Sunday, 30 January 2011

The Big Swim 2011: Palmy to Whale is heaps fun

My eldest daughter Precious Princess (PP) used to be a reasonably competent ocean swimmer. She often placed in her age group and took home medals and prizes including towels, goggles, free parking vouchers for the parking station in Manly (handy for the Cole Classic), tote bags and the occasional $$$ cheque.

After the HSC, she stopped swimming to study the fine arts of partying and nightclubbing.

That was two years ago, so I was surprised when she asked if she could join me for The Big Swim, a 2.5 km destination swim from Palm Beach to Whale Beach. I guess she must have graduated.

I registered for her online, expecting her to pull out on the day.

But she didn't.

Davo, whose arm is in a sling following his unfortunate accident on a kiddies' flying fox, drove us to Palmy this morning, a kind gesture considering he won't be back in the water for another six weeks.

We arrived and joined 1700 other punters on the start line - a higgledy- piggledy mess that had no real beginning or end. Usually, swimmers are contained in a clearly defined 'starting pen', so I'm not sure what went wrong today.

The line seemed to shift further south after each wave of competitors went off. Most figured out that the rip, with a sandbank either side, appeared to be their best option. 

The start gun sounded unexpectedly just after 10am, surprising the elite swimmers. Fifteen minutes later PP rushed into the surf with the other 12-19 year-olds, grabbing the top of her cossie which looked like it was about to fall to bits.

Davo said he'd catch the shuttle bus around to Whale Beach, where he would have a towel at the ready for PP if she emerged from the water minus cossie.

My group, the 50-59-year-old chicky babes, raced into the surf just as a set of waves hit. Bad timing. I was starting to get despondent as wave after wave rolled in. Finally, I made it through and found myself striding out to the first can at about 400 metres. Then came the slog to the headland through chop that increased as we turned the corner into Whale Beach.

By this time, the last group of swimmers to enter the water, the 40-49 year-old males wearing hot-pink caps, were cutting a swathe through my purple-capped age group.

These blokes are deep in mid-life crisis and feel they have to bludgeon, kick and swim over anything in their path. Today it didn't bother me, as it allowed me to swim in the wake caused by many of them. The water was gorgeous and clear, so I had a chuckle when one of the pink caps swam past me, his belly hanging low in the water - obviously keeping him buoyant.     

Coming into the beach at the end of the swim was a chore because I didn't want to get dumped by the neatly spaced but powerful waves. I turned around to check if any waves were bearing down on me and dived back into two. They definitely weren't body-surfing material.

PP was waiting on the shore, cossie intact. She managed a respectable 40 minutes, not bad considering her lack of swim fitness. I wonder if mosh-pit fitness counts for anything?

Photo: Davo, in sling, and PP, in her five-year-old swimming costume, before the swim.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Them's the breaks: Davo's broken his wrist and he's out of the Palmy to Whale

Some people will do anything to avoid stiff competition. Knowing that I'm nipping at his heels this ocean swimming season, Davo has gone and broken his wrist. I'm not saying the accident was intentional, but I have my suspicions.

This is the worst time to be out of the water as the season is at its peak in February, with three major swims in the pipeline. The Big Swim from Palmy to Whale is this Sunday, the Cole Classic is on February 6 and the week after, February 13, is the North Bondi Classic.

Davo, the wife and kids were at a barbecue at their friends' house when the accident happened. After enjoying several relaxing sorbets, Davo thought he'd line up with the kids for a go on the homemade flying fox. Can you visualise the outcome already? Do I need to describe what happened next?

According to Davo, the flying-fox handle snapped mid-flight when he was two metres above the ground. He landed on his back (ouch) and must have put his right hand down to break his fall (double ouch). At the time, he didn't feel much pain...

When I last spoke to him, he'd just had an MRI and sounded fairly optimistic. It could've been worse - his back or head could have taken the brunt of the fall.

All I know is the wrist is wrecked and I've lost my swimming partner - and driver - for at least three weeks. Yeah, that's me, Little Ms Shellfish.

