Book Five - The Year Of Mixing Things Up

Ch 12 - Pier - Perignon: An experience, not a race

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I love the Pier to Perignon, steeped in its friendly twenty -five year history and its adventurous roots. Falling close to the end of the Victorian Swim calendar, this event boasts the "who's who" of the ol' school swimming fraternity. Some train all year for this; others come out of retirement for a once a year come back swim from Sorrento to Portsea. They can: it's a four kilometre adventure swim that requires two kilometres of effort.

For this event, I was lucky enough to take @RealDeal_Cat 's body double, Claire, along for her first @P2P experience, as well as an old favourite of mine, Alex, swimming there in true pirate style. Worried at first about the distance, Claire listened to advice and did a bit of homework regarding the course. She embraced this swim with all of its uniqueness and delight. Don't expect to find age group wave starts here, nor will you find yourself spotting brightly coloured buoys along the entire length of the course; that would in fact stifle the fun. A relaxed mass start with eight hundred lucky entrants, who were quick enough to gain entry in approximately two and a half hours early in December, made their way out to the end of the Sorrento pier, as the eleven o'clock ferry left. Bagpipes wafted across the water, in an eerie echo and the "race" began with barely a thought of winning.

Much like Nemo caught in the current, the aim of the game is to swim out to the ripping outgoing tide and hang on as you're swept from the start to the finish in what feels like a free ride to Portsea. That's about all there is to this race, apart from a bit of turbulence and rough water at Point King, where "tide and wind meet". This is the only tough part of this swim, apart from swimming back across the current to head for the finishing banner at Portsea beach, and negotiating moored boats along the way on the course.

Claire and I swam this event together. It can be a little daunting if you're used to a heavily buoyed course. Noticeably, lots of people were caught by surprise by the speed of the current, raising hands and waving to lifesavers within the first minute of being swept along. I felt a little sorry for them, if only they'd taken a few deep breaths and settled into things, they'd probably have found it a very enjoyable sensation.

We settled into a steady pace fairly quickly, and made our way out into deep green water where the tide was definitely running. First timers may find it more comforting to swim in closer but the thrill for me was feeling that elastic band drag you along so you feel like you're swimming at Olympic speed. Point King was a bitter sweet experience; turbulence rocking you about and rolling you around with a south easterly blowing from behind; but then blessing us with a visit from three very playful dolphins that swam under and around us, darting off once we stopped to watch. How different was this week to last weeks, with people fly boarding in the air at St Kilda in a show off kind of fashion, and dolphins teasing us with their grace and beauty today. Open water swimming is definitely like a bag of mixed lollies; you never know which one you're going to get.

The views are breathtaking from the water; all sorts of boating vessels, ferries and ships pass you on the right side, the mega rich homesteads of Victoria's well to do, watching you majestically on your left. Why would I even contemplate "racing" in this event and pass up the opportunity to take all of this incredible scenery in? It's like a fine wine to be savoured.

pier perignon vanilla slice
The reward for a Pier to Perignon well swum (if you don't manage to win the Perignon.)

As we made our way along, side-by-side, stroke for stroke, I thought about the two friends we had spoken to just before the race. They do the Pier to Perignon every year, it's their only open water swimming event and they gave it their tick of approval when Claire asked what they thought about the event; "It's the best swim in the world." Does it get any better than that? I think not.

Times were not our concern. We certainly weren't in the running for the bottle of Dom Perignon for the winners of the race (as had been the wager from the very first race run in 1989) nor for the perpetual trophy. This was all about Claire swimming a new distance that she'd never swum before, at a race she'd never participated in and enjoying it purely for the distinctive event that it was. The smile she had on her face as she crossed the finish line said it all. It was pure unadulterated bliss. I felt all warm and fuzzy.

Despite being well catered for with muffins, water and sausages at the event village just metres away from the sand bagged Portsea beach, we made our way back to Sorrento for the killer vanilla slices from Just Fine Foods, arguably the best vanilla slices in the world. It's a rite of passage, a tradition, partaken once a year, as a personal pat on the back for our P2P achievement (although I have been known to purchase said delightful morsel and eat half BEFORE the race.) What a perfect full stop to a memorable day for Claire.

This event is a bucket list must. It's pricey but it's original, rivalled by no other four kilometre swim in Victoria and one to experience just for the joy of swimming it. It ticks all of my boxes in terms of successful, safe, memorable, unique, efficient and professional. Portsea Life Saving Club do it well and without the need to honk horns or draw attention to itself. There's just nothing to fault with its simplicity and its understated grandeur.

My dance card has almost been filled, with one space left for Bonbeach Life Saving Clubs Open Water Swim in a fortnight. Offering two distances of the 1.2km and the 2.5km, I may consider entering both races; let's just see how the bod feels closer to date.

Results from the Pier to Perignon... click here 

Photos... click here

Till next time Thrill Seekers, don't forget to share your experiences with others, stop and smell the roses occasionally and treat yourself at the end of a wonderful experience.

Life's for living after all.

Nicole Chester


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