Cockatoo Island 2009

After my return from Europe I needed to find a new training pool. I went to the North Sydney pool about a 10 minute walk from where I was living. This pool has the record of being the pool that has had the most number of world records set in it. It was the pool where the Australian titles were held in during the 1950s and 1960s when people like Dawn Fraser, John Konrads and Murray Rose ruled the waves.

The pool has two pools: a 25 m indoor heated pool, and a 50m outdoor heated pool. Both are open all year round. The location under the arch of the Sydney Harbour Bridge with views across to the Sydney Opera House. Magnificent.

So I started swimming there by myself in the evenings. I would start by doing a one km swim, and after a few weeks increased this to two kms non stop. I had a plan to swim the Cockatoo Island swim in late November, a distance of two and a half kms. This island is in the western part of Sydney Harbour and was a shipyard and before that a convict prison. Now that the industry had left it was trying to re-establish itself as a place to visit with comedy festivals, tourist accommodation and a ferry service.

I entered the swim knowing that I would not have to worry about waves and rips. Several people at work asked if I was scared of the sharks in the harbour. My view is that you are more likely to be injured getting to the swim, and besides the water makes it hard to see more than a couple of metres anyway.

The swim starts at the Dawn Fraser pool in Balmain, which is a delightful harbour pool with its historic facade in place. You then swim clockwise around the island and back to the pool. Easy, especially if you breathe on your right. The other highlight is the excellent summer fruit supplied by a sponsor and the free bbq for swimmers.

The forecast for the day was hot over 40 degrees. We were still in the grips of a drought and the land was parched. And this was just the start of summer. Fortunately the swims start in the mid morning and the worst of the heat would not arrive until mid afternoon.

I registered for the swim and then joined my wife back up in the park with a great view of the course.  It was a pleasant place to hang out while I fuelled up and drank fluids to stay hydrated. I was confident of making the distance, as I had lost weight on my walk across Spain, and my swimming was going well. The only thing to deal with was the tide which would be coming in during the swim.

Another feature of this swim is that you start in the water. Luckily at this time of year it was quite warm and the starter got us away quickly. There was lots of thrashing about at the start, but I decided to let them all do their stuff and I would just follow. Before long we had made it to the island, and then started our trek around it. Along the southern side I was moving extremely fast and thought wow this is great. It was not until we got to the other side that I realised this was the tide and I would have to swim against it. By that time the ferry traffic had kicked up a chop on the water so it was a bit of a slog around the northern side. It was good to look at the industrial landmarks on the island, and to keep an eye out for the crane that signalled the turn for the finish line back at the pool.

I made it back to the pool swimming a sort of straight line. A climb out of the water onto a pontoon, and then the manual time keepers recording your time and number. Then into the pool proper to get some mango and sausage sandwich.

I was happy with my first swim in the big smoke. Now that I had moved to Sydney I thought that I belonged.

I checked my results on the oceanswims site and I had finished in just over 44 minutes and placed about halfway in the field. Not a bad result.

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