Saturday, 26 January 2013

The Great Sydney Swim 2013 on Australia Day: closing in on the boofy blokes and the great diet challenge

After The Great Sydney Swim in Sydney Harbour Mr Mild Mannered, Mr Very Big and I went for a coffee at a cafe in The Rocks, which featured a display of cakes and pastries in the window.

Over two apple strudels - Mr Very Big had ice cream with his - the two revealed they'd recently been dieting. Is that irony?

They also discovered, having scoffed down the calorie-laden pastries quicker than my dog can lick clean a 350g yoghurt container, they were almost the same weight.

Mr VB is 105 kilograms and Mr MM 106 (it might be zee other way round but vhat iz a kilo between strudels?).

Mr Very Big then had a bright idea - he and Mr Mild Mannered would make a bet to see who could get to his goal weight first and the loser (and this was my bright idea) would take the winner and his spouse out to dinner at a nice restaurant. The details of the challenge have yet to be confirmed.

Turn the clock back to the end of the swim - a 2.2km hike from the Man O War Steps at the Opera House and back.

Usually Mr MM leaves Mr VB and me in his wake. He's a powerful graceful swimmer.

But today something strange happened. As I finished the swim and queued to climb up one of the two ladders to get back on to the pontoon, I noticed Mr MM just ahead of me. I couldn't believe it. What was he doing there? He usually cruises past me like a sleek ocean liner overtaking a rust-bucket fishing trawler.

Mr VB was just as shocked. He finished 9 seconds ahead of Mr MM.

Mr MM made excuses for this anomaly. But at the end of the day, it doesn't matter what went wrong in the water.

There was not a lot of seconds between the three of us. For once we were almost equals. I finished 16 seconds behind Mr VB and 7 seconds after Mr MM.

I got the feeling Mr MM wasn't too comfortable when Mr VB likened us to a tight little triangle! God, it's a hoot.

This year the main swim attracted 517 participants. Again, women are under represented at 179.

The day was beautiful and the Sydney Opera House shone like mother of pearl in the morning sun. Major excavations are taking place to build an underground loading dock but The House rose above the construction site, solid and serene.

My friends and I parked ourselves under a shady tree before the start and all was well with what is usually a very messy world.

Back left: Mr MM and Mr VB. All bets are on.

The swim requires punters to jump into the harbour for a water start. I've done this same course on many occasions (it's also run in March by a different organisation) so I'm used to putting myself out there as shark bait.

Still, it can be unnerving when you consider that last year around 17 tagged bullsharks were roaming around the harbour on Australia Day. Better not to think about it. BLOCK IT OUT. DENIAL.

Today, the organisers decided to lump the 40+ age group of men and women in together. The water churned and boiled with swimmers. I had no time to think about ravenous indiscriminate bull sharks because I was so worried about getting kicked in the head by a testosterone-fuelled bloke in budgy smugglers.

At the starter horn the biffo ensued, as I knew it would. A couple of hundred swimmers thundered across to Mrs Macquarie's Chair in Farm Cove and seemed to arrive at the first can at the same time. I got thumped a couple of times. I shut my mouth around every can to save my teeth.

During the swim I found the time to look back over my shoulder at the Harbour Bridge, flags stiff in the breeze, and those sexy flying nuns pissing in the harbour.

After the first can, we bolted up to the end of Farm Cove, where we hung a right and swam across to another can to take another right.

I first spotted Mr VB after passing the OpenAir Cinema Screen. He paced me and threw out that charming Irish smile I'd sometimes like to wipe off his mug. But not today. I handled the pressure well and had no trouble sticking with him.

I only lost him near the end when I went off course (the usual) and, as Mr VB said, "started swimming towards Kirribilli". Goodness knows what I might have achieved had I stayed on course.

I might have walloped Mr MM - that's a satisfying thought.

Score out of 10: 7.5
Each participant got a goody bag that included a towel and a pair of thongs/flip flops. I love free stuff. The water was served in paper cups - a big pat on the back to organisers for that. 

Any gripes: 1. Four portable loos for around 800 swimmers (there were two shorter events that boosted numbers). It doesn't work. I got in and out before they deteriorated into a major health hazard.

