Glencoe 5km

Part of the Glencoe course in Loch Leven

Part of the Glencoe course in Loch Leven

Several of my friends from Wild West Swimmers had swam at Glencoe in the summer of 2015 and thoroughly enjoyed it. So when the summer schedule was up, and the swim had avoided a clash with the Great Scottish Swim I thought I would have to do the event. For those of you with knowledge of Scottish history, you will be aware that Glencoe is infamous for a massacre by Clan Campbell in the later 18th century. That was high up in the hills through which the A82 road from Glasgow to Fort William runs, and whenever I drive that road I feel the brooding atmosphere of those hills pressing down.

The event was being held in a sea loch called Loch Leven at a place called Ballachulish. Despite having lived here for a couple of years I still struggle with some of the place names, but I have learned you just make a sound like you are clearing your throat and that is close enough.

A group of four of us drove for two hours north from Glasgow on a typical Scottish summer day with rain and wind forecast, and low clouds. The A82 took us up the side of Loch Lomond and I was able to look at the loch from the road, and compare it to the view from the water when I had swum it over the two previous weekends. It really was a long way to swim.

Competitors at the start of one of the earlier races

Competitors at the start of one of the earlier races

I had entered the 5km event in the afternoon, and we arrived early enough to register and watch the morning 5km event. The course was out to the left hand side of the island, turn right, then turn right again to return to the cove, and do that for three laps, with the last lap requiring a short swim out to the head of the cove and back to the start line. We watched the swimmers as they headed for the island, and I had already noticed that there was a strong current out near the island going from left to right. A number of the swimmers mis-judged this current and had to swim against it to get to the first turning mark. I made a note of this for my event.

The turn point inside the cove

The turn point inside the cove

I managed to catch up with lots of friends doing some of the other distances and took advice from them on the conditions. They had told me that swimming along the island with the current was fun, but that the current was pushing you towards the island and away from the second marker. Good to know.

We were marshalled for our event and as we entered the water for the in-water start I took note of the conditions. I planned to swim along the left of the course to wards the island, aiming for the left of the first marker, as it would push  in the right direction. It was good to do an event again when you had to think about some tactics as the straight line route would not be the quickest.

The hooter sounded and off we went in the normal splash of arms and legs. I was up towards the front of the pack and could see the van man and the not so slow one just ahead of me. My tactics were working well, and I went around the first marker on an excellent line and did not have to swim against the current. There were a group of four swimmers just ahead of me, and I swam behind them as we headed for the second marker, getting a big push from the current and wind. I had picked out the marker by using the peaks of the hills behind, and soon noticed that this small pack were not heading for the marker. That decision time, use the drag and swim further, or swim shorter by myself. I chose the latter, and when I turned at the second marker this group were 10 behind me.

Now this third leg was back into the wind and chop, and while it was easy to sight by the hotel behind the starting line, it was not an easy leg. But I was enjoying the challenge, and by the time I hit the third marker at the end of my first lap I was 50m in front of the group. Though I had seen the van man and the not so slow one ahead of me.

Lap two was a repeat of lap one, except the cloud had descended over the hill I had used for sighting. Luckily one of the rescue craft had positioned themselves in line with the marker to assist with navigation as the rain started to fall.

Third lap was the best as I was loving the challenge of swimming in the chop and current, and getting further ahead of the group behind me, though not any closer to those in front either.

I felt nice and strong throughout the race and even started to think that 5km was rather short after my swims of the previous couple of weekends. I crossed the line in a  good time of 1 hour 21 minutes, which was about 15 minutes quicker than the 5km race I had swum in Croatia at the end of June. not all of that was down to the wetsuit I am sure.

Swimmers gather for the briefing before their race

Swimmers gather for the briefing before their race

The event is very well organised and the setting is quite stunning. They have been unlucky with the weather the last two years, and maybe next year we will be able to swim around the back of the island.

It was a great place to have my 90th race, and we had fun sampling some fine food and whisky in one of the pubs in Glencoe on the return trip home. It was worth it just for that stunning drive.

Looking back towards Tarbet at the start of Leg Two

Looking back towards Tarbet at the start of Leg Two

After the first leg of our swim down Loch Lomond from Ardlui to Tarbet, we returned the following weekend for leg two. This leg would start at Tarbet Pier (where we finished leg one), and finish at Luss,  a distance of around 13km. We arranged to meet at Luss with one kayaker and five swimmers being the van man, the rose, the actor, the slow one and myself. The weather forecast was not great so the actor and the rose left their cars at Inverbeg which was at around the half-way mark, just in case. They were both carrying injuries, so this was a sensible decision.

As we left Luss, I was feeling a lot stronger than I had before the first leg. I had tweaked my swimming schedule and had not done as many dawn swims during the week, which I had hoped would have left me with more energy. The dawn swims at Balloch are magic, but with crawling out of bed at 430 in the morning, hitting the water at 545, swimming for an hour, and going straight to the office, the energy levels by mid afternoon are very low. So I reluctantly left them off the schedule.

Smiling faces all eager to hit the water

Smiling faces all eager to hit the water

However, I did do a fantastic swim around Inchtavannach one of the islands in Loch Lomond one evening with my swimming buddies from Wild West Swimmers. It was an evening swim with light rain falling and no wind. At the back of the island there is a narrow channel to the wallaby island that is quite surreal as it is quite easy to forget you are in Scotland.

As we set off from Tarbet there was hardly a breath of wind, and the low clouds were hugging the hills and Munro from view. We shortly passed Firkin Point which is the deepest part of the loch at over 220 metres, which I am told is even deeper than the North Sea. I did look down at that point and trusted that none of us would drop anything.

Feed stop at Inverbeg he halfway point

Feed stop at Inverbeg, the halfway point

As we swam south down the loch the five of us kept close together guided by our trusted kayaker. I felt much better I had last week, and was enjoying every part of the swim, and once again the scenery was stunning. Up in this northern part of Loch Lomond, the loch narrows with the hills  squeezing the water between them. It is so different to the flatter southern portion.

The view from the kayak of our swimming group

The view from the kayak of our swimming group

Before long I could feel the forecast southerly wind starting to increase in strength. We kept to the western shore to try to protect us as much as we could, but we had to swim around a point to cross a wide bay before Inverbeg. It was here that we faced our first obstacles: the twin menaces of jet-skis and head wind. As the wind picked up, so did the chop, and while I do not mind this too much, some of the rest of the group were starting to struggle. So we took a slightly longer route in a diagonal direction towards shore to try to find some protection from the chop. This worked, and it also took us away from the buzzing skis and let us swim in smoother water.

