Monday, 19 November 2012

Dawny's Cockatoo Island Swim 2012: a kick start to the ocean swimming season in Balmain, Sydney

Dawn Fraser Pool & Cockatoo Island in the background.
IN another life I lived in Balmain. The first house I ever owned was just up the hill from Elkington Park and the Dawn Fraser Pool. It was a cute semi-detached with two bedrooms, lounge, eat-in kitchen and bathroom.

If I hadn't made the mistake of getting married I'd probably still own that house today. But that's another story. 

Every so often I drive down the street. My old home has been in the same hands for a while now and has a second storey. It looks nice. 

My point is --- when I lived in Balmain in the mid-'80s I would be woken at 6am every weekday by the siren on Cockatoo Island that signalled the start of work for the island's employees. We're talking the mid-1980s when the island was still used as a shipbuilding site. Those were the days when Australia still had industry and manufacturing. 

I'm not about to go all soggy with nostalgia because these days the island has become a tourist destination and Sydney Harbour is much cleaner. So much so that bull sharks frequently swim around it on their cosmopolitan meanderings. YIKES. 

The good news is this swim is in its 12 year (maybe 11th, not sure) and I've been doing it for five years. No shark sightings yet - I guess there's always a first time. 

Fortunately it wasn't yesterday. The event has grown more popular in line with the exponential growth of ocean swimming. I dunno how many punters turned up yesterday but it was crowded on the boardwalk inside the confines of the baths. 

The 1.1km and 2.5km swims start outside Dawny's - in the water next to the jetty. For me, that's always the scariest part - and I've mentioned numerous times about starts in the harbour.  

Imagine this: several hundred pairs of legs dangling like bait for the bullies. I try to stamp it out of my mind while waiting for the bloke to pull the bloody trigger on the starter gun but it's impossible.

Inside the traditional harbour baths.

I was in the second wave of swimmers for the 2.5km event and started in the 'cool-ish' harbour with my swim squad mates - a bunch of competitive middle-aged codgers who don't even view me as a vague threat. I console myself with the fact that the average lifespan of the Australian female is 85 and that of men is 79.

The event started on pretty much on time and I think we got away at 9.11am. The swim starts early because of ferry and other boat movements on the harbour. 

I enjoyed the swim but still found it hard. It takes a while to get to the island - the idea is to focus on the crane on the far right-hand corner. We then swam by the side of the island and then anti-clockwise around the back. 

People camping in the permanent tents on the island snapped photos of us. It must have been a pleasant surprise to wake up to all these bloody eejits racing around the island in assorted coloured caps.

I always feel like Cockatoo Island is more square than rectangular because the sides appear to be really long. Visibility is poor in the opaque greenish water. For about half the swim we were striking our way through jelly blubbers. This happens every year. There must be thousands in the harbour. 

Getting back in to the jetty was easier this year as the sun was behind a cloud and we didn't have to deal with the glare. 

I don't know what my time was - I always forget to look. When I got out, after accepting a helping hand, I forgot that I had to walk up the jetty to get my time because Dawny's is one of the few swims left in Sydney that times the race manually. Because I stood and admired the view for a minute I will probably end up with a slower time! 

My Daughters Missy Hissy and Precious Princess did the swim, too. PP's boyfriend did the 1.1km swim wearing boardshorts. 

Hiss, Princess, The Boyfriend.

I told him that to be a bona fide ocean swimmer it's budgie smugglers or nothing! 

PS: The Hiss came third in her age group and won a pair of swim goggles. 

Value for money: It costs $35 to enter the swim online and $45 on the day. Afterwards, competitors can gorge themselves on fruit donated by Harris Farm. I'm talking delicious watermelon, rockmelon, apples, red grapes and oranges. If that's not enough, competitors also get ticket that gets them a free brekky comprising bread roll, bacon, egg, sausage and tomato - avec barbecue or tomato sauce. 

Score out of 10: 8

Any gripes? Electronic timing devices and touch mats are the way to go; after the swim it takes ages before the prize winners for each age group are announced - it's because it's all done manually! 

Elkington Park, Balmain.

 Next week is Coogee!


Therese said...

Great post. I enjoyed the swim too and am glad those bull sharks didn't make an experience. I tweeted your post so others can read it. Happy swimming and writing.

Anonymous said...

Hi Therese,
Sharks are the least of my worries during an ocean swim - more concerned about getting trashed by a dumper on the way back in - but they wriggle their way into my sub conscious in the harbour.

Balmain is a great swim and still has a community feel. Definitely value for money.

Thanks for reading,

Lou said...

Great read! Found your blog while trying to find reactions to this swim. I'm doing it for the first time this year and have to admit , I'm a bit nervous.
Your article convinced me to shake off the nerves and JUST DO IT ! So thankyou. By the way , I know ms hissy and precious princess from a previous life as their Maths teacher x