned, bridge.  By this time the stream widens to 3 yards/meters.

image19The river bed then widens considerably – resulting in even larger mudflats.  Notice the water is at the very base of the picture and then flows along the right side.  This would discourage cutting early to the left over 500 yards/meters of muck:

10So that was the deal – the river at its worst.  I tried to interest a few others in the swim.  I got replies like:  “Are ye mad?”  “Yer mad”  “Swim down shit creek – piss off?”   I even tried the toughest guy around, Rob “da bull” Bohane, and he was having none of it.  Years ago Danny Coholan swam the Eastern reach of the Oysterhaven estuary with me.  He did his duty that day – so I didn ‘t have the nerve to ask him to do another muck swim.
So, it fell to me and Anna-Marie Mullally (kayaker) assisted by her husband Darius and Catherine on transport.
I guzzled a can of coca-cola.  Hey if it takes rust off bolts – maybe it’ll keep my stomach good?!  We then started at the Belgooly bridge:

aaaa start kayakTo make it truly epic I started under the bridge – in not a lot of water.  Take a close look you can see the rocks on the bottom!

10 - start

aaa startA few hundred meters along was like a jungle swim in a shallow river – but the last time I would see my hands for a very long time!  There are several disadvantages of swimming along and over muck – the biggest being zero visibility.  It was the first time I ever used goggle spray on the outside of the goggles.

11 - widensWe enjoyed sun to start, light rain, heavy rain, wind gusts, calm water, wind against tide and sun at the very end.  Hey, this is Cork, I was surprised we also didn’t get hail and snow.
There is one advantage to swimming over muck.  You have increased buoyancy.  I can only think that there must have been a few hundred thousand clams saying “Hi Ned” as I swam over.  The result was a constant flow of little bubbles – with me being a bit like an air-hockey puck.  Who would have guessed that clams have such bad breath?
Anna-Maria was mostly out in front – a fair bit.  I needed to look up every 20 strokes or so.  She was trying to find and follow the meandering channel.  I could see her occasionally pushing the paddle down looking to see if she found water or muck.

thre quartersAbout an hour into the swim the visibility started to improve.  First I could see my hands.  Then I could see the muck bottom – and it was pretty close.  Now I could look up and see the opening to the sea.  Finally it was a left turn and over to the slip-way.

endDone !

Now normally I don’t let too many facts get in the way of a story but our sport has gotten a bit critical these days.  I couldn’t bear being called a cheat – so confession time.
Anna-Marie and Captain Tom McCarthy went off the previous two days and tried to mark the channel with long pole with little red flags.  THEY WERE SUPERSTARS!!   It was supposed to be a volunteer effort of maybe four hours and they put in nearly twenty hours.  Thanks to them, Darius and Catherine for letting me have my dream.  Here are the muck stakers at work:

image09You can see one of the muck flags near the start.   I did ask the experts of the sport if this would make the swim “assisted” as opposed to the pure “unassisted”.  One said something like:   100% sure it will be unassisted – a few flags are just for swimmer/kayaker safety.   The other said something like:  100% sure it will be assisted – they help the swimmer.

image10Now that bridge start.  It was pretty shallow.  Call it mid-forearm depth as you can see below.  I confess that I did pose for the swim start photo….I just couldn’t resist.  The transport crew nearly fell off the bank and bridge laughing.  Anna-Marie was ok – because she was standing by the kayak in ankle deep water.

aaaaaaa startWe then walked 50 meters or so until the water was just about knee depth.  And, I did wear shoes > I am too old to be oh, ah, ouching in my bare feet.   We left at high water not low water (I may be stupid – but I am not a fool !) and I didn’t once touch muck.  The sticks worked a dream.  I might have been making up the stuff about the clam bubbles (I couldn’t see anything!).  The water quality was disgustingly good.  Seriously there was no smell and the taste wasn’t too bad.
Finally, I am normally an environmentally-conscious swimmer but I did bring warm water and shampoo for a clean at the end, drank another coca-cola and gargled ½ bottle of mouth wash. Six hours later, after a big lunch and all internals functioning normally.
It was a supper swim !!  Any and every “first ever” is a reason to smile.  There are still many “first evers” to be done in the area and I’ve got the next ones lined up.
Thanks again to all the helpers and finally – the sticks are still there if anyone…