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No go at Coogee, but Forster was good

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Had a lovely day in Forster with Phyllis (author's mum). The seas were perfect with the Westerly keeping the surface nice and smooth until we rounded the 2nd last Booey into the main beach and hit a bit of in-your-face chop. Water was crystal clear and the fish off the baths were everywhere – even saw a nice Blue Grouper. Only 69 took advantage of the conditions, and we thought how foolish everyone else was to prioritise Coogee over Forster! The clean waves at One Mile possibly peaked at about 4 foot but posed no problems getting out, though the pic looks much bigger than it really was (or seemed)!

Warren Smith

Organisers say...

Jack Burnham came home in 55.04 with Connor Shakespeare – 58.13 and Hayden Smith in his first Dorsal Club 2 Club swim – 58.35.

In the Ladies', Madison Carnegie again flew home in first position in 59.40 with Pamela Nix second – 66.00 and Forster local Allira Richardson in 67.03.

John Quinn


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To swim, or not to swim

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When today’s Coogee swim was cancelled, @alicejw3 tweeted, “When an ocean swim race is cancelled, there is always a good reason for it. Safety first. Good decision organisers…”

Indeed. Organisers will not cancel a swim without good reason. Not on race day, especially. Organisers are the ones who have slogged it out for months beforehand to get to race day, generally unpaid, to raise funds for their organising surf club. They’re the ones who’ve organised all the support services; the water safety support. They’ve done the marketing; they’ve bought the caps; they’ve applied for all the permits; they’ve crossed the ts and dotted the is; they’ve acquired the bread rolls and saucissons for the barbie. It takes money and lots of time. Generally unpaid. When they have to cancel due to conditions on race day, they’re the most disappointed players of all.

Swimmers are often disappointed, too, but for different reasons. Said one mug lair on Twitter after today’s cancellation, someone called @dtsirekas, “damn...I even slept in my budgies last night I was so excited about a big swell swim today”.

Yes, some punters love a swell, us included. But even swell-lovers are at a disadvantage when they front for a swim at a beach with which they’re unfamiliar, because they’re confronted with a break and a system of banks, channels and gutters with which they’re unfamiliar. Plenty of punters are at a disadvantage because they aren’t confident in surf, and if they’re not confident, they’ll make errors of judgment.

This was rammed home to us at North Steyne about 12 years ago. There was a 1.5 metre swell running, a good solid, swell, but breaking evenly in a light offshore breeze into good water on a bank. So it was not nasty, by any means. The gun went, but within a few minutes, we were struck that about 2/3 of the peloton either could not get out, or did not try. Most of them were standing around, chatting in the shallows. That’s when we realised two things: 1, the important thing for the punters is the culcha surrounding the swim, but you have to do the swim to access the culcha; and 2, how many punters either could not handle swell, or weren’t confident with it.

And 2/3 is a large majority.

forster main beach gm
Forster Main Beach, as captchered by frog counter Glenn Muir on swim morn.

We’re not saying the figure is exactly that now (in some swims, it’s more), but any swim with any appreciable swell will show the observer how many punters are shivering on the beach with nerves at the prospect of being sent into what they perceive to be a nasty, dangerous break. That’s not helped in some events by starters who knowingly send these punters into that nasty break at a point when that break is at its nastiest. That’s not them being nasty or of poor faith; it’s poor judgment.

Seasoned punters, especially the grizzly old codgers who’ve been doing it all their lives, will take a difficult break in their stride. As Max Smart used to say, “ … And, loving it!” But less experienced mugs are scared; they are nervous; and in those conditions, they can make poor decisions. It takes just a few milimetres of error in a nasty break to break a bone, eg a neck.

These are the considerations that swim organisers must take into account when they decide whether their swim can proceed in difficult conditions, or whether to call it.

Bear in mind, too, that few organisers make such a call in isolation. At Coogee, for example, these decisions are made amongst organisers, surf club captains – who are responsible for the life saving activities of the surf club -- and Randwick Council lifeguards. There’s a lot of expertise keyed into these decisions.

This is why we say, it’s not our place to second-guess the organisers on swim day. We said this after the Stanwell Park cancellation: they know their beach; we don’t. Our experience of it is marginal and infrequent.

On this page (above) is a photograrph by renowned artiste, Glistening Dave, taken of the beach at Coogee shortly after the swim was cancelled. The swell appears even, and it doesn’t appear to be that big, but the wave that’s breaking is dumping sharply onto a bank about 25 metres off the beach. Coogee is a relatively protected beach, in the lee of Wedding Cake Island and with rock shelves at both ends. But it’s also known for a sharp, nasty shore break. This day, the Glistener’s photograrph didn’t show the shorebreak, but the dump on the bank offshore was in line and pretty well constant all along the beach. You could tell that the bank was shallow, that there was size in the wave, weight in the dump, and that anyone caught under that could easily be in some discomfort. As we say, there’s just a few milimetres in it.

