Monday, 28 November 2011

Jelly blubbers, vibrant green weed and a slap in the face: a swim around Wedding Cake Island at Coogee

It rained all week. The downpour started after the Dawny swim at Balmain on Sunday November 20 and continued unabated for six days. I kid you not. Then, after a torrential onslaught on Saturday morning, it stopped. The sun shone, the clouds evaporated and it was like it had never rained at all. Hallelujah.

Sunday morning was blue and blustery. My swimming partner Davo and I drove to Coogee in the eastern suburbs and spent 20 minutes looking for a parking spot. It's a fact of life in Sydney, especially near the beach. Everyone drives and everyone feels entitled to a parking space right next to the beach.

If you let 'em, they'd park on the bloody sand just like they do in those crappy Toyota ads that are trying to sell the concept of freedom to well-off Gen Xers who like to pop those horrid 'this is my family' stickers on the rear window of their 4WDs (for the millions of readers in the USA, I'm referring to SUVs). I'm ranting and raving because I'm a woman of a certain age. BACK TO THE SWIM. 

Davo and I found a parking space about 1 kilometre from the action. We walked down a steep hill to the beach, which was decked out for the 1 km and 2.4 km swims. When we arrived the 1 km swim had started and the first finisher was almost across the line. 

The sun was fierce and I could feel my skin begging for lotion and a shady place. After a warm-up in 18-degree water (though one bloke I was talking to reckoned it was more like 17 degrees), I was ready. The conditions were reasonable but we were told it was choppy out the back of Wedding Cake Island, which is why the support crew on their kayaks were sent out there to keep swimmers well clear of the rocks. 

If you know Coogee, you'll be familiar with Wedding Cake Island; in simple terms it's a big lump of rocks/reef (about 15 metres long and 400 metres wide) that juts out of the ocean about one kilometre from the beach. Check it out at this scuba-diving website:

The first wave of swimmers headed off and drifted to the left on a north-running current. My tactics for this swim were the same as for Dawny: 1. don't stop 2. try not to spend too much time looking up 3. maintain a race pace (I failed at this one). 

It was a pleasant trek past the first three pointy pink cans. My goggles half filled and I thought, 'bugger it'. It would have been too easy to stop and empty them. I guessed they'd probably just fill again and I'd get cranky and neurotic. The salt water in my eyes was manageable. 

Getting around the back of the island was difficult. The chop was full-on and slapped me around, so there was no point trying to maintain a rhythm. I wasn't sure where I was and did what one shouldn't do in ocean swimming - I followed the pack. 

I almost forgot to mention the jelly blubbers hanging around the back. Though my vision was limited, I could see thousands of them just like in Finding Nemo. Unlike the nasties in the movie, they were about the size of a golf ball, translucent and non-stinging. I sloshed through them and even pierced one with my finger. Some people don't enjoy swimming through blubbers but I like the soft gelatinous feel of them against my skin.

Another swim highlight was the reef. Because the water was clear as a bell I could see the rocky ocean floor peppered with lime-green weed contrasted against mauve soft corals. There were lots of fishies, too.            
Once I got around the island I thought all my troubles would be over but it was still a long way to the finish line on the beach and the chop was rougher than Saturday night at the Coogee Bay Hotel.

I couldn't see the big cylindrical orange can - the last marker into the beach. Again, I followed the other swimmers. Then I spotted a bloke who was easily 15 years older than me (maybe not - must look at results!). He seemed to know what he was doing and kept looking up to check the direction. I fell in just behind him and followed him home. A bad move? Maybe, maybe not. All of a sudden the orange can appeared in front of me and I pulled on my reserves for last 50 metres. There were no waves to speak of, just shallow dumpers, so the run out of the surf was stress-free. 

Afterwards, everyone said the swim was longer than 2.4 kilometres. I'd like to think so, considering my time.

Davo came in after me but he's already sneaking up on me now we're in the surf. Last week I finished 10 minutes ahead, this week only four minutes (he'll comment on that).

How would I rate the Coogee swim? It was well-run but there was no fresh fruit offered to swimmers who completed the event. I reckon that's a tiny bit stingy, since it's $40 for the 2.4 km swim. Many punters do both and pay $50 for the privilege.
Next Sunday is Bondi to Bronte. I don't think Davo is doing it and I haven't decided. 

I'll keep you posted. 


Anonymous said...

This was a great swim, with a bit of everything. My mate Davo - the other one - spent the day on a paddle board outside the island doing water safety, went home, felt weird and rushed to hospital with ruptured appendix. I'd love to do the Bondi to Bronte but I think it clashes with any number of things my children are doing next weekend. Davo

Shayne said...

Ouch. Hope he is OK now - appendix. I wonder why appendix haven't just disappeared, along with tonsils. Useless and annoying.