A swimmer's personal odyssey
Ryde, Fiji, France, Spain, and beyond
The Lipsticks complete the Mana Island 10km swim -- that's Jane Taylor, on the left.
24rd June, 2012 - Marseille, France
Sitting on the ferry heading out to Chateau d'If for the 5km Escape from Monte Cristo Swim, I had to pinch myself, as I never imagined ocean swimming would have taken me on such an adventure.
I didn't start swimming until my late 30s. That's six years ago now. I joined Ryde AUSSI Masters and started in the beginners' lane. I didn't know anything about ocean swimming back then -- how things have changed!
A few of the squad members at Ryde were ocean swimmers and I thought they were crazy getting out there in the surf and swimming 2 or 3kms. It was not for me -- famous last words!! Three years later, my friends Melissa and Adele convinced me I should have a go "as it was great fun"!!! So in 2009 I entered my first ocean swim, at Avalon Beach. I think I agreed to do the swim more for the sake of them not nagging me anymore. I have to say I enjoyed my first ocean swim. It was a calm day and the surf was very small, so I agreed to enter another ocean swim. So a few weeks later we were off to Manly. The surf was huge; it was about a 2m swell. I stood on the start line with Adele and Melissa; they were excited to get in - the bigger the better, according to Melissa. The next thing I knew, Melissa's group was heading into the surf; my group would be going soon. I must have given Adele a look of "I'm not going out there", so she said she would stay with me to help me through the break. I got through the break and was freaking out. I wanted to go back in. But the surf was huge and I was way out of my depth. I could not understand how this was fun!! So Adele swam the race with me, encouraging me all the way, waiting at each of the marker buoys, and getting me back to the beach in one piece. Melissa was waiting for us at the finishing line (3 years on, that has not changed; she is always cheering me on as I run up the beach to the finishing line). After the race at Manly, Melissa and Adele were on a high, and they asked what I thought about it. I said, "You lot are mad. I'm never doing that again." Famous last words yet again -- it took a little while (about 10 minutes) to understand why they got such a buzz out of ocean swimming and I think that was the moment I was hooked. It was not about how fast you swam; it was the buzz from finishing.
But even back then, I was still unaware that ocean swimming could take you around the world.
Early in 2010, Melissa suggested the Sunrise Sisters (this is the name of our morning swimming group) go to Mana Island in Fiji in September, for the Mana Fiji swims, to celebrate the first anniversary of Adele's breast cancer recovery. Melissa was keen to compete in the 10km swim. Adele also agreed to do the 10km swim. Although our motto is "One in, all in", they could not convince me to enter the 10km. The farthest I had previously swum was 2km, so I agreed to compete in the 3km swim with another friend, Yolanda. So in September Melissa, Adele, Yolanda, Del (Adele's best friend) and I headed to Fiji on our swim adventure. We spent five days on Mana Island and a week in the Yasawas on an oceanswimsafari. We had a great time, just a spectacular location for ocean swimming, Adele and Melissa competing in the 1km swim as a warm up to their 10km swim the following day. Yolanda and I enjoyed our 3km swim. We both did well and we had such a buzz when running up the beach to the finishing line, everyone cheering you as you run to the line.
The 10km was held the following day. It started on one side of the island (Mana's South Beach) and finished on the other (North Beach). It seemed easy, but you needed to swim 4kms to the other side of the island, then head 3km out to the sand island and 3km back. After the girls registered, we walked them to the start line, where they met the paddlers who would accompany them through the race. Del was able to secure a ride on a double kayak so she could keep Adele company (they have been friends since age 13; Del also is a breast cancer survivor). I was so proud of Melissa and Adele; they had worked so hard to get themselves ready for the race, especially Adele. She had been through so much in the previous 12 months, including a double mastectomy. Apart from her family and friends, swimming is very much an important part of her life. Both Melissa and Adele swam fantastically well. Melissa finished in just under 3 hours, taking out 2nd place in the female category, with Adele in 3rd place in 3 hours 10 minutes. I was so inspired by their efforts that I said to Melissa later that evening, while celebrating our efforts, that I was going to come back and compete in the 10km event next year. I was dead serious; it was not the Mojitos talking!!!
