This race was on again, and it was good to do it for the second year running. However, this year I decided to enter both the one km and the two km race. I had entered early to save me some money and also to have the timing chips and swim caps sent to me in the post. This saved me having to queue up a few days before the race at a collection point in the city. I am at a loss to understand why the most expensive race of the year cannot organise the collection of caps and timing chips on race day. This is the only race where this happens: all other events seem to be able to manage it. Oh well that it is the way it is when a corporate group organises the race.

The race is advertised to be held at Manly Beach. What happens is that the start is at Shelley Beach with the finish at Manly for both events. However, this year the swell was up at almost two metres which makes the finish at Manly quite tricky. So the organisers made the decision to have the start and finish at Shelley Beach. This was a good call as a large percentage of the field only do this ocean swim each year.

I caught the first Manly Ferry from Circular Quay in order to make it to the start line in time for my wave start of just after eight am. There were a large number of people from my squad doing the event: some were only doing the two km, some like me were doing both the one km and the two km. and some were doing the nine km race from Dee Why. It was another glorious day on Sydney Harbour on a virtually empty ferry. I admired the view and thought about the upcoming swim. I was not nervous at all as I had swum here quite a few times, and I knew that the swell would not get into the one km course.

Start for some of the ladies

One of my work mates Ainslie had made a late decision to enter the one km event. She had asked me if she should enter the elite wave. I told her that she should as she would find that most of that wave would quickly swim away from her and she should be able to make it to the finish line before the next wave caught her. So she entered and found out that the requirement for the elite wave was to try to do it in under 15 minutes. She assured them she would try.

I was lucky to be in the second wave for the one km event. The course was out to Fairy Bower north to the point and then back to the beach. The conditions looked great with just  small wave coming through on the way back. I watched the elite wave start and noticed our coach on the left hand side of the course swimming in clear water by himself. A few of us thought this was a good idea so we moved to the left hand side of the start line. The gun went and we were off. I wanted to do a good time for this race and so swum hard to get into clear water. Fairly soon I had achieved that, so then I concentrated on looking at the sea life in the aquatic reserve, and also remembered to navigate.

By the time I arrived at the first buoy I realised that I was in the top third of my wave. I still had plenty of energy left for the return leg. I was pushed off the straight line course by the swell coming across the course, but I still was happy with my race. I had wondered if I would catch Ainslie, but she beat me to the finish line. The water was warm, the sun was shining, and I had finished in just over eighteen minutes, placing me in the top 150 of the 1,950 competitors, and in the top 100 of the 1,000 male swimmers. I was happy with that.

I know had almost three hours to wait for my two km race. In one of the more interesting arrangements, the organisers had decided that instead of the normal three minutes between waves, they would have ten minutes. So while the elite wave started at 10.30 am, my wave was not until 11.30 am, and the last wave would not start until 1 pm. Ocean swimming is not like road running: conditions change as the tide changes and the wind blows. It is a dynamic course so it is virtually impossible to have the same conditions for all. It would make it easier if the waves were only five minutes apart like they were for the one km event. The official reason given was to allow the slower swimmers to avoid the faster swimmers from following waves passing them.

I was hoping to do better than I had last year as well. I had by now swum in a squad for a year, and I knew my swimming had improved. It would be good to get an idea from this event on how much I had improved.

Finishing the two km race with the course in the background

 

The course for the two km race was different to last year as we would finish at Shelley Beach. It involved swimming to Fairy Bower, across to the point at Manly, down to North Styne, then out to sea, back across the reef to finish. I had swum this course just before Christmas.

I remembered the start last year where I was in the middle of the pack and pushed and prodded by those around me. So this time I worked my way to the front left of the wave. I knew that a large number would go flat-out when they hit the water, but would tire quickly. I let them go and concentrated on my own tactics, and resolved to enjoy the swim. By the time we swam off Manly Point I could feel the large swell pushing through. I was glad that we did not have to negotiate the beach break as it would have been carnage.

The swim this year was good, I felt strong the whole way and kept up my speed all the way. I even managed to learn from my earlier race and passed several swimmers on the last part by keeping left and not getting pushed off course. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and knew that I had done better than last year. I had swum six minutes quicker this year to finish in just under thirty-nine minutes. But more importantly I had improved my placing from the top 50% to the top 25% of the field. I was also in the top quarter for my age group and the males. Wow a huge improvement on last year. This year I had swum both races, and last year only the two km event.

