Monday, 27 May 2013

Byron Bay ocean swim 2013 and stuff about turtles frozen into a solid mandala off The Pass as I pass by

The bikes at the beach shack are not in the best condition.

Why has it been so long between drinks?

a. tired b. lazy c. sick as a dog d. loss of interest in blogging e. busy at paid work f. all of these excuses

The answer is "f".

Byron Bay seems so long ago that it's going to be hard to extract the highlights from my wispy memory.

As is tradition, Ms Onyabike, Mr and Mrs Snorkel and I gathered at our rented beach house out the back o' Byron on the first weekend of May.

Because Ms Onyabike didn't arrive until Saturday night, the Snorkels and I went hard at it on Friday night and all day Saturday (so she'd feel like she'd missed out on a really good time).

We went to a lovely little Japanese restaurant, O Sushi, that has alfresco dining plonked in front of the camping shop next door. The food was so good that I soon forgot about our surroundings.

On Saturday I scooted down to the Byron Bay Surf Life Saving Club at 8.07am - just in time to join the tail end of the large group of swimmers who stroll along the sand to Clarke's Beach and the Pass where they peel off into the ocean for the swim back to the club, jettisoned by the north-running current.

Because I arrived after the hour I trotted along the beach until I caught up with Mr Ocean Swims himself. We had a chat about his double hip replacement and peripatetic life that involves running swimming safaris around the world. Go to for details.

Mr Ocean Swim's first stop is Vanuatu in June, and from there he and his partner Mrs Sparkle jet off to Europe where they head up tours around the Mediterranean. I am NOT jealous. I am jealous. I am NOT jealous... I am... 

I enjoyed the swim back to the club at a cruising pace but later learned there were nine green turtles "chilling" off the Pass. Arrrrrrghhhhhhhhhh.

Saturday at Main Beach

Sunday at Main Beach
Creatures hide when they see me coming! Or if there's no place to hide they FREEZE.

I can just imagine me swimming over the top of nine turtles frozen into a mandala. "La de da da da... mmm? What was that? It looked like a mandala. No way. I need more sleep. Just keep swimming, just keep swimming..."

God, George Clooney could be next to me doing breaststroke and I'd miss him. "That debonair grey-haired bloke with the blue eyes and extra super white teeth who kept winking at me? You're pullin' my leg?"

A fellow swimmer swore he saw a couple of wobbegong sharks amongst the turtles. Go'orn, pull the other one.

I didn't see a thing except a school of silvery fish (could have been bream) on my way back to shore.

I dived into the ocean on two more occasions that day - the experience was made more pleasurable by the absence of the unpleasant current that often hugs the shoreline and makes it nigh impossible to play in the shallows.

Ms Onyabike flew in (off the broom) on Saturday night. We went to the pub and fuelled up on carbs - strictly no booze - for the 2.4km Sunday hike.

Sunday morning was typical Byron Bay weather - a bit cloudy, possible squalls, intermittent sunshine.

The air temperature would have been mid 20s. Pleasant enough. No probs hanging around on the grass in our cossies before the buses arrived to deliver us and the other (mostly old codger by the looks of it) punters to the starting line at Wategos Beach.

If you scanned my blog about last year's swim, you'll know it was cancelled because of the dangerous conditions (I swam the course anyway, along with 600 other eejits).

This year's conditions were supposed to be challenging, but fortunately the surf was mild and the shore break far more gentle than 2012's neck breaker.

At the Pass

I don't know if it had something to do with last year or if the punters were revolting over the $65 entry fee, but numbers were down. Around 1750 signed up for the event but fewer made it to the start line.

Ms Onyabike and Mrs Snorkel opted to swim with toys - snorkels and fins - while Mr Snorkel swam with the snorkel, which he refuses to declare to the organisers because he wrongly claims that it doesn't give him an advantage*.

At Wategos we were greeted by a pod of eight frisky dolphins surfing the bombora that often forms close to the Pass. These stars of the sea put on a show, leaping and diving over and into the waves. They made my heart burst with joy. Oh to be a sleek shiny grey dolphin with fins, powerful tail, smiley eyes and snout and an optimistic disposition.   

Alas, I am not a dolphin but a mere human. For me, this year's swim was a challenge. I hadn't trained for three weeks leading up to the event because of a dreadful lurgy that lingered for the duration of April.

I ploughed through the ocean, doing the best I could but feeling like rubbish from the very first buoy.

Thank goodness the current carried me - and everyone else, mind you - up the coast towards Main Beach. Turning in to the shore, I bore the full brunt of exhaustion. It was a long swim in.

Afterwards, I checked my time to find I'd finished in 39 minutes. Not too bad. That's 38th out of the 83 women in my age category.

