Monday, 27 May 2013

Byron Bay ocean swim 2013 and stuff about turtles frozen into a solid mandala off The Pass as I pass by

The bikes at the beach shack are not in the best condition.

Why has it been so long between drinks?

a. tired b. lazy c. sick as a dog d. loss of interest in blogging e. busy at paid work f. all of these excuses

The answer is "f".

Byron Bay seems so long ago that it's going to be hard to extract the highlights from my wispy memory.

As is tradition, Ms Onyabike, Mr and Mrs Snorkel and I gathered at our rented beach house out the back o' Byron on the first weekend of May.

Because Ms Onyabike didn't arrive until Saturday night, the Snorkels and I went hard at it on Friday night and all day Saturday (so she'd feel like she'd missed out on a really good time).

We went to a lovely little Japanese restaurant, O Sushi, that has alfresco dining plonked in front of the camping shop next door. The food was so good that I soon forgot about our surroundings.

On Saturday I scooted down to the Byron Bay Surf Life Saving Club at 8.07am - just in time to join the tail end of the large group of swimmers who stroll along the sand to Clarke's Beach and the Pass where they peel off into the ocean for the swim back to the club, jettisoned by the north-running current.

Because I arrived after the hour I trotted along the beach until I caught up with Mr Ocean Swims himself. We had a chat about his double hip replacement and peripatetic life that involves running swimming safaris around the world. Go to for details.

Mr Ocean Swim's first stop is Vanuatu in June, and from there he and his partner Mrs Sparkle jet off to Europe where they head up tours around the Mediterranean. I am NOT jealous. I am jealous. I am NOT jealous... I am... 

I enjoyed the swim back to the club at a cruising pace but later learned there were nine green turtles "chilling" off the Pass. Arrrrrrghhhhhhhhhh.

Saturday at Main Beach

Sunday at Main Beach
Creatures hide when they see me coming! Or if there's no place to hide they FREEZE.

I can just imagine me swimming over the top of nine turtles frozen into a mandala. "La de da da da... mmm? What was that? It looked like a mandala. No way. I need more sleep. Just keep swimming, just keep swimming..."

God, George Clooney could be next to me doing breaststroke and I'd miss him. "That debonair grey-haired bloke with the blue eyes and extra super white teeth who kept winking at me? You're pullin' my leg?"

A fellow swimmer swore he saw a couple of wobbegong sharks amongst the turtles. Go'orn, pull the other one.

I didn't see a thing except a school of silvery fish (could have been bream) on my way back to shore.

I dived into the ocean on two more occasions that day - the experience was made more pleasurable by the absence of the unpleasant current that often hugs the shoreline and makes it nigh impossible to play in the shallows.

Ms Onyabike flew in (off the broom) on Saturday night. We went to the pub and fuelled up on carbs - strictly no booze - for the 2.4km Sunday hike.

Sunday morning was typical Byron Bay weather - a bit cloudy, possible squalls, intermittent sunshine.

The air temperature would have been mid 20s. Pleasant enough. No probs hanging around on the grass in our cossies before the buses arrived to deliver us and the other (mostly old codger by the looks of it) punters to the starting line at Wategos Beach.

If you scanned my blog about last year's swim, you'll know it was cancelled because of the dangerous conditions (I swam the course anyway, along with 600 other eejits).

This year's conditions were supposed to be challenging, but fortunately the surf was mild and the shore break far more gentle than 2012's neck breaker.

At the Pass

I don't know if it had something to do with last year or if the punters were revolting over the $65 entry fee, but numbers were down. Around 1750 signed up for the event but fewer made it to the start line.

Ms Onyabike and Mrs Snorkel opted to swim with toys - snorkels and fins - while Mr Snorkel swam with the snorkel, which he refuses to declare to the organisers because he wrongly claims that it doesn't give him an advantage*.

At Wategos we were greeted by a pod of eight frisky dolphins surfing the bombora that often forms close to the Pass. These stars of the sea put on a show, leaping and diving over and into the waves. They made my heart burst with joy. Oh to be a sleek shiny grey dolphin with fins, powerful tail, smiley eyes and snout and an optimistic disposition.   

Alas, I am not a dolphin but a mere human. For me, this year's swim was a challenge. I hadn't trained for three weeks leading up to the event because of a dreadful lurgy that lingered for the duration of April.

I ploughed through the ocean, doing the best I could but feeling like rubbish from the very first buoy.

Thank goodness the current carried me - and everyone else, mind you - up the coast towards Main Beach. Turning in to the shore, I bore the full brunt of exhaustion. It was a long swim in.

Afterwards, I checked my time to find I'd finished in 39 minutes. Not too bad. That's 38th out of the 83 women in my age category.

In the ladies change rooms after the swim I met Irene, 71, from Brisbane. This amazing woman has swum the English Channel three times in a relay team and plans to do it again this year.

Irene began her swimming journey aged 57.

If that's not inspiring, and awe-inspiring, I don't know what is.

*Whatevs. Let the old fella believe what he likes. I beat him by a good nine minutes.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Byron Bay Ocean Swim Classic: we're heading north

Canned last year but fingers crossed for 2013.
Today I'm off to Byron Bay for the Winter Whales ocean swim with Mr and Mrs Snorkel. Ms Onyabike will join us tomorrow as she has taken up study again after a 30 year hiatus and has a major assignment due today.

I mean, why would you put yourself through that? I'm sure there are more fulfilling pastimes to ward off dementia. Like swimming?

(Note to self: drink less and start doing crosswords)

This will be our sixth annual pilgrimage to BB for this destination/journey swim from Wategos to Main Beach.

Last year's swim was cancelled but I did it anyway.

I re-read my account of that exhilarating yet terrifiying experience.  I might just be a little bit unhinged.

Here's the link to that post, if you can be bothered.

Hopefully, this year's conditions will be more forgiving though BB is displaying its usual quixotic nature - I hear it's going to be partly cloudy, possibly raining and partly sunny.

Who knows?

