ANZAC Day is a day of remembrance for all of those who have served our nation during times of conflict. The day falls on the anniversary of the attack by the Allies at Gallipoli in Turkey on 25th April 1915. It was the day that Australia and New Zealand came of age and fought for the British Empire based on an ambitious plan by the Lord Of The Admiralty Winston Churchill. The plan was to gain control of the Dardanelles and force the city of Constantinople in the Ottoman Empire into Allied hands. The attack was in the end a total failure with huge casualties on both sides.
So on this day we remember those who served and those who made the ultimate sacrifice. There are dawn services and marches in just about every location in the country.
It is also the day of the Coogee to Bondi swim. This swim over a distance of five km is an epic, passing some of the most beautiful coastline in Sydney to arrive at Bondi. It is a challenge physically and mentally.
I had arranged with a friend from squad to catch a bus to Coogee for the start. Before I left home I checked the weather forecast and it was for a fine sunny day with a fresh westerly wind and a top of 20 degrees. The wind chill though was 10 degrees, so I packed my wet suit. I had planned to do the swim without the wet suit as I knew the water was still warm, but that wind chill made me nervous.
Upon arrival at Coogee the surf was flat but there was a bump on the horizon. And it was cold. After registration fellow squad members were debating whether to wear the wet suit or not. I decided to wear mine as I did not want to get cold over a swim of up to one and three-quarter hours. Others called me a wimp, but I had to do what I thought was best. I knew the distance would test me, so I wanted to get as big an advantage as possible.
We received our race briefing and we were told to swim out to the Coast Guard boat turn left and then keep the next two buoys off Bronte on our right, and then the next two on our left. The second one of these we were told would be off North Bondi requiring a hook turn left back to South Bondi to the finish line. I paid some attention but was also happy to rely on those in front me to help with the navigation.
A bugler played the Last Post with a minute’s silence. A fitting tribute for the day.
I had walked the coastal path from Coogee to Bondi many times so I was aware of the course.
My plans were to swim with Michael from squad until North Bondi and then we would race for the beach. Like most plans though it did not last long. I was just behind him in the melee around the Coast Guard boat off the beach, but I lot him just before Clovelly in the pack.
Until Clovelly the cliff face protected us from the worst of the wind keeping conditions smooth. I was swimming comfortably not pushing myself and trying to keep in touch with those in front of me. As we swam round Shark Point the wind got stronger increasing the chop. Just near Waverly cemetery the wind caught the pack and we were pushed further offshore. As we got closer to Bronte it became clear that we had to swim back into Bronte straight into the wind and the chop. I regretted my inability to navigate but the wind made it hard to see the buoy with all the chop. I turned at the buoy at Bronte and thought that we were just off the beach. The next buoy was off Tamarama and luckily I got a good sighting of it and swam towards it. Others I had swam with around the buoy swam further offshore, so I beat them to the next buoy quite easily.
Next buoy was off Mackenzie’s Point and that was also quite easy to sight. But as we got closer once again the wind came up and with that the chop increased. It brought back memories of the Bondi to Bronte swim earlier in the season. At this stage I was still swimming well and was glad of the wet suit that kept me warm. I had noticed that those without wet suits had goose bumps on their lower legs.
Around Mackenzie’s Point and then I remembered the briefing: so I kept wide to swim to North Bondi. The chop was quite bad and it was difficult to sight the buoy. Imagine my surprise to get directions from the water safety people half way across the bay that the buoy had been moved. It was now just off the finish line. I looked to my left and there it was about 200 metres inshore. This was very frustrating as now I would have to change my course and swim straight into the wind. Once again I cursed my poor navigation skills but the combination of the chop and the sun had made it very difficult to see the last buoy. It was just not in the place that it was supposed to be. A lesson then to expect anything and not rely on those around you so much.
So I started the hard slog into the beach. I was relieved that the strong breeze was stopping the swell from coming in, but it still seemed to take an eternity to get round that buoy. After swimming mostly by myself for a lot of the way it was a relief to catch up to five other swimmers. I concentrated on pulling hard through the water knowing that my wet suit would give me an advantage. I quickly caught up to them but I just could not swim around them. The six of us swam abreast through the break and we all stood up at the same time. I tried to wade through the shallow water, but I was tired and they were younger. I managed to sidle up to the finish line managing a smile for those squad members who had already finished.
I had made it. I felt a huge amount of satisfaction that I had managed to make the distance even if I had worn the wet suit. But it was cold standing on the beach in the wind.
I wandered over to our crippled coach and he took a photo of Michael and I wearing leis that were presented to finishers.
My time of just over 101 minutes was close to the time I thought I would do. This placed me in the top two-thirds of the field. If I had been able to navigate better I could have taken at least four minutes off that time. Michael had beaten me, but I did manage to beat Paul for the first time this season (it had nothing to do with him not wearing a wet suit of course). My efforts on these journey swims were not as impressive as my efforts in the shorter swims.
Sitting waiting for the presentation I thought of the movement of that last buoy. This course really either needs more buoys to assist with navigation. Or it could have less as it is easy to follow the coastline on the swim north. But I had done it and I knew that I would swim better next time. It was one thing to walk the course, it is something completely different swimming it with the moving ocean tossing you about like a cork.
So my season was over and what a way to finish. I felt proud of my achievements and realised that I had swum just over 50 kn in races for the season. This was a huge improvement on the previous season. I had swum in all conditions. I had learnt a lot about dealing with the surf and the ocean, and I had gained quite a bit of confidence. I will eagerly wait for the season ending distance tallies to see where I ended up.
And so to another season for next year. I am now an oceanswimmer.