Friday, February 6, 2015

Cole Classic - They could do it better

Herald photographers took some stunning images of the Cole Classic last Sundee. That's the advantage of having a whole stable of phots on staff. This one was tweeted by Dallas Kilponen.
 As entries to last weekend's Cole Classic fell again, for the fourth year running (For an analysis of the stats... Click here), we make some suggestions to make the largest swim in NSW more attractive event to punters -
  1. Make it cheaper. Average entry fee to ocean swim events around NSW is $35-$40. The Cole charges up to $65 ($75 on swim day). Only Byron Bay matches this entry fee, and their numbers have fallen, too. Bring the entry fee to around what punters think is reasonable, and more will enter.
  2. Allow punters to enter at reasonable rates right up to swim day. Most swims charge a premium for race day entries, and a couple of swims do not allow new entries on swim day. The Cole offers its cheaper entry fees months ahead of the event, evidently encouraging punters to enter early. This might work with street runs, of which Fairfax Meeja operates several. But swims are different to runs. It might rain on a run, but the street doesn't change. It's not like the sea. Fairfax should recognise that swimmers like to get a feel for swim day before entering, and this is not unreasonable.
  3. Be kinder to the ill and unfortunate. Fairfax allows up to 50 per cent refund if entrants fall ill before swim day, but only up to a cut-off point a month ahead of the swim, and even then only with a medical certificate. There is absolutely no reason why Fairfax, with all the resources at its disposal, cannot be more understanding of punters who fall ill or suffer misadventure right up to swim day. For some punters, their circumstances simply change. Allow them to withdraw, with a reasonably administrative fee. That will build goodwill.
  4. Attract swimmers to take part in both swims. Fairfax offers no concession to swimmers who wish to do both swims, so entry to both costs $120, or $140 on swim day. Doing both swims is attractive to many swimmers. The earlier, generally shorter swim is a warm-up for regular swimmers. Other events that run two swims offer concessions. Fairfax could boost its entry revenue at minimal extra cost to overheads by offering concessionary entry. And to those who argue that the shorter swim should be reserved for inexperienced swimmers, they could bar entrants in the longer swim from prizes and places in the shorter swim.
  5. Clean up the Cole Classic website. Currently, the Cole's website is a mess. Try to navigate around it and find relevant information, and it becomes very confusing. And information in some parts of the website contradicts other parts. Someone clear-headed needs to go through the website to make it clearer and simpler, and more accurate. There's history being rewritten on parts of that site.
  6. Happily facilitate changes to entries. Allow entrants to transfer between events and even to expand their entries from one event to both more easily and more cheaply. We'd have thought it's in Fairfax's interests to do what they can to help punters, rather than making things difficult for them. We know, from all the entries we take for other events, what is involved in what are minor adminstrative changes.
  7. Allow punters to collect their "race packs" on event day. Everyone else does it. Lorne, the biggest ocean swim in Stra'a -- we suspect, the world -- allows registration and pack collection on swim day. They deal with 5,000 swimmers on the beach on swim morning. And they're just a surf club. If Lorne can do more, surely Fairfax can do likewise. Forcing punters to travel across the city and back during the days ahead of the swim is unreasonable and absolutely unnecessary. Not only that, but there is a safety issue involved here: if punters pick up their packs ahead of swim day, then organisers have no certainty about who is in the water on swim day, even with starting pads.
  8. Ensure your cap colours optimise safety for swimmers. The Cole has had a terrible record in past years of clothing swimmers in the "lost-at-sea" range of cap colours - charcoals, purples, blacks, blues, maroons, etc. Even white is a "lost at sea" colour, for on a windy day with white caps, you cannot tell white caps from whitecaps. At Manly last Sundee, we spotted only one "lost at sea" colour: baby blue. Yes, baby blue is a "lost at sea" colour, particularly in conditions like this race day. You cannot pick it out easily. Cap colours need to be readily seen and identified. This is why the Surf Life Saving Association stipulates a range of fluoro colours for caps, and we agree with them. It's a matter of water safety, not simply a matter of ensuring that no two colours are repeated. This is one reason why we reckon Fairfax has no feeling for ocean swims. They just don't seem to understand these issues.
  9. Fairfax should donate some of the cash it raises from events such as the Cole to a charity fund. It makes a big noise about how much money its events raise for charity, but not a single dollar of that comes from Fairfax itself. Fairfax pays Manly Life Saving Club a fee (last we heard, it was about $25,000) for managing the water side of the event on swim day, but that's a fee for service. Fairfax shouldn't just make out that it's supporting charity, it should actually do it, too.
A very keen starter, or is that becasue he knew the camera was on him? Another image from the Cole -- the start at Shelly Beach -- as tweeted by the Herald's Dallas Kilponen.
Other things will come up, but this will do for starters.

