Monday, December 30, 2013

No swim at Bongin. Was that wrong?

Dawn at Bongin Bongin Bay. Just after dawn, anyway... Well, quite a way after dawn. The wind is howling.
This morning -- Sundee morning -- we went for a swim. But we didn’t swim. And we’re just trying to work out whether that was wrong.

We went to Mona Vale to swim in Bongin Bongin Bay with our good friend, Glistening Dave. Dave has been away for 10 days, in Adelaide for Xmas, and we’d missed him. Normally, Dave swims at Bongin every day with his cobbers.. Yes, Dave has cobbers... Yes, yes, we’re surprised, too…

Dave and his cobbers refer to themselves as the Dawnbusters, swimming at Bongin every weekday morning of the year at 6:30, and at 7:30 on weekends. All year ‘round, summer, autumn, winter and back into spring, cold days and balmy; stingers or clear. About the only thing that will stop the Dawnbusters, according to Dave’s daily reports, is a sea that makes crossing the bombie that lies in the centre of the bay foolhardy.

It’s just a short hop across from the spit at the southern edge of Bongin to the headland, just a few hundred metres. The Dawnbusters usually swim over to the headland and back. On weekends, they will go out of Bongin, around the rockshelf with the Mona Vale pool and into the beach at Mona Vale proper. On Sundees, they’ll head south towards Warriewood then swim or walk back along the beach, to get a bit more distance. Once a year, the Dawnbusters marshal their significant others, who drive them over the hill to Bungan, on the other side of the headland, from where they swim back to Bongin. It’s the Bungan to Bongin swim. It’s barely a kilometre itself around the headland, but it justifies the annual Dawnbusters barbie in the park behind the beach afterwards.

Otherwise, the normal daily swim is barely half a kilometre. Not a long distance; not a big ask. But it’s every morning; it’s a swim; it maintains their feel for the sea; it forms the raison d’etre for a whole bunch of mugs to get out of bed every morning; and it performs that vital function: it qualifies the Dawnbusters for that climactic culchural phase of ocean swimming: the morning cuppa, which they take at one of the cafés just off the beach past the other end of Mona Vale surf club.
Show me your huddling, seething masses, for they will swim, whatever the conditions.
 There are groups like the Dawnbusters on every civilised beach in Stra’a. In more populous areas, there’ll be several groups, and they’re made up of a wide diversity, a disparity, of ocean swimming mugs in the ultimate egalitarian environment: in the sea, dressed only in cossies.

This morning, we took our other friend, Jane -- yes, yes, we have another friend, too -- and all three of us left Meadowbank at 6:30am for the hour’s drive to Mona Vale. We knew when we left that all was not well: when we arose from our beds at 6, the southerly was blowing briskly up the river. And if the breeze is brisk at Meadowbank, an hour from the beach, at 6 in the morning, then it’s likely to be howling over Bongin at Mona Vale.

We could feel the wind strengthening as we headed, within the speed limit, along Mona Vale Road, through S’nives, past the showground, past the Sundee morning cyclists with their colourful lycra stretched tight over their expanded middle-aged bellies, by the Bahai temple and down the hill into Mona Vale. The drive was across the wind all the way. We felt it blowing the vehicle around, the gusts swirling around us as we dropped down hills through gullies and rose up the other side again. The wind was so strong by along the Terrey Hills highlands, we wondered how some of those cyclists – some of them in particular – managed to stay upright as they pushed across it.

We were amongst the first to the beach. It was truly howling there. A couple of punters braved the pool. One or two hung around the car park overlooking the beach, huddling in the shelter of fatted pine tree trunks. We stayed in the car, fogging up the windscreen from inside. Or was that the salt deposited in layers by the angry southerly that blurred our view? As we sat there, we could feel the wind, gusting, rattling the vehicle, rocking it from side to side. We wondered about the physics of motor vehicles, and how strong a wind need be before it flipped a car over. The surf was blown out. It wasn’t a heavy swell; it was all wind chop. It came in from the sou’-east, blowing what waves there were onto the beach and across the sandspit, picking up the salt and layering it across our windscreen, and whipping up the sand, dropping it into Bongin Bongin Bay.

7:30 ticked over. There were a dozen or more punters here by now, including Dave, who greeted them all effusively. Much more effusively than he greets us, in fact, leaving us with a tinge of jealousy. Maybe… maybe Dave has other friends who are more important to him than us… Just wondering…

Mrs Sparkle and Jane, who doubles as our roadie when we haul our branded tent along to weekend ocean swims, jumped out of the car to greet the assembling, shivering Dawnbusters. We alighted gingerly. We didn’t like the look of the sea, the sky, the feel of the wind, or anything much outside our cocoon. As we stood there in the wind, we lost three layers of skin from the back of our neck, sandblasted by a smash repairer’s hose.

The sea looked worse from outside the car. It was blown-out flat on shore, on the southern edge of Bongin Bongin Bay, but as wind reached across the bay, the chop rose up again towards the headland. It would be a quick trip over, but it would be a blustery, barging, head-butting swim back.

The Dawnbusters readied themselves. They were going in. Weather doesn’t stop them. They shifted onto the beach, like a sandhill inching across the desert. They disrobed, pulled out their goggles, and shoved their towels into the packs. Some of them clutched fins under their arms. A lonely dog, a beautiful patchy collie/border collie, was left, tied by his master to the fence. The puppy panted with worry. He couldn’t see the beach from behind the overgrown grass that followed the fence line, and he didn’t like it. He knew his master was down there somewhere... He barked that high-pitched, squeaky bark that dogs do when they sense a loved one is in peril.

The Dawnbusters launched themselves into the sea. They surged through the break, blown almost completely flat by the southerly, and they plunged across the bay, a series of grey splashes against the grey sea and the grey, grey sky marking their patchy tracks. They swam across the bay almost to the headland. Then they turned and swam back, much more slowly this time, for the return journey was like squeezing through a gap in a wall, repeatedly.

It was blown out.
We didn’t swim. We stood on the grass between the carpark and the beach sullenly, watching the brave, dour Dawnbusters straggling from the sea, the wind blasting the water from the amongst the greying hair on their middle-aged bodies – and that’s not an easy thing to do -- our emotions a mixture of relief, that no-one had forced us to go in; and guilt: that we hadn’t swum just because the weather was no good, that we hadn’t taken upper body exercise since Xmas Eve, five days before; and that we’d disappointed ourselves, yet again, because we’d failed the test of “What would you do when conditions turn bad?”

We’d looked forward to a swim at Bongin – we’d been telling ourselves for months that we wanted to get up to Bongin early one morning to swim with our good friend, Glistening Dave – but we swam often enough that we didn’t feel the need to discomfort ourselves in such unpleasant conditions just to prove a point, whatever that point might be.

We went all that way, and we didn’t swim. Even more brazen, we still had a cuppa afterwards.

Was that wrong?

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The usual spirited exchange following a cancelled swim

We endured a spirited exchange of emails the week before Xmas a punter aggrieved that the Bilgola swim was called off due to heavy seas. He was not the first aggrieved punter to complain about a cancellation, and he certainly wasn't the first to feel he'd been ripped off.