High tide was 6:47am, low at 1pm. So swim start would be around half-way through a dropping tide. Dave’s image was captured well before swim start, so you might imagine how the break might have deteriorated between the moment his shutter finger fell and when the gun went up. Already dumping onto a shallow bank, it would have been much shallower at start time, especially for the longer swim, and even shallower, and more dangerous when the mob came back in, half an hour or more later.

narooma sg tourists heavy sea
Something to sober us all up: Stan Gorton, editor of the Narooma News, snapped these "(overseas) tourists" in stormy waters at Narooma this morn. They got out.

Organisers know their beaches. The Mollymook organisers called their swim on Sat’dee morn, because they knew, even at that point, what it probably was going to be like by swim start, given the consistent predictions and swell forecasts over the previous few days. Mollymook awgies may have had other considerations, as well: theirs is a swim that punters travel to from Sydney and Canberra, as well as from up and down the sarth coast. Early warning thus gives travelling punters the time to make their own calls on whether they continue to Mollymook for a weekend in the Country Club front bar, knowing there is no prospect of a swim.

Oop north, at Forster, they watched, and they watched. At 6am on swim morn, the swell was just starting to arrive, so they held on a bit longer, knowing that, even if it then came up at swim start at One Mile Beach, they had the luxury on their north-facing, north coast beach of running as an alternative off that beach on an amended course in the lee of Bennetts Head. At the time of writing, we’re not sure how they went. Our cobber, frog counter Glenn Muir, tweeted a pic of Forster Main Beach with hardly any swell.

We’d been watching the swell forecasts over the previous few days. The Bureau of Meteorology offers a very interesting swell forecast map up to three days ahead of the event showing swell height and direction all around Stra’a. It’s colour-coded, so it’s entertaining, and it makes it easier to see where the swell heights are and how they differ. In the days leading up to this morning, it was predicting swell along our section of NSW coast of up to 6-7 metres.

How that translates to waves on the beach, but, is a mystery.

To us. Over that period, Hurley surf was predicting surf less than half that height, whilst Willy Weather, our favourite weather app (because you can easily find all kinds of data, including swell height and tides for pretty well anywhere), was more in line with the BoM. Perhaps one had adapted the BoM data for actual waves on the beach? (Maybe someone would like to explain it to us… click here)

All this info is publicly available these days, thanks to the electronic internet and smart phones. We are all capable of monitoring such forecasts and making our own decisions on whether to take part in a swim, and whether to enter it in advance thus avoiding the race day entry penalty. And organisers are responsible for making the event as safe as reasonably possible for those who do decide to take part.

Punters should get into the habit of watching these things themselves so their own decisions are better informed. Others do their best to inform you, but that doesn’t absolve the individual of responsibility, too.

Punters are looking at these things more than they used to. There’s a general smarting out there born of a rash of cancellations and postponements this season, more in a season certainly than we’ve ever experienced. Climate change? We’ve read credible stuff that supports the notion that the unstable and volatile weather we’ve experienced this season is affected by global warming, because of its effect on wind strengths, currents, and air temperature, etc. That’s another fascinating debate, of course. But in this debate, only one thing’s for certain: it’s hard to be an expert if you’re not an expert, and a blowhard who is not an expert is a dangerous, hollow thing.

Coogee awgies are rolling over today’s entries to their swim on November 30. Mollymook awgies also are rolling their entries over to their event some time around this point next season.

PS: When Coogee awgies cancelled their swim, around 8am on swim day, we sent an SMS to as many entrants as we could. In order to receive such an SMS from us, you need to leave a valid mobile number when you enter online. That means, just the number. No landlines; no international dialling codes (we're not going to be dialling you from overseas), and please don't put spaces in the number.

After the first 300-odd SMSes went in a flash, we were left with 42, which failed to send because their phone numbers were not valid mobile numbers. We were able to change 32 of these manually by removing the international dialling code (why anyone would leave an internatinal dialling code on a number in this situation is beyond us), then we sent to them, too.

We're sorry, we didn't get to send to those who'd entered through the Coogee's November swim. It was a little technically challenging for us on swim day, but we'll have it covered next time we need to do this.

Have your say on our blob... click here

Glistening Dave's photographic essay from Coogee

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fine ocean swimmers series

Coogee was the final round in the fine ocean swimmers series. All entrants will be credited with having done this swim, and the final standings will be posted on oceanswims.com over the next few days.

No prizes for guessing who has won.

We conducted random draws of all entrants for today's fos round prizes -

  • Olympus TG630 - Jeanine Allaous
  • View Swim Pack - Tim Green
  • budgysmuggler.com.au voucher - Lauren Jamieson
  • James Squire beer - Steve Orleow

Prize winners should contact us to arrange prize collection... Click here

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