Jun 4 • 44M

Writing a book: the latest challenge

Ocean's Seven swimmer Steve Redmond has battled sharks, jellyfish, icy waters and strong currents to complete some of the world's most treacherous swims. How does completing his first book stack up?

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Ellie O'Byrne
Your weekly Saturday fix of culture in a mix of podcast and print format: music, books, art, theatre, dance, film and more.
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From swimming with dolphins, sharks, killer whales and humpbacks to the psychological tricks you have to use on yourself to swim for over 20 hours at a stretch: click play above to listen to the full interview with Steve Redmond at Lough Hyne.

It’s lunchtime on an absolutely glorious summer’s weekday at Lough Hyne. It’s still term-time, so it’s not too busy. The water is sparkling at the West Cork beauty spot, and the valley is largely silent apart from the distant sounds of a few walkers.

A car pulls up to the pier: a man, shaven-headed and muscular, jumps out and immediately starts offering me drinks and snacks. He hands me an iced coffee, offers cake.

There are extraordinary people tucked into every nook and cranny of West Cork’s rugged landscape: movie directors and famed painters and people who abandoned the idiotic pursuit of pop careers.

And this man is most certainly amongst their number.

In July, it will be a decade since Ballydehob’s Steve Redmond became the first swimmer to conquer the so-called Ocean’s Seven: seven notoriously treacherous straights between landmasses in various parts of the world. In the decade since, 20 other swimmers have achieved the feat. But Redmond will always have been the first.

He was turning 47 at the time, a heavyset former rugby player with old injuries and a history with drink. His famously self-effacing approach can actually be almost comical at times: his love-hate relationship with swimming, his assertion that he’s not actually all that good at it because he’s not the fastest.

“The only good thing about swimming is the cake,” he tells me during our interview.

True to character, Redmond didn’t name his debut book, out next week, for the feat he’s best known for internationally, the Ocean’s Seven. Instead, he’s named it for something he still feels he has to fully conquer. It’s called Fastnet: the Final Challenge.

Now approaching 57, Redmond is still pushing himself: his day job is in Skibbereen Tool Hire and he’s also a basketball coach and has a recent new obsession in the form of beekeeping, but he’s still training for mammoth swims.

In a couple of months’ time, he hopes to swim from Baltimore to Fastnet Rock to Mizen, pushing beyond his previous record of being the first person to complete a 44km Baltimore-Fastnet-Baltimore swim. He was actually the first person to swim around Fastnet full stop, beginning by starting in Baltimore and landing in Schull harbour. But he clearly feels he has more to achieve out there in the freezing swell of the Atlantic ocean. So he’s back to training in Lough Hyne.

The morning after our audio interview that you can hear above, I get a message from Redmond: a satellite image of his morning’s training, a 2.5km lap of the Lough. “Great start to the day, talking to the Lord,” the message reads.

Redmond’s book is largely a detailed, chronological description of Redmond’s swims and attempted swims, with interesting insights into the physiology and psychology of the man, but there are times where it also reveals a spiritual side too: he’s clearly humbled by nature, grounded by his immersion in it, and inclined to kneel and pray before “any god that will listen” before undertaking one of his feats.

It also gives a fantastic sense of a man at the centre of a community of support, not only with the immediate camaraderie of his crew, closest friends and long-suffering wife Ann, but also within West Cork. Redmond’s achievement, he’s always keen to point out, comes on the back of a vast local network of fundraising and support and interest.

The launch for Fastnet: the Final Challenge by Stephen Redmond takes place at the West Cork Hotel, Skibbereen, on Thursday, June 9 at 7.30pm. The book will be available in all good book stores and via the publisher’s website here.

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