Life's a lottery.  And don't believe Hot Chocolate - Everyone's NOT a winner.

Let's catch up next week.

Monday, 29 April 2013

Cronulla Shark Island Swim Challenge 2013: Ms Fivestar takes a trip back to her youth in The Shire

The pond at South Cronulla.

Ms Fivestar used to hyperventilate whenever she returned to her birthplace, The Shire.

But time has healed many wounds and she can now visit the family home (not far from Miranda Fair shopping centre) without experiencing the feeling of dread that used to descend upon her every time she drove across the border - over the Captain Cook Bridge.

The Shire evokes strong emotions in people.  

Those who love The Shire really LOVE it.

It is GOD'S OWN COUNTRY. They live there because it's a great place to bring up kids; it has wonderful beaches and the peaceful Port Hacking estuary with its numerous bays.

It offers the quintessential Aussie lifestyle to those who can afford it.

People move to The Shire to live the dream. It's bursting at the seams with tradies and builders who've "done good". It's suburban and bronzed and blond(e) with lots of filler.

Snags on the barbie. A cold one in one hand and "cardonnay" in the other.

There's nothing wrong with that...  

Then there are those like Ms Fivestar, who choose to move on out. She split as soon as she started earning a wage and vowed never to return. Too much history. 

Call me perverse, but I thought it was appropriate that I do my first ever Cronulla swim around Shark Island and take Ms Fivestar along for the ride.

She was more than happy to drive us to the southern beaches suburb of Cronulla, the location of the Shark Island Swim Challenge 2013.

After we arrived at South Cronulla Beach at 9.45am, Ms Fivestar pointed out one of her teenage drinking haunts, the Cronulla RSL which is up the road from the beach and Cronulla Surf Life Saving Club. In the photo (above) it's the building covered in scaffolding.

From the age of 15 she used a fake licence to get into the "rissole", where her drink of choice was Curacao and lemonade at 40 cents a pop.

I suggest you read Puberty Blues or watch the excellent TV series adapted from that short novel to get the idea.

By the time I registered, the 1km swim that started at 9.30am was almost over. I usually enter both swims but I've been sick with an awful chesty cough for the past two weeks so I decided to give it a miss and conserve my energy for the 2.3km event at 10.30am.

The day was a confection of perfection. A sky so blue you could dive into it, water so clear you could see right to the bottom.

There was no surf to speak of, though, like a fortnight ago at Coogee, the occasional shore dump made an appearance. By the time the main swim got underway, even that had disappeared.

As with Coogee's Wedding Cake Island, Shark Island is not an island but a rocky offshore reef.

Unlike Wedding Cake, Shark is located around the corner from the main beach. You can't see it from the beach but there is a fantastic coastal pedestrian path, The Esplanade, that meanders all the way along (what I guess is) the Port Hacking Estuary 'headland' that separates Cronulla from the National Park. You get a great view of Shark Island along the walk. And there are tiny swimming beaches all the way round to Bass and Flinders Point.

Have a look at the map:

There were 510 participants in the main swim.

Two buoys were set out on the course near the corner of land where we were to turn right.
I couldn't see the rest of the course, but it was well marked with big beach balls also laid out as guides.

From the beach we could see two buoys. The start-line organiser warned us not to swim out to the closer orange buoy but to the yellow buoy, which was just beyond it.

The wave of swimmers before us hadn't listened to his instructions, and most headed for the orange buoy located more to the right of the course. Those swimmers who went to it first then had to veer left and cut across to the yellow buoy. Precious moments lost.

The orange buoy was the one we needed to sight on the way back in.

What's with all the big watches?

The men and women in my 50+ age group started together and, as usual when men and women go in together, it was a melee. Arms and legs floundering all over the place. What can I say about 50+ men? They're as bad as their younger counterparts. You think they'd learn but they bash and thrash and any vestige of etiquette flies out the window as they race against time.

Good grief. Whaddya want? A medal?  

I wasn't feeling the best so it seemed to take forever to get to the first buoy, which had initially looked rather close. Maybe it was a little over 300 metres from the shore? Maybe further.

The water temp was a pleasant 21 degrees (my guess) as I turned right at the first can and followed the other orange caps. For a long while, I felt like we were in the shallows. The ocean floor seemed close - an easy dive down to touch the sand.

This swim was a visual treat. Lots to look at - rocky reefs, swaying reeds (50 shades of green) and schools of tiny fish having their Sunday disrupted by an unruly bunch of eejits out to prove they still had it.

That was the good bit. The bad bit was the argy bargy. And the massive watches some of the blokes wear. During the Coogee swim, one caught me on the arm and I started bleeding.

What's wrong with relying on the electronic timing devices we all wear on our ankles? I would've thought they were accurate 99.9 per cent of the time.

I think it's on par with the cycling craze. Middle-aged male cyclists flaunt their prowess by gearing up in fluoro gear and flash headwear and ride mega-expensive carbon fibre bikes.

In the ocean swimming caper it's harder to show off. An expensive pair of Italian goggles and nice budgy smugglers isn't enough (and you can't wear flashy swimmers because you don't want your mates thinking you're some sort of namby-pamby whoosy boy). That's why the big watch has become popular. It's another way for the male of the species to assert himself. Look at moi. I'm fast. Like really.

Enough rant.

Lots of swimmers seemed to be coming at me on an angle and I got trapped between quite a few males wearing big watches. It doesn't make for a pleasant outing when someone is crawling over the top of you.

Later on Mr Smith of the Smiths of Taree said he was forced to give a 'diagonal swimmer' the elbow. It gave him great pleasure.

The swim back to the finish line was pretty straightforward. Because of a lack of swell, there was no push back in so tired swimmers, like myself, lost momentum.

One of the lovely things about ocean swimming is that anyone can do it. At Cronulla, the oldest competitor was an 85-year-old woman.

Afterwards, Ms Fivestar and I went to a cafe called The Nun's Pool, which has a view of the ocean from the front verandah.

