Friday, 30 December 2011

Swim squad at Clovelly and the countdown is on to New Year's Eve

I'm not sure it's a good idea to reflect on a year of shallow breathing and general breath holding.

The most important thing is that the sun rose this morning and right now it's shining through my window. Wow. I can even hear cicadas.

For the past two nights The Hiss and I have swum at Clovelly with squad. Our coach, the inimitable Mr Mean, is on a holiday somewhere and no doubt causing a squall wherever he goes. God bless him.

Our coach this week is the very young Mr Crack-a-Laugh. He finds it hard to lighten up and when he turns nasty he is criticised for attempting to channel Mr Mean. There's only one Mr Mean so Mr Crack-a-Laugh has a tough challenge ahead to develop his own coaching style.

No worries though. It's been fun. We ducked and dived and mingled with the fishies at low tide (6.30pm), grazing our bodies and fingers along the rocks in the shallows as we sprinted out to the lone white can at the deep end.  Take a look at the pics, which should give you an idea of Clovelly's geography. I described it in a recent post but basically it's a long channel that meets the ocean. It's generally a safe beach though when the swell rolls in, it is funnelled back out like someone sucking the last drops of a milkshake through a straw. Getting out at high tide can be a challenge, which is why there are handrails drilled into the walls near the four sets of stairs on either side of the beach.

Hopefully I'll get to post on New Year's Eve after I do squad at Bondi tomorrow morning. See you soon. Sort of.





Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Sydney to Hobart 2011: the madness of Christmas and the rush to 2012

How beautiful is this: playground of the rich - accessible to all  
Arrrgggghhh. Christmas has already come and gone and I don't know which way is up (not good when you've just been dumped by a wave).

Traditionally, Boxing Day in Sydney is spent watching the Cricket Test Match (at the MCG - Australia versus India) or the start of the Sydney to Hobart yacht race.

In our house, it's always the latter so Spanner, Miss Hissy and I rocked up to Watson's Bay at 9.30am - the race didn't start until 1pm so I had time for a swim before we found a comfy spot close to the cliff edge (you're not allowed to get too close anymore because of all the stupid OHS rules) to observe the 88 boats cruise through the heads accompanied by a huge flotilla of spectator craft and helicopters manned by the media.

I'm writing this at 9.30pm on December 27, which is about 12 hours or so (?) before the maxi yacht Wild Oats XI cruises into the harbour in Hobart, Tasmania to take line honours (as usual)*. Enjoy these happy snaps that capture the beauty of Sydney Harbour on a humid day when the Southerly blew in to make it more challenging for the competitors heading down south:

*amendment: as I write (at 8.15am on December 28) the other maxi-yacht Loyal is also in the running for first across the line. Update on December 29: http://www.smh.com.au/sport/protest-knocks-wind-out-of-winners-sails-20111228-1pcz9.html


The Hiss and Spanner found the best spot to watch the yachts sail through Sydney Heads but later on two German girls came and plonked themselves right in front of us. You can't be mean to tourists so I just scowled and tried to make them feel uncomfortable. It didn't work.







Wild Oats XI has the Channel 7 logo on its mainsail while Loyal has a zebra


Friday, 23 December 2011

Clovelly at dawn: embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty

Clovelly at dawn: concrete meets open ocean
My android-phone alarm rings at 5am and I stumble out of bed. It rained throughout the night and I wonder if the water at Clovelly Beach in Sydney's eastern suburbs is polluted from the run-off. It's gloomy outside and I wish I could return to bed, but I promised to pick up Miss Freeasabird on the way to squad training so there's no way out. 

We arrive at Clovelly well before squad starts (see my last post to find out the consequences for latecomers). 

Dawn opens her arms wide and draws us into her silvery light and I'm glad I made the journey. Miss Freeasabird and I marvel at the beauty of Clovelly, which is sort of like an open-ended ocean swimming pool. It has a narrow beach that runs into an ocean 'channel' bordered by concrete for sunbathers to bask upon. The amazing thing about Clovelly is that its reef and accompanying sealife have survived, even though it is a hugely popular destination for swimmers and snorkellers. Families like it because it is calm compared to the neighbouring surf beaches of Bronte and Tamarama. 

Clovelly: It's not as calm as it looks


Our coach Mr Mean turns up just before 6am and appears to be in  a 'good place'. Later on during squad training he orders half the squad (me included) to do 100 strokes of butterfly after we fail to follow his instructions. 

I don't mind. It's a beautiful day and the fish are just starting to wake up as the 15 squad members splash above them. Mr Mean gives us lots of fun things to do. For example, we swim out to a small, round white buoy that is close to where the concrete ends and the open ocean starts. Then we hold our breaths and dive down as far as we can. I'm not good with numbers but it's easily 10 metres to the ocean floor. We're meant to touch the bottom but there's no way I can get there.*

It's one of those days where I feel like I can swim forever (but maybe that has something to do with all the asthma drugs I pump into my lungs). 

In many parts of the world, Christmas is celebrated on Sunday. Merry Christmas or (if Christmas isn't your thing) happy holiday.

My gift to you is a quote from scientist and philosopher Albert Einstein: 

A human being is part of the whole called by us a 'Universe': a part limited in time and space. He experiences him or herself, his or her thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires, and to our affection for a few persons nearest to us. 

Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.  

*Everyone else in the squad sees a really big groper. Of course, I miss it. Story of my life.
Looking towards the beach

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Swim Squad at Bondi Beach at dawn

Squad is being held at the beach over the Christmas holidays, which means I have to get up extra early to make it by 6am several days a week. 

