Sunday, November 9, 2014

Talking under wet shower



What is it that brings me back to loving oceanswimming every season? Something different can happen at any swim and usually does.
Today was the first ocean swim of the season for me, and as every season starts it is great to see all those old familiar faces and catch up with everyone’s stories of holidays, future plans and training, or lack thereof, over the cooler months.
Collaroy put on a nice, flat, sparkling sea, friendly clubbies and the sun was out. The water was warm enough to be comfortable. I would like the water temperature turned up just a tad for future swims, though.
On arrival, I couldn’t help but notice the thick lining of seaweed on the shore. I am certainly not a fan of wading through weed. I always imagine there is something nasty hiding in it. os.c doesn’t help, as he reckons this is where small stingrays hide, just waiting for you to step on them.
On the start line, I decided to start behind one of the men, in the vain hope they would part the seaweed and I would slip through unscathed. I chose to start behind Colin. He who is brave enough to anaesthetise an adult tiger surely would protect me from what lies below the weed.
It didn’t exactly go to plan, but I got through with only a few squeals and before I knew it I was in that starting throng vying for a clear line to the first booee. All continued to go well for me. I recognised a few of the swimmers around me and I knew if I could see them I was doing pretty well.
The run down the back leg was a true delight, until disaster struck. There I was, heading for the final booee of the four, right on course and felt like I was knocking off I few spots along the way. I sighted the booee and swam another 20 meters, looked up to sight again, and to my horror, it was gone. I noticed half a dozen swimmers in front of me had stopped and then all of us noticed at once the booee was on a rubber ducky rapidly passing us and going back to where we had come from.
There was not only disbelief but quite a bit of language I probably should not repeat. It was certainly disheartening to see about 40 - 50 swimmers who were once behind you suddenly turn around the newly placed booee and then head in toward the beach in front of you, while you have been madly chasing down a rubber duckie. It brought back memories of a few Cole Classics at Manly, when they moved the booee mid-race.
We did manage to pass quite a few of these swimmers on the run back to the beach, but not all, so I imagine there will be some unusual results from the 1.5km swim.
To finish off the swim, I knew that weed would be waiting for me, and sure enough I think it had doubled in the time between start and finish. My plan this time was to “man up” and just plough through it. Easier said than done! At one point I thought I would be stuck there forever. It was so thick I couldn’t swim through it and when I stood up I couldn’t make much progress through it by trying to walk, either. I was just stuck there not being able to lift my legs through it.
Others seemed to be making better progress than me and eventually a little wave moved me and it in closer to the finish where I eventually was able to make some forward progress. Oh, the relief!
Of course, there was lots of chatter around the finish line about the moving booee. There were some who were annoyed, some who were bemused, and some who were blissfully unaware of what had taken place.
Like many, I chattered with a few mates about this in the outdoor shower. os.c was a little behind me in the queue for the shower, and as I rinsed myself down, the bloke in front of him said, “Get a load of this… In the shower, and she’s still talking!” And…? This fellow obviously hasn’t encountered me before.

Even ocean swimmers have flaws.

Mrs Sparkle

Read our full report... Click here

Monday, April 21, 2014

The best kind of water


Long road trips can lead to profound revelations. On the way back from Pacific Palms on Easter Sundee, Mrs Sparkle said, suddenly, “You know, I like swimming in the ocean the best. It’s the best kind of water”.

Well, yes. That is one of the reasons why we get up to this caper.

But there is background that’s relevant: for the last couple of months, Mrs Sparkle has been undergoing a transition in her life: a nurse by training, she has become a learn-to-swim teacher, and she’s found herself heavily occupied in teaching some of the youngest kiddies of Ryde municipality to not drown in water.

That means she spends a lot of time in water indoors, in pool water, at Ryde Aquatic Leisure Centre. A typical shift involves three and a half hours in the pool, classes turning over every half an hour. That’s as many as seven classes over the shift, perhaps 25 to 40 chillun over its course, the only variations being slight skill levels of the urchin pupils and the lane to which Mrs Sparkle’s class is allocated in any given half hour.

It means she’s at least waist-deep in chlorinated “fresh” pool water for three and a half hours, and often deeper when she demonstrates what she’s telling the little kiddies, interspersed with repartee that reminded us of the contract that Kirrawee Primary School headmaster Bill White – the first Stra’an yoof to be gaoled for resisting the draft in the Viet Nam war years – offered us on the first day of school for oceanswims.com jr 1: “We’ll believe only half what we hear goes on at home,” said Bill, “If you believe only half what you hear goes on at school”.

Leading up to the Easter holidays, one little kiddie in Mrs Sparkle’s class told her, “We’re going on a camping holiday over Easter, but it’s only pretend camping”. “Oh, really,” said Mrs Sparkle back. The family had booked a cabin at a caravan park, it turned out.

The point being that Mrs Sparkle, a regular squad swimmer at Crummy Drummy, and a regular with an informal squad of laydees at Ryde, known as The Sunrise Sisters, was spending a lot of time these days sub-consciously and consciously comparing pool water with ocean water.

Any laydee will tell you that pool water is no good for the skin. Misnamed “fresh water”, because it’s absent natural “salt”, pool water is loaded with other chemicals, and germs, that ocean water often doesn’t have. There might be a rash of gut infections that razes the population of a pool, or an outbreak of tinea or plantar warts. And certainly there are other salts in the pool water added surreptitiously by unknowing little children whose parents haven’t been careful enough before delivering them into the pool, and by grown-ups who are just too lazy. The chemicals are added in an effort to check such out breaks and contagions. But it does things to the skin: it dries out the skin.
Learn-to-swim teachers also wear clothes in the pool when on duty: wetties and rash shirts as well as cossies. It’s to protect them from the cold, mainly, but it also creates conditions, we’d have thought, it which the colonies of things that thrive in pools can in turn thrive close to their bodies.

