Friday, 28 December 2012

Sydney to Hobart and Spit to Manly: Post Christmas activities

Christmas is over and we're surging towards the New Year. Let's hope 2013 is a good one because 2012 was problematic (a euphenism if ever there was one).

In the meantime, I thought you might like to browse through my amateur pics that show the start of the 2012 Sydney to Hobart yacht race on Boxing Day.

Today it's all over red rover (for the maxi yachts) with Wild Oats X1 taking out the line honours in record time.

And today Spanner, The Hiss and I walked/ran the 10 kilometre track from the Spit Bridge to Manly. It's supposed to take 4.5 hours at a leisurely pace. It took us less than 2 hours. I live my life with mental people. It's a wonder there are any pics at all to share.

The Hiss at South Head

Big cameras

The start: the yachts streak towards the heads

The spectators follow the fleet to the end of South Head

This next lot of photos are from today. We were at South Head on Wednesday and today we walked along Dobroyd Head/Middle Head on the other side of the harbour.

Towards the end of the hike, The Hiss and I had a swim at a lovely little beach (ignored the storm water drains) even though the Southerly was blowing like a gale. We caught the 144 from Manly back to the Spit at Mosman.

Red wine and fish and chips for tea.

A Manly ferry in the distance

After lots of steps up, the descent begins

Goannas have adapted to suburbia

The Hiss at a beach around the corner from Forty Baskets


Monday, 24 December 2012

Clovelly beach the morning of the night before Christmas: happiness is seeing the resident groper

WHEN I woke up at 5am today and looked out the window, my first impulse was to crawl back to bed.

It wasn't yet dawn and there were clouds about.

But I'd promised The Hiss we'd do 6am squad at Clovelly beach in Sydney's eastern suburbs.

Driving through Sydney is stressful at the best of times. But today we cruised from the north-west to the east without incident. It's double demerit points because of the holidays and the coppers were out and about - we saw the flashing lights and one poor driver handing over his licence.Whoa. A hefty fine and lots of points gone in one fell swoop.

I stuck like glue to the speed limit  and we still made it to the Clovelly beach carpark by 5.45, just in time to watch the sun rise.


Mr Mild Mannered, who has his own swimming blog, regretted not having his camera handy. Here's a link to his blog: It's nowhere as fun as this one. He works in the public service. That's gotta do something strange to your brain.

Quite a crowd turned up for squad. Some were going for a run with our coach Mr Mean and then doing a shorter swim of ins and outs, but The Hiss and I were there for the splish splash. As was Mr Mild Mannered, who I'm sure is a good sport who can cop a ribbing..?

The air temperature, even at dawn, felt warmish. Mr Mild Mannered said it was 23 degrees. (god, now I'm quoting him. This will give his ego a boost - it probably needs a little stroking since he's spent more than 20 years working for the government).

Fortunately, the water temp was gorgeous too. I'd say 21 degrees though we swam through currents that were 1 degree or more cooler.

Clovelly is a bay that is more European tame than Antipodean wild. Here's a pic I lifted from a useful website to which I will provide the link:

However, this morning there was a huge amount of chop out towards the breakwater. I get email updates from Beachwatch - lots of Sydney beaches - north, east and south, are closed today because of dangerous conditions.

Of course, Tamarama, around the corner from Clovelly, is closed (it's hardly ever open). And so is the other nearby beach, Bronte.

Our squad group, led by a very nice bloke in hot pink shorts, did a series of ins-and-outs. We ran into the water from the beach and swam to the first ladder on the left and then across to the first ladder on the right and then back in to the shore.

Then we swam to the second ladder on the left and across to the second ladder on the right before heading back in to shore.

There are four sets of ladders at Clovelly, so we did the ins and outs from ladders' one to four in a clockwise direction, and then from ladders' four to one in an anti-clockwise direction.

The tide was going out and there were strong currents running out to the ocean on the left and right hand sides of the bay. The current in the middle ran back into the beach.  

