Sunday, 25 November 2012

Coogee Island Challenge Ocean Swim 2012: Remembering Estelle Myers

Lining up for the 1km swim at Coogee.
Happiness. Isn't that what we all crave? 

Well, today I had a moment of grace as happiness consumed me. It happened while I watched the bubbles flow through my fingers during the Coogee Island Challenge Ocean Swim.

The last time I visited Coogee wasn't such a happy occasion. I rolled up to the Coogee Surf Life Saving Club after work on October 9 to attend a memorial gathering for Estelle Myers. 

Estelle was the mum of my dear friend Jody. The Myers' are eastern suburbs born and bred. Jody and her sister Michelle grew up at Coogee. They were beach babies who were never far from the ocean. Today they both live on the coast.

Estelle was unconventional, iconoclastic, an ecofeminist, 'change agent', dolphin advocate and a pioneer in the water-birthing movement.

Sadly, she died in a car accident near her home in Ballina on September 21. She was 75 but had the energy of a 25 year old.

I thought of Estelle when I got to the beach at around 9. I think she'd had a word to the BIG MAN and WOMAN UPSTAIRS

Perfect water temp: 19 degrees; perfect air temp: 29 degrees; perfect everything else: Coogee, sort of being a bay, behaved like a bay should behave. And the water... you've just got to feel it on your skin and marvel at its clarity to know what it's like. You had to be there. 

Precious Princess is more photogenic than me.

For those who couldn't make it, here's the wrap from my water-logged POV. 

My eldest daughter Precious Princess came with me today. I registered for both the 1km and 2.4km swim but decided against doing the 1km. I wanted to relax and bob about in the ocean for a change. Instead of thrashing my way through the 1km, PP and I ducked and dived and played around before the main swim at around 10am.  

We checked out Wedding Cake Island, a clump of rocks about 1km out from the beach (I researched this for my post from last year's swim and I'm too lazy to double-check the distance - correct me if I'm wrong).

Conditions as flat as Mr Very Big's personal-trainer toned abs.

The idea is that punters swim clockwise around Wedding Cake Island and back in to the beach. The course was well marked - my favourite gi-normous cylindrical cans (for blind people like myself) were located at the main turning points but there were also smaller orange witches-hat cans in between to keep swimmers on-track. 

I found these smaller guide cans useful because I have a habit of heading off on my own meandering journey - I'm  a snail that leaves a wiggly trail. It's time and energy wasting as I'm always playing catch-up.

There wasn't too much chop today. I can't remember a lot about last year's swim (the water was colder) but usually you get caught around the back of the island. Today it was possible to strike out and find a rhythm. The choppy bits weren't too challenging. There were jellies before the island and I enjoyed poking my fingers through their squishiness. 

Getting back to shore was pretty cool, too. Two massive cans spoke to me, SWIM THROUGH US LOVELY LADY


Afterwards, I caught up with several die-hards who reckon the swim this year was more like 2.5km. Dunno. I did get tired towards the end but I always do. And it did seem long but it always does. 

All in all, a tremendous day with Estelle's free spirit flying high around us.

Score out or 10: 7.5

Value for money: $40 for one swim and $50 for a combo of the two is pretty good - you could have also entered the two Coogee swims in April (total of 4 swims) for $90 all up. Well-marked course and loads of water safety. Swim started right on time.

Any gripes? WHERE IS THE FRUIT? We got one bottle of water each - it was being rationed out at the end of the swim. 

Ocean swimming a sport that is growing in popularity, even as I type. I couldn't believe the number of people lining up for the 1km event. 

There's gotta be a little bit of money left over for a piece of fruit for the poor sods who empty their pockets every week for this caper.  It costs a bloody fortune to support this good cause.

Some smart pants should get the local green grocer on board. Seriously, if the Balmain Waterpolo Club can turn it on, why can't a much bigger surf life saving club that gets a much bigger turnout manage a banana? 

PS: Whale Beach. on the northern beaches, was closed today because of SHARK SIGHTINGS. It's gonna be a doozy of a summer. 





Monday, 19 November 2012

Dawny's Cockatoo Island Swim 2012: a kick start to the ocean swimming season in Balmain, Sydney

Dawn Fraser Pool & Cockatoo Island in the background.
IN another life I lived in Balmain. The first house I ever owned was just up the hill from Elkington Park and the Dawn Fraser Pool. It was a cute semi-detached with two bedrooms, lounge, eat-in kitchen and bathroom.

If I hadn't made the mistake of getting married I'd probably still own that house today. But that's another story. 

Every so often I drive down the street. My old home has been in the same hands for a while now and has a second storey. It looks nice. 