We can understand the disappointment felt when a swim is called off. It happened twice that weekend: North Curl Curl was cancelled on the Sat'dee, then Billie was called off on the Sundee. Last season, there was a rash of cancellations and postponements that left hundreds and thousands of us swimless for weeks and lighter in pocket. Last season, one punter complained that he'd entered himself and his bride into the Bondi swim, only for it to be postponed due to seas. After the postponement was announced, he entered himself and his bride into Long Reef, which then was cancelled. The weekend cost him a bit, and he didn't get to swim.

We can assure you that amongst the most disappointed at cancellations are the swim organisers, who've toiled for months to bring these events to you, only to be thwarted at the final moment by the weather. Postponements are almost as bad. One of the hardest jobs for the awgies is to find the voluntary day labour. It's very hard, sometimes impossible to get them back for a second day.

Swims face significant costs just getting to swim day, which is what we explain to cranky punters after a cancellation. The vast majority understand and they accept it. But you get one or two who take it to another level.


When we're accosted by aggrieved punters, we notice one thing in particular: almost invariably, they are new to ocean swimming. We mention this not to put them down -- to be sneering, as one punter accused us, we think unfairly, a week or so back -- but to highlight the phenomenon that newer ocean swimmers aren't as acquainted with and accepting of the traditions, the conventions, and the exigencies of ocean swimming in the way in which regular swimmers are. Ocean swimmers essentially are generous: in our experience, the vast majority of you like the fact that, by entering an ocean swim, you're supporting a charity, to wit a surf life saving club. That's one of the reasons -- a big reason -- why most of you understand and accept when a swim can't go ahead: the funds are going to a good cause. Organisers of swim in the ocean cannot predict the seas (which is something the people at Fairfax Meeja overlook when deciding that earlybird entries should close seven weeks ahead of the Cole Classic). Ocean swimmers generally know this and accept it. The unpredictability of conditions on race day is one of the reasons they get up to this caper.

Some don't get it, however. They think all the money goes to a private organisation, and usually they think that is us. They can't understand, or accept, or they don't want to understand, or accept, that in the vast majority of cases of ocean swims, the awginizahs are surf life saving clubs who can ill afford the cost of a swim without the revenue they receive from entries. For when a swim is called off, there are some costs they still cannot avoid, such as the food for the barbie that they'd planned to sell you, the swim caps they've bought and had printed, the promotional leaflets and entry forms, and so on. That still must be paid for.

Punters generally get all this and understand.

Various punters have tried different techniques to get their money back. One punter a couple of weeks back claimed, several days after he'd missed a swim that took place in unpleasant weather, that we'd got the date wrong on therefore he'd missed the swim, therefore we should refund his money or credit it to another event. We reckon he just couldn't be bothered getting out of bed on a rainy day and this was a try-on. Another punter, after the cancellation of The Big Swim (Palm-Whale) a few years back, tried a technique that we won't tell you about, because sure as hell some smarty pants will mimic it. This punter got his money back, but not through any honest dealing. We paid for it. We haven't seen his name pop up on the online entries list since then.

Where it goes

We take online entries on behalf of swim organisers. They are the oganisers, not us. The funds are theirs, not ours. As soon as online entries close, we prepare an acquittal of those funds and we pay them over to the events. In the cases of larger swims, we pay the funds over in instalments as entries come in prior to swim day. (We retain a commission from the funds, which represents the prime source of income to But we don't retain the funds. When grumpy punters accost us afterwards for refunds, the funds almost invariably already have been paid over to the organising surf life saving clubs.

The numbers of grumpy punters are miniscule, but they make a lot of noise and cause considerable grief, such as the bloke this week who, last we heard, was complaining about us to the Department of Fair Trading. Even amongst those miniscule numbers, however, most of them are accepting when we explain the situation to them. Most swims have a clause in their waivers stating that there will be no refunds in case of event cancellations, and every punter agrees to this when they submit their online entry. That doesn't stop them trying to renege on their agreement after the fact, however.

Why are we telling you all this? Because while we have a reasonable understanding of the conventions in ocean swimming, some out there don't, and we want the word to get around.

Happy New Year to you all, and thank you for supporting us.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Thoughts and distractions in Cabbage Tree Bay

My thoughts and distractions during an ocean swim...

Jen Gwynne's GPS-in-a-plastic bag measured the 2km swim at 1.67km.
Manly LSC Blue Dolphins

The starting line
the rope in the sand
the feet on the start
getting a photo
clearing my goggles
listening to the briefing
5 booees
count down
go - press start on the watch
running into the water
knees up
dolphin diving
starting to swim
sighting the booee
finding a path through the swimmers
trying to get a good rhythm
trying not to go too hard at the start
forgetting all that
other swimmers in front and next to you
swimmers' togs
other swimmers' kicking
swimming pace
breathing rhythm
the clarity of the water
sandy bottom
ripples on the sand
other patterns caused by shifting sand on the seabed
the booee
around the booee
getting a heading across the bay
rocks of the bower
sandy seafloor
sunlight patterns in the water
other swimmers nearby
the commotion in the water from swimmers
patterns on the rocks
fish in the rocks
feeling the pull of the ocean
thinking maybe it's faster over to your right
not worrying about it
swimming with the ocean
booees again
the crush of swimmers
finding a space again
red togs
finding a pace after turning the beach booees
seaweed now to look at
finding fish in the seaweed
wondering if I will see the groper
or the turtle or sharks
more fish
red togs still
yellow building to sight the booee
still fish
round another booee
divers down underneath!
a Santa hat (did I really see that?)
neon fins very bright
would be a good photo
they could take a good photo of us!
too late
more fish
very colourful fish swimming right around me
sighting the final booee
red togs still there
another pair of red togs on my left
wondering if I can get a better pace
taking on water when trying to breath
changing your stroke to get your pace right
forgetting to keep that rhythm
trying again
realising the swim's almost over
remembering to actually try harder
getting a better catch in the water
forgetting about that when you go past more fish in the rocks
turning the final booee
sighting the shore
aiming for the waves
feeling the pull & push of the ocean
swimming with it
going nowhere
catching waves
missing waves
touching the sand
catching the last wave
running up the beach to finish
That was fun.
Jen Gwynne

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The "sore shoulders swim"

Did anyone see him?  The ghost with the lump of coal on his shoulder where the chip should be!

Old Pat Date.  Died 2 days after he retired in 1987.

Railway Man. Hard as nails!

Novocastrian… Old Newcastle!

He used to say that there were 2 types of people in this world: “Those who come from Newcastle and those who drive past.”

I reckon he saw the entry list and the addresses of the Sydney-siders and it was he who blew that southerly in just before the start.  Just to make them welcome and know they’d been to Newcastle.
He loved his footy played in the forwards too.  Hard! Uncompromising! Simple!

And that was what this swim was today. 2.5km straight into a southerly breeze, not a buster because that would be rude to our guests, but strong enough.  Hard!

No 2 strokes were the same. There was no length to the swell; chop, chop, chop. You had to concentrate to maintain stroke and momentum otherwise you’d stand still.  Especially when you were tired.  You could see who the pool swimmers were. They struggled.  Uncompromising!

I spent most of this swim not taking in the scenery (this really is a postcard swim) or watching the ever-changing sea bottom but instead I went back to my youth rowing surf boats recalling lessons from Mick & Don Ellercamp (osc.c’s uncle) “long and strong” and “catch and drive”.  This was secret to today’s swim. If you got a bad stroke, make sure the next one was better.  A long stroke with a good catch to get drive you through the chop and the rips coming out of the Cowrie Hole and Shark Alley. Simple!