But it's also three weeks without the fun teasing, the jokes and the all-round camaraderie that comes from being part of an exclusive ocean-swimming team.

Maybe there's a lesson in Davo's accident for all of us... I'm trying to think of something wise to write here, but it's not coming to me...

...avoid child's play when it involves being suspended mid-air from a homemade flying fox with a wonky handle.   

Photo: Happy Days. Davo and the Hiss after the swim at Gerringong

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Warriewood to Mona Vale Ocean Swim and it's a bad back and blue bottles - in that order

I don't wish a bad back on anyone. But that's what I have as a result of a misspent youth - I won't even go there. I just thank the heavens I'm still on this planet, with my cranky back and spent brain cells, after some of the seriously stupid things I've done in my life.

Today the bad back nearly stopped me from doing the Warriewood to Mona Vale Ocean Swim. But then my brother-in-law Davo - who last night said "I probably won't do it, I'm onto my second beer, the house is a mess, the missus is at me to tidy up and look after the kids" - does a 360 and this morning proclaims, "I'm ready and raring to go." 

Initially, I decided to do the drive up to the northern beaches as his support person, but then we arrived. I sniffed the salty air and saw the surf was just right - I was a goner. 

We parked for free at Mona Vale and caught the free shuttle bus to Warriewood, where I then forked out $40 for late rego. The back/hip was a bit shaky. I knew I wouldn't be able to run in or out of the surf. The run out after the swim was going to be hard because it was a hike up the beach. More of that later. 

Conditions were perfect, until we heard the dreaded word: BLUE BOTTLES. Actually, we heard the word back at Warriewood but I don't want to interrupt the story flow 'cos I'm on a roll. So, I went up to a tall lanky surf lifesaver, who had an Irish accent, and asked, "What about the blue bottles?"

And he reassured me with that gentle Irish brogue, "There's not that many."

Mind you, he was covered head-to-toe in sun-safe gear and didn't look as though he was about to go anywhere near the water. But it was enough to put me at ease. What can I say? I'm a pushover for Irish accents.

Davo and I were directed to two huge tins of petroleum jelly and slathered the stuff all over our exposed bits. I guess the blue bottles can't get a grip if you're as slippery as an eel.    

Unfortunately, Davo got the stuff all over his goggles, which meant he spent a lot of the swim in a Vaso fog. 

Because we're old, we started in the fourth/last 'wave' with the men and women together. There were some nice waves to negotiate out to the first can, which was about 400 metres from the shore. Then we chucked a left and swam north and parallel to the beach. There was a bit of chop, which made it uncomfortable and I swallowed a little bit of water. I also swam WIDE AGAIN. When will I learn? I saw a girl with a GPS on her back and wondered what the pattern would look like if I wore one. Probably a crazy zig-zag. 

There were six bouys but I lost count (it's those spent brain cells) and got a bit confused. Towards the last leg of the swim, I also felt a faint stinging sensation on my legs. Then a support crew on a surf ski told me to swim wide of several blue bottles. On the way into shore, I was definitely stung on the right inner-arm. 

As predicted, getting out of the surf and up the beach at the end of the swim was a bugger, and easily a dozen swimmers passed me on the run to the finish line. Bags of ice were on hand for the blue bottle casualties and I gratefully took one. 

Afterwards, Davo and I realised how lucky we were when we saw lots of the younger swimmers, who went out in the first wave, with huge welts from the blue bottle stingers

I didn't see her, but Davo said that elite swimmer Luane Rowe, who wins many of the ocean swims, was covered in angry looking red marks from where the blue bottles had wrapped themselves around her arms and legs. Poor girl. She'll suffer over the next week when the pain evolves into a tormenting, unrelenting itch.

Today's swim was 1.6 km, but Davo reckons it felt longer. I guess I do too, but I'm always so busy trying to figure out where I am during a swim that every swim seems long, no matter what the distance! I did hear some of the punters talking about how hard it was. And the blue bottles didn't help matters.  

