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.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Murray Rose Malabar Magic Ocean Swim 2013: that's what friends are for

Malabar holds a special place in my heart because it transports me back to my childhood and card nights at Merle and Vic's place, just across the bay from the sewage treatment plant.

In the early '70s, old Malabar was a bit on the nose. Back in the day there was no underground pipe to carry the waste 3.6 kilometres out to sea.

If the wind blew the wrong way the maladorous fumes would rush up the hill and through the front door of Merle and Vic's tres fashionable red brick home.

Not that my sister and I noticed the smell that much. We were too entranced by Merle and Vic's modern split-level home, especially the lilac bedroom with matching lilac ensuite. I know I wrote about this in my post about this swim last year but it's worth mentioning again.

The plush toilet seat cover, the crochet doll toilet roll holder, the vanity surrounded by Hollywood lights, the lavender-scented cushions, the satin doona. Fifty shades of lilac replete with the lilac room of retro kitsch.

My parents played cards with their old friends Merle and Vic and George and Maree, who lived with their daughter Janmaree in Cronulla.

The nights were always full of carousing, and us kids would harass Vic, George and Dad to form a circle so we could all sing and act out Pickin' up Paw Paws, Put 'Em in Your Pocket.

Later in the evening, after half a dozen too many sorbets, the blokes would sing the traditional New Zealand song Pokarekare Ana. I don't know if I'm getting all sentimental but I'm sure they did it in a three-part harmony. It was always a good indication that they were three sheets to the wind. 

At the time, my family lived on the North Shore. Visiting the southern suburbs was an adventure made even more exciting after my dad had knocked back several beers before moving onto the chateau cardboard.

That we made it home in one piece after card nights is a miracle. My sister and I rolled around seatbeltless on the back seat of the car as Dad somehow managed to find his way, hooning along Anzac Parade with no fear of being pulled over for RBT.

We never thought, "Dad's drunk and he shouldn't be driving", because that's what everyone did back then. Sends shivers along my spine.

Many years ago Merle, Vic, George and Maree moved on to the Great Spirit in the Sky, so my nostalgic ramblings are tinged with sadness.


That brings me to today. I find myself on my annual visit to Malabar for the Malabar Magic Ocean Swim after a night of pouring rain in the Sydney Metropolitan Area. I'd registered for both swims but this morning I woke up feeling like I'd been pushed through a blender. Nothing worked properly and my right arm ached.

I checked the Beachwatch website, which advised against swimming at Malabar because pollution was likely at all southern beaches. This always happens after rain. I'm not sure if it's run-off or 'run-back-in' that causes the problem.

Packing my earplugs in my backpack I drove through town and up Oxford Street, which is gearing up for Sydney Mardi Gras 2013 with banners celebrating lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex pride. What's intersex? Not in-to-sex but intersex. Is it when you're into all of the above? Or something to do with intersections? Must Google. And what's the difference between gay and queer? More Googling.

Will I ever get to the bloody swim?

I arrive finally and get the princess parking spot next to Cromwell Park, which leads to Malabar Beach/Long Bay. FYI, down the road a bit is Long Bay Correctional Centre so named after this pretty stretch of water. 

There weren't any shady characters out and about today.

I take that back. I strolled to the beach in time to see Mr Very Big tip toe over the rocks and out of the water at the end of the 1km swim.

Then I scoped the rest of the unlikely lads - Mr Mild Mannered, The Scotsman and another ring-in who apparently has links to Shropshire. The Lawyer was noticeably absent, probably tied to a chair by his disgruntled partner.  Not another bloody ocean swim!

I'd missed the 1km event but was up for the 2.4km distance at 10am. On the way to the starting line Mr Very Big asked The Scotsman to explain the emblem embroidered on the front and back of his budgie smugglers: a gryphon with three stars above it.

Turns out it's The Scotsman's family's coat of arms. Are you serious?  *Shakes head* The people you meet in this swimming caper.

Mr MM, Mr VB and I were on the startline together; the younger Scottish lad with a proud history ("No one famous, all my ancestors are rubbish") went off before us.

I started the swim in no mood for a swim. As usual, I had to put a lid on the head talk. It looked as though all my green-capped peers were dashing ahead.

About 100 or so metres out in a straight line towards the first can the swell picked up. I hadn't noticed any chop from the shore but there was enough to interrupt my stroke. I tried the straight-arm drill that we do in squad but found it tiring.

Instead, I focussed on sighting the first and second cans. The organisers had kindly tied a balloon to the second one so it couldn't be missed. After I chucked a right turn around it, the scene and my mood changed.

The next can ahead of me was on a diagonal, and the swell seemed to be gently heading in that direction. Or maybe the pain killers I popped before the swim were starting to work and everything just seemed easier. I reached that can with relative ease and began to enjoy myself.