A few days later, we were up in the Yasawas on the oceanswimsafari. Melissa ask me if was I serious about doing the 10km next year. I said, yes, it was not just an "in the moment" comment. Both Melissa and Adele said they would come back and do the 10km with me.
My 3km swim in Fiji was the longest distance I had swum, so I had a challenge ahead of me to get ready for a 10km swim. I would have to push myself, which I was not used to doing. I was a lazy swimmer and would do only the bare minimum to get by, but I wanted to do the swim so I had to lift my game. When I returned home, I knew I had about 11 months to get ready. The first thing I did was tell my coaches of my new goal and to ask their assistance to devise a training program. That did not go so well, as one of them laughed at the idea of my 10km goal! That provided extra motivation, to prove him wrong.
So 11 months went very fast. I did not receive any support from my swim club, but the Sunrise Sisters (Adele, Chris, Melissa, Sandie and Sally) were great. They believed that I could do it and they gave me great support in and out of the pool. They got me to the start line of the 10km in great shape. I could not have trained the way I did without their support. This swimming caper has brought such a beautiful and special group of people into my life, I feel very privileged to have them as my friends.
Before we headed to Fiji Adele found another lump in her breast, and it was cancerous. She was not able to go to Fiji with Melissa and me, as she was to have immediate surgery and then undergo six weeks of radiation treatment. This was a real blow. Part of me did want to go. I wanted to stay and be there to support Adele through her treatment. But Adele would not have such a thing. She is such an inspiring person, the way she has dealt with cancer and its treatment. She gave me a pep talk before my departure -- "You just get your arse around that island and back, Taylor. You hear me? You can do it!!!" She knew I was in good hands; I had Melissa by my side. Adele was fantastic and a great support.
The day Melissa and I flew out for Fiji, Adele began her radiation therapy, which was hard to take. Our thoughts were with her, and not the fact we were heading off to a lovely tropical island. We just wanted to be there to support her, so Melissa and I were not just swimming for ourselves, but for Adele too.
The day of the 10km race, I was ready to go; I didn't freak out. Melissa was happy about this, as she said she was ready to sort me out if I did, but I had done the kilometres and was ready to race. I was not going for a time; I just wanted to finish. We headed off to register, where we received our cap and our entry numbers were inked on our arm and shoulder. I was number 9!! We headed over to South Beach for the start of the race. Memories came flooding back of walking Melissa and Adele to the start line the previous year; I had trouble keeping it together, the nerves were running high by this stage.
nking up... Jane Taylor is numbered - fatefully, Number 9 - for her 10km swim on Mana Island, Fiji
, eyes her challenge, and walks the walk of trepidation to 10km swim start at Mana Island's South Beach.
At the start line, we were advised there were insufficient paddlers for everyone, and we would have to share. Some of the swimmers had organised their own paddler to accompany them throughout the race, but the rest of us would have to fend for ourselves (with other paddlers organised to provide optimum cover, along with support boats: os.c). So we had to leave our water and gels behind. This was not part of the game plan; I started to panic; how would I get through the swim without them and not having a paddler to guide me around the course and provide support? They advised that there would be paddlers along the course handing out water and there would be a boat at the half way mark, so Melissa and I put some of our gear together to go on the boat. I was happy with that. We were also advised that the course had changed, as it was very rough around the Sand Island, so we were not able to swim around it, just swim to the left side of the island, then walk around the island and get back in water on the other side. There would be two marker buoys to go around on either side of the Sand Island.
So Melissa and I headed to the start line. We wished each other luck, and next thing we were off. Melissa and I decided to swim our own race as she is a much faster swimmer then me. I struggled in the first part of the race. We had to swim against the current and at times I felt I was not going anywhere. I started to think, what the hell am I doing here? But I was not going to give up at that point. I just kept saying to myself, "long and strong; long and strong", and I could hear Adele's voice too: "Taylor, get your arse around that island!!!"
Jane and Melissa (left), and Number 9 (right).