In the ladies change rooms after the swim I met Irene, 71, from Brisbane. This amazing woman has swum the English Channel three times in a relay team and plans to do it again this year.

Irene began her swimming journey aged 57.

If that's not inspiring, and awe-inspiring, I don't know what is.

*Whatevs. Let the old fella believe what he likes. I beat him by a good nine minutes.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Byron Bay Ocean Swim Classic: we're heading north

Canned last year but fingers crossed for 2013.
Today I'm off to Byron Bay for the Winter Whales ocean swim with Mr and Mrs Snorkel. Ms Onyabike will join us tomorrow as she has taken up study again after a 30 year hiatus and has a major assignment due today.

I mean, why would you put yourself through that? I'm sure there are more fulfilling pastimes to ward off dementia. Like swimming?

(Note to self: drink less and start doing crosswords)

This will be our sixth annual pilgrimage to BB for this destination/journey swim from Wategos to Main Beach.

Last year's swim was cancelled but I did it anyway.

I re-read my account of that exhilarating yet terrifiying experience.  I might just be a little bit unhinged.

Here's the link to that post, if you can be bothered.

Hopefully, this year's conditions will be more forgiving though BB is displaying its usual quixotic nature - I hear it's going to be partly cloudy, possibly raining and partly sunny.

Who knows?

Life's a lottery.  And don't believe Hot Chocolate - Everyone's NOT a winner.

Let's catch up next week.

Monday, 29 April 2013

Cronulla Shark Island Swim Challenge 2013: Ms Fivestar takes a trip back to her youth in The Shire

The pond at South Cronulla.

Ms Fivestar used to hyperventilate whenever she returned to her birthplace, The Shire.

But time has healed many wounds and she can now visit the family home (not far from Miranda Fair shopping centre) without experiencing the feeling of dread that used to descend upon her every time she drove across the border - over the Captain Cook Bridge.

The Shire evokes strong emotions in people.  

Those who love The Shire really LOVE it.

It is GOD'S OWN COUNTRY. They live there because it's a great place to bring up kids; it has wonderful beaches and the peaceful Port Hacking estuary with its numerous bays.

It offers the quintessential Aussie lifestyle to those who can afford it.

People move to The Shire to live the dream. It's bursting at the seams with tradies and builders who've "done good". It's suburban and bronzed and blond(e) with lots of filler.

Snags on the barbie. A cold one in one hand and "cardonnay" in the other.

There's nothing wrong with that...  

Then there are those like Ms Fivestar, who choose to move on out. She split as soon as she started earning a wage and vowed never to return. Too much history. 

Call me perverse, but I thought it was appropriate that I do my first ever Cronulla swim around Shark Island and take Ms Fivestar along for the ride.

She was more than happy to drive us to the southern beaches suburb of Cronulla, the location of the Shark Island Swim Challenge 2013.

After we arrived at South Cronulla Beach at 9.45am, Ms Fivestar pointed out one of her teenage drinking haunts, the Cronulla RSL which is up the road from the beach and Cronulla Surf Life Saving Club. In the photo (above) it's the building covered in scaffolding.

From the age of 15 she used a fake licence to get into the "rissole", where her drink of choice was Curacao and lemonade at 40 cents a pop.

I suggest you read Puberty Blues or watch the excellent TV series adapted from that short novel to get the idea.

By the time I registered, the 1km swim that started at 9.30am was almost over. I usually enter both swims but I've been sick with an awful chesty cough for the past two weeks so I decided to give it a miss and conserve my energy for the 2.3km event at 10.30am.

The day was a confection of perfection. A sky so blue you could dive into it, water so clear you could see right to the bottom.

There was no surf to speak of, though, like a fortnight ago at Coogee, the occasional shore dump made an appearance. By the time the main swim got underway, even that had disappeared.

As with Coogee's Wedding Cake Island, Shark Island is not an island but a rocky offshore reef.

Unlike Wedding Cake, Shark is located around the corner from the main beach. You can't see it from the beach but there is a fantastic coastal pedestrian path, The Esplanade, that meanders all the way along (what I guess is) the Port Hacking Estuary 'headland' that separates Cronulla from the National Park. You get a great view of Shark Island along the walk. And there are tiny swimming beaches all the way round to Bass and Flinders Point.

Have a look at the map:

There were 510 participants in the main swim.

Two buoys were set out on the course near the corner of land where we were to turn right.
I couldn't see the rest of the course, but it was well marked with big beach balls also laid out as guides.

From the beach we could see two buoys. The start-line organiser warned us not to swim out to the closer orange buoy but to the yellow buoy, which was just beyond it.

