Fermoy's Owen O'Keefe set to conquer 60Km Blackwater swim challenge
Owen O'Keefe is all set for his next big challenge this Friday - swimming the Blackwater from Fermoy to Youghal - all 60 kilometres of it - in one go!
It's never been done before, to the best of his knowledge. Owen swam the entire river himself last year but did it in three stages over a number of days - the 20km stretch from Fermoy to Ballyduff, the 15km stretch from Ballyduff to Cappoquin and the final and longest stretch, at 26.4km, from Cappoquin to Youghal. Those swims served as a handy reconnoitre for Friday's challenge.
Owen is at peak fitness, having recently broken another record, swimming around Jersey island. His time was the fastest ever by a male swimmer, lopping a full 16 minutes off the previous men's record, and was the second fastest time recorded.
Owen came to public attention when he became the youngest Irish person to complete an English Channel solo crossing. He made the crossing in September 2009 when he was 16. His time of 10 hours 19 minutes remained the fastest Irish crossing until September 2012. Owen was also part of a six-person relay team that swam the Channel this summer in the fastest time by a group of Irish swimmers.
FAVOURABLE CONDITIONS FORECAST
Conditions are good for Friday, he says, with some rain forecast for Thursday which will bring the river's low levels up a bit. Not much wind is forecast for the day. "It's nice to have it calm," he explained. That said he'll be going into the wind by the time he gets to Youghal, making for choppy conditions.
Owen doesn't wear a wetsuit for his open water swims, preferring instead a pair of well worn swimming shorts. He will use the front crawl the whole way. "It's the fastest for me, as it is for most people and it's the most popular for swimming in open water," he explains. It gives him the fastest turnover of his arms, making his muscles work hardest to generate heat.
While he is confident of his body's ability to withstand the challenge, he says mental attitude is very important. "I shouldn't have any problems physically, I know the body will do it, it's the mind, overcoming the mental challenge that's important," he says. He admits to getting somewhat nervous the evening before and morning of big swim events. He finds the nerves dissipate once he's in the water for a while and warms up.
Any nervousness he does suffer also has to do with his support team. In this case he says, he'll be anxious until the kayakers that'll accompany him will be safely over the weirs in Fermoy and Clondulane. Two of his great-grand uncles drowned at Clondulane weir, something he wasn't aware of when he negotiated it during his swim of the stretch last July. He himself will "shimmy" down both weirs, he says, grinning.
For the stretch from Fermoy to Cappoquin Owen will have the support of people in kayaks. From Cappoquin where the water deepens it'll be a boat provided by Tony Gallagher of Blackwater Cruises. Tony is donating the boat and his time free of charge in support of Owen's venture. He'll bring along Faro, his trusty little dog as first mate. Mona Sexton from Grange and Maura Murphy will be kayaking, while Róisin Lewis and Paul Noonan will be on the boat and Channel swimmer Donal Buckley will do half and half. Paul may get in as a support swimmer if Owen needs him but that would be for a maximum of one hour at a time, with a minimum of two hours between him getting out after one support stint and getting back in for the next.
Owen will need to take on feeds along the way. He's devised a special feeding programme for his Blackwater challenge. He plans to spend no more than 30 seconds on each feed. As well as the high energy and nutritious feeds, he plans to treat himself with two favourites along the way - chocolates and jelly beans! The pleasure of having a treat along the way helps psychologically, he explains. Quite how he manages to chew on them while swimming is another thing!
Another boost is the change to salt water which will herald his approach to Youghal. The extra buoyancy the salt water gives will spur him on. He plans to finish this time at the front strand in Yougal, arriving between 6 and 7pm, at which time he'll have been swimming for over 12 hours.
Owen will start his challenge near the slipway at Fermoy Sailing Club. Dad George and Mum Breda will be there to see him off and wish him well, along with his younger brother George and sister Amy. They'll also be in Youghal that evening to see him finish.
His parents are very supportive and philosophical at this stage about the challenges their eldest son sets for himself. But they must worry about him? "They know they are my personal goals. They trust me with these things at this stage," he says.
Owen has other goals too but the challenges he undertakes are expensive. He badly needs a sponsor. Support teams can prove costly. The cost of feeding also has to be factored in. It reached £700 for his Jersey swim. Friday's feeding requirements are coming in at over €70.
The 20-year-old has two years done of his four year college course in ecology at UCC. Asked how his long distance swimming might tie in with any future career, he says "well it won't look bad on a CV. You never know, it's similar to ecology in that it's about being in the natural world, maybe I can tie it in with a career."
Owen has created a Google map of his swim on his blogspot http://fermoyfish.com/ He'll pass under eight bridges in all - Fermoy Bridge, the M8 motorway bridge in Fermoy, Carrigabrick Viaduct, Ballyduff Bridge, Cavendish Bridge in Lismore, Avonmore (formerly Victoria) and Red Bridges in Cappoquin and the New Bridge in Youghal. With the exception of the M8 motorway bridge, Carrigabrick Viaduct and the Red Bridge in Cappoquin, the bridges are good vantage points from which to spot him making his way downriver.
A rough timeline is as follows, but this is a rough estimate only: 07:00 – Fermoy; 08:30 – Clondulane; 10:00 – Ballyduff; 12:00 – Lismore; 13:00 – Cappoquin; 14:30 – Villierstown Quay; 17:30 – Youghal; 18:00 – Front Strand.
A good way of charting progress is to check in at @donalbuckley and @PaulNoonan96 on Twitter. He hopes to have the use of a SPOT Tracker for the swim, so that accurate positions can be posted online for people to chart his progress.
Owen's longest and arguably his toughest swim to date, will take him from his home town of Fermoy to the sea at Youghal. Achievements-wise, it could take him into the superhero annals of long distance swimming.
Thursday 15th August 7:05pm