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Caves Beach Ocean Swim from Chris Ivin / One World Images on Vimeo.

Thinking of you, Dad

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George Mullins.

We were bobbing around by the far-out booee off Freshwater, taking pitchers of the peloton as it mooched past, slower, ever slower as the tail approached. As the tail gets closer, the swimmers get slower. One of the last swimmers around appeared as just a mop of brown hair, long, waving and washing in the sea. Another one with no cap, we thought. There are too many of them these days... Tut, tut.

Then we realised who it was.

The Freshwater swim is named for the late Barney Mullins, a swim, surf, and R&R coach who mentored countless youngsters through the ranks at Freshie over many years. Every surf club has its icons, and Barney is Freshie's. He is revered; God-like. Last year, after he won this swim yet again, John de Mestre recalled the advice Barney gave him as a kid on how to handle the sea at Freshie. He'd won the swim then partly on that advice, which he reckoned had given him the advantage over the kids. Barney Mullins was the kind of character, it seems, whom no-one easily forgot, or his words of wisdom. So it's hardly surprising that the surf club remembers him in this way.

Glistening Dave was at Freshie...

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The Barney Mullins Classic ran at Freshie for many years as a purely internal club annual event. It was only a few years back that they opened it to the public, tentatively, as if they were cautious about it becoming too big too quickly, apprehensive about tampering with part of their legend; careful that outsiders, once they got their hands on it, shouldn't tarnish it in some way.

Each year, they hold the event for Barney, who is long gone, and each year, the guests of honour at the event are Barney's kids, Trish, a retired officer with the Commonwealth Attorney-General's Department, and George, a retired lifeguard. Trish still lives nearby, at Dee Why, but George, now in his mid-70s, has long since moved to the Gold Coast, where he worked as a lifeguard up to retirement many years back.
George hasn't been in the best of health himself these past years, though. Amongst other things, he's had a shoulder or an elbow reconstruction of some kind, and he hasn't been in the water much for quite some time. This time last year, he appeared a little frail. Age does that to us.

But that's who it was, long, brown hair washing in the swell, plodding around that far out turning booee near the back of the peloton. George was official starter of the race, all its waves, then he'd gone into the water himself to swim the course. In memory of his old man. We had known about his health last year, so we were surprised to see George doing the course last Sundee. There is no accounting for human spirit, though.

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We were at Freshie, too...

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The swim was a big thing for George this year. He told us later, it had been three years since he'd swum in the ocean. He'd been out of action with his arm, and whilst he'd been swimming again for a while, it had been in a small backyard pool with a tether, one of which he'd worn out in working himself up to swimming at Freshwater last Sunday. He would have had every right at various times over the past few years to fear that he may not get to swim this course again.

It means much to him, as it does to Trish, who, like George, grew up with the Freshwater club and its people as integral parts of her life.

Now, we don't know the precise words that passed through George's inner monologue as he schlepped around the 1.5km course on Sundee. We do know that he felt it, because he said as much when we called out to him as he rounded that turning booee. It was a hard slog for a bloke feeling his years. We know enough about George to understand how he feels about this swim and its significance to his dad's memory. All the way around that course, while he wasn't thinking about how he was feeling it in his body, George would have been thinking about Barney. We have few things of permanence and meaning in this world, but memory of our olds is something that endures. Indeed, it's one of our few possessions that burns fiercer as we grow older.

We tried to snap George as he rounded that booee, but our Brownie Starflash-in-a-plastic bag malfunctioned. By the time we reached the beach, it was working again, and that's how we got George, as he left the surf at Freshwater, not for the last time yet, we trust.

Chris Ivin was at Caves Beach...

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We have an idea what George was thinking as he went around that course, because we were thinking similarly about our old man at Caves Beach the day before. The Caves swim passes what we refer to as Herbie's Bluff, the headland above the main cave at Caves, atop which Rotten ol' Herbie habitually paused whilst walking the dogs each evening, gazing out to sea at nothing except the past, the salt breeze ruffling his beard and his remaining, diminishing hair. Herbie had been a merchant seaman in his youth, and had been badly injured as a young father in a freak accident in the course of disembarking his ship, a BHP collier. He spent ten years in hospital, on and off, mainly on. After that, he was never much of a swimmer, or a rower, which is what his two younger brothers did that made them rather well known throughout their sport. One of our dreams is to have something installed atop that bluff, a seat, say, with a plaque on it in memory of Rotten ol' Herbie, who paused at that spot each evening. We look up at that bluff from the water, imagining we can see Herbie standing atop it, peering out to sea...

And, we were at Caves...

