rottnest channel, feb 23
Rottnest Channel Swim, Feb 23, 2013
The Tweetybirds - (l-r) Aquagirl (Nicole Chester), RealDeal_Cat (Cat McAlister), Mrs Sparkle (Suanne Hunt), and Seppo311 (Michelle Massy) - girls ready for adventure.
Book Four: Confessions of a Forty Year Old Ocean Swimmer.
Chapter Nine: Return to Rotto
I've just woken up, almost strangled by my Rottnest Island Channel Swim medal. Still, seeing that medal first thing in the morning reminds me that the day before really did happen and death by strangulation sounds almost romantic at this point. The after-race ache has really set into my bones and muscles, and all I can think about is getting myself into the pool down stairs to submerge myself in cold water. On the up-side, my head's stopped rolling around after the best part of 12 hours on the water yesterday, in swells between 2.5-3m. I can't wipe the smile off my face; this pain is almost delicious.
Our Rottnest Island experience has gone off without a hitch, apart from the odd vomit and the swell that's messed with our balance; it's made our result even more satisfying. Having a past experience to compare it too also changes perspective and expectation, this year I've had all of mine well and truly exceeded.
Walking along the water's edge at the conclusion of our race on Rottnest Island yesterday (in our fluoro orange Smugglettes) I was reminded of just how big this even really is with almost 2,300 solo, duo and team competitors, along with their support boats and paddlers ; that's a lot of action on one 20km stretch the water. A sea of boats all moored close to shore looking for their swimmers and paddlers ,and at least that amount again and some, of young pretenders who celebrate with beer and loud music, frat house style just because they can; it really is all that.
Tired, emotions high and hot with the high sun blasting us, we searched up and down the beach for our boat, all the while getting comments from people, even the local police, about how bright and beautiful our bathers were; another good choice, just like our Wonder Woman bathers from the year before.
Carol, our weary paddler, did eventually make contact with us spotting said bright bathers, followed along by wrangler and team manager extraordinaire Mr Oceanswims himself and back to the boat we went to have a spell and a little bevy. The dilemma: stay for presentations in the hope we placed, or leave early to get back across the vast stretch of water we'd just crossed earlier, in daylight? My vote was for the latter, it's was for the majority too.
The Twitter verse was a flurry with questions and congratulations but it was the inbox message from my training partner and very good friend Jo (@ DolphinJo) that planted the seed... Was it possible we'd come third? Technology is an incredible thing, truly eye boggling and in this instance, all kinds of wonderful. As well as being able to tweet while we swam, answer text messages from family and friends, update Facebook statuses and 'check in' to the Indian Ocean, we'd been tracked by GPS via the MapSwim app and our support group from far and wide were abreast of our progress on a minute by minute basis. Amazing. After a little Google magic, thirty seconds later the good news was confirmed: 3rd place in the female 150+ category had our name written all over it! I couldn't believe it. Neither could Michelle, who is a serial crier and shed tears in half a second flat. She's certain to be an actress or comedian when she grows up, but at the moment boasts being a self-confessed drama queen. I love this girl for that alone.
Despite our success, we decided to make our way back 'home' and let the recovery process begin. No one could stop smiling, despite the now larger swell and huge ships in the channel sharing our water space. Cap'n Rod was well experienced in attacking this water and I felt safe as houses. As we crossed, we could still see warriors out there with their support crews bobbling alongside, their poor tired bodies being belted around by the now bigger swell. Some of those competitors had been out there for nine long hours, the longest time for the solo swimmers was 10 hours 49 sec. What an enormous stress on their bodies. Kudos to those who complete this event solo. You've far more determination and guts than I (I'd rather poke my own eyes out with a fork. 10 hours with just me to talk to would be murder.)
Cottesloe Beach c. 4:40am, as the mob begins to assemble.
Shortly after the Tweetybirds' start, a front rolled through that looked like a mountain range when first spotted as we emerged from the Swan River mouth. But it just rolled through, and kept on rolling.
The mob spreads out: What this masks is the frantic jockeying as swimmers and paddlers attempt to find each other, then they both try to find their boats. There's a sailing ship about 2km out, the Leeuwin, past which swimmers are not permitted to go without paddler and boat.
Tweetybirds' first changeover: all above board.
