Unstoppable

Last week we had a holiday in Kerry.

One day we went to Derrynane, and I brought two kites. The breeze was stiff and steady, and both flew well. One was a stunter with short sturdy strings, but the other had a long and rather flimsy string which broke several times. Each time it broke I wound up what I had and walked to where the kite had landed, then either unravelled the knots and loops or cut them off, and retied the string. After three or four repeats, the kite fell in the water of Derrynane harbour, where it was very shallow. Rather than take off my shoes and trousers to retrieve it, I returned to our base and put on my swimming togs. When I came back for the kite it wasn’t visible, so I assumed it had blown a little way out and sunk. I waded after it, and soon enough the water came up to my knees and beyond. I had clear vision into the water, but saw no sign of the kite, which must have blown further along the surface. I reasoned that it might still be holding some air, being a pocket kite with no stays, and might still be afloat, so I looked ahead and saw various orange floats downwind, any of which could be the kite. I continued walking until I had to start swimming. The water was not cold, and doing a gentle breast stroke I soon realised that I wasn’t going to get tired; I could keep going indefinitely, turning over occasionally for a rest.

Derrynane has quite a wide natural harbour. I came up to and passed several moored boats, always moving downwind and keeping an eye on the floats in the distance. After maybe half an hour of swimming I came upon a group of people in kayaks. I called out to them and they came over to me. I explained my predicament and they tried towing me for a while, to give me a rest. This didn’t work out, as they were alarmed to find how much I slowed them down. It felt to them that they weren’t moving at all, even though I was being pulled quite nicely. They refused my offer to climb aboard the back of a two-man kayak and use the spare paddle I could see tied to the back seat. Indeed, how were they to know that I could climb up without upsetting them.

After two attempts at pulling me they gave up. They asked did I want them to alert the rescue service, but I said not at all. I left them and kept on swimming; the rocky shore was close at hand in case I did get tired, but I didn’t. I felt unstoppable, and the feeling brought back a memory of the first time I had felt this. It may even be my earliest memory.

When I was little my father bought a cottage right at the south end of Brittas Bay. It was called Green Cottage and we spent every summer holiday there till I was ten. That was in 1958, when he built the bungalow in Kerry, where we’ve gone ever since.

One day, playing on the beach at Brittas Bay as we did every day, I found myself alone and decided to walk home.The whole beach is about three miles long, and after going more than half of that it dawned on me that I must be walking the wrong way. In order to be sure I decided to get to the end and then turn back. I must have been near the north end when my elder brothers, running after me, caught up and brought me home. I would have been about three and a half years old. I remember people looking quizzically at me striding along on my own, and myself taking care to look confident so as not to alarm them. I was not in the least frightened; I was unstoppable.

After I’d been swimming for an hour or so the orange buoys and floats downwind in Derrynane harbour were still distant, but none of them looked like a candidate for my kite any longer, so I veered towards the shore and came out of the water near a pier. Very soon I saw a motorboat, a kind of red plastic RIB, roaring purposefully along the way I had come, so I climbed up on the pier and waved. The man changed course and came to the pier. I asked him had he been sent to look for me and he said he had. I was easily identifiable with my cap and sunglasses, apart from the fact that I was the only person swimming in the harbour. I asked him could he give me a lift back to the beach I had left, and he said of course. He asked did I still want to look for my kite, but I said forget it: by now the important thing was that Jenny would be worrying. It only took a few minutes to get back. I noticed that, although our speed added to the fact that we were now going upwind made it quite breezy, I still wasn’t uncomfortably cold.

Jenny came back to our base from walking Lily as I was dressing. I felt slightly clumsy, and she later told me I looked quite shattered, but I didn’t feel that bad. A lunch and a pint in a pub in Caherdaniel restored me to what generally passes for normal.

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