I ask the guy behind the glass at the Dart station if he knows how to get to the Forty Foot.
Yeah I know how to get there but you’re not actually gonna swim are ya? That takes balls, fair play!
After his initial shock, he gives me directions and wishes me luck.
Along the promenade some of the bigger waves coming in off the churned-up Irish Sea are slopping onto the path. I consider the possibility of not swimming.
Across at the little harbour around the corner from the real Forty Foot I see a crowd of people. It sort of looks like a group of teenagers getting swimming lessons or something. When I get closer I identify them as the regulars coming and going; tanned, healthy-looking, mostly retired age-range. It’s way too rough and dangerous to swim at the normal bathing place and they have re-located to the harbour for today.
So I guess I’ll be swimming after all.
I stand on the harbour edge just watching. I observe how those at the end of their swim are paddling towards the steps, eyeing the rusted banister and grabbing hold of it when the swell provides an opportunity; a bit like trying to catch the slightly unattainable string of a floating balloon.
I’m scared I’ll just be thrown about. It takes me two attempts to get in before my trepidation is dispelled by a friendly swimmer.
The big stone slabs of steps are established, secure, reliable and old. I trust them.
Here, it is sheltered, and only the most persistent swells make it all the way round the jut of land holding the Forty Foot which the waves are bashing away at. In the distance I can see unrelenting white horses. Away out there the surface looks a bit like the plasticine sea in the Ship in a Bottle sitting on my granny’s landing in Belfast: Rough. Choppy. Carved.
When I have had enough of treading water and attempting to take photos in the shifting perspective I swim back to the railing. It’s tough enough and I am swimming against the tide and waves. I start to get tired and out of breath and a flash of panic twists my stomach as I think for a split second that I might not make it back.
Coming out of the water I am proud of swimming in the sea. It feels like an achievement, maybe more so on a day like this when the weather does not make the prospect so inviting.
Walking back into Dun Laoghaire I pass the guy from the desk in the Dart Station. He is waiting at the side of the road for a bus in his fluorescent jacket.
I show him some photos.