At our feed stop the actor advised that he would go to us car as he did not fancy the idea of swimming the next 7km into bigger chop. He had been battling an injury, and we all agreed with his decision to focus on his goal swims later in the season. The rose was also thinking about aborting as the call of her car was quite strong as well. I must admit it was tempting to join her, as I knew this next section would not be easy. It was agreed that we would poke our heads around the point and that she would make a decision when the waves and wind hit.

A shot of me smiling for the camera before conditions deterioated

A shot of me smiling for the camera before conditions deteriorated

Around the point we went, and instantly we were going straight into the wind and waves. The rose yelled good-bye to the three of us, and swam to her car. Up until now the van man and the slow one had been much faster than me. But now that we hit the chop I found that they were no longer pulling away from me. All me years of swimming in the ocean around Sydney paid off as the chop grew higher with the increasing wind. It was a case of putting your wind down and just focusing on each and every stroke as the waves hit you in the head. I tried not to look at the shore too much as it felt like I was making hardly any progress.

I knew that the finishing point was at the base of a hill line we were following. So I looked at the trees, and the sky, and over my shoulder Ben Lomond as it smiled at my futile attempt to swim into this wind. On an on I went as my mind just concentrated on my technique: catch, pull recover, repeat each arm, and kick for a change. Yes I was forced to kick to help with my balance in the chop. Normally when I swim these types of swim, I do not kick much, and only do it to relieve cramp, to circulate blood in my lower leg, or to assist with balance if there is chop.

My last feed stop, looking towards Ben Lomond for inspiration

My last feed stop, looking towards Ben Lomond for inspiration

This stretch of the swim which was around 5km was quite open as it is here that the loch broadens and the hills fall away. I did enjoy the challenge of keeping momentum, but I was tiring. I signaled to George our trusty kayaker that I needed a break on the shore to get one last feed. I swam past some open-mouthed campers who must have wondered what was going on. The other two had pulled away from by now, but I managed to have some gels and sugar sweets and a drink, and sat in the sun for a short while. I knew from the landmarks that I did not have far to go, as we often swim at Luss and is the location for our swim on New Year’s Day.

So back into the water, hugging the shore. Along the camping ground, around into Luss, past the hotel, and onto the beach. I felt great, I had done it, and I even managed to finish the swim with 30 metres of tired butterfly. The other two were only a couple of minutes ahead of me, and we were all smiles as we congratulated each other. It was a tough swim, but we had done it: a distance of 13.7km in 4 hours and 35 minutes of swimming, and just over five hours since starting at Tarbet. Five of us had started, and three of us finished. Of the seven who started leg one from Ardlui to Tarbet, only two of us had made it to Luss. In two legs the van man and I had swum just over 26 km in just over seven hours, with our favourite kayaker George never far away.

None of us could have done this swim without George. He was there to give us food and drink, to advise us on a better route to avoid trouble, and to make us smile with his wonderful turn of phrase. He also provided the photos for this entry. It was a team effort, and congratulations to all who played a part.

For me I knew that I had swum the length of Loch Lomond in three long legs and a wee small one over two summers. My next challenge is to try to do the 35km in one swim….another swim on the bucket list that does not seem to get any shorter.

 

 

Our kayaker and two of the finishers

Our kayaker and two of the finishers

 

 

The start of our swim near Ardlui on a still cloudy morning

The start of our swim near Ardlui on a still cloudy morning

Being summer time in Scotland with so many incredible places to swim, we needed a goal. So a group of us came up with the idea of swimming the length of Loch Lomond over three legs. Due to our busy schedules, we had planned to do the first two legs on consecutive weekends in July, and the third leg in September. Of course I had already done the third leg last year, so in my mind, I only needed to do these two legs to swim the length of this huge body of fresh cold water.

Loch Lomond is the largest inland body of water in the UK, based on surface area. It stretches 39km (or 24 miles) from one end to the other, and covers an area of 70 square km (or 27 square miles). The British Long Distance Swimming Association has a race here every second year where swimmers swim the length without a wetsuit; and various other swimmers also attempt to swim the length on a regular basis.

Tarbet looking tranquil

Tarbet looking tranquil

I regularly swim in the loch, but more in the southern third around Luss, Balloch and Aldochlay, and the only time I had been up to the top of the loch was on a bus tour to the highlands. We had arranged to meet at the village of Tarbet at 7 am where we would leave some cars. A drive of 13 km miles up to Ardlui awaited us as we transported the seven swimmers and two kayakers. As I looked out the window I thought this is taking a long time to drive, how long will it take to swim back? The weather forecast was not bad, with some cloud, a chance of rain, a bit of a westerly breeze, and of course sun: in other words a typical summer day. As the loch goes north to south, a westerly breeze would not be too much problem, as we would be protected by the hills that overlooked this body of water.

At Ardlui we all ventured into the water to feel that familiar caress of the cool water as it tickled the lower back. I was feeling a bit concerned about my preparation, as I was still getting over my illness from earlier in the month, and I thought I would be slowest of the group. As we started the others seemed full of enthusiasm, unlike me, as I thought about the four or so hours of swimming ahead of me when I was not in the right head space. I could have quite easily got out at this point and said give me the car keys and I will see you at Tarbet. The water did look inviting with hardly a ripple on the water as we stroked out into the loch.

A view back up the loch towards Ardlui

A view back up the loch towards Ardlui

Before long a pattern was established, with the van man and Macbeth fan leading, followed by our latest recruit, then the newly wed, the actor, then the rose of the group, and last me. It was good to have a kayaker near me most of the time knowing that I could stop and get food or drink at any time. As they all took off, I told myself that this is not a sprint, you know you start slow, just put your head down and wait for the body to warm up after a km or so.

If I needed to distract myself all I had to do was look at the amazing scenery: you certainly knew you were swimming in the Scottish Highlands with the high hills bare of trees with that particular Scottish shade of green that is now so familiar. It was stunning, breathtaking, distracting, inspiring, and so much more.