Fortunately I woke up before the alarm, which was set for 5.15am. This was not good for Spanner, who groaned his disapproval and rolled over. (Spanner's attitude to the early mornings may prove to be a problem over the break so I'll have to figure a way to butter him up)

Mistake #1: Because I have BIG issues with time I didn't realise it would take more than 10 minutes to get from my house to where my swim-squad mate Miss Freeasabird waited at a bus stop en-route. 

Mistake #2: She leapt into the car and we tooled it down to Bondi but I decided to park a couple of blocks away from the beach. 

Mistake #3: We arrived at 6am - on the bloody dot. I then made a 30-second detour to the toilet block, which was locked. 

By then it was too late. Numero Uno Supremo Swimming Squad Coach, Mr Mean, was taking no prisoners. "You're late. Get out. You won't be swimming with us today."*

I looked at the digital clock affixed to the wall of the surf life saving club. It was still on 6am but Mr Mean didn't care. I was out.  I was the example - this is what happens to those who arrive late to squad.

I made one attempt to get back in. "I tried to go to the loo but it was shut," I said, failing to keep that awful, crawly pleading tone out of my voice. 

Mr Mean waved me away with a dismissive hand. The rest of the squad did what groups of human beings do when one of their own is being publicly humiliated by a head honcho. They suddenly found somewhere else to look. I didn't exist for them. I was no longer a group member. They were thinking: "Better her than me."

I wasn't upset because, as I've mentioned in a past post, Mr Mean has every right to be cranky when people are late. Because he's responsible for squad members, if they turn up late and wander into the surf without him being aware of it he could get into trouble if things go awry. 

I swallowed my foolish pride and decided to walk along the beach, take a dip and meet up afterwards with Miss Freeasabird (who also got a talking-to but wasn't ostracised).



Fifteen minutes later, as I strolled back up the beach, I heard my name being called. Mr Mean is a bit of a softy and I reckon he saw my forlorn figure and took pity. I was allowed back into squad. 

I know this story might sound pathetic to some but it's all a bit of fun as far as I'm concerned. What would life be like without people like Mr Mean (who isn't really mean at all)? 

The rest of the session was wonderful. The water was warm at around 21 degrees (my guess), there was a reasonable surf and a strong north-running current. We swam out through the break and I looked around me. At that moment the sun came out and its rays coated the beach in a golden hue. 


The water was clear and sand whiting (I could be guessing but it was milky white and on the sand!) were foraging for bits and pieces as we ploughed our way in and out trying to catch waves on the way in.

I hope you enjoy the pics I snapped during my 'warm-up' walk. 

PS: I've found another good website for beach conditions. It's http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/beachapp/OceanBulletin.aspx
*This isn't verbatim but it's close enough.
    

Monday, 19 December 2011

Manly LSC Blue Dolphins Swim: a shark sighting but no sign of Leonardo DiCaprio or Bill Gates

Manly Beach
After a week of big surf and on-again off-again rain, the Great Spirit in the Sky took a flexi on Sunday. The surf was relatively flat and the sun crept tentatively out from behind its grey blanket and managed to warm the sand underfoot.

Miss Hissy accompanied me to the Northern Beaches for the Manly LSC Blue Dolphins Swim. I did this swim early in 2011 but the club has moved the date to December to avoid doubling up with other ocean-swimming events during the height of the season.

Manly has got the goods which would be one of the reasons why Fairfax Media latched onto the Cole Classic, held in Manly on the first Sunday in February.

It's a stunning location and the swim follows a course that takes punters over the most beautiful ocean 'terrain'. 

While the Cole costs $52 for earlybird entries and now starts on the calm foreshore of Shelly Beach (because the organisers had to take into account novice swimmers) the LSC Blue Dolphins Swim costs $25 and begins on the surf beach in front of the steps that lead to the shopping precinct, The Corso. 

After Miss Hissy ran into the surf with her cohort - Under 20s - I sized up the conditions and decided the swim would be 'easy peasy'. That was before my goggles got knocked off because I failed to notice a wave coming in as I was swimming out. Initially I thought I'd lost my goggles and contemplated retiring early. I then decided to swim without them. "I am a legend." But that feeling didn't last long - I discovered my goggles sitting around my neck. "I am a goose."

This was time wasted and my cohort - the old and infirm - were but a blur in the distance. I adjusted my goggles, gritted my teeth and did what every trooper does - forged ahead with a heavy yet determined heart. 

It was 600 metres to the first can, then I chucked a right and cruised*  into the picture-perfect Shelly Beach before heading back to South Steyne via Cabbage Tree Bay. 

During the swim I saw schools of fish pottering over the reef and scuba divers lounging underneath me, their bubbles tickling my skin. Afterwards one of my swimming mates said he saw a 'shadow' glide under him, and it wasn't a scuba diver. The area is a nursery for the the dusky whaler shark and there have been sightings of up to 14 babies at once, each about a metre long.  Port Jackson sharks, wobbegongs and hammerheads have also been spotted in this marine life reserve.

The 1 km swim started at Shelly Beach and finished at South Steyne

Here's a link to a YouTube video where sharks scoot below unsuspecting participants in the 2011 Cole Classic as the swimmers head around the can at Cabbage Tree Bay. If you can't be bothered with the whole 4.38 minutes, the sharks make an appearance just before the 3-minute mark. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B_pOb-4LmAM

There are no more organised swims before Christmas but there is some training at the beach. I'll keep you posted. Have a good week. 

  *I like to make it sound easy. I was swimming my little bum off in order to catch up to my peers.