2. See complaint (in main story) about chucking everyone aged 40 and over in together at the start.

3. Some punters complained about the placement of the buoys/cans - apparently some missed the final can, which significantly shortened the swim.

4. We got the goody bags so there's no use complaining about a lack of fruit!

5. The commentator with the sand-paper voice did my head in. I bet he's the loudest bloke at the barbecue after a few cold ones. And he kept calling everyone "buddy". Whatever happened to good old "mate"? Americans say buddy and we say mate. I think I'll have to dedicate a post to this word creeping into the vernacular. It's bad enough that 4WDs have become SUVs and mobiles have turned into cell phones. RANT RANT RANT.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Warriewood to Mona Vale ocean swim: the outcome of lousy ins and outs, and heels as soft as velvet

The day unfolded thus:

Drove to the northern beaches past burnt-out pockets of bushland and still-smouldering sections of national park. It's been a long hot summer and it ain't over yet.

However, yesterday's weather was mild and even a bit drizzly later in the day.

The Hiss and I met Mrs Haveachat in the Mona Vale beach carpark and we jumped on the government charter bus that ferried punters and hangers' on south to Warriewood beach.

The bus pulled up at the top of the hill in front of a cluster of funky cafes, all well patronised on an overcast Sunday morning.

Down the long flight of concrete stairs and on to the golden sands of Warriewood. As with so many of the ocean swims, I'd never swum at Warriewood until I started this swimming caper in 2007. 
I didn't do the swim in 2012. Dunno why. Maybe I had more of a life this time last year.
I have unashamedly stolen this description of Warriewood beach from the Pittwater Council website: it runs for 500m from the northern cliff face and rocks to the base of Turrimetta Head, which protects it from the south, causing it to curve around and face the north east. A single attached bar runs to the north and is cut by a permanent rip that flows out over the southern rocks known as pot rock.

Because the tide was low, Mrs Haveachat and The Hiss decided to walk around the northern cliff face and along Mona Vale beach to the finish line, 1.6km as the crow flies. The Hiss volunteered to carry my backpack as any good daughter should. 

Warriewood often has a reasonable surf and the breeze had set up some chop out the back. The waves were manageable and I felt quietly confident that I could get out to the first of the six buoys on the course without a hassle. 

The course ran north from Warriewood and turned in to the beach almost in front of Mona Vale surf club. I don't think I've done a destination swim this season. This was the first. I was happy because I'd be able to see the beach and better sight the cans - all big and cylindrical - during the swim. 

The Hiss took this pic. It's her favourite. She's not fussy about beer handles!

Another great pic from The Hiss. Desperate old blokes.

I started with the second last group of swimmers, men and women, in pink caps. First mistake - trying to stride through smallish waves. I should have dived shallow underneath. My coach would be appalled at such laziness. 

The waves pushed me back and I got a lousy start. It lost me a couple of minutes. 

BUT - let me share this with you - once I started, having cleared foggy goggles on loan from The Hiss, I was on fire. I surged out to the first can. I passed HEAPS of pink caps.  


Of course those barrels with stick legs, the ruddy-faced old timers in the green caps, had to come along and crush my fantasy. Several of them drifted by me as though they'd flicked a switch into hyperdrive. I hate 'em. 

I didn't let 'em dent the fragile ego that could turn on me at any second. It remained intact. 


Turn to breathe, face the shore. A ribbon of sand and a small dune behind. Blow bubbles into the glassy ocean. Breathe. Watch my hands, my arms, clean and shimmering champagne sparkle.  

Tick off the cans - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and lucky six - two big pink cubes lashed together for easy sighting.

On the way in I aimed for a group of pink-capped swimmers ahead of me. The surf was medium sized, not killer waves, but enough to put me on alert. I haven't done enough practise in real ocean-swimming conditions this season. This was the real thing. A lot of good surf swimmers would have used the rolling sets to their advantage. 

I freaked out a bit. And I was worried I'd lose The Hiss's goggles so I hesitated and, rather than try to catch a wave, I turned and dived back under it. When I did catch one I collided with another swimmer in a pink cap - I basically went over the top of him. It took longer than I would have liked to get back in. 

