Sunday, February 27, 2011

Pier to Perignon ... swimming with the Premier

Swimming in the Pier to Perignon event is a season highlight for many reasons.
It's a great swim - 4.5 km from Sorrento front beach along the coast til you hit Portsea front beach.
It's hard to get into - only 700 spots which filled up within a day of entries opening.
It is an extremely beautiful part of the world. Gorgeous coast, clear water.
This year has been a bad season for ocean swimming down south because of terrible weather - lots of rain resulting in awful water conditions.
And an added bonus for me this year was meeting my on line swimming and tweeting colleagues AquaGirl and Dolphin Jo.
We caught up on the start line and it was lovely to have some new swimming buddies to bond with.
For a change this summer, the weather forecast was promising, high 20s and light breezes.
So my swimming buddy and I got down the night before, had our pre race pasta and wine at a friendly Italian bistro in Sorrento and got an early night.
Registration opens at 9.30. We were there at 9.15 as excited as kids on a school excursion (no, more excited, I went on some pretty boring school excursions).
Conditions were really picture perfect. Calm, sunny and benign.
Thanks to our buddy, Age journalist Russell Skelton, who had written about a competitor swimming over a shark, my sb was in a state of mild anxiety, but the organisers assured her it was a dolphin, not a shark, that the swimmer saw in a year gone by (well they would say that wouldn't they).
P to P does things a bit differently. We all wear pink caps and we all go off together. Well sort of together. Lots of competitors (you know who you are) ignored the organisers pleas to get back towards the shore and started walking out before the start signal. So it was a water start as we all followed them to get that extra what, 10 seconds? advantage of not starting on the beach.
It is quite an occasion. Bands, fly overs, in previous years even a cannon. This year, I presume because we had the Premier (who started the race with a mate over 20 years ago) swimming, we also had a water rescue boat. As you might remember, we lost Prime Minister Harold Holt in water not far from there (but way more dangerous) several years ago. We don't want it to happen again, which is unlikely as Big Ted is a really good swimmer. He finished in a handy 45 minutes. Meanwhile the rescue boat brought up the rear.
Swimming for 4.5 km really allows you to get your act together. Plenty of time to get into a good rhythm, think of sharks, dismiss thoughts of sharks, wonder how far you've got to go, wonder why you can't see any lifesavers, wonder if you are going the right way, wonder if you should be swimming closer to the shore or further out to take advantage of the current.
This is my fourth crack at this swim and I was reasonably confident that I knew what I was doing. I decided to stay out wide and go with the flow. I felt well trained, ready and raring to go.
My goal with this swim is to beat an hour - the first two years I didn't and last year I did it in 56 minutes. Last year was also special because I swam it with my brother who came out from the UK to do this as a 50th birthday treat. He beat me, as usual, but it was great to have that sibling rivalry alive and well after so many years.
There are probably as many opinions on how to do the event as there are competitors - go wide, hug the coast, swim through the boats, swim around them.
I decided to go out and take my chances, and keep my eyes on the pack in front.
This year, I did have some swimming neighbours who were within sight for the whole course. Last year it felt like I did the whole race on my own.
It really is a simple course. Get in at Sorrento, turn left at first buoy, follow the coast, turn left at next buoy - which is at Portsea - pass third and final buoy close to shore and you're there.
It gets a bit choppy around Point King, and you want to watch out for boats and the Sorrento ferry, but there really are no hazards with this one.
No jelly fish this year. And I didn't see any lifesavers either. I guess they were there, but not within my sight until I turned for home at Portsea front beach.
A few minutes of strong stroking gets you to the finish line - tide not impossible this year.
Corssed the finish line at clocked in at 52.22. Very happy. A PB and way faster than I could ever swim in the pool. Got to love that strong current.
It was a very long walk to get water - the whole length of the front beach and then up into the reserve where there was a long line of thirsty and hungry competitors. But how can you complain when they give you bottles of water, muffins, free sausage sandwiches, a cap, and t shirt for bragging rights.
That's the last swim of the season I have scheduled and it was a great season ender, unless I'm tempted by a few more while the weather permits.
Finished off with world's best vanilla slice in Sorrento. And decided to sleep in and miss squad tomorrow. But I will be back on Tuesday. Promise, coach!