We then walked along The Esplanade and sat down under a shady tree near a beach called The Oaks. This was where Ms Fivestar's family used to come on a Friday night and eat the freshly cooked prawns her dad had bought from the local fish and chip shop.

Growing up in The Shire was a painful experience for Ms Fivestar but she does have some good memories. And time has softened the harder edges of those grainy old memory snaps.

We had a fun day out in Cronulla 2013. And then we left The Shire via The Captain Cook Bridge.

The Oaks.

Shark Island is somewhere to the left, covered by a high tide.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Coogee Island Challenge 2013: the inaugural Cold Water Challenge (which is rather warm)

The ocean is often at its warmest in April so calling this second swim in the Coogee Island Challenge series the "Cold Water Challenge" is a misnomer.

I don't know why I bother getting caught up in semantics; the thing is the conditions on the beach for last Sunday's swim were bloody perfect.

"Bloody Perfect Challenge".

Coogee Surf Life Saving Club usually hosts just the one swim per season, in November. This year, for the first time, the club has introduced another event towards the end of Sydney's carnivale of ocean swimming.

They chose a great day for it.

Cloudless sky, light winds, 21 degrees in the soup and around 28 degrees on da sand.

No surf, except for a shocker of a shore dump. One punter referred to it as a "neck breaker". It gives me a neck ache just thinking about it.

Imagine a massive body of water that, on its arrival on shore, collapses all at once. Immediately, after smashing on to the beach the beast beats a hasty retreat, gouging out a heap of sand as it goes.

It's the opposite of the crystal tubes that form when the waves roll in, in perfect sync, each one furling in on itself in an elegant and gradual fashion. 

Other than the bad-ass dump it was mild conditions though not so glassy further out towards Wedding Cake Island, the famous clump of rocks that sit roughly in the middle of Coogee Bay.

Last year I wrote a spiel on Wedding Cake Island, which can be found here*. It's not really an island - like Gilligan's Island or Treasure Island - but that's what it's called. Misnomers all over the shop. 

On Sunday, Mr Oceanswims approached me (nah, I probably approached him) with his theory on the choppy conditions and uncomfortable swell that often gave swimmers heading out to the island an unpleasant surprise.

He believed the location and configuration of the rocky reef caused the ruckus.

His explanation was far more eloquent than the above. If you visit the oceanswims website and blog, I'm sure he will have a far better explanation of this basic concept.

It's not rocket science. Of course water flowing around a teeny island will be disrupted by its presence.

Swimmers in the 1km swim didn't cop any swell because the course was plotted further in, well away from the island.

I did both the 1km and 2.4km swim. I wasn't going to do the shorter swim if the conditions weren't "noice".

I'd driven to Coogee early. Glorious glorious day. How I love life when the sun shines and it's the school holidays so the roads are empty of cars filled with harassed parents driving their kids to sporting fixtures all over Sydney.

Strolled to the beach with a smile on my face, caught up with some peeps, had a chat and lathered on sunscreen because it was already a scorcher.

I'd never heard of a swim starting earlier than the advertised time but this one began at 9am (it was down for 9.15am). Afterwards I heard a few people complain that their friends had missed the start.

I can empathise, having recently missed the start at Caves Beach (all my own fault). However, it is always a good idea to get down to the beach early so by the time the swim starts you're fully briefed and feeling in control of the situation.

I found the 1km a bolt. I didn't relax at all and felt puffed as I ran up the beach at the end. When I checked my time later it was a respectable 22 minutes and I finished 6th out of 28 in my age and gender group.

Should I mention that 1st, 2nd and 3rd all came in under 20 minutes? But not that much under. It makes me wonder if the course was longer than 1km because the fastest finisher in my age group and gender was 18.06. I expected her to swim faster because she displays piscine-like characteristics.

Since I started competing in two swims per event, I've started 'eating' that gloopy stuff that promises to give you a starburst of energy fuelled by the power of a million suns. I have this delusional belief these packets of caffeinated slime will make me a faster swimmer.

The clockwise course was clearly plotted. A cylindrical green can followed by three pointy cans would guide swimmers out to the island. They would then chuck a right around a red cylindrical can and travel around the back of the island. A right turn around a second red can would direct them from the island towards the shore.

On the way they would pass three more pointy cans before charging through "a gate" formed by two cylindrical cans. A short run up the beach would lead them to a blue pergola and timing pad on the sand.

Simple as.

Mr Oceanswims was right about the chop. There it was, just before the island but it didn't interfere too much with my stroke.

I enjoyed the longer swim more than I thought I would. It's funny though, I didn't see the island at all as I swam around the back. I breathe left, a disadvantage, so made an effort to breathe right. But I couldn't find the bloody thing. I didn't want to stop because all crusty old ocean swimmers know what happens once you stop... yeah, you got it... another old codger cruises by, a winning smile on their mug.

Back on the beach, I was sure I'd gone well in the 2.4km. The slime had done its job.

I had a quick shower and met Mr Mild Mannered and The Lawyer at the Coogee Bay Hotel. We sat in the courtyard that faces the beach, drinking Peroni (them) and Bulmers Cider (me).

The Lawyer beat me soundly in the 1km swim - he made that clear without having to say a word. All guesture - a raised eyebrow, a knowing smile.

Mr MM had opted out of the 1km swim because he can't handle the pressure. It's not because of me (because I am not his equal in the ocean) but I'm sure this loss of confidence has something to do with The Lawyer. That man has perfected the courtroom patter - make 'em feel comfortable before you make 'em squirm.

We didn't then have the 2.4km results.

I arrived home and checked online. I was so disappointed with my time (nup, not mentioning it here). I thought I'd sprinted home, ahead of the pack.

That's it. No more gelatinous gloop. I'm chucking it out. I swear I am.

Next swim will be gloop-free.  

Talking about that next swim, I usually do Mollymook which is on this weekend. But this year I'm having to give it a miss (unless I jump in the car at 6am and drive the three hours down the coast).