The walk around the rocks from Warriewood to Mona Vale.

The end snapped by The Hiss.

The Hiss and Mrs Haveachat were waiting. I asked The Hiss for my towel, which was in my backpack. No towel No backpack. The Hiss couldn't remember whether she'd carried it from Warriewood to Mona Vale. Sometimes I wonder. 

The Hiss and I jumped on the bus back to Warriewood, scrambled down the steps and ran on to the sand. Let me correct that - I ran on to the sand. The bus driver said he'd wait for us and The Hiss, who hadn't just swum 1.6km, complained about being tired. 

I ran and ran and ran - more like tottered teetered tottered across the soft sand towards the surf lifesaving tent at the northern end. Then I heard my name being called. "MUM MUM MUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUM!"

The Hiss found the backpack at the southern end of the beach. Repeat: Tottered teetered tottered.

Huffed and puffed back up the steps.

And there he stood at the top. Our lovely bus driver had kept his promise.  

The kindness of strangers.

Back at Mona Vale, Mrs Haveachat had recorded the winners in my age group on her iPhone. The attack of the Lisas. These women are hubots. I hate 'em.

Then we sat through the raffle. Over 30 prizes and only a hundred or so desperate people still hanging around. 

Tore up the ticket, went to have a swim near the rockpool swimming pool and discovered a heel cream company promotion with massage therapists giving free five minute foot massages. Mrs Haveachat and I couldn't resist*.

Then we had a swim through reedy green sea grass the colour of fresh peas. It got a bit chilly - hard to believe considering the temperature hit 48 degrees Celsius at home on Friday.

Cold showers followed by flat white, soy latte and spicy thick cut chips at the cafe on the beach. 

A big catchup with Mrs Haveachat, who should have her own talk-back radio show.

Exhausted but happy.

Score out of 10: 10

Any gripes: I can only whinge so much about local member Bronwyn Bishop. In her favour, she's pretty handy with a starter gun/horn and yesterday she wore a snazzy white capri pants suit rather reminiscent of the early 1980s.

Seriously, nothing to complain about except  

bottled water should be banned 

Give finishers water in paper cups. Bottles are left on the beach and it's up to those in the community who value the environment to clean up the mess made by lazy slobs. 

The event's pros:
*Free parking in Mona Vale beach car park, especially for the swim 
*Bag drop
*Started on time
*Lots of assistance on the water
*Harris Farm came through with the fresh fruit. I made myself ill on watermelon. The Hiss nicked half a dozen bananas (we do shop there)
*Presentation started on time
*The raffle is a good incentive to hang around
*The bus service is a winner: our bus driver drives the local route to Manly and to the city return during the week and volunteers as a surf lifesaver at the club on weekends. He is a legend.

*Afterwards, Mrs Haveachat ended up with a box of leftover heel cream. I took around 100 packs. She's got around 1000. In a couple of weeks we'll have heels softer than velvet. What more could you want?

PS: I only noticed when looking through the results that the number of men in yesterday's swim seemed exceptionally large. Out of 571 starters, 396 were male and 175 female. I'm sure there are usually more women. Maybe it's just the first time I've noticed the unevenness in ratio of men to women.

Mrs Haveachat and The Hiss. Where's my backpack?

Sunday, 13 January 2013

North Bondi Roughwater Ocean Swim 2013: a tale of leaky goggles, self doubt and a discourse on sharks

1. Fine sand: Between my toes. The sand at Bondi is so much finer and paler than northern beaches' sand. It's beautiful to walk on. And today wasn't so hot that it burned your toes (like last week at Newport - ouch ouch ouch). I dug my tootsies in and relished the massage.

I made sure I got to Bondi at a reasonable time, around 8.45am, because I'd registered for both the 1km and the 2km swim. This is the first time this season that I've attempted the two swims in the one event. I'd held off doing two because of the babble that goes on in my head that tells me I can't do it.