(AN ASIDE: I'M SITTING HERE AT MY DESK, HAVING JUST RETURNED FROM WALKING LE CHIEN UNDER A LEADEN SKY, AND IT'S STARTED TO RAIN. THIS UNSEASONAL WEATHER IS DRIVING SYDNEYSIDERS MAD. ACCORDING TO THE WEATHER BUREAU, IT HASN'T BEEN THIS 'BLAH' SINCE 1960. I LOVE THE RAIN BUT A FEW DAYS OF SUN WOULDN'T GO ASTRAY, EVEN IF JUST TO IMPRESS LEONARDO DICAPRIO AND BILL GATES AND FAMILY WHO ARE VISITING SYDNEY, THE FORMER FOR THE GREAT GATSBY AND THE LATTER FOR A HOLIDAY) 

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Check it out: sites for surf, sun and ocean swimming

Will the rain ever stop? Find out by visiting a weather website
I'd love to live within walking distance of a beach in Sydney.

Fancy waking up every day and strolling down to the beach for a swim before work. I envy the lucky buggers who can do it.

For me the beach is, on a good traffic day, a 40 minute drive with the eastern suburbs and northern beaches being a similar distance (maybe east is a bit closer, say, 30 minutes sans traffic).

If I plan to do an ocean swim, I like to check out the conditions via my friend Mrs Loveachat, who lives near the beach at Mona Vale on the 'insular peninsular'*. But Mrs Loveachat doesn't have a handle on what's happening at the other beaches so I check out websites to help me gain an overview.

I thought you might like the links to a couple of the useful sites I've discovered since I started ocean swimming. My daughter The Hiss and partner Spanner love to sail and they introduced me to http://www.seabreeze.com.au/ 

Seabreeze started out as a resource for kiteboarders down in Victoria but has expanded so it now gives weather statistics nationally. I use the seven day wind and wave forecast to keep an eye on wave height. 


There's lots to look at on this site. Willy Weather gets stuff from the Bureau of Meteorology and features radar, satellite and synoptic charts (exciting). 

Oh dear, Willy Weather predicts rain for the rest of the week and over the weekend. What is going on in Sydney? It's madness. We should be complaining about the sweltering heat. Instead, we're all wearing jumpers and carrying brollies. 

I'M OVER IT. I WANT TO WHINGE ABOUT THE ENERVATING HEAT AND LIE IN BED AT NIGHT WITH A TRILLION MOSQUITOES BUZZING AROUND MY EARLOBES. I HAVE ONLY SEEN TWO FLIES SO FAR THIS SUMMER. IT'S NOT NATURAL. IT'S UN-ORSTRAILEEAN.  

The other site I love is http://www.coastalwatch.com/

Coastalwatch is designed specifically for surfers but anyone involved in water sports will find it informative. I love the surfcams so I can see what's happening in real time at beaches across Australia. I use it to check out beaches from Bondi to Palmy. I can even look at Sydney Harbour. Have a squizz: http://www.coastalwatch.com/camera/cameras_large.aspx?cam=3700&state=NSW&t=11:34:12%20AM&camName=Sydney%20Harbour How cool is that? The surf reports are written by enthusiasts who obviously have insider information.


Finally, where would I be without http://www.oceanswims.com/

This is where I head for all the news and gossip on ocean swims locally, nationally and overseas. It's an excellent resource, created by one of those boofy blokes you often see on the beach who was baptised in salt water and can read the ocean at a glance.

There's a swim at Manly this Sunday. I might see you there though Christmas has caught me by surprise and I still have lots to do before December 25. 

*Simple explanation of a blinkered mindset: Like 'The Shire' down south, the 'insular peninsular' up north is named so because its inhabitants tend to view their slice of heaven as being superior to the rest of Sydney. It's parochialism on a micro scale. Could that then be parochialism within parochialism? It devolves into itself... hey, I could do a PhD on this topic and rant on for 80,000 words about life in the 'burbs. I take no responsibility for this opinion. This is how it is.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Bilgola Ocean Swim 2012: a Northern Beaches gem

Will I? Won't I? Will I? Won't I? Will I do the Bilgola ocean swim?

Sometimes I do my own head in.

The problem was the prediction for a big surf on Sunday. I don't like big surf. It's scary. I've been dumped, smashed and mashed by dumpers more times than I care to remember. I've also been creamed at Bilgola, which is the reason for the tedious procrastination.

The 1.5 km Bilgola swim starts at 11am. At 8.30 I made up my mind, dragged Miss Hissy into the car and hooned it up the highway to the Northern Beaches. My friend Mrs Loveachat lives at Mona Vale, so we stopped at her place and chucked her in the car. When we arrived at Bilgola we bumped into my friends Mr and Mrs Snorkel. It's always good to have a cheer squad to boost the ego when you stagger across the finish line.

By the way, it was a beautiful day - you can see that from the photos. The surf was up but not as gnarly as I thought it would be so I forked out the $30 late registration fee and joined the other mug punters on the sand at the starting line.



Bilgola is one of my favourite Sydney beaches. It's a sheet of golden sand tucked in between two headlands at the bottom of a narrow winding road, where a small number of luxurious residences nestle in the bushland. A secret hideaway.

At its southern end is an ocean pool where the less adventurous can doddle or do laps. If the surf's up the waves crash over the concrete barrier and flow into the pool. I'm sighing as I think of it. Sublime.


The swim's start and finish was towards the northern end of the beach. The course was clearly marked with cylindrical orange buoys (the best type). Two of these each had a balloon attached so the swimmers had a good guide.

I was in the last wave to enter the water. We were lucky because there was a lull in the sets coming through - the wave of swimmers before us copped some big ones. I made it out to the first buoy much quicker than I expected. The rest of the swim was a delight. It was so different from the conditions in last Sunday's Bondi to Bronte. I managed to get a rhythm going with my stroke as there was no unruly swell to hinder me. Getting back in was harder and I did a naughty thing by ducking back under a wave rather than trying to catch it.

The Hiss, the Snorkels and Mrs Loveachat clapped and shouted as I ran (if that's the word for it) up the beach.

