Sunday, 28 February 2010

Long Reef Beach ocean swim is a no-go while the tsunami is a no-show

When I hopped in the car to drive to the northern beaches this morning the Long Reef SLSC ocean swim was still expected to run, despite a tsunami warning issued to the east coast of Australia following the earthquake in Chile.

That was at 8.30am. By the time I got to the beach at 9.15am, all the beaches along the east coast of Australia were closed and the swim postponed.

What a bummer. The surf was gentle with no chop. The conditions were calm and inviting. It would have been a fantastic swim.

Lots of people ignored the 'Beach closed' sign and took the plunge anyway. I went in for a quick dip and, would you believe it, got dumped by the tiniest wave! How embarrassing. I just hope to god no one was looking when it happened.

It's funny though, while I was in the water it did cross my mind that if there was a tsunami I could be sucked out to sea like tapioca pearls up a straw. I blame a diet of disaster movies since my teenage years for this irrational thought.

Some of the hardcore ocean swimmers weren't scared and about half-a-dozen big boofy blokes dived in and headed north. Good luck to 'em.

Unfortunately, the Long Reef swim has been moved to April 11, the same day as the Mollymook destination swim on the South Coast. I'm heading south.

I hear that so far over 250 people have died in Chile, and Santiago looks like it's been jackhammered by 'roid-rage giants.

My heart goes out to the people in Chile.

PS: This pic of Long Reef - what tsunami? - comes from the phone of Mr Os.c, the force behind

Go there to find out all the latest ocean swimming news.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

And they say ocean swimming makes you look younger: Malabar to Little Bay

I can't remember who told me that (see headline) but I bet it was some cocky bastard who swims faster than me. And today that was almost everyone.

It's about 10 hours since I struggled through the Malabar to Little Bay Stockland Challenge. I feel like an old ship wreck - crusty, rusty and full of salt water.

I've got a cold (that's my excuse this time) so that didn't help.

But the conditions in the Tasman Sea (Hello New Zealand) were choppier than a slicer dicer. It was uncomfortable all the way and I had trouble spotting the small, orange, conical buoys, which were supposed to keep the swimmers on course.

It looked calm from the shore. Little Bay is a pretty spot and I'd like to go back there with a snorkel and fins to check out the reef.

Up the hill from the beach (one of the few undulations in a flat and arid south-east Sydney) there's a huge Landcom/Stockland medium density housing development on the land once occupied by Prince Henry Hospital. If Davo and I do the swim again next year, there'll be nowhere to park because today we rolled into a sandy, vacant lot earmarked for development.

It was stinking hot, but the vibe was fun where the swim started at Long Bay/Malabar (better known for its maxium security correction centre). Talking of suburbs and reputations, Malabar used to be the exit point for much of Sydney's virtually untreated sewage.

I remember how it used to smell - like shit - because my mum and dad's card-playing friends, Merle and Vic, lived nearby in a house with a lilac coloured bathroom that had a fluffy mauve toilet seat and a toilet-roll dolly. As a child, I adored that bathroom.

Sadly, M and V are long gone, but these days the site at Malabar apparently 'treats and discharges' the sewage via 'deep ocean outfalls'. The Malabar outfall is 3.6 km out to sea.


But back to the swim. It was difficult and tiring. The first 1 km out from Malabar beach past three well-placed buoys seemed to take forever as the swell rose and then fell away sharply. I felt like a cork bobbing in a bowl of water.

I thought the right-hand turn at the headland, which is home to a golf course, would make things easier.
I was wrong. The swell became even more of an impediment to progress. It was hard to see the buoys so I had to focus on the splashing arms of those swimmers in front of me. When I wasn't swallowing water I had my head up, and had to stop a lot to get my bearings (you think I'd learn).

I was happy when it was over.

