Arrive way early and park way up in the hills of the Coogee hinterland, beside St Bridget’s Catholic Church. Fr Terry Bowland, the parish priest, gives a great sermon on JC versus Obersturmbannführer Pilate, John 18:33-38.
Surfmuppet, to those who knew him back in the day, was a wild youth of ill repute and these days atones for his wayward past by occasionally swinging by Church of a Sunday. Could be a genuine trek on the spiritual path or maybe the real agenda is JCs water walking skills rubbing off should a white pointer lunge up from the deep and there’s surfmuppet hoofing it back to shore on top of the water.
Strolling down the hill on Waltham Street in the warm November sun thinking this is going to be a great day. Turn left into Arden Street and run straight into my buddy Paul from the Rocks coming back from his morning constitutional, sea water dripping off him. He reports the water lovely and we have a great old chat for about ten minutes as the suburb comes to life around us. Solve the problems of the world and then each his own separate way goes.
Arrive on the semi circular set of steps in the middle of Coogee beach at 8am and there is Donkey and the Sea Nymph in the brand new Bondi Fit navy with yellow writing T-Shirts. Next Piano Paul appears and then there’s Spot out on the sand calling for help to put up the BF tent. There’s a sting in the sun already, first hint that summer is only a week away.
We put up the tent and slap on the sun block, banter away, get ready for the warm up for the 1km. Register, get a number on each arm, a timing tag for each swim, lime green swim cap.
Race strategy this week is the total opposite to Cockatoo Island. Last week it was lurk behind the Muppet Show old boys (aka Rumpole and the Taxman) then launch all torpedoes in the last couple of hundred metres.
Total Disaster – the reality was go like a lunatic for the first 500m, blow up, limp around the island in recovery mode and then go nuts for the last 500m in a head to head death race against Rashie man. Felt like puking up the breakfast all over the jetty at the end, heart pounding in the chest, staggering about like a drunken surfmuppet circa 1985.
No, Coogee is going to be different. Easy steady pace. Underwater smile at any boofhead provocation. Ignore the clock, just enjoy the day.
Photos and warm-up, Spot entertaining the troops struggling into his one piece Lycra Triathlon suit. Couple of ins and outs, water temperature ideal, little bite for the first couple of seconds but then grand.
The 1km goes in three waves with us old bastards the last. Straight out to sea, turn south around the yellow cone, then turn back towards the beach at another cone, north past the green can, then sharp left between two big cans and straight in and over the line.
Pure magic! Take it nice and steady. Enjoy the view of the sea creatures darting in and about the rocks. Bit of a sprint at the end for the craic, catch a touch of a wave and over the line.
In the last wave again for the 2km. Find a small tree up on the promenade where a woman in an orange cap is sheltering from the by now very hot sun. We’re joined by a cluster of my fellow green hatters, watching the other waves of swimmers pour into the sea in three minute intervals.
Once in the water pick a line to the first can and avoid the other swimmers. Last week it was mayhem but today great, only a bit of argy bargy. Get smacked on the head only once during the race. Nearly lose the timing tag at one stage and stop to tighten it, clear the goggles and then on again. Like last year, we seem to go a long, long way out before reaching the cone to turn south out the back of the Wedding Cake Island. Water safety is everywhere and surfmuppet is so laid back he even manages to smile at one of them.
Jellyfish – like last year, swarms of harmless translucent blobs – at one point there’s what appears to be millions of them in suspended animation as we swim through.
The clear water gives a great view of the reef along the seaward side of the island and coming around the southern end, the currents don’t feel as strong as last year. By this stage starting to overtake the stragglers from the previous waves – you can see the fatigue in the technique gone AWAL, flaying about. One guy is being shadowed by a lifeguard on a board, talking to him. Seems alright. Just a bit further on a fellow green hatter is helped into a zodiac and whisked away. No disgrace. Better to put the hand up and get dragged out if in trouble than get stupid about it. Saw a couple of really experienced guys put up their hands at Mona Vale race last year, problems with cramp.
Get to thinking could this be done for a long race, as in the Francis Thornton Memorial Swim in Galway Bay which is about 6 times the length of this swim. Physical is one thing, mental the other. This pace would be no problem with more conditioning but holding the head together for that length of time is another thing. And of course the balmy waters of Galway Bay present a bit of a challenge temperature wise
Coming towards the end open the throttle a bit and start overtaking but then cop on and relax again – stick with the strategy. Plenty left in the tank coming up onto the sand so it worked. Afterwards, walking up the hill on Waltham Street to the car surfmuppet gets to thinking this was his most enjoyable set of swims in a long while. Totally chilled out.
This must be what they call Serenity.
One in the guys told how he even paused in the water to look back and admire the view of Sydney from out in the bay. Now there’s a thought. Maybe go and get one of those GoPro cameras and annoy the shite out of everyone else in the race.
Might get some good pics though.