South Head Roughwater 20 May 2012

The rare sight of boats at Bondi

This swim is the last swim in Sydney for the season. It involves a swim of ten km from North Bondi Beach to Watsons Bay in Sydney Harbour. It involves a swim 500m out from the beach, turn left to head north up the coast until you enter Sydney Harbour, and then turn south to finish inside the harbour. It requires a boat and most swimmers also have a paddler to accompany them. It is a tough swim with many many kms of high cliffs to swim past before entering calmer water in the harbour. It is also possible to do the swim as a relay. That section of the coast is known for its rough water and history of maritime disasters. In the 1850s a ship en route from the UK ploughed into the cliffs at The Gap during a gale with 121 lives lost.

There were five swimmers from my squad doing the swim, one doing it solo, and a couple of teams. My wife and I decided to do the Bondi to Watsons Bay walk, a section of the Sydney coast line that we had not yet walked.

We caught the bus to Bondi. After three weeks of perfect sunny weather the forecast was for coastal showers. When we arrived at the beach we were greeted by the sight of all the boats for the swim sitting in the bay. As I stood on the beach wishing good luck to all the swimmers, the boats moved 500 m or so offshore to wait for their swimmers. Just before the race started it started to lightly rain.

We watched the competitors enter the water and then went and had a nice hot coffee before starting the walk to Watsons Bay. I was thinking that maybe one year I could do this swim, maybe I could get a relay team first and then try a solo.

The walk from Bondi to Watsons Bay goes uphill to Dover Heights along a road for a mile or so. As we trudged up the hill it started to rain again and the wind began to blow. This would make it tough for the swimmers. We entered a park on the top of the cliff and looked out to sea. Remarkably we could see a swimmer about one km in front of everyone else already. The rest of the pack was spread out all the way back to Ben Buckler.

Before long we were forced to go back on the road due to the presence of expensive houses hugging the cliff top with their panoramic views. But they must catch a blast from the wind on most days. Soon after we got back onto a park with a boardwalk attached. I took some photos of the field stretched out.

The cliffs, the boats with swimmers nearby, and the rain coming up behind

By this time the wind was getting stronger and those coastal showers turned into heavy rain. Our umbrellas provided little cover, and I thought of those poor swimmers and their support crews out on the ocean as the chop increased. I was relieved that I had not started, as I knew those conditions would not have suited me at all.

The views along this part of the coast are very spectacular and on a day like this we had the path mostly to ourselves. I started a conversation with a man whose son was swimming in the race as walked past Macquarie lighthouse. This lighthouse was designed by a convict in the early 1800s and the location has been used as an aid to shipping since 1790 (just two years after European settlement of Sydney).

Fairly soon after we passed the Gap which is popular with tourists and those poor souls full of despair. We watched some scuba divers diving just off the cliffs, with a backdrop of the swimmers pushing past in the background. By this time we were soaked and cold, so we headed to the pub to find it was not open for lunch for another hour or so. So off to Doyles on the wharf for a nice seafood meal as we waited for the swimmers to finish.

The harbour was quite smooth which would be a relief for those slogging their way around South Head.

Watsons Bay with the harbour and city in the background

I joined the well wishers at the finish line to watch the swimmers complete their ordeal. Most of the swimmers were clearly quite tired after swimming for three hours or more, and several had trouble making it up the ramp out of the water.  I was in awe of those who had made it, either solo or in teams. It is a huge achievement. I was speaking to a friend who has swum the Rottnest Island swim in Perth which is twice as far as this swim, and she thinks this swim is tougher by far, due to the chop and the sea conditions. This year was tougher than normal due to the chop, the rain and the cold air temperature.

As we sat on the ferry on the way back to Circular Quay I thought that if I trained consistently and kept on improving then perhaps I could do this swim next year. The girl on the right in this photo was in that position just twelve months ago and she made it.

Great swim girls



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