If you have suggestions on how the Cole can do it better... Click the comment link below

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Pool management gone mad?

On one of his few trips to the local pool, our Uncle Mick was struck by all the rules - "No running, No jumping, No bombing, No spitting", etc. "Goodness me," said Uncle Mick. "Are you allowed to swim?"

You were, and you are, but we've noticed a marked tightening in the rules in recent years, and much tighter restrictions placed on punters as they attempt to schlepp their laps.

Some pools, for example, ban hand paddles in public lanes. Many pools have placed inhibitors on starting blocks to prevent punters diving from the blocks. You wish they'd pay as much attention to the slack lane ropes, eh! Or get their poolies to watch and manage lane use.

It's all or the sake of risk management, and a trend on the part of public authorities to do all they can not simply to minimise risk, but to avoid risk as completely as possible.

Now comes word from the NSW North Coast, where a cobber tells us he's on his second warning of being banned from his local pool for "diving in at the deep end".

"I'm sure, given time, these same people will have ocean swims starting and finishing beyond the break and possbly with separate lanes and ???," exclaims our cobber.

Reasonable point. We take a risk just leaving home to go to the pool. Avoidance of all risk is impossible. Surely the goal must be the management of reasonable risk, which means accepting some risk but being reasonable about what's expected of behaviour at a public swimming  pool. We'd have thought that diving in at the deep end would fall into that category. Diving in at the shallow end may be different, depending on the depth of the pool.

Our cobber tells us he's even offered to cover himself with insurance, but to no avail. We can understand the pool managers not biting on that one, given the need for consistent management.

What other rules are out there that seem a tad over the top? Or give us an earful for being unreasonable ourselves. Click the Comment button below...

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Talking under wet shower

What is it that brings me back to loving oceanswimming every season? Something different can happen at any swim and usually does.
Today was the first ocean swim of the season for me, and as every season starts it is great to see all those old familiar faces and catch up with everyone’s stories of holidays, future plans and training, or lack thereof, over the cooler months.
Collaroy put on a nice, flat, sparkling sea, friendly clubbies and the sun was out. The water was warm enough to be comfortable. I would like the water temperature turned up just a tad for future swims, though.
On arrival, I couldn’t help but notice the thick lining of seaweed on the shore. I am certainly not a fan of wading through weed. I always imagine there is something nasty hiding in it. os.c doesn’t help, as he reckons this is where small stingrays hide, just waiting for you to step on them.
On the start line, I decided to start behind one of the men, in the vain hope they would part the seaweed and I would slip through unscathed. I chose to start behind Colin. He who is brave enough to anaesthetise an adult tiger surely would protect me from what lies below the weed.
It didn’t exactly go to plan, but I got through with only a few squeals and before I knew it I was in that starting throng vying for a clear line to the first booee. All continued to go well for me. I recognised a few of the swimmers around me and I knew if I could see them I was doing pretty well.
The run down the back leg was a true delight, until disaster struck. There I was, heading for the final booee of the four, right on course and felt like I was knocking off I few spots along the way. I sighted the booee and swam another 20 meters, looked up to sight again, and to my horror, it was gone. I noticed half a dozen swimmers in front of me had stopped and then all of us noticed at once the booee was on a rubber ducky rapidly passing us and going back to where we had come from.
There was not only disbelief but quite a bit of language I probably should not repeat. It was certainly disheartening to see about 40 - 50 swimmers who were once behind you suddenly turn around the newly placed booee and then head in toward the beach in front of you, while you have been madly chasing down a rubber duckie. It brought back memories of a few Cole Classics at Manly, when they moved the booee mid-race.
We did manage to pass quite a few of these swimmers on the run back to the beach, but not all, so I imagine there will be some unusual results from the 1.5km swim.
To finish off the swim, I knew that weed would be waiting for me, and sure enough I think it had doubled in the time between start and finish. My plan this time was to “man up” and just plough through it. Easier said than done! At one point I thought I would be stuck there forever. It was so thick I couldn’t swim through it and when I stood up I couldn’t make much progress through it by trying to walk, either. I was just stuck there not being able to lift my legs through it.
Others seemed to be making better progress than me and eventually a little wave moved me and it in closer to the finish where I eventually was able to make some forward progress. Oh, the relief!
Of course, there was lots of chatter around the finish line about the moving booee. There were some who were annoyed, some who were bemused, and some who were blissfully unaware of what had taken place.
Like many, I chattered with a few mates about this in the outdoor shower. os.c was a little behind me in the queue for the shower, and as I rinsed myself down, the bloke in front of him said, “Get a load of this… In the shower, and she’s still talking!” And…? This fellow obviously hasn’t encountered me before.

