Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Fear is a funny thing - Dawny Cockatoo Island Challenge

On Sunday I completed the Dawny Swim - from Dawn Fraser Baths in Balmain, around Cockatoo Island and back (2.4km) for the second time. The swim takes place not 300m as the crow flies from Greenwich Baths where I had swimming lessons, spent most of my summer holidays as a kid and first learned to swim laps (with a boogie board attached to my ankle in case I got tired and needed a rest).

It also takes place not 1km as the crow flies from Farm Cove where I had my first open water panic attack during the swim leg of a sprint triathlon.

Having grown up swimming and swimming in the harbour, I still have no idea where that fear came from. I remember the first time I was unable to put my face in the water, but attributed it to being too cold (about 16 degrees, Balmoral, Sydney). I remember not being able to put my face in the water without freaking out but attributed it to being too opaque (Nice, France).  I will never understand that fear or what caused it.

I only know that I had to tackle it head on, and in doing so, found my greatest sporting passion which I hope to keep doing til the day I die.

Sunday I jumped in and swam to the front of the start line, ready to give it a red hot go from the get go. To be able to do this so early in the season was pretty amazing. Previously, the fear edge back over winter only to be beaten into submission over the course of the season. I'm a slower swimmer so I was elbowed, kicked, swum over and I didn't care. I didn't freak out. I just kept swimming.

It later turned out I'd been kicked in the goggles so hard I'd been given a black eye. Hot.

I got almost instantly into a nice rhythm and cruised along, swimming my own race but loudly cheering anyone I recognised as we swam past each other. It's my favourite part of any swim.

Swam under the ferry wharf to avoid waiting for ferries. This is not your usual swim.

Was swimming past the huge deep water dry dock used to paint war ships when I realised what was bugging me. I wasn't used to swimming without fear. It had been my constant companion for so long, whether butterflies in the stomach, or full blown hysteria, I wasn't used to swimming without nerves. I wasn't used to enjoying a swim from go to whoa. I wasn't used to going with the flow and being totally fine with the rough and tumble of open watering swimming. I keenly felt its absence. And focused on my stroke instead.

Monday, November 3, 2014


Today this little swog hit 4,000 page views. I think 1,000 are mine and another 1,000 are people looking for a photo of orange stars but nontheless, I'm pretty amazed that this chronicle of my swimming adventures has proven so popular.

No posts for a long time as IRB, illness, injury and more illness have kept me from swimming. Finally getting back into it, building up to squad sessions and having an absolute ball just splashing about. Not counting laps or kms. Not recording anything. Just experiencing the joyousness in being in the water with good friends.

I am, however, excited to annouce I got a spot in the 2015 Lake Argyle Swim challenge. A 20km monster swim in remote WA across the lake created to acommodate the diamond mine. So super excited. So general plan is swim 20km race on 2 May, hopefully finish my unfinished business with Bondi to Watson's  on 17 May, before heading back to California in July for more adventures with the bloody brilliant South End Rowing Club.

I might be the one swimming, but I'm not the one doing the hard work. That'll be my support crew and I'm so incredibly blessed with the utterly gorgeous people in my life who enable my adventures.
Thank you.

2015: Bring. It. On.

Post script: The 2015 Lake Argyle Swim Challenge and Bondi to Watson's fell foul of a concussion. Next time gadget.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Bending to the break

It’s no secret that ocean swimming is my greatest love, born from my greatest fear.

But it’s only through consistent practice that I’ve learned to love it. So it was with some trepidation, after 5 weeks off surf sessions learning how to be an Inflatable Rescue Boat (IRB) crewperson, that I approached Saturday’s surf session.

I spent part of the morning working on engines with the IRB crew ensuring my mind was in the gutter. Owing to the 6-10 foot sets coming through, Zoe and Kingy wisely choose a gutter session to match where my head was at. When the surf is that big, the water is moving so fast it creates a littoral current that runs parallel to the beach – creating a natural gutter between sand banks. The body surfing gurus, Hossy and Stirky headed out the back. There are those who excel in big waves, and then there are those, like me, for whom they can be an ordeal.

