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Early morning swim, in Paradise.
Swims coming up...
- Thu-Sat, Oct 15-20 - Mana Island (Fiji)
- Sun, Oct 20 - Burleigh Heads (Qld)
- Sat, Nov 2 - Narrabeen (NSW)
Early Morning Swims
Why get out of bed?
Russel Jackson "leads" the Forster Turtles down to the sea again. Can you spot the four toes?
It’s spring. But just because it’s spring, and the weather forecasters are warning of “40 degree” days, it doesn’t mean that the water is warming. Our water doesn’t usually warm till much later in the year, probably close to Xmas. Until then, it’s officially “bracing”. The kind of temperature that has you wondering, when you wake on an early daylight savings morn, especially the morning after the Grand Final, whether it’s worth rolling out of bed for an early morning swim.
But we are in paradise. At least, that’s what Mrs Sparkle has written on the tag of the keyring where she keeps her keys to our joint here in Forster. We’ve reported before about the equability of the climate here; about how it’s always more pleasant and tolerable here than everywhere else; about how, one day, driving up from the big city, it was 43C on the highway, but 27C by the time we arrived on the coast, 25km away. In Paradise, it’s always nicer. Camelot-on-Sea.
The wondering is always greater on those rare days when you wake, tilting the slats on the shutters, to find cloud cover or a breeze infecting the early morn. Those days really are rare: we reckon, 95 per cent of mornings here are those, when you look out through the slats, your first thought is, “Another rubbish day…”; another great, Strá’an irony. For the vast majority of days up here on the coast, indeed, are paradisical. We have the north-facing beach on one side, the lake on the other. The town sits on a narrowing peninsula between the two, and there’s a channel close by that’s constantly filling and emptying one of the biggest saltwater lakes in the nation; and the lake is full of Sydney rock oysters. And all this is what we reckon tempers the weather extremes.
We’ve been here three days now. Today is rubbish, typical of this joint – warm without too much heat, sunny, a little bit of cloud, a gentle sea breeze, little more than a lilt, and a balmth that is enough, for spring, to remind you that warmer weather is on the way. But the first two days here were genuinely cool, almost unpleasant: a nor-easter blowing stiffly – there was a lone bluey on the high water mark this morning -- cool air, a bit of rain – mainly when we jumped on our pushbike to ride the two kilometres over the bridge to the shop, and back, whereupon the rain stopped – and the water… The water…
According to Russell “Four Toes” Jackson, the spiritual guide of the Forster Turtles, the water is 17C. (We believe “Four Toes” is a distant relo of Arthur “Two Sheds” Jackson.) He says Barwon Greg, who’s away this weekend, had measured 18.5C during the week just gone. We reckon, using the thermal sensing of our skin, that it’s closer to 19. But we’re not going to contradict Russell, who swims here every (Read: EVERY) morning. We are just blow-ins, in contrast. Whatever, it’s cool; much cooler than the water we’ve been swimming in recently, around the Pacific and in the Mediterranean. This is not to brag, but to offer the contrast. (We’re off to Fiji this coming weekend. Yipeee!)
For us, this time of year is always a challenge, particularly on those rare cooler early spring mornings.
The funny thing is, but, we always get out early for the early morning swim – the Turtles swim each morning on Main Beach, from the surf club at 7:30am – and we always love it. For no matter how ugly the sea might appear when we first glimpse it during our three-minute walk from digs – uglified by the cloud, the wind, the chop in an onshore breeze, the mashed up swell -- we always emerge thinking how beautiful it all was.
There was a complicating factor over the main two days of this weekend, in that there was a Nippers and Masters surf carnival on the beach from early each morning. The beach was packed from sun-up. There were three or four separate areas marked out by booees for water events, and us Turtles were confined to swimming from the eastern end of the beach around the point and back. We couldn’t swim along, as we normally do, because we’d just get in the way.
There can be beauty in disruption, however (although we draw the line at disruption for disruptions sake, as some politicians like it). The swim around the point is a glorious swim, as all rock shelf swims are. Witness Wedding Cake Island at Coogee; the Racecourse swim at Mollymook; the northern headland at Avalon and Bilgola; the reef bottom around from Boat Harbours at Gerringong and Shellharbour. Over weedy bottoms and along rock shelves, with bump and swirl from the chop bouncing off the rocks, they are never boring. Up here, the sandy patches between the reef and the weed are popular with stingarees, and even a bigger eagle ray that startled from the bottom a couple of metres below. The laydees saw a wobbegong.
This is nothing to the sea life that is out here, however. A few days back, late last week, the TV news ran drone footage of a bunch of swimmers doing their early morning swim off what the newsreader said was “Main Beach, north of Port Macquarie”. They were about 100m offshore, and inside them, revealed by the drone, was a 2.5m shark, just idling around behind the break. It was the kind of positioning that meant, even if you were alarmed, you couldn’t make for the shore, because that’s where the shark was.