  1. Just read James Bennett's piece on the Pier to Perignon (on

    He asked what happened at the end and did people run around the beach from the headland.

    I was 5th - ended up 4th after 2nd place was disqualified.

    There were 2 buoys that had to be rounded at the end of the race. I think that one of these buoys was missed by the swimmer who was disqualified.

    He was the only person who elected to run along the beach, but it was not the running that caused the DQ, as I understand it.

    All the rest of us swam to the end finish banner.

    Best swim of the year, and a pod of dolphins swam under me.

    Regards, TJ

  2. I agree with you Tony, it is the best swim of the year. Bad luck for the DQ'd swimmer and good news for you, now 4th.I thought this was an event and not a racethough? Does it really matter about swimming around a buoy after 4km? The last one was only about 20-30m off shore, I went on the inside of the second last buoy and I wasn't DQ'd. I just thought it was there to tell me I was swimming over rocks in shallow water. On second thoughts I best not confess to this in fear of being DQ'd as well ( lucky I had a dodgy transponder and my time was not registered! This is the only time I will be happy about this!)
    p.s. I was given a time by officials post race...all smiles here...I'll be back for sure :)

  3. Thanks Tony - appreciate the answer to my question and nice to know there is a (growing) Victorian contingent that tune into

    I saw dolphins a few years back which was lovely but it also got me thinking about what else might be down there . . .

    James Bennett

  4. Yep....least we know there's 4 of us :)

  5. Pleased to hear it was a pod of dolphins and not those sharky things.

    I wasn’t there for the Blues festival, but I had the blues after the Byron Bay swim this year.
    My third time and worst result. I did an awful 14 minutes slower than last year . I barely beat five other women in my age group.
    Why why why?
    It has been two months since my last event – the Pier to Perignon from Sorrento to Portsea. But I swam that event faster than Byron, despite the course being more than twice as long.
    And I know conditions were not favourable at Byron this year. Everyone seemed to pull up slower times and the local paper reported that there was heavy chop around the point and a blustery offshore wind made it hard going in the home straight.
    The home straight? The whole way if you ask me. I didn’t find it particularly hard to get out, but once around the point it was a slog the whole way home. There was a decent swell, which meant visibility was tricky. The pines of the surf club were even hard to spot. So I made the mistake of following some guys in front of me and they led my astray. We ended up to the left of either the fourth or fifth buoy and the lifeguards were sternly pointing us back to the buoy, about 50 metres to my right. I briefly considered not swimming around it, but I would only have been cheating myself wouldn’t I. Every time I lifted my head for a look for the finish, I seemed to cop a mouthful of salty water. By the time the finish line loomed I was sick of it. Sick of swimming, sick of stroking, sick of not being there yet. Finally I stood up when everyone else did, and was promptly dumped by a massive wave – a 360 degree forward roll dumping that filled my bathers and my nose with sand. When I finally got to check my watch there wasn’t much time left under the hour. Truly uninspiring.
    And while I’m at it, the t-shirt was awful. Purple with all the sponsors’ names on the front. I totally understand the importance of sponsors but unless they swim with me, their names should be on the back.
    There were some good things about the event. I got to meet the lovely and talented Seppo (Michelle from Brisbane) who won a place in her age group. I got to meet some Peninsula Pirates, who have been intimidating me for years in Bay swims, and I discovered they are not so scary out of the water.
    And the rain that had dogged our visit to Byron finally stopped and we had blue skies for the swim.
    But I must say I enjoyed the two pre race day swims with the locals much more than the actual event. On Friday and Saturday we met them on the deck at the club. A bunch of fit looking veterans, mainly men, led the walk down to the other end of the beach and then the swim back to the club. Lovely. Particularly on Saturday when we swam towards a complete rainbow. That was my swim highlight.
    I have to come back next year. Pride demands it. I can do better.
    That’s it for me this year. I’m off to the pool to work on my technique. But I’ll be back for the Brighton swim when the weather warms up again. See you in the water.


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