Mrs Sparkle is one of those laydees who comes home and immediately washes herself thoroughly then soaks herself in some kind of cream or lotion, generally with a pleasant scent. She complains about the drying effect of chlorinated water on the body, the smell, of which they try fruitlessly to rid themselves, Eau de Chlorine, and the effect the chlorine has on their clothes, particularly on their wetties, which cost learn-to-swim teachers considerable and frequent amounts of money with no recompense from their employers.

Our experience with chlorinated, indoor pools is not as fraught as Mrs Sparkle’s but we’ve had our moments, particularly at Ryde. We used to train there with a squad early morning several times a week. We then would spend squad day congested with blocked airways. It wouldn’t happen to us at other pools, and it wouldn’t happen to us at outdoor pools. But it always happened after a session in the 25m training pool at Ryde, which is where Mrs Sparkle delivers most of her lessons. Strangely, it doesn’t happen to us in Ryde’s 50m competition pool. But there you go.

Anyway, Mrs Sparkle has these considerations on her mind constantly these days, since she started teaching learn-to-swim. The issues associated with spending so much time in an indoor, chlorinated pool are on her mind constantly, and they’re presented in stark relief when she swims in the ocean, especially in ocean water that’s particularly good.

Such as Pacific Palms was on Easter Sundee.

The seas were enormous on Easter Sat’dee. They were so big that the Pacific Palms awgies were prepared to move the course around to Wallis Lake if Sundee dawned as fierce as Sat’dee. Coincidentally, all three swims in NSW over Easter were on those gems of beaches: north-facing. This means, they missed the worst of the weekend’s swell which came from the Sarth to East Sarth-East. Culburra, near Nowra, was a bit different, in that its programmed course, around Tilbury headland, was very exposed to the sea, but Tilbury Cove, on the northern side, sits in the lee of the headland and offers a sheltered alternative in the ocean. Culburra is at the closest point on the eastern seaboard to the edge of the continental shelf.

But the Almighty works in mysterious ways, and Easter Sundee dawned pacific and bright at Elizabeth Beach, home to Pacific Palms Surf Life Saving Club. The swell had gone. It was calm, clear, and gentle.

lizabeth Beach, facing nor-nor’ east, usually offers what look like benign conditions, but as soon as there is any kind of swell, it develops a dump onto a bank which can be quite nasty, even dangerous, if one is not careful, particularly as the tide drops.

But there was nothing like this on swim day. Start time was just a few minutes ahead of the high, 1.3m due at 12:03. It was a very low high, but it meant there would be some water over the bank. The glory was in what we found when we got into the water.

Heavy seas churn up the bottom, making the water turbid. But by swim morn, it was all gone. You could almost count the grains of sand on the bottom, the water was so clear. And it was warm. And, in April, the worst of the stingers and lice usually have gone, so there’s rarely anything in the water, apart from water, to cause any discomfort. Well past summer’s peak, even the sun is relatively benign on Easter Sundee.

We’ve had a run of good water the last few weeks, despite the frequent heavy seas that have led to the worst rash of swim cancellations this season in our experience.

But there were no confounding chemicals in the ocean at Pacific Palms. The sea was gentle, the water calm, walm, and supportive filled with the natural salt that makes us – especially us boofheads – far more buoyant than in a chlorinated fresh water pool. It was a delight to be in.

So, on the three and a half hour drive back to Sydney, it led to Mrs Sparkle’s greatest accolade. As if we hadn’t known it already.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Reasons to be fearful

"(Overseas) tourists" go for a swim at Narooma in today's storm surf. (Pic by @StanGorton )
When today’s Coogee swim was cancelled, @alicejw3 tweeted, “When an ocean swim race is cancelled, there is always a good reason for it. Safety first. Good decision organisers…” Organisers will not cancel a swim without good reason.

Indeed. Organisers will not cancel a swim without good reason. Not on race day, especially. Organisers are the ones who have slogged it out for months beforehand to get to race day, generally unpaid, to raise funds for their organising surf club. They’re the ones who’ve organised all the support services; the water safety support. They’ve done the marketing; they’ve bought the caps; they’ve applied for all the permits; they’ve crossed the ts and dotted the is; they’ve acquired the bread rolls and saucissons for the barbie. It takes money and lots of time. Generally unpaid. When they have to cancel due to conditions on race day, they’re the most disappointed players of all.

Swimmers are often disappointed, too, but for different reasons. Said one mug lair on Twitter after today’s cancellation, someone called @dtsirekas, “damn...I even slept in my budgies last night I was so excited about a big swell swim today”.

Yes, some punters love a swell, us included. But even swell-lovers are at a disadvantage when they front for a swim at a beach with which they’re unfamiliar, because they’re confronted with a break and a system of banks, channels and gutters with which they’re unfamiliar. Plenty of punters are at a disadvantage because they aren’t confident in surf, and if they’re not confident, they’ll make errors of judgment.

Read our report, then come back here to tell us what you thought about this weekend's events... click here

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Swimmin' in the rain


The proscenium arch descends at Freshwater.
Looking through the results from Freshwater today, we notice there were 47 punters who entered this swim, but apparently didn't turn up. That's 47 no-shows, or 13 per cent of the field who entered online. How could this be?