About the 2km mark, I was looking for some water from one of the paddlers. It was at this time I saw Suanne Hunt (AKA Mrs Sparkle, @SparkleOcean), with a few other female swimmers. Their paddler came over to me and gave me some water. Suanne suggested I swim with her group; they were called the Lipstick Girls, and I soon found out why when, at the next stop for a drink, they made me put pink lipstick on (I have to say, my lips did not burn,.unlike the rest of me!!). (The lipstick was a sunburn and lip dehydration preventative measure: os.c) Suanne and Sue Dague (who'd come to swim at Mana from Colorado) looked after me, sharing their water, giving me gels and motivating me when conditions got a bit rough. The race conditions were a lot harder than the year before, and when Melissa finished the race and was told I was swimming with the Lipstick Girls, she was relieved. (The Lipstick Girls had completed the 10km event the previous year, so I was in safe hands).
We went past the finishing line and headed out towards the boat at the half way marker, 5km down, 5km to go. Mr oceanswims (Paul Ellercamp) was on the boat. He was race director. He asked how I was going. I said I was doing OK. Suanne quickly jumped in and said she was looking after me (she is good like that). We continued on towards the Sand Island, which was at the 7km mark. Unlike the year before, you could not see the Sand Island in the distance as it was a bit rough in the channel. You had to rely on the paddlers to direct you or wait until you were on the crest of a wave to get your bearings. Lucky for me, we had Suanne leading us. The 2km from the boat to the Sand Island felt like forever. When you could finally see the Sand Island, the current was so strong that it kept pushing you back out to sea.
Henceforth, you shall be known as Mojito Number 9.
When we got onto the Island, Paul and our paddlers were waiting for us. Paul said we had only 3km to go. That was music to my ears. I was so close to finishing this race (I know 3km it not that close, but I had just swum 7km, so another 3 was nothing in my mind). We rehydrated, had something to eat and, of course, reapplied that pink lipstick! We were told to get on with it by Paul, as there was too much chatting going on (he is still telling us to get on with it, as we like a chat at the end of the pool lane!!). So we headed back into the water for the last 3 kilometres of the swim. As soon as we passed the north-eastern headland on Mana Island, you could see the finishing line. It hit then that I had done it. We agreed to wait at the final marker to re-group before heading to the finish and to walk across the line together. I was the last one to get to the final marker buoy, so I presumed we would head straight in but had to laugh as I was told by Suanne in no uncertain terms that, until I reapplied that pink lippy, we were not going anywhere. What? We were just a few hundred metres from the finish line, but I was not about to argue with her, so whilst treading water the pink lippy was reapplied and off we went towards that finish line, the five of us crossed together and I was so pumped. I had just completed a 10km swim, not something I ever contemplated when I started swimming. Melissa was in her usual position at the finishing line cheering me on. She was so excited for me and I for her.
The Lipsticks finish as a "team", and Jane celebrates her personal milestone with cobber Melissa Blundell.
The next day, Melissa headed back to Sydney and I headed on to the Yasawas on another oceanswimssafari. It was sad to say goodbye. We had been on a great adventure together over the past 11 months to get ready for the swim, but "mission accomplished". Melissa did a cracking time of 2hrs 50minutes, taking out 2nd place, and me? I finished a 10km swim. it could not get any sweeter than that. You just need to believe in yourself and anything is possible.
A pic that inspired - Jane Taylor's friends, Adele and Melissa, finish the Mana Island 10km in 2010.
Sarth of Fronce, and beyond
It was whilst I was in the Yasawas that the seed was planted to go on another oceanswimsafari in the south of France.
In the Yasawa, Mrs Sparkle with Jane and HRH The Princess Julie.
In June this year, I headed to Marseille, France, to compete in the Escape from Monte Cristo 2km and 5km swims. I had a few days in Abu Dhabi on the way over. When I left Sydney it was about 15 degrees Celsius. When I landed in Abu Dhabi, it was a lovely 38 degrees, and that was at midnight. I had a great time. I took a trip out to the desert on a four-wheel drive tour. It was wild, but the highlight was to watch the sun set over the desert. Just amazing. I even managed to fit in a swim, as the hotel had its own beach, although the swim was short-lived as the water was like a being in a hot tub. I was looking forward to getting to Marseille, as I was sure the temperature would be a lot more comfortable than the 43 degrees I had experienced in Abu Dhabi.
I arrived in Marseille a few days before the races started, where I caught up with Suanne and Paul. A day later, with the rest of the ocean swimmers arrived, including my other Lipstick swim buddy, Sue Dague and her husband Wally, who had flown in from the US to join the tour. I think Paul and Wally were worried about what Suanne, Sue and I would get up to together!! I can assure you there was a lot of chatting going on!! Swimming is much more fun when you are swimming with your friends.