Even ocean swimmers have flaws.

Mrs Sparkle

Read our full report... Click here

Monday, April 21, 2014

The best kind of water

Long road trips can lead to profound revelations. On the way back from Pacific Palms on Easter Sundee, Mrs Sparkle said, suddenly, “You know, I like swimming in the ocean the best. It’s the best kind of water”.

Well, yes. That is one of the reasons why we get up to this caper.

But there is background that’s relevant: for the last couple of months, Mrs Sparkle has been undergoing a transition in her life: a nurse by training, she has become a learn-to-swim teacher, and she’s found herself heavily occupied in teaching some of the youngest kiddies of Ryde municipality to not drown in water.

That means she spends a lot of time in water indoors, in pool water, at Ryde Aquatic Leisure Centre. A typical shift involves three and a half hours in the pool, classes turning over every half an hour. That’s as many as seven classes over the shift, perhaps 25 to 40 chillun over its course, the only variations being slight skill levels of the urchin pupils and the lane to which Mrs Sparkle’s class is allocated in any given half hour.

It means she’s at least waist-deep in chlorinated “fresh” pool water for three and a half hours, and often deeper when she demonstrates what she’s telling the little kiddies, interspersed with repartee that reminded us of the contract that Kirrawee Primary School headmaster Bill White – the first Stra’an yoof to be gaoled for resisting the draft in the Viet Nam war years – offered us on the first day of school for jr 1: “We’ll believe only half what we hear goes on at home,” said Bill, “If you believe only half what you hear goes on at school”.

Leading up to the Easter holidays, one little kiddie in Mrs Sparkle’s class told her, “We’re going on a camping holiday over Easter, but it’s only pretend camping”. “Oh, really,” said Mrs Sparkle back. The family had booked a cabin at a caravan park, it turned out.

The point being that Mrs Sparkle, a regular squad swimmer at Crummy Drummy, and a regular with an informal squad of laydees at Ryde, known as The Sunrise Sisters, was spending a lot of time these days sub-consciously and consciously comparing pool water with ocean water.

Any laydee will tell you that pool water is no good for the skin. Misnamed “fresh water”, because it’s absent natural “salt”, pool water is loaded with other chemicals, and germs, that ocean water often doesn’t have. There might be a rash of gut infections that razes the population of a pool, or an outbreak of tinea or plantar warts. And certainly there are other salts in the pool water added surreptitiously by unknowing little children whose parents haven’t been careful enough before delivering them into the pool, and by grown-ups who are just too lazy. The chemicals are added in an effort to check such out breaks and contagions. But it does things to the skin: it dries out the skin.
Learn-to-swim teachers also wear clothes in the pool when on duty: wetties and rash shirts as well as cossies. It’s to protect them from the cold, mainly, but it also creates conditions, we’d have thought, it which the colonies of things that thrive in pools can in turn thrive close to their bodies.

Mrs Sparkle is one of those laydees who comes home and immediately washes herself thoroughly then soaks herself in some kind of cream or lotion, generally with a pleasant scent. She complains about the drying effect of chlorinated water on the body, the smell, of which they try fruitlessly to rid themselves, Eau de Chlorine, and the effect the chlorine has on their clothes, particularly on their wetties, which cost learn-to-swim teachers considerable and frequent amounts of money with no recompense from their employers.

Our experience with chlorinated, indoor pools is not as fraught as Mrs Sparkle’s but we’ve had our moments, particularly at Ryde. We used to train there with a squad early morning several times a week. We then would spend squad day congested with blocked airways. It wouldn’t happen to us at other pools, and it wouldn’t happen to us at outdoor pools. But it always happened after a session in the 25m training pool at Ryde, which is where Mrs Sparkle delivers most of her lessons. Strangely, it doesn’t happen to us in Ryde’s 50m competition pool. But there you go.