The weekend after that (April 28) swimmers are spoilt for choice with swims at Curl Curl, Warriewood and Cronulla. And then it's off to Byron Bay on May 5!

Here's the link to the November swim at Coogee:;postID=2935075405816568596;onPublishedMenu=allposts;onClosedMenu=allposts;postNum=21;src=postname

Here's the low-down on Wedding Cake Island from the 2011 post on the swim:

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:


Sunday, 7 April 2013

Swim for Saxon Ocean Swim - Queenscliff Surf Life Saving Club: dirty water, politics and OH&S

Four surf rescue craft at Queenscliff.
Saxon Bird died at the Australian Surf Life Saving Championships on the Gold Coast in March 2010. During the surf ski leg of the event a stray surf ski hit the 19-year-old. It took rescuers 55 minutes to recover his body in treacherous conditions.

This is the third year of the Swim for Saxon Ocean Swim, which honours the memory of the champion athlete who trained at Queenscliff. 

On the commemorative plaque dedicated to Saxon is a quote from TS Eliot: 

Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.

This swim was a first for me. Before today, I'd only ever walked to the far northern end of Manly Beach.  

It's a pretty stretch of sand that ends at a small headland - on the other side is Freshwater.

Manly Lagoon is located a couple of blocks back, next to the golf course. The lagoon isn't usually a problem, except after the rain when runoff flows into the sea at Queenscliff. 

The fund-raising Babe Watch is growing in number.

Sydney has copped a drenching since Wednesday. Today the clouds were still around, bunched like juicy grapes, but the big stretches of blue convinced them to drift out to sea. 

A sign at the ocean pool warned swimmers to avoid taking a dip there for at least 24 hours after the rain. I should have photographed the pool - the water was a yucky green. 

Another sign near the beach had the same message for the ocean. Its advice: wait 24 hours before diving in.

Oh well, not to worry. The organisers weren't. The mild pollution didn't stop them from going ahead with the two swims on offer - 800 metres and 1.5 kilometres. 

Other than murky water, the conditions were benign. The surf was non-existent and the water temperature a warm 23 degrees.  

I'd entered both the swims ($40 for the two), though I wasn't feeling too chipper. Back to my old wine guzzling ways the night before! 

I packed in a high carb energy bar on the drive down to the beach, hoping that would fill the tank with enough fuel for the 800 metre dash. God, I love those bars. They're so junky. This one contained cocoa powder, rice bubbles, brown rice oil and lots of other stuff that, to me, tastes like a compacted bowl of Cocoa Pops. Cocolossal!

Prior to the 800 swim, I noticed some commotion on the sand with a couple of camera crews hovering around. It dawned on me that this is the federal opposition leader's stomping ground. The northern beaches is blue ribbon Liberal territory and Tony Abbott is the hero, the man most likely to become Australia's next prime minister when the nation votes in September. And he's a member of the Queenscliff Surf Life Saving Club. It made good political sense for him to be down on the beach.

In his budgy smugglers.

I would have squatted too. Smart move Tony.

I know I've said it before, but I just love it that our high profile pollies can saunter about in almost the all-together without anyone batting an eyelid. Could you imagine Barack Obama, David Cameron, Francois Hollande or Stephen Harper running around in their swimmers? 

What about Kim Jong Un? I'd like to see the roly-poly dictator with all his milky pale flubber on display. I think it'd soften his image. Add depth. Make the guy more human and cuddly, and less like an overfed nutbag despot with an itchy trigger finger. He might belly flop into the ocean and decide all he wants to do is turn back the boats.That's what a dunkin' in the deep blue does - it gives you a new perspective on life.

Anyway, our "almost" (sorry Julia, but it's pretty much signed and sealed) Supreme Leader is down there on the sand, posing for photos with young children and pretending not to notice the cameras trained on him as he checks his goggles and adjusts his... cap. 

I took a couple of pics. I reckon the old Tone's lost tone (the Abbott has lost abs) and put on a few kilos since I last saw him strutting his stuff in the budgys about two years ago. Take a look at the little handle of chubby love above the hip. And I reckon he's sucking in his tummy. 

That's what time on the campaign trail does to you. Tony's had to throw back one too many schooners and Chiko Rolls to prove he's just an ordinary bloke who'd move to the western suburbs if he didn't have the long commute.

But enough of Tony. He did the 800 metre swim. Dunno if I beat his time. I hope I bloody well did. (He did it in 19.56, which is slow. I did it in 16.43, which is average)

What to say about the 800 metres? Murky warm water. No movement in the ocean, not even a nudge into the shore. 

No fruit or water afterwards.

I bought a red drink and sucked on one of those phlegm-like energy products that promises you an instant buzz.

The 1.5 kilometre swim took ages to start because of the five minute breaks between each wave. 

It was supposed to start at 10, but got underway at 10.15am with the youngest wave heading in first. 

My wave didn't start until 10.45am. 

Every swimmer wore an ankle timer. The organisers could have asked everyone to sign off after the swim to ensure all swimmers completed the course safely, rather than count everyone on the start line. I mean, how do you get an accurate head-count when people are milling around and changing their positions on the start line?

There were heaps of rescue people on the water. And four inflatables.

It was over the top OH&S. Totally unnecessary on a day like today. The worst that could have happened was if one of the swimming tragics (older types) had a little episode.

The second wave sprints to the shallows.

Running through the shallows.

The swim seemed longer than 1.5km but it was just me. Too much red stuff - on the day and the night before.

Because the tide was out, competitors had to run into the water through the shallows. I was mindful of the troughs and worried about twisting my ankle, which slowed me down.

I got out to the first red buoy and lost my way because I didn't have a handle on the location of the next buoy. 

I ended up, along with other swimmers, heading towards the furthest red buoy when I should have been swimming to a closer yellow buoy first. What a pain in the bum.

It was all a bit of a murky blur and the swim back to the beach wasn't helped at all by a total lack of swell. 

I went searching for water and fruit because I was sure the commentator mentioned it was available for free for competitors. But I couldn't find it.