The water temperature was 22 degrees and the ocean floor clearly visible. I glimpsed tiny fish dashing around the rocky reef and weed undulating like a hula skirt. I blew out perfect bubbles and sucked in the sky and the headland with every breath.     

The way back in was arrow straight, riding the swell with every surge forward. To be in it, a part of it, was empowering.

With renewed energy I stretched out for the shore. Often I can't see the finish but today I had the white blow-up pergola lined up.

I had total control of my destiny. I charged towards it and then... just inside my line of vision I saw it. Or did I sense it first?

A presence. Larger than life. Mr Very Big.

I couldn't believe it. I identified him by checking out his budgie smugglers. And I'm not talking about the contents. Our squad's name is printed on the back of his scungies. It could be none other than Mr VB. His right royal self pushing me to my limit.

He pumped up the volume and I rose to the challenge. We were neck and neck. No, that's not true. He was a half length ahead of me as we reached the shallows. My stroke rate had increased to a ridiculous rate and I was losing. I considered grabbing his leg but it didn't really matter who crossed the line first - we were that close.

I dragged my body over the small rocks, stood up and tippy toed out of the water. And there he stood. Waiting for me, hand outstretched.

I entertained the thought of running past him.

But it's not every day that Mr VB offers the olive branch. It was a beautiful, chivalrous gesture.

And so it came to pass that we ran across the timer pad together, hands linked in victory.

Now I have to be nice to him - at least for a couple of weeks.

Irish bastard*.

*Backstory: Mr Big said he'd seriously considered participating in the inaugural 900 metre Sydney Skinny Ocean Swim at Cobblers Beach, Middle Head. It started at the same time as Malabar. That would've truly been a sight to behold.

Ranking out of 10: 9.5
This swim raises money for Rainbow Club Australia, a charity that gives children with physical and developmental disabilities the chance to learn to swim or to just experience the amazing theraputic qualities of a watery world. One of the club's most avid supporters Murray Rose was the force behind the Malabar Magic Ocean Swim. Tragically the former Olympic swimmer lost his battle with cancer last year.

The swim is a wonderful and inclusive event in reasonably calm waters.

Yesterday peaches were up for grabs after the swim.   

Any gripes: One of the sponsors was an energy drink company - get rid of plastic and any sort of drink that's the wrong colour. I know, sponsors are hard to come by. Just ask the organisers of the Sydney Harbour Swim that was to take place on March 10 but had to be cancelled because of a lack of sponsorship.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

North Bondi Classic part 2: Moe, Larry, Curly and I sort out the pecking order

Ms Fivestar is not ashamed to call herself my fairweather friend. On Sunday she agreed to accompany me to Bondi for the second lot of swims held this season from the northern end of the iconic beach in Sydney's eastern suburbs.

At 8am the sun shone, the threatened Southerly hadn't yet arrived and Bondi put on a show for the tourists. By 9am the mercury pushed 30 degrees.

The beach was already crowded when we dumped our stuff at my swimming squad's tent.

That's a beach?

Already present: Mr Very Big and The Lawyer throwing snake eyes my way. Mr Mild Mannered arrived soon after, just in time to lunge into the group photo.

In that pic the four of us look fancy free like good friends, mates, comrades connected by the cause - to unleash our inner dolphins and surpass our last best effort in the ocean. 

The truth is far less romantic and involves a lot of middle-aged (I'm being nice here) testosterone (not me, of course) and intense competition - particularly between the three blokes.

I was as gobsmacked as the others when Mr MM revealed his strategy for the day: he announced that he would not compete in the 1km swim at 9.15am because he planned to conserve his energy for the 2.2km event at 10.30am.

Of course, this gave Mr VB and The Lawyer a raft of new comedic material to play with.

Mr MM had obviously lost his nerve. Losing to Mr VB in the Sydney Harbour swim on Australia Day (I wasn't that far behind) had clearly caused some inner-commotion. The man didn't show it but he was an emotional mess, fearful of defeat from the squad stragglers and his nemesis The Lawyer.

He couldn't afford to give an inch; his place in the squad hierarchy was under threat.

Here, my dear readers, was a man on the brink of a mini crisis.  

We left Mr MM in the tent, shaking our heads in amazed amusement as we headed down to the pond that was Bondi.

Swimming pool within a swimming pool at North Bondi

The entry numbers for both swims were up this year, probably because of the favourable nature of the surf.

NO SURF = beginners paradise. Swimming-pool safe, creases ironed out, a glassy surface and barely a splash on the shore. Shark-spotting conditions.

I decided to take it easy in the 1km and ran into the clear cool water with nothing on my mind but a good time. I could see to the ocean floor for pretty much all the swim. At one stage, around 500 metres out from the shore, we swam over a reef that looked like boulders neatly arranged by a landscape gardener. HE works in mysterious ways.

