• Marathon Swimming

Summers conquers The 60 Miler after a five-year odyssey

Australian marathon swimmer, Dean Summers, has completed the Newcastle to Sydney swim and set a new Australian long-distance swim record along the way.

Dean Summers, a regular fixture on Australia’s marathon swimming stage, recently completed his most ambitious marathon swim challenge – ‘The 60 Miler’ – a 95.6-kilometre swim from Newcastle to Sydney, setting a new Australian long-distance swim record in doing so.

The swim has only been attempted twice by two of Australia’s marathon swimming legends, Des Renford and Susie Maroney, but neither successfully completed it, making Mr Summers the first to conquer the course.

“Australian Champion Des Renford tried to do the swim in 1981 but had to abandon his attempt after his shark cage sank just off the entrance, achieving only half the distance,” said Mr Summers.

“The swim then wasn’t attempted by another swimmer until 1999, when Susie Maroney tried the swim.

“Unfortunately, Susie suffered a similar fate, when the weather turned very nasty and she was smashed by a southerly storm and had to abandon the swim.”

Mr Summers’s attempt at ‘The 60 Miler’ had been on the cards since 2019, but after a few hiccups, he completed it on March 14, 2024.

“I started talking about the swim in 2019 and set out to research the two other attempts I could find, Des’s and Susie’s,” said Mr Summers.

“I then set a schedule to do the swim in February 2022, but a series of terrible events unfolded, including Covid, torrential coastal storms, and sickness in the family forced me to postpone the swim.

“It would have been easy just to let the whole idea slide, but I’m surrounded by very positive people and live in an environment where the ocean is constantly calling, so I set the new date for March 2024.

“The new date surprised some, but here in Australia, March is, of course, the beginning of autumn, and the waters are still warm, and the winds have usually dropped, so it was perfect timing.”

Mr Summers during The 60 Miler

The 60 Miler meant more to Mr Summers than just another marathon swim but rather a recognition to Australia’s Seafarers.

“I called the swim ‘The 60 Miler’ in recognition of the Australian merchant fleet that ran between Newcastle and Sydney,” said Mr Summers.

“Over 100 years, they provided coal for the power stations. The ships ran from the inside of Newcastle Harbour to the inside of Sydney Harbour, carrying coal over 60 nautical miles, which is why my swim is called The 60 Mile.

“I am an Australian Seafarer, and it was appropriate for me to take the opportunity to acknowledge all the hard work and dedication of the Australian Maritime industry in what I was doing.”

Like with any marathon swim, organising the logistics was a feat in itself, and some might say that actually swimming was the easy part of the two.

“The logistics of The 60 Miler was an enormous task,” said Mr Summers.

“Unlike when you do the Oceans Seven marathon swims, where you pay your money and the logistics are sorted out for you, I had to do it myself with my team for this swim.

“I had to draw together a large crew of experts in their fields because the swim covered two days.

“I was fortunate that the spirit of the expedition is alive and well in Australia, and everyone I contacted was very enthusiastic to be involved.

“My team included Doug, the owner of a 65-ton steel vessel ‘Aurelia’ in Newcastle; he also brought along a captain. Then I asked another master mariner, Warwick, to be the expedition leader, and he was an expert in communications with authorities, risk analysis, planning and navigation. I also had a medico, four kayakers, an onboard administrator, a nutritionist, my coach and official observer Vlad Mravec, and three shore-based support crew who organised my cars and landside contingencies.”

Mr Summers’s swim was uneventful for the first 12 hours of the 31 hours it took to complete, which is any marathon swimmer’s dream.

“The first 12 hours were happily uneventful, apart from the regular blue bottle stings and seeing shivers of stingrays and lots of fish in the clear, warm water,” said Mr Summers.

“I wasn’t looking forward to the first night of swimming, but to my surprise, it was the most beautiful part of the swim. There was about 5% moon, but the night sky was lit up very bright by the Milky Way, with no ambient light to lessen the effect.

“When the last rays of sunlight were gone, the ocean turned black, and it wasn’t until dusk had completely slid away that I realised I was surrounded by bioluminescence in the water. With every stroke, in an increasingly calming ocean, the motion of my hands in the water ignited the blue-green light show that is bioluminescence.

“For the next 10 hours, I watched tiny sparkles of marine organisms burst into life by the actions of my splash and then gently wash past me, often exploding softly on my goggles. It was truly extraordinary.”

As the swim went on, Mr Summers became increasingly fatigued, and the challenges started to arise from the second sunrise.

“As the second sunrise broke through, I knew I was becoming fatigued, and although I felt really strong in my shoulders, my mind was starting to become disoriented,” said Mr Summers.

“I then felt the water stirring more than it had overnight, and the stings from blue bottles seemed to be getting more frequent. My mouth, throat and inside of my nose became severely salt burnt, but the sunrise on my back did help to regain my composure and patience.

“I was about 16 kilometres from shore when it quickly became the toughest part of the swim. I imagined highway crash rails on either side of me but still found it difficult to get a straight line into the shore.

“Finally, after more than 31 hours of swimming, I was close to the white sands of Palm Beach, which was actually closed because of a dangerous shore break, but there was a lifeguard on a paddleboard who directed me along the line of least resistance.

“It was here that I was met with 30 to 40 of my wonderful supporters from Coogee and Newcastle who gave me a hero’s welcome.”

What next for Mr Summers?

“By agreement with my long-suffering wife and now logistics expert Kylie, we have nothing in the pipeline.”

  • Written by Suzie Ryan on 26 March 2024
  • (Updated on 26 March 2024)

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