About 45 minutes later the Southerly came in and the weather turned nasty. This is happening a lot in Sydney - sun-drenched mornings followed by rain-soaked afternoons. The Hiss and I drove home in a storm, shuddering every time lightning blitzed the sky. 

Friday, 9 December 2011

A letter from Paris

It's not really a letter but a series of text messages from my daughter Precious Princess (PP) who has spread her wings and flown to Europe - with China South Air (that's another story). 

The word 'letter' sounds way more exotic and adventurous than 'text' or 'SMS'.

It's hard being here in Sydney* and contemplating yet another weekend of rain and rough surf conditions while PP is having a ball on the other side of the world. 

She has constantly updated me on her activities since she left the country on Monday - something she never does in Sydney when I'm worried sick because she's failed to respond to my neurotic text messages (Where are you?) sent at one-minute intervals until she replies - with a smiley face.

My mum recently gave me a wad of letters I wrote to her and Dad on my first trip abroad. That was in the dark ages when the only way of keeping in touch with family back home was to make a reverse-charges call on a payphone and to send an aerogram.

Now I know exactly where PP is as the messages flow in on a daily basis. I love it. I guess the only problem is that text messages are brief and temporary. Unless I can print them out, the messages are gone - hit the delete button and the conversation is forgotten.

In a total act of self indulgence I've decided to publish some of the text exchanges between PP and moi. She and her boyfriend are in the City of Lights.Paris. Here's part of our exchange (including PP's overuse of exclamation marks):

PP: At Gare du Nord train station! Peak hour so insanely busy and we are walking on the left and everyone is walking on the right!

Me: Love you. Have an amazing day.

PP: In the Louvre right now! Saw Mona Lisa and walked through Napoleon III's amazing amazing house, all the ceilings were made of gold and detailed. We've been hiring bikes and riding around the city and our apartment is in this little Parisian courtyard and a walk away from the Notre Dame (which we climbed to the top of yesterday). Having a great time and eating great food. 

Me: Screaming going on here as Miss Hissy prepares for science fair. Dog depressed. It's raining. Have you gone to Disneyland yet? Are the French being nice to you? 

PP: Going to Disneyland today! It is 5am but we can't sleep, too excited and jetlagged. And last night we walked all the way along the Champs Elysees and it was all lit up and Christmas markets all the way down! I'm so glad we came in winter, it's so beautiful and everyone is so fashionable. I think the dog needs a holiday, I know these things burden her. 

PP: French people are so nice, most speak English and are so helpful. Most of them also know we are English even before we say anything in English. Our accents must be terrible. 

Me: Wow. Jealousy. 

PP: Disneyland is the happiest place in the world!!! So so impressed, everything in such detail and so magical!!!

Those exclamation marks are killing me. I'll keep you posted on PP's progress through Europe**.

Briefly back to swimming Bilgola swim this Sunday but the weather is looking 'iffy' and the surf could be really big - 2 metres is huge to someone like me who stands at 165 centimetres on a tall day.

My friend who lives up that way on the Northern Beaches, Mrs Loveachat, says she'll check out the conditions for me tomorrow and early Sunday morning. 

*It's really not that hard. I can think of worse places to be - having just gorged myself on a mango and a banana.

**Note to Tim: Hi Tim. Thanks for reading my blog and making me feel almost famous. Please keep this a secret from PP or she won't send me any more text messages. 

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Bondi to Bronte ocean swim 2011: a bugger of a swim but worth it in the end

If the day had started the way it ended I wouldn't have done the Bondi to Bronte swim. But this morning the sun was out and the surf was, according to www.seabreeze.com.au .8 of a metre. I thought, 'I can do this.'
Before: Bondi around 8.30am

I arrived early at Bondi - that's the trick to getting a parking spot. The wind was already blowing in at 8am and the surf was mimimal. I think it's kind of cute that even when there's barely a wave, the boys on their boards are already out there... wishin' and hopin' for the curly ones to arrive. Hope springs eternal for the old farts with their long boards (because at that age, size does matter).

I'm going off topic! The water temperature was supposedly 18.2 degrees. I'll get back to that later.

With the swim scheduled to start at 9.30, I was worried the Southerly buster was going to kick in with a vengeance and shove up the wave height. That turned out not to be so much of an issue compared to the challenging conditions it caused out the back of the break.

Bronte after the swim


The swim started slap-bang in the middle of Bondi Beach and we headed towards New Zealand before taking a sharp right at Mackenzie's Point.

Bear with me as I indulge in a stream of consciousness in order to sum up the swim: up and down and up and back down and up again swallow some ocean and swallow some more and someone's kicked me and I hate this no I love it but how can I when I'm drowning I'm tired I'm cold yo ho heave ho and up the swell we go and now we slide back down again yo ho heave swallow more water ho... 

Once I made it to Mackenzie's I turned right with the mob and travelled south past Mackenzie's Bay (apparently, it's a nice place to take your dog and have a dip when the conditions are mild) and then past the notorious Tamarama Beach. I didn't see a whole lot of beach action because I breathe to the left. I tried to breathe right but I'm useless at it.

Coming into Bronte, I followed the stream of coloured caps and swam over a few people and had a few swim over me. I accidentally clipped some bloke in a black cap (I think black means 'fast wanker') who was swimming aggressively - a man thing. I didn't mean to hit him but he just charged over me like I wasn't there. That's ocean swimming and I guess you've got to cop the biff occasionally.

I got into the beach okay but I was pretty stuffed as I ran up the sand. There was lots of aluminium foil being wrapped around some of those swimmers who couldn't manage the cooler water temperatures.

Coming in at Bronte: can you see the aluminium?