There was some weed on the beach and the water clarity wasn't as crystal clear as it can be. Still, we all spotted fish and the resident groper. That made The Hiss happy. And there's nothing better than a Happy Miss Hissy Fit.

I think that groper makes everyone who sees him happy. He's a stunning indigo blue, which more than makes up for his morose expression. He lolls around on the ocean floor seemingly oblivious to the curious swimmers gawking down at him all day.   

When we left the beach at 7.30am the sun was in burning mode. I reckon it's around 32 degrees this afternoon.

After I finish this blog I have to make two salads for Christmas lunch tomorrow. Thank goodness we're not having Christmas here this year. Hallelujah!

I wish everyone who passes by a Merry Christmas. If Christmas isn't your thing, have a nice day and try to get to the beach!


Sunday, 16 December 2012

Manly Blue Dolphins Ocean Swim: the morning after the night before

The second wave of the 1km swim at Shelly Beach.
Fragile. I'd gone out with Ms Fivestar for a Christmas slap-up on Saturday night. I swore on the Good Book that I would behave and not over imbibe.

Who was I kidding? Moi.

Ms Fivestar's partner, Mr Cuddly, is a pushover. He drove us to the restaurant in Glebe and back home again from the wine bar in Glebe. I had totally forgotten about my promise not to drink more than two glasses of wine. I had pretty much forgotten my name and what day it was by the time Cuddles poured me out of his car at my front door around midnight. 

This morning I blamed Ms Fivestar for my cotton-wool head and sandpaper mouth. She is a bad influence and I will never ever allow her to force me to drink again.

Fragile. I shook my head and my brain rattled. Dice in a cup.

My tummy felt soft and queasy. In no mood for a 2km swim at Manly.

Ate two organic Weetbix with lots of sugar and full cream milk. Drank one cup of old people's coffee (Nescafe) with milk and sugar. Swallowed two Panadol and a mega Vitamin B. Guzzled 1 litre of water. 

The heat. The sun scorched my bruised eyeballs. Sucked the life out of my shrivelled cerebral cortex. Drove shakily to Manly and parked in my secret spot.

Sunglasses on, I walked gingerly down to the beach - without moving my head. Still not better. Even worse when I saw the friggin' surf pummelling the sand like a beast.

One of the club officials at the registration desk at Manly Lifesaving Club told me the 2km swim course had been changed. The swim would now start at Shelly Beach and end there too. I could have kissed the sand. Thank you great spirit in the sky.

This has happened for, like, three consecutive years at the Cole Classic, which is held in the first weekend of February. I can't remember if it happened at the Manly LSC Blue Dolphins swim last year. I wrote this swim up last year but haven't revisited my report. I hate reading my old writing.

Gorgeous day. I strolled along the coastal path from the wildebeast surf at South Steyne to the calm cove that is Shelly Beach, though on the way I noticed frisky conditions at Cabbage Tree Bay. A roiling swell and waves smashing into the sea wall at Fairy Bower.

About 200 punters were ready to go off for the 1km swim when I arrived. It should have started at 9.30am but ran late.

Shelly Beach is another of Sydney's magical protected beaches, and a marine reserve. Here's a link to Wikipedia that has a good description of the beach's location. I didn't realise Shelly is the only inland facing beach in Australia.

After the 1km punters headed off I went in for a "warm up". The cold water (around 20 degrees) jolted my system into wakefulness. A light switch flicked on in my head.

I chatted with a couple who frolicked alongside me - they weren't competing, just enjoying the day. Turns out their daughter won a bronze medal at the 2012 London Paralympic Games in cycling. Her name is Alexandra Green. Here's the link to her website. Her home page is a pic of the ocean pool at Fairy Bower.

I'm not sure if the 2km swim started later than the designated 10.30am. But there were long waits between the waves. Finally, us old codgers ran in. The last wave.

