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 It's Sunday morning at Bondi Surf Bathers Lifesaving Club, established 1907. 100 years plus 7.
That's pretty cool and pretty old, like me, but the Bluewater Challenge is on and 1000 will answer the call.
Skies of blue and clouds of white, a tattered flag above the Club works proud.
So does Mrs Sparkle at her little shop beside the Club, a gathering spot for us all.

		
		
		
				  
		

It's a Wonderful World

The 1 k'ers pass by after their swim. Some say g'day and give us the goss.
Plenty of chop and with sails aloft the bluebottles are riding high. One got me here, and there, the buggers, but the swim was fine and the water divine. Love it for sure
What a sight looking out over the bay. Paddlers in yellow, IRBs in red. Love 'em. Booeees heaving with wind and spray. Now you see them now you don’t. Could be quite a day

It's a Wonderful World

Tourists aplenty from all over the globe. Curious and pretending not to stare .Who are these strange creatures, half naked, with helmets and goggles, fully sick, and then the ankle bracelets. Clicking away to get the best shot. Here's a story to send far away and memories of a happy day.
Even Lincoln (or so he says) straight out of the park with his stuff, slept there I'd say, comes down for a yarn. Think I know you, he says. We're you here for the night?
Good on ya mate. And off he goes with a smile.

It's a Wonderful World

OK, it's swim time  2k for the guns thru the Back of the Back. See ya, Mrs Sparkle and Paul. What gems. Keep an eye on the bag. We'll be back soon enough. Wave after wave line up and are off. It's low tide and it's hard with dumpers around. Dive for the sand which explodes in the dark and knows how to bounce you, for sure. Keep smiling inside and push on to the outside and you're through. Head south, my man. The wind blows hard and slows you down. You get clipped in the face... by a wave. It's bloody hard work.

Turn north at the buoy and it's a magic wand that gently creates a bond with the swell. Being pushed by the wind and a softer wave with nary a sound. Just your own breathing as it bubbles around. It's a lonely sport this, just me and the sea... and thee. Shafts of light shine deep through the blue and the green. The water clarity is sublime. Hey, this ain't so bad. Everything's fine.
Someone is looking after me.

It's a Wonderful World

Peter Joseph

Book Five : The Year of Mixing Things Up

Chapter Ten: AquaGirl faces her fears at the Big Bay Swim

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Everyone has a story.

Everybody has a fear when it comes to open water swimming. For some, it’s the big, grey variety of marine life; for others, it’s huge swells and rough waves. Some dread deep water that they can’t see the bottom of; others fear swimming alone. For me, it’s jellyfish. In all honesty, I can’t really see the importance of them in our eco system (though I’m sure some nerdy scientist type could definitely set me straight). There’s plainly nothing to like about them: large, gelatinous, foreboding, ugly, some are even poisonous. How else could I describe them? And of course there is that sting that comes out of apparently nowhere and teases your skin as a reminder of your acquaintance. No, I like nothing about them and after today that view not only remains, but has strengthened.

bondi 140223 osc 11I’ve heard review after review of this race and every time the topic of conversation arises, two messages are always portrayed loud and clear: there are jellyfish and good luck with the ecoli and/or oil slick that you’re bound to encounter as you cross Hobsons Bay. Today, I tried to block both of these out, in order to experience this unique 3.2km swim from Port Melbourne (Sandridge Life Saving Club) across to kitsch Williamstown, with its million dollar floating real estate and its beach side, fish’n’chip eating, gelati indulging wonderment.

The scars not of jellyfish from Port Phillip Bay, but blueys from Bondi: Bernie Buncle and Phil Reichelt display their badges of honour. Did they cry? Nah. They're manly.

This swim was a well organised event that ticked almost all of my top ten requirements for a fab race. The attractive features of this swim were its distance of 3.2km and the fact that the shipping channel into the Yarra River was closed for one hour to allow the race to go ahead. This apparently only ever happens once a year, for this race. With the Spirit of Tasmania and the Diamond Princess docked at Station Pier, with all of its 115,875 tonnage and its eighteen decks watching on, a small nipper field of two started proceedings off at 8.30am with presentations completed just minutes later. The entire field of 225 watched on and clapped at the presentations, bringing a smile to these little peeps’ faces, future Big Bay Swimmers indeed.

A single wave start went off at the scheduled time of 9:00 after the last massive ship passed through the Yarra mouth. Large buoys dotted the course out and lifesavers very aplenty, bobbing around on boards. Today, I chose to wear my wetsuit. It was either fight with myself about being stung or fight with the wetsuit. I wrestled with myself and decided that the jellyfish stings would definitely get the better of me, rather than wearing a wetsuit weighing on my conscience. Now, post-race, I’m very glad of my decision.