Saturday 23rd June - 2km Swim
We made our way out to Plage David, which was a 20 minute bus ride from Marseille, and where the race was held. The 2km race had two categories: fins and no fins. I could not believe the gear the French had on. I had been warned by Suanne and Paul, but to see it in person was a sight to behold: the size and type of fins, the use of wetsuits (in warm water in high summer: os.c), and some even swam with mask and snorkel - all of this unheard of in the Australian context. It was great people watching. The 2km race went well. I really enjoyed it. There was a bit of biff around the first marker buoy, but other than that, it was a great swim. The water temperature was nice and conditions were perfect. My time was 31 minutes; I was the 16th woman across the line; and I was very happy with that. I think the picture says it all. I loved this ocean swimming caper!!
Sunday 24th September - 5km Race Day
I was so excited, I was about to head out to a prison on an a Island off the coast of Marseille in France and jump off into the sea and swim back to the mainland with about 700 ocean swimmers. I had come a long way from that first day at Ryde AUSSI Masters!
Before we boarded the ferry, there was a race briefing. It was in French and was not translated into English. This just added to the excitement of the day. They had a map of the course for us to look at. It was an easy course to follow: water start off the Island then head towards the mainland, hang a right between the mainland and the two smaller islands, and then follow the coastline towards the big ferris wheel, and chuck a left at the final marker and swim towards the finish line!
Chateau d'If, and the ferry wot got us there.
So there I was on the ferry heading out to Chateau d'If for the start of the 5km race, with my Lipstick buddies, Suanne and Sue, all heading off on another adventure together (and yes, we had lippy on!!). We had a few other Aussies with us including Tweetybird Liz Hill (@SwimBikeKnit). The other swimmers on the boat where amazed that we had travelled all the way from Australia to compete and the fact we were in cossies and not wetsuits like most of them. It was a great atmosphere on the ferry.
The ferry arrived at the Chateau d'If, where we all gathered in front on the stairs leading up to the entrance of the prison, where we waited for the signal to get into the water for the start. I have to say, we did stand out, as several of us had matching cossies on. It was at this time that a French TV crew approach us for an interview, so our fearless leader, Suanne, fronted the camera, and talked about how we had travelled all the way from Australia to compete in this race. It was just so exciting. After the camera crew left, we had people coming to us wanting to talk to us. I was on such a high.
Team Fleur d'Lys - (l-r) Lea Hill, Jane Taylor, Sue Dague and Mrs Sparkle.
So it was time to get in the water and head out to the start line. It was at this time I understood why the French were wearing wetsuits and why they thought we were mad wearing cossies: it was cold; a lot colder than the previous day (It wasn't that cold. Sheesh!: os.c). A few of us decided to swim together, so we headed out to the start line, both categories started at the same time, no fins and sans fins. The gun went and we were off. It was wild ride for the first few hundred metres. I copped a few flipper kicks in the face. I even held onto one after I copped a good wack in stomach. The guy turned around to see what was going on. I smiled and gave him a little wave and told him to get out of my way (well, that's the polite version of what happened)!! That fired me up and the thought of how cold the water was went away and I was off following Suanne and friends towards the first marker buoy.
At the first buoy, I turned around to see where we had come from and the sight of Chateau d'If in the background was just amazing (again, how good is this swimming caper!!). At the first marker, we lost two of our swimmers, so that just left Lea and my two Lipstick swim buddies, Suanne and Sue. Sue was swimming so well. She had had a knee reconstruction a few months before, so Suanne made sure that we stuck together and that we didn't allow Sue out of our sight. It was a bit like the Mana 10km, but that time it was me that Suanne was keeping an eye on! We headed towards the mainland and then we turned between the two islands. We had people on kayaks making sure we were heading in the right direction and encouraging us along the way. We then kept heading towards the big ferris wheel. We seemed to get to the final maker buoy in no time (well, that's what it seemed like, especially when you're swimming and stopping for chats along the way and making sure to take in the views). By this time, my hands and feet where numb from the cold. We turned at the final buoy and just like we had done in Fiji we regrouped and Suanne, Sue and I crossed the line together.