A squall about to hit us on our swim south

A squall about to hit us on our swim south

Our first stop for a decent feed was at a wee beach that wound its way out into our path, where a fisherman had left a chair. After an hour or so of swimming it was good to stand up and look around, and understand why people would brave inclement weather to camp in such locations. By this time I was feeling better, and we all enjoyed a short chat about how we were feeling and how supurb it was.

We planned to stop at Inveruglas which was the halfway point, where there was a power station fed by pipes from Loch Sloy. By the time we arrived here, opposite Inversnaid we knew there would be ferry traffic from the tourist boats that plied their trade here. But our kayakers were excellent in keeping us safe. We enjoyed some cool drinks of water (yes we carried our own despite swimming in some of the cleanest freshwater around), gels and sugar snacks, and yet another chat. We were all having a great time, and we all felt strong, and keen to finish this swim.

Wind from behind pushing us on our way

Wind from behind pushing us on our way

As we swam on, I noticed that the early feeling of sluggishness had disappeared, and by now I was enjoying the swim. I knew that I had the strength to do this after my swims over the last month or so, and also knew that my unique slow style would get me through. I was also noticing that I was now keeping up with the newly wed and the rose, and it was good to look around and see some other tow floats for a change. Of course if I looked ahead I could make out the others not too far away.

All of a sudden the wind picked up from behind. The first hint was the two float hitting my shoulders as the wind tossed it forward. Then, the small ripples we had been blessed with till now, climbing and making the body rock as the waves pushed from behind. I found that I enjoyed this, even though it made swimming harder, it also gave me things to think about to counteract the moving water to maintain my forward momentum.

The peak of Ben Lomond looking over us

The peak of Ben Lomond looking over us

By this time of a long swim, and it was good to be able to distract yourself with the scenery. I wondered how those doing long swims at sea would manage without nothing to look at except their escort crew and the ocean. We had the hills, the weather, campers on the banks and the roads that pass close by to distract us from our task.

Part of the A82 road built over the banks of the loch

Part of the A82 road built over the banks of the loch

As we approached the finishing point I knew I was starting to tire, so I headed to the bank at a wee beach to grab some snacks. I knew that Tarbet Isle was just ahead and that this was the last km or so of the swim. I had glanced at my watch at each stop to see the distance swum climb over ten km, then eleven. The rose had stopped with me as she was concerned about me (one of the great things about swimming in a group is that we watch out for each other and check we are ok). I told her that I just needed some replenishment, and that we were on the last push home.

Tarbet Isle almost at the finish and we are still swimming close together

Tarbet Isle almost at the finish and we are still swimming close together

So the last bit to the finish, and as you can see from this photo, we are fairly close together after three hours or so of swimming. Around the corner, and some of us started to struggle over the last little bit. I stopped and asked the latest recruit if he was ok, as he was stopping quite often. The newly wed was also finding it tough at this stage, but the rose slowed down to escort him. As the houses of Tarbet came into view there was that feeling of elation flowing through the body as the finishing point approached. As I clambered up on the slipway, I said to everyone, ok that it halfway down Loch Tay, how are we all feeling???

We had finished, we had all done it, and all of us looked tired and elated. We had the support of two excellent kayakers to help us with snacks, advice and looking out for us. Well done to all of you, you are inspiring and a joy to swim with, even if I was the First Australian again. Wow a 12.5km swim in just under 4 hours, my second longest swim ever. And next week we could do the next leg. A big thanks to Vince, Tony,  Alastair, Colin, Jess, Gary, David (great photos), and George. Special mention to Mark for his creative input for the concept.

The gang at the finish at Tarbet

The gang at the finish at Tarbet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Christmas spirit Manly Australia

My 100th blog post. When I started this blog it was to record my various ocean swims races or open water swims as they call them in the UK. I just looked at my very first blog, and it talked about places to swim around the world that I might get to. Well I have swum at all of them and more.

I started doing open water swim events in my former home town of Newcastle Australia in 2008. My first race was 1500m from Merewether to Bar Beach in what I then thought was cold water of 15c. I can clearly recall getting out through the surf and getting to the first buoy felling cold and tired. But I kept going and managed to finish my first race. Since then I have started and completed 89 races in Australia, Vanuatu, New York City, Croatia, England and Scotland. I even managed to win my age group a few times, and several top ten places overall.

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Ben Lomond reflected in Loch Ard in Scotland

But it is not just about the swim events, but also about the amazing people I have met, the places I have swum in and out of races, and where my love of swimming has taken me. It is an overused phrase these days, but my journey has been incredible, and it is still going.

I have learnt from each of my swims around the world, and they have helped me not only in the water, but also when I am dry. Even I could not have believed that I would be able to turn my hobby of swimming into working as a swim guide in Croatia for two summers.

Croatian islands from Kaprije towards Tijat

Some of the highlights are:-

Vanuatu swimming in 30c water over coral reefs and in blue holes formed by limestone with some of the clearest water I have ever been in;

New York City swimming across the East River under the Brooklyn Bridge twice, circumnavigating Liberty and Governors Island, and a cold dip on New Years Day;

Australia swimming near the Opera House on Australia Day, at Bondi beach, and three times across Lake Macquarie;

Croatia living and working on a car free island in the Sibenik archipelago for two summers, and returning on a holiday to a fantastic welcome home;

Swimming in lochs in Scotland in all its majestic beauty in summer with water of 14-16c, and in winter with water 4c and less;

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The castle or folly where we stopped for our first snack on our 10 mile swim down Loch Rannoch in Scotland

The incredible people I have met and swum with, trained with, and raced against. I have heard it said that swimming is a lonely sport, but the friends I have made from around the world who share my love of the water disprove that idea. For those of you who have swum with me in cold and warm water, driven with me to swims, listened to my advice on how to improve (and some of you even did take that on), followed me in my role as mother duck crossing a channel in Croatia, and everyone else who has inspired me, helped me, guided me and worked with me: I thank you.

When I started this post I was living and working in Newcastle Australia, and swimming a bit. Now I have completed 89 races, live in Glasgow in Scotland, and completed my first 10km race after doing a 16km social swim down Loch Rannoch in Scotland. I swim more, and while I may not be faster over 200m than I was 8 years ago, I know that I can keep going for 1km, 2km, 5km and 10km in cold water.

Now where will be my next adventure? Stay tuned, hang on, buckle up and catch the wave on my next 100 posts.

