Sunday, 26 February 2012

Wildlife? What wildlife? sharks and muppets in Lake Macquarie

Mr Mild Mannered and Mr VB at the ferry/rivercat at Belmont
So it starts with Mr Very Big sending me a cryptic text message about the 'wildlife' on Lake Macquarie, the location of the annual Across the Lake Swim from Coal Point to Belmont, near Newcastle.

"Whaddya mean by wildlife?" I ask him at swim squad on Friday morning, the day before the swim.

When he tells me that somebody told him to watch out for bull sharks, I scoff. "Rubbish," I say. "My daughter's sailed at Belmont and boats capsize there all the time. There are no sharks in Lake Macquarie."

I reassure him there's nothing to worry about. What would an Irishman with delusions of swimming grandeur know?

After squad I return home and key in to a Google search on my computer: 'Are there bull sharks in Lake Macquarie?' 


What a muppet. Of course there are bloody sharks. Hundreds of 'em, it seems. And not only bullies. Whalers too! An alarming fact is that the relatively harmless hammerhead hangs out in the lake (it can nip if harassed but it's unable to chomp a human in half because it's gummy) and is being targeted by local fishermen, who reel them in for a bit of fun. Bogans.

Of course, all sharks can be scary. However, it's the bullies and bronze whalers that are the real worry.

With that knowledge tucked firmly into my amygdala I prepared for the Saturday swim. Miss Freeasabird stayed at my place on Friday night. On Saturday morning we rose at 4.30am (I woke up at 3am and couldn't go back to sleep) and drove up the Pacific Highway to meet Mr VB at 5.30am. We tumbled into his 4WD and cruised up the F1 to the Belmont 16ft Sailing Club. Belmont is 130 km from Sydney and takes around one-and-a-half hours by car.

It was such a beautiful day. Cloudless. Even at 7.30am you could feel the heat of the sun. We met up with several other swim-squad mates, including Mr Mild Mannered, and jumped on the second of three ferries to Coal Point. 

From Coal Point we could just make out the silhouette of the sailing club on the other side. That was our goal - a straight 3.8 km line from one side of the lake to the other. There were buoys set out along the course as guides including the three big yellow cubes that featured the distances - 1000 metres, 2000 metres, 3000 metres. No worries mate. 

Glare. Looking across to Belmont from Coal Point

There was very little wind and the lake was glassy. I waded into the warm weedy water and tried to switch off the panic button. 'Nobody has ever been taken by a shark on Lake Macquarie.' This was to be my mantra for the duration of the swim.

There were three waves. I think I was in the last. Can't remember. Whatever. Once I got going and cleaned out my foggy goggles  I noticed several things: water temperature, weed, water colour, sun. 

The water was tepid, almost bath temperature. Nice but not as refreshing as the ocean. You could call it murky but as my hands entered the water I was mesmerised (for a little while) by its golden hue and fat silver bubbles streaming up my arms.

The sun was a bugger. It was hanging over the other side of the lake at Belmont, which makes sense because the direction was east. I couldn't see a lot because of the glare. 

At around the 2 km mark I noticed I was on my own. Where had all the other swimmers gone? Eek. Sharks always go for the weakest penguin. I WAS THE WEAKEST PENGUIN. 

Then the sun snuck behind a cloud and all I could think was BULL SHARKS LOVE WARM MURKY WATER AND CLOUDY DAYS. My little penguin body shuddered.

There was nothing to do but forge ahead. Coming across my friend Mr M (aka Sharkback) was a godsend. We paced each other for the final half of the swim. I had no idea where I was and nor did he. Fortunately, we found a swimmer who had organised a friend to paddle beside her on a kayak. We stuck to them like glue for the latter part of the swim. 

On the way in, Mr M thought he could escape from me but I paced him all the way, stroke for stroke. When we walked across the line together at Belmont I had spare fuel in my tank.

My time wasn't wonderful and all my swim-squad peeps were already home and hosed but I felt good. This was my first swim over 3km and I made it - in one piece. 

The one thing I learnt is that it's not easy to swim in a straight line for 3.8 km. Mr Mild Mannered said he spent his youth swimming at the Merewether Ocean Baths in Newcastle, which doesn't have black lines. This taught him to swim in a straight line.

On the way home, Miss Freeasabird, Mr VB and I made several detours (including to two Aldi stores in search of those crystals that suck out dampness because Miss Freeasabird is now living in a mouldy old basement in an eastern suburbs terrace and is finding it hard to breathe).

I digress. We pulled into Catherine Hill Bay on the way back home. I love this place. I've written about it before because the developers want to go in there and tear the place apart but the locals have campaigned for many years to keep their heritage mining village intact. If you read this blog, you must visit Catherine Hill Bay. It's glorious. 

Tomorrow I'll write up my experience of the Long Reef swim on Sydney's northern beaches. 


Richard said...

Of course there are sharks in Lake Macquarie. What were you thinking? Probably swam over dozens of them. Anyway I am pleased that the extra adrenaline helped you to keep up with your swimming buddy all the way to the finish.

Shayne said...

I thought 'wildlife' meant water birds and small fish!

Brendan Murphy said...

Is an amazing swim across Lake Macquarie - and yes, Merewether Baths still don't have lines on the bottom!