By the time I found my bag among the thousands of others that had been transported from Bondi and dumped on the grass in a big disorderly heap at Bronte, I was bloody freezing. The weather had turned nasty and I felt sorry for the swimmers still coming in.      

An ambulance, siren blaring, was wending its way towards Bronte as I walked back towards Bondi. I suspect it was going to pick up some poor person with a severe case of hypothermia.

Did I enjoy this swim? There were moments of absolute joy before I got sick and tired in the swell. No matter. On a perfect day the Bondi to Bronte swim is a beautiful journey along a magnificent coastline (even though I didn't get to see much of it). I was out in the open ocean, swimming in cool clear water to a different destination. I don't think you can ask for anything more. 

PS: My guts are full of ocean. Not a good feeling.
PPS: My mum just called and said it is the coldest day in Sydney in December in more than 40 years. The thermometer here at home puts it at 16 degrees. You call this summer?

After: Bondi at lunchtime. Brrr...


Monday, 28 November 2011

Jelly blubbers, vibrant green weed and a slap in the face: a swim around Wedding Cake Island at Coogee

It rained all week. The downpour started after the Dawny swim at Balmain on Sunday November 20 and continued unabated for six days. I kid you not. Then, after a torrential onslaught on Saturday morning, it stopped. The sun shone, the clouds evaporated and it was like it had never rained at all. Hallelujah.

Sunday morning was blue and blustery. My swimming partner Davo and I drove to Coogee in the eastern suburbs and spent 20 minutes looking for a parking spot. It's a fact of life in Sydney, especially near the beach. Everyone drives and everyone feels entitled to a parking space right next to the beach.

If you let 'em, they'd park on the bloody sand just like they do in those crappy Toyota ads that are trying to sell the concept of freedom to well-off Gen Xers who like to pop those horrid 'this is my family' stickers on the rear window of their 4WDs (for the millions of readers in the USA, I'm referring to SUVs). I'm ranting and raving because I'm a woman of a certain age. BACK TO THE SWIM. 

Davo and I found a parking space about 1 kilometre from the action. We walked down a steep hill to the beach, which was decked out for the 1 km and 2.4 km swims. When we arrived the 1 km swim had started and the first finisher was almost across the line. 

The sun was fierce and I could feel my skin begging for lotion and a shady place. After a warm-up in 18-degree water (though one bloke I was talking to reckoned it was more like 17 degrees), I was ready. The conditions were reasonable but we were told it was choppy out the back of Wedding Cake Island, which is why the support crew on their kayaks were sent out there to keep swimmers well clear of the rocks. 

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:   http://www.michaelmcfadyenscuba.info/viewpage.php?page_id=34

The first wave of swimmers headed off and drifted to the left on a north-running current. My tactics for this swim were the same as for Dawny: 1. don't stop 2. try not to spend too much time looking up 3. maintain a race pace (I failed at this one). 

It was a pleasant trek past the first three pointy pink cans. My goggles half filled and I thought, 'bugger it'. It would have been too easy to stop and empty them. I guessed they'd probably just fill again and I'd get cranky and neurotic. The salt water in my eyes was manageable. 

Getting around the back of the island was difficult. The chop was full-on and slapped me around, so there was no point trying to maintain a rhythm. I wasn't sure where I was and did what one shouldn't do in ocean swimming - I followed the pack. 

I almost forgot to mention the jelly blubbers hanging around the back. Though my vision was limited, I could see thousands of them just like in Finding Nemo. Unlike the nasties in the movie, they were about the size of a golf ball, translucent and non-stinging. I sloshed through them and even pierced one with my finger. Some people don't enjoy swimming through blubbers but I like the soft gelatinous feel of them against my skin.

Another swim highlight was the reef. Because the water was clear as a bell I could see the rocky ocean floor peppered with lime-green weed contrasted against mauve soft corals. There were lots of fishies, too.            
Once I got around the island I thought all my troubles would be over but it was still a long way to the finish line on the beach and the chop was rougher than Saturday night at the Coogee Bay Hotel.

I couldn't see the big cylindrical orange can - the last marker into the beach. Again, I followed the other swimmers. Then I spotted a bloke who was easily 15 years older than me (maybe not - must look at results!). He seemed to know what he was doing and kept looking up to check the direction. I fell in just behind him and followed him home. A bad move? Maybe, maybe not. All of a sudden the orange can appeared in front of me and I pulled on my reserves for last 50 metres. There were no waves to speak of, just shallow dumpers, so the run out of the surf was stress-free. 

Afterwards, everyone said the swim was longer than 2.4 kilometres. I'd like to think so, considering my time.

Davo came in after me but he's already sneaking up on me now we're in the surf. Last week I finished 10 minutes ahead, this week only four minutes (he'll comment on that).

How would I rate the Coogee swim? It was well-run but there was no fresh fruit offered to swimmers who completed the event. I reckon that's a tiny bit stingy, since it's $40 for the 2.4 km swim. Many punters do both and pay $50 for the privilege.
Next Sunday is Bondi to Bronte. I don't think Davo is doing it and I haven't decided. 

I'll keep you posted. 

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Back to Balmain for the 2011 Dawny's swim around Cockatoo Island on Sydney Harbour


Dawny's Baths, with the right-hand corner of Cockatoo Island in the distance. We headed out to the derrick (named after a bloke called Derrick?) crane to circumnavigate the island in an anti-clockwise direction
A dip in Sydney Harbour on Sunday morning isn't everyone's cup of tea. But a growing number of mug punters are turning up for the annual Dawny's swim around Cockatoo Island. 

If you read www.oceanswims.com you'll know this swim used to be regarded as the first swim of the ocean-swimming season in NSW. It's now pipped at the post by Collaroy and Narrabeen on Sydney's Northern Beaches. 