The wave of swimmers before us hadn't listened to his instructions, and most headed for the orange buoy located more to the right of the course. Those swimmers who went to it first then had to veer left and cut across to the yellow buoy. Precious moments lost.

The orange buoy was the one we needed to sight on the way back in.

What's with all the big watches?

The men and women in my 50+ age group started together and, as usual when men and women go in together, it was a melee. Arms and legs floundering all over the place. What can I say about 50+ men? They're as bad as their younger counterparts. You think they'd learn but they bash and thrash and any vestige of etiquette flies out the window as they race against time.

Good grief. Whaddya want? A medal?  

I wasn't feeling the best so it seemed to take forever to get to the first buoy, which had initially looked rather close. Maybe it was a little over 300 metres from the shore? Maybe further.

The water temp was a pleasant 21 degrees (my guess) as I turned right at the first can and followed the other orange caps. For a long while, I felt like we were in the shallows. The ocean floor seemed close - an easy dive down to touch the sand.

This swim was a visual treat. Lots to look at - rocky reefs, swaying reeds (50 shades of green) and schools of tiny fish having their Sunday disrupted by an unruly bunch of eejits out to prove they still had it.

That was the good bit. The bad bit was the argy bargy. And the massive watches some of the blokes wear. During the Coogee swim, one caught me on the arm and I started bleeding.

What's wrong with relying on the electronic timing devices we all wear on our ankles? I would've thought they were accurate 99.9 per cent of the time.

I think it's on par with the cycling craze. Middle-aged male cyclists flaunt their prowess by gearing up in fluoro gear and flash headwear and ride mega-expensive carbon fibre bikes.

In the ocean swimming caper it's harder to show off. An expensive pair of Italian goggles and nice budgy smugglers isn't enough (and you can't wear flashy swimmers because you don't want your mates thinking you're some sort of namby-pamby whoosy boy). That's why the big watch has become popular. It's another way for the male of the species to assert himself. Look at moi. I'm fast. Like really.

Enough rant.

Lots of swimmers seemed to be coming at me on an angle and I got trapped between quite a few males wearing big watches. It doesn't make for a pleasant outing when someone is crawling over the top of you.

Later on Mr Smith of the Smiths of Taree said he was forced to give a 'diagonal swimmer' the elbow. It gave him great pleasure.

The swim back to the finish line was pretty straightforward. Because of a lack of swell, there was no push back in so tired swimmers, like myself, lost momentum.

One of the lovely things about ocean swimming is that anyone can do it. At Cronulla, the oldest competitor was an 85-year-old woman.

Afterwards, Ms Fivestar and I went to a cafe called The Nun's Pool, which has a view of the ocean from the front verandah.

We then walked along The Esplanade and sat down under a shady tree near a beach called The Oaks. This was where Ms Fivestar's family used to come on a Friday night and eat the freshly cooked prawns her dad had bought from the local fish and chip shop.

Growing up in The Shire was a painful experience for Ms Fivestar but she does have some good memories. And time has softened the harder edges of those grainy old memory snaps.

We had a fun day out in Cronulla 2013. And then we left The Shire via The Captain Cook Bridge.

The Oaks.

Shark Island is somewhere to the left, covered by a high tide.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Coogee Island Challenge 2013: the inaugural Cold Water Challenge (which is rather warm)

The ocean is often at its warmest in April so calling this second swim in the Coogee Island Challenge series the "Cold Water Challenge" is a misnomer.

I don't know why I bother getting caught up in semantics; the thing is the conditions on the beach for last Sunday's swim were bloody perfect.

"Bloody Perfect Challenge".

Coogee Surf Life Saving Club usually hosts just the one swim per season, in November. This year, for the first time, the club has introduced another event towards the end of Sydney's carnivale of ocean swimming.

They chose a great day for it.

Cloudless sky, light winds, 21 degrees in the soup and around 28 degrees on da sand.

No surf, except for a shocker of a shore dump. One punter referred to it as a "neck breaker". It gives me a neck ache just thinking about it.

Imagine a massive body of water that, on its arrival on shore, collapses all at once. Immediately, after smashing on to the beach the beast beats a hasty retreat, gouging out a heap of sand as it goes.

It's the opposite of the crystal tubes that form when the waves roll in, in perfect sync, each one furling in on itself in an elegant and gradual fashion. 

Other than the bad-ass dump it was mild conditions though not so glassy further out towards Wedding Cake Island, the famous clump of rocks that sit roughly in the middle of Coogee Bay.

Last year I wrote a spiel on Wedding Cake Island, which can be found here*. It's not really an island - like Gilligan's Island or Treasure Island - but that's what it's called. Misnomers all over the shop. 