As I watched the swimmers who had done the nine km race I pondered whether that would be a possibility next year.

As other squad members finished we once again compared our experiences. I felt sorry for Shayne, she had to swim against Shayne Gould the 1972 Olympic champion.

The ferry trip home was a time to ponder on how much I had improved in the last year.

Map of the Course

 

The Big Swim is one of the highlights of the season. I had never done this swim before, as I lacked the confidence to do it. I had looked at the swim on-line for the last few seasons thinking that one day I could do it. The course starts at Palm Beach surf club and swims around the point to Whale Beach, a distance of 2.5 km. What makes this swim special is that there are only four buoys on the course, and three of them are off Whale Beach. It is supposed to be easy to navigate, you just swim south along the coast line.

This year I decided to enter as I had done a few swims already. I arranged to give Michael from squad a lift to the swim, the northernmost of the Sydney swims. The beach is really quite beautiful sweeping up to Barrenjoey Lighthouse at the entrance to the Hawkesbury River. For all those Home and Away fans, this is the location for the outdoor shots for that show. Another good thing about this swim is the excellent organisation with free parking linked to the start line by a free shuttle bus. We had arrived early and looked in vain for a coffee before the swim. So we waited for the rest of our squad to arrive.

The conditions looked quite reasonable with a small NE swell and a forecast of a sea breeze. Our squad did our usual warm up before the swim, taking note of the sweep at the entry line, and the rip.

Once again my wave was to be the last one off the beach so I waited with all the other middle-aged pink cap swimmers. We watched the elite wave start and took note of the paths they took to get into the water.

One of the early waves

 

I was getting a bit nervous about the swim as time ticked over. I was not very aware of the course as I had not swum at either beach before. All I had been told was to stay off the cliffs to avoid the backwash, and then there are three markers off Whale Beach. As all the rest of the squad started I told them all to wait for me at the finish line.

My wave started and this time I was at the front with coach Paul. I ran into the water, but found the wave zone a bit of an effort to get through. I noticed that a lot of pink caps had swum past me, but I thought I could catch them later as the swim is a long one. As we headed along the cliffs the chop got worse as the wind picked up. I had followed advice and I was a long way off the cliffs. However, once again the chop was impacting on my stroke. I tried to shorten my stroke and have less glide, but found this uncomfortable. For long periods I was swimming by myself, so wondered if I was going the right way. Every now and again I would catch swimmers from earlier waves, but I was not catching many pink caps.

After what seemed an eternity I finally passed the point. Now I had to try to find the markers, but the chop made it difficult. About this time I noticed the side chop was loosening my cap, and I was forced to stop and try to put the cap on properly. This cost me some time, and I thought that next time I would just rip it off and leave it behind.

As I passed each of the markers I noticed that I was getting tired. Obviously the swim three days earlier at the Opera House had taken more out of me than I thought. However, I did see the finish line, and despite the choppy conditions made it quite easily into the beach, and even caught a small wave to assist me.

Once again on hitting the sand my legs did not want to work, but I did move into a slow jog just in case other squad members where watching. I crossed the line and managed to rip off the timing chip from my ankle without falling over. Luckily the drinks tent and fruit tent still had stuff left. I eagerly ate the nectarines and drank the water provided. As the sun was quite hot I wanted to find my bag from the drop off so I could put on a hat and shirt.

After finding the bag I searched out my fellow squad members to swap stories about the swim. Several had ridden their push pikes from Manly and then done the swim. Wow, but why? After the swim we went to Jess’s parents place up on the ridge for a barbeque. It sure was a good way to finish off the swim.

Oh yeah my results: a time of just under 53 minutes which placed me 850th out of 1500 swimmers, and 100th out of 160 in my age group. Once again these were not great times or results. However, I was glad that I had finished the course, and I knew that next season I would do better as I knew the course. I also made a note on how I had to improve in the open ocean and how to deal with a chop.Well done Karl you beat me in another swim, and Michael pulled further ahead in our race.

 

Aerial view of the course

Australia Day on January 26 is the day of the Sydney Harbour swim at the Opera House. Unlike previous swims I could not enter both races on the day as the 2.2 km race was scheduled to start shortly after the one km race, making it impossible to do both. So I only entered the longer swim. There was only a few from my squad doing this race, as they were saving themselves for the Palm Beach swim three days later. However Shayne and her daughter were hitting the water.