About three quarters through the session I tightened my goggles and decided to join them. This wasn’t done lightly.

Exactly a year ago I completely shattered my surf mojo upon the sand owing to a shore dump spearing. This is what happens when you show up late to a session and miss the warm up. Don't disrespect the coaches by doing this. 

There are four of us heading out, and at one point I lose my nerve and head for home, catching a big broken wave and thinking “this is going to hurt”. It doesn’t and buoyed by that thought I strike out for the back, beyond the break, again.

That moment where you get out the back, you reach comparative safety, when you collect your thoughts and your breath is a truly golden moment. That moment when you realise you’re not out the back and a seemingly monster set is about to break on your head makes you wish you’d worn your brown swimmers.

There is no choice but to dive, dive deep, and hope like hell you can grab the sand and hold on.
When you get it right, the wave surges over you, sounding like a 747 taking off above your head and obscuring the light. Then the spray off the crest speckles the sunlight cascading through the water and there is nothing more beautiful. You come up in the clear water between the waves, take a breath, ready and prepared to dive under the next one.

When you get it wrong, there is nothing more scary. I got under the first two fine, but the waves inevitably build through the set and the last one caught me in the backwash as I dived under. Funnily enough, the thought “this is going to hurt” relaxes me. I give into the wave as it washing machines me every which way, knowing eventually, it will throw me up long enough to grab another gasp of air. Eventually, it will spit me out. So long as I bend to its will. And, for the first time, in a long time, I keep my eyes open through this process rather than screwing them shut. The foam is truly mesmerising.

The wave washes on, leaving me behind, the water clears and I survey the situation. Do I head for shore or back beyond the break? I’m still a long way out so I head well clear of the breakers and wait. I regroup with my buddies. I catch my breath and calm down. And let myself bend to the will of the unbroken waves. Bobbing about like a cork. Until I find a lull in which to return to shore, I'm not yet brave enough to body surf big waves.

The funniest part is, once we returned to shore, one of my fellow not so surf confident friends, who’d been right inside the break zone remarked that he only felt comfortable admitting how scary it had been once “the surf lifesaver” swam up and remarked “oh my god”! As though, in obtaining my bronze, I had somehow managed to vanquish all my fears at once. No such luck. 

But I’ll definitely have a go these days. And that means I’ve come a long way, baby.

Colin, one of my first surf coaches, nailing a wave with Bondi Fit. Photo (c) Bondi Fit. Bondi Fit's head and founding coaches, Spot Anderson, is one of the best body surfers you will see. Longy, another of my first Can Too coaches is also completely at home in conditions such as these.

Watching the wave that built at Mermaid's rock (headland) and broke at the Boat Ramp. Photo taken by the lovely Bel with Kingy's camera. 

Hossy showing off his skillz whilst Stirky (orange cap) watches on and two randoms watch them

Bobbing around out the back.

Thursday, August 7, 2014


I have to admit, as I write this I am a little overwhelmed by my heroes right now. Also a little feeling a little swim fannish!
·      Stuart Johnson is currently attempting a triple crossing of the English Channel, a feat achieved only 3 times throughout human history. On the day that the currents thwarted my attempt to swim to Watson’s Bay, he swam from Coogee to Bondi to Watson’s and then back again. Sending him amazement and best wishes. [Postscript - Stuart Johnson didn't quite make the triple crossing. He did make one of the most powerful acceptance (in the true sense of the word) statements ever and inspire the bejesus out of me and a fair few others:
After a 30 hour swim, Stuart Johnson said "I was tired and close to hypothermic, yes the water was warm but if you spend that time in the water it can happen, and despite my considerable pre-channel girth. Because I had slowed down I was going to miss the cap and go south ...
for 6 hours. The prediction from Reg [pilot] was 14hrs. I was buggered but figured I could rough it out for 6 (and that would be optimistic at best). No way would I last 14, I (and no one else made the tough decision to abort). The good thing is there is not what if for me now, the weather was good, the 2nd turn easy, in fact at that point I felt the 3 way was in the bag. I trained harder than before, and harder than I could (or would again), I had a good feed plan (thanks Tara) and covered everything that had gone wrong before. There are no parameters to tweak. A 2 way I can do, the 3 way is a bridge too far, reserved for a select few." 10.31 am 8 August 2014]