Anyway, Mrs Sparkle has these considerations on her mind constantly these days, since she started teaching learn-to-swim. The issues associated with spending so much time in an indoor, chlorinated pool are on her mind constantly, and they’re presented in stark relief when she swims in the ocean, especially in ocean water that’s particularly good.

Such as Pacific Palms was on Easter Sundee.

The seas were enormous on Easter Sat’dee. They were so big that the Pacific Palms awgies were prepared to move the course around to Wallis Lake if Sundee dawned as fierce as Sat’dee. Coincidentally, all three swims in NSW over Easter were on those gems of beaches: north-facing. This means, they missed the worst of the weekend’s swell which came from the Sarth to East Sarth-East. Culburra, near Nowra, was a bit different, in that its programmed course, around Tilbury headland, was very exposed to the sea, but Tilbury Cove, on the northern side, sits in the lee of the headland and offers a sheltered alternative in the ocean. Culburra is at the closest point on the eastern seaboard to the edge of the continental shelf.

But the Almighty works in mysterious ways, and Easter Sundee dawned pacific and bright at Elizabeth Beach, home to Pacific Palms Surf Life Saving Club. The swell had gone. It was calm, clear, and gentle.

lizabeth Beach, facing nor-nor’ east, usually offers what look like benign conditions, but as soon as there is any kind of swell, it develops a dump onto a bank which can be quite nasty, even dangerous, if one is not careful, particularly as the tide drops.

But there was nothing like this on swim day. Start time was just a few minutes ahead of the high, 1.3m due at 12:03. It was a very low high, but it meant there would be some water over the bank. The glory was in what we found when we got into the water.

Heavy seas churn up the bottom, making the water turbid. But by swim morn, it was all gone. You could almost count the grains of sand on the bottom, the water was so clear. And it was warm. And, in April, the worst of the stingers and lice usually have gone, so there’s rarely anything in the water, apart from water, to cause any discomfort. Well past summer’s peak, even the sun is relatively benign on Easter Sundee.

We’ve had a run of good water the last few weeks, despite the frequent heavy seas that have led to the worst rash of swim cancellations this season in our experience.

But there were no confounding chemicals in the ocean at Pacific Palms. The sea was gentle, the water calm, walm, and supportive filled with the natural salt that makes us – especially us boofheads – far more buoyant than in a chlorinated fresh water pool. It was a delight to be in.

So, on the three and a half hour drive back to Sydney, it led to Mrs Sparkle’s greatest accolade. As if we hadn’t known it already.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Reasons to be fearful

"(Overseas) tourists" go for a swim at Narooma in today's storm surf. (Pic by @StanGorton )
When today’s Coogee swim was cancelled, @alicejw3 tweeted, “When an ocean swim race is cancelled, there is always a good reason for it. Safety first. Good decision organisers…” Organisers will not cancel a swim without good reason.

Indeed. Organisers will not cancel a swim without good reason. Not on race day, especially. Organisers are the ones who have slogged it out for months beforehand to get to race day, generally unpaid, to raise funds for their organising surf club. They’re the ones who’ve organised all the support services; the water safety support. They’ve done the marketing; they’ve bought the caps; they’ve applied for all the permits; they’ve crossed the ts and dotted the is; they’ve acquired the bread rolls and saucissons for the barbie. It takes money and lots of time. Generally unpaid. When they have to cancel due to conditions on race day, they’re the most disappointed players of all.

Swimmers are often disappointed, too, but for different reasons. Said one mug lair on Twitter after today’s cancellation, someone called @dtsirekas, “damn...I even slept in my budgies last night I was so excited about a big swell swim today”.

Yes, some punters love a swell, us included. But even swell-lovers are at a disadvantage when they front for a swim at a beach with which they’re unfamiliar, because they’re confronted with a break and a system of banks, channels and gutters with which they’re unfamiliar. Plenty of punters are at a disadvantage because they aren’t confident in surf, and if they’re not confident, they’ll make errors of judgment.

Read our report, then come back here to tell us what you thought about this weekend's events... click here

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Swimmin' in the rain

The proscenium arch descends at Freshwater.
Looking through the results from Freshwater today, we notice there were 47 punters who entered this swim, but apparently didn't turn up. That's 47 no-shows, or 13 per cent of the field who entered online. How could this be?