I was interested to see how almost one year of training would benefit my swimming as I could compare this event with the 2011 version when I finished in the top 45% of the field. I felt stronger and more confident of my ability, plus I had the advantage of also knowing the course. The course is very scenic. It starts in the water on the eastern side of the Opera House and swims across Farm Cove to Mrs Macquarie’s Chair. It then tracks around the edge of the Sydney Botanic Gardens to return to the start. The visuals are stunning with the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge clearly visible as you swim, plus the city skyline. Sometimes it can be quite distracting.

There had been lots of overnight rain, but fortunately the water quality was still good as I entered the start zone for my wave. My plan was to swim reasonably fast for as long as I could, and then settle into a slower pace until I got near the last buoy and then to sprint home. The start was good, all swimmers seemed to know where they were going, and I even managed to get into a clear patch of water fairly quickly. There was not much chop on the water, so it is was easy to settle into my familiar style.

Before long I was passing the outdoor cinema screen at looking at the views. I noticed that I was swimming with a couple of females from my age group, and they were slightly faster than me. This meant that I could sit on their feet and enjoy the drag. I did try to swim around them a couple of times when we came across slower swimmers, but I could not get around them. So I decided to sit in their feet and wait until the turn for home. At that point I did increase my pace, and I managed to swim around them. I was getting tired, but I knew that I wanted to beat them, so I kept up the pace.

The finishing line for this race is easy to spot from a distance: you just look for the sails of the Opera House and then aim slightly to the left. I remembered that drill from training where we look forward as we breathe, and I even managed to maintain my pace whilst doing just that. The finish line for this event was also in the water, so as you passed the line you had to hold up your wrist to ensure the timing tag registered. This saved the drama of climbing out on a ladder and a wet timing mat.

So I had finished, in a time of just over 35 minutes for the 2.2 km distance, placing 150th in the field of 450. This was an improvement on last year so I was happy with that. I just hoped I had enough left for the swim on Sunday.

I had also beaten quite comfortably the Federal Leader of the Opposition who swam in his infamous speedos. He was gracious after the race to let other swimmers have their photo taken with him, and their was no sign of security. It is good to live in a nation where this can happen. Needless to say he went to Canberra straight from the race and made some comments about the Aboriginal Tent Embassy that resulted in him and the prime minister being forcibly removed from a function by security staff. Oh well at least he had a relaxing swim to start the day.

My wife had wandered down to the race just before we started. I found her after the race sitting in the Botanic Gardens enjoying the rare sunshine. We walked home passing the display of antique vintage and classic cars. Of course we had to stop for a beer to celebrate the nation’s birthday.

North Bondi has the fortune to host two swims each season. There was an added bonus to do both the short and long swims on this day, and at the second swim in February: there was a free trip to Hawaii to swim in the Waikiki Roughwater swim. I had trained quite often at this beach, and I was familiar with the conditions. So I entered both the one km and the two km swims.

My wife and I had walked from Clovelly to Bondi on the Friday to celebrate my birthday at Icebergs, and the swell that day was quite large. I was hoping that the swell would drop by Sunday for the swim. We were having a cool summer, it would be cool and showery most of the week, but then Sunday morning would come around and the sun would shine. And once again this happened. The morning of the swim was sunny and warm with a light offshore swim, and there was virtually no swell. As I came down the hill on the bus my spirits lifted to see such excellent conditions.

This was the home swim for the swim squad, so we were extremely well represented on the day with over thirty swimmers. I always enjoy the swims more when there are plenty of people I know to share the experience with. As we did our warm ups I noticed that the water was warm and clear. There would be no advantage in swimming out in the rip near the rocks today.

As my wave stood on the start line for the one km swim I positioned myself near the front for a change, next to some others from our squad. We were joined at the last minute by our coach, and I had the joy of beating him to the first wave as he fell over. Needless to say though he soon powered past me with his unique style. I wanted to do well in the short race so I swam harder than I normally did, and even felt strong at the half-way mark. The only problem was the huge numbers of jelly blubbers just under the surface. While they did not sting you it felt like you could use them to help pull through the water.

As I headed back to the beach I could not see too many swimmers in my age group in front of me. I increased the tempo and hoped for a wave to get me to the finish line quicker. Unfortunately it was one of those days when you  had to swim all the way due to the lack of swell on Lake Bondi. I ran hard up to the finish line and noticed my time of just over nineteen minutes. While I thought this was slow, when the results were posted I had finished tenth in my age group and in the top 25% overall.