Let's hope these unwelcome visitors are long gone by next Sunday when we line up for the big one - Palmy to Whale.

Top photo is a view of Warriewood and bottom is Mona Vale

Monday, 17 January 2011

RWA Little Gems Garnet Short Story Contest

The RWA has a series of writing contests each year from September through to April. Now we're at the tail end of the season, I plan to enter the Little Gems and First Kiss contests.

The remaining BIG one is the Valerie Parv Award.

Last year my short story Finders Keepers was published in the Little Gems Topaz Short Story Anthology. It was one of 14 short stories that made the 'cut' from 60 entries.

This year's gem is the garnet, which must feature somewhere in the story. Judges award an extra point if the gem is 'used creatively as an integral part of the story'.

In last year's winning stories, topaz featured variously as the colour of the hero's eyes, the name of a cat, the name of a company, a creek (with a vein of topaz nearby) and as a gem. In my story, the hero knew the heroine's birth stone was topaz and bought her a topaz pendant. You can't get more creative than that (read the irony, dear follower).

I didn't want to use jewellery in this year's story, so my garnet pops up in imagery designed to evoke a sense of time and place for the reader. What this means is that I had no idea what I was doing and found an appropriate use for the garnet as my story 'evolved'.

Mmm, could I call the cat Garnet? There's already been Gar-field and he was a very unattractive cat.

What about a company? But why have Garnet Enterprises when you could have Ruby Pty Ltd? 

Could it describe the colour of the hero's eyes? Maybe if I wrote a paranormal...

I guess it's gotta be Garnet Creek. But even that lacks pizazz.

Garnets have an image problem. And they literally pale in comparison to the precious gem of a similar hue, the ruby. 

I looked up the differences between a garnet and ruby. There are many, and colour is one. One of the websites explained the colour difference: a typical ruby will have a light red to medium red hue, whereas a garnet will have a burgundy or mahogany colouring. In some cases a ruby may also be mahogany, but it will also have a clarity that the dense, less refractive garnet will not possess.  

This makes it more of a challenge to weave the garnet into the storyline, although it does have a fascinating history and, like many gems, comes in a range of colours including green. But who's gonna believe that? 

Anyway, story's written and the garnet makes a brief appearance.

To learn more about the garnet, go to which gives a comprehensive run-down on this misunderstood gem. 
 My next project is to hone the chapter in my wip where the hero and heroine lock lips for the first time. And then there's the Valerie Parv contest.

Anything is possible. Sort of.

PS: I know this is totally unrelated, but I didn't do the Avalon swim last Sunday because of a health issue. Hopefully, I'll get to Mona Vale this weekend though I hear the surf was huge today.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Every other summer = bushfires but in 2011 summer = floods and bullsharks

Summer in Australia can be a tense time because it is so often accompanied by the unmistakable smell of burning bushland and the sight of smoke haze and billowing grey 'clouds' in the distance that indicate mighty blazes in national parks and State forests.

But this year's different. For several months, it's been wet, wet, wet in the eastern states. And in northern NSW and Queensland the relentless downpour has led to scenes of devastation and destruction. So far, 12 people north of the border have lost their lives trying to escape the deluge. There are still around 50 unaccounted for. And thousands are homeless as they wait for the torrents of water to subside so they can return to their homes and businesses - or what remains. 

Here in Sydney we are (touch wood) bloody lucky. Authorities say we can help with a money donation. Go to:

Interestingly (and a lighter aside) the floods and wet weather have had an effect on the habits of local shark populations. For example, a bull shark was supposedly spotted in a Brisbane 'street' after that city's eponymous river broke its banks two days ago and flooded the inner-suburbs. This sighting hasn't been confirmed, but it is possible because bull sharks frequent the river.

And on the NSW south coast last weekend, Mollymook Beach was closed after a bull shark, described by the media as a 'three-metre monster', was seen 'lurking' within 25 metres of swimmers. 

