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Sandycove Island Loop - The Wild Irish Atlantic

DATE OF SWIM: 6/2/19

The hardest swim I've done yet to date - a 1.1 mile loop of Sandycove Island with Ned Denison, founder of Cork Distance Week and the "Torture Swim"


Loop of Sandycove Island, Kinsale


1.1 Miles


Low 50s


The Fearless Ned Denison, Swim Buoy


Destination Swimming

While in Cork, Ireland for work, I decided to get a swim in.

I had a few days to sightsee before working with our developers (I'm a UX Researcher), and I decided to use it as an opportunity to get to know some locals and the local water.

After consulting my incredibly helpful swim charter captain from my San Francisco bay swim, Sylvia Lacock (Pacific Open Water Swim Co), I was connected with Ned Denison.

Ned is an international marathon and ice-miler swim hero. His list of swims is unbelievably impressive (50 epic marathon swims by 2019). He is the founder and lead of Cork Distance Week. Part of the distance week journey that Ned organizes on an invitation-only basis is a great deal of swimming around Sandycove Island.

Swimming with the Locals

Through my online research, I discovered the Sandycove Island Swimmers, a local group that swims regularly around the island. I did a bit of Facebook sleuthing, connected with other Irish swimming groups around Cork, and eventually found someone who seemed to be a Sandycove Swimmer. I messaged him on Facebook. (This kind gentleman ended up picking me up from my hotel on my second night in Kinsale, Ireland, 10 minutes from Sandycove, and drove me to the island for an early morning swim at 6 am with other locals.)

"Like a Washing Machine"

After contacting the Sandycove Swimmer on Facebook, I talked to Sylvia about Ned and Sandycove. Sylvia told me she had swam it before and connected me with Ned via email. I was warned that "swimming around Sandycove can be tricky with some strong currents to swim against depending on the day," and that it could be "like a washing machine." Ned and I talked back and forth, and he told me he would go swim the island with me when I arrived in Kinsale.

First, I arrived in Cork, Ireland at 9 pm on Saturday, having left the night before and spent a long day and night in the air. The next morning, I set off on a short 30 minute bus ride to Sandycove. Jet lagged but driven by pure adrenaline and excitement to swim the wild Irish sea, I met up with Ned at his apartment. We drove together to Sandycove, through winding country roads and a beautiful river flowing through green hills.

Eventually, we stopped on a hill overlooking the island. He pointed out the second point of the island - visible from the road high above sea level. Ned told me that the conditions visible at that point were a good indication of what the rest of the sea would be like during our swim. He said we had a good day for the swim.

Jet Lagged Loop

After some wetsuit prep (Ned did not wear one, I did), I followed him to the water. He told me that he would wait at the first point and see if I felt up for going around the entire island. He said that rounding the first point was a mental commitment and challenge more than anything - there was no real going back after that. You could eventually turn around halfway to the second point, but you'd possibly be fighting a current. Once you decided you were in for it after the first point, you were more or less committed to swimming the full loop.


Photo Courtesy of Damien Granier

Getting to It!

There was no adjustment to the water.

Normally I like to hop in, feel it, bob a little, then start swimming. Ned started swimming and I followed close! Throughout the swim, he swam in circles around me to stay close and warm despite my slower pace. I thought this was the best example of true kindness, and the spirit of comradarie that is the OWS swimming community. We aim to help, teach and inspire. 

"A Place of Shipwrecks"

We rounded the first point, and Ned asked how I felt. Huge waves crashed against giant cliffs and we were facing open Atlantic ocean. I'd never been swimming this far out in the open ocean. Mentally, the rugged cliffs and waves crashing against the walls of rock were difficult to comprehend. This seemed more of a place of shipwrecks than swimming. It reminded me of my swim near Alcatraz.

I stayed brave, and I told him I felt strong enough to continue.

Waves crashed my safety buoy everywhere - above my head and into my face. I was getting frustrated, but there was no going back now.

I felt as though this was maybe the hardest thing I'd ever done.

I knew I had to continue, and I'd be proud of myself because of it.


Rounding the Cove

Eventually, we rounded the second and then the third point, and we reached calm water on the protected side of the island. I was thrilled - the exhilaration of accomplishing that swim was something I will always think of during difficult moments in life.

The challenge is always worth the outcome.

Besides, chocolate cake with fellow swimmers post-swim also made it all worth it. We ate the cake on a table by the island which commemorated a local Sandycove swimmer who had passed away, a reminder of the fragility of life.

I felt more than ever that my experiences swimming are my way of feeling that I am living my fullest life.


Photo Courtesy of Damien Granier

Later that night, Ned and his partner Catherine kindly made me dinner at his flat and later, we got a pint at a local bar. He told me later that the conditions I experienced were a 3 out of 10 in terms of Sandycove difficulty ratings. I couldn't imagine rougher conditions! The next day Ned was planning on being the first person to complete a circumnavigation of Cork city through the River Lee. Spoiler alert - he did it!

A Second Swim

The next morning, I went to swim again with the Sandycove Island swimmer that I connected with originally on Facebook. I was tired from the day before and decided to just swim the calm cove.

A bit disappointed in myself but also happy to give myself a break, I was able to swim closer to the feral goats and take in the beauty of the island more than the day before.

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Reminders of Sandycove

I also received the best souvenirs (other than beautiful memories of Sandycove Island): a Sandycove Swim cap from another swimmer and a Cork Distance Week towel from Ned. He said I deserved it because I had swam my first magical loop of Sandycove Island - always an accomplishment!

Swims Friends Around the Globe

I am forever thankful for the kindness of the OWS swim community.

Thank you for your generosity, hospitality and willingness to help out a newbie. I hope to repay the favor in Seattle in the near future.

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Photo Courtesy of Damien Granier

Feral Goats and Verdant Hills

A beautiful verdant island of 1.1 miles, half of it faces open Atlantic and feral goats roam its green hills. The area is known for its conditions which mimic the unpredictability of the English Channel. Not surprisingly, it has become a popular training ground for English Channel swimmers.

I found Sandycove on a whim via the internet at 6 am the morning after swimming the San Francisco bay. Fervently inspired by my 10K swim through the bay, I went online as soon as I woke up in the morning in search of my next destination swim.

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