Will I do it next year? Now I say 'no'. But ocean swimming is like childbirth, after a while the memory of the pain recedes. And then you go and do it again.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Goodbye Uncle Ted

Late last week my Uncle Ted died after a long struggle with cancer.

Ted wasn't really my uncle. He and his wife, Peg, were close friends of my parents. My sister and I called them 'Aunty' and 'Uncle' because when we were kids they were like family.

Every Christmas for many years, Ted, Peg and their three daughters and Mum, Dad and my sister and I would trek to some far-flung destination for the school holidays. Each year the two families left Sydney on Boxing Day, towing the two caravans north, south or to some godforsaken caravan park in the desert somewhere.

I can still remember sitting on the side of the road, just out of Hay in western NSW, in the stinking heat after one of the cars broke down. I remember how Ted accidentally swallowed a fly and commented on how good it tasted, as if he ate them every day. Big booming Ted always had a twinkle in his eye.

And now Ted is gone. I hadn't seen him for three years, about the time the cancer struck. Possibly my sadness is selfish because it makes me worry about my own parents. Also, my holiday memories are now tied to this loss and tinged with a sense of wistful longing to have everything right in my own little world.

Mon coeur est triste. Goodbye Uncle Ted.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

North Bondi Classic Ocean Swim - sweet

Let me take you back to the North Bondi 1 km and 2 km Ocean Swim in 2009.

Last year the event was held on Sunday, February 8, the day after the bushfires in Victoria had attracted national attention.

On that Sunday morning the crowd at North Bondi had no idea of the devastation being wreaked by the wild blazes down south, though there was a minute's silence at 9am to commemorate those who'd lost their lives. The count was around five in the morning, but that was just the beginnning. When it was all over later that week, the death toll was 173 babies, children, women and men.

At the 2009 swim, the temperature in Sydney was in the high 30s. It was stinking hot and cloudless. In contrast, the water temperature was around 16 degrees. It was bloody ball-breaking freezing (and I don't even have balls). After last year's swim, several poor sods suffered serious hypothermia and had to be wrapped in alfoil to re-heat their frozen bones. One was rushed to hospital.

This year was a different story. It's been raining all weekend in Sydney, though the humidity makes it hard to breathe.

Davo, my friend Ms Five-Star-Around-The-World and I arrived in overcast and drizzly conditions, wondering about the debris that would have flowed into the ocean over the past few days. It was there when we went in for a pre-swim dip - bits of leaf and wood, polystyrene balls and other junk. But the water was clear and (thank the Lord) a pleasant 20 degrees (my guess).

To cut a long story short, which I find hard, the swim was a dream.

Davo and I followed the rip that runs beside the North Bondi rockpool out to the first buoy and it was magic. I often dive into an ocean swim and think, why the hell am I doing this? Today, I thought, this is just what I want heaven to be like. The rip gave me a gentle push as I observed rocks, reeds and schools of small fish on the way to the first buoy. Davo says he saw a ray, but I missed it.

The rest of the swim was a joy until I got tired towards the end (too much wine last night?) and swam wide (always a good excuse for not beating Davo). I didn't even mind the woman who swung a left at me around Mackenzies Point, almost dislodging my goggles.

Coming in was easy because the surf was small and there were no strong currents. Apologies to the hardcore ocean swimmers, but for me these are perfect conditions.

The North Bondi swim is always inspiring PLUS swimmers get a goody bag full of freebies, which doesn't often happen at other events - anybody want a sample sachet of chilli beef-jerky?

To finish on a more solemn note, I feel so bloody lucky to be able to do this. What a great way to celebrate life.
PS: pic from from the 2009 event, I think.

Friday, 12 February 2010

It just wouldn't be summer in Sydney without a shark attack, but this one's a furphy

I was a bit slow to follow up on this one, but a man was supposedly 'attacked' by a shark at Mona Vale beach yesterday.