This was a swim that demanded attention to detail and your stroke.  This was an Ocean Swim in the best way.  Most of the talk on the beach and in the sheds was disbelief.  ‘How hard was that?’  What about the chop!’  ‘My bloody shoulders!’  But the faces told a different story; smiles and a glint in the eye were the order of the day.

I loved seeing the old photos on Nobbys and Newcastle surf clubs and again being immersed in Old Newcastle.  Good to compare with my alma mater Caves Beach SLSC.  Same but different!

Then into New Newcastle for breakfast with The Hyphen at Scotties.  Bacon and eggs with coffee.  Simple but fancy.  I reckon Old Pat would be happy with that.

The Grey Nurse

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Killer Swim 2013 - it really was the BEST EVER

The Killer Swim runs from the manicured riperian lawns
before the Mur'bah Rowing Club.
Best ever everything - best ever water quality; best ever number of swimmers (170 individual swimmers entered); best ever Celebrity Starter - Olympic Legend Mike Wenden; best ever Charity group of swimmers (Cantoo brought 22 swimmers down from Brisbane, including Cantoo Founder, Annie Crawford); best ever after presentation music, Mr Tony (ex- Billy Thorpe & the Aztecs band member) - with apologies to James T and Tomahawks; and best ever swim -past by a brace of  dolphins cavorting upriver, past the Riverview Hotel deck, just after the presentations were finished. What a magnificent sight!

Killer called it the "Loved Up" swim - the number of families, in all their glorious combinations, was a feature of this year's swim. Husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends, parents and children, siblings - we had them all. Local heroes, Brass Monkeys, Donna and David Dalzell, won their age groups in the 1.2 swim. Gomer Pile, who had the original idea for the swim, swam with his daughter Kelly Bond, and everywhere you looked there were family members giving each other encouragement and support. The Cantoo group brought their enthusiasm and energy and created a great buzz. Huge thanks to Amy Bridle for her efforts in coordinating the group. The crew from Casino Crackups, once again, added their smiles and friendliness to the mix. Everywhere you looked there were loyal supporters for our swim from corners far and wide.

CanToo's new Brisbane chapter made
the Killer Swim one of their goal swims.
Winners everywhere you looked, but prizes can only go to a select few. Gareth McClurg got a "Nailed It" in the 400 metre nominated time swim - how does a precise 7:02 sound! Young guns Morgan Buzzell (watch this space) and Alexander Milliken were first female and male home in the 1.2 km swim. Michael Sheil blitzed the field in a superfast 30:43 in the 2.5 km swim and Tina Duckmanton went back-to-back to be the first female home in the 2.5.

Amanda Sterling was presented with one of Glistening Dave's superb calenders, to recognise her being the first online entry this year. The free BBQ provided by Bort, amiable publican at the Riverview, proved a real winner. The best sausage is always a free sausage.
Mark down the last Sunday in November for the 2014 edition of the Killer Swim.

Marc Vining

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Some days, it all comes together

Start of the 1km: Chris Ivin - 1 World Images

Island Challenge, Coogee, Sunday, Nov 24, 2013

Some days, it all comes together: the water is clear, not too cool; the wind puffs across your noggin, not too strident; so there might be some chop, but it’s not too difficult; the swell drives you rather then confronts you; the course strings out the peloton rather than bunches it; there is a nice bottom to watch, so you’re endlessly amused; and there are no blueys.
Today at Coogee was one of those days.
We reckon Coogee is the bumpiest beach in Sydney. We put it down to the swell and chop being caught in the bay inside the island and between the northern and southern rock shelves. So often, swimming at Coogee is more up and down than straight ahead; no two strokes are the same; and you spend so much precious energy – all the more precious as you get older – building your momentum after each chop hits you in the face and brings you to an halt.

Laying down the law? Or a bit of advice?
Today was Coogee bumpy, alright, but it wasn’t a difficult bump. The water was lively, and it seemed to push us forward. The swell was coming from the nor’east, but the breeze came from the sou’-east. A set would come through and we’d rise and fall on it, but as we fell, we seemed to accelerate down the back, sliding as if on a toboggan down the hill at Thredbo.
We felt good all the way out to the island. The only pity with this swim, come to think of it, is that they take you so far to the side of the island, then out behind, then so far to the southern side, keeping you out of harm’s way all the way around, that you barely see the clump of rocks that goes by the Wedding Cake moniker. If you’re lucky, you will see the foam of crashing waves, but they won’t let you get anywhere near it for fear you’ll get caught up in the break and dumped onto the rocks. They’re sensitive about the course here: a couple of years back, we stopped out behind the island at the far out turning booee, and we noticed that, if you swam a straight line between that far out booee and the next one, just inside the island but on the southern side, the course actually took you straight across the rocks.
That was an aberrant course, that day, and it won’t happen again, we’re sure. The corollary is that the closest we got to Wedding Cake today was to glide over a seaweed wafting reef, glorious in itself, but at well more than arm’s length from the island. (To swim closer, you need to come down to Coogee on a Sundee morn in autumn, winter or early spring and swim with one of the regular, informal groups that round the island most mornings. If the conditions are right, you can almost touch the island as you head around it. There’s no-one there to keep you out to sea out of harm’s way.)

1km start - Chris Ivin - 1 World Images.
Never mind. There were glories of another kind out behind Wedding Cake Island today. We stopped, as we do, by the far out booee to take pitchers, as we do. Within five minutes, we’d drifted 50 metres south in the current that rages along the coast just out to sea. There’s always some kind of current out behind Wedding Cake. One year, we were bobbing around, and we drifted 50m in five minutes that day, too, but that time, it was 50m in towards the reef. It is a precarious course, and you can see why the awginizahs must be careful in where they set the booees.
It was a surreal swim. The ocean of jellies just below the surface provided a grab bag of half-set jelly to pull us through the water. What were they? Salps? Like the jellies that infested Long Bay on the day of the Malabar Magic swim a few years back? They weren’t stingers, thank de Load.
This laydee was there to enjoy the swim, not to win it.
The other glory out behind the island was the swell. The sea was an intriguing combination of the nor’-east swell with the sou’-east breeze. Once you got out there, even before reaching the far out turning booee, the swell picked you up from behind and continually thrust you forward. Through water that was already lively, it was a double rush, a double thrill, the push coming through as dependably as the pendulum on a grandfather clock. You’d be pulling yourself along on a handful of salps, then suddenly your legs would lift and you’d be rushing downhill. You could feel the acceleration; you’d leave that leading arm out there a bit longer to make a better torpedo, to minimise the resistance and maximize the streamline… Then you’d drop off the back, slowing. But in that lively water, you wouldn’t come to a dead stop: you’d keep some of that momentum, and you’d build on it when the next swell came through, picking up your feet and thrusting you down its face.
Normally, when you get a following swell, there is an optimal angle to the swell that allows you to get along the course with maximum assistance. Today was different, we suspect because the breeze out there was coming from a different direction to the swell. Once you veered from the optimum direction for swell assistance – you couldn’t keep on that bearing if you wanted to stay on the swim course – normally, you’d swim through a flat patch: not dead, but not as helpful as it had just been. This time, though, when you turned in and a little north of west towards the beach, you picked up the chop driven by the sou’-east breeze, and it was on again. There wasn’t quite as much of a drive, because it was breeze and chop driving you now, not a swell, but the forward thrust was there, and the momentum survived the drop off the back as the chop trotted through. Maybe, with the sou’-easter blowing from an early hour, it was starting to build its own swell. We said Coogee was bumpy, and this is one reason why.