·      Colleen Mallon is following in her brother’s wake across the North Channel (generally acknowledged as the hardest of the Oceans Seven) battling freezing waters and massive jellyfish with my uni buddy Alex alongside. Sending you both best wishes and anti Jellyfish forcefields. [Postscript - she nailed it, almost set a new record time]
 Photographic postscript: nailed it!
·      The 5th person ever in the history of humanity, Adam Walker, completed the Oceans Seven challenge:
o   Cook Strait (26km 14-19 degrees, crazy currents)
o   Tsugaru (19km, 16-19 degrees, crazy currents)
o   Molokai Channel (41.8km, warm, stingy thingys)
o   Gibraltar Straits (20km, warm, crazy currents, boats and chop)
o   English Channel (34km, 15-18 degrees) (big ships, currents)
o   Catalina Channel (33.7km, 17-19 degrees) (currents, sharks)
o   the hardest: North Channel (34.5km, 10-14 degrees, jellyfish)

  • Wyatt Song is swimming in 8 degree water at the International Winter Swimming Festival in  Argentina. After his experiences in Russia and Finland earlier in the year this is comparatively bathlike. [Postscript = Wyatt went on to become Australia's first Ice Miler]

Then there are the exceptional recent achievements:

  • ·      Fellow BSBLSC lifesavers Dori Miller and LochieHinds, recently, respectively, became the 40th person ever to complete a double crossing of the English Channel and the youngest person ever to complete the Triple Crown of swimming (English Channel, Manhattan Island Marathon (45km circumnavigation) and Catalina Channel). Dori did it after the fastest solo of 2008 and 2 previous double attempts. The double took 26 hours and 21 minutes making her the 117th person to join the 24 Hour Club. Lochie takes that crown from Alison Streeter, the undisputed Queen of the English Channel with 43 crossings including a triple and seven crossings in one year. Dori had her amazing partner and coach, Nick, alongside the whole way. Lochie had his amazing folks who support everything he swims!

 Dori's course across the Channel and Back

  • ·      The bloke who set up the Icebergs / South End Rowing Club (SERC) connection, Simon Dominguez who battled the storm of the century to cross the English Channel and set new standards in sartorial style with his robe. He had his mum, dad, sister, daughter and best mate alongside.

  • ·      Kimberley Chambers, who looks set to become the 6th person to complete the Oceans Seven, completing just the most amazing culturally sensitive (she speaks Japanese, of course!) crossing of Tsugaru to complete her 6th of the 7 swims. She had her mum and colleagues from Adobe alongside. [Postscript - Kim completed the Oceans Seven but at huge cost]
  • ·      All of the amazing Vladswimmers who have just nailed their English Channel swims.
  • ·      The amazing EpicBillBradley who had to call it a day. The hardest call but always the right one.

What is just incredible about each of these swims is the way technology allows all of us playing along from home to track their swims. There is a community of supporters, all over the world, hunched in front of screen, willing those tracking dots (and the swimmer attached) forward. You can yell encouragement in real time. And for that swim, everyone of us is a part of something bigger than ourselves.  That inspirational community is cemented by the people willing to spend hours and hours on a boat, alongside those swimmers. Your selflessness is incredible.

And then there the forthcoming achievements:

  • Fellow Bondi lifesaver, all around legend and one of the most generous people I know, Cyril Baldock takes on the English channel to honour his mentor, the late, great Des Renford and become the oldest Channel swimmer. [Post script - Cyril did it, and held the record for a little over a week. He's vowed to return making him a truly epic hero]
  •  All the other remaining Vladswimmers [Postscript - All the Vladswimmers succeeded]
  •  Chloe McCardel using all of her successes and not so successes to mentor a relay team across the English Channel. Chloe beat Des Renford's record of laps of Bondi the day I signed up to be a Bondi lifesaver. His son swam alongside for part of that epic effort. Her achievement inspired one of my greatest challenges.  [Post script - Chloe went onto set the World Record for Longest continuous unaided ocean swim. An absolute bloody legend!]