Swimming in the Calanques: 15 degrees Celsius.
The next day, we went on a boat trip to the Calanques (just east of Marseille). The Calanques has spectacular limestone gorges and little villages perched along the way which you could stop at and have a drink of wine or two. At one of the stops, we all jumped in for a swim. Our boat drivers thought we were mad, as the water temperature was a bit on the chilly side: A lovely 15 degrees, but the water was so clear. Our ride back to the port of Marseille was a cracker; I wish I had a picture of how great I was looking at this time -- NOT! I will paint a picture for you - I was sitting on the back of the boat on the side that was copping the spray (well, more like a wave of water hitting me time and time again). I had screamed to the boat driver to stop. I headed into the cabin and re-appeared with goggles in hand. Oh, what a sight that was. The boat driver cracked up. I think I provided the entertainment for everyone on the way back to port. These waves were big and it was only a little boat, so every time the boat hit the waves, lurched in the air and landed back on the water, a wave of water would come over the side of the boat and hit me square in the face. By the time the boat docked, I looked like a drowned rat, but I had this grin from ear to ear. It was like being on a ride at a theme park. It was so much a fun day. The Calanques was just a beautiful spot to visit.
The beach at Beaulieu sur Mer.
The following day we left Marseille and headed to Bandol for an overnight stop before heading on to Beaulieu-sur-mer. It was a pretty little spot; our hotel was right on the water. We managed to fit in two swims, one on the afternoon we arrived and a lovely early morning swim before we made our way to Beaulieu-sur-mer. Our two swims were in such contrast with each other. In the afternoon swim, the bay was full of people in and out of the water; the next morning, we were the only ones in the water. Another beautiful spot to visit!
From Bandol, we made our way to a beautiful town on the French Riviera called Beaulieu-sur-mer, between Nice and Monte Carlo. This is where we planned to swim over two days around Cap Ferrat.
It was such a beautiful day for the first stage of our Cap Ferrat swim. We started the swim on the west side of Cap Ferrat, at the bottom of the bay opposite Villefranche. We had a boat to accompany us. Paul said the swim would be about 5km. So the ten of us headed off with Suanne and Sue Coombes leading the pack. They were much faster than the rest of us, but that did not matter as we all just swam at our own pace. Sue Dague and I were the leaders of the main group, with Paul swimming at the back of the pack keeping everyone moving along and taking photos along the way.
Our escort boat, with Cap'n Adrien, off Villefranche.
When we got to the lighthouse, which was at the top part of the cape, the water was quite rough and a few people got stung by jellyfish, so about half the group got onto the boat. It was at this time that I headed towards the boat to get a drink of water. When I came back to Sue (Dague), she was relieved, as she thought I was going to get on the boat. She told me that there was no way she was letting me get on that boat. Had I climbed aboard, she was going to swim over and drag my arse back in the water! It's amazing what friends can make you do. They never let you quit!! When I got back to Sue (Dague), I noticed that Suanne and Sue (Coombes) had taken off again, and Paul was swimming over to Sue (Dague) and I to let us know that they were going to continue on with the swim, but we could get in the boat with the others to the finish line. No words were spoken between Sue (Dague) and I: we just gave each other a look, and a nod of our heads, and we were off. From that point on, it was a role reversal for Sue (Dague) and I, as she was now leading me and I followed her feet for the rest of the swim. We caught up with Suanne, Sue (Coombes) and Paul, as they had stopped. There were a lot of jelly fish about, so we swam in single file to dodge them, stopping at times to help each other so we did not get stung! Once around the headland, you could see the beach we were heading for. That was a great feeling. When we were closer to the shore, the group on the boat jumped into to finish the swim. Yet again, I walked on the beach with my lipstick buddies Suanne and Sue (Dague). We had been on another great adventure together.
The distance was more than 5km, as Paul had the GPS going, but it stopped at 7km and that was back near the point, so we estimated our swim was about 7½ to 8km. I was glad we had two days rest before we tackled stage 2. (Damn Google Earth!: os.c)
Jane Taylor with swim cobber, Sue Coombes, and (right) Sue Dague off Cap Ferrat.
During the two days before our next big swim, we went on a day trip to Monte Carlo and visited the perched villages up in the mountains behind Nice.
