Monday, 30 January 2012

Palmy to Whale ocean swim: I beat Tony - again

Before: lining up for ankle timers and caps at Palm Beach
Woo! Just made it in time to post about the Palm Beach to Whale Beach swim before it becomes 'dead in the water'. 

I think I've lost the mood so let me limber up to recall the feeling of swimming out the back of the break to Little Head off Palmy at around 10.30am on a muggy, overcast Sunday feeling like I'd never ever get to the right-hand turn that would reveal a glimpse of Whale Beach. 

I breathe left, and this 2.5 km destination swim runs south from the northern-most beach on Sydney's 'insular peninsula'. This means I don't get much of a view because I breathe towards the horizon and not the headland and beach. 

After: Whale Beach. A perfect pocket of sun, sand and surf

The choppy conditions weren't as wild as the Bondi to Bronte epic (see my post from December 2011) but still challenging. Imagine the wool cycle on your washing machine. The agitator doesn't toss the clothes so much as slosh them about. I was sloshed around like an old wool jumper in sudsy lukewarm water. 

The other problem was not really knowing where I was. I didn't see the two small red cans (buoys/booeys) placed as guides on the course along Whale Beach to the finish line. Instead, I had to rely on my fellow swimmers for direction. I know this is bad form but it was hard to look and lift. When I did all I saw was chop. I swallowed ocean and at times I felt alone. How sad am I today? 

And so it came to pass that I finally made it to the breakers at Whale Beach, with the finish line in sight. The waves washed me in to shore. I am flotsam (can there be flotsam without jetsam?)

Ah glory days. An old Holden ute. I remember bouncing around in the back of one of these before it became illegal

Here's a few numbers: I finished 1035 out of 1501 competitors. Not happy Jan. In my age group I came 19th out of 37 women (not so many older chicks do it). Last year I finished 17th out of 27. Does this mean I did better this year or that other older women who are slower than me have started to compete?

Still, I did beat the leader of the opposition Tony Abbott who finished in a time of 1.02.58. Hey Tone, ya better shape up or ship out!  

The best fun came after the swim when I raided the free fruit stand for competitors, ate four sweet, juicy nectarines and pocketed another three for later. Then my swim squad friend Miss Freeasabird and I went for another swim in the blue Pacific. God, it was beautiful. 

This Sunday I expect chaos at the Cole Classic in Manly. I don't care if some of the diehards shun the event because it's gone a bit corporate - I'm excited. 

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Australia Day and the Great Australian Swim at the Sydney Opera House: I beat Tony Abbott

A view across the harbour to Mrs Macquarie's Point from the Sydney Opera House
Part 4: I thumped the federal opposition leader Tony Abbott in the 2.2 km swim around Sydney Harbour on Australia Day (just between you and me, so did about 75 per cent of the swimmers in the event). 'Tone' posed for photos with anyone who asked. This is what I love about Australia - a pollie in his budgie smugglers posing for pics with Joe Bloggs and his kids. Where else does this happen? We're all as mad as cut snakes!

Who's got the best abs? Abbott or the bloke on the right? Though you couldn't get more right than our Tone

Part 3: I didn't think once about Bull Sharks in the harbour as I swam through murky salty water (it rained all night) to the first buoy located close to Mrs Macquarie's Point. I continued not to think about them as I continued onto Farm Cove (way too wide of the second buoy). And I definitely didn't entertain the thought that there could be at least seven of the nasty buggers* cruising at a leisurely pace beneath me as I made my way back towards the pontoon at the Sydney Opera House.

Part 2: The event was a shambles at the start. The organisers had set up A-K and L-Z lines for competitors to register, which is stupid when you have at least 500 punters arriving from 7am-8.15am to collect their timing devices and swimming caps. The queues were long, winding and haphazard. It took The Hiss and I at least half an hour to get our stuff.  

The Hiss poses in front of the Sydney Opera House
Part 1: The Hiss and I were dropped into Circular Quay on Sydney Harbour by the accommodating Spanner, who couldn't wait to get rid of us so he could do his own thing on this overcast and muggy Australia Day. The Hiss and I argued from the moment we arrived. I can't remember what we bickered about. 

