Sunday 16th December, 2012
Beautiful morning for a swim.
When surfmuppet first came to Australia twenty three and a half years ago Christmas time was the weirdest time of the year. Used to the Christmas season categorised by darkness at 430 in the afternoon, howling gales off the winter tormented Atlantic, too cold and horrible for even the snow to stick to the ground or crunchy underfoot tip toeing around in case of a cracked skull from going arse over tit on black ice.
Barely a week now to go now and the silver bullet crests the hill on Sydney Road and scoots down the hill past Ivanhoe Park and Manly Oval into Manly itself. Blue and frothy is the ocean with a decent swell building as the tide rises. Sunshine glistening off the water, the sand a light tan, everywhere people buzzing about healthy, tanned, eager to jump into the day.
Welcome to Christmas time in Australia!
The wife came this morning armed with her book and training gear so that she could walk up and down Manly promenade a few times, then lounge around quaffing cappuccinos in bookland – while yer man battles the swells out in the bay for a couple of spins around the yellow buoys.
Bit of surf bubbling around so if the organisers stick to the original course for the two races it will be fun coming in through the break. But the word around the Manly Surf Club where registrations are taking place is the courses have been changed to go in and out of Shelly Beach. Lots of bluebottles about as well.
The organisation is a bit chaotic with swarms of punters lining up to sign up on the day. The queue snakes around the room and down the stairs. Pre-registered entries (thank you oceanswims.com) sidle past and are in and out of a flash.
Timing for the start of the 1km has been brought forward so it’s get the timing chips, the caps, slap on the sunblock and yomp around Marine Parade along Cabbage Tree Bay¸ past Manly Point and Fairy Bower to Shelley Beach for the kickoff.
Bondi Fitters start to emerge from the shadows -Sea Nymph and Dolphin Paul, the Singer, Limerick Nikki and the English gang.
Dolphin Paul and surfmuppet set off into the surf for a warm up. Bit fresh for a moment but then…zero complaints. Couple of sets of twenty stokes and then bob around a bit watching the crowd of racers build up on the sand. Whistles blowing, arms waving all back into shore – finally orders and course directions – we’re going anticlockwise around the bay.
The little ones go first in a wave of dash and bash.
Next in the ladies, a big pack of them churning the water up out into the bay, past a “Here be Divers” buoy underneath which a pod of budding Jacques Cousteau’s are mingling with the sardines.
Watch a line of them earlier waddling down the beach kitted out with at least their own body weight again in gear, astronauts in black wetties, tanks, flotation vest, extra air bottles, knives, fluoro coloured flippers, masks, snorkels, dive computer watches.
Past the knots of ocean swimmers in speedos, goggles and latex caps.
They lie on their backs on the ocean floor looking up at the throng of swimmers passing overhead, jaws-eye view of the pack.
There’s a bit of a swell breaking on the bower point and most swimmers track to the south of it.
A few go though the break and don’t come out the worst for it – although earlier a couple of the littlies are whisked back to Shelley via Zodiac but whether the injuries are from the rocks or from errant bluebottles is unclear.
The course is straight out to a set of buoys in the distance, left turn first one, then another left 100 metres at the next, back across the bay to the last buoy nestled just off the rocks at Fairy Bower and then the long slog back to Shelley.
Bit bumpy with the swell coming over the bower, carrying through into the wall of Marine Parade and back out.
Lots of chop but mild enough for a bit of fun without too much of a challenge.
Knackered at the end and for a second consider to hell with the 2km – but that’s the beauty of paying up front. Locked and loaded and to mean to walk away from the entrance fee. Stuff it, let’s go.
There’s not much recovery time between the swims and as soon as the last wave finishes the 1km, the first wave of the 2km is being prepped.
Madame Journo turns up nursing a hangover and is knocking back the water by the gallon to hydrate. She used to do the double bubble entries last season but this year seems to have wised up and only goes in for the longer one.
Bit of banter on the beach and then we’re off.
Strategy is to just swim and forget about strategy.
Shriek of brakes!
Cramp in the left foot after a bit of a dive and purpoise, pushing off hard from the shelly sand in the shallows – must be why they named it Shelley Beach.
The cramp is in the arch of the foot and stings more than a bit.
Instant calculation to just press on or call it quits, walk back up the beach and piss off back to Manly, find the wife, have breakfast and drive home.
Staggered about in the water on one leg, other one crossed over at the knee, massaging the foot arch and watching the remnants of the wave disappearing into the wide blue yonder.
Same part of the reptilian brain kicks in as in the Palm to Whale Beach swim two years ago when the brand new goggles were ripped off by a wave a couple of minutes after the start and it’s the rest of the race goggle-less – fire, ready, aim – just do it.
Start thrashing after the last of the last of the back of the pack and soon the cramp has been kicked out and it’s time to find a rhythm for the swim.
The swell is restive enough to bring on the old lift and look and anyway the tall buildings on the Manly seafront are sufficiently visible so that navigation shouldn’t be a problem.
But it is…for whatever reason…it is.
End up out on the lonesome trek in the middle of the bay with nary the splash of another swimmer about.
And in spite of the bright sunshine, the lazy rise and fall of the swell, the rows of Norfolk Island Pines along the beachfront packed with pre Christmas surf and sun lovers, the old heebie-jeebies start bubbling up from the deep unconscious.
Hasn’t helped having watched several episodes of Foxtel’s “Abalone Wars” recently with the young fella.
The show features the local Abalone divers off South Australia doing their daily grind harvesting giant sea slugs from the ocean floor while watching out for certain large white bellied beasties of ill repute who have been known to chow down on a diver, surfer or swimmer every now and again.
A couple of these fanged phantoms materialise between the ears of surfmuppet who responds with a mental rendition of “Frere est Jacques” to shut down the aberrant software loop trying to make a bollocks of the morning.
Soon a trio of other swimmers appear who apparently went through the break and thus ended up further out than most.
More company as us backmarkers converge on the first turning buoy.
Too much company with the ubiquitous buoy breast strokers zapping out their legs like Bruce Lee whacking the bad guys in Enter the Dragon.
Now the long swim back across the bay past the other buoys until Fairy Bower and then the turn for home with the same bit of bump and chop as in the 1km.
Just before that spotted what looked like a turtle deep down. Thought at first it was a ray. Turned head out of water to breathe. Turned back. Saw the pattern of what looked like turtle shell but then the creature had disappeared into the gloom.
This bucked the muppet up a bit and put a bit of a spring in the stroke for the final slog up to the sand.
Thrashed by all and sundry including the Journo who is casually munching an apple on the strand with an air of “what took you so long” about her. Joined by the wife and get a good goading and tormenting as only a brace of females can do when they have a hapless male a-roasting on the spit.
All that’s missing is an apple in the mouth.
Walk back to the main drag and the tide is now well high and blasting up against the sea wall on Marine Parade.
Manly is buzzing and the markets are doing a roaring trade with seasonal shoppers flocking to throw their geld at the stall holders in exchange for all kinds of trinkets, gadgets, garments and gewgaws.
Have the breakfast at Das Kaffeehaus (www.daskaffeehaus.com.au/), served up by a young German waitress with a warm smile that would melt the ice off the north face of the Eiger.
The BIG breakfast – lashings of animal fat, mushrooms, bread, the lot – washed down by a couple of cups of coffee.
Tis the season to be jolly…
Now off home to snooze in front of the telly and watch the latest installment of “Abalone Wars”.