I usually like to put up some nice photos of each of my posts, but I have that many to choose from I have found it difficult to attach. So I have just picked out some that caught my eye as I looked over them all. I hope you like them.

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Fog over Town Beach in Newquay Cornwall England

 

The start of the race at Kingussie

The start of the race at Kingussie

One of the reasons why I went to Croatia was to get lots of swimming under my belt to prepare for my first 10 km swim race. The race was billed as the Highest Open Water Race in the UK, and was down the River Spey in the Scottish Highlands. Those of you with knowledge of whisky will know that this River is the source for a large number of producers of the national drink. However, it is also known as one of the fastest rivers in the UK, so when it was advertised I jumped at the chance to swim down a river.

I can remember sitting in Australia and reading blog posts and reports of swimmers who had swum 10km, and being amazed that anyone would do that. There was only one 10km race in Sydney from Bondi around the coast through the Harbour Heads to finish at Watsons Bay. I never thought that I would be able to swim that far. But since coming to Scotland I have completed two 5km races, swum 10 miles down a loch, and done several other swims of around 10km.

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Part of the course in the river

The course was simple, start at Kingussie, and then swim 9 km down the river, then one km across Loch Insh and finish at the Loch Insh Watersports Centre. But these things always sound easier than they actually are. A group of us from the Wild West Swimmers stayed in an amazing manor house not far away (thanks van man for finding this gem), and we drove up from Glasgow on the Friday afternoon.

We assembled at the finish line on Saturday morning, and I was feeling a bit nervous. I had done lots of swimming in Croatia, but I had not been in the water for two weeks, and on the Wednesday before the race I doubted whether I would be healthy enough to swim. I decided that I would get to the half-way point, and would reassess my fitness there. We got our race numbers, put our wet-suits on, and then waited for the bus to take us to the start. Finally it arrived and we were driven to the start, with a late change in plan to access it, arriving 30 minutes later than schedule. But this was the first year of this event and there is always likely to be a small hiccup or two.

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Loch Insh looking calm before the start

The briefing was held under the shelter of the A9 bridge with some large horses looking on. The water temperature was 12c, and there had been rain in the last few days so it was likely to be a nice push. The first feed station was at 2km, with another at 5km and then 8km. As I entered the water I thought of the non-wetsuit swimmers who had started earlier.

I had settled on the far bank for the start near the back, as I wanted to take it easy for a while, as it was going to be a long swim. I was hoping to finish, and then if I swum under 3.5 hours I would be happy. The race started, and despite their being 170 swimmers in the water in a narrow river, I was soon able to get a space around me and settle into my stroke. Yes it was cold, but I was wearing boots and a wet-suit, and I had been swimming in this part of the world for a while now.

Just after the start we had to stand up and walk a short way as the water was too shallow to swim. I was observing the different tactics of the competitors: some were cutting the corners for the shortest line; while others would use the faster flowing water on the outside of the curves to swim faster but further. I tried to stick to the fastest flow, and it was only 30 minutes or so before we arrived at the first feed station.

For this feed station, you had to get out of the water and walk down a designated path to a small island to get your food. There was no other way through, so I grabbed an aussie bite, and a cold drink and then went back into the water. Now for the fun bit we had been told about. For about 40 metres or so the water was fast and shallow so there was no option but to lie down and let the water take you. Wow, that was great.

By now the river was getting wider and deeper, so the water was not moving as fast. I had settled into my stroke and was feeling strong, catching other swimmers along the way. Before long the 5km mark arrived, and another feed station where I had a gel and more cold drink. I checked my watch and it said 80 minutes. I was impressed with the time and with the fact that I still felt great. So I decided to keep going. It was also great to chat to other swimmers, and some of the water safety who I knew from previous events.

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The finish line with no sun in sight

For around a km after the middle feed station, I was swimming with some others, with sometimes them in front of me, and at other times I was in front. There was no advantage in getting on their feet, as the current was coming from behind us. I really wanted to swim by myself, so I veered away from them and swam on the other side of the meandering river. Before long I was pulling away, and by now I knew I would finish. My mind kept doing the calculations, and I realised that if I swam the second 5km in under 100 minutes, I would break three hours, well inside my goal time of 3 hours 30 minutes. So I put my head down and concentrated on getting my stroke as efficient as possible.

At the 8km mark I had another gel and my time was well inside the three-hour mark. I was told that there were a few more curves and then the loch. So off I went full of energy feeling the gentle pull of the water as I dodged the rescue boats getting cold swimmers to safety.

Into the loch and the finish line looked so far away. By now a breeze had picked up and for the first time there was chop to deal with. I saw a couple of swimmers 100m or so in front of me and I was determined to catch them. I would swim 70 strokes and then look up, and each time they got closer, but the finish line did not appear to. Keep going I told myself, you can do this, you swam 40 k in a week a fortnight ago and you are feeling strong. Inexorably I caught the first swimmer, and I could feel a smile on my face. Then with the finish line only 200m away, I caught the other swimmer, and for the first time in 10km I kicked to get some distance.

The line got closer with each stroke and the loch became shallower, and before long I could stand up and get across the line. I had done it; I had swum my first 10km race and finished in under three hours. I felt elated and tired.

I caught up with lots of people I knew at the finish and watched the presentations. I was in awe of those who had swum 3 hours without a wet-suit. But the biggest cheer of the day was for one of the last to finish who we learnt later had a hairline fracture in his elbow from a stray foot at the start.

So back to our digs for a night of celebrations. All I will say is that you find out the craziest things about people when you go away for a weekend and have a few drinks (the words meatloaf and cornflake box are memorable). We had all finished our races, and a few of them even were on the podium.

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Just another summer’s day in Scotland

Driving back down the A( (the highway to the Highlands), a small convoy stopped for a swim near Pitlochry. Unlike them I did not go in as I was tired after my exertions of the day before, but they enjoyed a short dip without a wetsuit. The next adventure will be…well somewhere in Scotland I assume in one of the stunning lochs.

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A nice wee dip

The start line for the races in Split Croatia

The start line for the races in Split Croatia

After my week of swimming in Croatia, I had a couple of days to wait for my flight back to Scotland. I had thought of swimming around the island of Prvic Luka, which would be around 5km or so. However, I had not figured on the local knowledge of the guides. Water polo girl had heard about a swim event down the coast at Split, and had convinced the Guernsey lifeguard to go. They had booked a hire car, but needed someone who could drive a manual to get behind the wheel. So of course I said yes.