*Last year there were seven tagged Bull Sharks in the harbour on Australia Day.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Life after the Flying 11 national regatta at Port Stephens: pick yourself up, dust yourself down and start all over again

Is this not magnificent? The view from Tomaree Headland. On the left is Zenith Beach; on the right is Shoal Bay
Last week wasn't as happy and carefree as it should have been. 

We had driven to the holiday town of Nelson Bay on the NSW mid-north coast for the Flying 11 national regatta. My daughter The Hiss was sailing to win. 

It was not to be. During the week we endured her pain - she made us feel it with every tantrum and teary recrimination as she slid down the tally ladder. "Shut up Dad, shut up Mum. You don't know what I'm going through."

She blamed the wind, the waves, the boat, her crew (the little bugger did chow down on two meat pies and a chocolate-flavoured milk before every race) and us for her less than impressive performance. 

We were the worst parents on the face of the earth for trying to offer advice. We were uncaring parents for not giving any advice. Arrrgggghhhh.
I don't like to watch The Hiss sail. I find it stressful. It's hard anyway because unless you're out on a boat watching from the sidelines you can't see that much of the action, especially if the course is set a long way out. 

Shoal Bay

My partner Spanner likes to watch (that could be another post). He sits with the other mad sailing parents, who view the races through binoculars. I go off and do other stuff. 

The pics here show you some of the places I visited while The Hiss was sailing out of the record books and into a minor emotional slump. 

Almost a week later, she is back to her usual unpredictable self. I am trying to instill in her the wisdom of one of Australia's sporting greats, John Newcombe, who won 26 grand slams in his tennis career. 

In an interview in GoodWeekend magazine on January 21 he says of fear: It immobilises your body and stops your from performing at your best, so you have to learn to control it. Laughter is a great antidote. If you can look at your opponent and imagine they're an elephant or a rat and just start laughing your opponent might think you're mad, but the laughter will help get rid of the fear.

He also talks about competitiveness: ...There was one final when I was 12 - I was losing badly and behaving badly because I was angry with myself. My mother whispered to me as I changed ends, "Why don't you start playing tennis and stop feeling sorry for yourself?"

And Newcombe's motto for life is from Rudyard Kipling's poem If: "If you can meet Triumph and Disaster, and treat those two imposters just the same..."

The next event for The Hiss and me is the 2.2 km swim (the last in the Great Australian Swim Series) in Sydney Harbour on January 26, which is Australia Day. Please stop raining! Murky water means dirty sharky friendly water!   

Friday, 20 January 2012

Port Stephens and Nelson Bay: Flying 11 National Regatta at Soldiers Point on Salamander Bay

Nelson Bay/Port Stephens on the NSW mid-north coast is renowned for its beautiful beaches and the dolphins that inhabit its numerous bays all year round.

We're here for a sailing regatta, which sounds sophisticated and "my she was yar". The reality is different when you're on a budget and hauling a Flying 11 onto a box trailer for the three-hour drive from Sydney with a daughter, Miss Hissy, who has already bundled herself into the loser's corner before the race has begun.

Flying 11s at Soldiers Point on Salamander Bay

Then we're told our accommodation, which I'd rate as "noice", is at the bogan end of town. I don't take issue with that because I suspect my partner Spanner has bogan tendencies, as does Miss Hissy (aka The Hiss) who vomited on the lawn outside our holiday house last night after gorging herself on fish and chips. Ah, my life.

Nelson Bay is a huge resort town. It's built-up with lots of apartments and budget holiday accommodation. Hordes of Sydney and Newcastle retirees have moved up here to play out their twilight years so the town has a golf course and club, a West Diggers club that's gi-normous, a bowling club and its fair share of retirement villages.

Kitsch? Politically incorrect? Just plain bad taste? This home's front yard is neat as a pin and it's obvious the owners take great pride in it.

I must get a pic of the Croation Fisherman's Club for my swimming mate Miss Freeasabird who has thick Croation blood. Must be an established Croation community up here. I can see why*.

