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big swim dh 15 header
Surf skills can be useful in ocean swimming. We hear, Graeme Brewer caught a wave from the back and rode it all the way into the beach at Whale Beach. This isn't him, but it's groovy anyway. (Glistening Dave photograrph)

Big weekend for a swim (or five)

The Big Swim, Palm-Whale, Sun, Jan 25
MMAD, Mt Martha, Mon, Jan 26
Australia Day Swim, Williamstown, Mon, Jan 26

Jump straight to Controversy Corner... Click here

Glistening Dave was at The Big Swim...


So were we...


Angela van Boxtel was at The Big Swim, too...

To read Angela's blob... Click here

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Mona Vale awgie Jon Dibbs was personning a rubber ducky at Whale Beach, indulging his love of snapping pictures rather than rescuing people, although of course he'd have been on the spot had any rescues been called for. He got this majestic view of Whale Beach, the finish of The Big Swim.

Then, we went to the Great Australian Swim Sydney Harbour...

And so did Angela van Boxtel...

To read her blob... Click here

Created with flickr slideshow.


Book Six: Passion and Patience

Chapter Six: Where the bloody hell did you swim today? Mount Martha on Oz Day.

Australia Day, the day when we all celebrate just how blessed we are to live in this wonderful country of ours: we get together with family, relatives and friends to revel in our country's prosperity and in our freedom. My Australia day has been the same for eleven years now and although I did consider finding a different event to swim at, I just couldn't tear myself away from the tradition of diving into the pristine waters of Mount Martha for their annual Australia Day swim.

This event caters for all abilities, the 200m Nipper swim, 400m novice, the most popular 1.2km swim and the "crazy 5km event", now in its fourth year running. I chose the last, after missing last year's quite by accident, as places for this swim fill up fast. It's not open for entries on the day, but all other events are.

Wild winds the day before left me sleeping restlessly but I needn't have wasted the zzzzz's: the water was gently moving with only the slightest swell out the back of the rectangular course. A two-lap swim, psychologically this "race" shouldn't have been a hard one to get my head around, as I'd been swimming at this beach for the last few months on Sundays with the Mt Martha Icebergers. Another eclectic bunch of water lovers, this group joke and occasionally sledge almost as much as the Peninsula Pirates, but with a few less swear words in between. They're hard core, giving away the wetsuits and braving the chilly waters all year 'round (which I'm yet to do). Some days, they do reps between the poles; some days, it's ins and outs; others, it's a long swim from Mount Martha to Safety Beach. They're adventurous, brave and all in when it comes to participating in the MMAD event.

mmad ag 15 02

Where it had been pouring closer to Melbourne, Mt Martha was just a little overcast for the 8am start. Registration was open at 7:15 and was its usual well-oiled machine. (I've never, ever been able to fault the organisation of this swim. ) What sets it apart from others and what other swims, like Mornington, could pay attention to, was that it is one huge collective effort from all club members who make this an incredible event. They skimp on nothing; not on quality of the goody bag, or the design of the shirts; not on the amount or calibre of sponsorship; not on water safety; nothing. It rivals the best, like Lorne or Portsea, hands down.

I felt out of sorts on the beach. My bionic shoulder was hurting and, for some reason, I felt ruffled. I was met by a group of Pirates on the beach, six swimming the 5km, and Hoops was there, too, just for moral support. No wetsuit meant race preparation was swift and, with the men off first and the ladies about 3 mins later, I just wanted to get in there and take myself to the room of mirrors for a good hard look at myself. Goodness only knew, I'd have a long time to look. Mind in a fog, pushing away the messages from my shoulder, I dived into the water and, within an instant, felt like I'd been swallowed up in the most beautiful robe of warm, soft velvet. The water there is incredible. I don't know if anyone else has ever felt that before, but the water flowing over me was like a running knife through butter. Warm. Smooth. Delicate. Like a warm liqueur sliding down your throat. I felt instantly at ease. Balanced. Calm. And clear.