Salps? Some kind of jellies.

The water was crystalline. You could see that as soon as you got through the break and past the dancing clumps of weed that played around your legs as you surged seaward. One elite laydee came up from beneath a wave with a broad, uprooted leaf of spiny weed on her head, hanging down over one eye, like a fascinator on Cup Day. She grabbed it and threw it aside, as an abdicating queen.
But the clarity of the water was clear and forceful as soon as we got through that break, and it sustained that clarity all the way around the island. There is something very sensual about swimming in clear water, when every grain of sand sparkles from its beige background, allowed at last to speak for itself.
Yes, it was a lovely day at Coogee.

Our GPS-in-a-plastic bag said our course around Wedding Cake was 2.44km.
  • Flick through Sevadevi's pictorial essay of the Island Challenge at Coogee... click here
  • Check Greg Hincks's blob... click here

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Re-run of a day a bit like this one

 Dawny's Cockatoo Challenge, Balmain

Wave 2 heads across Thunderbolt's Strait.
“It was a day… you know, it was a day, a little bit like this one… You remember how it was, Steve?...”

Thus, Bruce Springsteen introduces his rendition of Santa Claus is Coming to Town, about a night, just a’fore Xmas, in Asbury Park, New Jersey, when Santa came a’visit’n’.

Thus it was today, at Dawny, on the 11th iteration of the Dawny Cockatoo Island swim, the 10th anniversary of the first inaugural Dawny’s Cockatoo Challenge… It was a day, a little bit like this one…

Quite a bit, in fact. The morning of the 1st inaugural Dawny’s Cockatoo Challenge in November 2003 was grey and damp. There was a mist over the harbour between the Dawny pool and Cockatoo Island. The kind of morning on which we’d all shun a swim in the harbour, because it looked sharky.
It was the morning after the Rugby World Cup Final at the Olympic stadium, and you could be excused – understood, at least – if you’d had a sore head. The cloud was low, on the verge of rain. It was quiet, still, no wind, and the mist seemed to hang there over Thunderbolt’s Strait, between Balmain and Cockatoo Island, and out of it could have stormed a thousand screaming Scotsmen, freeballing across the heather, their sporrans jiggling and their battleaxes a’swinging… But out of the mist instead, at the end of the 1.1km swim, sprinted Deke Zimmerman, then the usual suspect winner of many of Sydney’s ocean swim events. On that occasion, the 1.1km swim was run ahead of the 2.4km main event and you could do both.

(Randomly, we ran into Deke at Circular Quay a few weeks back: he was casually deckhanding on the river service, from which we’d just alighted. He has a beard now. He was cheerful, as usual. It was good to see him.)

Anyone can be a mug lair.
On this iteration, it was grey and damp. There wasn’t a mist over the harbour, but the rain squalled through as the peloton rounded the western end of Cockatoo Island. That’s what ocean swimming… er, open water swimming on this occasion, is all about: you take all conditions in your stride, shoulder to shoulder, cheek by jowel, finger tip to cracked heel. It’s what makes our caper different from swimming in a 25m indoor pool. It was humankind against the elements: Throw at us what you will, oh Lord!, as they no doubt were shouting hallucinatorily up the road in The Hills at that very moment. We can take it.

It was a day more than a little bit like that one…

There is something about swimming in Sydney Harbour that makes it a different experience to swims in the ocean. It's not just that it's the harbour, thus the water quality and nature are different. It's more than just that the over-riding stream of sub-consciousness whilst swimming in the harbour is focussed completely on the prospect of being taken by a bull shark. And it's not only that you're surrounded by an evocative maritime heritage and built environment blended with some of the most stunning natural topography available. In the world.

It's all those things together and more. So much more that we can't tell you. We need you to tell all of us. So, please, comment (use the link at the bottom) on your own consciousness about swimming in the harbour. What does it mean to you? What's happened to you whilst swimming in the harbour? Over in San Francisco, our cobber, Gary Emich, recently racked up his 1,000th Alcatraz swim. Swimming in San Francisco Bay also is different. A cobber at Dawny today, Susan Tutt, told us a story that she'd been told by her dad.

Susan's dad used to sail in Sydney Harbour (he worked at Garden Island). Sometimes, he'd capsize, but he reckoned there was no history at all of sailors from capsized yatchets being taken by bull sharks. Why? We thought it may have been something to do with the rigging of the yatchet -- the mast, the stays, etc -- discouraged the noahs, much like sticking cable ties on your bike helmet and making yourself look like an eejit discourages maggies in September.

The squall we mention was just one element thrown at us during this 11th Dawny’s Cockatoo Challenge. It ran anti-clockwise, as it has the last couple of years, due to a timing issue with the ferry services into Cockatoo Island. They ran us under the wharf, in fact, which was a little hairy at high tide: it was a narrow gap under the walkway out to the wharf proper, and the stream of peloton compressed as we approached the opening. Did you know, the underside of the wharf is a mess of cables. Thank goodness it wasn’t a spring tide or a king tide. We coulda bin lectrocewted.

But through the wharf, we spread out again. It kept us close to the wall, though, so we were swimming also through the backwash from the wall, through the chop from the swim. Any second now, we thought, we’ll find out what it’s like to be sliced by an oyster. Other than when it slips in our hand whilst opening with an oyster knife. It was a Melbourne-way-of-running swim, and some swimmers, like the horses, cannot handle it.

At the end of the island, we spied the squall approaching. The leaders of the peloton were into it already, and when it hit us, a little later – for we are not leaders-of-the-peloton type of people – it blotted out our views of Drummoyne and Spectacle Island, and even much of the heritage sheds towering over us on Cockatoo Island. We crossed docks, hugged stone-stacked breakwalls, slipped by formworked wharves and wove our ways through the mess of mob swimming. Every now and again, some mug would draw up alongside, and it would spur us into trying harder, for we’d decided this was a trying harder swim for us. We stopped briefly twice to adjust our gogs, but otherwise we didn’t stop at all: not for pitchers, not fer nuthin. Cept for one, and you can see that on this page.

Eventually, we spied the final turning booee, which most of the mugs around us seemed to have missed. The brief at the start had been that we should turn right at the first turning booee, but most of these eejits just seemed to keep going along the Cockatoo Island littoral. We headed on an angle across the peloton, past the booee, and lit out across Thunderbolt’s Strait.

The crush of the peloton.
About half way across, something surreal happened: we found ourselves staring into our own goggles. Two orange caps had hoven up next to us, apparently putting on something of a final sprint. It spurred us on and we accelerated – all things are relative – and at one stage, we turned to breathe right, and one of them turned to breathe left, and we were so close that we could have played tonsil hockey, were that our predilection. But it was like looking into a mirror, for this character was wearing exactly the same goggles as we wear: View Fully Sicks (V200A-MR). They’re a distinctive gog, with their pale blue frame, their clear silicone straps, and their orange mirrored lenses. That’s why we call them Fully Sick. They’re very groovy. We sold some to a friend who, when she put them on, her 7-year-old son said, “Mum, they’re fully sick”. We love them. We’ve been wearing this model gog for 15 years, and they’re still perfect for us. Whilst we rave about them constantly, however, we still don’t see that many of them around (we sell them online, by the way, just in case you’d like to try them out). So it was surreal to see them staring us in the face, up close and personal.