Even though Nelson Bay is, in many ways, suburban sprawl and at times I feel like I'm in a replica of so many Australian coastal towns that have sprung up without much thought given to infrastructure, aesthetics or the natural environment, the coast makes up for that. Also, there are corridors of green that include Tomaree National Park. The eucalyptus trees are magnificent and this must have been a heavenly place before the developers got a hold of it.

We're into the second-last day of the regatta and The Hiss is having a breakdown. Shouldn't amateur sport be more fun than this?

Fingal Bay. Look closely and you'll notice the tan line on Spanner's arm. Definitely bogan or defiantly iconoclastic?

*The water is turquoise and the bays are perfect for swimming, fishing and boating. I've never been to Croatia but I believe its coastline is breathtaking.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Avalon Beach 1.5 km Ocean Swim: a swim to remember for better and for worse

What a day. What a swim. 

Take a look at the WARNING DANGEROUS CURRENT sign, which depicts a neat icon of a swimmer in distress. Today I witnessed (easily) two dozen ocean swimmers assuming this pose (in a more animated and flexible fashion than the stick figure) as two surf lifesavers in a rubber ducky and about half a dozen others in the water with flotation devices successfully returned them to the beach.

The Babe Watch team raise money for breast cancer (I didn't say a thing!)

The swimmers in that wave (40-49-year-old males?) had been hammered by breakers rolling in holus-bolus at the northern end of Avalon Beach. I was in the last wave (read: OLDEST) to enter the water and my cohort was held up by the action in the ocean as swimmers too exhausted to make it beyond the relentless sets gave up the fight and raised their arms like white flags. 

I wasn't about to surrender. I'd paid $35 and driven for almost an hour in the rain to Avalon on the northern beaches. And I was surrounded by old codgers who couldn't wait to battle it out with Mother Nature. If they could do it, so could I (after all, I'm almost old codgerette material myself but without the beer gut).

They had sized up the logical entry point to the surf, which was off to the left of the start line where there appeared to be less foam and a rip that might help them get out beyond the breakers. The race starter also gave tips on the best way out, though he warned against swimming too far to the left because of the rocks. 

The ocean pool at Avalon. These cheeky grommets were jumping into the ocean at the far end of the pool. The surfers get out to the break this way, too
As I ran into the surf on the starter gun, I felt like a player on the losing team in a game of rugby league/American football. Every time I picked up the ball and moved forward, some huge bastard picked me up and pushed me backwards. I'd get back up and go through the whole process again. This happened more than a dozen times as I ducked under frothing wave after wave. It was shallow on the way out for at least 50 metres but I couldn't get a foothold as each wave dragged me into a trough. Finally, I got through it and out to the first can about 500 metres from the shore. 

It's an incredible feeling to make it to the back of the break. Maybe heaven is like this. You run the gauntlet to get there and when you make it all is calm and peaceful. I had a lovely time on my clockwise journey south around four cans (I think). 

Then I had to get back to the beach.

Maybe hell is like this. As I swam in, I was sure I was checking my back. Obviously not. A surf lifesaver screamed at me: "Hey lady, look out for the wave!" I turned and stared into the jaws of death as the lip of the wave snarled at me in a blind rage. I swear to the Great Divine that the monster wave was two metres-plus high (nothing to a big wave surfer, a lot to a small woman). 

Just in the nick, I dived under and into the bloody cauldron. I was gobbled up and shaken like a cocktail. As I held my breath and observed the hectic swirl of bubbles, foam and sand before me I thought: "Remain calm and consider which way is up." 

I'm lying. I really thought: "Shit, you stupid bitch. This is it. You're a Gary Goner." 

Then the wave finished toying with me and I bobbed up for air. I was ready for the next one. Fortunately, it let me off the hook and I managed to make it in and up the beach. 

My numbers might be a bit out but over 600 punters turned up for the swim and 525 finished.

I felt euphoric afterwards. I done good, I done well. Mmm... not that well. My time isn't worth sharing but that's not the point. Ocean swimming is like life. It has many challenges that often have to be met head on. Avalon was challenging but also fulfilling. 

