Page last updated at 10:15 GMT, Sunday, 24 August 2008 11:15 UK

Swimmers brave open sea in island race

By Gráinne McCarry

Gerard Carty from Dublin won the race
Gerard Carty from Dublin won the race

Long distance open water swimming is not for the faint-hearted.

Battling through strong tides in freezing water is definitely not how most would want to spend a Saturday afternoon.

However, 19 brave competitors, comprising of 15 men and four women, took to the waters at Rathlin's Church Bay on the north Antrim coast to swim seven statute miles to Ballycastle Bay.

The brainchild of environmental consultant and keen swimmer Kenny Boyd, the event's aim was to raise awareness on how to reduce your carbon footprint and the effects of climate change on the Earth.

Billy Wallace, president of event organisers Irish Long Distance Swimming Association (ILDSA) said: "We have a duty to ourselves to look after the Earth and to the people coming after us.

"We have been taking from the Earth for so long and not giving anything back."

Billy described the swim as "very challenging" due to the various tides between the island and the mainland.

"There is no such thing as swimming in a straight line. The competitors have to swim with the tide so they will be zig-zagging their way across."

Entrants were invited by the ILDSA because of their past achievements in long distance swimming.

Each contestant had a canoeist beside them throughout the race to keep them on course and a Rib to take them ashore if they wanted to withdraw.

ILDSA treasurer Geoff Wilson liaised with local fishermen and members of the Coastguard about the tides and weather conditions.

Emergency services were also on standby on Ballycastle Harbour in the event of someone getting into difficulty.

I was so cold, my teeth were chattering so much I could barely speak

Gerard Carty

Last October, Kenny Boyd became the first person in more than 30 years to complete the swim without a wetsuit.

This time around he was working behind the scenes at the event.

Unfortunately, the majority of the entrants of Saturday's swim, which began at 1415 BST, were not as successful as Kenny with the harsh conditions proving too much.

Ballycastle triathlete Ciaran McGinn withdrew from the race at Rathlin's Rue Point saying he found the conditions "too tough".

Last year, the 24-year-old completed the swim last August in 3 hours and 10 minutes wearing a wet suit. Saturday's competition was strictly swimming trunks or swimsuits only.

Ciaran said: "It was a completely different swim today. I swam for 1 hour and 45 minutes and I only got as far as Rue Point. It would take me 40 minutes to do that on a good, calm day."

He added: "The conditions are just about manageable for the guys that finish it."

Indeed, only five entrants made it to the finish buoy.

The first male to reach the sandy shores of the mainland to a rapturous applause was Dubliner Gerard Carty with a time of 3 hours, 4 minutes and 54 seconds.

He said: "It was an incredible event. I'm just happy that I finished it."

Gerard, who won the Gannaway Rock long distance swim from Rostrevor to Warrenpoint last year, said that at one stage half-way through today's race he felt like giving up.

Jellyfish stings

"I stopped to take a drink and I could hardly hold the bottle or drink. I was so cold, my teeth were chattering that much I could barely speak," he said.

He was spurred on by his canoeist who informed he was well ahead and urged him to keep going.

Ned Denison, an American living in Cork, was the second male to finish the race and emerged from the water with a time of 3 hours, 15 minutes and 5 seconds.

Among those taking part were sisters Dee and Liane Llewellyn from Bradford. Dee has held the male and female record for swimming 21.6 miles across Loch Lomond in Scotland since 2004.

Spectators had to wait a further half hour in the wind and rain until Liane came into vision. She was the first female to complete the race. Her time was 3 hours 47 minutes and 57 seconds.

Wrapped in a towel on the beach, she said she was "really happy" to have taken part in the event.

"For me, the worst part was the jellyfish stings on my face."

Her older sister Dee followed behind her almost 12 minutes later.

The final contestant, the third male, to complete the Swim For Life '08 was George Meenan at 4 hours 14 minutes and 40 seconds.

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