The weather treated swimmers badly at the fourth Eastern Bay Invitation International Ice Mile Swim in Lough Dan, County Wicklow in Ireland on 6 February. Not only did a cold easterly wind blast the rain and sleet through any and every gap in their clothing while they were waiting to swim but the water in Lough Dan frustratingly refused to dip below 5 degrees Celsius – the maximum temperature allowed for an Ice Mile under the regulations of the International Ice Swimming Association. Instead it hovered at around 5.6 degrees whereas in previous years it’s been 3.3, 3.6 and 3.8 degrees.
You might think that would be sufficient to deter any open water swimming: all the misery of the cold without the glory of a recognised Ice Mile. But this was a prestigious invitation-only event for some of the world’s most serious and determined cold water swimmers.
Thirteen swimmers turned up to complete four laps of the 400m course including IISA founder Ram Barkai and H2Open contributor Pauline Barker, who recently wrote a detailed article for the magazine about how to prepare for extreme swimming challenges.
The eight men swam first. Each fixed a tow float around their waists and was accompanied by a kayaker. Additional safety precautions included three RIBs in the centre of the course on hand to extract any swimmer who got into difficulty and an ambulance and medical team on shore – fortunately none were needed.
Ice swimming is not a race. It’s a personal challenge with equal respect accorded to all swimmers regardless of how long it takes them to complete the distance. In fact, slower swimmers are admired for their ability to withstand the cold for longer. Saying that, the Ice Mile favours the swift and John Ryan of Limerick was certainly that as he completed the distance in 26:40, while the final swimmer back, Kevin Cooper, was in the water for 40 minutes.
The women swam next with Carole Laporte (originally from Belgium, now living in the Isle of Man) producing the third fastest time of the day in 26:45, while Pauline Barker was in the water longest at 40:54.
The swim was not recognised as an official ice mile in the IISA record books because the water temperature exceeded (just) 5 degrees but, according to organiser Fergal Somerville, none of the swimmers minded this.
“They trained over the winter, swimming more than one mile per week in the open water to prepare for this challenge. A swim is a swim and next year many will back to take on Eastern Bay’s 5th Invitation International Ice Mile Challenge.”
“The swim is an annual event organised by Eastern Bay Swim Team, Dublin, but could not take place without the support of Lough Dan Scouts Centre, Red Cross, Wicklow Mountain Rescue, Lir Kayakers (Kildare), Green Tiger, Dublin City Council, Swim Ireland, Irish Water Safety and a whole host of support from fellow club members and friends,” says Somerville.