I still see it as numero uno as it coincides with the start of summer and gives me a chance to test myself in reasonably calm conditions without the pressure of the run in and out of the surf. 

Dawny's starts in the harbour just outside the Dawn Fraser Baths, which was built in the early 1880s making it the oldest pool in Australia. Last year I'm pretty sure the 2.5 km course ran clockwise around Cockatoo Island but this year it was anti-clockwise. The swim is on nice and early at 9.10am so it's over before the ferries start to transport tourists to and from the island. Today was hot and steamy so it was a relief to get out of the water and into the shade before the sun got serious.

As is tradition, before the swim I liaised with my ocean swims' mate of five years, Davo. 

Davo, who happens to be my brother-in-law, said he hadn't swum all winter though he does bootcamp three mornings a week with a couple of blokes and a personal trainer. He's pretty fit for an old bloke (that'll get a comment from him - or his dog). Have a gander at his arm. He insisted on a photo to commemorate his first swim. Winner or loser?

This arm means business
There are two Dawny's swims, a 2.5 km and a 1 km swim that is run as soon as the longer distance swimmers have left - again, this is tied into ferry timetables. 

Davo and I jumped off the jetty/pontoon with a couple of hundred swimmers in our age group and waited for the gun. We were left to tread water for at least five minutes. I was a bit jumpy about THEY WHO SHALL NOT BE NAMED and lifted my legs instinctively whenever they knocked another person's. Fortunately, the only things to worry about were jelly blubbers and a bit of weed. 

The water temp was a comfortable 21 degrees (my guess) and the water quality seemed okay, though after the swim I had grease on my face, probably from motorcraft exhausts and the moored boats close to the finish.

My goals in this swim were to 1. not stop 2. maintain a consistent pace 3. keep to the course. 
I did well with the first two. Last year I stopped a couple of times, which is lovely in one respect because I got a geek at the harbour, the island and the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the distance. This year I missed all that because I kept my head down and really only noticed the other swimmers and two of the derrick cranes and a chimney that are the island's landmarks. 

The chop on the right-hand corner and around the back of the island was pronounced. I didn't look up as I swallowed salty harbour but guessed it was caused by boats heading towards the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

I'm still not good at sticking to an optimal course - there were times when all the other swimmers seemed to be hugging the island while I was out wide. Also, the sun got in my eyes on the way back in. I remember this from 2010. It's hard to see where you are because of the glare and the moored boats that block a view of the pontoon and jetty. When I got to the pontoon ladder a couple of volunteers helped me get out. It's hard to get your land legs after a long swim.

Afterwards, I waited for Davo. It's usually the other way around so either my squad training has paid off or Davo's slow to get started this season (that'll get a comment). 

When Davo did 'land' on the pontoon he got a cramp in his calf muscle, which he put down to a couple of volunteers hauling him out a bit too enthusiastically. Whatever, it looked dramatic from a distance. He came good and we queued on the boardwalk at Dawny's for a complimentary* fry-up of bacon, eggs, sausage and salad on a roll.


Next week is Coogee. Sand, surf and loads more competitors.

*The entry fee is $35, which is good value as half a mango, oranges and fry-up are included in cost.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Misty morning at Bondi and a humiliating moment in a day in the life of a woman of a certain age

Bondi Beach: it's not smog, it's fog
Today Ms Fivestar came to the beach. She'd heard my stories about the head-honcho swim coach Mr Mean and wanted to meet the man who refers to himself as "old school". 

Mr Mean is a product of the good old days before political correctness brought the Western World to its knees and took all the fun out of blonde jokes (thank God the Irish can still laugh at themselves). Mr Mean likes to shout a lot and make examples of those not doing it his way. He is definitely a 'my way or the highway' sort of bloke. 

This used to get my back up, when Mr Mean would occasionally berate me or another squad member in front of our peers. After a while I got used to it. You might think my resignation is lame and that I'm spineless for not biting back. 

But Mr Mean was right to pull me up for not paying attention while he was talking - often about himself but also about stroke technique - and for being late for squad.

I could have got mad and stormed off, which is what I did one morning when he lambasted me for arriving late to squad. He basically told me to piss off if I couldn't be punctual. I was furious. I mean, no one talks like that to a woman of a certain age. 

Anyway, after stewing in my own juices, I returned the next week and I've never been late since. 

Today I wasn't listening again and ran into the surf with a bunch of the elite squad members when I was meant to be with the rookies. 

Ms Fivestar, who was relaxing on the sand, heard Mr Mean shout out my name not once, but three times. She said it was funny. I was mortified when I finally heard him and turned to face the group that remained on the beach. I then had to run back to the group who looked embarrassed on my behalf.

C'est la vie. Overall, it was a fantastic morning but check out the pics. The mist covered Bondi for the duration of squad and was still hovering around at 11am. Ms Fivestar and I reckon the cooler air off the water collided with warmer air floating over the land, with the resulting haze. The water temp was a crisp 19 degrees (my guess). On the drive home, my car's temperature gauge sat on 35 degrees Celsius. 

Tomorrow is the Dawny swim at Balmain on the harbour in Sydney's inner-west. My teeth are already chattering... and not just because I'm thinking about the water temperature. It's what lies beneath that makes me shudder.

I hope to post tomorrow night unless of course I get a fright because a sharky took a bite... ARRRGGGHHHHHH! 

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

I do not like that hat: why women of a certain age cannot wear bad hats

Being a 'woman of a certain age' has its challenges. For example, I have to constantly stop myself from talking out loud while alone in public. This habit has become more pronounced as I've aged and sometimes I can start a 'self-chat' on Pitt Street before I remember where I am. Crazy lady. 