As it happened, “Main Beach, north of Port Macquarie” actually was Forster, south of Port Macquarie, and the swimmers were our very own Turtles. The story, according to the newsreader, was that, despite being alerted to the shark, the swimmers opted to keep on their normal early morning swim. As they did. (Bear this in mind when you hear any story on the meeja: most are riddled with tiny detail errors like this; you should take it all with a grain of salt, while perhaps taking note of general thrusts.)
One thing to which the Turtles have become accustomed over the years is sharks. The sea is full of them, and the water off the beach here is jam-packed. There is a large school of grey nurses off the reef off the eastern end of the beach. They are not a concern, apart from the fact that it’s fascinating to inspect them, because grey nurses are generally friendly sharks. They’d probably invite you to tea if they had a fairy cake stand. But there are plenty of whites and bulls hanging around here, as well, and the Turtles are used to benign interactions and sightings. One day early last year, a peloton of 20 of us, in 3m of sandy, weedy water about 50m out, behind the Bull Ring (our ocean pool), swam over a 3m bull shark. It was just mooching along, looking for fish, absolutely unconcerned about us just above. The water was so unclear that only three of us – not including us, but including Mrs Sparkle – saw the thing, yet it swam right beneath us in shallow water. No-one was taken.
One day earlier this year, the shark contractors pulled an untagged white shark off the drumline just off the beach. They tagged it and towed it several kilometres out to sea. Next day, they caught it again, just off the beach. Well, it obviously lives around here. Of course it’s going to come back.
Paradise, indeed. You can see our joint, middle right. (Image by East Coast Photography).
On Saturday, the first day of the Nipper carnival, the regular shark patrol helicopter that comes along each morning between 8:30 and 9:00 circled – which is always a sign -- just this side of the breakwall, then dropped to just above the water, and hovered, and turned on its flashing light and its siren. A hundred metres or so along the beach, Nippers were racing in the ocean. No-one was taken.
Our main concern, however, is how rubbish the weather has been, but despite that, how good has been the water. On such days, we rise less energetically; we “force” ourselves to ready, pack our swim gear in our backpack; and head off up the beach, munching on the daily apple. It’s cool to cold in the wind, under the heavy cloud; there’s no surf; and the water is “bracing” and a bit bumpy. But once you’re past the break, it clarifies so that you’re swimming in a solution of perfectly clear brine. The first dive is jarring, and the initial few strokes are sharp, but that’s all.
We don’t swim in wetties, but we have our wettie built it. It’s a natural wettie. And we “acclimate” (as the ‘Mer’cans put it) quite quickly. Thereafter, it’s all brace and favourable, fresh and clear. You can count every grain of sand on the bottom – we’re still to work out who leaves all those footprints down there – and every prickle on the wafting weed; every pebble in the conglomerate reef, as you wash left and right with the swell over the reef. There’s a bump, but it’s the ocean. That’s what oceans do.
By the time we return to the break, we know why we’ve rolled out of bed on such a rubbish morn: we’re awake and we feel better about ourselves and the world. No matter how bleak is the day; no matter how unappealing the sea, no matter how bumptious the break, it never disappoints, and it leaves us the better for our lives ahead.
It's on again...
Burleigh coming up
It’s on again. The season. There’ve been swims throughout winter in Queensland, but around the rest of Strá’a and New Zealand, it’s all just coming out of hibernation.
We have 11 swims open for online entry already (see below), but coming up, the weekend after next, is the swim at Burleigh Heads on the Gold Coast (that's iconic Burleigh, above). You will never have a better reason for a weekend on the coast.
Four events on this iconic Gold Coast beach: two distances for age groups and elite, a Dash for Cash (for elite entrants), and a shorter swim for younger swimmers. Prize money on offer for Open/Elite swimmers (which can help pay your squad fees), and plenty of random prizes to be won, too.
Find out more and enter online… Click here
Dawny off this season
Dawny's Cockatoo Challenge at Balmain in Sydney will not run in season 2019/20. With renovations taking place to the Dawn Fraser Pool, awgies have lost access to the facilities they need to run the swim.
The Dawny swim normally runs on the penultimate Sunday in November.
But Dawny will be back next year, awgies tell us.
Such a pity. It's one of our fave events. We look forward to next year.
We’re off to Fiji this weekend. Next week, we have the Mana Fiji SwimFest 2019, with record numbers of ocean swimmers heading to Mana Island for the 10km (solos and relays) on Thursday, and 5km, 2.5km and 1km on Saturday. There’s still room if you’d like to come with us… Click here
The week after, we’re up north in the Yasawas for our oceanswimsafari.