My point is --- when I lived in Balmain in the mid-'80s I would be woken at 6am every weekday by the siren on Cockatoo Island that signalled the start of work for the island's employees. We're talking the mid-1980s when the island was still used as a shipbuilding site. Those were the days when Australia still had industry and manufacturing. 

I'm not about to go all soggy with nostalgia because these days the island has become a tourist destination and Sydney Harbour is much cleaner. So much so that bull sharks frequently swim around it on their cosmopolitan meanderings. YIKES. 

The good news is this swim is in its 12 year (maybe 11th, not sure) and I've been doing it for five years. No shark sightings yet - I guess there's always a first time. 

Fortunately it wasn't yesterday. The event has grown more popular in line with the exponential growth of ocean swimming. I dunno how many punters turned up yesterday but it was crowded on the boardwalk inside the confines of the baths. 

The 1.1km and 2.5km swims start outside Dawny's - in the water next to the jetty. For me, that's always the scariest part - and I've mentioned numerous times about starts in the harbour.  

Imagine this: several hundred pairs of legs dangling like bait for the bullies. I try to stamp it out of my mind while waiting for the bloke to pull the bloody trigger on the starter gun but it's impossible.

Inside the traditional harbour baths.

I was in the second wave of swimmers for the 2.5km event and started in the 'cool-ish' harbour with my swim squad mates - a bunch of competitive middle-aged codgers who don't even view me as a vague threat. I console myself with the fact that the average lifespan of the Australian female is 85 and that of men is 79.

The event started on pretty much on time and I think we got away at 9.11am. The swim starts early because of ferry and other boat movements on the harbour. 

I enjoyed the swim but still found it hard. It takes a while to get to the island - the idea is to focus on the crane on the far right-hand corner. We then swam by the side of the island and then anti-clockwise around the back. 

People camping in the permanent tents on the island snapped photos of us. It must have been a pleasant surprise to wake up to all these bloody eejits racing around the island in assorted coloured caps.

I always feel like Cockatoo Island is more square than rectangular because the sides appear to be really long. Visibility is poor in the opaque greenish water. For about half the swim we were striking our way through jelly blubbers. This happens every year. There must be thousands in the harbour. 

Getting back in to the jetty was easier this year as the sun was behind a cloud and we didn't have to deal with the glare. 

I don't know what my time was - I always forget to look. When I got out, after accepting a helping hand, I forgot that I had to walk up the jetty to get my time because Dawny's is one of the few swims left in Sydney that times the race manually. Because I stood and admired the view for a minute I will probably end up with a slower time! 

My Daughters Missy Hissy and Precious Princess did the swim, too. PP's boyfriend did the 1.1km swim wearing boardshorts. 

Hiss, Princess, The Boyfriend.

I told him that to be a bona fide ocean swimmer it's budgie smugglers or nothing! 

PS: The Hiss came third in her age group and won a pair of swim goggles. 

Value for money: It costs $35 to enter the swim online and $45 on the day. Afterwards, competitors can gorge themselves on fruit donated by Harris Farm. I'm talking delicious watermelon, rockmelon, apples, red grapes and oranges. If that's not enough, competitors also get ticket that gets them a free brekky comprising bread roll, bacon, egg, sausage and tomato - avec barbecue or tomato sauce. 

Score out of 10: 8

Any gripes? Electronic timing devices and touch mats are the way to go; after the swim it takes ages before the prize winners for each age group are announced - it's because it's all done manually! 

Elkington Park, Balmain.

 Next week is Coogee!

Friday, 16 November 2012

Great Barrier Reef Ocean Swim: a 3km loop around Heron Island - What would Alexander Popov do?

Looking back at Heron Island over the coral
To say we had a great time on Heron Island is an understatement. 

It was a HUGE four days organised by the island in conjunction with everybody's swimming mate Paul Ellercamp, the bloke behind

Okay, so occasionally the organisational side of things went awry but overall the program did it for me.

This wasn't just a turn-up-and-swim holiday. Written in to it were swim clinics with swim coach and former Olympian swimmer Graeme Brewer. I found these to be incredibly informative and since returning to Sydney I've been trying to put Graeme's advice to good use during swim squad. 

Graeme is a big boofy bloke with shoulders as wide as a bloody door frame. He's also a bit of a rugger bugger, but he can be forgiven for that because in the water he is beautiful to watch.

More importantly, he's a good coach. 

He ran a theory session with video and handouts.His main example of how to swim properly is Alexander Popov. Now, when I swim I think: "What would Popov do?" because Graeme constantly referred to the former Russian champion's perfect technique and body alignment in the water.