And then there are the people who have inspired me from go to whoa. Tamera Lang, my Can Too team captain who nailed Rottnest solo and then as a duo with an 8 month old baby. Pete Dunne who tells me I can do anything, when he literally can (so long as the water isn’t too cold). Mel Houghton, Micky Ash, Joe Watkins and Colin Hannah who all soloed Bondi to Watson’s and inspired me to try. Mel Speet and Luke Parr who helped me through a lot of nerve wracked start lines and introduced me to North Sydney Masters. Alice Boxhall who helped me through Can Too and the Bronze Medallion.  Tori Gorman, whose blog is essentially my bible and who encourages everyone. Fyso and Liam who make training a joy. Jacki who made Alcatraz a reality. Too many swim friends to mention (sorry guys).

Some incredible Can Too coaches: Colin Marshall, Peter Long, Big Wave Dave, Susan King, Zoe Little, Goldie, Trish Daly and Victor Lee. The amazing 4Seasons who make ocean swimming accessible to all: Kingy, Zoe, Tamera and Dave. Hiro and John Wynberg at North Sydney and all the Vladswim coaches whom I’m looking forward to getting to know. Including Vlad himself who has worked miracles on my stroke in the past. They inspire with everything they do!

But finally, there are some unsung heroes. They may never swim those kinds of distances, but I have watched their journey through the waves and I will never be prouder of anything I do myself than of what these heroes faced and won. Silpa, Kay, Allison, Anne – I know something of the fears you faced. You faced down those fears and I am so, so very proud of you. It will forever be my greatest honour to have swum alongside you in good times and bad.

Because once upon a time, in 2009, I could not breathe when I swam in open water. I had constant panic attacks. My greatest hero ever, a Bondi lifesaver whose name I do not know noticed and swam alongside me until I could breathe. As I don’t know her name, I can never repay the favour, and so I pay it unto others. Karma rocks.

Thanks heroes. Love your work. Just keep swimming!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Why I hate wearing a wetsuit

The way the water moves, the way I move through the water, the way the water sluices over my body, the way I bend to the water's will and the way it parts for me when I get the glide right:

These to me are sacred. Some people go to church on Sunday. I go swimming.

The wetsuit interferes with this.

They are also expensive, sometimes take chunks out of your neck and are a pain to get into and out of.

I own four wonderful wetsuits: my childhood spring suit, a surf wetsuit, a swimming speedo wetsuit (with ribbing that makes it look like the batsuit) and a onesie spring suit number (aka Bond Girl wannabe).

They're fabulous inventions and incredibly useful for board training, water safety, IRB training or training in cold water. They're also great when you aren't acclimatised.  I'd rather acclimatise.

 Water safety wetties (surf wetsuit)

 Going it without a wettie
 Wettie in Tassie. Vital. 

Onesie spring suit. Perfect for board paddling.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Sure sign you're around the bend

At the end of my 4th session swimming around Aquatic Park, San Francisco I realised my fingers were splayed and I couldn't bring them back together.

"That happens" remarked my swimming companions.

I'd been in the water for an hour and didn't think too much of it.

Then, whilst reading Lone Swimmer's blog I discovered:


Turns out, it's a pretty good sign you're starting to push it in the cold water. It's also a pretty good sign you're well on your way to becoming a cold water swimmer.

My thought process ran:
I've had da claw. I'm like totes a fully serious cold water swimmer. Hells Yes!

Definitely dolally.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Escape from Alcatraz

Alcatraz. The island prison that kept escape attempts at bay using the threat of the endlessly eddying currents and bone chilling waters.

Alcatraz has a fascinating history as a civil war fort, military installation, military prison, federal penitentiary, site of an American Indian occupation and national park.

It has captured the imagination via Hollywood films and was no doubt part of the inspiration for Azkaban.

It's also a very popular but challenging swim. I heard about it, had friends who moved to San Fran whom I wanted to visit and wanted to sign up. Then my partner in crime, Jacki signed up and I had to jump on board.