I enjoyed the 1km swim, despite the crowded conditions. A lot of swimmers stopped and trod water while others did breaststroke around the cans. That's annoying for an old hand who just wants to get the job done. 

I didn't feel tired, like I usually do, after the 1km. I was revved for the 2km.

Somehow, I managed to avoid the three amigos before the start.

At the sound of the starter gun for my age group, I galloped into the water like a kid. It was that sort of day. I'd met other swimming friends while waiting and chatted to them. No pressure. It must have calmed my nerves because I felt good as I pulled out all stops and raced to the first can.

The fact I've done this course so many times before also helped. I know where to go and no longer have to check and re-check my bearings. There are five cans on the clockwise course. The first is about 250 metres out from the beach, 2 in the middle of the bay 3 near Mackenzies Point 4 opposite Bondi Icebergs 5 a turning can somewhere on the way back in at North Bondi Surf Life Saving Club.

Again, during the swim I never felt alone. I passed a lot of the slower swimmers in the younger age groups. I got kicked in the goggles and one eejit in a wetsuit swam over me. Seriously, the water temp was easily 21 degrees. In these temperatures wetsuits should be banned.  Or at least aggressive jerks in wetsuits should be banned.

Unlike Palmy to Whale where the shore break dumped with a vengeance, the surf was non existent. I had not a care in the world as I swam in. I ran up the beach next to this man in a rashy who'd tailed me for the duration of the swim. It wouldn't be sportsman-like to trip him on the line so I tried to beat him over it.

Just in front of me was Mr VB. I tapped him on the back. He tried to pretend he was happy to see me but he wasn't.

I beat him by a matter of seconds in the 1km and he beat me by three seconds in the 2km.

But hey, it's not a race...

The natural order was restored because The Lawyer finished before all of us, Mr MM managed to just beat Mr VB and I managed to sneak up behind Mr VB in the sprint up the sand though he pipped me at the post.

Weather wise, just before midday the Southerly blew in like a cranky old woman shooing all the children out of her backyard.

It poured all Monday night and rained on and off all day today. 

Ranking out of 10: 8

Any gripes: 

1. I know I should be happy that newbies are dipping their toes into the ocean-swimming scene. However, I think it is incumbent upon organisers to stipulate the rules: no breaststroke - particularly around the cans and no sudden stopping during the swim -move out of the way of other swimmers coming through.

2. No wetsuits when the water is 22 degrees. Or if there must be a wetsuit category, make them go first or last - not with the older swimmers. Not fair.

3. Ban plastic cups.

Friday, 1 February 2013

The Big Swim - Palmy to Whale: this one's never easy, just ask The Lawyer

I've had a shocker of a week, hence the lateness of this post.

The Big Swim was last Sunday yet it already feels like aeons ago.

In summary:

Mr Smith of the Smiths of Newtown was a no show as was squad coach Mr Niceguy. They chose not to drive all the way to Palm Beach (Mr Niceguy rides a motorbike).

And who could blame them? Outside, the rain sluiced down in windswept sheets across a gloomy grey landscape. I checked my mobile phone's messages and sure enough Ms Fivestar, who had volunteered to be my bag carrier, had pulled out.

I was in two minds about going when, out of the bloody blue, Spanner put up his hand.

"I'll take you," he said.

If you aren't a regular reader of this blog, you won't know anything about Spanner. Let me give you some background:

1. He is my "life"* partner and the father of one of my two children.
2. He is a mechanical engineer** though he no longer works as one.
3. He is not interested in swimming and never accompanies me on any of my swimming adventures: "Why would I want to sit on a beach and watch you swim?"
5. He doesn't like the beach.
6. He loves sailing and prefers to chauffeur our daughter The Hiss to her numerous sailing events.
7. He slavishly follows the advice of an old Italian he once met, who told him: "Never ever finish renovating your home - if you do, you will surely die."

So, when Spanner said, "I'll take you" I nearly fell over.

We cruised to the northern beaches in the driving rain and Spanner dropped me off at Palm Beach around 30 minutes before the swim started (I mistakenly thought it started at 10.30am but the starter gun for the first wave was at 10am).

The view from the beach was less than comforting. The swell had started to build and lots of white water churned into the shore. The only good thing was the rain had taken a raincheck! The temperature wasn't too bad either - maybe around 23 degrees?

The break at Palmy can be deceptive. It can look benign but once you're in it, it can be a challenge to get out through the sets.

I saw a bloke from my squad - The Scotsman - who said it looked fine out the back of the break. Fancy that - I'm listening to the advice of a man who hails from a country that borders on the North Sea and isn't that far, as the crow flies, from Norway.