Graeme then put the theory into practise when we gathered in the 22 degree 'harbour' next to the jetty for a stroke correction class (because there were so many people we were lumped into group A and group B). 

This was worth attending - though, you wouldn't believe it, everyone got cold because we were standing around watching the demos a lot. 

Graeme's daughter, Carly, demonstrated the drills and then we had to do them. It will take me a while to learn some of them because a couple were complicated (haven't done any yet and I've been back for over a month). 

Paul Ellercamp filmed the whole thing. I was really self conscious and I think it caused me to screw up a couple of the drills! I'm not the most coordinated person in the pool.

The next day we were taken out in boats and dumped in the ocean. It's not that bad. We were close to the island and only had to swim 1km around the front of the island and to the jetty. It was a warm up for the 3km swim around the island the next day - Sunday. 

On Sunday, the 3km start was delayed because some boof-head didn't take the tide into account. We had to wait until it started to come back in because we were doing a beach start. At low tide it's very shallow and you'd have to walk along way out, over coral some of the time, to get deeper water.

Rocks exposed at the gantry at low tide on Heron Island

Rather than start in one wave, we could choose to swim in the fast, medium or slow group. I chose the medium and it was just right for me. 

The swim around the island was pleasant but uneventful. I didn't see much sea life at all. The water is clear and sparkling though, which made it a pleasure. 

I haven't checked my time but I think I did the 3km in just over an hour. It didn't feel at all hard but maybe that is because there wasn't any swell or waves to negotiate. There was a current we all had to swim against at one stage of the swim but it wasn't that bad and I handled it.

Afterwards, some people said the course was longer than 3km. 

Even though this is the second year of the annual Great Barrier Reef Swim, this was the first time swimmers circumnavigated the island. Last year the strong current made it way too dangerous to attempt. 

I've blathered on too much so I will have to talk about sharks, rays and bird poo in my next post. 

This weekend the Dawny swim is on in Balmain, Sydney. For me, this signals the start of the open water/ocean swimming season. 

Hoo roo!   


Thursday, 8 November 2012

Nobody told us about the birds on Heron Island: doh! It is named after a bird

Two old birds join hundreds and thousands of birds.
I knew virtually nothing about Heron Island before I went there. Sure, I'd read a few blurbs that talked up the turtles and the island as a snorkelling and diving wonderland.

I expected to see turtles all over the place and to swim with them like a mermaid through an abundance of psychedelic coral populated by exotic fish.

I should have done some reading.

When Ms Fivestar and I arrived at the island (which is really a coral cay) for the Great Barrier Reef Swim 2012 the turtles were nowhere to be seen*.

Mr Turtle alone at sea near the jetty at Heron Island.

But there were lots of birds. In fact, during our group's official welcome to the island one of the staff explained that around 70,000 black noddy terns had just flown in to prepare for their breeding season from September to April.
Our friends the black noddy terns outside our apartment.

Think about it. Heron Island is tiny - only 42 acres.

The black noddy terns were in the trees tending to nests made from fallen leaves that they drape over the boughs. They make a sort of gentle "kek" sound.

Imagine it: "kek kek kek kek kek kek kek..." all day and night. They also coo and purr. It's rather relaxing and you get used to it.

What you don't get used to is the sounds made by the wedgetailed shearwaters (also known as mutton birds). Around 30,000 of these guys fly on to the island every night from September to March. Their nests are burrows in the ground.

These dark grey birds make two distinct types of sounds.

One is a ghost-like howl. It is a mournful "wooooooooo woooooooo woooooooooo". Then at around 3am, they ratchet up the volume and get really vocal with a cry that sounds like a distressed baby. It goes "wah!!!!!!!!!! wah!!!!!!!!!!!!! wah!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

I'm serious. It sounds like the pub has closed and all the pissed punters are outside having a street brawl. 

I couldn't believe the cacophony outside my window. Unreal.

I don't have any photos of the mutton birds because they're only around at night in their hidey-holes. Ms Fivestar almost trod on one (I think it was intentional).

On our second night on the island I went to reception and got earplugs, which made a huge difference - though I still woke up at 3am because of the huge ruckus.

 Ya gotta love nature!

 In my next post I'll write about the Great Barrier Reef Swim, sharks and bird poo. It's bound to be compelling. 

*We learned that the green and loggerhead turtles nest on the island from November to March. We were two weeks early.

Not to worry. We still got to see several turtles bobbing about in the water near the island's jetty and I saw one when I snorkelled off the wreck of the Protector, located just beyond the the jetty.