It was a dark and stormy night, sort of, and a grey and rainy day. There always are some punters who, for whatever reason, don't bother or can't make it on the day despite their best intentions. Rain makes for more of them, of course. After one swim last season that was run on a threatening, grey day – but not rainy, as it turned out – one mug emailed us seeking his money back because, he claimed, he'd got the date wrong after being misled by Sure. More like, he woke up to find a grey sky and couldn't be bothered getting out of bed, so he thought he'd try it on. As it turned out, the day was quite noice.

Barney_Mullins_Classic_140302 from on Vimeo.

Some punters don't like or couldn't be bothered swimming on a wet day. We say, those punters don't know how good it can be.

Before today's swim, we tweeted a pano of the sea off Freshwater as a rain front moved in. It was pure drama, a heavy curtain of thundercloud – well, it looked like it could have been thundercloud – descending on the stage that is Freshwater, like a proscenium arch lowering ominously on a poorly received play.

It was foreboding, of something. Shortly after, another punter tweeted a pic taken at Freshwater beach, of a grim scene beset by rain. "Not the best day for an ocean swim," the tweeter tweeted. It certainly looked that way.

But it was interesting to see that this punter tweeted again, this time after the swim, with the same grim pic, but this time the comment, "Rainy but fun swim today at #FreshwaterSwim Water was so warm and clear!"

Says it all... (Photograrph by Glistening Dave.)

And that's the wonderful thing about days such as these: All those punters who woke this morning and, to grey, ominous and spitting skies, rolled over and went back to sleep, missed the joy of swimming in the rain.

You're going to get wet anyway, of course, but there still is the run down the beach -- a jaunty, gay gambol prior to the race -- to the start line and the schlepp back up after it, inevitably less energetic, not to mention the issue of where you leave your stuff. Freshwater is good like that: the club throws open its doors and welcomes us mug punters in: it makes its auditorium available for gear stowage. So, no worries about what happens to it during the swim.

There's also the issue of the storm water drain at the northern end of the beach, just next to the start line. On a day like this, there's always a flood of flotsam emerging from the drain, despite the grills at its exit. In the runout in that northern corner, it doesn't hang around long and whooshes out to sea, just as we swimmers do once we're in it. We didn't spot much apart from a few leaves tody, though. Freshie organiser Linda Wiadrowski reckoned that was because Friday's rain cleaned up the streets and it's all gone by now. There certainly was little evidence of nasty stuff in the sea once you got moving.

Indeed, the water was clear. We had the most evocative view of weedy, corally rocks as we glided over them, outwards, outwards towards the ocean, sometimes in water less than a metre deep, the swells swirling around the rocks and pushing us gently back and forth. Even way out past the pool, even past the point, we wafted over the rocks and weed, in water amongst the clearest we've enjoyed this season.

We remarked on this last week after Bondi: about how clear was the water. It continued, despite the rain, at Freshwater, which could have been Clearwater. (Perhaps the locals could get another petition going to change the name again.)

Every season has a clarity peak. We remember the Cole at Manly a few years back, when the water was so clear there seemed nothing between you and the bottom. At Manly! Deep ocean outfalls have done wonderful things for the beaches nearest the city centre. Every now and again, you get such days, usually when least expected, and that makes them all the more satisfying.

It is a remarkable thing that the water on rain days so often is very clear, just as it's also often very warm. We don't know the temperature today, but it would have been around 24C. Did anyone have a thermometer on their persons, who could tell us? Sometimes, this is a comparison thing, that the water seems warm because, on a rainy, chilly day, it's warmer than the air temperature: it's warmer in than out. Today was so warm, the sea so comforting, that it was being like wrapped in your favourite blanky when you were a little kid, and on those cold winter mornings, you just didn't want to get out of bed. It was comforting, and reassuring, and you felt secure.

It takes a day like today to produce these conditions. The heavy cloud and the rain evens out the light, so you don't have the extremes or the harshness of light that makes the southern hemisphere light usually so different from the northern hemisphere. There was little wind, too, so the water was smooth, but with a swell rolling through, the bigger as you got farther out to sea. But that meant that the wind – and there was no chop – left the water unshaken, not even stirred, so it remained clear. The even light above the water surface meant you had even light below the surface, too, enhancing the clarity.