According to the experts, recent rain and warm weather have something to do with sharks 'hanging around' (as one report stated) the beach. Large schools of fish swimming close to shore are also an attraction.         

My thoughts are with those who've been affected affected by the floods. I didn't think I'd ever say it, but I pray the rain will stop.

Photo: Brisbane's CBD from ABC News website 

Monday, 10 January 2011

Gerringong Surf Club's Captain Christie Ocean Classic Surf Swim plus Save the NSW south coast from rampant overdevelopment

Are we as mad as cut snakes or what? On Sunday morning The Hiss and I jumped in our very old car and followed Davo in his snazzy car from Mollymook to Gerringong for the Captain Christie Ocean Classic Surf Swim. We left at 7am to give ourselves enough time to beat the registration cut-off of 9am.

During the drive north the weather went from bad (drizzle) to worse (torrential rain). I spent most of the trip with white-knuckled fingers gripped around the steering wheel. Driving rain lashed the windscreen and created mini-lakes on the road that had the potential to send the car into an aquaplane.

Most of the way, I kept the peddle to the metal as Davo stuck steadfastly to the 100 kilometre per hour freeway speed limit. It was hairy and I was buggered by the time we turned off at Gerringong. Also, having barely any fuel left in the tank didn't help my stress levels.

Those levels quadrupled after we trudged onto the balcony of the Gerringong Surf Life Saving Club to view the four to five-foot waves plunging onto Werri Beach, opposite.

The 1.8 km swim traditionally starts at the Gerringong Harbour boat ramp, runs parallel to the coastal rock platform and finishes at Werri Beach.

But yesterday's surf was so powerful that surfers, rather than paddle out through the steaming foam, chose to walk out almost to the edge of the rock platform where they hurled themselves and their boards into the surf. It's a game of skill and chance to get the timing right.  

I was relieved when the organisers decided to move the swim about 2 km south to the calmer waters of Seven Mile Beach at Gerroa. They did this after several of their experienced ocean swimming members had struggled in the tough conditions at Werri Beach earlier that morning.

I was happy and didn't see anyone else complaining, though I'm sure some of the die-hards were disappointed.

At Seven Mile Beach, the course was an anti-clockwise rectangle marked by two cans - one orange and the other yellow.

As there were only around 200 swimmers, we all started together. We had to run quite a distance (dunno, maybe 100 metres) across a shallow sandbar before we could dive in and swim. I can't run (long boring story) so doddled in like an old woman as my peers sprinted ahead.

The rest of the swim was brilliant, though it seemed to take forever to reach that first can, which was supposed to be 600 metres out from the shore.

On the way in, Davo caught a wave just ahead of me. I was relieved I wasn't the last swimmer home!

The swim was well worth the effort it took to get there, though I think the course was shorter than the advertised 1.8 km. Possibly 1.5km? 

*On another topic: Gerringong/Gerroa is a beautiful part of the world that is threatened with overdevelopment as the old dairy farms are sold off and subdivided into (often) butt-ugly housing developments. It's a sad sight. The countryside is fast disappearing with towns like Gerringong becoming suburbs of the big towns of Kiama and Nowra.

Kiama Municipal Council wants to save some of the rural land in Gerringong that the State Government plans to develop into 528 building blocks. If you know and love this area and are keen to stop this (the cynic in me says it's already too late, but I don't think it hurts to try) contact Kiama Municipal Council and ask for a copy of the submission form, which must be completed and returned to the council before January 31, 2011.

Everyone in Australia wants to live on the coast and nobody seems to care that this is destroying its beauty. We all want a piece of it.

Photos: pic at top is the surf at Werri Beach in Gerringong; pic in middle is prior to swim at Seven Mile Beach; pic 3 is after the swim. It all looks so miserable!

Friday, 7 January 2011

Ocean swimming story in The Sydney Morning Herald and we're off to do Gerringong on Sunday

Today's edition of The Sydney Morning Herald has a story on 'the allure of ocean swimming' in its summer supplement. The story is first and foremost a plug for The Cole Classic on February 6, which is sponsored by Fairfax - which owns SMH.