It looks like our individual training programs were all successful and the four of us, whilst fatigued and maybe a little overwhelmed, could have continued swimming if necessary. Cat and Suanne are regular training partners in Sydney, Michelle loves a bit of trash talk in the pool in Brisbane and also kicks her own butt at CrossFit and well, if you know me, I swim solo a lot in Port Phillip Bay in the blue waters of Melbourne and race loads of ocean swims over summer. All in all, a diverse combo but a winning one for us.
Our game plan of starting with twenty minute rotations, then fifteen, ten and five kept us on our toes, well rested when needed, refuelled and focused. I'd recommend this rotation order to anybody attempting longer swims in relay situations and have used it in the Bloody Big Swim as well in Melbourne.
If there's one person who is vital in a race like this, it's your team paddler. Our paddler Carol was a friend of a friend, with a running background and some paddling experience. In terms of being involved in an event by this scale though, she was a rookie. At our pre-race strategy meeting where we met our new crew and their significant others, we ran through the proceedings with Carol, her eyes widening as the conversations progressed. This was going to be a big deal for her, 20 km of paddling would be a milestone .
On race day, after a little strategy refresh at 6am with Michelle on the start line (being our first swimmer from Cottesloe) and some sound advice from another paddler on the start line "Pick a line and commit", she went off like a frog in a sock with our matching bright orange kayak and hi-vis vest on. Just as planned, Carol found Michelle at the first marker buoy and guided her beautifully to our boat, where we could see Michelle with ease, as she has a wicked right arm roundhouse when stroking, that stands out like a tall mast on a ship . "You've got to sort that out Seppo," Mr Os.c warned, again and again. "Imagine how much faster you'd go if you did." (It's also an issue of shoulder wear and tear and possibly serious injury: os.c)
The start is manic and majestic all at once: hyperactive swarm of boats, swimmers and paddlers, all vying for water space. Emotions run high here, boats are at times in VERY close proximity and it is here that safety measures and following the rules are paramount to swimmer and boat safety. No reversing EVER, keep it slow, use your spotters to look out for your own swimmer and others. It's easy to get lost in a crowd.
Nice course, Cap'n Rod.
This early success was to set the standard for the rest of our race. One after another, Michelle (@Seppo311), Cat (@RealDeal_Cat) Suanne (@MrsSparkle) and myself rotated over, in well executed moves, delivering ourselves to the tag point and passing on an umbilical cord of sorts, where we were then dragged in behind the boat. We waited for clearance from Cap'n Rod and Paul, waiting for neutral gear, and then tried to mount the vessel in the best way we could. Remaining "lady-like" was near impossible, as at times the rolling swell made it difficult to clamber aboard, more like roll on as best we could in order to re-engage gear and continue to move forward with our racing members.
Amongst the flotilla, the views changed from minute to minute, one in particular that left us with our eyes nearly popping out. Some competitors decided to follow some "alternative rules", particularly the teams and duos, where they could take on the extra challenge and do a rotation butt naked! Now, as you all know, I'm all for 'newd' but this is just taking things WAAAAYYY too far. Lo and behold, the boat next to us took up the challenge to bare all and show us a few white pointer species we didn't know existed in these waters. Cap'n Rod was temporarily blinded and Mr oceanswims was agog. Needless to say this team had our full attention. Bravo girls! Conquering the Indian Ocean is one achievement, doing it with extra drag is quite another! Despite this, as it turns out, these bad girls were in fact our direct competition and ended up beating us by just over ten minutes. Maybe it was their race strategy to distract us mid-race?
Shouts of joy had arisen as the 10km buoy came and went, all feeling good except our long suffering paddler Carol, who was slowly being defeated by the rolling swell and a numb butt. Medication from last year's Tweetybird team member Dr Liz helped the colour slowly return to Carol's face but by 17km, it was decided that we'd bring her aboard and swim just with our support boat. Extra eyes were vital now, and Michelle made sure she made eye contact with me at all times, while I swam through the now converging flotilla as we passed the Phillip Rock gate. This is where it gets hairy. Boats, paddlers, swimmers, all manoeuvring and squeezing into the same place; it was on for young and old.
Changing over, not drowning: Mrs Sparkle accepts the handover from Real Deal Cat.
Earth to Seppo: This is how you protect your goggles whilst diving in; note the head right down, chin on chest.
Out there just past 18km we came across a solo swimmer. He'd stopped for a minute and was just treading water. "Come on buddy, you're nearly there!!!!" we all screamed and clapped at him.
"How far are we?" he asked, a little dazed and confused.