It was a dark and stormy night, sort of, and a grey and rainy day. There always are some punters who, for whatever reason, don't bother or can't make it on the day despite their best intentions. Rain makes for more of them, of course. After one swim last season that was run on a threatening, grey day – but not rainy, as it turned out – one mug emailed us seeking his money back because, he claimed, he'd got the date wrong after being misled by oceanswims.com. Sure. More like, he woke up to find a grey sky and couldn't be bothered getting out of bed, so he thought he'd try it on. As it turned out, the day was quite noice.

Barney_Mullins_Classic_140302 from oceanswims.com on Vimeo.

Some punters don't like or couldn't be bothered swimming on a wet day. We say, those punters don't know how good it can be.

Before today's swim, we tweeted a pano of the sea off Freshwater as a rain front moved in. It was pure drama, a heavy curtain of thundercloud – well, it looked like it could have been thundercloud – descending on the stage that is Freshwater, like a proscenium arch lowering ominously on a poorly received play.

It was foreboding, of something. Shortly after, another punter tweeted a pic taken at Freshwater beach, of a grim scene beset by rain. "Not the best day for an ocean swim," the tweeter tweeted. It certainly looked that way.

But it was interesting to see that this punter tweeted again, this time after the swim, with the same grim pic, but this time the comment, "Rainy but fun swim today at #FreshwaterSwim Water was so warm and clear!"

Says it all... (Photograrph by Glistening Dave.)

And that's the wonderful thing about days such as these: All those punters who woke this morning and, to grey, ominous and spitting skies, rolled over and went back to sleep, missed the joy of swimming in the rain.

You're going to get wet anyway, of course, but there still is the run down the beach -- a jaunty, gay gambol prior to the race -- to the start line and the schlepp back up after it, inevitably less energetic, not to mention the issue of where you leave your stuff. Freshwater is good like that: the club throws open its doors and welcomes us mug punters in: it makes its auditorium available for gear stowage. So, no worries about what happens to it during the swim.

There's also the issue of the storm water drain at the northern end of the beach, just next to the start line. On a day like this, there's always a flood of flotsam emerging from the drain, despite the grills at its exit. In the runout in that northern corner, it doesn't hang around long and whooshes out to sea, just as we swimmers do once we're in it. We didn't spot much apart from a few leaves tody, though. Freshie organiser Linda Wiadrowski reckoned that was because Friday's rain cleaned up the streets and it's all gone by now. There certainly was little evidence of nasty stuff in the sea once you got moving.

Indeed, the water was clear. We had the most evocative view of weedy, corally rocks as we glided over them, outwards, outwards towards the ocean, sometimes in water less than a metre deep, the swells swirling around the rocks and pushing us gently back and forth. Even way out past the pool, even past the point, we wafted over the rocks and weed, in water amongst the clearest we've enjoyed this season.

We remarked on this last week after Bondi: about how clear was the water. It continued, despite the rain, at Freshwater, which could have been Clearwater. (Perhaps the locals could get another petition going to change the name again.)


Every season has a clarity peak. We remember the Cole at Manly a few years back, when the water was so clear there seemed nothing between you and the bottom. At Manly! Deep ocean outfalls have done wonderful things for the beaches nearest the city centre. Every now and again, you get such days, usually when least expected, and that makes them all the more satisfying.

It is a remarkable thing that the water on rain days so often is very clear, just as it's also often very warm. We don't know the temperature today, but it would have been around 24C. Did anyone have a thermometer on their persons, who could tell us? Sometimes, this is a comparison thing, that the water seems warm because, on a rainy, chilly day, it's warmer than the air temperature: it's warmer in than out. Today was so warm, the sea so comforting, that it was being like wrapped in your favourite blanky when you were a little kid, and on those cold winter mornings, you just didn't want to get out of bed. It was comforting, and reassuring, and you felt secure.

It takes a day like today to produce these conditions. The heavy cloud and the rain evens out the light, so you don't have the extremes or the harshness of light that makes the southern hemisphere light usually so different from the northern hemisphere. There was little wind, too, so the water was smooth, but with a swell rolling through, the bigger as you got farther out to sea. But that meant that the wind – and there was no chop – left the water unshaken, not even stirred, so it remained clear. The even light above the water surface meant you had even light below the surface, too, enhancing the clarity.

Mrs Sparkle remarked to a friend that the water was so nice, she didn't want to get out. We felt a bit like that too, as we did at Bondi. Sure, it rained, and the clouds threatened doom, but what a lovely swim we had. And the 13 per cent missed it. Some people have no idea.

And a footnote: We told the story in our weekly email newsletter of John de Mestre, the Freshwater member who won the first inaugural Barney Mullins Classic, run 23 years ago when John was 28. John won the 20th, too, when he was 48, and whom do you think won again today, now 51? Yes, him again. And when we say, he won, we mean, he won outright. Not just his age group. The whole shebang. His dad would have been proud.

At the preso, de Mestre made a comment about his dad, who passed away last year. And he said a few words about Barney Mullins, in whose memory the swim is name. Barney Mullins taught de Mestre, and many other high profile names, how to swim in the surf and the sea. He taught me, de Mestre said, where to swim and how to swim according to which way the sea was running: how to read the sea and use it to your advantage. "He taught me how to swim smart, not just hard," he told the crowd.