The same factors that kept prisoners with nothing to lose out of the water make for an interesting swim.
San Francisco Bay is actually a tidal estuary. So the water is pretty opaque, constantly moving and cold!! Even in summer it was 54-60F or 12-15.5C depending on the tide.

Bondi hasn't gotten that cold in years. The coldest ever Coogee swim was 15.5. Balmoral gets down to 14 and I make a point of trying to swim there over winter. We did a delightful session in Lane Cove national park (16 degrees) and Manly Dam was down to 15.5 just before I flew out so I did 2 sessions there. And then swam in LA where it was 20-21 degrees.

I knew Icebergs had a relationship with South End Rowing Club (SERC), one of two famous historic swim clubs in SF's Aquatic Park and made a beeline for there when I arrived. They could not have been nicer. I interrupted a gentleman on his way to his swim. If you get between me and a swim woe betide you! But he was just so helpful and friendly.

I acclimatised as follows:
Day 1 - 25 mins solo swimming along the shore at Aquatic Park
Day 2 - 40 mins solo swimming around the cove at Aquatic Park
Day 3 - 45 mins Sunriser swimming outside the cove to Fort Mason
Day 4 - 56 minutes friendly faff session outside the cove and a 20 minute arvo session with the 4Seasons SF crew
Race Day - over an hour in the water, race time of 58 minutes
Recovery session – through the concrete pylons of the piers (to counter the worst of the flood tide) to the marina where a friendly seal joined us and then back with the current. Squee!

Two fav SF training buds: Kim (Oceans Seven aspirant swimmer) and Simon (English channel aspirant crosser and setter upperer of Icebergs/SERC relationship) trying our luck getting through a gap in the pier and eventually putting safety third (see Effing bloody legends. Thank goodness this was a rest day focussed on faffing or chatting or there's no way I could have kept up. I say aspirants in order not to tempt fate but I have no doubt about either of them achieving their goals. They impressed the hell out of me. And that ain't easy!  [Postscript - both of them nailed it, though not without significant challenges]

There are no words to describe just how gorgeous and giving SERC were. They were the key to my success. Acclimatisation was a joy, not a chore thanks to the friendly folks, hot showers and sauna! I still can’t believe how much I enjoyed swimming in water colder than I had ever experienced (except maybe in Cornwall, in which I lasted exactly 1.5 minutes).

Race Day dawned very grey. Simon of Icebergs / SERC fame assured us the sun would break through. Never doubted him for a second.

The worst part, hands down, of this race is jumping off the ferry. This is where people tend to panic. And not without reason. You’re jumping from a reasonable height into bloody cold water. It’s best to try and minimise your descent into the water and jump off like scuba divers – arms and legs akimbo.

Hard part over, Jacki and I headed to the start line which was about 500m away. I couldn’t believe I was swimming just metres from the wharf I had stood on two days earlier to start my Alcatraz tour. The same wharf where inmates landed to start their sentence. The same wharf where American Indians landed to claim Alcatraz and highlight the indignity of their situation. Just an incredible honour.

As I was revelling in my location, the ferries sounded their horn signalling the start of the race. But I hadn’t reached the start line yet! I thought I must have been mistaken and then realised the race had started without me. Time to get my skates on.

The water was about the 12.5 – 13.5 degree mark I’d been training in so it was surprisingly easy to get into a rhythm. That sun came out (thanks Simon) so breathing right (towards the Golden Gate) got surprisingly glary.
This swim was just an amazing, incredible opportunity that I absolutely savoured. To my left was the Bay Bridge. To my right was the Golden Gate. Ahead of me were the sights of San Francisco (transamerica tower, telegraph hill, aquatic park, fisherman’s wharf) and behind me was Alcatraz (I admit- I did backstroke at one point to take it all in).

It felt slightly surreal after so long in the planning. On 11 December 2012 I pull the call out for interest amongst 4SEASons, including to visit Alice and Nina who had both moved to SF. This swim was a long time in the making and I was determined to make the most of it.