I grabbed some fruit and drinks from the refreshment  area and walked back to my companions feeling quite happy. I was even happier when it became clear that I had beat my nemesis. Had I swum too hard and would suffer in the long swim? I hoped not.

I put on the timing chip for the 2 km event and waited for my wave to enter the water. By the time we started the offshore breeze had changed to a light onshore, but the conditions were still quite smooth. This swim was to swim out from North Bondi to Ben Buckler, then across the bay to MacKenzies Point, followed by a swim towards the beach near Icebergs, then back to North Bondi and finish. I felt very privileged to be able to swim at such a beautiful beach on a stunning summer day.

For this race I did not start at the front but hung off to the side. I realised after entering the water that I was not feeling as fresh as I had in the one km swim.In fact I was enjoying the swim that much that it took me until the first buoy to remember that this was a race and not just a leisurely swim. I increased my tempo at that stage and started passing other swimmers. Once again as the chop increased I noticed the impact on my stroke, and made the necessary adjustments.

I found the course quite easy to navigate as I had learnt to use landmarks behind the buoys to help me. There was also a big pink banner on an apartment in North Bondi to help with the sighting on the leg back to the finish line. A good idea.

Once again the lack of waves was both a good and bad thing. It was good at the start, but at the finish there was no assistance. I made it to the finish line feeling weary. I knew that I had swum slower in this race. When the times were posted I was in the top half of the field with a time of just under thirty-five minutes. This was a combination of my slower swimming, plus the increase in standard in the longer swim when compared to the shorter one. I was very content with my day, no blue bottles, no sun burn and I had beaten my nemesis in both races.

I had also learnt that I could do both faces quite comfortably, but that I needed to work on increasing my pace in the longer race instead of  settling into my normal rhythm. I would try that at my next swim, and keep up the training.

Newport 2 Jan 2012

The first swim of the year at Newport on the northern beaches of Sydney. A chance to get back into the swing of swims after the Christmas break. The squad had not trained at the pool since the week before Christmas, though I had done a few sessions at Clovelly and North Bondi for a change. It was nice to be able to get to those beaches without worrying about the normal traffic issues.

This swim was called the pool to peak swim as you started at the Newport surf club, swim south towards the ocean pool, then turn north to the northern end of the beach and back to the start. There were two swims on offer, but I only entered the longer two km swim. The forecast was for a typical Sydney summer day: sunny with a freshening NE sea-breeze to keep the temperature down. The only problem with that was that the long reach at the back of the course would be straight into the wind and chop. Oh well if it happens it happens, and everyone would face the same conditions.

My wife and I arrived at the beach quite early to grab a good parking spot, and more importantly a shady spot to sit under the Norfolk Pines that line the beach. I had over estimated the travel time and we arrived well before the one km event was to start. However, this gave me plenty of time to register and observe the course. I watched the early race as they entered the water and noted the direction of the sweep behind the waves.

Before long Michael, SHAYNE and Karl from the squad joined us in the shade, and the usual banter between us started. We all complained about over celebrating during the festive season in an effort to lull the others into a false sense of security. Not sure if it worked, but it was fun.

By the time our race was to start the sun was very strong and you could feel it biting the skin even through the layers of sun cream. In addition the sea-breeze was strengthening which would make the course choppy. My wave started and once again I let the heroes swim fast knowing that perhaps I could catch at least some of them towards the finish. When we turned the buoy near the pool to swim north the chop and wind picked up. I told myself I had swum in worse in the Bondi to Bronte swim and adjusted my stroke to compensate. Unfortunately I took it too easy and was enjoying the conditions without pushing myself very hard. It was only coming back through the waves towards the finish that I started to work hard. I knew that Michael would have beaten me, but I had enjoyed the swim.

My finish time of just over thirty-nine minutes was slow for a 2 km swim, and I was placed around halfway in the field of five hundred swimmers. I had enjoyed the swim and knew that I had to work out a way to swim better in choppy conditions.

Manly 18 December 2011

Christmas spirit

 

I had recovered from my experience at Bronte and so I looked on the calendar on oceanswims for the next event.  There was a race at Bilgola on the weekend after Bronte, but I decided against swimming that event after looking at the forecast. The following weekend had an event at Manly, a place I was familiar with due to my occasional swim with the Bold and Beautiful group.  There were two races on the day: the one km and the two km. The location has the advantage of being protected from easterly and southerly swells. My wife and I caught the ferry to Manly which is a very pleasant way to commute to the swim. It saved the hassles of driving and finding a park in Manly, and it is always beautiful on the harbour on a summer morning.

