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