Passing through the final bit of moored squadron of yatchets off the Dawny pool, we struck out left, a bit too far left, then had to correct, but we reached the stairs to the pontoon at the same time as this cove with the mirrored Fully Sicks. And as we entered the walkway to the shore, we remarked to each other about our gogs. And we said to him, “Where did you get them?”, expecting a response that would then lead into our sales pitch. But he said, “From you”. It’s good to know that the sales pitch works sometimes.

Under the Cockatoo Island Wharf... Can you pick the gap?
A bit of a footnote: one of the sponsors of the Dawny swim is Balmain Sports Medicine, a bunch of youngsters of allied disciplines led by James Sutherland, our physio by appointment (if you can get an appointment to see him), accompanied by Aaron Pigeon, our masseur by appointment (easier to get an appointment to see Aaron), et al. It was good to see James, Aaron and various of their professional cobbers do the swim, too. The trouble is they’re all such fit looking characters. They make us feel inadequate.

Another lovely morn on the boardwalk in the rain.

Norm McIntyre won the Olympus camera as part of the fine ocean swimmers' series 2014. And Gavin Mahoney won the carton of James Squire.

Real footnote: There was a bit of an incident in the laydees' showers at the Dawny pool afterwards when a young lass who doesn’t carry much in the way of insulation was being treated by her mother for hypothermia: mum had her under the hottest shower she could draw from the change room taps. Luckily, Mrs Sparkle, a registered nurse, and her cobber, Judy Playfair, a teacher also with a deal of commonsense, happened by and influenced the treatment. Mum resisted; thought she knew best.

Rather than throw an hypothermia sufferer under a scalding shower (we learnt the folly of this when we did it to ourselves in mid-winter Victoria once), the sufferer must be re-warmed slowly. Dry them, remove them from wind, rain, etc, wrap them in warm stuff, eg blankets, space blanket, dry clothes, a sleeping bag, shower them (without the blankets and clothes) in a lukewarm shower, warming gently. Feed them warm, sweet drinks. Warm them slowly and gently. No direct high or sudden heat.

Mums don’t always know best.

Our GPS-in-a-plastic bag told us we swam 2.51km around Cockatoo Island.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Bundaberg, toughest swim of the season

I went to Bundaberg to ensure I finished the season at the forefront of all ocean swimmers.

As it turned out the swim was terrific. We swam parallel to the beach for a kilometre before heading out to sea to round a headland and finished with a short run into the shore. The swell was against us all the way - it made the Palm Beach to Whale  Beach swim and the Bondi to Bronte swim (the two most challenging Sydney swims this season) look relatively tame. The waves were unrelenting and it was not until we turned to head for shore that swimmers got any help (and that was for less than 200 metres due to nature of the course).

It took me one hour thirty three minutes to do the 3kms - about thirty three minutes slower than I normally would take for such a distance.

The journey to Bundaberg was challenging in itself - a plane from Port Macquarie to Brisbane and then a drive to Bundaberg in heavy rain for most of the four hours drive - the return journey saw me fly back to Port via Sydney.

It was quite a weekend!

Neil Daley

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

More than a grand again in late April

Bottoms up: Lazy late starter at Turimetta, en route to Warriewood.
Over the weekend, we saw some remarkable things: We saw a swim with 371 finishers time and record with, to date, no error using the Post-it note system, while we saw one of the smallest and certainly the youngest swim on the calendar -- with 87 in their main event -- using chip timing, with all its cost, and offering $1,800 in prize money. We saw a three year old swim do its intended course for the first time. We saw (metaphorically, since we weren't there in person) a booee break loose and increase the distance of the swim concerned by maybe 25 per cent.

We saw water quality graduate from murky and opaque at Warriewood (our eyes), to crystal clear (according to a blobber) at Shark Island. Why the difference? We wonder whether it's the greater vulnerability of the northern Sydney beaches to lagoon breakouts in heavy rain. There are none of those in the eastern suburbs or down sarf.

We've marvelled over the numbers of swimmers who have turned out during April, now in mid-autumn -- 1,400 at Coogee on April 14, and this weekend we saw five swims on the eastern seaboard with near 1,200 swimmers at three events on Sunday. Who'da thought that a few years ago? There were c. another 1,200 at Noosa, but that's Queensland.

It just goes to show that people are discovering what we've known and argued for years: that this is the best time of year to swim. Indeed, some swims are best done at this time of year.

We reckon it was especially good to see South Curly organisers run their 371-punter swim on the Post-it Note timing system. What is the Post-it Note system? Newer swimmers will have had no experience of this. It's a manual system whereby volunteer staff write times on Post-it notes as swimmers cross the line, with the swimmers handing their notes to a registration table. It takes more staff but, for hard-up swim organisers, it's cheaper. Warriewood used the Post-It note system, too. It's much cheaper than chip timing, which customarily costs c. $3,000, plus transport and accommodation if the timers have to travel.

A middle way is an iPad app, Race Splitter, which sells for $36.99 on the App Store. It allows the organiser to set up the event in an Excel spreadsheet on their puter at home, then transfer the starting list to the iPad. They record times sequentially on the iPad, then transfer the database back to the puter for post-swim processing. At some point, the person running the system must correlate times with a finishing order. There's a little bit of work there, but it's not huge, and it sounds like a perfect system for small events with very limited person-power.

Knowing how much chip timing costs generally, it's surprising more small events don't use it. Culburra have used it for three years now.

Chip timing is no panacea. We saw that demonstrated at Coogee on April 14, when the timing system seemed to stop recording times at a certain point, with close to 100 swimmers lost (their times were lost, not the swimmers). A well-organised workforce using Post-It Notes is just as effective -- sometimes more effective -- than chip timing, and infinitely cheaper. These events are run to raise money for needy causes, after all. Of course, the Post-It Note system is more practical for smaller events than for larger. This is not to argue against chip timing of larger events, but it suits some events better than others.

A friend suggested on Sunday, whilst we schlepped over the headland to Turimetta to the start of the Warriewood swim, that there should be a "Three Islands Challenge" - swims around Shark Island, off Cronulla, Wedding Cake Island, off Coogee, and the reef off Newport (does anyone know its name?): that's about a 2.5km round trip. This time of year would be the time to do that series, over successive weekends in May, say.

We've had feedback about Noosa -- where the booee broke loose - and we have blobs and other reports on our report page… click here

How was your swim last weekend? Click the comments link below and tell us...

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Bambi Code - Injecting Order into Anarchy

No central authority exists for ocean swimming. Events have sprung up spontaneously as fund-raisers run usually by community groups. As such, ocean swimming has no central code of conduct or any central standards or protocols. This might be considered one of its beauties.

So says Hunter Valley geologist John Bamberry, in the second edition of his widely praised, Ocean and Open Water Swims - Guidelines for Swimmers and Organisers. John published the first edition of his guide to etiquette, behaviour and organisation about five years ago. Now, he's revised it, aiming it especially at newer swimmers and swim organisers, attempting to capture in words best practice by swimmers and organisers alike.