The one km course was similar to the Coles Classic from Shelley Beach to Manly beach, with the advantage of a vastly reduced field. This course is also very protected and goes across the aquatic reserve at Cabbage Tree Bay. There is always plenty of marine life to observe when swimming. There were several members of the squad doing the swim, though not as many as for the eastern suburbs events. We wandered over to the start line at Shelley Beach and waited for the start. The starters were very relaxed, which may have had something to do with the presence of Santa Claus with the water safety crew.

Once again I had entered two races, but this time I wanted to swim a fast time for the one km event. As my wave entered the water I took my usual place on the edge and headed towards the first buoy near Fairy Bower. This time the water was smooth and flat with only a gentle zephyr disturbing the water. This suited me just fine and I powered through the water.

There was only a small shore break as I entered the wave zone after rounding the point. I caught a small wave and stood up and ran fast (well fior me anyway), and crossed the finish line. My time of just over fifteen minutes was a very good time for one km, and I was placed in the top one hundred. A very pleasing result.

The only problem was that I may have swum a bit too hard and now I had to do the two km race. I was keen to beat Michael again, but he was canny and only entered the longer race. This race started at North Styne and then out to sea for several hundred metres before turning right to cross the reef into Shelley Beach. It then followed the one km course to finish at Manly Beach.

Keep those feet dry Santa

 

Once again Michael and I were in different waves and my wave entered first. By the time we started the sea breeze had just started up so the water was not as smooth as it had been for the earlier swim. Luckily there was only a small break to get through and I had managed to locate a small rip to help me get out.

The swim was enjoyable, especially crossing the reef near Shelley Beach. It is always fun swimming in places that are different in controlled conditions. I had planned to swim fairly steadily until I got to Shelley beach to save energy for the second half of the race. This time I followed the plan, and when we turned just off Shelley Beach I increased my speed for the final push home. After all I wanted to try to beat Michael.

The rest of the swim was uneventful. I crossed the line in a little over thirty-eight minutes to finish around half way in the field of just under 400 hundred. Unfortunately for me Michael beat me by a minute. Clearly his decision to miss the one km race worked for him.

It is great to swim at these swims on the northern beaches as the competitors are usually more relaxed than the normal eastern suburbs crowd.

 

Start at Bondi

I had wanted to swim in the famous Bondi to Bronte swim but had never done so. The swim starts at Bondi Beach and swims south to Bronte a distance of around two and a half km. It is held in early December each year and attracts a large number of competitors. This year there were 1,885 finishers to the race.

My fellow squad members told me that if I could handle the Wedding Cake Island swim at Coogee, then this swim would be no problem. So I entered the race. I was quietly confident as I knew my training had made me stronger, and I had swum most of the course before with my squad.

I arrived at Bondi beach to be greeted by a warm sunny morning and a gentle offshore breeze. The weather forecast was for a strong southerly change with rain and increasing swells expected around lunchtime. As my wave was scheduled to be the last one off the beach at 10.30 am I was hoping the change would be late. But as I did a warm up with the squad we felt the change hit. It instantly got colder, and the ocean started to change from mirror smooth to choppy.

The organisers had advised that as the water temperature was above 18 degrees (18.1 officially), competitors who chose to wear a wet suit would not be eligible for prizes. By this time I had put my gear on the truck to be transported to Bronte, so I could not retrieve my bag. I had no choice but to swim with only my speedos on.

By the time my wave time approached, the wind had increased in strength and the chop increased. I thought about walking to Bronte instead of doing the swim, but I thought it would be warmer in the water. The last two waves were combined due to the deteriorating conditions.

My wave started and I reluctantly went in the water. I told myself to take it easy as I had the strength to make the distance. I was the last swimmer through the marking buoys just off the beach, but I soon started to pass other swimmers. The chop was heavy and we were swimming straight into an increasing wind. This was going to be a test of my swimming stamina.

Part of the course off Bronte

Each stroke was a struggle as the waves and wind pushed me around. This was so much more difficult than swimming in flat open water. I remembered that I had to shorten my stroke to reduce the buffeting from the chop, but it still felt like I was swimming in a washing machine. Every stroke was a struggle to try to keep the body in a straight line and to keep moving forward. At times I could feel the chop pushing my legs away from me. I even found lifting my head high enough to get a breath quite difficult at times.

