The middle of November has arrived. The Jacaranda trees have been in bloom for a month or so due to the early start of the summer. Huge bushfires have raged for weeks outside the city destroying hundreds of homes, making their presence felt with the pall of their smoke. That means it must be time for the start of the open water swimming season again in Sydney.
After the hottest September on record, and the second hottest October, November has brought relief with cooler temperatures, and rain. On the Friday night before the swim a big thunderstorm hung over the harbour dumping lots of rain and showing how mother nature can produce a spectacular light display. The night before the swim it rained again, and I thought the swim would be cancelled due to the dirty water.
Sunday morning, checked the website, the swim was on. Time to get ready. The day was nice and cool, and cloudy: no sunscreen today. It felt strange to wear a long sleeve top to this swim, as in the last four years it has always been warm and sunny. But that is one of the great things about open water swimming: you can do the same course year after year, and each swim is different due to the changing conditions.
Got to the pool at Balmain and registered. The water looked great, with hardly any wind, and for now the clouds not dropping their rain upon us. Caught up with lots of friends who wanted to know all about my adventures in Vanuatu and Croatia over the winter.
My wave was to be the second wave of the day, for all those mature folk over 46. Once again the 2.5 km course was a anti-clockwise circumnavigation of Cockatoo Island, with the in the water start and finish. We watched the first wave start and the conditions were good. There was no sun glare to hinder navigation, there was hardly any wind, the tide was high right now, and the numbers were down from previous years.
As I jumped into the water, the gun fired and our wave was off. The start here is always fun, with the peloton charging from the shore through the moored yachts towards the northern tip of the island. The water was warm compared to the air, and for once the visibility was not too bad.
The first point on the island is easy to sight due to the large cranes right on the point. Even though there are always some who seem to have trouble. As I got to the island the first swimmers in the third and last wave speed past me. I admired their form but did not try to keep up.
This year I had decided to stick close to shore to reduce the distance I would have to swim. As we approached the ferry wharf, I took the opportunity to swim under it through a tunnel. That was novel, and fun as the course narrows from 40 m to 5m to get through the gap. Something different, and it also took the ferries out of the equation.
Swimming down the western side past the glam camping area, and my form was good, feeling strong and reaching out on each stroke. I even started to start passing other swimmers in my wave and catching some from the previous waves. This year there was no chop from passing pleasure craft as they must have seen the weather forecast and stayed home.
I started to think that this was a fantastic swim, and it would be smooth swimming all the way. But as we approached the southern end of the island I was reminded to not take anything for granted. A strong squall hit us with a sudden chop thrown up by the wind. Time to breathe left and look at the island so as to not get a mouthful of rain and chop. I did take a few glimpses and the Gladesville Bridge, Birkenhead Point and Spectacle Island all disappeared as the rain came down.
Now this is what open water swimming is about: changing conditions on the course, and trying to keep on course. I kept my head down, shortened my stroke and pulled harder through the chop coming across me. For once the orange turning marker was not in sun glare and it was easy to keep it in sight between the showers coming across. I kept on course for that marker and then turn for the hop across the channel to get home.
My course kept me well away from the other swimmers. It is always a decision to make: whether to swim the shorter course by yourself and trust your navigation skills; or swim with the pack in the drag and swim further. I decided to swim by myself, and was rewarded with the gaining of lots of places.
Before long it was back to the pontoon, up the stairs and finish. I felt great, not tired at all, so all that recent training was starting to pay off. The clock showed that I had swum faster than last year even though the conditions were not as good. At the time of writing the official results have not been posted.
Afterwards chatted to those who had done the shorter swim as we munched on the bacon and egg burgers, and fresh fruit. We all enjoyed swimming on a cloudy day in water that was warmer than the air, with the rain keeping us cool. Well done organisers, I will try to get back again next for my 6th swim at this event. A great way to start the season. Now which swim next weekend?