Bamberry's is the first attempt to codify, informally, practice in a sport that's all the more glorious for its lack of central authority. What Bamberry is saying, however, is that even the most beautiful of activities descends into anarchy without some understanding of and respect for conventional practice. So here it is.

We've loaded the document onto To download it... click here

We welcome your feedback on The Bambi Code. Go to the oceanswims blob, where we've posted this report ready for your comments... Click the comments link below to leave yours...

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Boiling Pot that is Coogee

Behind the island.
We heard the announcer at Coogee tell us several times over the PA that the swim in from Wedding Cake Island was tough. He said it was because of currents and an out-going tide. We agree it was a little tougher than the swim out, but we disagree about the reasons. And the reasons why it was tougher coming back are why swims at Coogee are some of the most befuddling on the circuit.

Mind you, this swim was not as difficult as most Coogee swims, which are in November, when the sea breeze blows and the swell usually runs from the sou'-east. This time, in April, there was a light offshore breeze and a very slight swell from the nor'-east. The sea was smooth, so the conditions we describe below -- the standard Coogee conditions -- were not as pronounced as they are normally. But the story remains the same. All things are relative, after all.

It's easy to stand on the promenade at Coogee, gazing out over the sea, and think, "This swim will be a doodle". Coogee is a sedate beach. It rarely offers a significant sea, at least not one that breaks onto the beach. We've seen one only once in our lifetime, back in early 1974 (we lived at Coogee when we first lived in Sydney, straight out of school).

Coogee is protected by Wedding Cake Island, which breaks up the worst of any swell. But this also makes it one of the most difficult stretches of water in Sydney.

But before we go into that, let us also say that, whatever the swell size, Coogee always offers a challenge in the break. Perhaps because of that protection from significant swell, Coogee also lacks banks, which means whatever swell there is surges up towards the beach and just dumps onto an edge so steep that it immediately washes back into the sea, gaining momentum from the steep beach. We felt this as we wallowed in the break taking pitchers of finishing mugs. One moment, we wed "out the back", the next, we were in knee depth water dodging the shore dump. Then suddenly we were back out behind the break, none of this with any help from us.

No matter the size of swell, Coogee always offers a shore dump, which can be dangerous, particularly to those with balletic necks. This is not a problem, but it is an element that must be factored in to how you handle this beach. It's a deceptive break, particularly when you come back in through it. Going out isn't so difficult, because you can see what you're heading into. But coming back, whatever swell there is tends to sneak up, suddenly rearing as it nears the beach and just dumps. You never turn your back on the break, but you especially never turn your back on the break at Coogee, sedate and protected as it is.

Coming home.
But that's not the reason why this is some of the hardest swimming water in Sydney. The reason is that it's some of the bumpiest water in Sydney, and that's also because of Wedding Cake Island and the rock shelves at either end of the beach, particularly the long shelf to the south which wends its way to the horizon, when looking from the beach. This is why the swim back from Wedding Cake Island is tough.

When the swell enters Coogee Bay between the island and the northern headland, where Giles baths used to sit on the rocks, and between the island and the southern rock shelf, where Wylies Baths remains one of the pearls of Sydney, and the Ladies Baths sits coyly between Wylies and the surf club. The swell surges around the island; it bounces off the rocks at both ends of the beach; and it washes back from the beach after surging in and dumping, sucking back seawards where the reflections and rejections from the rocks at both ends already are mixing the sea into a bit of a boiling pot. Mix that with the back wash from the beach, and the bounces off the inside of the island, and you have the bumpiest water in Sydney, no matter the size of the swell. It's second only to that stretch of water at the narrowest point of Sydney Harbour between Millers and Milsons Points, where the current and the chop from traffic mixes with the bounces off rock walls on either side of the harbour to foment a surface that is ferociously choppy. Have a look next time you get the ferry from the Quay.

Back at Coogee, we don't believe that the difficulty of that swim back was caused by tidal currents. High tide on swim day was 10:46am, and it wasn't a big tide: it was 1.3 metres. Most swimmers would have been heading back to Coogee Beach from the island whilst the tide, at worst, was on the turn. Tidal currents would not have played an appreciable role at all. There was a north-south current running behind the island, though, and that would have affected the first part of the run in as it washed around the island, providing a bit of push-back as mugs emerged from the island's shadow on the southern side.

Shore dump.
But the real difficulty was that bumpy water, particularly at the closest points to the rock shelf between Wylies and the Ladies Baths. That's where it became harder, as the swell bouncing off the rocks mixed in with the surge around the island, the swell bouncing off the island -- remember, the swell washes around the island and meets on the other side, creating all sorts of turmoil -- and the backwash from the beach. At Coogee, in that bump, no matter the size of the sea, no two strokes are the same. And that's what makes it difficult.
But we felt that effect only for a couple of hundred metres from Wylies to the Ladies Baths.

So, no excuses for slow times, if they were slow times. Coogee is like that. It's one of the elements that makes all swims so different and interesting. Who'd a thunk that a benign beach like Coogee could serve up such treachery?

How was your swim?

Sunday, April 7, 2013

A flock of rays makes autumn swimming worthwhile

Evening at Forster. No one need wonder why we like coming here for autumn swims.
We've just had a quadrella of swims on the first Sundee in April, three of them drawing record numbers in early entries, but all of them showing how glorious is swimming on the NSW coast in autumn.

We were at Forster, a swim we haven't done these past two years. It was good. Water around 24C. We hear Terrigal, Queenscliff and Shellharbour all were good, too.

The Forster swim reminded us of why we love coming here at this time of year. The main swim is billed as 3.8km, but that's to avoid scaring people. It's really about 4.2km, and it's an epic from Cape Hawke beach, around the point, and along a long, long reach into Forster main beach.

Water was 25.2C, and about a kilometre from home, we swam over a flock of about 200 rays, about two metres below us, all about 2/3 of a metre across, wafting gracefully through the water. Never seen anything like that before. That made the trip worthwhile by itself. We love swimming in the ocean.

But how was your swim?

Monday, April 1, 2013

Easter Swim Orgy

El Bernard Buncle doesn't like having his pitcher taken at ocean swims, so he does ridiculous things to the camera, hoping that this will preclude us using them. Wrong, el Bernard. Didn't you learn from Barrie Unsworth swearing at the TV camera peering over his shoulder during voting in ACTU Executive elections? Didn't stop them using the footage. Indeed, it added a piquancy. As does your two-fingered salute. Bernie actually is a nice, decent, fun-loving bloke, an excellent father and husband. But he does have a sometimes unfathomable sense of humour.
So, over 500 at Freshwater on Good Friday, over 200 at Culburra on Easter Sat'dee, almost 500 at Bondi and 239 at Pacific Palms, both on Easter Sundee, shows one thing: mugs will turn out for Easter swims.

True, numbers were helped by the fact that Easter was earli-ish this year, with school holidays still some time off, so not as many people were away, perhaps. But they were enthusiastic mobs at each location, and they continue a trend of punters at last swimming longer seasons. The Victorian season is done now, Sou-Stra'a has one to go, Tassie finished this weekend, Queensland will run through the year, albeit spasmodically, and NSW runs through the end of June. But it was only a few years ago that most punters traditionally turned off after the Cole Classic in early February, that being their season goal.