And already, we are taking bookings for our oceanswimsafaris in 2020. Most packages are online now, and bookings are coming in…
March 12-16 – Coromandel New Zealand – A long weekend away in one of the most beautiful parts of the temperate Pacific, the Coromandel Peninsula. The feature event is the Cathedral Cove swim, but just being in this stunningly beautiful place is a tonic… Click here
May 12-21, and May 21-31 – French Polynesia -- Swim the Pacific; dine in Paris. That’s about it. Another stunningly beautiful paradise. We’ve already filled two oceanswimsafaris in 2020, but you could take advantage of our Advance Deposit Scheme to book your place in 2021… Click here
June 12-20 – The Philippines – Swim with whale sharks in another paradise of some of the clearest water of the greatest marine biodiversity in the Indo-Pacific region… Click here
June 23-July 1 – Sulawesi, Indonesia – More of the clear water and great marine biodiversity at the other end of the Celebes Sea from our Philippines location. This is a place that hardly any Strá’an visits. It’s pretty well just us... Click here
July 20-28, July 27-August 4 – Tonga – Swim with Humpback Whales (above) – One of the most unusual, special experiences you can ever have swimming in the ocean. The humpbacks migrate over winter from Antarctica to Tonga to give birth and generally frolic around. Tonga is one of the few places in the world where we’re allowed to get in the water with the whales (under rules, of course)… Click here
August 25-31 – San Sebastián, Spain – Swim the Basque country, with its rich mix of culture, food, and history. And the swimming’s terrific, too. That's San Sebastián, above -- A romantic evening on the bay of la Concha... A must-stop during anyone’s trip to Europe… Click here
September 12-20 – Costa Brava, Spain – Swim Catalonia, and France to Spain around the end of the Pyrenees. Another journey through history, art, culture and food, and some of the clearest water you’ll ever swim in… Click here
October is time for Mana Island the the Yasawas again. We don’t have dates for them yet, but watch this space… Click here
Postcards from the Pool
Let’s not kid ourselves: sometimes it’s hard
Sally Goble sends a postcard from the pool...
Parliament Hill Lido. Autumn.
Sometimes early morning dew wets the flagstones surrounding the pool, the sun still too low to dry them. Sometimes the sun shines down, clear and sharp in the autumn light and the pool glistens and glints in the suns rays. These days the inviting blue twinkling of the water belies the sharp pain of the cold I know is waiting. These days I stand looking breathlessly at the water, excited to begin as the sun warms my back.
Sometimes though, the rain drizzles on, the clouds are grey, the wind cuts. The water looks dull, but, in the rainy windy haze, older women who come here every day drift up and down sedately with their heads-up-breastroke, looking unphased. I scrutinise them from the safety of the pool deck. They don’t look cold. They look entirely at ease in the inhospitality of the day. It can’t be so bad.
I strip off reluctantly. I need to swim for two hours today. The water is 14c and the air is 14c as well. I shudder.
Sometimes the only thing that has got me here is sheer bloody mindedness. Sometimes I wake up with a sense of dread that I can’t shake as I pack my bag with three jumpers, a wooly hat, and a flask of hot ribena. Sometimes I have to force myself to show up.
“It’s lovely!” they shout exuberantly, encouragingly, from the water. I smile wanly, thinking: “You’re not swimming for two hours though, are you?”
Sometimes it’s OK when I get in — I manage my cold water shock response with a long exhale, and start swimming. It’s not too bad. But sometimes after an hour I am stiff and cold, and my forearms sting, my big toe throbs, I start to lose my motor skills as my muscles tense and my joints stiffen. Sometimes I’m desperate to get out but I have said I’d swim for two hours and I will do it. Sometimes every length is a battle of my will.
I finish. Two hours.
“Come and have a hot shower!” you call happily from the steaming hot showers as I stagger into the changing rooms.
Sometimes, and mostly when the temperature reaches 14c or below, and I have been in the water for a long time, I can’t shower. Sometimes I have cold hives and the sudden rush of water — even tepid water — on my cold skin, makes my skin itch like crazy, and makes my skin swell with some horrible allergic reaction. I rush, teeth clenched, grimly past the warm comfort of the shower and the huddle of smiling chatting semi-naked swimmers, to the concrete changing cubicles. I dress quickly, putting on everything I have.
But sometimes I am too cold. Sometimes the car is so enticing I sit in it for long after my journey is over because I don’t want to go outside again. Sometimes I’m cold all day. Sometimes my jaw aches from the tension of clenching my teeth for so long. Sometimes
I fall asleep with the effort of warming up. Sometimes I sit in all my clothes, with a hot water bottle, under a blanket for hours. Sometimes I wish it wasn’t so hard.
Sometimes I wonder why I do it. But I always do.
You can sign up to be notified of each of Sally Goble's Postcards from the Pool... Click here
- Oct 20 - Burleigh Heads (Qld, 2km, 1km, 400m Jr, Dash for Cash)
- Nov 2 - Narrabeen (NSW, 1.6km, 800m)
- Nov 10 - Collaroy (NSW, 800m, 1.5km, 300m Kids)
- Nov 23 - Toowoon Bay (NSW, 400m, 1km, 2km)
- Nov 24 - Coogee (NSW, 2.4km, 1km, 800m Jrs)
- Dec 1 - Cronulla (NSW, 2km, 1km)
- Dec 7 - North Curl Curl (NSW, 2km, Biathlon, Skins)
- Dec 8 - Stanwell Park (NSW, 2.3km)
- Dec 15 - Mona Vale - Warriewood (NSW, Swim-Run-Swim Biathlon)
- Apr 4 - Coogee - Bondi (NSW, 4.5km)
- Apr 5 - Coogee (NSW, 2.4km, 1km, 800m Jrs)
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