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:

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
*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.

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.


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 

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. 


The other site I love is

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: How cool is that? The surf reports are written by enthusiasts who obviously have insider information.

Finally, where would I be without

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 .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...