Mrs Sparkle remarked to a friend that the water was so nice, she didn't want to get out. We felt a bit like that too, as we did at Bondi. Sure, it rained, and the clouds threatened doom, but what a lovely swim we had. And the 13 per cent missed it. Some people have no idea.

And a footnote: We told the story in our weekly email newsletter of John de Mestre, the Freshwater member who won the first inaugural Barney Mullins Classic, run 23 years ago when John was 28. John won the 20th, too, when he was 48, and whom do you think won again today, now 51? Yes, him again. And when we say, he won, we mean, he won outright. Not just his age group. The whole shebang. His dad would have been proud.

At the preso, de Mestre made a comment about his dad, who passed away last year. And he said a few words about Barney Mullins, in whose memory the swim is name. Barney Mullins taught de Mestre, and many other high profile names, how to swim in the surf and the sea. He taught me, de Mestre said, where to swim and how to swim according to which way the sea was running: how to read the sea and use it to your advantage. "He taught me how to swim smart, not just hard," he told the crowd.

See our more complete report on of both Freshwater at the Melbourne Swim Classic... click here

Tell us what you thought of your swims over the weekend... Write in the comments field below...

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Wonderful world of blueys...

Peter McCrae's course, he said on swim day, would betray the fact that he stupidly followed others the wrong way towards the first booee at Bondi. It doesn't look all that bad to us, but reality is all in the mind, after all.

Some things, we hold as self-evident. So self-evident that we hardly need to say them. Like, dive under broken waves, don't stand up and face them head on. Don't body surf dumpers onto shallow banks. Don't swim in the fast lane if you're slow. And, best of all, don't breaststroke around booees. You know, the kind of things that qualify for “The Bleedin' Obvious” category in Mastermind.

Another is: Don't follow those ahead blindly, for they are following those ahead of them, and they in turn, and really, unless you sight for yourself, no-one really knows where they're going. Take responsibility for yourself.

They are all self-evident truths. Which is why Peter “McGoo” McCrae, the most eccentric and idiosyncratic oceran swimmer whom we know, was so sheepish when we approached him on Sunday, after the main event at Bondi, to collect our GSP-in-a-plastic bag, which we'd affixed to his wrist shortly before swim start in the expectation that we'd do probably only to the first booee then across to the final one. We wanted someone who was intending to do the entire course, and we couldn't trust ourselves, loaded as we were with our Brownie Starflash-in-a-plastic bag.

McCrae was sheepish because, he said, the GPS would show that he headed to the wrong booee after getting through the break at Bondi, towards the middle booee on the back reach rather than the sou'-western booee off Mackenzies Point. “I was following everyone else,” he confessed, and that, he said, got him into trouble. He wasn't looking forward to seeing the course. More importantly, we suspect, he wasn't looking forward to everyone else seeing his course, as well.


The bleedin' obvious...

We hold as self-evident that you should sight for yourself, not just blindly follow. But swimmers do follow, thinking it saves them time, that they won't then lose ground when they “stop” or slow to sight the next booee. They just trust the mugs in front of them. And how many times do you hear them lament on the beach afterwards that trusting in the mugs in front of them led them astray.

Branded by a Medusa.
Looking at McCrae's course (above), though, it doesn't look too bad. Sure, there is an early tendency to head straight out rather than towards the point, but McCrae must have caught it quite early, for the trend, as you see on the stock exchange graphs on the evening news on the telly, was in the right direction overall.

We were reminded of this truism earlier than McCrae's complaint on the beach after the race on Sundee, however. On the way back in from Ben Buckler, after rounding the nor'-eastern turning booee to head back into the finish, and just after we'd crossed the shark net, we were almost run down by a laydee swimmer heading, head down, at 90 degrees to our own course. She was heading towards North Bondi. Perhaps she was just a very slow swimmer from February 9. In any case, the water safety laddies, who were very attentive at Bondi, very quickly put her back on course. But had we been a metre ahead of ourselves, she'd have sliced us in two. And we wondered, to ourselves, in our inner monologue – isn't it extraordinary how many people, when they tell you what they were thinking, say, “And, I thought to myself...” Another one of those self-evident truths from “The Bleedin' Obvious” category. – “How could anyone go off course so radically? I mean, it's not as if there's a big sea, or sighting is impaired, or you can't see the next marker, which is Stra'a...”