See our more complete report on oceanswims.com of both Freshwater at the Melbourne Swim Classic... click here

Tell us what you thought of your swims over the weekend... Write in the comments field below...

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Wonderful world of blueys...

Peter McCrae's course, he said on swim day, would betray the fact that he stupidly followed others the wrong way towards the first booee at Bondi. It doesn't look all that bad to us, but reality is all in the mind, after all.

Some things, we hold as self-evident. So self-evident that we hardly need to say them. Like, dive under broken waves, don't stand up and face them head on. Don't body surf dumpers onto shallow banks. Don't swim in the fast lane if you're slow. And, best of all, don't breaststroke around booees. You know, the kind of things that qualify for “The Bleedin' Obvious” category in Mastermind.

Another is: Don't follow those ahead blindly, for they are following those ahead of them, and they in turn, and really, unless you sight for yourself, no-one really knows where they're going. Take responsibility for yourself.

They are all self-evident truths. Which is why Peter “McGoo” McCrae, the most eccentric and idiosyncratic oceran swimmer whom we know, was so sheepish when we approached him on Sunday, after the main event at Bondi, to collect our GSP-in-a-plastic bag, which we'd affixed to his wrist shortly before swim start in the expectation that we'd do probably only to the first booee then across to the final one. We wanted someone who was intending to do the entire course, and we couldn't trust ourselves, loaded as we were with our Brownie Starflash-in-a-plastic bag.

McCrae was sheepish because, he said, the GPS would show that he headed to the wrong booee after getting through the break at Bondi, towards the middle booee on the back reach rather than the sou'-western booee off Mackenzies Point. “I was following everyone else,” he confessed, and that, he said, got him into trouble. He wasn't looking forward to seeing the course. More importantly, we suspect, he wasn't looking forward to everyone else seeing his course, as well.

 

The bleedin' obvious...


We hold as self-evident that you should sight for yourself, not just blindly follow. But swimmers do follow, thinking it saves them time, that they won't then lose ground when they “stop” or slow to sight the next booee. They just trust the mugs in front of them. And how many times do you hear them lament on the beach afterwards that trusting in the mugs in front of them led them astray.

Branded by a Medusa.
Looking at McCrae's course (above), though, it doesn't look too bad. Sure, there is an early tendency to head straight out rather than towards the point, but McCrae must have caught it quite early, for the trend, as you see on the stock exchange graphs on the evening news on the telly, was in the right direction overall.

We were reminded of this truism earlier than McCrae's complaint on the beach after the race on Sundee, however. On the way back in from Ben Buckler, after rounding the nor'-eastern turning booee to head back into the finish, and just after we'd crossed the shark net, we were almost run down by a laydee swimmer heading, head down, at 90 degrees to our own course. She was heading towards North Bondi. Perhaps she was just a very slow swimmer from February 9. In any case, the water safety laddies, who were very attentive at Bondi, very quickly put her back on course. But had we been a metre ahead of ourselves, she'd have sliced us in two. And we wondered, to ourselves, in our inner monologue – isn't it extraordinary how many people, when they tell you what they were thinking, say, “And, I thought to myself...” Another one of those self-evident truths from “The Bleedin' Obvious” category. – “How could anyone go off course so radically? I mean, it's not as if there's a big sea, or sighting is impaired, or you can't see the next marker, which is Stra'a...”

Another thing we regard as self-evident is how to extricate oneself from the grip of a bluey.

We've been extricating ourselves from the grip of blueys all our lives. The first bluey sting we remember was when, as sweet little boys, we sprinted down the beach at a surf carnival at Caves Beach to greet our uncles as their boat crew returned victorious from a race, ignoring the blanket of blueys that lined the length of the beach. They were just stings on the foot, but the beach was thick with the blighters and their tentacles oozed up between our toes. The stings were in unreachable places.

We've never done that since.

The accused.
But we've been stung by blueys plenty of times. The most salutary sting we received was at Dee Why, which we've long regarded as synonymous with bluebottles. It's not Dee Why's fault, of course. But in the old days, their annual swim, which was a biathlon or a swim, depending upon your preference, ran on the third Sundee in February, so it was high season for blueys and there was usually a nor'-easter blowing which, as we all know – it's self-evident – is a bluebottle-bearing breeze. Every year, there seemed to be blueys at Dee Why. One year, our cobber, Michael Williams, was carted off to hospital by ambliance (as our kids used to put it) with severe bluey stings. Glistening Dave went with Michael to see that he was ok. It was a bromance.

Another year, our other cobber (yes, we have two), Shelley Clark was carted off to hospital, by ambliance, from the now defunct Bridge to Beach swim from Lavender Bay to Manly. That year, the entire peloton had run into a carpet of blueys stretching for a kilometre across the outer harbour from Middle Head towards Manly, and across towards North Head. As the leaders were stung, some of them were hauled from the water, but the followers kept running in to the carpet of blueys. As we recall, a third cobber, Peter Thiel (“Man of Steel, except when it comes to lice, and blueys”) also was carted off to hospital. Shelley's problem wasn't just to do with the day, however. She was a regular swimmer in long open water events at international level, and she'd been stung so many times that the toxins had built up in her system. The stings this day just tipped her over the edge.

This day at Dee Why, we were half way back from Long Reef Headland when we ran into a bluey with very long tentacles, which wrapped themselves around our head and neck. It wasn't nice. We grappled with them for what seemed like minutes (seconds, in reality), but try as we might, we couldn't get rid of them. The stingers kept stinging.