The next swim is at Mona Vale, also on the northern beaches. I might not make it to that one as I'm heading up the coast to see Miss Hissy sail in a national regatta. You never know...

PS: The first swimmer home was Josh Beard, in the 15-19 age group, in 15 minutes flat. The first woman was the phenomenal 49-year-old Christie Krenkels in 17 minutes and 33 seconds.  

Addendum on January 17: Ocean swims reports that there were 53 DNFs (Did Not Finish) at Avalon, which comprises 10 per cent of competitors. 

Sunday, 8 January 2012

North Bondi Roughwater Ocean Swim 2012: 1km and 2km - a small step forward for this woman

Dead keen: 30-something blokes running for their lives!
I know this might be too much information, but my left ear keeps getting clogged with water and my ear wax smells like Vegemite. Spanner says only someone with issues sniffs ear wax. He refuses to analyse the strange secretion leaking from my ear. No, I don't lick Vegemite off my fingers and then stick them in my left ear. I don't even know how I came to realise my ear stuff had a scent, of sorts. 

Another useless fact is that before an organised ocean swimming event I go to the bathroom at least eight times. Today before the North Bondi Roughwater Ocean Swim I was up at 4am. Unbelievable. It's getting worse. 

To the swim. I arrived at 8.30am to witness very different conditions from yesterday when the surf was pumping. Today it was all pumped out - flat swimming pool conditions. 

This influenced my decision to go in the 1km and 2km swims, which start from North Bondi. I've never done both before.  

The water temperature was perfect at around 20 degrees Celcius and the day was overcast - sunburn conditions which catch out fair-skinned tourists from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland.  I lathered my old leather handbag flesh with SPF30. I know it's too late for me and that I'll never have beautiful young skin again but I don't want to look like some old worn-out shoe when I'm 70. I don't dig the QLD Gold Coast/Brazilian/Florida look for women of a certain age.

During the 1km swim I tried to take it easy but it was hard to pace myself. My 'easy' is slow and I didn't want a lousy time. During the swim I and the other couple of hundred swimmers encountered thousands of small jelly blubbers. I pierced their gelatinous bodies with my fingers and felt them break apart. I saw fish, too. At the end of the swim a woman around my age told me she'd paced herself against me but I'd just nabbed her at the finish. I didn't even notice her during the swim!

The 2km was a slog. I'd dumped a lot of engine fuel in the 1km and didn't have a lot left (SERVES ME RIGHT). The swim course started on the beach in front of the surf club and ran south across 'Bondi Bay' and out to Mackenzies Point. I was fine up to the Point. Then I started to flag and bloody Mr Very Big cruised past me again like a friggin' Kluger 4WD overtakes a Mitsubishi Magna Executive. I'm getting sick of him. Any chance he can be put on a boat BACK to Ireland?

Afterwards Mr Very Big told me he was singin' and relaxin' and lookin' up at the helicopter and down at the fishies. He gave me some advice about my stroke, too. He was right, of course. I'd lost the plot and my stroke was short and lacked a "cadence". 

However, I did have one small triumph. I finished third in my age group in the 1km swim, something Mr VB will have trouble achieving as there are too many blokes on the ocean swims circuit. Men love to swim and win. Not so much the older sheilas (though as I've told you before, there are some amazing women in my age group who are up there with the young guns - male and female). I won a $20 Running Bare fashion gift voucher. 
Boardies? Mate, are you for real?

I was thrilled but I won't be popping open the Bollinger just yet. Tomorrow it's back to the pool as I continue my quest to swim smarter faster.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

The day before the North Bondi Ocean Swim: my weakness is the ins and outs

Tomorrow is the first of several swims at Bondi this season. Sunday's is run by the North Bondi Surf Life Saving Club. I'm pretty nervous because I don't want to bomb out with a lousy time. I also registered for both the 1and 2km swims but already I'm considering pulling out of the 1km. I'm not sure I've got the stamina to do both.  I want a good time for the 2km.

This morning I was down at North Bondi for squad, which had a record turn-out. Seems everyone is swimming tomorrow. The weather was beautiful and when I arrived nice and early the beach was already comfortably crowded. 