" We've just passed the 18 buoy!"
" Ummmmm..... How far IS this race?" he questioned.
" 19.7 km!!!!!" we replied in dismay. His lights were on but no one was home.
Quick decisions have to be made sometimes and before we knew it, we'd hit the elusive last buoy. If you read my report last year... click here... you'd remember there was an almost unspeakable situation dubbed the "Indian ocean toe tapping incident of 2012" where, as all of us swum in a line for shore (more like a peloton rather than a bunch of swimmers), one of the team members (whose name will remain unspoken , but it rhymes with hat) decided to toe-tap our Queenslander Michelle as we trundled into shore. To put it very bluntly, biffo nearly unfurled. And being a team member who has a long memory and can't help but take up the opportunity to stir things up a bit, I systematically toe tapped all of our girls, just for a giggle this year. Michelle was on to me straight away, Suanne was lured in, doing the right thing by back stroking a few strokes looking out for me, so I pounced, and then Cat the last lucky recipient, completing the trifecta. As soon as we got in, Michelle questioned me with a big belly laugh to boot, she knew I'd not be able to pass up the opportunity to re-enact such a funny moment from last year. Such good times.
Michelle, of course cried again as we all met her on the finish line. She'd powered ahead with the timing chip. Cat churned it up and Suanne had a smile on her face; she'd been foxing swimming with another team of purple capped swimmers in the finishing chute. Little did they know Michelle had already crossed the line. Photos were taken next and we had a chat with a female soloist who looked tickety-boo considering she'd just swum 20 km. She told us "I knew at the 10 km mark I'd never do this again. You only get one number plate, right?" (In Western Australia, solo Rotto swimmers are entitled to a personalised car number plate: "Personalised number plates were introduced in 2000 and are available to solo swimmers who have made a successful crossing of the Rottnest Channel. The (Rottnest Channel Swim Association) issues a number to each swimmer who completes a solo swim to Rottnest. Permanently attached to each name, the number on the plate is the swimmer's solo number, not their number of solo crossings...") We also saw our non compus mentus solo swimmer stumble over the line. He was certainly out of it, but finished nevertheless.
Seppo's right arm offered blessings: we could pick her a mile off when she came off the beach at the start. But we do hope she has a good orthopaedic surgeon in mind later in her career. Doesn't stop her being a very strong swimmer, though.
On the boat on our way back, Carol, our paddler was looking loads better and when we asked her if she'd ever paddle in this event again, she replied bluntly, straight faced and dead serious: "I'd rather die". What a clanger! We all lost it; it was such a direct and honest thing to say, in amongst our ridiculously high elation. This event certainly polarises people; it's the sweet and sour of endurance events.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. The opportunity to look back and reflect on an experience had or maybe even an opportunity missed is a powerful influence for future adventures. For me, Rotto is nothing but a powerful influence for positive moves forward.
If I'd thought more clearly, I probably wouldn't have eaten so much in the days after the event. Like others, many ocean swimmers were tweeting, they too had taken on a new sport of triathlon, in the form of pizza, desserts and shakes, and were hydrating with Moet. But along with the meals and bevies, there has been vivid revisiting of the race, tweets, photo sharing, surprise at our success, elation and so much laughter. Many thanks of course goes to Michelle Massy, Cat McAlister, Suanne Hunt, Mr Oceans, Cap'n Rod and our paddler Carol, it was a team effort all round. This group of people are incredibly special to me, people I'd consider family and look forward to sharing more swimming adventures with, in the future (except of Carol, of course, who I'm sure is giving paddling away).
For photos in greater glory... click here
Race results... click here :
Till next race, Thrill Seekers,
Tired but happy.
Other Rotto blobs...
Michael Teys... click here
Feel for the Water... click here
Santos... click here
Jay SHukla's slide show... click here
Official movie 2012... click here
The West Online report... click here
Send us a link to your blob... click here
Report and pics by Nicole Chester (@Aquagirl72).
oceanswims.com uses Olympus cameras: the Tough TG-1 and PEN E-P1.
Our thanks to our favourite ocean swimming brewer, Chuck Hahn, for the
James Squire Award.
Follow us on Twitter - @Aquagirl72, @glistenrr, @sparkleocean, @CoffeeMumSwims, @1worldimages, @KAOSVIC, @GoBraveDave, @sparkleocean and @oceanswims
Have your say and tell us what you thought of these and other swims on the oceanswims blob... click here