Earlier in the week, I'd been tweeting with @JodieM who was swimming at Williamstown on Oz Day (read her story here...) and we were discussing what you do to kill the boredom on a longer swim. She was doing her first 2km swim and we all know swimming longer can be a bit of a challenge, as you have an awful lot of time to talk to yourself while you're out there stroking away. We asked @mermanmarty and @Michael5732 for their advice too. Marty's swum the English Channel and Michael loves to go longer. Marty has a set play list in his head that he goes through, swims from feed to feed and meditates. Michael breaks the swim down into parts, counts his strokes and breaths, self corrects his technique and takes in the scenery. I did all of those, at different parts of the swim. I self-corrected when the shoulder twinged, looked around at the ocean floor trying to spot sea life amongst the sand and rocks, looked ahead at the point as a landmark, and marvelled at the eroded rocks. I counted my breaths, looked over my right shoulder as the clouds rolled over us and passed, closed my eyes and napped as the sun was in my eyes , sang Triple J's shunned song "Shake it off" a couple of times over, and just swam. Occasionally, I looked at the over–sized Garmin and checked the stats. It was all a very relaxed affair really.

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So did I race or just swim? If I looked at my perceived exertion levels, I'd say I was swimming at a comfortable 75% for the entire race. Rounding the second last buoy on the way back, it wasn't Mother Nature dragging me back but the Sirens today. It was as though they were reaching for my toes and gently tugging at me to stay with them. But after a little 200m tussle, they simply let go and left me on my way into shore. Surprisingly, I felt good. Two laps is certainly so much easier to deal with. I had fuel in the tank for a quick increase in speed as I rounded the last marker buoy and swum almost right into the deep shoreline in a time of 1hr 48. I'm no Thorpedo, nor will I ever be. Garmin tells me I swam 5.4km which is not surprising as I chose to swim wide on the back straight to catch the current. In all honesty, I'd forgotten how long 5km felt, but I'm glad to say I wasn't completely exhausted and could have kept swimming. Maybe I do have 11.2km in me for next year's Bloody Big Swim after all?

The rest of the day was magic. The beach stood to a complete standstill as one of the young club members sang the national anthem, then mayhem broke out and it was all systems go. The 1.2kms were all fast and furious, swimmer after swimmer threw themselves over the line in a continual conga line around the diamond shaped course. Newbies, oldies (like our oldest Pirate, Peter, all of 83 years) able-bodied, impaired, young whippets, pregnant, triathletes, ex-pro, etc. It was a real mixed bag out there.

Presentations took place on scaffolding this year as the old clubhouse has been demolished for newer, bigger, beach box style designed club rooms that are around a month off opening. This didn't detract from the efficiency of the proceedings at all. The club is growing every year with whole families qualified, like the Hilli family, all bronzies patrolling on the weekends. That's just the type of club it is. How much more Australian could you get?

The Peninsula Pirates took out the Swim team trophy again. I was lucky enough to represent the club to receive the trophy (my only chance to stand on the podium!) but it was duly noted that our competition has increased again this year. Even the new kids on the block, the Big Rigs, got a mention on the day... Keep up the great work, Big Rigs!

My next race is the Challenge Half Iron Man at Brighton on Sunday, where I'll be kicking off proceedings for our team,"A Date with AquaGirl and BikeBoy". Paul's been training the house down and Andrew's killed a few kilometres over the new year so we're looking forward to a great hit out on familiar turf.

Till next time,

Nicole Chester

Aquagirl's photo gallery...

...click here

Melbourne blue Stra'a Day at Williamstown

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Stra'a Day, Williamstown. (Pic by Annie Crawford)

Who would be silly enough to take up ocean swimming in the year they move to Melbourne? Me, that's who. In the month I decided to move to Melbourne, I received an email from a friend asking me to sponsor her for her CanToo swim. I did not know there was a program that could teach you to ocean swim, but I thought it was such a great idea that I signed up the next summer. Doing CanToo for the past four seasons has been great as it has helped me get over my fear of swimming in Port Phillip Bay, and I've made sure I've done a swim in Sydney each year - just to get more used to the open ocean, and waves.