If you've never been stung by a bluey, you will have to imagine what it's like. We've been stung by some fierce creatchers in our time, but blueys always took the cake (until we were stung by a Medusa in the Mediterranean last year, which was like being branded). The bluey sting is very sharp, piercing, and it stays with you. It sears through your body, the sting that keeps on stinging. The Medusa, on the other hand, was like being branded, but after the initial shock, the sting subsided. You stayed stung, and you felt it, but it didn't keep giving it to you as the bluey does.

 

Cobbers awash


Then there was our cobber (we've more cobbers than we realised), Derek Mortimer, who swam Cabbage Tree Bay from Manly one Sat'dee in high summer, and ran into a swarm of blueys hiding around the point. The swarm overwhelmed Derek, who sank as he grappled with them. Passing board and ski paddlers ignored him; he was rescued by scuba divers in the bay, who called and ambliance, which took Derek up the hill to Manly hospital, which is soon to be closed. So Derek was in care, but his wife, waiting at Manly, knew none of this; it happened out of sight around the point, you see. She waited, and waited, and... And eventually she set out to search for him. This was early afternoon. She could find no trace. And it wasn't until that night that she found Derek in a bed at Manly hospital.

The hospital released Derek at 11:30pm. They said he could go. His wife asked how he felt. He said he felt ok, now, except that he couldn't hear very well. That might be, Derek's wife said, because you still have your earplugs in.

So, half way back from Long Reef Headland, we grappled with the tentacles; we tried to unwrap them from around our neck, but every attempt just stung our fingers. It was difficult to unwrap them without touching them with a hitherto unstung part of your body. And nothing would move them. Eventually, we ducked under the water, as deep as we could go, and as long as we could stay. And the tentacles floated off. They're attached to the balloon, you see, which is what you can see floating on the surface of the sea. So if you duck down, the connection to the balloon, which continues to float, pulls them off you. Self-evident, you see.

You have to make sure that you surface some distance from the bluey, of course, and you must hope that you're not simply resurfacing into another bluey. This day, we didn't; we surfaced into clear water, tentacle-free. We remained stung, of course, and the sting kept searing through us as we finished the swim and trudged gingerly up the beach, looking for the first aid facilities.
That was in the early noughties, but ever since then, we've barely had a bluey sting, and certainly not one as bad as that one. 

 

Tell Jonesy 

 

We have no reason to use this pic, except that
we came across it whilst searching for a pic of a bluey,
and it is a pic, after all, of an ocean swimmer.
We've always thought of blueys as high-summer threats, at their worst when the onshore breezes are at their blackest. The last couple of years, though, things have been a bit different. Was it last year or the year before, the first bluey plague of the season was in September! Now this season has been relatively bluey-free. Perhaps Jonesy could explain this to us?

At Bondi on Sundee, there was a rumour that there'd been blueys sighted in the nor'-eastern corner at North Bondi. We weren't surprised, since there'd been a stiffish sou'-easter blowing all morning (plenty of people associate blueys with nor'-easters but, really, in our experience, any onshore wind brings them in: the balloons act as sails, you see. Apparently, some are oriented one way, others the other way, so they respond in different ways to the different onshore breezes. The bottom line is, any onshore breeze will bring them in somewhere or another). When we approached the start line at Bondi, however, we were wary. We have difficulty rationalising the sense in setting out into water that you know carries blueys nearby. Our plan was to take pitchers of the start, then to swim to the first booee, then across to the final booee, thence to return to shore, thus to limit the exposure and the risk. We strapped our GPS-in-a-plastic bag on the wrist of Peter McGoo McCrae, and headed down to the edge, where a voracious rip ran through a gutter out to sea.

When we arrove on water's edge, however, we were struck by the clarity of the sea. We'd swum at Mona Vale on the Sat'dee, and the clarity was nice. But the clarity of the water at Bondi was several powers ahead of Mona Vale. As we stood there on the water's edge, the break washing around our feet, we looked into the rip that ran out through the gutter past the break, and it was so clear, it was calling to us, like the Lorelei on the Rhine, “oceanswims.com... Come hither... Enter us, oceanswims.com... Come hither...”

It was so clear, the water so lively, and we couldn't resist...

We left the beach after the antepenultimate starting wave. We caressed the ocean in the rip, and we whooshed seawards. As we think of it, we've never seen a rip so clear. Normally, rips are murky with the whipped up sand caused by the raging torrent of water rushing back to sea. But this was the clearest rip we'd ever seen. As we passed the break, we just wanted to keep on swimming.

We're always alert to the sudden brush of a bluey, especially on a day when they're known to be around. But we felt nothing all the way around the course: just the gently rolling sea of absolute clarity. We'd been watching the swell forecasts leading up to Sundee, and for days, they'd been predicting a two metre swell on swim day. It was nothing like that on the beach, but out by the back reach, it was two metres, all right, and some swell bigger. But they dissipated by the time they reached the shore.

All the way, nothing, not a bluey in reach.

Phil Reichelt with his new "nipple tat",
and el Bernard Buncle, fresh from the embrace of a bluey.
Manly, eh?
So we were surprised, when we arrove back on the beach, to find a bunch of victims, including Phil Reichelt, with a bluey sting circuitously around his left nipple; Jillian Pateman, with a fat lip; and el Bernard Buncle, everyone's whipping boy, this time whipped by a bluey which had wrapped itself around his torso. 

He had grappled with it, el Bernard said, but it just wouldn't shake free.

Why didn't you just duck down and let it float off?” we asked, in all innocence.