2. Self doubt: Today was the day. Why worry, you ask? I am not a contender. But the mind can be either friend or foe.

My mind said, Why can't I breathe properly? My chest is tight. I'm tired. Maybe it's a heart attack? Or stroke? Oh, god, I don't want to spend the rest of my possibly shortened life in an electric wheelchair, like the man who lives up the road and goes to the petrol station with his dog every day to get the paper with no expression on his face because he can't do expressions anymore... Blah blah blah...  


Then my feet touched the sand, I sniffed the seabreeze like a dog with its head hanging out the car window, saw the gentle surf.

My mind said, Breathe. It'll be OK. I can do this. What on earth is wrong with me? Am I a crazy person or what? 

A big crowd had already assembled on the beach. I can't count but we're looking at around 900 swimmers? Dunno. Went to my squad tent, small-talked the peeps, kitted up, drank water.

3. Leaky goggles: My well-travelled well-heeled sister recently took a tour of France and bought me a pair of flash Italian goggles, especially designed for open water swimming. I wore them last week at Newport and experienced slight leakage in the right goggle. Today, as soon as I dived into the water for the 1km, they filled with water. During the swim, I emptied them four times.

I felt so disheartened because I had to stop on each occasion - a no no in ocean swimming where every second counts. Then I saw a familiar face. It was Shark Man (so named because of the shark tattooed on his back).

He swam at the same pace as me so, because I couldn't see anything much and my eyes were stinging from the salt, I decided to stick with him. Frustratingly, I kept drifting away from him and had to claw my way back.

I found it hard to see the cans. They were the small pointy types, which I don't like at all. There was some wavy motion out the back of the shore break so it was very up and down. There were four turning cans. Anyway, I'd lost my mojo by the end of the swim. Back on the beach I met up with Shark Man who told me I kept drifting off course.

Despondent, I walked back up the beach and bumped into my lovely Heron Island Friends and the gorgeous Lady from Lawson, who often wins prizes in the old ducks' age group (my age group). I borrowed a pair of goggles from Mr Smith of the Smiths of Newtown.

I went into the 2km swim wondering if it was worth the effort. I'd tucked the goggle straps inside my cap because they were loose. I had no trouble getting out through the surf because my wave of swimmers went off in between sets.

Initially, my head played up and my body didn't want to swim. Have you ever had that experience?

My head said to my body, Why can't you swim faster than this? Everyone is getting away from you? What is wrong with you body? You are totally worn out and overused. What is that arm doing? For crying out loud, give me a break!  

The goggles filled and I almost turned back. But then something miraculous happened and my body started obeying the instructions from my head. My head decided not to worry about the goggles. My arm decided to go in to the water in one smooth motion.

I know what happened. I started to relax!

From then on, it was all a bit of fun. I swam all the way out out out to Mackenzie's Point and spotted Mr Very Big. We had a laugh (still swimming of course - never ever stop if you can help it) and he tried to pull away but I had enough energy and some in reserve. Where the frig did that come from?

I think I teetered up the sand about 30 seconds after him. I could have gone faster, if I'd really pushed it. I'm serious.

4. A discourse on sharks: Afterwards Mr Very Big, The Lawmaker and I strolled along Warners Avenue and bought takeaway coffees from Organic Republic Bakery. Noice.

We sat on the brick wall of the block of home units next door and the conversation turned, as it invariably does when you talk about ocean swimming, to sharks.

Just lately both Mr Very Big and I have had encounters with sharks at Cabbage Tree bay in Manly. My Very Big claims the shark he spotted "doing its own thing" was easily 1.5 metres long and greyish blue and mottled browns. The shark I saw that same day has now grown to over a metre long - but it was just grey. Not being Irish, I'm unable to bring my stories to life with such lyrical clarity.

The Lawmaker is a font of information. He can talk under wet cement and bombarded us with his factual knowledge of the bull shark population of Sydney Harbour.

In a nutshell: they're out there.

Next week it's back up north to hot coarse sand and local hospitality at Mona Vale.

Rating out of 10: 9
Lots of water safety. Lots of fruit - the generous Harris Farm family is now supplying the eastern suburbs' swims. The presentations got underway in quicksmart time - a gold star for that.