Anyway, for some illogical reason his logic calmed me down - maybe it was just the gentle melodic accent.

I didn't have much time to consider the hazards I might encounter during the swim because my wave of 40+ women were herded to the start line for a 10.21am start. Later on that day I read the Beachwatch email update, which stated that Palm Beach was closed due to dangerous conditions (that email arrived in my inbox at 10.30am).

I ran into the surf with my peers and immediately the faster in the group managed to duck under a small but powerful wave. I wasn't so lucky and got dragged back towards the beach. It took my breath away.

I've been in this situation before. One year it took me 20 minutes to get out the back. I thought, "Oh no, not this again." My heart beat went off the scale as I attempted to get under the next wave. I did it! And the next, and the next. I felt such relief. There's nothing worse than feeling exhausted before the first 500 metres of a swim.

I decided there and then to keep my head down and try to ignore the false headland that brings false hope to swimmers who believe they're turning the corner to Whale Beach. But they're not. It's quite a hike out to deep, deep water before the end of the true headland appears. I was breathing left and the headland was on the right so it wasn't that hard to ignore it. I occasionally breathed right to get my bearings.

There are very few marker buoys along the Palmy to Whale course. I think there are four? It is a destination swim but it's still a good 2.5 kilometres of hard slog.

The Scotsman was sort of right about the conditions out to sea - because that's where you are when you make the right-hand turn at the tip of the headland. It wasn't too choppy but it wasn't glassy still either.

I got around the corner and felt OK. I thought, "I'm not even going to think about how to get back into the beach at Whale."

I knew the surf would be bigger at Whale. It's a narrower stretch of beach than Palm, wedged between two rocky headlands. It faces east. I can't remember, and correct me if I'm wrong, but I think the north easterly kicked in last weekend.

But I wasn't thinking about how to get in, was I? I focussed on maintaining the pace with other swimmers, and managed to latch on to some of the pink caps in the 40-49 males.

This age group are men facing their own mortality. They swim like mad dogs. They have something to prove. And fortunately for me, they start after the 40+ females.

So, like I did last year, as the pink caps started to come through I latched on to them (figurately speaking). They are out to win. I am out to survive.

I followed a couple of them and when they sprinted off, I latched on to the next lot that came through. I did this all the way to the beach. It was a genius move.

As I got closer to the shore, the swell propelled me forward. It's a beautiful feeling - you're literally buoyed as the swell fills out on its way to the beach. However, it's hard to enjoy it.

"I will not panic" became my mantra as I looked back over my shoulder to check on the incoming waves.

They were biggies but I somehow managed to avoid getting dumped. I caught the end of one wave and swam like crazy. Imagine a rat scurrying from a sinking ship - that was me. I didn't even stand up until I was in ankle deep water. No way was I going to get trashed by a dumper.

It worked. It might have looked stupid but I don't care. I ran up the beach, triumphant. I had survived another Palmy to Whale. Woo hoo!

Amazingly, the rain held off for the swim's duration. Lucky organisers. I picked up my bag in the rather disorderly bag drop and caught one of the courtesy buses back to the Careel Bay Playing Fields, where Spanner waited in the car. While I swam, he enjoyed a coffee, pastry and Sunday paper on the Pittwater side of the peninsula.

That evening I checked my results and, as usual, checked on my swim squad mates to see how they fared. I couldn't believe it; I'd pipped The Lawyer by seven seconds. Incredible. How could that be?

The Lawyer is stealthy, speedy, streamlined and usually a superior swimmer who, at squad, hangs out at the front of lane 7 with the fast swimmers. Every so often, coach Mr Mean promotes him to lane 6.

I beat him. He will have to start his own blog if he wants to argue his case.

Clearly The Lawyer has no case to argue!

This is the real thing. No over-the-top commentary. A down-to-business, no fuss swim. After the swim, there was lots of fruit and regular courtesy buses that delivered punters either back to Palm Beach or to Careel Bay Sports Fields - where most competitors choose to park their cars. 

Any gripes: None. The organisers know their stuff. This swim has been going for more than 30 years (I think - had a quick squiz on the website and couldn't see any reference to it). This year the inaugural 1km Little Big Swim was held and the swim supported the Kiss Goodbye to MS campaign.   

*You define life.
**Spanner recently listened to a radio interview with a professor who specialised in Asperger's Sydnrome, and is now convinced he is a "high functioning Asperger's".

Apparently, a lot of engineers have the condition. Spanner also prefers the company of dogs to that of humans; he doesn't like socialising; he shows no emotion when I try to elicit sympathy or at least empathy from him when I've had a shocker of a week - like this week just gone. He also likes to think of himself as a high achiever (*chortle*).

Christ Almighty. What next?