No fruit, no water. 

Rating out of 10: 7.5

Any gripes: No fruit, no water. No nothing*.

Why the late start? And the five-minute wait between each wave wasn't necessary. Nor was the head count, which would've been unreliable anyway. Better to give us a number and call it out. That's a good idea. 

The poor water quality wasn't the fault of the organisers. It was just a shame swimmers had to compete in less than pristine conditions.  

This swim is to honour a beautiful boy who died in tragic circumstances.  I'm aware of that and understand the organisers wanting to get it right. They want everyone to be safe in this swim.

But today the conditions were calm, and at this end of the season the participants are die hards who know what to expect, especially in calm conditions. There's no need to be hypervigilant, unless it gets nasty eg: Freshwater two weeks ago. 

Next week it's the Coogee autumn swim. I've heard the swell is going to be massive by next weekend. Wait and see. 

*Apparently there was fruit and juice - I don't know how I missed it because I wandered around looking for it. My apologies to the organisers for not giving credit where credit is due.

Sausage sambos after but where was the free fruit and water?

Monday, 1 April 2013

Easter Sunday: Bondi Blue Water Challenge 2013

Youngsters head off for the 1km swim
I slept in on Easter Sunday so it was a rush to get out of the house, with my two daughters in tow.

Our last swim together was in 2009 or thereabouts, at Mollymook on the NSW south coast.

Because I'd registered and paid for the Bondi Blue Water Challenge on Saturday there was no getting out of it, even though the day started with an overcast sky and a distinct pre-autumnal chill in the air.

It cost me $65 for the 1km and 2.1km swim, and $40 each for the girls to enter the longer of the two swims. A small bloody fortune for a day out at the beach. The things parents do to keep the family together!

I thought (sort of hoped) I was going to miss the 1km event but we got to the beach in record time, even with the traffic lights working against us all the way up Oxford St.

Down on the beach, the conditions looked good even though the weather didn't.

The complete opposite of Friday's boom-bang surf at Freshwater. Bondi was a bay, with lovely little waves breaking on the shore.

I peeled off my jumper, shivered as the breeze hit my skin, and decided to forgo the warm-up. Brrrrrrrr...

PP and The Hiss were rugged up and quite content to sit the first swim out. We met up with Mr Mild Mannered, who accompanied us to the start line. 

He chose not to do the 1km swim as he wanted to give it his best shot in the longer swim. Same with Mr Smith of the Smiths of Taree and The Masseuse. 

They needed to protect their positions - by maintaining their handicap points - in the top 20 of the Olympus Tough Fine Ocean Swimmers Series (they all made it and are now in the running for the random draws of either a trip to Vanuatu or a trip to Fiji -

They missed out on a beautiful swim. A sigh of pleasure escapes me now as I think about it and struggle to find the words to describe it - without falling into terrible cliches. 

During the swim I watched in fascination as multiple strands of pearls streamed from my mouth and smaller beads up along my pale arms as I coursed through the aquamarine water. I could see the 10 metres down to the ocean floor all of the way. As I swam towards the shore, beneath me the green reeds swooshed back and forward to the rhythm of the breaking waves.

I ran up the beach, feeling rejuvenated. I didn't need to put on a jumper. The swim had warmed me up.

In the longer event, PP and The Hiss started before me.

This became a very different swim to the 1km, mainly because we headed further out, close to Mackenzies Point, and then across the back of the bay before the sprint to the finish line.

You know you're doing a real ocean swim when you can no longer see the bottom. No black line to guide you. No idea what lies beneath.

By the time we got to Mackenzies Point and chucked a left around one of only four buoys (from my bad memory), the sun was poking through the clouds. Its rays penetrated the water's surface to form shafts of ethereal light. The ocean floor remained an unreachable mystery.

My left-breathing habit served me well during the swim and provided an excellent view of the Campbell Parade skyline and of the swimmers next to me. It was a nice clean run to the next turning buoy. I turned left close to it and then hit the chop. Where did that come from?

I think it was more noticeable because we had to cut across the bay on the bias, so we were swimming into the head of the chop. Does that make sense?

Anyway, I swallowed lots of salty water on the way to the final bouy that set me on a straight path to the blue inflatable finish pergola thingy.

Maybe I should have moved more to the left of it because I'm sure I got caught in a rip on the way in. I seemed to be swimming against the current - and not getting anywhere.

It took a lot of effort to break free but I managed to hitch on to a small wave that launched me on to the beach like a flapping fish out of water.

The Hiss and PP were there to greet me after I picked up an apple and a bottle of water*.

PP was surprised to learn she came third in her age group F19-24 as there were only four swimmers in that category!

It meant that we hung around for the presentation, which was efficiently delivered. PP picked up a Bondi singlet and The Hiss caught a Bondi cap that was thrown into the audience.

One of the nice things about the presentation is the free food provided by the Bondi Surf Life Saving Club. We stuffed ourselves with mini-pies, sausage rolls and chicken and lamb kebabs.

How good is that? No other club does it - the one that comes closest is Mona Vale, which provides a fantastic steaming hot minestrone after its winter swim.

April is jam packed with swims and then there's the wonderful Byron Bay swim in May - a wonderful way to end an interesting season.

The Hiss and PP together at Bondi.

*Bottled water is a no no. All ocean swims should hand out water in paper cups.

PS: The natural order was restored yesterday when Mr Mild Mannered finished ahead of me in the 2.1km swim.

PPS: But I beat The Hiss! She wasn't impressed.    

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Good Friday: Fresh conditions at the Freshwater SLSC Barney Mullins Swim Classic 2013

I wasn't going to start with the fact that I beat Mr Mild Mannered in this 1.5km swim at Freshwater Beach. Nope. Definitely not. As I always say, save the best for last...

I was going to start this post close to the end of the swim when I started to swim back towards the shore and slowed my stroke to gasp at the sight of the sea spray flying off the white tops of waves as they broke in quick succession.

