The national day for Australia is celebrated on 26 January. Unlike other countries this was not the date that the long-suffering populace ousted the dictator/monarchy/foreign invaders. Rather it was the date in 1788 when a fleet of convict ships arrived in Sydney Cove after a long voyage from the UK, to start a penal colony called New South Wales. It was not until 1901 that the various colonies on the continent of Australia unified to govern themselves, even though they still have the Queen of England as their head of state.
But enough of that. After my trip to New York to experience the coldest winter in many years, I had managed to get back into the pool and do several sessions, plus a session at Bondi. There was the chance of do a couple of swims on Australia Day: the Big Swim from Palm Beach to Whale Beach on the northern beaches of Sydney; or the Opera House Swim. After much deliberation, I decided to do the Opera House swim for the fourth year in a row. It is a great swim with a water start on the eastern side of the Sydney Opera House, and then a swim around Farm Cove with a water finish at the Man O War Steps next to the Opera House, a distance of 2.2 km.
I walked across the Sydney Harbour Bridge on a cool cloudy morning that threatened a drop or two of rain. At least the worst of the hot sun would be behind the clouds today. It was a nice walk, and I stopped several times to take some photos of the iconic scenes before the crowds showed up for the celebrations on the Harbour.
I registered on the slopes of the Botanic Gardens overlooking the course and ran into The Reporter and the Surf Muppet who are racing each other to get their words into print. But today they were here to swim, and hopefully beat me again like they did last year, when some of us swam a longer course. The banter flowed like the Backpackers Express at Bondi Beach as they headed off for their wave to start.
We were lucky enough to have Australian swimming royalty to assist with the wave starts today with Ky Hurst and Grant Hackett doing the honours. Those two are legends of the sport, both pool and open water. Ky Hurst is probably one of the greatest surf swimmers of all time, and is also an Australian rep in open water swimming. Grant Hackett of course won the 1500 m freestyle at the Sydney and Athens Olympics
I watched the 300m race for the kids start, then the 750m race. One of the problems with this event is that you are forced to do only one race due to the timing of the waves. Then the over 50s started, and before I knew it I was jumping into the grey water for my wave to start with all the other yellow capped lemmings.
My tactics for today were simple: swim at a steady pace, and if there was enough gas left in the tank, sprint home. Sounds easy, but I was conscious that I had only done five pool sessions this year, plus a plunge in the icy Atlantic. We started, and the swimmers were spread out like a fire-front racing to the first marker 500m away off Mrs Macquarie’s Chair. I am always surprised at how many swimmers have trouble navigating as they weaved in and out like a bunch of drunks trying to lurch through a door.
Around the first mark, and I was feeling good, trying not to get distracted by the views of the Opera House and the Bridge. Down past the open air cinema in the Botanic Gardens, and the water visibility was surprisingly good. However, it was about now that the impacts of the wash off the sandstone walls around the cove could be felt. This is one of the fun parts of this swim.
By the time I had turned the last mark for home I realised that I had been swimming quite hard with nice long strokes, a good catch and pull. I tried to accelerate with 200m to go, but it felt like I was pulling a grand piano behind me, so I just kept going.
As I finished I was happy to feel tired as I crawled up the ladder out of the water. That meant that either I had swum fairly hard, or that I was not match fit. I was hoping it was the former, and when I checked the times later I found out I had swum two minutes faster than previous years and finished higher on the times.
After the usual chat after the race I grabbed my race pack with another towel, swim cap, drink bottle and other goodies and wandered over to Circular Quay to catch the ferry. By this time it seemed that everyone in the city was here to celebrate and they were walking the opposite way. The normal seven minute ferry ride took over 15 minutes as the captain stopped to give all the passengers a great view of the flotilla accompanying the Great Ferry Race which starts at Shark Island and finishes at the Harbour Bridge.
The celebrations continued with the screaming jets of the Royal Australian Air Force, a QANTAS A380, some dueling helicopters overhead, and the national flag slung floating through the sky.
The next day was a public holiday in this land of the long weekend, so I headed to Manly to do the 7 am swim with the Bold and Beautiful group. I had not swum with them since ANZAC Day last April. It was a lovely morning, with 336 swimmers doing the loop to Shelley Beach and back in a gentle surf. I saw lots of fish and others even saw a turtle. If you want to read more go to their blog at http://pacificjules.typepad.com/pacific-jules/.
A great way to finish off the weekend.