Invigorating. Out to the first two yellow cans - swim through those. No worries. Then a bit of 'lift and look' to find the next can way towards the middle of Manly. I swam a bit too wide.

I thought that this far into the swim (around 1km) I'd feel buggered but my stamina held up and I ploughed around another buoy and turned back towards Shelly. My breathing felt good and I tried to focus on staying relaxed - that sounds pretty tense, doesn't it?

I powered past some of the swimmers in the younger cohort - my group wore orange caps, the younger ones wore red and the even younger ones yellow. It always feels good to pass someone younger. Maybe that helped me maintain a strong solid pace. Who knows? It's a mystery.

Swimming back into Fairy Bower, the swell kicked in. I veered too close to the sea wall and got rocked about. Then another bloke in an orange cap snuck up beside me. The bastard. He started pacing himself against me. I tried to pull away but he went with me.

This backfired on both of us because we came in to the beach way too close to the wall. The swell knocked us around and slowed us down. Then the bloody old codger sprinted out of the water and across the line before me.

Old blokes have a hide. And it's not pretty.

A good swim. Pink lady apples for all at the end, but no water. That's not a problem because bottled water is an environmental hazard.

Rating out of 10: 8

Any gripes? If you check out the blob at the dissatisfied customers are out in force. I had pre-registered for the swim so I picked up my cap and ankle timer without having to queue with those who registered and paid on the day. The room was crowded but I sauntered in and out. No worries.  I am special. I am queen of my own imagination.

Also, people complained about the bloke with the loud hailer on the beach, who issued the instructions before the swim. They said they couldn't hear him. Seriously, if ocean swimming has taught me one thing it's to hustle your way to the front if you want to get the gist of it. That's what I did - got in noice and tight so I could hear every word. Give the poor man a break; it's almost Christmas and he's not getting paid to do this job.
PS: Mr Very Big pretends he doesn't read my blog but I know he occasionally has a peek. I beat him again. But I must clarify this - he did both swims. I only did the 2km. But I still beat him.

PPS: Does drinking alcohol (including a mango Bellini, Andrew Thomas Semillon and Amaretto on ice) the night before help one to swim faster the morning after? I might have to start experimenting with this theory.

PPPS: The conditions were murky near the beach and the only marine life I saw were squid during my warm up. No sharks, though Mr Very Big thought he saw a turtle. I thought he was pulling my leg but I just googled 'turtles at Fairy Bower'. And they have been seen in the area. Amazing!

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Bilgola Ocean Swim 2012: a southerly causes chaos

From this...

to this.
BILGOLA is one of those swims that always springs a surprise. 

The day started with a hot sun blazing above us. I played the lonely card and convinced my youngest daughter, Miss Hissy (aka The Hiss), to accompany me on the drive to the northern beaches.

We got to the rugby field at Newport at around 9.45am and caught the courtesy bus to Bilgola beach, which is located at the bottom of a winding road. 

It's a pretty spot, rimmed by bush that protects an enclave of luxury homes from prying eyes. The beach is an arc of golden sand that stretches for 400 metres from end to end. There's a pool for laps built into the rock platform at the southern end, a first-class surf club and more recently a cafe in the car park. It's all you need!  

The Hiss registered late (I paid) and we smothered ourselves in SPF 30, not even considering the southerly that was on its way. 

In the blink of an eye, it arrived. The wind coursed in from around the corner at Newport and brought the clouds with it, at first all misty and laden with the moisture picked up on the journey north. 

Then it turned nasty. Dark and leaden, wind in a frenzy, sand stinging our calf muscles and stabbing our eyes.

The surf that initially looked quite orderly, now appeared totally confused. Slush mush. Boom crash. All over the shop.

The swim usually runs in a clockwise direction but just before it started at 11am the organisers changed the direction to anti-clockwise. I'm not the sharpest tool in the shed but it made sense because it meant we wouldn't have to swim head on into the wind. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

Anyway, this suited me because I breathe to the left. Yay. Small party in my head before the swim even started. It meant I would breathe towards the beach for part of the swim. A better view than out to sea.

