Last Zebra in Botany Bay

The tiny suburb of Kyeemagh, the jump off point for this Saturday’s swim, is a salient of land bounded by Muddy Creek to the northwest, the Cooks River to the North, and Botany Bay, originally called Stingray Bay by Captain Cook, when he first arrived in 1770.

The beach was originally called Seven Mile Beach and extends from the mouth of the Cooks River to the north, to the Georges River in the south. The name was changed in 1874 to Lady Robinson’s Beach, in honour of the wife of the Sir Hercules Robinson, Governor of NSW 1872-79.

7am rendezvous with Vlad the Impaler and his motley crew of long distance swimmers.

One of those balmy Autumn Sydney days which are the stuff of legend. Join the bodies traipsing their way down to the beach from the car parks off Bestic Street and the area around C Side restaurant just off General Holmes Drive.

Some of the channel trainees are going for a six hour swim up and down Marine Parade.

The rest are planning lesser swims but still substantial compared with the muppet’s best effort of 3.8km last year in the Lake Macquarie Coal Point-Belmont race. The 10km of 100 x 100m in the ABC pool last weekend doesn’t count in the open water stakes.

Vlad marshals the proceedings, getting his kayak ready and the two other kayakers going out on the course also. One of the kayaks has a shark guard (www.sharkshield.com) which is both reassuring and a touch disconcerting. Charm takes names, gets waivers signed off from those who haven’t do so already.  Slapping on of Vaseline, sun block, getting hydration and food sorted out.

A crate mounted on a boogie board, with some additional flotation, is anchored at the start, just off the beach where Charm has set up a beach tent, various armchairs and a bag full of goodies and the Saturday papers.

Water temperature is approximately 23.5 degrees, so warm as. Not exactly training for the frigid water of northern European e.g the English Channel or the Atlantic (Galway Bay to be more precise), but the objective for today is time in the water. The cold water training camp in Melbourne in two weeks time (www.swimadventures.com.au/content/melbourne-camp) will kick the icicle conditioning off nicely for those requiring it. Would be great for the 15 degrees expecting in Galway in July but not sure at this point if the marriage will allow for the weekend of 13 degree ocean frolicking away from Castle Von Muppet atop of the Gorge.

The first leg is a 3km swim south past Brighton-le-Sands parallel to Marine Parade, incorporating a swim past of the Novotel, the shopping precinct, the line of yellow buoys, the shark netted area, the orange buoy to the south of this, which is the 1.5km marker. Then past two breakwaters to the corner of the third which marks out the 3km course. Food and hydration loaded onto the kayaks for the rendezvous at the southern end.

Off the gang sets after a brief photograph, to the roar of Boeings and Airbuses taking off and landing from the runways of Sydney airport a few hundred metres to the north. This is a fairly gun crew, most of them English Channel and/ or Rottnest Channel veterans and the muppet is very quickly the last zebra in the pack, trailing behind and the gap getting wider by the stroke.

Inexorably, the sight of the mob, plus the escorting kayaks inc the one with the sharkshield, fades from view and the last zebra is left to zig zag up the bay with only a vivid imagination for company. Fuel is provided by Mr Spielberg’s 1976 gorefest and various offering from the Nat Geo channel on Foxtel.

Not good.

There’s the physical conditioning for long distance (working on it) and the psychological side of things (working on it). That’s not just anti beastie positive thinking.  It’s also coping with keeping it together during prolonged bouts of binary switching between the realms of the surface (the land of the living) and the depths (bubbles, murky water, an occasional glimpse of the sea floor and sometimes a fish).

Prolonged instances of staring into the darkness of the abyss, both external and after a while, in the depths of the soul. On this journey bereft of all save Speedos, goggles, swimming cap, about as naked as the day of birth (some say ocean swimmers are born, like baby sharks, fully equipped to survive, all goggled up), and the state of ultimate departure off-planet.

No wonder a muppet can freak the shite out of himself within a kilometre or so. The sand on the beach looks awful tempting. Ok, there’d be the walk of shame up the beach, but hey, just gather up the gear, auf weidersehn not to the support team, and zoom away in the car, throwing all the swimming stuff out the window on the way to the next adventure – maybe trail bike riding or parachuting. Join the Army Reserve or perhaps the local Men’s Shed. Take to the drink even.

When all else fails, just keep putting one arm in front of the other, stroke for stroke and tell the head to go get f**ked.

But then a splash from behind and through the glare of the still early morning sun glancing off the water, a large head appears.

“All right, mate? Want to swim together?”

Turns out Big John, training for the English Channel in August/ September, strained a shoulder in training and is taking it steady today – going for 12 to 15km but at a slow pace.

We buddy up and stay that way, except for the last 1.5km when the muppet totally blows up with fatigue and slogs back up the course in solitude – but cool with it.

So it’s on down the sweep of the waterfront, past the white edifice of the Novotel. The line of yellow buoys marking the no boat zone in front of the main boulevard. Past the piers and white wire meshing of the shark save swimming area (the people inside grabbing their children to point out the loons swimming outside, giving them a lecture on what not to do kiddies), the orange market buoy at 1.5km and then the rock formations jutting out into the bay – one, two, three.

We meet the strings of other swimmers on the return leg with their kayak escorts but keep going to the end point where Vlad is waiting on his kayak. Stop for a minute and get reorientated. No goodies for us, must be on the other kayaks. Warning about the jet skis occasionally zipping up and down, keep closer in to the beach.

This works well until the pair swim too close to one of the yellow market buoys. Surfmuppet’s head misses it by a hair’s breath, but Big John slaps into it with his left hand and discovers it’s as hard as concrete. Grazing and blood in the water. Stuff it, keep going. Energy starts to flag coming towards the start point despite a brief mercy fuel-up with Gatorade from Vlad as he escorts the rocket swimmers back down the beach for their next leg.

Reach the jumping off point of the boogie board with the goodies and the pair dive in to the snacks, energy gel, water, Gatorade. An angry voice disrupts and here’s Charm wading out, resplendid in a floral one piece, dishing out a bollocking about the pair not fuelling up at the end of the 3km leg. Fair enough. The pair take it and then set off again on the 1.5km leg to the orange buoy and then back again.

The return leg is a Via Dolorosa for the muppet as fatigue kicks in big time and it comes down to grinding out the metres regardless of speed. Cramping in the legs and shoulders so move a bit closer to the shore in case of a big cramp and having to get out of the water. Work through it and keep going. Spy an occasional-looks-like-a-mini-stingray thingy under the water. The rockets flash by again on their fifth leg or whatever but past caring at this stage. Need to keep lifting and looking to avoid a head-on head smash. Been there, done that, not pleasant.

The steady stream of incoming jetliners provides a bit of diversion when breathing to the ocean side. Some beach walkers on the land side.

Say goodbye to Big John at the end as he keeps going for another couple of laps. Great to have a partner on a distance swim like this, even just to provide a second opinion on direction or boost the morale.

Charm and some of the earlier finishers are relaxing on the beach. Officially logged at 9km over 3 hours, 25 minutes approximately.  Longest distance and time in the water for the muppet by a country mile, or whatever the nautical equivalent. Slowest Zebra in the Bay but get there in the end.

Bit of chat and banter, then it’s off to the Silver Bullet and then over the hill and far away.

13km is starting to look a bit more approachable.

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2 Responses to Last Zebra in Botany Bay

  1. Gorm says:

    Excellent work. Surf muppet can swim with us anytime. Buddy you can write better than I can swim
    Gorm

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