I remembered I hadn't even thought about Good Friday in my haste to get to the beach. I kept swimming and apologised to Jesus for forgetting about this important day on the Christian calendar.

"Hi Jesus, I know you're probably otherwise occupied what with all those stations of the cross re-enactments and church services all over the place. But if you could just spare a thought for me for a minute or two*. I mean really, even thirty seconds is OK.

"I know, I know, I'm in two minds about all this religion stuff. I know I know, I should commit one way or the other. But if you could just give me a gentle set on the way in I could be persuaded in your direction.

"Shit, don't be so stupid, just swim through it. The waves aren't that bad. It's been an easy summer with mostly flat conditions. Just because this is the first real OCEAN swim since Palmy to Whale at the end of January, you're freaking out. Just swim in. You're a pro. This is nothing."

BLAH. It really wasn't that bad. It's just, I get a bit nervy when confronted by a solid wall of water poised to crash down and suck in anything in its path.

I got tossed around twice on the way in, but the waves were more showy than serious. Through the foamy bubbles I could find my way to the surface without too much trouble.

After the swim, Mr Mild Mannered said a woman swimming close to him on the way in put up her hand for a tow in from the surf life savers. I guess that shows how daunting some of the sets were.

The conditions were challenging because of a combination of full moon, high tide and a powerful wind blowing in (not sure where from, will have to check). It was breezy and the surf had built overnight.

My eldest daughter Precious Princess came with me, prepared to do her first ocean swim since November. She managed the surf OK but did back stroke for some of the way in, in order to keep an eye on the waves building behind her.

Before the swim started we caught up with Mr Mild Mannered, The Masseuse, Mr Smith of the Smiths of Taree and Sharkman.

The Masseuse and Mr Smith tried to scare us with comments such as "Looks pretty ugly out there" but we weren't about to fall for their head-game patter.

We just had to get around the four cans lined up in a 1.5 km rectangular course with a dog leg at the end.

By the time my wave, the fourth, started it was evident the swimmers ahead of us were veering to the left to take advantage of a rip running out.

I should have followed The Masseuse, who went in that direction, but I ran straight ahead on the starter hooter and into a set that kept dragging me back to shore. I must have ducked under a dozen waves before I got to clear water.

The challenges kept coming. The first buoy was a long way out and it seemed to take forever to reach. Also, my goggles filled several times and I stopped each time to empty them. Argh.

One of the swim highlights was the reef that seemed to teem with fish. I don't know if anyone else saw all the creatures? Amazing and beautiful.

It wasn't easy getting a rhythm as the swell heaved in dramatic sweeps. I was reminded of Byron Bay 2012, where swimmers got the ride of their lives on massive wave rollercoasters.

After finally turning at the first can, I caught up with and passed some of my pink-capped peers. Then many of the older blue-capped swimmers who started in the last wave began to overtake me. You can't win in this caper!

Turning right around the second buoy I was able to catch the swell that had buffeted me on the way out. It's such a pleasure to rest on the swell as it gently helps you move to your final destination.      

And you know the rest of the story.

Except for this. On only one other occasion have I claimed a better finish time than Mr Mild Mannered. That was two years ago at the Bondi to Bronte swim, a shocker of a marathon. Mr Mild Mannered has always been able to explain that I only garnered a superior time because his peloton took at battering at the swim's start when a massive set rolled in to Bondi as they attempted to get out past it.

But yesterday? Mmm. Really, there's no excuse for the 23 second defeat.

I'll catch up with Mr Mild Mannered tomorrow at the Bondi swim.

Can't wait.   

**How obscenely selfish is that? Spare a thought for me? I wasn't even worried about Precious Princess doing her first swim for four months. No no no. It's all about the old duck!

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Finally, the fat lady swims: North Steyne to Shelly Beach and back

The first wave of kidlets hit the surf in the 2.8km swim.
The weekend was shaping up to be a beauty. I checked beachwatch and seabreeze.

Sun - tick
Light winds - tick
Friendly waves - tick
Perfect temperature, in and out of the ocean - tick

No one wanted to drive down south with me to the Coalcliff to Stanwell Park swim. And can you blame them? After the Caves Beach debacle I couldn't trust myself to toddle around the block without getting lost.

I chose the familiar, shorter path. The 15th North Steyne to Shelly Beach swim.

Feeling cocky and confident, I entered both the 1km and 2.8km swim. It cost $45.

If the conditions were less than ideal I could always pull out of the 1km.

I left home early, giving myself plenty of time to get to the beach for the 9.15am start of the 1km event.

Parking on Raglan St, I walked down the hill towards Manly and let the sun seep into my pores. As usual, I was nervous but also excited and happy.

It had been so long between swims and I couldn't wait to fling my body into the ocean like a bloody sacrifice. 

Woman against the elements. Woman in her element. Woman like an elephant. 

I gained several unwelcome kilos in my month away from ocean swimming. Skirts tighter, jeans' button digging into belly button.Too much neurotic eating and not enough serious swimming. 

I didn't think I'd see anyone I knew on the beach because a lot of the diehards were down south - though I knew Sharkman would be there because I'd seen his name on the 'progress entries' list on the oceanswims website. 

Sure enough, I met him on the sand. The day before he'd completed the 3.8km swim across Lake Macquarie at Belmont (argh, nightmares of Caves Beach).  I did that one last year.

It made sense for Sharkman to do both North Steyne swims in order to boost his kilometres' total in to maintain his title of the King of accumulated Distance.

While chatting to Sharkman, I spotted THE DEFECTOR aka Mr Very Big (VB).

Until recently, VB and I were members of the same swim squad along with Mr Mild Mannered (MM) and The Lawyer.

Then VB did the unthinkable. HE CHANGED SQUADS.

Worse still, he didn't tell us. HE ABANDONED US.

It's not about the squad. It's about MATESHIP.

VB, if you read this, remember this isn't bloody Ireland, it's bloody AUSTRALIA. MATES MATTER.