In October, also I had the privilege of swimming the Heron Island swim. If you are an ocean swimmer, it is a must. Such a fabulous four days away and a lovely swim. It was hard to get back in the bay the week after swimming along with the fishies and looking at the coral on Heron Island. I also spotted a large Grey Nurse shark whilst snorkelling and did not freak out too much (she was relaxing under a ledge, so I knew she would be fine if I just left her there).

Swimming in the bay this season has helped me get over my fear of the dinner-plate-sized jellies. The helpful guide to marine life in the bay tells me they are Blue Blubbers - it seems an apt name. Getting stung by one showed me that it doesn't hurt that much, so I don't have to be so afraid of them anymore, but they are still yukky.

This year I decided to try something different and set my goal for 10km of ocean swim races this summer. Williamstown 2km swim gets me just over the half way mark with just North Bondi 2km and St Kilda 2.5km swims to go. I've done Point Leo, Point Lonsdale and the Pier to Pub in addition to Williamstown. It is great getting out there into unfamiliar water and challenging yourself, and the Pier to Pub is such a great day out. My challenge to myself this year is just to swim, and keep swimming, without stopping to rest or chat or have a look at the sights; I'm taking @AquaGirl72's coaching advice... Start-Swim-Finish. I didn't quite meet the challenge in this swim, but there are more chances to improve this summer.

This was my 4th 2km swim at Williamstown. One of the previous swims was when the swell was huge and we did the 1km course twice. That was such a fun swim. This year was great weather for a swim, overcast and calm, with just enough chop to make it a bit of a fight - my favourite swimming conditions (if there are no fishies and coral to look at). The temperature was about 15 degrees out of the water (freezing) and 20 degrees in the water (borderline too warm for a wettie).

Some people don't like swimming at Williamstown because they say it smells of petroleum from the nearby industrial areas. I have never had a problem with it, although I don't think I could do the big swim across the shipping channel because of the thought of swimming through an oil slick, and the field of jellies.

The smell of an ocean swimming race, for me, is one of the most memorable parts of any swim race. The mixture of cheap rubber caps, rubber wetties, sunscreen, the smell of the water and the fumes of the stink-boats mingle together for a unique combination - the unique smell of an ocean swim. For me, I love the excitement of the start, seeing all sorts of people of all ages compete, and the dedication of the lifeguards being out there for every swim, encouraging and protecting.

This year's swim was a bit different from previous Williamstown swims: the course went the other way, clockwise. Out from the start line, over the shallow sandbar and left around the first can, then towards the no-boating marker pole. Right turn out to sea for about 50m. Right turn again, and for me this is the start of the race: the very long back stretch that feels endless. I thought, if I can get through this leg, the rest is easy. The visibility was around 2m so, in the deep water out the back, you are swimming along just staring into the deep green abyss. I would not like it one bit unless I was out there with other people, and lifeguards in sight at all times.

The distance to the first can along the back was a bit too far and difficult to spot. Thankfully our CanToo Coach, Oscar, was on his ski and providing some direction, but I still felt as if I was swimming straight for Antarctica, rather than parallel to the beach. A few more cans along the back stretch were passed and it did not feel too difficult. Then it's around the corner towards the shallows.

This is where I struggled. From here, you know you are heading home, but it is still around 1km away, and the finish line is not in sight as you have the long rock wall between you and the beach. I had no excuses: I was swimming well, had no water in the goggles, I was not puffed, and had no physical issues; I was jut bored. I had fought the water, and had proven to myself, once again, that I could swim in these conditions, so where's the challenge now?

