Over 500 swimmers are entered for the 2km swim, up almost 100 from last summer. It will be the 10th Lee Swim since its revival in 2005 to coincide with Cork’s year as European Capital of Culture, having run sporadically from the inaugural race through to the early 1990s.
The event was returned to the city’s sporting calendar after the completion of the main drainage scheme that helped clean up the River Lee, and even prompted former city manager Jack Higgins to keep a long-held promise to swim in it when that major project was completed.
The historic race attracted huge crowds of spectators along the city’s quay walls through the decades, although it was taken further out towards Cork harbour to Blackrock and Monkstown from the 1970s.
The route over the past decade, and again tomorrow, will see participants take the plunge into the Lee’s north channel near the Old Distillery Yard at the end of the North Mall. After the 4pm start, they will swim 1,700 metres downstream towards the Harbour Commissioners’ where the river’s two channels meet, then turn back and swim the final 300 metres to the finish near Lapps Quay.
While primarily run as a fun event, organisers Cork Masters Swimming Club — with sponsors Vibes & Scribes bookshop — award prizes in a number of age categories, with distinctions between those swimming with and without wetsuits. Most top finishers complete the swim within half an hour, and many participants will be returning for at least a second time.
“It’s very competitive at the top end, but it’s also a box for people to tick on their bucket lists, and a hugely enjoyable social swim,” said Lee Swim spokesperson Ossi Schmidt.
“The numbers have really grown in the last two years and it’s beyond out wildest dreams having over 500 registered,” he said, putting part of the growth down to the promotion through media sponsors RedFM.
Among those registered to take part tomorrow are many highly accomplished open water swimmers, including Kildare-born Steve Redmond who lives in West Cork and in 2012 became the first man to swim a channel in all seven oceans.
Also lined up to take part is 16-year-old Rian Herlihy who created an Irish women’s record when she crossed the Straits of Gibraltar in three hours and 41 minutes last month, and local man Finbarr Hedderman who swam the North Channel between Northern Ireland and Scotland just last weekend.
The Vibes & Scribes Lee Swim also helps raise vital funds for charity, and partners Cork Lions Club have chosen Samaritans Cork to benefit from this year’s swim. The service receives a contact from someone who has suicidal feelings more than once every minute, with the voluntary organisation financed entirely through donations and fundraising.