The first ever Inch Mile Open Water swimming competition took place on Sunday, August 25 from Inch Island to Rathmullan town in Co Donegal - and was won by Lurgan teenager Finton McComb.
The 106 swimmers from from all over Ireland: Cork, Dublin, Armagh, Belfast, to name but a few, some flew in from London, and even swimmers from France and Los Angeles, were dropped off by the Rathmullan Buncrana ferry to a starting position just off the Coast of Inch Island.
Motorists and foot passengers watched bemused as one hundred plus swimmers simply walked off the end of the ferry and into the water to await the starting gun.
The event was the brainchild of the Gartan Open Water Swimmers, and the second of their summer swims, following the Sheephaven Bay swim in July. After successful events at Gartan Lough for the previous four summers, they decided to try a new venue, and Rathmullan proved to be a great hit with competitors and spectators alike.
The event was won in a blistering time of 22 minutes 10 seconds by 15-year-old Lurgan youngster Fiontan McComb, in only his third open-water swimming event.
Jordan Leckey from Portadown came in second in the Men’s wetsuit category, with a newcomer to sea swimming, Colin O’Donnell from Derry, taking third.
In the Ladies’ wetsuit category the top honours were again plundered by youth, with Aimee Dawson from Lurgan scooping the prize in a time of 25:59, coming in third overall. Lauren Archer was second, and Sligo woman, Anne Brady, claimed third.
There was a sizable contingent of hardy souls who opted to go without a wetsuit. Leading the charge for shore in the ‘skins’ (non-wetsuit) category was the man currently at the top of the leaderboard in the Global Swim Series, Francie McAlinden, in a time of 28:56. He was followed by Brendan Ruane, and previous Global Series Swim champion, Colin Lindsay.
The Ladies’ non-wetsuit category was won by Grace McLaughlin in 31:54, narrowly ahead of Ballybofey woman, Rea Doherty. Third place was taken by Nuala McGurk.
In the veteran’s category, prizes went to Stephen Archer (31:28) from Portadown, and Sarah O’Malley-Daly (32:38) from Ballyshannon. The Junior prize went to Bangor swimmer Anna Reilly who completed the swim in 34:06.
But its not all about competing—it’s about the challenge you set yourself and it was great to see so many swimmers taking part and completing the battle against distance and tide.
A new award was inaugurated this year, presented by John McCarter of Lifeboats RNLI to Dublin-based swimmer Moirin nic Connradha, for embodying the spirit of open water swimming, and who is a great ambassador of the sport.
The atmosphere in Rathmullan was great. Because of the UK Bank holiday, families had made Donegal their destination for the weekend, and the beach and pier were crowded with spectators. Each swimmer, right down to the final one home, were cheered and applauded as if they had won. The impression made was evident in many of the comments: “Beautiful swim.” “Lovely friendly atmosphere.” “Looking forward to next year already. Great atmosphere, cool medals and t-shirts, tasty grub and a lovely swim.” “Thanks very much for the lovely welcome and for the best organised swimming event I have ever attended.” “Lovely people, made us feel so welcome.” “Kayak support were brilliant, so encouraging.”
Keith McClean, the Race Director, said: “We were delighted with the day. This is a great swim to do, with it’s own peculiar challenges. But it is certainly not a swim to be attempted without safety cover and a careful consideration of the tides and currents. We want people to enjoy open water swimming, but we want them to do so safely.”
Karen Crawford added: “We couldn’t pull it off without our sponsors, without an army of friends and helpers, without advice from those who know the waters, without Swilly Ferries, without our boats and kayakers—these events are about cooperation and community spirit, and it was fantastic to see everyone having such a great time.”
The event was sponsored by Donegal Oil, Gartan Technologies, Bonnar Group, Highland Motors, Wet ’n’ Wild, Amanda’s Kennels and Joe McDaid Accountant, and raised funds for the work of Lifeboats RNLI and the Sheephaven Sub-aqua Club, both of which perform vital search and rescue work in the North-west.