I suppose it should be the challenge of getting a good time, but that does not interest me much at all. So, after a little rest and a chat with a lifeguard I was on my way again. Just keep swimming: it's the only way I was going to get over the boredom and finish the race. I got a little lost at the zig-zag just before the no-boating buoy, and thankfully the lifeguard put his board right in front of me to get my attention to say I was just about to miss a marker.

The final swim home was great. I was happy to be finishing. Total time 57 minutes - my fastest time for the Williamstown swim, and on par with the times of the other swims this year.
There was one funny incident just before the start of the 1km race when the IRB went out to show the course, and went the wrong way. Apparently, it was being driven by the race director, too. One tiny (and funny) blemish on an otherwise perfectly organised day.

The Williamstown organisers make it a pleasure to participate: There aren't that many people, it's an easy beach to get to, the sound system and instructions are easy to hear, and they have fruit on the finish line, and yummy pies to give away too. (Actually, I don't think I have ever had one of the pies because of the absolute feast that CanToo puts on each year).

I will not hesitate doing the Williamstown swim again next year.

Jodie Miners


From all swims... Click here

Controversy Corner

Send us your rave on swims... Click here

Waft of 2-stroke

Also wanted to tip my hat to the organisers of Sunday's Palm–Whale. Cracking day, cracking event. Well organised.

As to the punter who suggested in the feedback section of your site that more IRBs were needed, the waft of two-stroke whilst breathing/puffing your way around a speccy headland in glorious conditions is unwelcome, but understood to some extent. No need for more.

Yours swimmingly,

Neal McCarry

Hijacked? Nous?

With all due respect, claiming that the Can Too Swimmers "hijacked" the Little Big Swim is quite disrespectful towards a great organisation who actively promotes ocean swimming to developing and intermediate swimmers, and contributes a great deal to cancer research.

I am sure that the Whale Beach Organisers would love to have us Can Too swimmers "hijack" the swim each year with ever increasing numbers, thus supporting local lifesaving clubs. Many also continue to partake in many other ocean swims throughout the season supporting even more clubs. In this swim program alone by "hijacking" the swim, Can Too has raised a whopping $212,560 (so far!)

With regards to the Little Big Swim, yes there was some confusion regarding the course. Can Too swimmers were briefed prior to the swim to follow a clockwise rectangular course pattern around 4 buoys. However in the chaos they were instructed (apparently by some Water Safety) to skip buoy 3 and swim across diagonally to buoy 4. Unfortunately I believe some chose to go back to buoy 3 after swimming around buoy 4 causing head on traffic against those swimming the course as per briefing. I would advise a simpler course design for next year with buoys spaced out for developing swimmers (such as a diamond swim pattern).

Otherwise great job Whale Beach. The Big Swim was epic!

PS: We proudly look forward to "hijacking" another swim on Sunday, Feb 8th, the North Bondi Classic. See you there!

Yours in swimming,

Eoin Doyle
Can Too Open Water Swimming Coach (Mona Vale)

Booee confusion

Just following on from Dave Garnham's email re the Little Big Swim, there was water safety/people guiding swimmers around the course but we were being guided from the 1st can to the 3rd can and told to miss the 2nd can. I stopped to discuss this with one of the board riders but he was adamant that we should go to the 3rd can. I ignored this advice as I knew that wasn't the 2nd can but many swimmers followed instructions and missed the 2nd can altogether, and went straight to the 3rd and then 4th cans whilst others were thrown into confusion and simply reversed cans 2 and 3 which led to collisions between the 2 cans.

Based on this, I would say that a great number of times will be skewed as many people will not have completed the whole course.

A bit disappointing all in all...

Tamsin Holloway


The recent Big Swim 2015 was an excellent swim, still not enough IRBs in the water, though, especially the rocky stretch to Whale Beach point.

On the NEGATIVE side, the Little Big Swim was a disgrace. The Cantoo swimmers hijacked the swim causing a lot of swimmers to get disorientated and confused and miss the markers. The markers were all over the place and no water safety to show the way.

Get it right, Whale Beach.

Dave Garnham 

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