VB has joined another squad because he needs to practise long-distance swimming in preparation for a 13 kilometre swim in Galway Bay in August. Fair enough. His new coach specialises in distance and our head coach, Mr Mean, is into triathlons and shorter ocean distances.

We'll miss the Irish bastard.

But he did what he had to do. Because more than mateship, it's all about THE SWIM. The striving to get better, faster and to go for longer (in those new budgy smugglers - see below).

VB was his usual charming self and apologised about his defection and lack of transparency. I forgave him on behalf of my peers.

He wore his new budgy smugglers. Too garish for mine. I noticed the budgys before the man himself! There's a long story behind those swimmers, but best not go into it here. Another time.

And now to the swims.

The ocean was a blue satin sheet, with the occasional ripple and a frilly white edge. OTT.

Let's just say it was "noice".

There were a couple of waves in the 1km but the oldies started with the 40+ age group. It was an anti-clockwise rectangular course with a couple of orange buoys to guide the way.

Regular readers of this blog know I have no sense of direction. So it comes as no surprise that I swam past one of the buoys I was supposed to turn around. I had to retrace my strokes to get back around it, which affected my time by about 60 seconds. *Shakes head at own stupidity*

Because the surf was so small I had no trouble at the start or finish. I ran up the beach, where the number on my inner arm was checked by three different timekeepers as electronic ankle timers weren't being used.

After some free grapes and a complimentary protein snack I felt ready for the longer swim down to Shelly Beach and back along the beach to North Steyne.
Usually I'd find the 2.8 kilometres daunting but on Sunday it felt just right. I managed to swim down to Shelly without feeling tired. It wasn't all that different from pool swimming because there was little turbulence. Most of the waves came from the surf life saving inflatable that occasionally whizzed by. Yuck. Diesel fuel stinks.

Swinging around to the right at Shelly Beach and back through Fairy Bower I expected to see heaps of marine life. The water clarity wasn't as good as usual, probably a result of weeks of rain. I couldn't see to the bottom,  as you can on a good day. And I didn't see many sea creatures, though a school of long slender fish scooted beneath me for a couple of minutes as I worked my way back to South Steyne.

I started to tire about three quarters of the way through my swim but it was really just my right arm, which gets sore because of incorrect technique.

I had noticed early on in the swim that two other white-capped swimmers, like myself, were keeping me in their sights. Or was it the other way around. Not really. One was a woman and the other a male. The male disappeared for a while and I forgot about him but towards the end of the swim I noticed him again on my right side because I kept accidentally bumping into him (I breathe to the left so I couldn't see him).

The chick definitely had her eye on me. This got my goat. I thought, "Hey lady, leave me alone. I'm here for a good time."

Because I was breathing to my left and she breathed to her right, we kept an eye on each other. Then I slowly but surely pulled away. Afterwards I checked the finishers.

I know who you are chicky babe.

Does that sound threatening?

The swim ended with me getting caught up in some gentle breaks in an attempt to body surf back in. Maybe next time.

I finished in a reasonable time and came fourth in my female age group in both swims. That's fourth out of the eight women in my age group! I was happy with that.

Afterwards, my arms were heavy and tired but I didn't care.

It was good to be back on the beach.

This coming Easter long weekend, two swims that were postponed have been rescheduled - Freshwater for Good Friday and Bondi on Easter Sunday. What better way to meditate on the meaning of life.


Monday, 25 March 2013

I bin away so long: weather and demented middle age take their toll on my season swims' tally

Another perfect beach. This time it's Caves Beach.
It all started, or should I say ended, on February 24 when the Bondi swim was postponed because of crazy weather and massive swells along the eastern seabord.

A week later on March 3 the Freshwater swim was put on hold, again because of lousy weather contributing to rip-laden surf conditions at around 22 Sydney beaches.

I lost my way during this swimless period, figuratively and literally, when Ms Fivestar and I thought it would be a fine idea to cruise up the coast to my first swim in two weeks on March 10.

The Caves Beach swim, near Lake Macquarie, had been postponed weeks earlier due to inclement conditions. This was the organisers' second attempt to get it right, and they were on to a winner. It was a beautiful day. 

I got to Ms Fivestar's place in Sydney's inner-west a little after 7.30am, cock sure we'd make Caves Beach well before 10am. It's supposed to take one hour and 40 minutes to get there. Like NOT.

The problems started when we turned on to the F3 at Hornsby and decided to find our own way to Caves Beach without the assistance of the GPS. My GPS has a chick's voice, and she tends to interrupt the conversation with inane comments about speed limits, road conditions, traffic hold-ups and the like. She's a bit like an annoying friend who's always butting in.

And because Ms Fivestar and I both think we know everything about everything we resent being told where to go by a disembodied voice.

That was our first mistake. The second was that I called Spanner and asked him where we should turn off. He should know because he and The Hiss often head to Belmont to sail on Lake Macquarie.

He told us to use the GPS.  Yeah, whatever.

His second suggestion was to look out for the sign: Lake Macquarie East. We zoomed past the Lake Macquarie West sign but by then we were heading for bloody Brisbane.

By the time we got back on track, after turning on the car GPS and Ms Fivestar's phone's GPS, it was around 15 minutes before the swim. We arrived at the beach at 9.59am, just before the 10am start.

I ran from the car and Ms Fivestar moved to the driver's seat. Once on the beach I could see orange buoys in the far distance. READ: FAR DISTANCE.

I approached a friendly surf life saver. We were on the wrong beach and needed to head further south. I scuttled back to the car and Ms Fivestar hit the gas. It was after 10am. I wasn't sure how many waves (starting groups, usually grouped by age) there would be so thought I might still be able to make it.

We arrived at the beach - Caves Beach - and I ran on to the sand holding on to my goggles while Ms Fivestar went to find a park.

Swimmers negotiating the shallows to get to the finish line.

But something was amiss. I could see the finish line but not the start. Another friendly surf life saver informed me the swim started further south beyond the breakwater. 

Despair and resignation mingled in my deflated heart. Too late, too late. Moan. Inner sob. Mea culpa.

