I had the pleasure of walking the main beach at Derrynane last Monday morning with my son Owen and my granddaughter Claire. It was a lovely Easter Monday and the sea was calm and peaceful.
The beach we were walking on was the main part of the beach between the Ship House on the easterly side and the rocks on the western side. Every year the late Paddy Fitzgerald, Ricky’s father, used to paint a warning sign on the rocks so that visitors who were not familiar with the beach would be careful not to swim close to the rocks as there is nearly always a Rip Tide flowing. This rip current will literally suck unsuspecting swimmers out into the sea no matter how strong the swimmer is. The power of an ocean current is more powerful than any swimmer. There is a lifeguard operating on one of the other beaches at Derrynane closer to the harbour but not on this particular stretch.
As Claire is getting to an age that she can swim, and this year will probably swim regularly in the sea, I asked Owen to explain the Rip Current to her so that in future years she might be careful when swimming close to one. Owen did some life guarding duty when he spent some time in Australia and is also a surfer. As a result, he is a very experienced and strong swimmer and understands how the waves and currents work. And so, he explained how that part of the ocean works to Claire.
He asked Claire if she could see the waves breaking onto the left hand side of the beach and she agreed that she could. Then he asked her why were there not any waves breaking on the right hand side of the beach near the rocks and Claire said she didn’t know why.
Owen explained that the incoming waves brought in a lot of water and the water then had to find a way back out again. Its route was around to the rocks and then it surged out with a good deal of power back around and behind the breaking waves and then the same thing happens again.
It is this surge of water escaping back out into the ocean that causes the Rip Tide that will nearly always get a swimmer into difficulties as no normal swimmer can out-swim the power of the ocean.
Claire then asked Owen a very good question. She said “but what do I do if I get caught in one. What should I do?” Owen explained that she should remain as calm as possible and, rather than try to swim against the current (which is the natural reaction of survival), she should instead go with the current…go with the flow of water and after a while the power of the current will ease and she should be able to swim to the side and hopefully then be able to swim back in with the waves.
Just yesterday I was talking to Dr Vincent Fenton, a retired medical consultant who had worked at the Mercy Hospital in Cork. Vincent, like me, spends a lot of time in the Derrynane area and often walks the beach in question. I spoke to him about the Rip Current and the chat that Owen had with Claire about it. Interestingly, he said that a number of years ago he walked from Derrynane House to that very spot on the beach when he came upon a man being resuscitated on the beach who had got into difficulties having been dragged out by the same rip current.
Coincidentally, he knew the people on the beach who were looking after the man as they were medical people from the Mercy Hospital who were holidaying in the Derrynane area and happened to be on that part of the beach when they saw a large powerful man swimming in to rescue the man from Switzerland who had got into trouble.
Luckily the story had a happy ending as the man was resuscitated and brought by ambulance to the hospital in Tralee where, after a period of time, he made a full recovery from his ordeal. He was a very lucky man in two ways. The fact that there was a strong swimmer and medical people all on the beach at the same time that he got into trouble was an amazing stroke of good fortune.
Ted Dwyer Family Business