Any gripes: North Bondi should invest in big orange cylindrical cans. If the swell had been bigger there's no way anyone could spot the cans - even lifting and looking.

PS: After a hellish week where temperatures reached 40+, it's raining with the works. Rumbling thunder and flashes of lightning.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

My first official swim in 2013: Newport Beach Pool to Peak

I looked at the report I wrote on this swim last year and discovered that I spend an inordinate amount of time talking about alcohol and my consumption of it.

This will have to stop - the writing about it, not the drinking.

As it turns out, I only indulged in a minor tipple last night - I wouldn't have drunk anything if Spanner wasn't such a lush. He insisted on opening a bottle of champagne I was saving for a special occasion, such as ...? Ah, just drink it.

Like yesterday, today was and still is the most beautiful day. A day for embracing everything that's good about life.

However, let me preface this by reporting that I do have a summer head cold (my excuse for not swimming faster today).

Like the majority of ocean swims, Newport's Pool to Peak has two events on offer that allow punters to compete in both. Enter online, and you get a discount if you do the two.

I only entered the 2km at 10am. The 800 metre swim started at 9am and I didn't want to rush to the beach, leap in the water and get anxious before the second event - it's what I tend to do.

I wish I didn't get so hyped up but, as my mother used to say, "you're such a drama queen".

I arrived at Newport, a 1.3 kilometre stretch of sand that faces due east, around 9.15am. At the southern end is a headland and rock platform that has a lovely lap pool. Apparently, this is where Max Dupain took many of his famous photos of Australians at the beach. In the other direction is the northern headland, aka The Peak.

I wasn't worried about sharks, though they've been in the headlines lately.

There have been numerous shark sightings on the northern beaches.

Recent shark encounters: A shark left a nice arc of teeth marks on a surfer's board at Dee Why, and way up the coast at Port Macquarie a surfer lost a bit of his finger when a shark mistook if for a fish finger. I can't tell jokes.

I found this story on shark myths; you might find it interesting. It also refers to the recent incidents:

The Hiss went to Manly with her girlfriends (and a couple of dorky boys) last week and had to get out of the water after a shark alarm went off. How quintessentially Sydney is that?

Even funnier was the Hiss's recounting of her friend snogging one of the boys in broad daylight. The Hiss, a huge fan of the recent TV series Puberty Blues, found this scarier than the thought of swimming in shark-infested waters. 

I'm getting distracted. Back to today. The bloke on the PA assured punters there were "no visitors" loitering offshore and it was perfectly safe to go in the water.

Mmm, that's what they said at Amity beach. And talking about Amity, one of the TV networks has programmed Jaws for this week. It gets a re-run once a year and always in summer.

The good things about this swim:

1. The first good thing was pointed out by one of my swim squad friends The Lawmaker (he's a solicitor). As we watched the wave of swimmers in the age group before ours head into the surf - many of them walking and generally chilling out - he noted that there is more of a relaxed attitude to ocean swimming on the northern beaches compared to the eastern suburbs.

His view is the eastern suburbs swims are more competitive and aggressive, whereas the northern beaches swims are more laid-back. Up north it's not so much about the winning but more about the experience.

I'm sort of leaning towards his argument (after all, he is a solicitor) though the eastern suburbs swims always attract way more entrants which, in turn, creates more turbulence in the water, especially at the start. In that respect, there's definitely more testosterone action in the east.

Also, this swim, and Bilgola before it, fall on either side of Christmas. Everyone is in a holiday mood. Wait until tomorrow when lots of Sydneysiders head back to work. 

2. Like last year, today's conditions were perfect. A south-running current was a minor issue getting out through the surf. It was a little wavy out the back of the break (which was barely there) but not a tad on Bilgola or Bondi to Bronte late last year.

3. I am so pleased that surf life saving clubs are clearly marking their courses. This one had just enough buoys to make it a comfortable event for me. Even though I swam too wide of the buoys, I could always see the next buoy on the horizon. Thanks Newport!

4. The fruit. Harris Farm gets a plug for this. They supplied watermelon, oranges, bananas, nectarines and grapes. I was also pleased to see cups of water rather than bottles. Next year it would be good if they were paper cups and not plastic. 