The CanToo swimmers, who raise money for cancer research, were out in force.Then there was Mr Mean's squad of around 50 pumped swimmers, average age 25. I don't have a chance. Even the old codgers in the squad are fast but it gives me the Jimmy Brits that Mr Mean still shoves me in with the slow swimmers when I'm only finishing around two minutes behind Mr Very Big so far this ocean swims season*. That's my gripe and I won't say anything more about it. Let's just hope IT will give me the impetus to rage through the surf tomorrow.

This morning's squad was unrelenting. Lots of swimming in and out. That's where I lose precious seconds. I'm not fast enough or strong enough to plough through the sets on the way out. The squad gets away from me and then I spend time playing catch-up. 

And on the way back in today I didn't choose the best routes. On one occasion I'd decided where I was going to come in but changed my mind when I saw the other swimmers head in another direction. I followed them and that turned out to be a big mistake. When I get around to writing my top 10 tips for ocean swimming DO NOT FOLLOW will be up there.

The 1km starts at 9.15am and the 2km at 10.30am. Send out good vibes for me!    

*Teacher's pet

Friday, 6 January 2012

''Swimmers are in the way, not on the menu"

Sharks swimming not in Sydney but the Bahamas:
It's windy and overcast in Sydney. 

I got up at 4.30am, looked out the window, turned off my alarm and went back to bed. Some days I can't reach my body switch to flip it back on. This morning the ol' mortal coil groaned and wimpered: "I have suffered enough, let me sleep bitch."

I caved in and missed squad at Bondi.

I'm naughty because I really should be working out for the weekend - this Sunday North Bondi hosts The Roughwater 1km and 2km swims. A lot of punters do both but I'm not sure I'm ready for 3km.

In the meantime, I thought you might be interested in this article from The Sydney Morning Herald, which discusses the misleading use of the term 'shark attack'. The experts interviewed for the story claim us humans are of little interest to sharks for a variety of reasons including our low nutrition rating! Also explored is the concept of the 'rogue shark' made popular by the film Jaws

One of the experts quoted in the story has tagged bull sharks. She said last year on Australia Day (January 26) when the harbour was choccas with pleasure craft, swimmers and an organised swim off the Sydney Opera House steps, there were seven bullies roaming around the harbour. It's a little off-putting but they are out there. 

I noticed Jaws is on Channel 7 on Tuesday night and rated as a 'Thriller' (Jaws 3 is on Saturday at 11.10pm - it's rated as 'Horror'). 

Here's the link to the SMH story:

Think of it this way: it's not an 'attack', rather just a 'bite'.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Bondi Beach can be bliss: swim squad at dawn

Any beach is beautiful at dawn but Bondi is extra 'spesh' because after the sun is up there's usually no peace for this slice of paradise.

Today I arrived well before swim squad started at 6am (check post from December 21, 2011, to find out what happens to those who arrive late) and soaked up the soft focus on a new day. 

There was no surf - flat as - and I reckon that's because poor old Bondi is still recovering from New Year's Day when hordes of hungover Irish, Pommy, Dutch and Scandinavian backpackers collapse onto its golden sands and fry themselves into carcinogenic chips (the South Americans head north to Manly to play beach volleyball). 

Dunno where the Americans go, though I suppose there's not many here because of the Australia/US currency rates (apologies to US readers of this blog but would you visit Australia when the Aussie dollar is so strong?* No bloody way. This is why there's so many bloody Australians over in the States. You must be really sick of us. We're everywhere, like a virus)

Back on topic... squad was wonderful. Chief coach Mr Mean was absent but his lovely girlfriend took the slower swimmers, myself included, on a swim from North Bondi to the Bondi club and back.  We also did a lot of 'lifting and looking', which I'll talk about in my next post.

Speak soon.

*I visited the USA on several occasions when the Australian dollar sucked so I suppose it shouldn't make much difference. 