On my way home from work I picked up a copy of the free paper mX (it's a Rupert Murdoch rag) which ran the headline:

Shark attack

A quote from the victim was highlighted: 'It tried to drag me out ... and I won'

The pic of the wound on the victim's lower leg (the calf muscle) mustn't have looked gruesome enough for the newspaper because it was run as an inset. It looked like a graze to me. And I could've sworn the victim was smiling for the camera.

The usual sensational pap followed - it was a great white. Or maybe a bronze whaler or a tiger shark. Or the dreaded bull shark. It nearly dragged the man to his death. It was 2 metres long. The victim sustained 'deep lacerations to his leg and at least one shark tooth [was] still in his leg'.

So on and so forth. Blah blah blah.

By this morning the story had lost much of its appeal. It turns out that all the hysteria was for nothing. The vicious maneater is a wobbegong!

Let me tell you about the poor old wobbegong. If the wobbegong (great name, I could say it all day) was a human being he would be an 80-year-old man with dentures, failing eyesight and a nagging wife. And his name would be Herb.

Wobbegongs are pretty harmless. They nip when provoked. This one, Herb, is about 1 metre long with a 10 centimetre wide mouth. Shark experts say Herb was probably acting in self-defense after the victim 'spooked' or trod on him.

Around this time last year there were two awful shark attacks in Sydney - a 2.7 metre bull shark almost killed a navy diver at Woolloomooloo in Sydney Harbour (he literally lost an arm and a leg) and a 2.5 metre great white almost tore off a surfer's hand at Bondi.

But right now I can only imagine some hack bobbing about in a tinny off Bondi - tossing buckets of burly into the ocean in the hope of ramping up the action.

And what of the victim? He was released from hospital at midday yesterday and negotiating with Channel 9 to tell his story for a large sum of money. I bet that deal's fallen through.

At least he gets to keep Herb's tooth.

PS: See you in the ocean at Bondeeeee on Sundeeeeee!

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Cole Classic 2010 where everyone's a winner - sort of

The bloke on the PA system at yesterday's Cole Classic kept saying: "Everyone's a winner here today."

This isn't strictly true. The big winners were Josh Beard (first man home) and Luane Rowe (first woman), who swam away with tickets to ocean swims in Vanuatu.

Moi, I got a bag with a copy of The Sun-Herald, a medallion (does that mean I'm a winner?), a snack bar and a sun-protection lotion sample.

But even though I'm a grumpy old bitch, I'm not complaining. It was a fabulous swim and a huge improvement on last year's mess.

Fairfax, the newspaper proprietors, have run the event for the past two years, which has led some die-hard ocean swimmers to bemoan the commercialisation of one of Sydney's 'iconic' ocean swims. And it is expensive at $47 - $57 if you miss the early-bird entry cut-off.

But today, despite erratic weather, it ran like clockwork. The organisers learnt lessons from last year, so the swim started on time, no buoys were shifted around the course mid-swim and the starting swimmers didn't collide with the swimmers coming back in.

The swim start has now been permanently moved from Manly to the sheltered Shelly Beach and is supposed to end at Manly. But because the swell was a bit big (didn't bother me) the finish was moved to Shelly - as happened in 2009. The organisers weren't taking any chances on the newbie entrants.

Apparently, there were around 4500 swimmers in the 1 km and 2 km events.

The early morning weather was miserable, after sheeting rain during the night, so I half expected the swim to be called off. But the gods shone down on Shelly and gave us glimpses of sun mixed with light rain.

Davo and Precious Princess (PP) were my swim mates. Poor old PP hasn't done any exercise for about nine months (she reckons walking to the bus stop counts) so she felt it. Afterwards she complained of having pain down her left side mid-swim. PP is 18 and a little prone to exaggeration. She also partied hard last night and Friday night.

Davo was in the 7th wave of swimmers (old blokes) and I was in the 10th with all the other 50+ women. Let me tell you, these birds are rough and tough as nails. It was like a scrum as we raced into the water after the starter gun, and throughout the swim/race I was poked and prodded by my 'sisters'. Don't ever let anyone tell you that women over 50 are mellow. There was a lot of repressed anger in my cohort!