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We finally worked out last Sat'dee how to swim the Caves Beach swim. It follows the reef from Spoon Rocks to the northern end of Caves, where it turns into Hams Beach, then it runs into the beach. If the booees are set correctly, they form a line along the reef, which can be as shallow as a couple of metres at low tide, so that the swells sometimes break across the peloton as they plod along. One swimmer told us last Sat'dee that he'd dived down to the reef to touch it during the swim, because he could. It occurred to us suddenly on Sat'dee, if you can see the reef beneath you, you're on course. If you can't, then you're either too far in, or too far out. It's almost as if you can swim that swim without looking up to navigate. It's taken us only ten years to work that out.

As kids, we'd always felt an affinity with Freshwater. Both Caves and Freshie have the same club colours: maroon and white. And both Caves and Freshie had, until recently, the same design competition cap: the maroon and white quarters. Caves have changed theirs now to white with a maroon stripe over the centre and a white flash of lightning through the stripe.

Rotten ol' Herbie was one of five siblings. Only two remain, Uncle Mick, who turns 80 this year, and Uncle Bonehead, four years behind him. We go back to Caves Beach as one of our two family days each year. The other is Anzac Day, when we pin Herbie's medals to our throbbing breast and march with Mick and Bonehead and whoever else of our extended family turns up from one end of Swansea to the other, to the RSL on the banks of Swansea Channel.

We hope to see Uncles Mick and Bonehead on Anzac Day again this year, and at Caves at next year's swim. And we hope to see George and Trish at Freshwater, too.

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This is Glistening Dave, particularly for the benefit of the bloke who asked us, as he scooted past this very point shortly before Dave did, "Are you Dave?" No, we're not bloody Dave. Dave isn't the only boofhead who takes pitchers for oceanswims.com. Indeed, if it involves getting your feet wet when holding a camera, then Dave certainly isn't your man. Some people seem to think that Dave does everything around this joint. Damn Dave works on Sundays. That is all. He doesn't work the rest of the week, like we do. And even on Sundays, he works only part time, until gun's up. Then he just has fun, like he is here.

Not happy at St Kilda

This week was one of the 4 swims on in Victoria - the second Melbourne Swim Classic. I admit it, I have a thing against commercial swims - I would much prefer to be supporting a local life saving club. I did this swim to support a friend, and it was a perfect weather day for a swim (cool and overcast), but I will not be doing this swim again.

Just because you have a clear stretch of water and approval from the local council, does not mean you should run a swim. St Kilda is not the nicest place to swim. One end of the course smelt like a mixture of diesel fuel and sewage and there is a lot of rubbish on the bottom (well at least the water was crystal clear, and warm, and we could see the bottom the whole way). The course was half in very shallow water - it's not quite right when you can stand up and have a bit of a break half way through the swim, and the going around the same course twice (or 4 times for the 5km) is just a bit boring.

The life guards did a good job as per usual, but there were just not enough of them, and they were not positioned in the right places, leaving a number of the 5km finishers missing the cans at the last turn and being left to swim completely on their own. Something I've never seen before and hope to never see again is the cans weighed down with bricks - I ran into a can and almost ran face first into a brick - and having a can on a 5m+ rope in 1m of water means that it just moves about too much. There were 4 cans in a group, that you were meant to swim through, and they moved so much that there was less than a metre to pick your way through them - and the 5k-ers had to navigate that 3 times.

I think the local council needs to re-assess allowing this swim at St Kilda. The organisation area being in a location that is on the other side of one of the busiest bike paths in Melbourne from the beach would have been a safety issue if it was a much hotter and busier day. Overall, not a great swim to end the summer on.

Not Happy, Jan

Controversy Corner

What do you think about your swim this weekend? Let's have a discussion... Click here

Hand cuts

I was chillin' in St Kilda last weekend.

Actually it wasn't that cold, a warm overcast day and 22c water temperature.
Although I was expecting much colder water when I saw most of the locals gearing up with wetsuits before the swim, as is their tradition.

I think all swims where we pay an entry fee are commercial, more or less.

This one was not much different than what we see at the top 4 or 5 swims in Sydney, with non-stop commentary and interviews (I like that), and the usual assortment of pop-up stalls selling food, coffee, swim gear and nutrition supplements.

I'm probably the least fit swimmer around doing the longer swims. So I didn't mind stopping in the waist-deep water on each lap at the turning buoy to clear the googles and refuel on chocolate energy gels.

I'd have to agree with you Jan about the concrete bricks weighing down the turning cans. Probably not the wisest safety decision ever made. I try to navigate by hitting the cans tight and brushing past. After cutting my hand on a concrete brick on the first lap, I learned to give the remaining cans a wide berth.

Overall I enjoyed the swim and liked the relaxed location and feel of St Kilda. It would be worth me doing a weekend trip to get out of Sydney every couple years for this swim.

Richard Murray

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Chanticleer.

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