Bondi on New Year's Day 2012


Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Newport Beach Pool to Peak 2km Ocean Swim 2012: I'm gonna get ya, get ya, get ya, get ya

Newport is one of Sydney's glorious northern beaches
About halfway through the Newport ocean swim I wondered if I should have downed 2.5 glasses of champers (a nice Australian drop from Chandon) the night before. At the time I thought nothing of it. In fact, I thought nothing.

How cool is this? A post-swim massage with an unbeatable view

Silly me. The middle of an ocean swim with a healthy dose of chop is no place for regrets. After seeing my Irish swimming mate Mr Very Big amble past me with a grin across his smug mug, I was motivated to carry on.

A further psychological boost came from a swimmer in my age group, who I noticed just before the last of the eight cans that marked the anti-clockwise course. She was starting to inch ahead, which usually wouldn't worry me. But yesterday I thought, 'No way chicky babe. One way or another I'm gonna get ya, get ya, get ya, get ya."

And I did. Just as we were coming in, I powered up and tried to catch every available wave. I didn't have a great deal of success but still managed to get ahead of her to run up the beach to the cheers of Miss Hissy and her friend and Mr Very Big and his family who'd come to the beach to celebrate his birthday.      

I was pretty chuffed even though my time wasn't amazing and I'm at least 10 minutes behind the fastest swimmer in my cohort (this is why I never post my times!). 

It was a brilliant day. The sun is finally here to stay in ol' Sydney town, which can be a mixed blessing.

I'm loving summer.

Boxes of fresh fruit for placegetters. One day...

Sunday, 1 January 2012

New Year's Eve in Balmain in Sydney: a brilliant welcome to 2012

Spanner has a smart bastard of a brother* who lives on the water in Balmain in Sydney's inner west with an uninterrupted view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Where else would you want to be on New Year's Eve, unless you're friendly with someone who lives in the eastern suburbs who has a view that includes the Sydney Opera House**.

Spanner, The Hiss and I parked the car in the nearby suburb of Rozelle and caught a bus into the heart of Balmain. If you don't know it, the peninsula suburb of Balmain is one of the city's more appealing suburbs because of its low-rise village atmosphere. Spanner doesn't like it because he reckons it's too higgledy-piggledy and congested.  But that's Spanner. I love it and lived there in several other lifetimes.

Darling Street is the main road in and out. When you reach the bottom of Darling Street, you've hit Sydney Harbour. People stream into Balmain for the New Year's Eve fireworks because there's parks along the water so the view is bloody beautiful.

There's two lots of fireworks - at 9pm for the families and at midnight for those revellers who want to see in the New Year with a bang. It's been a long time since I've hung around for the midnight fireworks but this year I was determined. Spanner left after the 9pm show. Woo hoo Spanner. Life of the party.

The Hiss and I stayed and rocked on to an excellent covers band The Hippie Hoppies (? I can't find them on Google) whose members looked like they'd been dragged over gravel and tossed around in a cement mixer for 25 years. Appearances can be deceptive. They played in Spanner's brother's yard, which is a lawn the size of a postage stamp (dunno how it didn't get flooded with the recent king tides). The band's note-perfect sets took me back (way too far). The Hiss and I danced the night away to the Doobie Brothers, Creedence, InXs, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Police, The Beatles, T-Rex, Van Morrison and more. 
I can't even begin to describe the fireworks, especially the midnight extravaganza where the bridge was ablaze with pyrotechnics for much of the time. Breathtaking. Gasp. Wow. Ooooo. Aaaaaaah. Woo hoo. Gobsmacked. 


* I am still working out my New Year's resolutions as I didn't have one last year and I do feel a list is worthwhile (even if it ends up as a list of failed promises). On my list will be the usual - do not be jealous of other people and their good fortune (or something like that).

** I will also endeavour to be happy with what I've got (or something similar).

I bet you can't wait to read my list! Mmm... must not be self loathing and arrogant simultaneously.  

PS: Would you believe it's a stinker in Sydney today? This is the first real summer day for at least a month. Tomorrow I'm doing Newport swim so I'll post on that.  

PPS: I'd like to thank all the regular readers of this blog. It's a small world. I wish you all the very best for 2012. Let's put it out there!