We left on the end of the flood tide, swam across the slack and hit the start of the ebb (when it warmed up to 15 degrees. Balmy bathwater! – It quickly returned to your regularly forecast coldness). Thanks to Gary Emich’s great guide to escaping from Alcatraz (available from the Alcatraz gift shop) I knew exactly what to sight for which tide and lined myself up with the (surprisingly narrow) entrance to Aquatic Park with ease. I got caught in a cross current for a little bit (nothing on B2W) and slowed down. But I was super pleased with my performance overall.

Sprinted across the line. Got told to stop sprinting. First and last time I’ll ever be called a sprinter. But one does not simply stroll across the finish line. It’s unseemly.

Alice was there with camera at the ready, warmed towel and the best damn hot chocolate ever. Managed to warm up enough to cheer Jacki over the line before heading for a well-earned sauna and hot shower. 

Two Bondi lifesavers aren't so fazed about there being no lifeguards. Thanks Alice!

Now to swim around Alcatraz!

Monday, May 19, 2014

B2W: KP’s how to guide

I struggled through the Bronze Medallion. I continue to struggle with surf rescue boards. And I have wound up in hospital because of them (through no fault of my own).
All of that was worthwhile to be supported by Bondi IRB (Inflatable Rescue Boat) during my Bondi to Watson’s race.
JP (my driver) arranged my boat at his own birthday party in January. That may seem ridiculous for a race in May but without a boat, your race is sunk before it’s even started. Without a boat there is no point in training.
Bondi IRB do a bloody incredible job during the season. They’re the ones we call upon when conditions are too rough for any other rescue craft. Two eyewitness examples:
  •      I was in the tower and had to call it in when a bunch of North Bondi Nippers got caught in the break of a 6-10 foot set that broke in what had previous been beyond the break. North Bondi couldn’t get out. Bondi did.
  •     I was having lunch at Icebergs when one of the strongest littoral (horizontal) currents I’ve ever seen (I’d been on patrol in the morning) dragged someone from the flags halfway down the beach in the blink of an eye. In huge surf the IRB had him safely in the boat within moments of him leaving the safety of the flags.

With Bondi IRB at my side (JP driving and Liz crewing) I started training and lining up the rest of my support.

Pick the person with the best outlook on life you know. I was having a conversation about a recent birthday girl and mentioned how much I admired her outlook. She was the natural choice to be my paddler. She shares the same spirit of adventure and joy in the beauty of the ocean that motivates me. Thankfully Pia said yes.

Coaches and training buddies
Since I started with Can Too in 2009 to overcome my open water panic attacks I’ve had the benefit of Kingy and Zoe’s guidance. In 2012 they started the bloody brilliant 4SEASons swim squad. They’ve created a program that accommodates nervous nellies through to those who’ve essentially become aquatic. They’ve been stalwart supporters and a fantastic resource in planning and executing my training regime ahead of B2W. Thank you!
I train with 4SEASons and I train outside of 4SEASons with a few great training buddies, also aiming for solo B2W attempts: Adrian, Liam and Pete. If you train solo for something like this you will lose motivation and possibly go a little spacco. Especially if you’re as social as me. Having fellow swimmers to chat to, bounce ideas off and generally make swimming social makes the world of difference.

I wasn’t taking any chances this time. I went and saw a nutritionist (Sarah Dacres-Manning, who is an ocean swimmer herself) and got a tonne of helpful hints and a really scientific nutrition plan for the race. Everything for race day was tried and tested and worked really well.

My aim was 10km recovery weeks, followed by 15km, 18km and 20km. Repeat ad nauseam. I combined pool sessions with longer ocean swims. I did whatever ocean swims were on offer. I did laps before and after training sessions. If I was feeling unmotivated I would swim in my favourite places: Bronte, Bondi and Icebergs. Or I’d arrange to meet a training buddy. I worked on my stroke with Tamera (another supporter from go to whoa and 4Seasons coach) and through drills. I did intervals, pyramids and every other kind of set imaginable. I tried not to just do laps in the pool, leaving long consistent swims to the ocean. The most useful training sessions were swimming around Ben Buckler to view the course with my paddler and swimming against a 4m tide in Bundeena.
I have still never regretted a swim.
I tried to do cross training, strength and core work but I have to admit I wasn’t very good at keeping this up.