Before I go any further, i just wanted to acknowledge a significant event for this blog. It has just reached 10,000 views, which is not bad for a blog about that niche hobby of open-water swimming. So thanks to all those who have looked at this blog over the last four years or so. I have enjoyed writing it, and it has been an amazing journey so far.

Back to Croatia. The event was to be held in Split as part of Statehood Day. There were two races on offer: a one km event, or the marathon 5km event. We decided we wanted to enter both races.

The yellow line was the 1km course, and the red line was the 5km course of three laps

The yellow line was the 1km course, and the red line was the 5km course of three laps

We left the island at 630am to get to the mainland where we picked up the car in Vodice. I jumped behind the wheel to drive the manual transmission, the first time I had driven a car on the mainland of Europe. Due to the excellent navigation of water polo girl we arrived at the pool in Split in plenty of time for the one km race. When we registered for the event, we told them we wanted to do both races. They were dubious as there was an hour between the races, but we said we would finish the one km race well within the hour. As we got organised, some of our NYC red tide fellow swimmers arrived to do the race as well as they had stayed the night before nearby.

As the Guernsey lifeguard and I entered the water I told her that we were using this as a warm up for the 5k race, so I was not planning to swim very fast. It was an in-water start and it was great to see so many teenagers from the local swimming club doing the race. They all looked so athletic and care-free. Water polo girl translated the race instructions: swim up to the first buoy, turn left and head back to the start line, turn left again to cross the finish line.

So off we went, and the water was soon a churn of arms and legs as the keen young swimmers powered away in their youthful fashion, leaving us behind. I soon settled into my swim pattern, and before I knew it had reached the half-way mark. Around we went, with Guernsey close by at all times, on my feet taking it easy. Across the finish line in an easy 18 minutes or so (I learnt later that I was third in my age group for which I received a nice medal). It was great to see our Big Apple cousins swim the event and to see the huge smiles on their faces as they realised that they were now international open-water swimmers.

Smiling faces before the start of the 1km race

Smiling faces before the start of the 1km race

We had over half an hour before the start of the 5k race, and it was getting hot out in the sun. My move to Scotland has not helped me to cope with hot sun, so I made sure I had fluids and a snack. I talked tactics with the lifeguard as this was her first 5km race. I felt slightly more experienced as this was my third swim race over the 5km distance, though I had done several training swims of at least that. I told her that my plan was to go out at the same pace as the 1km for the first two laps,and then try to swim faster on the last lap. I also told her that you have to be ready to adjust plans depending on what happens in the water.

The start of the 5k...I am wearing the green cap

The start of the 5k…I am wearing the green cap

Into the water we went, and I told the lifeguard to stay on my feet or hip to get a good draft. Of course if I was going too slow, she could pass me. It was not long before we were in clear water with a group just in front of us. As I had swum part of the course in the earlier race I knew the direction to go and what to expect. There was a hint of a breeze, but mostly it was quite flat with little chop. The biggest wash was created when five naval vessels cruised up the channel just off-shore.

The first lap soon was over, and I had slipped about 20 metres behind a group of three swimmers. I decided to try to catch them and get in their draft. Over a few hundred metres, we caught them and I stuck to the hip of the front swimmer who had a nice relaxed stroke. After two laps, I still felt strong and I had the noticed the lifeguard was right behind me and had got too distracted by the sight of powerful athletic locals in  not. For the third lap I sensed that the group we had been with were starting to slow, and I also knew that after a week of swimming twice a day I would be strong. So I increased my pace with the aim of pulling away from this group. Over the next half lap we inched away, 2 metres, then 5, then 10, and at the turning point we were 20 metres in front of them.

Our next target was another group of two swimmers,who we quickly passed as we headed for home. Another group just in front was the next target and I concentrated on my technique to close the gap. About 400m from the finish line we past them as well. I looked over my shoulder and I was happy to see the lifeguard on my hip. She pulled up level with me and we went stroke for stroke as we powered towards the finish line.

Almost home and it is neck and neck between us

Almost home and it is neck and neck between us

We turned at the start line with only 30 metres to go. Part of me wanted to let the lifeguard beat me, but another part said no. I was half a length behind her and now it was time to start kicking, and not one of those slow two beat kicks. I brought in the six beat kick determined to beat her. The photo above shows the lifeguard in the red Wild West Swimmers cap, and me in the green Pier to Pub Inchmurrin cap.

So what happened. Well they say a picture paints a thousand words.

The finish line

The finish line

The best bit was to see the smile on the lifeguard’s face as she crossed the line for her first 5km race.

Great swim

Great swim

As we exited the water, the red tide folks were still there, (they took some of these great photos). We had finished, we felt strong the whole way, and my time was 96 minutes. We had swam away from other swimmers, and I honestly felt that I could have gone another 5km or so.

The presentation was held, and water polo girl was 2nd female overall, and the lifeguard was 3rd female overall. Huge effort from both of them. We left to drive home, not having time for the free bbq tuna steaks, and chatted about the race, until our back seat passenger nodded off, tired after her efforts in the water. So much for a relaxing day off.

So a huge thanks to the guides for talking me into doing these bonus races; thanks to the red tide gang for cheering us on, and swimming themselves. It really was a memorable way to finish off my swim week in Croatia.

 

 

The village of Lopud in Southern Croatia

The village of Lopud in southern Croatia

I had made arrangements to return to Prvic Luka for some more swimming in the Adriatic Sea. However, before going there, we decided to visit the city of Dubrovnik in southern Croatia. Dubrovnik is a city that still has its old town that draws visitors from around the globe. It is so stunning that it is used in movies such as the Star Wars series, as well as the setting for Kings Landing in the Game of Thrones saga. It was my first visit to the city, and I have to say it really is as amazing as all the pictures show. We spent time in the city, but found that it was very crowded during the day as the the cruise ships that arrived in the town each day dumped their loads. Once these ships left each afternoon (and there were at least three to four ships in port each day we were there), the old town became quieter. It was fascinating to wander around the alleys and walls and soak up the atmosphere of this special place.

We also managed to get across to a rare sandy beach at Sunj Bay on the island of Lopud. It was a pleasant 55 minute ferry ride to the island. I was rewarded with a short swim and body surf (the first in over two years) at the beach punching into the chop generated by the un-seasonal onshore breeze that blew in from the south. This did make the ferry trip back to Dubrovnik a tad bouncy with some two metre swells in the channels between the islands in the chain. I also managed to have a nice swim in Lapad Bay one afternoon.