Why didn't what?” he said.

Some things, we'd regarded as self-evident.

The colour of booees


By the time we arrove home, we had already, in our email inbox, this comment...
I had to send you this as it occurred to me while flailing around at Bondi today.

The swell was quite high and challenging, but the buoys are very similar colours to the lifesavers tops, so I found myself swimming towards a yellow "buoy" in the distance only to find it had paddled away somewhere else. Then I spotted a red "buoy" and as I got closer it started its motor and drove away!

Malabar had the smarts last week to have a helium balloon attached above the turning buoys.

Now we don't want to remove all the challenges from Ocean Swimming but perhaps when a larger swell is predicted the Surf Clubs can add some extra help to the flailers

Regards, Jeremy Wheeler
Fair point. But that said, the only two colours that really work in all conditions are the yellow and the orange. (We declare an interest: They're our booees.)  Bilgola also use helium balloons. But they often don't work in a breeze, which can lay them flat on the sea.


In the meantime, tell us what you thought...

Monday, February 17, 2014

Swimming in the rain

Not Malabar, no. Byron Bay last week when a mob of punters turned up to swim newd. A bit distracting for the locals, according to our reporter on the ground The Sports Mistress (@Sports_Mistress).
I love this swim for lots of reasons.
  • You've got the choice of a short/long or both. 
  • There's a relaxed atmosphere - pretty much the only people that are there are those there for the swim in some way. 
  • It's in aid of the Rainbow Club - which is all about getting children with disabilities swimming in order to realise their potential (and today into the ocean). 
  • The club turns on a great show - loads of water safety, briefings, fruit, 'tap' water, energy drinks and a running commentary with loudspeakers on the beach and in the park to keep everyone well informed on what's going on! 
  • Added to that is some live entertainment (the songs of which can stick in your mind for the swim), a bbq stall & coffee van, prizes by the bucket load and a great day out.
Today - a bit gloomy and grey. Not raining - at least not at first - but it didn't stop HEAPS of us coming to swim - the only thing missing today was the accompanying families. It was warm & humid at the beginning of the morning but cooler and very wet by the finish. I was glad of the hoodie I had with me, and the umbrella and rain jacket!

Anyway, the swims 


Lynn tells us she's been using her BK Selenes (the world's best all-'round goggle, we reckon),
in her right hand, for 10 years, "longer than I've had him", she said, pointing at her husband.
They've been married eight years. Lynn bought a new pair, in her left hand, at Malabar yesterday.
Obviously, Lynn observes Goggle Respect.
The 1km is a quick out - across - back swim. It's not far off shore - the buoys are big and visible - straight out to the first buoy, turn, swim across to the 2nd buoy, turn and then swim straight back in (note, straight is what you try to do, and sometimes achieve - my route looked a bit wobbly). For the whole time you are still well within the shelter of the bay - so there's life to the water but not so's you struggle to catch a breath or see where you are going.

I always intend to do this as a 'warmup'. Right. I took off in my wave with another swimmer who kept such a steady pace to my right it was lovely to swim with. Occasionally she'd be further over, then we'd be closer together, then I might be in front (not often), then she - right until the very end really. All I tried to do was not stay behind her - I don't find it easy to be behind people - can't 'see' as such. It was a good pace and I totally enjoyed the race! The downside - after I stopped for a breath, had a drink, is I got a little cold. I spent the time between this race and my start in the next wrapped in my towel and dancing around under the umbrella trying to stop shivering and warmup. I did in the end stop. Just before I had to unwrap and head back into the water.

So - that meant I had to get going to get warm. Off we went. It seemed a faster pack of swimmers this time and I was going slower too - yep, run out of puff. It didn't matter one bit - this was the course that changes when you keep going past the first buoy . . . you are heading much further out - all the way to the farthest buoy with the helium balloon on top of it - the great thing was that the red of the balloon stood out really well against the grey seas and skies so it was a nice target.

There's more of a swell out the back - so you are sighting on top of the roll and just swimming through the flat. I seemed to notice the sea life more - more rocks, more fish (and there was some rubbish unfortunately - those plastic bags just float around) and a huge clump of seaweed at one point. I had time also to watch the rocky cliff edges a little more - time to breathe more regularly and then rounded the first buoy+balloon and out a little to the middle buoy and then across to t'other side and second buoy+balloon. This bit was FUN. The ocean was giving you a push on your way over - I always feel it's a bit like catching a wave that doesn't break - but just rolls you along with a little pause between push. Lovely. Rounding the farthest buoy+balloon was a bit odd for me - I got there but was being pushed just a little to the right by both the ocean and another swimmer so I literally brushed past it at the turn. Kind of caught me by surprise - I usually stay wide. I'm putting it down to just having too much fun and not paying enough attention to my course. To the guy on my left I hope I didn't throw you off as well.

Back on course, and heading straight(ish) for the shore - it was a long ways out. You could see the buoys but you really just had to head to the finish (keeping left of any buoys) - so I just sighted off the blue sails over the kiddies playground which were directly above the finish line and kept it simple. That meant I was over to the left of many swimmers - I remember last time there seemed to be a current running against me on the way in but this time we were in the lull around the high tide so it was just a good swim in.