Injury prevention
My shoulder was pretty stuffed for most of 2012-2013. I see Mike Allen at Physio on Bronte to keep it in shape. He’s married to my swim coach so I’d also check in with her at the same time (multitasking for the win!). My shoulder held up remarkably well.

I was back in the water the next day. Loving it.

The system works. 

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Bondi to Watsons: or swimming treadmill

I think what I love most about marathon swimming (anything above 10km counts so I’m claiming marathon swimmer status) is the sense of adventure. Each time you are exploring, pushing boundaries and discovering something new.

There was a moment in the 9km Cole Classic (about the 7km mark) when everything clicked, everything felt good and I thought “this is what I’m meant to be doing”. I’m not fast, I’m not a born swimmer, I was once overweight and totally sports averse. So that was a pretty profound realisation.

I just effing love it. 

This was to be one hell of an adventure. Swimming past the safety of Bondi bay, around Ben Buckler, along a very long sheer cliff to the heads of Sydney Harbour, through the heads to the protected harbour beach of Watson’s Bay.

More importantly, this was going to be a shared adventure. I knew 8 of the solos on the start line and 1 x duo and 2 x teams. I knew all of the IRB guys supporting the swimmers and 3 of the paddlers. Party swim!

 But I couldn't do it without my incredible support crew. People who are willing to give up their own time and effort to help you achieve their dreams. They are just incredible.

To Pia, my paddler, JP my driver and Liz my crew - thank you!!!

Race day dawned with perfect conditions. Flat, still and not a breath of wind. I was quietly confident. I got down to the club early to help with IRB set up. I had a precise timetable of where to be when, when to eat, when to drink and when to sunscreen up. This helped get the nerves under control. Even when my cap split on the start line and I was about to have to swim in my 4Seasons cap I had underneath. (Lesson learned from Joe’s experience – always double cap).

We’re off. We head to NZ to meet up with the boats, which thanks to the 4seasons flag is a breeze. I recorded this as 1.5km off the centre of the beach and that was the last time my watch worked accurately. We then swam for an hour to get back to Ben Buckler. We started rounding the cliffs at the 1.5 hour mark. The previous day we had swum to the same point in half an hour. Demoralising to say the least.

Belying the outwardly perfect conditions the current was running against us at about 2-3km / hour. I swim 3.3km / hour at time trial (pool swim of 1km) pace. At times I went backwards.

The IRB crews direct us further out from the cliffs to try and avoid the currents. We’re making creeping progress and I’ve pulled ahead of Adrian and Liam, surprising the hell out of myself.

It would be fair to say that if I never see that bloody North Bondi smoke stack again I will be happy.* There’s an antenna to the north of it which I made, took a feed, ended up back at the stack and had just pulled past when the lifeguards came by to say the 4 hour time limit was up and I had to jump in my boat to be taken past Hornby lighthouse.

I jumped in the boat, sipped some tea, ate some of the cake I’d baked for my team (greatest endorsement ever of my baking was the speed with which the other IRBs returned when word passed around about the cake being shared), sang some Whitney Houston with Liz and warmed up. A quick IRB trip later, with Pia being towed behind on her board and having a whale of a time we passed Hornby lighthouse inside the harbour and I dove back in.

Such a relief to be making progress again. I put the hammer down and headed for home. One by one I swam by my fellow 4Seasons duo and team swimmers. Such an encouraging sight.

The finish line was one of the more incredible experiences of my life. I swear my supporters from 4Seasons, Bondi surf club, Can Too etc. had literally taken over Watson’s Bay. I was completely overwhelmed by a thoroughly gorgeous mob of hugs. Many of whom hung around to relive and recount the experience. I am still overwhelmed at the support I received. Special thanks to Harriet who provided life support – hot chocolate and a towel.

4:40 minutes of swimming alongside some of the nicest people and the most stunning scenery. Can we do that again please?

Next year, Gadget, next year.