I approached a buoy off Tamarama Beach and it seemed to take forever to swim around it due to the impact of the swell and wind. I had caught a number of swimmers in earlier waves and I thought that they were struggling big time. I learnt after the race that a large number of people had to be rescued due to the combination of the adverse conditions and cold water. Luckily I was carrying a bit of extra weight so I was insulated to some extent.

I finally turned at the last buoy off Bronte, so there was not far to go. I was worried about the rip at that beach and the impact of the increasing swell on the shore break. Fortunately as I approached the wave zone there was a lull and I even managed to catch a small wave into the beach. I had made it. I saw other competitors wrapped in thermal blankets, and I felt sorry for them and the water safety people. Just after I finished the clouds opened and it started to rain.

The finish at Bronte

I was quite happy that I had completed the swim. Other people I spoke to who had done the swim many times said this was one the toughest swims they had ever done. Usually they advised the swim was beautiful and a joy. Today the joy was in finishing.

My time was slow just over one hour. My nemesis Michael had swum eleven minutes faster, but he made me feel better by saying that I had the very worst of the conditions. My memories of a top ten finish in my age group at Coogee the previous weekend were distant, as I finished 64th out of 112 in my age group  and 1150th overall. Yes I had struggled in the conditions, but I had made it. My stroke despite the conditions was strong the whole way. I now had to work on making adjustments to the conditions, and to try to increase my speed whatever the course presented. I was faster in flat water, but I knew that I would have to expect choppy conditions more often.

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.

After my trip to New York, I headed back to the squad to keep up the training. I was still in the second fastest lane, but I was slowly moving up the swimming order within the lane. I was finding that I was making more of the time repeats in the lane. That told me I was getting stronger and faster in the water. I had managed to swim over fifty km in training each of two months, so I was keen to see how much I had improved in the open water.

I entered the Cockatoo Island swim in Sydney Harbour and realised this was the third consecutive year time I had entered this swim. I even convinced a few fellow squad members to join me, even though they had  concerns about the possibility of sharks. I found this odd as they had no issues in swimming in the ocean with the “protection” of a shark net.

The start

Once again the weather was good for the swim, which was one of the first for the new 2012 swimming season. This time I was in the first wave, which was no reflection of my ability but a mere reflection of being over forty and male. I had a plan for this swim to swim on Michael’s feet around the island and then swim past him on the way back. We started in the water together but I lost him as we swum past the moored boats on the swim across to the island. Oh well that is the thing about plans in open water, they rarely materialise.

The course was very familiar to me, and I had learnt at squad training to breathe on both my right and left sides. So this time I could breathe left and look at the island as I swam around it. Once again I had settled onto my normal pace and kept it up around the island. Despite this I had the faster swimmers in some of the later waves swimming past me, and I had not managed to sight Michael.

Once I had swum around the island, I turned for home and noticed that most other swimmers had swum away from the turning buoy, increasing the distance they had to swim. I swam by myself for a while until I caught a number of other swimmers on the reach back to the finish line. I remembered the sighting drills from training and navigated quite well, and increased my pace. I made it to the finish line and was glad of the hands that reached down to assist me in getting out of the water. I was also happy that this swim was using timing chips this year, as it makes the times more accurate.

As I walked back to the Dawn Fraser Pool to get my complimentary bbq and fruit I kept an eye out for Michael. I had a choice to make: whether to eat the bacon and sausage sandwich, or the sliced mango (the fruit won and it was divine). When the results were posted I realised that he had finished nearly forty seconds ahead of me. My time though was two minutes faster than the previous year, and I had finished in the top half of the field. This was evidence that my swimming was improving. I was pleased with my efforts.

After the swim my wife and I enjoyed a walk down Darling St in Balmain and lunch at the Riverview Hotel which was owned at one time by Dawn Fraser. My thoughts turned to the swim for next week.

Brooklyn Bridge

We had been planning a trip to New York City for a few months, and my research had revealed a swim under the Brooklyn Bridge was to be held while I was there. I was intrigued by the course and the reputation of the waters around New York of being quite dirty. I had read of the exploits of Shelley Taylor Smith swimming the marathon round Manhattan swim and coming across bodies in the water. After some research on the nycswim.org website and despite the references to flotsam and jetsam in the water I decided to enter the event. After all how often can a resident of Sydney get to swim in New York? The cost was high compared to the swims in Australia, but hey it was all about the experience.