The water was still moving around out the back - but the closer you got to the shore the calmer it became - then you were just gliding through the water.
Look who was in town for weekend swims: Killer brought his unique brand of living, heaving ocean swimming culcha to Sydney where, each year, he does Swim for Saxon at Queenscliff. Killer said to us once, "I didn't get called Killer for bein' nice to people on the footy field". Sydney's gain was Mur'bah's loss for the weekend. Also in town, The Sports Mistress, from Brunswick Heads. We thought for a while, there was some connection between the two visits. But, no, it was just her Big Sleepover at Casa Sparkle.

Exfoliation - Free!


Well, there was one surprise. The pumice stones.

There were patches of them floating on the water and it was an odd feeling to be swimming through rocks. They don't hurt, they aren't heavy or large - it's just really strange to swim through. If I hadn't been looking at them on the beach before the swims I mightn't have know what it was. Sometimes we have that exfoliating swim through seaweed - today our skin was perhaps being smoothed as we swam. Added bonus.

And so the race came to an end - the last few metres swimming over the rocky shallows that last year we had to stumble over as the tide was low. Much easier - swim right up to the sand then engage the legs and run (not fast) to the finish.

This swim was done - but the show wasn't over yet.

For me, there was a quick shower to rinse off and change, and don the warm hoodie I'd brought with me. Then a wander up and over the road to the nearby cafe to get a takeaway bacon & egg roll & a coffee - then back for some chitchat with other swimmers, checking of the results, staying
around for the FOS random draw (ok - at this point I have to say I got lucky so that was very nice - thanks oceanswims.com & BudgySmuggler) - and then the presentations and speeches. For the first time there were also prizes to recognise the achievements in both swims of both senior and junior swimmers with a disability. These swimmers swam the race with everyone else in their age groups - there's no quarter given and none taken or expected! It's just all in for a swim.

Now I have been remiss in not mentioning the Rainbow Club more - and those swimmers who outswam many today yet who are challenged day-to-day by their disability. There's the amazing Louise Sauvage - a Paralympian who swims in my age group and is a patron of the club; James Pittar  who swims the so many long swims around Sydney (not to mention the world) and is an ambassador for the club; and young Georgia - the first club member to participate in the 'Magic' and who swam the whole 1km swim course today! This is what the club is all about - and what all today's proceeds and fundraising efforts are for - supporting kids with a disability to learn to swim and through that perhaps help them realise their potential.

Added to that - the swim bears the name of the great Murray Rose. I love these words from the website ...
Murray Rose was a great supporter of the Malabar Magic and one of the original creators of the Magic. It was his vision to have an Ocean Swim to raise funds for Rainbow Club Australia, a charity of which he had been the Patron for many years.

Murray always believed that magic occurred in the water - when he swam for Australia or indeed just swam, when the children of Rainbow Club accept the challenge to fully explore their abilities, and when 1000 swimmers splash into the waves of Malabar Bay to raise funds for these children.

The Rainbow Club Australia was saddened when Murray passed in early 2012. His enthusiasm for all things Rainbow Club and for the Magic will be greatly missed. And it is in his honour that the Board of Rainbow Club Australia agreed to rename the event Murray Rose's Malabar Magic Ocean Swim.
It was a great swim and despite the rain and the grey day the magic was definitely there both in and out of the water.
Jen Gwynne
@CoffeeMumSwims
Results... click here

GoBraveDave was at Phillip Island...


Read his blob... click here
 

Tell us what you thought of the weekend's swims... 


Swim for Saxon at Queenscliff, Murray Rose Malabar Magic, Phillip Island swims... click the comments link below

Monday, February 10, 2014

A smug feeling of superiority on a swell


The Passing Parade. ('grarph by Glistening Dave)
Sitting at the Farncy Fish place over the road from North Bondi beach after yesterday's swim, we spotted a bloke on a motorbike with a milk crate strapped to the carrier behind him. In the milk crate was a beautiful border collie, a black one, with a happy face, shining hair, a tongue panting out the side of his mouth in the summer afternoon heat.

The bloke stopped at the crossing that links the beach to the stairs heading up to Military Road while beautiful people crossed the road to and from the beach. Around him swirled the colour and the pageantry of Bondi on a summer Sundee: the pretty, delicate, sun-tanned girls in their evocative finery, less of it all the time; the aging butch body builders finding difficulty walking, their thighs rubbing uncomfortably together, setting out for a promenade along the beachfront, both shirtless, one of them shoeless, soon not chappless, either; the stylish yummy mummies and daddies with exhausted toddlers schlepping up the hill after a morning building sandcastles; the C-listers taking a break from the paps, or perhaps hoping the paps might still be looking; the tv stars and the fashionable chefs and vets; the leathery surf clubbers still doing it after a lifetime in the sun, filling in time between bouts of melanoma.

 Farncy Fish and its environs were full of colourful people yesterday. Particularly notable was the surge in celebrity chefs taking up ocean swimming. We were there with our cobber, celebrity chef David Tsirekas, of the Greek persuasion, on his weekly morning off from Xanthi in the city. A few tables in was apparently recent convert to ocean swimming, Miguel Maestre, of the Spanish persuasion, whom we see on the telly on Fridee nights on the living room couch sitting next to celebrity vet Dr Chris, a regular ocean swimmer. And there he was, on Sundee at Farncy Fish, sitting next to celebrity vet Dr Chris. 

Once more unto the sea, dear chaps. ('grarph by Glistening Dave)
Bondi is a colourful place at the best of times, but on a summer Sundee, it's particularly special. A noice place to be any time, on a good swim day, it's special. As it was yesterday.

