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:

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 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.