I swam to Balbriggan (return to Press page by clicking here)
Sean Keenan recounts his charity swin, and the help he received from Joe O'Connor of The White Cottages in Skerries
Myself and Wayne Cawley raised money last year for the special care unit in Drogheda and meals on wheels in Balbriggan. We were approached before Christmas to see if we would raise money for cancer support group.
Wayne and I had discussed what we would do and one evening Wayne (under the influece of alcohol) came up with the idea of swimming from Skerries to Balbriggan.
We set the wheels in motion and made a plan to do it during the Balbriggan Summer Fest which thankfully suited the tide required. We had been doing our training up in Alsaa swimming pool, we knew the iron man swim in Nice would stand to us. About six weeks beforehand, we started getting in and doing a few sea swims. We got great advice off Eric Quinn an experienced sailor and sea kayaker.
On Friday the sea was like a swimming pool, flat calm, but it was due to change over night to a north easterly wind. The morning of the swim it looked like disaster was going to hit us as our support boats became unavailable.I rang Derek Lynch from Drogheda, he said he’d be able to give support and I was also given the number of Joe O’Connor who agreed to support us in his kayak. On the morning of the swim, Wayne was going to head off at ten fifteen and I was to head off at ten thirty. We were hoping that by the time we got to Balbriggan beach, I would’ve caught up with Wayne and the two of us could swim into the beach together.
Conditions were reasonable, we were swimming into a rolling wave but it was comfortable to swim in. I decided to go for 20 minutes and then consume either a drink or a gel. After about a half an hour I started getting a severe pain in the back of my head and as I looked behind, the harbour didn’t seem to be getting any smaller. Luckily Derek had a spare swimming cap in the boat so I put that on and pulled it right down over my forehead and continued.
The jelly fish appeared to be delving a lot deeper into the water than I was so we didn’t cross paths, After about 55 minutes I stopped to rehydrate and uncover my progress. The water was getting a lot rougher. The men in the boat told me we were half way there. I swam on for another five minutes and I seemed to be thrown about the place a lot and was taking on small amounts of sea water. At my next break the boatmen told me the waves were choppier and the conditions were deteriorating for swimming in, due to the tide traveling in one direction and the wind in the other. The waves were more eratic and less regular which made it difficult to maintain balance in the water for breathing.
After another 15 minutes my arm started to get tired, I realised then that I had to adjust each stroke to the waves. I found breathing every second and third stroke pratically impossible. So I decided to slow down and take a breath every four strokes, When my face was in the water I wasn’t aware of the conditions deteriorating.
After struggling through the swim I looked up and saw the Ladies Stairs, I knew it was just less than a mile from the Ladies Stairs to the Soldier’s Cottages so I decided to keep my head down and cover that distance, I found it really tiring and my arms started to get heavy.
After what seemed like an eternity, but was only 20 minutes, I lifted my head and expected to see the Soldiers Cottages but it still appeared I was at the Ladies Stairs. I tried to keep a distance of between twelve and fifteen feet from myself and the side of the boat. I found this harder to do as the time was going on, to such an extent that I swam into the boat twice.
My breaks were becoming more reguular and I drank a lot of water. At this stage, myself and Wayne were level, with him about 150 metres out to my right. I asked Derek to plot a course that we could meet, I felt progress was really slowing down but knew I’d come too far to turn back or stop.
The lads in the boat were talking to me more regularly and told me I was beginning to look disorientated and they were growing worried, When I reached the Bower, I noticed the waves were crashing against the rocks as conditions had further deteriorated. I checked with Derek to see where Wayne was and learned he was 150 metres to my right and 100 metres behind.
I went to take a drink of water off Derek and he gave me a two litre bottle and I wasn’t able to hold it, I had to have them pour two thirds of the bottle out. I also took my goggles off as my eyes were getting sore. At this stage I just wanted to get out of the water as I knew I was struggling and the lighthouse didn’t appear to be getting any closer. I started to swim through a lot of sea weed and water visability, decreased. There was no pleasure in the swim for me at this point.
I was taking a break every fifty metres and checking my direction and where the lighthouse was in relation to my position in the water. I discussed with Derek how to swim through the bouys for the lobster pots. I was reluctant to hit any ropes. The worry of the lobster pots kept my mind off the distance and once I’d passed them I realised I only had a couple hundred metres to go. I never realised the back wall of the harbour was so long.
I took a wide ark around the lighthouse in order not to disturb any fisherman, I took one last break and looked up and saw a crowd of people to the left hand side of the beach. I seemed to get some energy from this.
I made one last drive for the beach, it was an awful pity the tide wasn’t out, Visability at this point was practically zero, so I decided to stop swimming when my fingers hit the sand. I felt I had traveled the distance from the lighthouse to the arches and still didn’t feel any sand on my fingers. Then in one stroke my hand hit the ground and I went to stand up. I was very light headed and very disorientated, I could hear a loud speaker and a lot of clapping and cheering.
The first thing I did was thank the boatmen, Derek and Liam, for their support. After a few stumbles and wobbles I made my way to the shore. I was met by my family and friends and well wishers.
At that moment I had regretted taken on such a challenge, until a woman walked over to me and said, “Thanks for doing that Sean, I have suffered from cancer and got great support from this group”. I suddenly felt that what I’d done was worth it.
After a few minutes I came around a little bit and waited for Wayne to come in. I’d been in the water for two hours and twenty five minutes. Wayne appeared to be as bright as a button when he stood up.
I’d like to everyone who supported us, especially Eric Quinn, Derek Lynch, Liam Reilly and Joe O’Connor of the White Cottage who came on board at very short notice. He has offered to assist us in any more future challenges Wayne may come up with under the influence.
So far we have raised in excess of €3500. It was a good day.