The actual swim was from Fulton Landing near the Manhattan Bridge, downriver to the Brooklyn Bridge and then across to the Manhattan side of the East River, a distance of about one km. I went to the swim course the day before so that I was comfortable with the location, and how to get there on the subway.

Another view of the course with both bridges

I had made contact with a fellow swimmer from Australia, Alan, who had swum the Governor’s Island swim previously. We agreed to meet near the start line.

When I arrived for registration I was asked if I was wearing a wet suit for the swim. When I replied no, they said oh you are an Aussie and you are used to the cold water then. When I enquired as to the water temperature I was told it was around 75 degrees (about 24 C). That was warm and I wondered why anyone would wear a wet suit.

The organisers wrote my entry number on my arm and told me I was in wave five of the seeded nine waves. I was not used to seeding as the events at home had waves based on age. So that was different. I was also told to be sure to line up in numerical order when the wave was called. I thought that was strange too, as the numbers we had at home were only for identification if the chip fell off, or for a medical emergency. Alan and I chatted about how warm it was, and how much the current was moving in the river. He was in wave one, so he hit the water first.

My swim plan was to swim as hard as I could to start with in order to swim away from the others in my wave. With any luck I could catch the wave in front of me who left a few minutes previously. I also made note of the briefing where we were told to keep the deck of the Brooklyn Bridge above us once we arrived at the part of the course.

The course under the bridge

As we waited for our wave to enter the water I looked around at my fellow competitors and thought that they looked different to the surf swimmers I was used to in Sydney; they had less of a sun tan and less sun damage to the skin. A guy behind me boasted about his long drive from Baltimore to do the swim. I asked him how long that took and he said about three hours. He asked me how long it took me to get there I said twenty-two hours on a plane. He was amazed. I also noticed a swimmer wearing Bondi Icebergs swimmers.

We entered the water at a small beach to wait for our water start. Fortunately I was towards the front of my wave so I moved to the front to  put my race plan in action. Soon enough we had started and I was swimming away from most of the others in my wave. By the time I arrived at the first turning buoy I had caught swimmers from the previous wave. I felt fast and strong knowing that all that training was starting to pay off.

I turned right at the buoy under the bridge and swam past those in the previous wave quite easily. I was enjoying the swim in the warm brackish water even though it was murky and it was difficult to see past your fingers. Swimming across the East River was relaxing, and I was even catching swimmers from wave three. I was starting to think that this was great and that perhaps I would be doing a good time.

But then the current hit me as I was about two-thirds of the way across the river. It was pushing me upstream, and I had to go downstream to get to the next buoy. I then realised that I had not swum under the deck and was off course. Looking around I realised that most other swimmers were more off course than me. I put in big strokes and remembered to try to swim across the current and not into it. After a few minutes of seemingly making no progress I got out of the current and made it to the stanchion. I looked up for the finish line and noticed that swimmers in front of me were swimming past the finish line and were having to swim back. I took note of that and aimed for the small beach just up-stream from the finish line to allow the current to push me directly to the finish. Before long I was standing up and was out of the water.

Coming out of the East River

I was thrilled and amazed that I had just finished the race. The Brooklyn Bridge is an icon, and I had just swum under it. I was floating on cloud nine and gave a big smile for the volunteers and my support crew. I was timed at just over twenty minutes for the one km whihc was a lot slower than my pool time for the same distance, but was a good indicator of the strength of the current. The time placed me in the top forty-five of the 320 swimmers, and I had finished eighth in my age group. That was my first ever top ten finish in my age group so I was very happy with that. It was also my best overall placing in a swim event. I thought I may have to swim here more often with those sorts of results. I had even managed to beat Alan, even though he was a far more experienced swimmer than me. It turned out that wave one had more of a current to deal with the whole way. Oh well the luck of the draw.

I was very impressed with the efficiency of the race organisers, and even more impressed with the gift bag containing amongst other things a t-shirt. I was used to buying them at home, so it was good to get one for free.

As I sat down to a nice cold beer at the presentation I thought that now I have competed in races on two continents. I had now swum in the Atlantic Ocean (well a tidal river that feeds into a harbour that goes into the Atlantic) to add to my races in the Pacific Ocean, and my swims in the Indian Ocean at Cable Beach in Broome in Western Australia.

Now I could enjoy the rest of my holiday knowing that I had achieved another goal.