Another thing we regard as self-evident is how to extricate oneself from the grip of a bluey.

We've been extricating ourselves from the grip of blueys all our lives. The first bluey sting we remember was when, as sweet little boys, we sprinted down the beach at a surf carnival at Caves Beach to greet our uncles as their boat crew returned victorious from a race, ignoring the blanket of blueys that lined the length of the beach. They were just stings on the foot, but the beach was thick with the blighters and their tentacles oozed up between our toes. The stings were in unreachable places.

We've never done that since.

The accused.
But we've been stung by blueys plenty of times. The most salutary sting we received was at Dee Why, which we've long regarded as synonymous with bluebottles. It's not Dee Why's fault, of course. But in the old days, their annual swim, which was a biathlon or a swim, depending upon your preference, ran on the third Sundee in February, so it was high season for blueys and there was usually a nor'-easter blowing which, as we all know – it's self-evident – is a bluebottle-bearing breeze. Every year, there seemed to be blueys at Dee Why. One year, our cobber, Michael Williams, was carted off to hospital by ambliance (as our kids used to put it) with severe bluey stings. Glistening Dave went with Michael to see that he was ok. It was a bromance.

Another year, our other cobber (yes, we have two), Shelley Clark was carted off to hospital, by ambliance, from the now defunct Bridge to Beach swim from Lavender Bay to Manly. That year, the entire peloton had run into a carpet of blueys stretching for a kilometre across the outer harbour from Middle Head towards Manly, and across towards North Head. As the leaders were stung, some of them were hauled from the water, but the followers kept running in to the carpet of blueys. As we recall, a third cobber, Peter Thiel (“Man of Steel, except when it comes to lice, and blueys”) also was carted off to hospital. Shelley's problem wasn't just to do with the day, however. She was a regular swimmer in long open water events at international level, and she'd been stung so many times that the toxins had built up in her system. The stings this day just tipped her over the edge.

This day at Dee Why, we were half way back from Long Reef Headland when we ran into a bluey with very long tentacles, which wrapped themselves around our head and neck. It wasn't nice. We grappled with them for what seemed like minutes (seconds, in reality), but try as we might, we couldn't get rid of them. The stingers kept stinging.

If you've never been stung by a bluey, you will have to imagine what it's like. We've been stung by some fierce creatchers in our time, but blueys always took the cake (until we were stung by a Medusa in the Mediterranean last year, which was like being branded). The bluey sting is very sharp, piercing, and it stays with you. It sears through your body, the sting that keeps on stinging. The Medusa, on the other hand, was like being branded, but after the initial shock, the sting subsided. You stayed stung, and you felt it, but it didn't keep giving it to you as the bluey does.


Cobbers awash

Then there was our cobber (we've more cobbers than we realised), Derek Mortimer, who swam Cabbage Tree Bay from Manly one Sat'dee in high summer, and ran into a swarm of blueys hiding around the point. The swarm overwhelmed Derek, who sank as he grappled with them. Passing board and ski paddlers ignored him; he was rescued by scuba divers in the bay, who called and ambliance, which took Derek up the hill to Manly hospital, which is soon to be closed. So Derek was in care, but his wife, waiting at Manly, knew none of this; it happened out of sight around the point, you see. She waited, and waited, and... And eventually she set out to search for him. This was early afternoon. She could find no trace. And it wasn't until that night that she found Derek in a bed at Manly hospital.

The hospital released Derek at 11:30pm. They said he could go. His wife asked how he felt. He said he felt ok, now, except that he couldn't hear very well. That might be, Derek's wife said, because you still have your earplugs in.

So, half way back from Long Reef Headland, we grappled with the tentacles; we tried to unwrap them from around our neck, but every attempt just stung our fingers. It was difficult to unwrap them without touching them with a hitherto unstung part of your body. And nothing would move them. Eventually, we ducked under the water, as deep as we could go, and as long as we could stay. And the tentacles floated off. They're attached to the balloon, you see, which is what you can see floating on the surface of the sea. So if you duck down, the connection to the balloon, which continues to float, pulls them off you. Self-evident, you see.

You have to make sure that you surface some distance from the bluey, of course, and you must hope that you're not simply resurfacing into another bluey. This day, we didn't; we surfaced into clear water, tentacle-free. We remained stung, of course, and the sting kept searing through us as we finished the swim and trudged gingerly up the beach, looking for the first aid facilities.
That was in the early noughties, but ever since then, we've barely had a bluey sting, and certainly not one as bad as that one. 