On Sunday, Mr Oceanswims approached me (nah, I probably approached him) with his theory on the choppy conditions and uncomfortable swell that often gave swimmers heading out to the island an unpleasant surprise.

He believed the location and configuration of the rocky reef caused the ruckus.

His explanation was far more eloquent than the above. If you visit the oceanswims website and blog, I'm sure he will have a far better explanation of this basic concept.

It's not rocket science. Of course water flowing around a teeny island will be disrupted by its presence.

Swimmers in the 1km swim didn't cop any swell because the course was plotted further in, well away from the island.

I did both the 1km and 2.4km swim. I wasn't going to do the shorter swim if the conditions weren't "noice".

I'd driven to Coogee early. Glorious glorious day. How I love life when the sun shines and it's the school holidays so the roads are empty of cars filled with harassed parents driving their kids to sporting fixtures all over Sydney.

Strolled to the beach with a smile on my face, caught up with some peeps, had a chat and lathered on sunscreen because it was already a scorcher.

I'd never heard of a swim starting earlier than the advertised time but this one began at 9am (it was down for 9.15am). Afterwards I heard a few people complain that their friends had missed the start.

I can empathise, having recently missed the start at Caves Beach (all my own fault). However, it is always a good idea to get down to the beach early so by the time the swim starts you're fully briefed and feeling in control of the situation.

I found the 1km a bolt. I didn't relax at all and felt puffed as I ran up the beach at the end. When I checked my time later it was a respectable 22 minutes and I finished 6th out of 28 in my age and gender group.

Should I mention that 1st, 2nd and 3rd all came in under 20 minutes? But not that much under. It makes me wonder if the course was longer than 1km because the fastest finisher in my age group and gender was 18.06. I expected her to swim faster because she displays piscine-like characteristics.

Since I started competing in two swims per event, I've started 'eating' that gloopy stuff that promises to give you a starburst of energy fuelled by the power of a million suns. I have this delusional belief these packets of caffeinated slime will make me a faster swimmer.

The clockwise course was clearly plotted. A cylindrical green can followed by three pointy cans would guide swimmers out to the island. They would then chuck a right around a red cylindrical can and travel around the back of the island. A right turn around a second red can would direct them from the island towards the shore.

On the way they would pass three more pointy cans before charging through "a gate" formed by two cylindrical cans. A short run up the beach would lead them to a blue pergola and timing pad on the sand.

Simple as.

Mr Oceanswims was right about the chop. There it was, just before the island but it didn't interfere too much with my stroke.

I enjoyed the longer swim more than I thought I would. It's funny though, I didn't see the island at all as I swam around the back. I breathe left, a disadvantage, so made an effort to breathe right. But I couldn't find the bloody thing. I didn't want to stop because all crusty old ocean swimmers know what happens once you stop... yeah, you got it... another old codger cruises by, a winning smile on their mug.

Back on the beach, I was sure I'd gone well in the 2.4km. The slime had done its job.

I had a quick shower and met Mr Mild Mannered and The Lawyer at the Coogee Bay Hotel. We sat in the courtyard that faces the beach, drinking Peroni (them) and Bulmers Cider (me).

The Lawyer beat me soundly in the 1km swim - he made that clear without having to say a word. All guesture - a raised eyebrow, a knowing smile.

Mr MM had opted out of the 1km swim because he can't handle the pressure. It's not because of me (because I am not his equal in the ocean) but I'm sure this loss of confidence has something to do with The Lawyer. That man has perfected the courtroom patter - make 'em feel comfortable before you make 'em squirm.

We didn't then have the 2.4km results.

I arrived home and checked online. I was so disappointed with my time (nup, not mentioning it here). I thought I'd sprinted home, ahead of the pack.

That's it. No more gelatinous gloop. I'm chucking it out. I swear I am.

Next swim will be gloop-free.  

Talking about that next swim, I usually do Mollymook which is on this weekend. But this year I'm having to give it a miss (unless I jump in the car at 6am and drive the three hours down the coast).

The weekend after that (April 28) swimmers are spoilt for choice with swims at Curl Curl, Warriewood and Cronulla. And then it's off to Byron Bay on May 5!

Here's the link to the November swim at Coogee:;postID=2935075405816568596;onPublishedMenu=allposts;onClosedMenu=allposts;postNum=21;src=postname

Here's the low-down on Wedding Cake Island from the 2011 post on the swim:

If you know Coogee, you'll be familiar with Wedding Cake Island; in simple terms it's a big lump of rocks/reef (about 15 metres long and 400 metres wide) that juts out of the ocean about one kilometre from the beach. Check it out at this scuba-diving website: