In days of yore, when waves thundered onto the beach, the North Bondi Roughwater earned its name. Just making it past the break by diving under repeating sets was far too onerous a task for an ageing Pom so on those days the Bondi Express was a valued friend. Run far left from the start, into the rip and over the rocks and voila - a few strokes and a couple of waves to negotiate and you're spit out near New Zealand - or at least pretty close to the first buoy.
Yesterday, however, the person who crossed out "Rough" and replaced it on the whiteboard with "Smooth" (plus a smiley) had it pretty much right. If you're looking to test yourself against pounding seas and a high swell the conditions were less than ideal. If, on the other hand, you're an arrant coward like me fearful of waves, cold water, bluebottles and Mitchell Johnson, conditions were close to perfect.
Pity the poor Bondi Express on such days, reduced to a shadow of its former self. But I'm not one to abandon a friend so on hearing the 10.48 old farts gun I sprinted (well, lumbered) sharp left, past tourists frolicking in the shallows, toddlers gurgling happily in the 6 inch waves and more water safety craft than there are freckles on Ron Weasley, into the place where the Express begins.
If it shoots out like a Bondi Tram on rough days, this day it was more like an all stations on the North Shore line with track work going on. There was minimal, if any, assistance, but it did get me away from the madding crowd and thrashing arms of disturbingly fit geriatrics and out to the first buoy unhindered.
In past years the Bondi water safety has had a tendency to herd the peleton in narrow channels but, at least for me, they were sweetness and light, paddling out of my way as I ploughed a lone furrow over the rocks and clearly visible seaweed on a perfect day. In fact the water safety people were numerous, polite, excellent and had very cleverly chosen exactly the same shade of orange vests as the buoys to add a touch of challenge to my navigation.
Due to the light swell - just enough to make it interesting and to stop the water from resembling a duck pond (as well as the absence of ducks, of course) - it was easy to see the buoys from a long distance, so it was only the confusion of orange dots on the water that allowed me to maintain my traditional zig-zag "where the f am I going?" trajectory.
From the beach the far buoy, towards Mackenzie's Point, looked further than in previous years, leading me to expect a long course, but in the water it didn't seem that far at all, aided I'm sure by the warm water and excellent conditions.
My condition at the next buoy at South Bondi was less than excellent however as, slipping briefly into breaststroke to check directions (well past the buoy, of course, I'm not one of THOSE) my calf began to cramp up. Faced with the alternatives of swimming on or looking like a wuzz I chose the former and luckily it eased off.
The trip back was easy - loooong but easy - thanks to the yellow flag some kind soul had placed on the far cliffs/flats, making navigation simple and I finished strongly, comfortably avoiding the wooden spoon and wading the last 20 metres. It was then that terror struck in the form of a floating bluey, which encouraged my finishing sprint.
All in all a lovely swim - hot sun, warm sea, well organised, all the waves went off on time, lovely people. The new Bondi Club is great with fabulous views and plenty of room, let down only by an absence of decent beer. Put on some Little Creatures (in honour of the bluebottles) and Three Sheets (for the nautical theme) and it would be perfect.