Wedding Cake Island 27 November 2011

Wedding Cake Island

After several months of training and the Cockatoo Island swim, I decided to enter some races on the following weekend. I had decided to try something new and swim both the short and long races where they were offered. My first hit out was to be at Toowoon Bay on the Central Coast on the Saturday. I also entered the Wedding Cake Island swims at Coogee scheduled for the following day. This would be the first time I had proposed to do swims on consecutive days, with four swims in two days. I just hoped I would not over stretch myself.

The Toowoon Bay swim was in a beautiful stretch of beach near The Entrance about one and a half  hours drive north of Sydney. There was a two km and a one km swim on the program so I entered both. The weather on the morning of the race was awful with lots of rain and a strong onshore wind from the north-east. I made the drive to the beach to be greeted by a cancelled swim due to high seas and strong rips all through the course. This was very disappointing. My wife and I drove down to Bateau Bay beach and walked on the sand by ourselves, a novelty that we do not often get to enjoy in Sydney. The organisers of the swim sent me a free t-shirt as I had entered the swim early.

During the drive back to Sydney the rained stopped and soon the winds dropped and the sun came out. I felt sorry for the organisers of the Toowoon Bay swim, but it looked good for the swim at Coogee on the Sunday.

The forecast for the Sunday was for warm sunny weather and light winds, and only a one metre swell. Sounded perfect. As I jumped on the Coogee bus  I felt confident of swimming well. I had done plenty of sessions in the surf at Bondi, and my confidence in the surf had increased. I also knew that Coogee rarely got a big swell due to the presence of Wedding Cake Island offshore.

I had never swum this course before, but had read a lot about it. The swim in November 2010 was accompanied by cold water resulting in numerous swimmers having to be rescued due to hypothermia. Fortunately the water temperature this year was warmer. However, as I did a warm up for the one km swim the water felt cool.

My plan for the one km swim was to use it as a warm up for the longer swim. I was in the same wave as Michael again, and I planned to sit on his feet this time and then swim away from him towards the end. As we entered the water I kept my eye on Michael and tried to put my plan into action. This time it worked. I stayed on his feet gaining the benefit of drafting for the first three-quarters of the swim. I had noticed that there was not too many swimmers with my cap colour ahead of me, so I decided to put a big effort in for the last portion of the race. I knew that Michael breathed on his right, so I swum on his left and soon left him behind. I swam hard all the way to the beach and ran up to the finish line. My time was slow for a one km swim, and it felt like a long way. I surprised myself by getting my first top ten finish in Sydney in my age group, but more importantly had beat Michael by nineteen seconds.

The only problems was that now I had to do the Wedding Cake Island swim, a distance of 2.4 km. I hoped that I had not put too much effort into the one km race, but I did feel a bit tired. After a change of timing chip, a drink and something to eat, I was soon lining up for the longer swim. This swim involved swimming out from the beach and around Wedding Cake Island and return to the beach. There was nearly a thousand swimmers in this race, and I was in a different wave to Michael this time. So if I was to beat him I would have to rely on a different tactic.

I noticed the elite wave was swimming too far left when they started. Was this a current, or was their navigation faulty? Soon enough we realised that the buoy they were swimming for had been moved after the start of the race. As my wave started I made sure I was on the side of the wave in order to keep away from the rest of the swimmers. I still did not want to be caught up in the melee at the start, and this tactic worked well.

About halfway out to the island I realised that I had swum too fast in the previous race, so I adjusted my pace accordingly. Soon after we started hitting the ocean swell and chop and this always made me swim slower. I knew that I had to shorten my stroke, but found this difficult as it did not feel normal. I enjoyed the view of the ocean floor at the back of the island and the feel of all the jelly blubbers. I had noticed that a number of swimmers were swimming close to the wave zone at the back of the island and I did not want to get too close. I swam wider to swim in smoother water, even though it was a bit further.

My navigation was working well, and I had little trouble sighting the buoys. I found that I would lick a landmark behind the buoy and would use that to aim for. I was looking ahead every ten strokes or so just to make sure I was not off course. I also discovered that I was swimming faster when I breathed to the left, even though I could not keep it up for long.

Before I knew it I was at the beach and I ran up the sand to the cheers of my fellow squad members. My time was just over fifty minutes, and this placed me haf way in the field. But more importantly Michael had beat me by a mere nine seconds.

So I had swum two races on the one day for the first time. I had learnt that the shorter swim was a good warm up for the longer race, as long as I took it easy.

Now for the next challenge.

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