Now that I had completed my first swim it was time to look at doing another swim. The best place to find out about ocean swims was oceanswims.com which was a website listing details of all the swims in Sydney and surrounds, and also let you enter them. I saw that there were not many swims in Newcastle, and I did not feel ready for a trip to the big smoke to swim against the hot guns there. There were three swims left in Newcastle: the Harbour swim on Australia Day over 1.4 km; the Cross the Lake swim a 3.8 km epic that had been running since Menzies was prime minister; and a 1.5 km swim at Caves Beach in March.
I knew I was not up to a 3.8 km swim, and did not feel like swimming in Newcastle Harbour which had a reputation for pollution. So that left the Caves Beach swim. I had grown up on this beach so I was very comfortable with the prospect of competing there. I knew that the beach was protected from southerly swells by a breakwater built by a dreamer to load coal for export to Japan. This dream never eventuated and it was now used by fishermen. There was also a couple of reefs which moderated any NE swell.
I decided to up my training schedule and for a few months swam in the pool four times a week.
The day of the swim arrived. It was sunny and warm and only a small swell running. I registered, said hi to some work colleagues who were on water safety and then walked down to the start line.
I was in the third wave with all the other males over 35. I looked around and thought some of these looked fit. I watched the earlier waves start and they were fast.
My turn to go. I entered the water and was happy that there was no swell to battle through. A large number of swimmers in my wave swam off and I was left in their wake. I knew that the course went near a reef and the swell direction would make it interesting crossing it, so I went wide. By the time I turned for home I felt fresh. I swam to the beach getting little assistance from the samll swell.
Now one of the features of Caves Beach is that a low tide it is a long way from the water’s edge to the surf club where the finish line was. And it was low tide. So then there was a run that seemed about 500m long to get to the finish.
I had finished. I grabbed some fruit and drinks pleased that I had completed my second swim. I had done a faster time (24.35), but of the 292 swimmers I had come 170th. I knew that if I wanted to get better results I had to lose some weight and get fitter.
My first season was over: two swims with a distance of 3.0 km. I was hooked, and I knew that I wanted to get better at this.
As part of my fitness drive I went on holiday to Europe and did a Camino walk in Spain covering 500 km on foot. I did swim in the Orkney Islands in late June. The water was 11 degrees, and my speedos provided little protection against the cold. I could not feel my feet after 10 seconds.
I also swam at Brighton in early July and the water was a lot warmer there, though the pebbles sure were hard on the feet. In both places I was the only person swimming.
What would be next on my swimming adventure?
So how did I get into ocean swims? I had swum for a couple of years in Merewether Baths with some friends from work. We would ride our bikes up the pool from work in the city (a distance of around 3 km each way) during our lunch break. We would then swim 1 km in the pool and we would do this a few times a week year round. Of the three of us I was the fastest due to my pool swimming when I was a boy.
I started this exercise regime to try to keep fit and to enjoy the salt water pool throughout the year. After about 12 months of this I was looking for another challenge, as I was getting quicker in the pool.
The local surf club then advertised a swim called Baths to Bar. This was a swim from Merewether Surf Club to Cooks Hill Surf Club on Bar Beach a distance of 1.5 km. So I enrolled in the swim and convinced a triathlete friend to swim with me. I was confident as I had swum at both beaches several times, though always within the flags. I increased my distance in the pool to see if I could swim 1.5 km non stop, and I could.
The swim was scheduled for late November 2008. Now November is an interesting time in this part of Australia. The air temperature can be 30 degrees plus, and the sea water temperature can be around 16 degrees. At that temperature it would be advisable to wear a wet suit.
The day of the swim was cold. The air temperature was 13 degrees with a westerly gale blowing (it was snowing up in the mountains), so the wind chill was in single figures. Luckily the water was only 15 degrees, and the organisers agreed to allow competitors to wear a wet suit. I chose to wear mine, my friend decided not to.
So we went to the start line, and I stayed warm due to my wet suit. I had not even thought how I was going to get through the break, and was intrigued to watch the elite wave get smashed by a big set when they started. I hoped that my wave would be more gentle, and luckily it was. I managed to get out through the wave zone without having to go under a wave. So far so good.
First buoy was off the beach and then you turned left to swim north. The problem was by the time I go to that buoy I was puffed, and I contemplated pulling out because it was so cold. However, I decided to keep going as my wife was waiting at the finish line and I wanted to test myself. So I put my head down and swam. I swam to seaward of the guiding buoys well away from most of the other swimmers. I was by myself most of the time, which I had planned.
After what seemed ages I turned left and followed the course into the finish line. The strong winds had reduced the swell so it was quite easy getting in.
I walked slowly up the sand exhausted. I had finished. I then had a chance to check my time of just under 27 minutes, and I thought that was quite good. My wife rushed over to tell me that my friend had finished a few minutes earlier, but he was very cold and was in the car to get warm.
So now I was an ocean swimmer. I finished 72nd out of 144 starters, and I was very happy with that. I had walked the length of that beach many times, but now I had swum it.
My first post to this or any blog. Wonder who will read it?
So I swim in the ocean, the harbour and rivers and race against others. Sometimes I swim well and am happy with my results. Other times I am relieved just to finish. Mostly I enjoy my time in the water and the challenges presented by water that is constantly moving. It sure makes a change from swimming in a pool watching the black line and the clock.
I look back to my first ocean swim in 2008 and I am amazed at my progress. My first swim was 1.5 km. Since then I have done many swims over 2 km, including two that were 3.8 km long. I have learned how to move through the break, and how to adjust my stroke for different conditions. I have managed a top 10 finish in my age group on a few occasions, but that elusive top three place still seems a long way off.
But really the swimming is not about the medals or the times. It is about challenging yourself, learning about and respecting the ocean, and enjoying the experiences with your fellow swimmers. It is about admiring those who swim fast, and admiring those who struggle to finish.
Since I started I have swum all over Sydney and even competed in New York in a race under the Brooklyn Bridge. There are races held all over North America, New Zealand, South Pacific, Asia, and Europe. Over time I might even get to a few of them.