The Hiss went in before me with the red cap brigade and my lot, old codgers in the green, waded in last. 

By this time, everyone entered the surf to the left of the course (towards the northern end of the beach) because we'd seen the elite swimmers, who went off first, totally stuff up. Most ran straight ahead and found themselves in a current travelling south. 

Getting in was fun. I took my time, rinsed goggles, drank in the scene. No rush. It's not like I'm gonna win anything. The women in my age group are friggin' legends. 

Once over the sand bank and into the slop it became a hard slog. At first I thought it had started to rain, but the water pelting down in big, hard drops was blowing off the top of the swell.

Several weeks ago, I'd swum in similar conditions when the southerly blew in just before the Bondi to Bronte swim. This was the same deal but I reckon today's conditions were more challenging.

One of the problems for me (and others, by the sounds of the afterswim chat in the ladies' changeroom) was that I found it hard to see the cylindrical orange buoys, even though red balloons were attached to the tops. 

At 1.5 kilometres, this is not a long swim. There were five buoys: two at the start/end and three others on the course. I couldn't see the third one, positioned near Bilgola Head to the north. The wind must have knocked it over, and the chop limited my ability to see ahead. 

The water safety paddlers did an amazing job, directing eejits like me back on course.

I lost my goggles on the way back in but that's not because of the waves. In fact, coming back in was pretty cool, with soft sudsy waves giving me the push I needed. I should have taken the goggles off and held on to them before I decided to let the wave swoosh me to the shore.

I was tired but at least I hadn't had to deal with big waves that scare the crap out of me (Stanwell Park comes to mind - fear of god waves).

I did see someone collapse after the swim - not sure what that was all about. It could've just been exhaustion. I hope they're OK.  

Afterwards, I meet The Hiss and the beach and she tells me she also lost her $28 as new Speedo goggles (bought by me). 

I do a mental calculation: $25 + $30 + $28 + $28 = $111. 

Don't worry about a thing, every little thing is gonna be all right... 

Afterwards, I ate heaps of fruit and nicked two bottles of water. It didn't add up to $111. 

A great bag of fruit...

Score out of 10: I'm giving it a 9. Unique and boutique. Friendly and fun. There were 444 participants, down by around 100 from last year. I had a squiz at the prize packs after the swim and there were a couple of nice Blackmores vitamin baskets in the mix of medals. Regular buses back to the oval after the swim.  

Any gripes? Should there be more cans? The old blokes with barrel tummies who've been in this caper forever would say "no". On behalf of the cartographically challenged, I say "yes". 

Monday, 3 December 2012

Bondi to Bronte Ocean Swim 2012: oh no, not this again! A southerly buster causes a commotion

I don't know where to start with this one. Should I talk about the weather in the days prior to the Bondi to Bronte Ocean Swim? In a tick. 

First things first. Early last week a red algal bloom closed both Bondi and Clovelly. In the photos in the newspaper story it looks like dirty blood. Sorry about long link. Too lazy to do tiny url.

Meanwhile, Bruce and his mates in grey suits were out and about doing their Christmas shopping at Palmy and Whale up on the northern beaches. There were shark sightings for several days.

Now, let's talk about Sunday's swim - starting with the weather.

Friday: stinker. Ocean flat as... Saturday: fry bacon and eggs on the car bonnet. Ocean more like a mill pond...

Sunday (swim day): Sydney wakes up to a Southerly and a leaden sky. The temperature has plummeted from 36 degrees max to 24 degrees max. 

That's okay - when it's not blowing a gale that agitates the ocean into a churning white-capped poltergeist.

So, we stand on the beach and look out to sea and reminisce about last year's swim - a horror story that grows more gruesome with each re-telling. 