Before I had even reached the first buoy, I had encountered one, not very big but there all the same. The group was still very much together so I tried to tuck in tight and hoped that the person in front of me had either scared the jellies off, or scooped them out of the way. Anything was better than getting in their way. Psychologically, this helped a little, a few people stopped and breast stroked for a few and others just put their head down and ploughed on. By the time I was at the Hobsons Bay point, they were EVERYWHERE. The largest, I’d say, was the size of a basketball without one word of a lie, and their blubber was longer and thicker that spicy chorizo sausages. The fear was well and truly starting to seep in. What happens if it’s like this ALL OF THE WAY???? Apparently this was a good, jellyfish day, only a few they said, but the fact that they had six tubs of Vaseline on the registration table told me I should probably have prepared for the worst. Wetsuit = good idea, breast stroking in the middle of the race hyperventilating = bad idea. Snap out of it, Chester, you’ve swum to Rottnest with a Westpac helicopter hovering over you; how bad could this really get?

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The start at Bondi: looks benign, but there was a torrent of a rip sucking us out through water of superlative clarity with the odd bigger one dumping onto a shallowing bank if you strayed too far out of the gutter. The blueys were waiting beyond.

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Sean Daly shows how to start a race when you want to win.

The rest was just a blur of an adapted stroke, making sure I always scooped away from in front of my face, one arm after the other, my sleeveless arms collecting collateral damage. A couple got through to my forehead and chin and the sting was ever present. The murky water made it hard to spot them, despite their size so you never quite knew when you’d meet another one. I tried distracting myself with my surroundings: the mouth of the Yarra was devoid of moving vessels but enticed the eyes to look further ahead to the Westgate Bridge. HMAS Castlemaine watched over the ever stretching elastic band of swimmers. The conditions remained relatively calm, with the occasional rolling wake moving through. The sun was rising high on my left side and the water remained the lukewarm bath temperature we’d started with, with the occasional cool spot. I didn’t register any noticeable current or tidal movement so it was just me. Stroking one arm after the other, looking for the occasional swimmer to move in behind to avoid the jellies.

The distance was no issue today; in fact it was the least of my troubles. It was a good indicator of my readiness for the five kilometre race next Saturday; the wetsuit obviously aided this feeling of ease. Navigation indicators were at times sparse; I understand buoys would be hard to anchor in the shipping channel so water safety did do a good job of filling the gaps. Before long I’d hit the finishing chute of Nelsons place, a cruel ramp that you need to alight to exit the water.

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Anonymous mug punter rounds first booee.

Food from Jalana, the race sponsors, was handed out, along with fruit and water, friendly staff unzipped your wetsuit and took off your timing chips, show bags with sherbet bombs completed the end of race ritual. Change rooms were there for competitors, as were outdoor showers and a cool little festival had kicked off at the park adjacent to the finish line. We didn’t waste much time, changing and catching the first courtesy shuttle bus back across the West Gate to Port Melbourne, after we’d picked up our bags that were also safely transported to the finish line for us, no service was forgotten. And upon arriving back at Port Melbourne, we’d come full circle, with a few battle scars to show for our efforts.

I enjoyed it in as much as to say that I faced my fears today, got myself together mid-race after a brain fart and a hyperventilation break, and swum a race I’d never been to before, at a distance I’ve never raced before; so there were loads of firsts. I’ll refrain from saying if I’d go back and do it again next year as my skin is still stinging, but it would be a great race for those try-athlete types who want a tweak up on the close to four kilometre distance before the big IronMan race in March. They’d have great Strava data from today’s race, it really was perfect conditions. Credit goes to the Rotary Club of Point Gellibrand for coordinating a great race and for all of the happy, interested volunteers who were more than pleased to say hello and strike up a conversation today.

At this point in time, I’d doing the newly offered five kilometre race next Saturday for the inaugural Melbourne Swim Classic, a new and up and coming race added to our calendar this year. This race caters for all forms of ocean swimmers, offering distances from 100m distance right up to the big boy 5km race. (Pssttt….I have it on very good authority that there’ll be a 10 km distance next year… Start planning and training now!)

Well. Thrill seekers, I’ll leave it there. Glad I’ve upheld the “mixing it up” mantra today and scared myself a little. Life’s for living!

See you on the beach!

Nicole Chester

@AquaGirl72

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on Sat'dee... click here

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Water sculpcha.

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Kick.

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