I've also become slack about my fashion choices, with a tendency to shop for practical rather than aesthetic items.
The bad hat is an example of this. It is a pink cotton hat with a floppy brim. I bought it because it keeps the sun off my face. 

I wore it all last summer with not a peep from anyone in my family (I could plonk a stuffed cat on my head and Spanner wouldn't notice). But a couple of weeks ago my swimming coach Mr Mean made an observation that highlighted my fall from style icon to dowdy matron.

Mr Mean said: "Is your daughter pregnant?" 

I said: "No... I hope not. Why?" 

Mr Mean said: "Because you're wearing a grandma hat."

Mr Mean likes to stir the possum. He is a ratbag with no manners. 

Deep down I knew he was right but that didn't stop me from wearing the bad hat to Sculpture by the Sea with Ms Onyabike and Mrs Snorkel, where I told them about the unpleasant exchange.  

I expected their support but received a general lack of empathy. 

That night I received an email from Mrs Snorkel, which she cc'd to Ms Onyabike. 

Mrs Snorkel wrote: If you really want my opinion, that hat looks like it is either your very small child's or your mother's that even they don't wear anymore but that you found in the boot when you realised you'd forgotten to bring a real hat. I am only being a true friend and I am still very happy to be seen with you while you are wearing it.

Ms Onyabike added: cruel, but fair.

That's what true friends are for. 

I now have a new hat. It looks like the bad hat is going to the Salvo's shop because my mum doesn't want it. She says it makes her look old and frumpy.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Another weekend, another squad at North Bondi and dreams about bull sharks at Balmain

No surf. No rip. No current. Swimming pool for squad on Sat'dee. 

These pics show North Bondi at its 'funnest' on Saturday morning before the hordes of tourists and daytrippers pop in just so they can say, bin there dun that.



I can't remember if I told you about the weekend before when I counted 16 tourist buses and saw tourists wearing face masks (I have photographic evidence but chose not to use it). People are strange. Something else that is strange is that the majority of tourists choose not to walk on the sand. They stand on the stairs to take their happy snaps but 90 per cent do not walk on the beach. 

The conditions on Saturday were perfect for training for the Dawny's swim on November 20, which takes place in Balmain on the harbour (I WILL NOT THINK ABOUT BULL SHARKS, I WILL NOT OBSESS ABOUT BULL SHARKS AND CLEAN HARBOUR WATER).   

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Sculpture by the Sea 2011 and a snorkel at Gordons Bay for good measure

It could be somewhere in Europe but it's not: Gordons Bay
Just because I'm sick as a dog doesn't mean I can't stuff myself with paracetamol and join my mates Ms Onyabike and Mrs Snorkel for a frolic by the sea.

It was Mrs Snorkel's idea to go to Gordons Bay, which is around the corner from Clovelly beach in Sydney's eastern suburbs. On a good day at Gordons Bay punters can catch glimpses of wobbegongs and blue gropers. On Monday the water was so clear you could see all the way to the ocean floor - even as far out as the open sea. 

It was chilly but the experience of snorkelling is, as Ms Onyabike noted, theraputic. This is because, when wearing the snorkel and goggles, you become conscious of the sound of your breathing. It's all you hear - the deep regular 'in' and 'out' of your own breath as your eyes scan the scene below for - anything! 

In my former posts, I've written about my talent for scaring away marine life. My theory is that a sonar warning* is relayed to the creatures of the deep that alerts them to my presence in the immediate vicinity. This sends them scurrying under the nearest big rocks to avoid my curious gaze.

And so it was on Monday. Mrs Snorkel bobbed to the surface and removed her mouthpiece to proclaim: "I've never seen it so quiet down there. I haven't seen anything yet."

IT'S BECAUSE OF MOI. I could never get a job with Trawler Men.

I did manage to spot a few obliging anemone (maybe it's because they're stuck to the rocks and can't go anywhere), one ray (pretending to be sand), a herd of tiny zebra fish and another fish that looked like he was wearing khaki (obviously camouflage).  

The only two real gripes I have with Gordons Bay is that no one tells you about the litter washed up on the beach. And that some arsehole has put out lobster pots when I'm sure this little part of the world is a marine wildlife reserve. But hey, that's Australia. You can never escape that sense of entitlement that has become so much a part of the Aussie makeup (that's a whole other post).

Everything including the bathroom sink


On a lighter note... afterwards we basked for a moment in the sun before heading around to Tamarama Beach to view the  Sculpture by the Sea 2011 exhibition, which features sculptures all the way along the coastal walk to Bondi Beach. 
Inside the tyre turtle was a cubby house filled with bric-a-brac


I've popped in some of the more creative sculptures in this incredible annual event that now has offshoots around the globe in countries such as Denmark (due in part, I think, to Australian-born Princess Mary).

Easter Island meets Tamarama Beach

Later we cooled off at Tamarama, a narrow beach renowned for its semi-permanent rip.  

Mrs Snorkel and Ms Onyabike with the vacationing Buddha, who is wearing shorts and thongs


*I suspect there is a sea creature on watch who has in its possession an identikit photo of me kitted out in full snorkelling gear. Not fair.  

North Bondi squad, snorkelling at Gordons Bay and Sculpture by the Sea

Apologies for the long absence but my Blogger dashboard did this weird thing and went blank so I haven't been able to post anything for days. Now I'm back with the old dashboard. Fingers crossed. 

Sydney has switched on summer so I've been swimming in the ocean. Saturday was squad at North Bondi and almost everyone except me was seal-like (shark bait?) in a steamer. 

With a water temp of 18-19 degrees I don't think this is necessary, especially as we were on the move the whole session (1.5 hours), galavanting in and out of the surf like lemmings. 