I watched with longing and envy as the swim's participants negotiated their way through the shallows towards the finish line after having completed the 1.5km swim.

Not fair. Not fair. Not fair.

Then I got over myself.  

In the end, it wasn't all bad. Ms Fivestar and I had a leisurely swim in clear, 21 degree water and I got the chance to have fun in the surf without the pressure of having to 'compete'.

Afterwards, we bought a counter lunch at the Caves Beachside Hotel, an attractive steel, glass and corrugated iron structure that overlooks the beach.

Another week passed and I missed the Balmoral Beach 1km swim on March 17. This time my decision not to swim was intentional. The money raised from entries to this swim goes to a good cause - children's cancer research - but I've done the swim before and it's too much like hard work.

Too many swimmers confined to a teensy part of Balmoral makes for an uncomfortable and potentially dangerous situation. This is a harbour beach and so attracts all level of swimmer.

I find it's too crowded and too stressful. I worry about getting kicked and punched by fellow swimmers caught in the melee at the start and around the turning buoys.

And don't get me started about finding a car parking space that's not miles away- all of it up steep hills - from the beach. I heard that 1200 people participated in the swim. 

On that same day, the 9km Dee Why swim was cancelled - the 2012/13 swim season's contrary weather and its impact on the ocean has caused big headaches for swim organisers.

I'll write about North Steyne in my next post as this one is already too long.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Desperate and dateless: yet another swim postponed due to nasty weather and mean surf

After last year's Freshwater swim: nice big orange buoys

At the cafe at Freshwater Beach
It was bad enough when Bondi was postponed and Long Reef cancelled. And last weekend it happened again. Conditions at Sydney's beaches were so awful that the organisers of the Freshwater swim decided to call the whole thing off.

They left it until Saturday arvo to make the call but we all knew it was coming.

Friday's weather was atrocious. Actually, I think the whole week was pretty topsy turvy. But Friday went ballistic. Monster winds and slanting relentless rain turned the city into a car pool, literally.

Saturday wasn't much better, though the rain abated for the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras (as it always does because God has lots of gay friends, and there are rumours...)

Twenty two Sydney beaches were closed on Saturday because of dangerous conditions, Freshwater amongst them.

Because I don't live near the beach I didn't witness the big surf but we're talking six-foot waves, messy, untidy conditions, nasty rips and all that stuff that makes swimming in it a rather treacherous affair.

In the olden days an event such as The Barney Mullins at Freshwater Beach, not far from Manly, might have still been held.

But what with the sport of ocean swimming growing exponentially, organisers chew their nails whenever the weather closes in. None of the surf life saving clubs wants to lose a swimmer. And now there's more swimmers and more ocean swims on the calendar, the odds are greater that someone at some point in time might get hurt in a swim.

Insurance premiums are up, and after several deaths at surf lifesaving events over the past decade you can't blame organisers for pulling the plug at the 11th hour.

This coming weekend on March 10 is Caves Beach swim, which I was going to have to miss because of a prior commitment. With withdrawal symptoms kicking in, I am considering a way out of that commitment.

Let's hope the weather improves. The experts claim that climate change is to blame for Australia's chaotic summer of bushfires followed by floods.

Sydney's summer was the hottest on record, though it's hard to believe when there was so much rain.

We all need to consider our lifestyles and how we can, in some small way, make a change to help our ailing planet.

I live with Spanner so it will be harder for me to initiate changes such as solar panels and other electricity saving devices that take some time to show a financial return. Spanner should really be a politician but don't get me started.

A small victory was that I finally started a compost heap that has halved the amount of rubbish we put in our wheelie bin. At first, Spanner didn't want to know about it and continued to chuck his stuff in the bin. He is change resistent. But I have worn him down. A small win for womankind!  Woo hoo!

Enjoy the pics from last year's Freshwater swim. This year's has been moved to Good Friday on March 29. The Bondi swim is on Easter Sunday. Fingers crossed.

Freshwater 2012

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Bondi postponed, Long Reef cancelled: what's a girl to do with no ocean swims this weekend?

Memories light the corners of my mind... Long Reef 2012

What a difference a year makes, 12 little months...

Long Reef 2012

Long Reef 2012
Sometimes the Bureau of Meteorology can get it wrong. It had predicted that a massive low travelling from northern NSW would bring with it rain and inclement conditions for the whole of last week. This weekend was going to be a doozy: big winds, massive swells and continuous rain.

Turns out, the bureau was a week out but spot on for the weekend.  

Last week held up surprisingly well and Sydney was lulled into that "she'll be right mate" false sense of security. Yesterday the wind picked up and all day was a guessing game. Would it or wouldn't it break?

Late Friday, the Bondi swim slated for Sunday was postponed. And this morning I checked out the oceanswims website - Long Reef CANCELLED.

The bureau predicts a combined sea and swell height of 4 metres for tomorrow, with winds roaring in from the south-east. This extends north to Byron Bay, where it eases off, and south to Batemans Bay.

Surfing websites say the surf is messy and currently around 6-8 feet.

So it is with an OCD twiddle of thumbs and wringing of hands that I consider my other foul-weather options: washing clothes, vacuuming, cleaning bathrooms, dusting everything...

With The Princess finally back from her extended tour of southern Asia - three months to the day - there will be more than usual to deal with. I'm already feeling the pinch as the Princess now adds "Penniless" to her moniker.

With no ocean swims on the calendar for the next two days*, it is indeed turning into a tres miserable weekend.

Reality sucks.

FYI, my brother-in-law Davo, who many moons ago used to be my swimming partner, sent me this link to a story in The SMH about crazy people who swim in icy waters.

February rain: backyard with Hills Hoist
 PS: There was a swim on today down south at Wollongong, a two-hour drive one-way from my place. No way would I tackle the hazardous road conditions - factor in semi-trailers overtaking in the rain (with diminished visibility) - to get there by 10am. And then there's the drive back. Stress by the bucketload.