However, it's not a bad read and does have some interesting observations from die-hard ocean swimmers. It also warns people about the sport's inherent risks, including my worst-case scenario - swimming into a pack of bluebottles.

And it points out that ocean swimming is becoming hugely popular and poses the question: will this affect the camaraderie in the sport? The journalist asks this at least twice, but never gets around to finding an answer. (This is just me niggling. But, if you set up a premise for a story, shouldn't you then follow it up?)

And here's me just niggling again. The man behind Paul Ellercamp is interviewed for the story. Funny that, I thought he was deadset against the commercialisation of The Cole Classic, with its exhorbitant entry fee and raft of prohibitive OH&S rules that have led to the swim being re-routed to and from the calm waters of Shelly Beach, rather than finishing at the surf beach South Steyne, since Fairfax took control two seasons back. Ellercamp could've talked about camaraderie in relation to The Cole Classic!

I guess any publicity is good publicity... Here's the link, if you're interested:

There's a swim at North Bondi this Sunday, but The Hiss and I are heading to the South Coast, where we plan to enter the Gerringong swim with Davo. It depends on the weather (raining today in Sydney) and, more importantly, ocean conditions. I hear this can be a challenging course. At the moment I'm up for it, but at the moment I'm dry and warm as toast and about to have a cuppa.

Have a good weekend.

Photo: The surf at South Steyne was deemed to be too rough for the organisers of last year's Cole Classic, who redirected the swim back to its starting point, Shelly Beach.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Newport Beach 2km Ocean Swim: Pool to Peak

It's disconcerting to reach the end of a 2km ocean swim, feeling pretty smug, to find out that the first-place getter in the 70+ age group has creamed you.

You think I'd be used to it by now, but I still can't believe how many friggin' brilliant swimmers there are in the older age categories who continually challenge the younger elite swimmers.

There are a couple of regulars who come to mind. One is Don Boland, who would be familiar to anyone who's done an ocean swim in Sydney. I'm too lazy to check his age, but I think he's 59. He did today's swim in... I'm thinking here, what was it?... around 27 minutes. That is dolphin-fast when you consider the course was probably a couple of hundred metres more than the advertised 2km. The results aren't online yet because they were done the old-fashioned way, with volunteers timing swimmers as they ran up to the line. But when they're up on you can bet your bottom dollar DB will be up there with the fastest, who finished in around 25-27 minutes.

Not much more to say except it was a bloody beautiful day, the surf was refreshing and the waves were my favourite height at .7 metres, according to

I should have swum faster. Maybe I could get DB to give me a lift next swim.

At this point, I'm not sure if I'm doing North Bondi or Gerringong on the south coast next Sunday. But if the conditions are as perfect as today, I'll be in like Flynn.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Happy New Year from Sydney, Australia

You don't have to go into the city or the Eastern Suburbs to get a fantastic view of the New Year's Eve fireworks in Sydney. We watched the 9pm action from Clarke's Point on the northern side of the bridge. Someone told me Sydney's Mayor Clover Moore allocated $5 million to the fireworks spectacular this year. I'm not sure if this covers the whole kit and kaboodle, which includes barges loaded with fireworks at various vantage points along the harbour. I was also told this money roughly equates to each Sydneysider spending $4 on the event. Determined to get our money's worth, we joined friends at 6pm and settled in a great spot just about where the Lane Cove River converges with the harbour. A barge sat on the harbour across from us, and we had a clear view the up harbour to the bridge. 

It was money well spent and though my pics aren't professional they should give you an idea of the synchronisation of the fireworks - on every barge the same fireworks were launched simultaneously. 

It was brilliant. The weather was perfect - the wind seemed to drop off in time for the show. 

Happy New Year! And may you have good health, happiness and prosperity in 2011 (a tall order, but you never know what life's gonna throw at you).