The squad's coach, Mr Mean, is unrelenting. He shouts a lot. He gets cranky if we do wimpy stuff, like swimming back out and under a dumper when we're supposed to be swimming into the shore. To my mind this is a good tactic. I don't want to get churned around and spat out on the sand looking like an eejit. Mr Mean sees it this way: "Go with the wave ya pussycats. What's wrong with doing a few somersaults on the way in. At least you're not losing ground." I guess there's always two points of view. But I prefer to get out of it alive.  

Afterwards, I was shattered. Getting out past the break was a major effort and there was a massive north-running current. 
On Sunday I woke up with the beginnnings of a head cold and slept for two hours in the afternoon. 

Yesterday the offer of a day at the Sculpture by the Sea 2011 exhibition was too good to refuse. But I'll save that - and the snorkel at Gordons Bay - for my next post. 

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Another glorious coastal retreat is under constant threat from developers


Spanner and I drove to Newcastle yesterday and on the way I made him stop at Catherine Hill Bay.

Not many people know about Catherine Hill Bay (CHB) - except the lucky locals. Oh, and the developers who want to carve up the land and allow 600 homes to be built there. Is this a big deal? You should have a geek at the rampant f'ugly residential development along the Australian coastline and you'll realise it is.

Gawd, a stroll along the sand from Broadbeach to Burleigh on the Qld Gold Coast highlights row upon row of gaudy, tawdry and tasteless mansions. Some of these houses could be mistaken for RSL clubs except they're bigger and uglier (if that's possible).

Head down the NSW South Coast for the light and sleazy versions that are slapped up almost overnight on acreage that used to be remnant forest or dairy cattle land.  

CHB is unusual because it is one of the few remaining examples of an 'intact Australian company town', which features the fibro and timber miners' cottages built to house the workers when the town's jetty was used to load coal.


I don't much about the town's heritage but I do know it's a special place that has managed to escape the claws of developers because of the vigilance of its residents, determined to save CHB from becoming another soulless beachside 'burb.

You can get involved in the fight by joining the Friends of  Catherine Hill Bay http://www.catherinehillbay.org.au/save_the_bay_campaign/save_the_bay_campaign.htm#

Back to the swim. Spanner sat in the car and figured out how to use the iPod (sad, isn't it?) while I threw myself into an icy Pacific Ocean. The air temp was around 28 but I reckon the water was more like 17. Brrrrrrrr. I then took some snaps of the jetty, which the locals are also fighting to save from demolition. It is not only historically significant but also a work of art that must be preserved for future generations. 



Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Burleigh Ocean Swim: embrace the turtle within

Heading north to the start of the 2km swim
With a heavy heart I must report that my swim times are still crapulous, despite training throughout winter. 

I should have listened to Spanner's advice, for he is *wise. The Wise One (that's Spanner) has always said that I need to acknowledge my slow-swimmer genes and embrace the turtle within.

On Sunday at Burleigh Heads on the Gold Coast in Queensland I finally looked the turtle in the eye. 

At the start line
It was a beautiful day, which dawned at 4.30am. That's when the sun bloody well rises in Queensland because the state doesn't have daylight savings. This far north the sand is blindingly white and fine. 

My friend Ms Fivestar, who came to Burleigh as my **support person, created this lovely analogy: she said Queensland sand squeaks under the feet like haloumi cheese in the mouth. If you've got some haloumi handy, get a piece and chew on it. That is the sound of Qld sand between the toes. 

The ocean is shades of blue and green, and white as the waves break and roll onto the shore.

Woo hoo: I wish I could say I looked that athletic
Ms Five Star and I stayed on the 16th floor of an apartment on The Esplanade. The views were spectacular. I will never get over how lucky we are to live in a country with so much coast. It's glorious. And the sound of the surf, though loud and continuous, is therapeutic. I love it. 

About the swim. I did the 2km event, which started at 7am about half-way up the beach from the Burleigh Heads Mowbray Park Surf Club. There is a reason for the early start. As the day progresses, the wind blows in and the surf can become choppy and unpredictable. On the Saturday, bluebottles were driven into shore by a robust nor-easterly wind. The surf was ragged and a strong current ran north. 

At 7am on Sunday, the ocean was in a better mood (a local described it as "flat as") and the wind hadn't yet arrived. 

My age group ran into the shallow water about 15 minutes past the hour, after three other younger age groups. I did the usual - adjusting and emptying goggles (I am sooo neurotic) and then got into it. It was a lovely swim through clean clear water back down the beach to the club. I didn't go that hard (must be my turtle brain). 

Getting back in was more of an effort, a bit like 'one foot forward two steps back' as the small waves gave me a gentle shove forward only to drag me back as they retreated from the shore. The 'run' up the beach started with a tip-toe through the shallows trying to avoid breaking an ankle in sandy pot holes. This was followed by a 50 metre sprint (in my case a turtle toddle) up soft sand to the finish. Five swimmers ran past me before I crossed to the line.

I did the swim in 40 minutes and finished in the bottom third of around 230 swimmers (maybe even lower but, as you know, I'm bad at maths). I really should have made the distance in 35 minutes.
Nemesis: the bluebottle


Not to worry. The turtle and I had a chat and decided there's nothing wrong with being slow. I'm out there and doing it. That's what counts. 

*Spanner might be wise but for some reason he finds it impossible to install a bathroom mirror or fix the TV antenna so we have reception when it rains.
**Ms Fivestar carries the towels and water. She also takes over as chief photographer. She is the CAMEL. I know what I'd rather be. 

Always read the signs and follow the advice
PS: If you're ever in Burleigh Heads head to the Commune Cafe on the highway. It may not have ocean views but it has yummy food, a great vibe and wonderful service. It is run on eco-friendly and fair trade principles. Highly recommended.