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?  

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