One of our quests has been to get punters to swim longer seasons. We worried this year when bad weather forced so many cancellations and postponements. In Sydney, we went three weeks without a swim in February-March. Would you all come back, we wondered?

Yes, you have. There've been strong numbers at swims since that unfortunate inter-regnum, as it were, and April is looking good. New swims in recent seasons have gone to March and April -- Evans Head went to the June long weekend -- to get space. Now, March and April are our busiest months in terms of numbers of swims. Next weekend, there are four swims in NSW! On the last weekend in April, there are two swims on the one day, both on Sydney's Northern Beaches - South Curly-Freshwater, and Warriewood.

We have three months to go in NSW. We now have an eight-month season, starting with Forresters Beach in early October, running through Mona Vale at the end of June. Now, it's a season when too much ocean swimming is barely enough.

Tell us about your swims this weekend...

Monday, March 25, 2013

Lost punter makes landfall at last

Lost punter.
About two-thirds of the way from Coalcliff to Stanwell Park, we stopped to get our bearings, but we were distracted immediately by a punter swimming at 90 degrees across our path, behind our legs. He was heading directly to sea, somewhere north of Auckland, we figured. Probably make landfall around the Bay of Islands, albeit on the west coast. We watched him plonk, plonk, plonking out to sea. He was about to intersect another mug swimmer's path, too, although with this one the intersection would occur at about the other chap's neck.

At about that time, the water safety chappies saw this hopelessly lost swimmer. They whistled to him, they shouted at him, and eventually he stopped and looked around, too.

We thought at first that he was making for this outward swimmer, who was his friend, because he had something interesting to tell him. "Did you see that starfish on the bottom?" perhaps. But then, we thought, how would he know, half a kilometre offshore the Illawarra Escarpment, and two kilometres through the swim, that this was his cobber?

Indeed, he didn't. He was, in fact, lost. Hopelessly lost. And he's lucky that others saw him, and that that outward swimmer crossed his path, at about his neck, for otherwise he'd have ended up much farther out to sea and very, very much alone.

We accosted this mug. He told us he'd left his goggles in the car. Oh, well, that's alright then. We told him he could stick with us and we could guide him in. Perhaps he misunderstood us for he showed no interest in the offer, and indeed we watched him slaloming the rest of the course into Stanwell Park beach, which he also was lucky to find.

Just one of life's whimsies.

Tell us about your swim this weekend...

Sunday, March 10, 2013

First swim back after spell

Caves Beach today, our first "swim" of the season. A good place to break our duck because it's where we grew up. We love the swim along the reef, your body rolling as the swells roll through. Water was a bit murky, an after-effect of the rains. They had record numbers. Not a huge swim at 369, but very good for Caves.

We had a good day. Called in on relos afterwards, showed @mojitono9 around the photo gallery on the surf club walls, laden heavily with family (except us).

How was your swim this weekend? Click Comments (below) to have your say.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Homage to Cap'n Rod

Inside Cap'n Rod's gin palace. We can't show you his face, but we can show you his cabin. Note the gear couch: Cap'n Rod had nowhere to rest. We won't tell you Cap'n Rod's identity, because we don't want punters pestering him.

When they finish the swim and head off to the pub, most people forget them, but they are indispensable to a successful Rottnest swim. Indeed, they are indispensable to many endurance swims, particularly swims such as the English Channel that require a support crew. Who are they? They're the skippers, the pilots. The people who provide and drive the boats without which swimmers could not do these swims. The skippers' experience in the waters through which the swim passes often makes the difference between a successful swim and a partial swim, or an outright failed swim.

Mrs Sparkle has done Rottnest four times -- two quad teams and two duos -- and each time she's had the support of the same skipper. We're not going to identify the skipper or his boat, because we don't want people pestering him about helping them with their own swims. It's not to be churlish; it's a matter of protecting our skipper's privacy. If he wants to escort someone on a swim, it should be up to him to decide, without being pressured and pestered by unsolicited approaches.

We'll call our skipper Cap'n Rod.

On Rottnest Channel Swim day 2013, Cap'n Rod was on deck before 5 preparing his boat, a veteran, modest half cabin cruiser about 7m long. It's not a gin palace, which some teams use, particularly spectator boats. Nothing luxurious. But it's kept in good working order and clean. It's covered, too, which means we have shelter for the crossing, which is important. The boat, which we will not name for reasons similar to above, is moored at a yacht club in the Swan River.

We meet him there -- we're a few minutes late, after having dropped our lead swimmer, Seppo, at Cottesloe, along with the kayak that Team Tweetybirds has rented for their support paddler, Carol, also a volunteer. It's dark at Cottesloe, and it's only just turning light when we reach the boat about 20 minutes later.

Cap'n Rod has been there a while preparing, although much of the boat preparation was done beforehand. Cap'n Rod runs his boat with his cobber, Graeme, his deckie. Graeme has been with us the previous three crossings, too, but he won't be with us on swim day 2013 because he's had a heart scare in the days leading up to this year's swim. ON swim day, Graeme has an appointment with the cardiologist. We're not sure how many hours Cap'n Rod and Graeme have put in getting the boat ready, but it's quite a few: maintenance, cleaning, stocking and other preparations. For a day out like this, you don't just turn up, hop aboard, and take off. Graeme's role as deckie also is crucial. Rottnest has 2,500 swimmers as solos, duos and quad teams. There are about 1,100 swimmers in the water at any one time, which means there also are about 1,100 swimmers' boats in the water, along with around 1,100 escort paddlers. Add to them the official boats, the spectator boats, the other hangers on, all of them corralled into a corridor a few hundred metres wide between Cottesloe and Rottnest. Imagine this, all these swimmers, all these boats, all these paddlers, packed into such a tight space, and you start to get a feel for the enormity of the event that is the annual Rottnest Channel Swim, and its dangers.

 Michael Teys swam solo to Rotto. He breathes only to the right.

Boats are kept a kilometre off the starting beach at Cottesloe. Paddlers are kept a couple of hundred metres out. Swimmers have to pick up their paddlers, then the paddlers and swimmers have to pick up their boats. Swimmers may not pass a certain point, 1.5km, marked by the sailing ship, Leeuwin, without their boats. This starting process is chaotic, with boats, paddlers and swimmers manoeuvring in a confined space to meet up and set their courses.

It's not only chaotic; it's also very dangerous. Boats are heading in all directions. In the still-growing light, swimmers are often hard to see. It takes great skill and concentration to manage your boat into position where you connect with your swimmer, turn west for Rotto, and get out of that mess without mishap. All this mayhem is not helped by the Rottnest Channel Swim Association's choice of cap colours. Solos in 2013 wore white caps, which means as soon as the wind comes up and you get a few white caps, you can't see them. Quad teams in the Tweetybirds age group, 150+, wore purple caps, straight from the lost-at-sea range of colours. You can't see them, either. Bizarre. There are plenty of fluoro coloured caps available, why do they pick these silly, even dangerous colours? The mayhem points to the importance of the deckie: Cap'n Rod can watch out ahead and to the sides from his position at the helm at the front starboard side, but he can't see behind or behind on the sides. Graeme's role, inter alia, is to keep watch on the port side, whilst the team manager, us, keep watch on the starboard side. This may seem obvious and routine, but it's extraordinary how many escort boats in this event seem to have no-one in particular watching out on either side. Near collisions are manifold. Some collisions do happen. There are golden rules for boats and skippers, such as Never reverse. Seems obvious? Not to some. In the first swim in which Mrs Sparkle was involved, in 2005, a duckie driver with a load of bright young things doing minute rotations, reversed his duck into Mrs Sparkle has he manoeuvred to pick up a retiring swimmer. It was a small duck, and he'd eased off the throttle as she'd hit the prop, but she came up with grazes and lacerations from her hand up her forearm. Oh, how close that came to disaster. All because this ducky driver -- an ageing, rotund, bald twerp lying across the back of his ducky, seemed to be more intent on showing off to his pretty young team than in watching around him.