Tell Jonesy 


We have no reason to use this pic, except that
we came across it whilst searching for a pic of a bluey,
and it is a pic, after all, of an ocean swimmer.
We've always thought of blueys as high-summer threats, at their worst when the onshore breezes are at their blackest. The last couple of years, though, things have been a bit different. Was it last year or the year before, the first bluey plague of the season was in September! Now this season has been relatively bluey-free. Perhaps Jonesy could explain this to us?

At Bondi on Sundee, there was a rumour that there'd been blueys sighted in the nor'-eastern corner at North Bondi. We weren't surprised, since there'd been a stiffish sou'-easter blowing all morning (plenty of people associate blueys with nor'-easters but, really, in our experience, any onshore wind brings them in: the balloons act as sails, you see. Apparently, some are oriented one way, others the other way, so they respond in different ways to the different onshore breezes. The bottom line is, any onshore breeze will bring them in somewhere or another). When we approached the start line at Bondi, however, we were wary. We have difficulty rationalising the sense in setting out into water that you know carries blueys nearby. Our plan was to take pitchers of the start, then to swim to the first booee, then across to the final booee, thence to return to shore, thus to limit the exposure and the risk. We strapped our GPS-in-a-plastic bag on the wrist of Peter McGoo McCrae, and headed down to the edge, where a voracious rip ran through a gutter out to sea.

When we arrove on water's edge, however, we were struck by the clarity of the sea. We'd swum at Mona Vale on the Sat'dee, and the clarity was nice. But the clarity of the water at Bondi was several powers ahead of Mona Vale. As we stood there on the water's edge, the break washing around our feet, we looked into the rip that ran out through the gutter past the break, and it was so clear, it was calling to us, like the Lorelei on the Rhine, “ Come hither... Enter us, Come hither...”

It was so clear, the water so lively, and we couldn't resist...

We left the beach after the antepenultimate starting wave. We caressed the ocean in the rip, and we whooshed seawards. As we think of it, we've never seen a rip so clear. Normally, rips are murky with the whipped up sand caused by the raging torrent of water rushing back to sea. But this was the clearest rip we'd ever seen. As we passed the break, we just wanted to keep on swimming.

We're always alert to the sudden brush of a bluey, especially on a day when they're known to be around. But we felt nothing all the way around the course: just the gently rolling sea of absolute clarity. We'd been watching the swell forecasts leading up to Sundee, and for days, they'd been predicting a two metre swell on swim day. It was nothing like that on the beach, but out by the back reach, it was two metres, all right, and some swell bigger. But they dissipated by the time they reached the shore.

All the way, nothing, not a bluey in reach.

Phil Reichelt with his new "nipple tat",
and el Bernard Buncle, fresh from the embrace of a bluey.
Manly, eh?
So we were surprised, when we arrove back on the beach, to find a bunch of victims, including Phil Reichelt, with a bluey sting circuitously around his left nipple; Jillian Pateman, with a fat lip; and el Bernard Buncle, everyone's whipping boy, this time whipped by a bluey which had wrapped itself around his torso. 

He had grappled with it, el Bernard said, but it just wouldn't shake free.

Why didn't you just duck down and let it float off?” we asked, in all innocence.

Why didn't what?” he said.

Some things, we'd regarded as self-evident.

The colour of booees

By the time we arrove home, we had already, in our email inbox, this comment...
I had to send you this as it occurred to me while flailing around at Bondi today.

The swell was quite high and challenging, but the buoys are very similar colours to the lifesavers tops, so I found myself swimming towards a yellow "buoy" in the distance only to find it had paddled away somewhere else. Then I spotted a red "buoy" and as I got closer it started its motor and drove away!

Malabar had the smarts last week to have a helium balloon attached above the turning buoys.

Now we don't want to remove all the challenges from Ocean Swimming but perhaps when a larger swell is predicted the Surf Clubs can add some extra help to the flailers

Regards, Jeremy Wheeler
Fair point. But that said, the only two colours that really work in all conditions are the yellow and the orange. (We declare an interest: They're our booees.)  Bilgola also use helium balloons. But they often don't work in a breeze, which can lay them flat on the sea.

In the meantime, tell us what you thought...