*Interestingly, I would hear the exact same sentiment in San Francisco three weeks later from Simon Dominguez who had the same experience.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Tassie - A Devil of a Swim

 Shane Gould (Aussie swimming legend who once held the world record for every freestyle distance from 50m to 1500m) has set up “The Devil of a Swim” in her hometown of Bicheno on the east coast of Tassie. This year the format had changed slightly so you could do both the 5km and the 2km swims. Training bud Liam and I headed down to take on the frosty Tassie waters and rack up some kms whilst we were at it. Also Tassie was the only state in Australia I hadn’t done an ocean swim in. Gotta keep ticking items off the Bucket List.
Tassie is completely stunning and we both had a great weekend, both swimming and sightseeing. Highlights including Salamanca markets, Freycinet national park, swimming in Wineglass Bay and the Devil of a Swim.

Salamanca Markets        
The water in Tassie is of a completely different character and hue. It’s as clear and blue as tropical water whilst being quite the cold. We were coming off 21 -22 degrees and were prepared for 19. It turned out to be 17. We hiked down into Wineglass Bay (past a snake – Liam was not impressed) and swam in one of the more stunning locations on earth. We had the whole bay to ourselves. Just amazing. The shore dump was not to be underestimated though and it completely took me out when I was too busy taking photos to pay attention. After swimming 1km we both decided that we’d have to don wetsuits for the 5km swim.

Wineglass Bay – complete with shoredump

We hiked back out and headed to Bicheno. Where of course, we found ourselves seated next to friends of Shane Gould. We would then run into one of them the next day in Hobart. The scale of Tassie is simply delightful.
Some of the pre-race registration had been a little bumpy but the on the day organisation was absolutely perfect. The whole town gets behind this swim and Bicheno SLSC were just wonderful. They run nipper operations and are the base for the ocean swimming community in Bicheno that Shane has pretty much created from scratch. They swim year round. Without hot showers. Legends.
The devil of a swim highlights the plight of the endangered marsupial Tasmanian Devil and remembering the aboriginal heroine Waubadebar.To quote Shane: The name “Waubs” is an abbreviation of “Waubadebar” a female aborigine with an heroic and tragic life. She was probably from a band of the Oyster Bay (Paredarerme) tribe living nearby.
 A strong swimmer, she saved two white men from drowning by swimming them to shore one by one, when their boat was smashed against the rocks during a storm. It was rare for any honour such as a place name to be bestowed on an aborigine.Her grave is located at the back of the Lions Park, near the Silver Sands Hotel. The headstone reads “Here lies - Waubadebar a female aborigine of Van Diemen’s land, died June 1832, aged 40 years.” She died in a boat off the coast whilst travelling towards the Furneaux Group of islands and her body was brought ashore and buried. John Allen, an early settler, in his notebook, dated 24th June 1840, mentions “Waubs Harbour”. Sufficient was thought of her memory for the local settlers in 1855 to contribute funds to erect a headstone.
 The Devil of a Swim is in honour and memory of Waubedebar, as I presume her rescue effort was 'a devil of a swim'.
Bicheno (L) and Penguins (R)

 Sandbar Checkpoint
It’s out from Waubs beach, around Diamond Island, onto the sand bar where you have your name marked off and then 2km back to the beach. It’s completely, totally, utterly stunning. I lack the vocabulary to do it justice. Thank goodness for photos.

I’m always in it to complete not to compete. So I was having a whale of time, taking photos, absorbing the scenery, admiring the penguins, coming last and yet still setting a 5km PB. Must have been the despised wettie.

Which I happily stripped out of for the 2km swim. Liam and I were the only ones who swam without a wetsuit in either the 1 or 2km. Everyone thought we were nuts. Given we both came down sick the following week they may have had a point. But the water temperature was totally bearable and the clarity made it thoroughly enjoyable. I really enjoyed the two lap course and was feeling very comfortable with this stretch of coast and it’s incredibly flat water.

Non wettie 'nutters'

The awards ceremony was a very friendly affair. The winner of the 5km did it in just over an hour despite a solid night on the turps the previous evening. Thank goodness for the rest of us he was at a disadvantage. The female winner had just swum 15km to raise funds for coastcare. Amazing!

Headed back to Hobart for adventures at MONA (Museum of Old and New Art) and atop the blustery and cold Mt Wellington. Will definitely be back for more Tassie swimming adventures!