The 2011 swim was Nightmare on Campbell Pde - an insane Southerly iced the air, 16 degree ocean bore into bone marrow and the swell rock 'n' rolled like the drunk bogans that stumble down George St on a Friday night.

I calm myself with the knowledge that Sunday's water temp is 19 degrees. That's tolerable, though I can see lots of people dragging on their wetsuits.

The B2B wetsuit policy has changed as a consequence of last year's swim, where a significant number of punters suffered from hypothermia. Some poor bugger was raced off to hospital in an ambo and the organisers ran out of alfoil ponchos. I've still got mine - just in case.

Now the rule goes: 20+ degrees water temp and 25+ air temp = no wetsuits; 20+ water -25 air temp = wetsuits allowed; -20 degrees water temp = wetsuits allowed. 

If you want my opinion then keep reading. I reckon Sydney's gone soft. Yesterday I managed the distance in 19 degrees without feeling any detrimental after-effects, and I'm no Spartan.  If anything, I'm a coward who loves a heated swimming pool and a hot shower after a swim. 

This would be my rule: Only allow wetsuits when the water temp is 20 degrees or less and the air temp is less than 24. 

And don't let the wetsuit wearers claim a prize! They have an unfair advantage because they're not only warmer than the other mug punters, they're more buoyant than the rest of us eejits out there freezing off our goolies. 

Put the soft sheilas in an assisted category where first prize is a hot water bottle.

End of rant. Back on task.

Did this swim do it for me? Maybe it's best to compare it to last year's:

1. This year the organisers added three more marker buoys (hot pink witches hats) to take the number from seven to 10. I love this. As I explained in my last blog post, the more buoys the better for this old blind lassie (not dog but laydeeeeeee) who has been known to get lost in the supermarket.

2. Getting in at the start of the swim worked for me. No dumpers or rip/current compared to last year.

3. Chop chop. More chop than suey. More chop than a black-belt ninja. Much the same as the conditions in 2011. I could find no rhythm to my stroke. Throw one arm forward into thin air because the swell has dipped and I am momentarily caught on the lip. Plunge into the suds. Do it all again. Ad infinitum.

4. Slap in the face. Kick in the head. Buffeted and bullied and bashed. 

A total of 1319 swimmers competed in this 2.4 kilometre swim that takes punters on a journey from Bondi to Mackenzie's Point, past Tamarama beach and in to the beach at Bronte. At one point I was being whacked around the head and torso by someone trying to swim over me. No fun.  I can't remember this happening last year but maybe that's because I'm still traumatised.

5. A lovely swim back in to the beach. Bronte can be a difficult beach and is listed as one of Sydney's most dangerous. But yesterday it remained calm so swimmers could get their mojo in the last 500 metres to the finish line. Some punters love a challenging exit. Not moi. 

Value for money: $40 ($50 on the day). A well organised swim - the volunteers did a wonderful job. Before the swim, punters toss their stuff into a plastic bag, write their name on it and throw it in the back of a truck. The bags are delivered to Bronte and chucked on the grass. Surprisingly, it's not that hard to find your bag amongst hundreds. 

Oodles of water safety and friendly surf life savers keeping a watchful eye on swimmers navigating choppy, potentially dangerous conditions.  

Score out 10: 8

Any gripes? Are clubs in the eastern suburbs that strapped for cash that they can't afford to hand out a piece of fruit? 

I know I'm harping about the fruit and I will stop because next week's swim is at on the northern beaches at Bilgola, where fruit is handed out post swim. Yesterday we were offered a cup of yellow Gatorade - and there was no limit (unlike Coogee where it was ONE BOTTLE OF WATER per punter).

The website that promotes the swim is well designed but when I searched the results I couldn't find the placings broken down into category. I like to see where I've finished in my age group. 

And you know how I feel about slippery seals in wetties. And forgot to mention fins. Wearers of fins/flippers should start in the last wave. Those things are lethal weapons when in motion. 

PS: Thanks to Ms Fivestar, who took all the photos for this post. They're gorgeous.