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.