Score out of 10: 9

Any gripes:
Gripe 1: After the swim, the man with the microphone said we would only have to wait 10 minutes until the presentation. I thought, "I'll stay if it's only ten minutes away." Around 40 minutes later (well after the last swimmer had finished) still no presentation. I left.
Gripe 2: Bronwyn Bishop. Don't you northern beaches people have any minor celebrities up there who know how to use a starter gun? 


Saturday, 5 January 2013

Another gorgeous day in Sydney: Spit to Manly scenic walk - again!

This morning I joined Ms Fivestar's partner Mr Squeaky (aka Mr Cuddles) for the Spit to Manly scenic walk. It's a 10 kilometre track that has lots of steps up up up and as many going down down down.

Ms Fivestar is on a holiday abroad. She's flown to the mother country to seek out her Celtic roots (not to find a Celtic root, we hope). It's a middle-aged woman thing to do.

I felt that I should do something with Mr Squeaky, who would surely be lonely without Ms Fivestar's genteel* company? As it turns out, Mr S has had no trouble keeping himself occupied in her absence. He even drove to Melbourne on a whim. No Ms Fivestar in his ear to put a stop to that tomfoolery!  

The Spit to Manly quest starts at the notorious** Spit Bridge on Middle Harbour. The last time I did the walk with Spanner and The Hiss, we parked at the Spit, sprinted (felt like it) to Manly (had a swim as the Southerly buster blew in - man oh man was that wild and woolly) and caught the 144 bus back to the Spit.

This morning Mr Squeaky drove to my house at 6.30am and I hopped in my car and followed him to a secret parking spot in Manly. He then hopped in my car and we drove back to the Spit. Just another way of doing it, though I found the bus option worked just as well.

I got a great parking spot at the Spit - I know I harp on about parking spots but good ones are hard to find in a city where most people have at least one car.

We started the walk around 7.20am and Mr Squeaky screamed along like a well-oiled machine. OMG, men walk so fast. But I held my own and was never more than 10 paces behind. Trying not to pant. And that's not because of Mr Squeaky's very fine calf muscles.

Doing the walk earlier in the day has benefits. 1. It's not hot yet 2. It's not windy yet 3. It's not as crowded with tourists and other slow coaches, who can enter the walk at various points along the track.

We stopped on several occasions so I could take photos. Mr Squeaky is much kinder than Spanner, who refused to slow down. At Castle Rock there's an excellent view to be had of the heads, the City of Sydney skyline and Manly.

It made me think of Ms Fivestar, whose photo was recently posted on Facebook as she stood on the cobbled road that leads to Edinburgh Castle in Scotland.

Mr Squeaky and I stood on an ancient landscape - pre-history- with a view of paradise.     

We had a swim at Seaforth, near the man-made swimming pool. The pool needs a drenching as it's green and slimy.

The harbour was pristine. I spotted leatherjackets and other little critters - tiny stripy fish and even a small transparent jelly fish (don't touch that!). The colours - every shade of green and tawny browns to pale yellow. Dazzling.

Flying above us: a sea eagle and sulphur-crested cockatoos.

Breakfast afterwards at Two Olives in Manly: muesli for me and the whole-hog eggs benedict for Mr Squeaky. The man's arteries are clogging as I write. (This is one of the ways women get their own back).

We saw this car parked near The Corso in Manly. Mr S said it's a McLaren and worth around $800,000. Phew. I'd sell it and buy something useful.

Tomorrow I'm locked in to the Newport swim. There's also a swim at Blackhead, 3.5 hours up the coast but a lot longer back, what with holidaymakers returning from the coast to head back to work on Monday. Holiday over.

*I was being sarcastic - at Ms Fivestar's expense
** For years, there has been debate about what to do about the bridge, which is the main route to the city for cars and buses. It is a bascule bridge - it has a moveable deck, which is raised up several times a day allow boats in and out of Middle Harbour. On the weekend, this can cause huge traffic delays. Because numerous state governments have found the issue too complicated (read: costly) nothing has been done. Ho hum. Gotta love Sydney.