Training has been reasonably intense the last few weeks, and with the exception of right now I have managed to stay well. I’ve been pumping out 25-30kms per week in the pool, then a long swim on Saturdays. We’ve mixed it up a bit in the last few weeks and I was even persuaded to spend 4 hours in Manly Dam on the basis that the water was cold!
Last weekend brought a long anticipated opportunity to conquer a challenge I have wanted to do since the very beginning of this Channel journey. Since 2011 the idea of swimming from Palm Beach to Manly has fascinated me. Over the last few years I have swum every piece of coastline from Coogee to Pittwater, including some epic swims across/around The Heads, from one end of the harbour to the other, and from beach to beach.
To tackle the entirety of the Northern Beaches in one go though, now that would truly be an accomplishment. I tried with a group in 2012, but we got pulled out for safety reasons (see blog here). In 2013 I was due to swim with friends then got sick so ended up paddling. Now, this year, was my chance to get the monkey off my back, and deal with this. Given this weekend just gone was the last big weekend swim before the channel, it was a perfect end to an era, and awesome to have a destination swim. Much better to swim from A to B than swim in circles for hours!
Anyway, we met our chosen support boat “The Truck” at 6am on Saturday, together with handlers, paddlers - cae and I swimming. The forecast was for a 2 metre swell and reasonable winds of 20+kms per hour. Not the sort of day you would choose to swim this swim, but a good challenge.
As we set off in the boat from the Pittwater side of Palm Beach in the dark the anxiety was palpable. I was a bit nervous, but really excited. Cae and I jumped in off the boat when we reached the south end of Palm beach, from where we swam to the beach to prepare for the start - as we will in the channel! As we started swimming, it dawned on me that this would be a long day, but a day spent in good company with beautiful scenery. The first few Km’s were somewhat painful with the waves reflecting off the cliffs and making it hard to get into a rhythm. As soon as we reached Avalon we started heading out to sea to get a good straight line to the point of Long Reef. Pretty interesting being a couple of km off-shore in deep water.
As we swam towards Long Reef, arguably the most scary place to swim from my perspective as it’s such a well-known gathering place for large wildlife and sharks (just google long reef great white if you doubt this), it was so tantalising how slowly the headland appeared. The chop and swell were so big that I could only see the headland itself fleetingly as it’s pretty low, and the buildings around collaroy despite looking tall and crisp took ages to materialise.
Cae and I had been brought back together to pass the point given the “wildlife” risk. He’d swum better than me and been better organised and much quicker with feeds. I’d ended up with my liquids being on the boat and my solids on the kayak so each stop was a 3-4 minute “high tea” as Alex my paddler quipped. Anyway, it was of no matter to me at the time, the whole day was focused on achieving the goal. Making it to Shelley beach without running out of steam!
Having passed Long-Reef, we were in very familiar territory, the home stomping ground of my group of swimming buddies. Countless times we have swim these shores, and I entertained myself by thinking of my favourite swims, but also favourite memories with friends and family at each beach. Coconut ice-cream with my girls at Dee-Why, Coffees and summer days at North Curl Curl, Xmas morning at Freshwater……..
The elation when I swam around the corner into Shelley and saw my family and friends was memorable. Monkey off the back for sure, and I become one of a very small number to have achieved this feat.
I thought briefly about the Channel and how much longer, colder and harder this will be, but I’ve decided to embrace the challenge and this time I’m excited. It will be exceptionally hard. It’s still 13 degrees C in the channel, and given my slow pace last weekend (8.5 hours for 26km) I need to prepare for a 15+ hour crossing. I do believe though that the diesel engine, the juggernaut as it was once dubbed, should be able to roll on if nurtured and fed properly. We will see………….not long now!