On Stage 2 of Cape Ferrat, the wind was up, so it was going to be a bit rough out there. We arrived at the beach where we had finished stage 1. Paul went for a little recon mission to see if the stingers and jellyfish were about. He was only out in the water for a few minutes before he hastily returned to shore. I realised then that we would not be swimming around the (second) cape. So we boarded the boat and headed back to the beach where we were to finish the race. It was such a shame that we could not swim the second stage, as it looked great. It would have been a rough ride, but fun all the same. So when we got back to the beach we decided to go for a swim closer to shore and we entertained ourselves with some water ballet.
The following day, we all departed Beaulieu-sur-mer. It was a sad to be leaving, as it had been such a great trip. Sue (Dague) said we would meet again somewhere in the world for another swim together. I have no doubt we will.
Perched village (above), and van Gogh's garden in the asylum at Arles (below).
Swimming from France to Spain
I still had another two weeks of travel. Suanne, Paul, Lea and I made our way to Spain to compete in another swim, my last ocean swim race on this trip. We spent a few days in Arles on our way to Spain. This is where van Gogh painted some of his famous works. Then we then made our way to Palamos, which would be our base in Spain. Our hotel was right on the beach. The day before our race, we went to Cadaques, were we made our way out to Cap de Creus. On our way back, we went to Salvador Dali's house. It was out of this world.
Cadaques, near Dali's home.
The next day we made our way to Portbou in Spain, just near the border with France. This is where the race would end. All the swimmers caught a bus to Cerbere in France where the start of the swim would be. Suanne and I could not look out the window of the bus as it was a scary ride (over a mountain), but Paul kept saying what a great view it was, trying to get us to look. We arrived safely at the other end and we were greeted by Aida, who had organised our trip in Spain. She made sure we were looked after before and after the race. I had designed swimmers for us to wear. They were a hit. Most of the swimmers were in wetsuits, but not us, as we were in bright coloured cossies in the Spanish and Catalunyan colours of red and yellow. We even had the Cataluña flag on the back, as we were in the Cataluña region. As the race was a social swim, there would be no times recorded. There were 170 swimmers, who set off in three stages. We were in the last group to start. Most of the swimmers were from France or Spain; there were not many internationals. So Paul, Suanne, Lea and myself headed into to the water for the start of the swim. It was very fresh in the water, but you soon adjusted to the temperature. We were advised that there was a boat at the half way mark with water and supplies on board. The race started inside the Port at Cerbere and we made our way around the cape to Portbou (about 3.8km). Once you got outside the port, it was a bit rough, but you had paddlers guiding you along the course. I met up with Paul not long outside the port and we swam the rest of the race together, stopping and taking pictures along the way. It was great fun. I posed for a picture at the border. We even went to visit the boat at the half way mark for drink stop or, as Paul called it, "the latté pontoon"! He asked for a latté! The guy on the boat had a laugh at this.
It was an amazing swim. When we arrived at the finishing line, the announcer knew who we were by our cossies. He was calling out, "Here come the Australians!", as Paul and I crossed the line, and then gave us a high five as we went past. It was such a great atmosphere and a great swim, one I would do again.
Jane Taylor sits astride the border between Fronce and Spain off Cap Cerbere.
That night, we went to see a Flamenco Show and celebrate a great swim with some sangria. The next morning, we went for an early morning swim at yet another beautiful location not far from Palamos, and then we followed that by going to a little town call Madremanya where we ate lunch at restaurant, La Placa, a One Michelin Star restaurant that Paul and Suanne knew about. The food was just spectacular; we had the degustation menu -- nine courses of the most exquisite food I have ever eaten. This trip had not only been a swim safari, but also a food safari. The next day, we made our way to Figueres for an overnight stop before making our way to Paris.
Paul, Suanne and I spent a few days in Paris before we made our way back to Australia. We had a great time, even though the swimming safari had come to an end, the food safari was still in full swing. I had a lot of fun. I swam in some fantastic places, and competed in ocean swim races that I would not have thought possible when I started to swim six years ago.
Swimming has given me so much. It has taken me on some great adventures around the world, but most importantly I have made some lifelong friends.
Water symphony at Versailles.
Where else but Fronce in summer?
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