A sunset view towards Kolocep and Lopud

A sunset view towards Kolocep and Lopud

After a few days in Dubrovnik, I boarded a bus to Sibenik. This journey which took 7 hours is one of the most amazing roads I have ever been on as it follows the twist and turns of the coast north to Split and then Sibenik. I had chosen the slow bus on purpose to allow me to see more of the country, and I was glued to the window most of the way watching the towering peaks meeting the Adriatic in a never-ending vista of awe. There were numerous times I wished that I was driving myself so that I could stop in a little village and go for a swim. All those islands, all that history, and all that beauty. I will have to try to get back there again and explore in more detail.

Just another view on the road between Dubrovnik and Split

Just another view on the road between Dubrovnik and Split

After getting off the bus in Sibenik, I waited for the ferry that would take 40 minutes to get to Prvic Luka. This was the first time I had returned to the island since 2014, and I was looking forward to catching up with all the locals that welcomed me in previous years. I was hoping to get lots of swimming during the six days in preparation for a 10km swim in Scotland in mid July.

Upon arrival I was greeted with affection by Filip at the hotel, and also Dado, one of the best waiters I have seen. It was great to see them again, and catch up on the news of this very special place. They did tell me I had 45 minutes to prepare for the safety briefing and acclimitisation swim. As I sat at the briefing I wondered what the week would bring with a total of 15 swimmers from the UK, Canada, US (East Coast and West Coast), and Australia, ably led by Kelly and Pip.

Prvic Luka at dawn

Prvic Luka at dawn

This was my first trip where I was able to swim in the morning and afternoon for five days straight. I was hopeful that I would cope with the distances and pace set by my fellow swimmers. I was also keen to swim in just my swimming costume once again, and to also use the tinted goggles for the first time. On the first day, we did a nice swim along Zmajan, and an afternoon swim along Prvic Luka for a total of just over 5.5 km. The second day we sailed south to get out of the wind, and we did 6.6km for the day. Day three and by now I had worked out that I was slower at the start then the rest of my group, but after  twenty minutes or so, I would start to catch them, and then sometimes even slowly pass them, before joining one or two others to swim a final 800m or so. On day three we did a gorgeous three island loop into Kaprije in the morning, and another coastal in the afternoon for a total of 6.7 km.

Some of the islands near Prvic Luka

Some of the islands near Prvic Luka, with Zlarin the hilly island int he background

By day four I was enjoying swimming with my group, as we mostly swam very close together at a similar pace. Most of the time the six of us were within 50m or so of each other, and it was always good to have someone near you. Day four brought our first crossing to the island of Zlarin. I told the guides that I would escort four or five of the slower  pink group on this 3km crossing, which featured a navigation marker on a reef at the half way point. I gathered my group around me and told them that I would go straight to the marker and that they should stick on my feet the whole way. I also had Jamie from my group to act as sheepdog in case any of them went of course. I told them the first stop for drinks would be after a mile or so at the marker.

Well this was one of the most enjoyable swims I have done for a long time. I set out at a steady pace, and whenever I looked over my shoulder, all I could see was the five pink caps and Jamie right behind me in a line. It looked like a mother duck taking its ducklings for a paddle. When we started, there was no wind, but as was typical for this time of year, a light breeze came in as we swam, creating a small chop. I had used Zlarin as a sighting point for the marker, and after half an hour of swimming we had made it there. We had our drink, and then talked about the next leg to Zlarin. Once again I was in the lead, and this time was tougher as the chop increased from our left, and the current pushed us to the right. But the ducklings hung in there, and we all made it across. The group was so overjoyed that they had swum that far, as I am sure some of them had never swum that far before. I felt proud that I was able to help them achieve their goal.

Day five and we did another tough crossing, this time from Kakan to Zirje, before a nice coastal swim around the top of Kakan in the afternoon.

All up during the week I had swum just over 30km in the six days of swimming, and while I was tired, I was happy to have achieved that much. At the start of the week I would have been happy with 20km, or maybe 25, so to get to 30km was huge.

But the most important thing about a week like this is the opportunity to meet people from around the world and find out about them, as they share their love of open-water swimming, in a place that is made for swimming. It does not matter what way the wind blows, there is always somewhere that you can get into the water.

Prvic Luka through the trees

Prvic Luka through the trees

It is not only the people on the trip that this week special. Yes the guides were their usual very high standard, and yes the others on the trip were nice folks as well. But it was the locals who welcomed me back into their world like a  member of their family that I will always remember. I am already thinking about my next visit.

This last photo was taken by Jamie and it features the Strawberry Moon rising as the sun sets. The Strawberry Moon is when the full moon falls on the summer solstice., which happened in 2016 for the first time since 1967. This is a great photo, so thanks Jamie for letting me us it.

Full moon at sunset

Full moon at sunset

Balloch early morning in the sun

Balloch early morning in the sun

The glorious weather continued after the Bardowie race, with sun from dawn to dusk for two weeks. At this time of year dawn is around 430am, with sunset about 10pm, and then the long twilight takes over, with complete darkness a mere dream of colder days. The local media were talking about the heat wave as the maximum temperature sat above 20c for days on days. Memories of the stunning summer of 1976 were rekindled with nostalgic reminisces of the times when the tarmac melted and you had to sit on a towel in the car. Sounds like a normal spring summer and autumn in the and of my birth.

But I have to mention that when the weather is like this, there are few places on the planet that are better. A relatively gentle sun, no flies, sunburn risk is diminished, the long twilight, and the sun on the lochs and glens glinting off those amazing shades of green that are so different to the brown hues of my former home.

The other good thing about the sun is that it quickly warmed the water up in the lochs, making it warm enough to shrug off the wet-suit. Yes, I have graduated to swimming in Loch Lomond in skins, sans wet-suit. And it felt great to have the warm 15c water caressing the skin, as I swam in my normal swimming spots. Sure, I was lower in the water, and swimming slower, but this was fresh water and it required me to focus on my technique and not rely so much on the assistance of the wet-suit that helps so much with body position. Yes it was harder to swim, but it was fantastic to have moved beyond the wet-suit for the first time in a few years.