This year, the Tweetybirds start at 7am. By this time, Cap'n Rod has been on deck for two and a half hours or more. Unlike the rest of the Tweetybirds and their manager, who languished in the back of the boat from the time we left the dock to arrival off Cottesloe, Cap'n Rod has no break. Indeed, as swim time drew near, then the swim starts, Cap'n Rod's role grew more intense, as the boat positioning grew more intense and boats commenced to jockeying about looking for they swimmers and positioning themselves for quick exit from the starting area into the Rottnest corridor proper. Near misses are many.
We got out of it, however, and set sail for Rotto.

These are pleasure boats which are not intended to cruise for 20km at swimmer's pace. It's not easy to manoeuvre them at such low speeds, dodging other boats, swimmers and paddlers, and some boats cannot handle being kept at such low speeds. It takes much concentration.

This goes on, and on, punctuated every 20 minutes by the changeover between swimmers. On our first crossing with Rod, the routine was that the new swimmer dived into the ocean carrying the end of a rope. The two swimmers high-fived, above the water, the new swimmer handing the end of the rope to the retiring swimmer. The deckie pulls the retiring swimmer into the boat. But he holds the retiring swimmer two metres off, calling to Cap'n Rod, who then disengages the propeller. When the prop is disengaged, the deckie hauls the swimmer the final two metres into the boat. They climb onto the transom at the rear of the boat, the blunt end, then over the back inboard. We call to Cap'n Rod that all is clear, he re-engages the prop, and off we set again.

Cap'n Rod presented us with his invention: on the end of the rope was a harness, which he'd fashioned from a canvas-like material. It resembled a life saving belt. The retiring swimmer would loop it over their shoulder to be hauled in. He didn't have to do that, did Cap'n Rod. But he always is looking for ways to do things better. This year, he presented us with a plastic and rope ladder, which we could drop over the rear corner of the boat. This didn't work well, however. The ladder twisted, worked under the boat and generally got in the way. The problem with rope ladders is that, when you put your weight on them, they follow the direction of the weight and spear under the boat. You can't climb it. We hauled it in.

Some think os.c is a 24-hour operation. It pretty well is. Here, we tell the world that Long Reef has been called off.
By the time we get to Rottnest -- the Tweetybirds did 6 hours 34 minutes this time -- Cap'n Rod has been at the helm for over nine hours without a break.
At Rotto, we moor on the northern side of the jetty. We can't get a mooring close to the beach, because the crowd beat us there, more on which later. The best we can do is a mooring about 75 metres off the beach. The Tweetybirds have swum the last 700m to finish together, which leaves us on the boat with Cap'n Rod and our paddler, Carol, another volunteer who climbed into the boat from the kayak at about the 17km mark with a numb bum, swearing never to do anything like this again. Paddlers also are the unsung heroes of these events, and Carol, who has never done this event before, and has never paddled anything like this distance before, has done an outstanding job to maintain her poise, her pace and her concentration for 17km. Even getting through the sharp, dumpy shore break at Cottesloe at the start was a miracle, with many more experienced paddlers coming off their craft, while Carol got out first go. But Carol is a Scot. She is doughty.

Carol and team manager os.c jump into the bay to bob into the beach to find Team Tweetybirds, who expect us to moor down the other end of the bay, about 1.5km away. There are thousands of punters on the beach at Rotto. The beach is lined with gin palaces, many of which, we discover later, have nothing to do officially with the Rottnest swim. We're told later many are owned by cashed up mineworkers who park out at Rottnest for the weekend, drinking and watching, and taking up all the usable space well beforehand, so that by the time swim boats arrive, the joint is full, the beach lined with boats full of drunks. Mrs Sparkle overheard a conversation in the laydees' loo. One lady said to another: "Are you here for the swim?" And the other replied, "No, we just came out this morning. We've just been drinking and watching." And taking up prime beach space. This explains why so many of the mugs on these boats, on each year that we've been coming to Rotto, have appeared to be non-swimmers, usually pissed, and loud. It is an issue that should be addressed by the Rottnest Channel Swim Association and by the Rottnest Island Authority: perhaps they should set aside areas for genuine swim boats to moor, keeping the voyeurs' gin palaces at distance. At the very least, they should set up a spot on a jetty where swim boats can come in to drop off and pick up, so that team crews don't have to swim in and out to get between their boats and the shore, and facilitating swimmers and their support crews taking part in the cultural celebrations in the pub after the swim. One of the terrific aspects of the Rottnest swim is this culchural dimension at the Quokka Arms. If you've had to swim in, then you can't can't have all your clothes with you, you can't go to the pub, you can't swap yarns with your rivals and peers, and you miss the culchural highlight of the Rottnest Channel Swim.

Carol and os.c head into the beach with a dry bag, in which we fit some money, a t-shirt, a small towel, sunnies, and a camera. We find the Tweetybirds way down the other end of the beach, but all we can do then is to come back out to the boat, with Cap'n Rod standing watch aboard.

We re-board. Cap'n Rod tells us he'd hoped to catch a few minutes sleep whilst the boat was empty, but he couldn't because the "bed" -- the padded seat along the port side of the cabin -- had been full of Tweetybirds belongings. A gentleman, he hadn't wanted to move them. He'd had nowhere to rest. 
By that stage, Cap'n Rod had been on duty for 10 hours.

Back aboard, the Tweetybirds discussed options wit Cap'n Rod. They were to wait for the presentations, still three and a half hours away, or to head back to port. The Tweetybirds felt they may make a podium, and indeed they did: 3rd in the Laydees 150+ Quad Teams. Much excitement and merriment ensues. Seppo cries. But they decide to head home, partly in deference to Cap'n Rod, still without a break from c. 4:30am.

Noice course, Cap'n Rod.
By the time Cap'n Rod noses us back into his mooring -- actually, he backs in, which means he backsides us in -- it's about 6pm, and he's been on duty for almost 14 hours.

Swimmers from outside Western Australia often have enormous difficulty securing a boat and paddler for their Rottnest crossings. Mrs Sparkle has been very lucky to have had the support of Cap'n Rod and deckie Graeme for all four of hers. She met them during her first crossing, when they'd been engaged by another team member. Most swimmers hire boats, some paying up to $1,500. Cap'n Rod has never charged anything, apart from the cost of fuel. Yet we cannot imagine getting a better, more professional, more thorough, more diligent skipper than Cap'n Rod.

No, we're not telling you who Cap'n Rod is, or where to find him. He's earned his privacy, and our gratitude.