North Bondi is a good swim venue for a range of reasons. The surf club there has been running ocean swims for decades, and they know how to do it. The template doesn't need to change that much; it's honed from years and years of swims, changing subtley as experience mellows. For example the water safety lads and lasses are much softer now than they were at North Bondi a few years back, when it was their way or no way.

The venue lends itself to mass swims. With Bondi facing a little east of south, North Bondi is protected in many conditions, such as yesterday's when the east-sou'-easterly swell ran into South Bondi, leaving North Bondi as the proverbial Lake Bondi. The Backpacker Express in the corner is an invaluable tool, matching Avalon for glory in swim starts, if the organisers allow its use. The start at North Bondi yesterday was a little farther sarth (west) of the runout than it usually is, making the run north (east) into the corner a little too far to make it worthwhile. The Almighty was watching over us, however, as the easterly sweep on the nadiring tide picked us up on entering the water and took us east, anyway, so the effect was pretty much the same. We can't recall a sweep that strong that far along the beach at North Bondi, but then we don't swim at Bondi more than a couple of times per season.

The water was coolish, perhaps 19C, and a bit lower than reports from the day before. Nothing like, what, four years back, when the day was similar, cloudless, warmer, hotter, and the mug punters dashed gaily into the surf only to find it had dropped from early 20sC the day before to 16C overnight. They danced on the water. No warning from Him upstairs about that one. We don't mind a bit of cool. As we've said before, we have our wettie built in. That gives us a luxury that some other ocean swimmers don't enjoy (although most ocean swimmers swim with built-in wettie). We find the cool invigorating, refreshing. You last longer in cooler water.

The water appeared to clarify between swims, too. It was noice during the 1km, albeit not the clearest we've seen it at Bondi. But by the time the 2km started at 10:30, the tide continuing to suck out over the shallowing bank, it was clearer.
('grarph by Glistening Dave)

The real joy, though, was the sea as you neared South Bondi, which really is West Bondi, or Sou'-Sou'-West-by-South Bondi (we're drawing this from our days in the Sea Scouts in the late '60s. 1st Swansea). We expected this, given the swell direction: east-sou'-east. We'd been hoping to find it wrapping noicely around Ben Buckler, leaving the corner calm with the run out into an increasingly undulating break over the rounded boulders that line the bottom off Bondi's northerly (easterly) point. But it wasn't. The direction and the size weren't quite right for that.

But as we approached the sarth (west), below the 'Bergs, we found the swell picking up, making this swim an absolute glory. Sitting on the verandah of Farncy Fish afterwards, we pointed out to a new American cobber -- in the knowledgeable way in which we all point out to recent arrivistes who, we assume, just don't know, only to find that he used to live in Sydney and probably knew more about Bondee than we did -- how the swell increased as your gaze drifted from north (east) to sarth (west) and the 'Bergs. Still gentle and benign in the northern (eastern) corner, it was pumping in the sarth (west).
You'd think Lochie Hinds had never done an ocean swim in his life, judging by his colour. (Pic by Mark Ellis)
 And we felt it more, the farther we swam sarth (west) from Ben Buckler. You know that feeling, when you're swimming along in a fresh sea, and suddenly you feel your feet being picked up by the onrush of a following swell, running through you from toe to brow. Rolling you in a supple wave as it thrusts you down its face, you lengthen your stroke, you keep that leading arm out there just that little bit longer, to make yourself like the torpedo that we tell the little kiddies about at the pool, to make yourself more streamlined. You maximise your streamline and you minimise your drag, and you accelerate past rank-and-file hackers with insouciant ease, smugly assuming that only you know how to do this, because only you have grown up on beaches and take this swell surfing as a natural and private gift only to yourself.
Bondi life. ('grarph not by Glistening Dave)
That's the kind of feeling it gives you, of course, swell surfing. Not breaker surfing, where you swim hard to catch a wave that breaks and dumps you onto a sandbank. Swell surfing is when you run with the swells, feeling the gentle lift in your toes, lengthening and suppling your body (words can mean whatever we want them to mean) as it melds to take the shape of the swell, to be part of it, rushing through your body, shooting you ahead, then dropping you off the back, where you slip back into hackbeat, your bow-wave off your brow breaking ahead of you... Until the next swell, gently lifts your toes...

Even better, it didn't stop when we rounded the far-out booee off the 'Bergs to head in towards the beach. More swell, bouncier now because of the backwash from the rocks along Mackenzies Point, but thrusting and undulating and rolling nonetheless.

Gee whiz, it was nice.
Rozanne Green's 2km schlepp around Bondi.
Another lesson for our American arriviste, which we omitted to point out to him... but he might be reading this now... you never know... Someone must read it. Apart from us... Although Peppermint Pattie isn't around any more, so that rules out mum as a regular... Another observation from the verandah of Farncy Fish (from where our elevated perspective showed us stuff that you don't get to see from sea level) and that's to do with the topography of Mackenzies Point. We've talked about this in the past, comparing Mackenzies with Little Head between Palm Beach and Whale Beach, about the bottom dropping off Little Head immediately, so you can round that bluff close in to the rocks even in swell. But from Mackenzies Point, there's a rock shelf running to sea, so when the sea is running you need to skirt it by a hundred metres or more, depending on the size of the swell and the state of the tide. From Farncy Fish, that east-sou'-easterly swell bashed into Mackenzies then back art again when the sets coom in. It was a melee in the sea for 75 metres. Everyone should be made to look at that, as part of their education as ocean swimmers.
It was a noice day at Bondi.

North Bondi Classic 9/2/14 - Images by Paul Ellercamp