Royal West of Scotland Amateur Boatmans Club at Greenock on the Clyde River

Royal West of Scotland Amateur Boat Club at Greenock on the Clyde River

We had been contacted by Joe from the RWSABC to see if we wanted to take part in the one mile race at the club as part of their 150th birthday celebrations. A few of us jumped at the chance to compete in this event. The club is based at Greenock which was one of the main deep water ports for Glasgow at a point where the river enters the Firth of Clyde. The place is stepped in history with lots of fine houses fronting the two-mile wide river. Unfortunately the town has suffered along with a lot of other places in this part of Scotland, due to the collapse of the ship building industry, and the slow death of heavy industry. It was only 100 years ago that ships built on the Clyde comprised one-third of the merchant navy in the British Empire, and they even fitted out part of the RMS Titanic.

A view of Dumbarton on the Clyde River taken form the train to Greenock

A view of Dumbarton on the Clyde River taken form the train to Greenock

A few went down the river to have a couple of swims on a Friday night in the weeks before the swim. It was only about a 40 minute drive from Glasgow, but it was to a part of the region I had not visited before. The first time we swam the 2km course up to the yellow marker and back, I was in the water for 32 minutes on a still evening with no tide running. A seal even popped its head up to watch us as we exited the water. The second time was into the outgoing tide and wind, so the one km up took just under 30 minutes: but the way back was a slighter quicker 15 minutes.

I mentioned earlier that Glasgow had been having a few weeks of summer with lots of sun, and virtually no wind. Well the day of the swim meant an end to that, with cloud, rain, and a fresh breeze on the water. I felt sorry for the club, as they were celebrating their 150th anniversary, but at least the sailors would be happy. I was amazed that this club has been in existence since 1866, when my home nation was a mere collection of colonies, when the USA had just gone through a destructive Civil War, and the first telegraph cable was laid across the Atlantic Ocean linking the UK and North America.

The beach in front of the club, with part of the course visible

The beach in front of the club, with part of the course visible

My friend Vince and I had caught the train from Glasgow for a change, and as we arrived at the club we noticed the fresh breeze, and the chop. As we put our wet-suits on in the change room we chatted to some of the other competitors, and one of them talked to me about the swimming he had done in Sydney at Manly, Bondi, Bronte, Coogee and Clovelly, as well as Bondi Icebergs.

The briefing took place upstairs at the club, and the race was to be two laps of a half mile course starting on the beach, out to the first buoy, then up river to the first slipway, return to the first buoy, back to the slipway, and finish just off the beach. We stood on the edge of the water, the 30 or so invitation swimmers, and we had our warm up: it was quite cold, being at most 12c, making my feet shiver. I was in awe that my friends Gary and Emma had chosen to do the race without the wet-suit on.

The race started, with most of the competitors on the left had side.. However, I had walked a short way down the beach with anther swimmer so that I was closer to the first mark. In we went, straight into the chop, and it was fantastic. Around the first bout I was surprised that I was in third place, thinking that other swimmers would soon catch me. We headed down to the slipway marker, and it was not easy into the chop and the wind, making sighting difficult. Before long another swimmer joined me, and I did manage to sit on his heels for a short time, before the chop separated us.

Around the slipway mark, and I was in fourth spot, and all I could think of was that Vince would surely pass me soon. Back down to the first mark was a lot easier, with the chop working with you. Around that mark again, and then the hard slog back to the slipway, and still no-one went past me. I noticed the front swimmers were around 100m in front of me by this stage, and I knew I would not catch them.

Around the slipway mark for the second and final time, and it was time to push hard for the swim home. Before long I was coming into the beach, and I tapped the marker to which was the finish line. As I exited the water I noticed that Vince was standing on the beach in front of me, and I realised that he had passed me before the first mark. If only I had not told him about the swim, I would have finished in third place. I wandered over to the timekeepers and they told me I had finished in fourth place, and my time was just over 26 minutes. Once again I was the first Australian to finish.

The cap and the medal from the swim

The cap and the medal from the swim

Vince and I stayed on the beach and waited for Gary to finish in first place for the male non wet-suit, then Emma as first female non wet-suit, and then John coming in a very credible 27th place. Our little band of swimmers from the WWS had managed 1st, 4th, 8th, 24th and 27th.  had once again enjoyed my swim in the salt water, and the challenge of swimming in the chop in cool water. My first salt-water race since Easter 2014 at Terrigal in Australia.

We enjoyed our hot shower, and our cold beers as the band played and we watched the sailing events. We stayed for the presentation, then caught the train back to Glasgow. A big thanks to Joe for organising this event, I think I will try to get down to the club for one of their social swims, or even their big swim across the Clyde.

So another swim in a new location, with new friends made. I wonder what will be my next adventure on this open water swimming adventure.

Another balmy summer day in Scotland, with my medal in front of the club

Another balmy summer day in Scotland, with my medal in front of the club

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A view of part of the swim course at Bardowie Loch on a warm Scottish morning in late spring

The weather in Scotland had been up to its usual keep the weather forecasters busy form. In the last few days of April it snowed in Glasgow, and then a few weeks later the spring sunshine broke through the murky cloud to shine brightly on the spring flowers. All through April I had been swimming in stunning places like Loch Chon, Loch Ard, and of course Loch Lomond. As the water warmed up, my time in the water increased until I was staying in for 45 minutes or so.

By the time May arrived, the sun came out for a few weeks warming the waters of the lochs and quarries to almost tropical temperatures of 14c. That was fantastic, as I could then get the benefit of my winter swimming and stay in the water for an hour or so each time. I could also look on at those other swimmers who were entering the water with trepidation for their first swim of the new season, with a sense of recognition about been in a similar position only one year earlier. I too struggled to get over several decades of acclimitisation of not daring to go for a swim if the water dropped below a freezing 15c.

The last weekend in May was the date for the Bardowie Loch Swim Festival. This small loch is on the northern outskirts of my new home city of Glasgow, not far from the impossible to pronounce correctly unless you are a local, Milgavnie. I had entered the swim to get some race practice in preparation for the summer ahead.

 

One of the Queen's swans surveying the course

One of the Queen’s swans surveying the course

There were two swims on offer at this event, the one km, and the two km, and like most events in this part of the world, it was not possible to do both. So I entered the two km race, as I had been able to get some decent training swims under my belt in the weeks before the swim.

