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 oceanswims.com. 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...