After the swim, Davo said he thought he'd seen baby sharks, which is exactly what I saw about 5 metres (not good with depths, so might be wrong here) beneath me and 1 km or so into the swim. The little critters were cruising below like choreographed ballet dancers. Apparently, juvenile dusky sharks hang out at Fairy Bower on the western side of the beach. Two sightings couldn't be wrong. PP was in such pain so she saw nothing during the swim, except her life flashing before her eyes. Serves her right.

I loved this swim. The water was glorious and I saw lots of fish.

My only misgiving, if it's true, is about the profit that Fairfax makes from the event. Mr Oceanswims, who runs, claims Fairfax makes a $100,000 profit. If this is the case, I reckon they should come clean and donate any leftover cash into the surf lifesaving community.

Still, I'll be back next year just for the fun of it.

The photos are of PP and Davo with their 'winners' medals, the view to Manly and looking at Shelly Beach from the esplanade.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

One, two, three - four metre swells, work and writing life

1. For the past couple of years the swell has been dirty and dangerous around early to mid-February. I know this because for the past two years the organisers of the Cole Classic have been faced with dangerous conditions, which have forced them to move the swim from the traditional South Steyne (Manly) to the sheltered Shelley/Shelly (is there an 'e' in it or not?) Beach, just around the corner (check out map above).

Today the swell at Sydney beaches was 4 metres and reports claim many surf beaches will be closed to swimmers tomorrow.

I wonder what conditions will be like on Sunday for this year's Cole Classic, which is to start at Shelley and finish at Manly? Wait and see.

2. I've been at work meetings this week in preparation for my return to the coal face next week, but I haven't yet got my act together. This is because of 3.

3. I've been writing, getting together my entry for the RWA's First Kiss comp and also, foolishly, taking on a challenge to write a book in three months (that won't be possible, but I'll try to nut out the bare bones).

This is just another unpleasant example of how work gets in the way of life.

Monday, 1 February 2010

I beat Tony Abbott in The Big Swim, but I wasn't alone

After my appalling performance at last year's Big Swim my expectations were low for 2010.

In 2009, the surf was really rough and it took me forever to get past the massive dragging breakers. By the time I made it, I was so far behind the pack I decided to doddle to the finish line. I think I stopped and had a chat to every one of the surf lifesavers in the rescue craft, which was reflected in my placing in the bottom 40 out ot 1500 or so participants.

But yesterday's conditions were totally different. The surf was gentle and inviting. A practise run proved it was easy to slice through to the first buoy. My hopes rose.

This year the turnout for the event was huge, at almost 1900. My wave of swimmers went off third last. The swim to the first buoy was pleasant enough, but it was just the beginning of a 2.5 km test. There's always a swell out around Little Head, which can make swimmers seasick. I was fine, but my brother-in-law Davo said he felt pretty ordinary as he turned the corner from Palm to Whale Beach.

I did my usual stupid habit of stopping occasionally to see where I was because I tend to swim all over the place (I'm trying to cut down on this and keep swimming while I look).

There were three buoys planted along Whale Beach, but I missed the first two. When the swimmers in front of me turned at the third buoy to swim into the beach I wondered if they were heading in too early. Like a lemming, I followed. I had lots of energy left when I hit the beach, energy I could have used in the swim!

I still finished in the bottom third, but this time there were over 400 swimmers behind me including the leader of the Federal Opposition, Tony Abbott.

When I met up with Davo after the swim he said: "I whopped Tony Abbott's arse."

Not everyone can make that claim. Maybe Malcolm Turnbull should sign up for The Big Swim in 2011. Or KRudd could wriggle into a pair of budgie smugglers for maximum exposure.

PS: This wonderful photo is from where you can find more pics and read about the swim.