Wednesday, 25 February 2009

She's a man-eater... wish you never ever met her at all

Those pesky tabloid journos are at it again.

This time they're floating about on Sydney Harbour hauling in bull sharks by the dozen. Or that's what they'd like you to think. Talk about a beat up.

Mrs BS was going about her business yesterday, opting for kingfish over human flesh, when a fisherman hired by The Daily Telegraph reeled her in. The scary pic on the Tele's front page (where was the photographer when he took that photo?) is accompanied by the headline:

GOTCHA! EXCLUSIVE: Sydney Harbour, 1.15pm. How we caught a man-eater

What a relief! I can now confidently enter the Sydney Harbour Ocean Swim this Sunday, safe in the knowledge that Mrs BS's culinary preferences don't extend to females.

She's a man-eater!

Because of the extended media coverage of the shark story - there have been two shark attacks in Sydney in the past month - the harbour swim organisers have taken extra precautions and have doubled the number of underwater patrol persons to six and have stationed observers at three spots around the course - Mrs Macquarie's Point, Farm Cove and Pinchgut.

Personally, I am pleased there's extra sharkbait in the water but I don't know how much the divers can see down there. It's murky on a clear day. I pray it doesn't rain the night before.

I'm more sceptical about the shark spotters. Imagine it, the swim is in full swing with several hundred swimmers thrashing about when the guy at Mrs Macquarie's Point thinks he sees a fin in what is already a melee!
Too late, methinks.

But hey, what's life without risks?

Having said that, I hope the boofy blokes go first.

Friday, 20 February 2009

NO BULL - JAWS IS BACK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The horror thriller Jaws is on the telly this Saturday!

No doubt the programmers at Channel Ten were prompted to run the 1975 classic after the numerous shark sightings and two attacks off Sydney in the past month.

The bullshark responsible for tearing off the hand of a navy clearance diver and mauling his right leg so badly that it had to be amputated is apparently the size of a small car.

Whoah! So, that's what happens when you're hit by a Mitsubishi Lancer?

The bull shark, according to scientists who exaimined the diver's westsuit, is about 2.7 metres long, 'the length of a small sedan'.

The tagline for the Steven Spielberg film is: 'Amity Island had everything, Clear skies. Gentle surf. Warm water. People flocked there every summer. It was the perfect feeding ground.'

I'm surprised some enterprising journalist hasn't come along and replaced 'Amity Island' with 'Bondi beach' for the perfect lead paragraph.

Let's just hope that the Sydney Harbour swim organisers have got it right when they reassure nervous swimmers in the event that it will be all right on the day.

That's what the authorities were telling the tourists at Amity Island!

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Romance bootcamp

Yes, a bootcamp for aspiring romance writers does exist and I am committed to it this Saturday and the next.

For almost 20 years I have been threatening to write a romance novel.

I have chewed the ear off anyone who could be bothered listening to my half-baked romance plots that have amounted to nothing, zero, doughnut, a BIG FAT ZILCH!

I am the queen of ALL TALK NO ACTION. To prove it, I have three unfinished manuscripts and two completed short stories.

The short stories are rubbish - I thought they were literary masterpieces when I wrote them. But there's nothing as sobering and depressing as returning to a piece of writing a couple of months down the track. What was I thinking? Was I on bad drugs when I churned out that soppy load of cliched drivel?

The bootcamp is conducted online by several coordinators and guest 'lecturers'. I have already started 'chatting' to some members of the group whose enthusiasm is catching.

But can I match it? All shall be revealed soon.

Hey, don't forget that I have yet to post part 3 of my shark tales. It should be a good one. So, my six faithful followers, stick with me; I won't let you down.

What a combo - sharks and romance writing! I think I'm onto a winner!

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Media shark frenzy

The Sydney Morning Herald went to town today (Sat, Feb 14) with a cliched 'it was a dark and stormy night' style lead to its page 1 story on the two shark attacks which occured on consecutive days last week:
'The sun was low, the surf was high and the sea at the southern end of Bondi Beach was teaming with baitfish about 8pm on Thursday night when a shark tore Glenn Orgia's left hand almost clean from his arm.' (By the way, when isn't 8pm at night?)

One of the headlines on a colourful page 7 follow-up story was: 'In the harbour or offshore, predators abound'. This was accompanied by a terrifying photo of a shark, which looks suspiciously like a Great White (correct me if I'm wrong), a species of shark which has not yet been implicated in either of the attacks.

OK, OK, I know the attacks were serious and therefore newsworthy. But the news makers love to whip the the whole thing up to the point where people are afraid to go into the water - no matter what the time of day.

The stories in The SMH (the croc being checked for human remains after the disappearance of a five-year-old boy in Far North Qld got a paragraph in the News Focus column) are milking the topic for all it's worth.

Below is a summary of the most useful information to come out of both the page 1 and page 7 stories:

1. There are more sharks around Sydney than usual after an upwelling of cool water pushed marine life to shore.
2. Fifty-one beaches in NSW are shark meshed.
3. People have been warned not to swim at dawn and dusk and not to swim alone.
4. Surfwatch claims that dolphins, turtles, seals and small sharks get caught in the nets and die.
5. Netting supporters say the nets stop sharks establishing territories on beaches.
6. Fishermen speculate that the banning of prawn trawling and bream trap use have contributed to the increase in shark numbers in Sydney Harbour.
7. The two shark attacks were the 'work' of two different sharks (but were they working together?).
8. A bull shark is probably responsible for the Sydney Harbour attack on a navy clearance diver, while a bronze whaler, bull or tiger shark could have attacked the surfer at Bondi.
9. Both attacks took place when baitfish were congragating off Sydney and in the harbour and both men were swimming alone.
10. Until this week there had not been a shark attack at Bondi since 1951.

Just for the record, the NSW road toll for 2008 was 395 deaths.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

What lies beneath: shark attack in Sydney Harbour

From memory, one of the most terrifying scenes from the movie Jaws is when the monster shark takes its first victim.

The audience witnesses the attack from two vantage points, above and below the calm surface of the water. Above is the head of a young woman, below is her torso, arms and legs. It's the legs I remember - moving languidly, enticingly - just enough to keep her afloat and just enough to alert the killing machine of her presence.

Naturally, the rest is carnage.

Human beings have a primaevil fear of sharks. A visceral, gut churning terror grips every one of us at the possibility that we might ever encounter such a massive, powerful, robotic terminator. Worse still, is contemplating a horrific death as the shark chainsaws its way casually through each of our body parts.

As an ocean swimming participant, I have learnt to manage my fear of sharks. Research shows that most sharks are more frisky at dawn and dusk when they're out hunting for food.

And the ocean swims are generally well patrolled by the organisers and swimmers are comforted (though some are distburbed) by the knowledge that the majority of Sydney's surfing beaches have been meshed (since 1937).

However, Sydney Harbour is another story. It's deep and dark. Some areas aren't meshed. Visibility is limited to about 20cm. It's not like the ocean where, on a calm day, swimmers can marvel at the fish and reefs they might be lucky enough to swim over.

In Sydney Harbour you're swimming blind. I know because I've done it twice as an entrant in the Sydney Harbour Swim Classic, which starts from the Man 'O' War steps at the Sydney Opera House. Swimmers then follow a 2km course out to Mrs Macquarie's Point and around Farm Cove before returning to the steps.

It's an inpsiring swim, mostly because with each breath and turn of the head you're catching a glimpse of the Opera House sails, the Sydney Harbour Bridge or the Royal Botanical Gardens.

But back to the main point (or white pointer) of this blog. SHARKS!

The event's location is just around the corner from Woolloomooloo Bay and the naval base Garden Island, where a navy diver was recently attacked by Bull Shark (the experts are pretty sure the bull is the culprit).

The shark struck Able Seaman Paul Degelder, 31, from below. It bit his right hand and leg, but retreated after he punched it. Degelder is in hospital in a critical but stable condition, according to a story in The Sydney Morning Herald (February 12, 2009).

Another story in the SMH reveals that shark numbers in the harbour are on the rise. John Dengate from the National Parks and Wildlife Service was quoted as saying: "February and March seems to be the time of year when we get more sharks and surface fish in the harbour.

"I guess it's the downside of the environmental controls... 20 or 30 years ago the harbour was a very difficult place to be for a fish, these days it's actually quite beautiful."

Great! I wonder if the bull shark was admiring the Opera House before becoming distracted by a whiff of breakfast?

I also wonder how the organisers of the harbour swim, which takes place on Sunday March 1 from 9.30am, are dealing with this minor complication?

If you go to the website which can be accessed through you will find a slab of information on safety and risk management. The organisers explain that they have the 'safety of the swimmers as the number one priority'.

The event is professionally run and I'm sure the organisers will attempt to cover every base on the day. Apart from the 1km and 2km swims, this year a new event - a charity sprint to and back from Fort Denison - has been added. Mmm, not for a plodder like me.

In the report Likelihood of a Shark Attack in Sydney Harbour During the Sept 2000 Olympic Games, the authors suggested that one of the best ways to deter sharks was to 'have boats with motors (as opposed to canoes, kayaks or surf boards without motors) patrolling outside of the swimmers ... this is on the presumption that motors in the water will deter sharks from the immediate vicinity.'

Or what about this? 'Placing a line of scuba divers equipped with Electric Protective Oceanic Devices ... between the patrolling motor boats and the swimmers.'

I like it.

I haven't paid my $40 entry fee yet. I'm holding off for a bit. Maybe it's itchy feet. Maybe it's because I'd like to keep my feet!

This is part 1 of a 3 part series on sharks. Look out for part 2 SOON.

Shark attack in Woolloomooloo

Monday, 9 February 2009

North Bondi: the big chill

As bushfires blazed across Victoria, the sun shone benignly over Australia's most celebrated strip of sand on Sunday, February 8, as a record number of entrants (around 1700) rolled up for the North Bondi Classics 1km and 2km ocean swims.

The unfolding tragedy was a world away. Earlier that morning I was mildly surprised to learn that 14 people had died in the wild fires that continued to burn furiously around the Gippsland region. By the time my swimming mate (my brother-in-law aka Davo) and I were down on the beach getting our timers and caps that number had risen to 25.

It's hard to consider the rest of the world and other people's dreadful misfortunes when it's another perfect day in Sydney. The sky was a cloudless blue, a light breeze tempered the promised 34 degrees celcius and the ocean was as flat as a pond and crystal clear.

But then I stuck my toe in the water. Friggin' friggin' - the temperature was 16 degrees. That's the sort of cold that makes your eyes ache, freezes your brain and numbs your vital bits. The summer water temperature in Sydney is supposed to hover around 22 degrees.

How on earth can it be this cold when the air temperature is stinking hot? It's got something to do with currents - the same thing happened over Christmas in 2007 when the water temperature along the NSW east coast dropped to 15 degrees.

I did the usual rant: "I don't think I can do this... I am used to swimming in a heated pool... I am a wimp... I am almost an old woman..."

But Davo was more worried about missing out on a Surf Dive 'N' Ski bag filled with freebies that swimmers collected after they finished the event. I think he counted all the bags and worked out that we'd have to be in the first 800 swimmers over the line.

I knew there was no way I'd get a bag... or a piece of fruit.

A minute's silence was observed for the victims of the bushfires before the 9am 1km event. At 10.30am the 2km swim started and my wave entered the pool (there was not a jot of surf) at around 10.42am.

Once I recovered from the breath-sucking shock of being entrapped in an ice flow the swim was an absolute joy. My goggles kept filling and fogging up, which were minor problems, but I was still able to see the reef just near the North Bondi ocean swimming pool as my peloton churned up the frosty water in the race towards the first buoy.

I could clearly see my arms and hands - pale and ghost-like - and I could look left, right and forwards and see the arms, legs and torsos of swimmers around me. We were a swirling sea of bodies.

And the bottom of the ocean! It was deep but I could still see all the way down. It was thrilling. I think I spent too much time admiring the scenery because, as usual, I trotted over the finish line in the bottom third of the pack. Excuses, excuses.

Afterwards I was freezing. My teeth chattered and my knees knocked. I saw several swimmers who had succumbed to the cold wrapped in foil, one with an oxygen mask.

It took me at least an hour to thaw out.

Later that day I heard on the news that the death toll in Victoria had risen to over 60.

Today it's around 166 and there's talk that figure could jump to 200.

There are no words.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

When I'm not swimming...

Life as a series of cupboards and drawers and coathangers; putting things away and folding, sorting and ironing. Then there’s the taking out – old newspapers and plastic bottles and recycled plastic bags bursting with garbage. And the bringing in – groceries and other useless bits and pieces that end up in the cupboards and drawers or shoved under the bed. Waiting to be taken out.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Who's a happy shark then? The Cole Classic goes corporate

Any ocean swimmer worth his or her (sea) salt will be aware of the controversy surrounding the Cole Classic, now run by the Fairfax publishing group, held on Sunday, February 1, 2009.

The main thrust of the debate is that Fairfax is using the Cole as a cynical money-making exercise and that most of the profit goes back into the company's coffers.

The event's entry fee has increased by $10 on last year's. I paid the early-bird fee of $45 x 2 for my eldest daughter and myself to swim in the 2km event and another $45??? (can't remember) for my youngest daughter to swim the 1km event - a minute ago I went to the Cole Classic website to check on the cost of the 1km swim, but as far as I can see all references to entry fees have been removed! Participants who registered after January 9 paid $55.

Fairfax argues that it needs the extra cash to cover costs. It gives $30,000 to Manly Life Saving Club, but I'm not sure what happens to the rest. There are organisational costs and other bits and pieces, but it seems to me that there's also a tidy profit for Fairfax.

What else do you expect from a private equity mob? It's not the sharks in the ocean we poor swimming sods have to worry about, it's the ones on land!

If you want to read more on the Cole controversy/(alleged) coverup I would strongly advise you to go to, which has been bombarded by feedback from disgruntled punters.

My experience on the day was a melange of the good, bad and reasonable. Like last year, the location for the 2km swim was moved from South Steyne with its rough conditions to the sheltered cove of Shelley beach, a 15 minute walk away. This tiny space had to cater to almost 4000 competitors, their friends and family. It was a tight squeeze.

The 1km event ran reasonably smoothly from around 9am, but the 2km was a shemozzle. The media was out in full force and a Channel 9 chopper hovered overhead (helicopters always remind me of Apocalypse Now).

The fun really started when the official explaining the course got it wrong so it looked as though we'd be swimming an extra kilometre! The elite group started late (well after 10am) and during their swim two of the white buoys were spirited away in an inflatable!

For the next 15 minutes or more the inflatable whizzed around dropping the buoys back into the water and then hauling them out again! My main concern was that with the buoys removed I would have no guiding beacons back to the beach.

While all this was going on one wave of starting swimmers collided with another group returning to the beach. At one stage it was absolute chaos.

By the time the start gun went off for my wave, the 45-49 year old women, I was resigned to my fate. Nothing could be worse than my experience at the Big Swim and at least I didn't have to battle the unforgiving surf (I know, I know, some ocean swimmers thrive on a big surf but not moi).

The water was refreshing and amazingly clear considering almost 4000 greasy bodies had swum through it. I spotted some dazed and confused fishies on my way out.

There was chop, for sure, but I found the swell so much easier to cope with than the week before. Probably the most difficult part of the swim was having to swim directly into the wave-like swell. I swallowed a lot of water and for a little while I panicked when I lost sight of my peloton. Once back on track, I ploughed to the shore and came in feeling I'd 'done good'.

Afterwards the volunteers on the barbecue at the Manly Life Saving Club only charged me $2 for a sandwich with two fried eggs. A bargain!

However, I'm not so convinced that I got value for my $45 entry fee. And I'll wait until December to decide whether it's worth it in 2010.

Until then, there are other 'funner' swims to contemplate. This weekend it's the North Bondi Classic. Now that one was a bugger last year, but I reckon ocean swimming is a lot like childbirth. You tend to forget the pain and do it again.

Just keep swimming!