Race day was cloudy and warm with hardly a breath of wind: perfect swimming conditions. In addition, the long hours of sunlight over the previous week had heated the water to a very pleasant 15c. It is one of the delights of living in Scotland that at this time of year the hours of sunlight go from 4am until 10pm, so when the sun shines it really warms things up.

I managed to have a chat to a few people I knew, such as Chippy John who I swam with at the Beastie Swim in Loch Lomond last summer; and Skins Dave who enjoys swimming without a wetsuit. I also had a chat to my Rannoch kayaker Stewart who was in charge of water safety for this event, and we chatted about long swims we might do later in the summer.

Some of the swimmers towards the finish of the event

Some of the swimmers towards the finish of the event

As I entered the water for the warm up, I did not get that sense of chill from the water, and it actually felt quite comfortable. Good to see I was getting used to the water temperature and I even thought of doing the race without the wetsuit. But that thought was quickly dispelled as I edged towards the start line under the eyes of the starter. I got an excellent start, though there was a view I might have gained a 0.5 second advantage, but the starter did not call me back, so I kept going. I had started on the left hand side of the course, and I could keep my eyes on the rest of the field who had started on the right.

Up to the first marker, and I was swimming comfortably, with around a dozen swimmers in front of me. The water was still nice and warm, even though I was not wearing any boots or gloves, and only one thin swim cap. By the time we turned at the top of the course, I was swimming close to  couple of other swimmers, and when they were swimming a good line, I would get on their feet for a wee drag. I was feeling good, going at  good pace, but with plenty left for the second lap. Around the bottom mark and I took a good line close to the buoy, and took a couple of lengths off the person in front of me.

I had thought that the pack of three I was swimming in on the second lap was starting to tire, so at the top mark, I increased my pace and tried to pull away from the other two. By the next marker, I had put 20 metres on them, so I then focused on catching the person in front of me over the final 300m of the course. With each stroke I could feel myself getting closer, as I increased my stroke count and pace. With 40m to go I had caught him and passed him. Over the line, finished.

I had managed a credible sixth place overall, and I was happy with my pacing, my navigation, and my race skills. My time was also just under 32 minutes for the two km distance, which I was also very happy with. Not a bad way to celebrate my 85th open water swim race.

For all those Australians out there who used to beat me easily in races around Sydney, please do not come to Scotland. You would hate the lack of sand, waves, swell, sea-creatures, sunburn, heat, flies and also you would not like the cold water. As for the scenery in Scotland, well sometimes it is so stunning that you just want to stop and stare.

Some of the water safety crew debriefing

Some of the water safety crew debriefing

Another well run event, on a glorious late spring day in Scotland. Does it get better than this? Well we could debate that another time.

My next event is a 10km swim down the River Spey (the famous whisky river) in July. But of course I will be swimming outdoors quite a lot before then, and I might even try it without the wetsuit….

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A snow-capped Ben Lomond shining over Loch Ard on a stunning winter’s day

I was determined to swim through the winter in Scotland; and by that I did not mean swimming in an indoor pool. I meant swimming in the lochs in the bracing water. This was coming from someone who grew up in Australia where the winter swimming clubs had to put ice cubes in the water to make them colder; a place where if the sea temperature dropped to 13c it was a cold winter, but if you waited a couple of weeks it would start to warm up again.

I knew a hardy bunch of swimmers who swam as often as they could in the winter. As the hours of daylight are so short, this usually meant a swim on a Saturday morning in a loch within an hours drive of Glasgow. I had the advantage of swimming in the summer, and not stopping, which enabled me to adjust as the water temperature dropped from 14c to 12c, then to 10c, then 8c. Over the winter I regularly swam when the water was under 5c, a temperature which is cold enough to qualify for an ice mile.

I must warn the reader that swimming in cold water can be dangerous, and you should be aware of the risks before you venture in. When the body first enters the water, it adapts to the threat of the cold water by a process known as cold water shock. Your breathing becomes short, your heart starts to race, and the body tries to ensure the vital organs are protected by reducing the cold blood moving from the arms and legs.

When you enter the water, it feels cold on the legs even in a wet suit, and sometimes it eels like the water is just never going to warm up. Then you lie flat on the water, and question why are you doing this, as the trunk feels the squeeze of the cold water. Once the breathing returns to normal, then it is time for the hardest bit, putting the face in the water. At first it hurts, especially when the water is under 5c. But soon the face soon feels numb and you do not notice. Then you start swimming, being very conscious of always swimming within your limits and ensuring there are emergency exit points available at any time.

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Loch Ard on a moody day in late autumn

As you leave the water, you try to get the circulation going n the fingers again, and hope that you will be able to do up your shoe laces and buttons.

So why do I do it? Well there is a huge sense of achievement in swimming when the water is cold, seeing the stunning lochs from a different vantage point, watching it change from autumn with the colours, to the starkness of winter, and then the promise of life in the spring with the blooms. There is something quite special about swimming in a cold loch and looking up to see snow-capped hills around you, seeing your breath on the still cold air, and hearing the silence of the loch interrupted by the slap of arms as they hit the water in their rhythmic patterns.  Of course, there is also the nice hot coffee sitting around an open fire after the swim, as our group of intrepid swimmers talk about the swim.

Some days the swim seems like it will never end, with the arms feeling heavy, and the breathing always too fast. Other days, it feels more joyous, and you feel like you could stay in for at least 30 minutes if you are lucky. I can even remember one day at Loch Chon swimming up one side of the loch as the other side was covered in ice, and finding it almost impossible to swim front crawl due to the pain on the face. I learnt that the water temperature that day was 0.5c, and -3.5c under the ice, and even heard the ice hum as I swam past it, something that I had never experienced before.

But there are two things that make it worthwhile: the stunning scenery in Scotland; and the wonderful people from the Wild West Swimmers who I swim with. A special mention must be made of those who swim in only a swimsuit all year: Mark, Emma, Kathryn, and Karen (and any others I have inadvertently missed).

Some times at the end of my swim, I take off my boots, gloves and wetsuit, and just sit in the water for thirty seconds or so, full of admiration for those hardy souls who shun neoprene. Maybe next year I will venture out for longer with less. I do know that as the water warms up in the summer, I will not feel the cold and will be able to swim for longer and longer as part of my training for the summer season.

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A murky February day at Balloch on Loch Lomond with snow on the Luss Hills