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


  1. Paul

    Can I suggest you put this link at the top of the blog and recommend to all swimmers out there to listen to it while they read the blog.

    Mr August

  2. What do you call a collection of jelly blubbers? A Pod? A Herd? What about a Paddock? Because that's what it felt like. Not a drama, but it took a long time to cross?

  3. A flotilla perhaps

  4. More accurately a fluther of jellyfish

  5. Jellyfish soup? Turtle feast?

  6. Oh there were some stingers out there - I copped it coming in at the final buoy, gave me some extra impetus to get home. The first aid tent were, as always, quite helpful. Got myself a cramp too - who said there were no injuries in ocean swimming?

    I was 4min slower than earlier in the year - we took a long route around the island, I barely saw it. But apart from a little swell out the back, not particularly rough. Always a good day.


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