As you swim south around the back of Wedding Cake Island off Coogee Beach and take your sightings, you’d be excused for thinking the circus had come to town. With its distinctive blue and yellow panelled railings, changing pavilions sitting atop enormous wooden pylons and steep winding stairs that lead down to the coral lined enclosed ocean pool, the site is indeed carnival like.
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John Koorey was the hare to Des Renford’s tortoise but unlike Aesop’s fable there was no ingenuity or trickery, just two big Sydney personalities from opposites side of the Harbour Bridge doggedly trying to be the first.
Yesterday, a stick poked me. So named for his insect like build, Stick’s a mate of my eldest son, Luke and he interviewed me for a university radio piece on mental health.
Two things happened day that couldn’t have ended my trip better on a better note.
I swam with my London based Vladswim friend, Chris McAnney in the Serpentine, Hyde Park where I swam with James Goins on my first day here. I was great to bookend my visit with these swims and in the company of these gentlemen.
It’s a little over two weeks now since my swim, and I am well and truly rested and relaxed. Thanks to all my readers, family, friends and donors. Your support has been overwhelming.
The day started inauspiciously when we boarded our vessel and it wouldn’t start. The spare battery was also flat. Thoughts of an all day swim suddenly turned to a day night game. Boat pilots are tight, so in no time we had a couple of batteries and we were off.
After a couple of false starts due to weather I’m set to start my swim at 6 am Tuesday (5 pm Tuesday night, Sydney). I will post this when I get final confirmation tonight and then surrender all social media devices while I try to get a few hours sleep.
I was always going to be the last swimmer of our group. It’s just the way the bookings worked.
My sports psychologist, Paul and I worked on this scenario before I left Australia: the other three would cross and I’d be left alone training and waiting.
The third of our group of four Frosty Nuts has moments ago crossed the English Channel. I’m writing this with tears of joy welling in my eyes.
Our basecamp is 10 minutes out of Dover at Reach Court Farm in the 15th century village of St Margaret’s-at-Cliffe. Literally and symbolically, it’s the closest land to France. We are in the middle of wheat fields ready for harvest and the weather is superb.
The advice of seasoned channel swimmers and coaches is consistent, don’t think of France, don’t look back at the white cliffs, swim from feed to feed and eventually you run out of water.
The Republic of Dovakia is a parallel universe that sits alongside the town of Dover. The former is the world of international open water swimmers, the latter a tough working class town. There’s very few that cross over.
Come the summer solstice channel swimmers and their crew start arriving in Dover. Some come to break records, others like me come to cross.
Standing under the white cliffs of Dover looking across to France and thinking of my swim across the English Channel in a few days, I am reminded of lines from ‘Ambition’ by the Australian poet, Russell Plunkett. My mother gave a framed copy to me some years ago.
There is a certain perverse unity that comes from cold-water swimming and my English Channel training has introduced me to many tight knit groups that love the extremes.
Perhaps it’s because he’s from a landlocked country, Slovakia that my coach Vlad is so passionate about open water swimming. You need passion and a big personality to get up each morning to be at the pool by 6 to coach anything between 40 – 60 surf lifesavers, tri-athletes, ironmen, and English Channel swimmers, and he has both in spades.
English Channel world recorder holder, Trent Grimsey (6 hrs 55 mins, 6 Sept 12) describes Brisbane’s Sutton’s Beach on his website, ‘Great one day, perfect the next’. I must have been at a different Suttons Beach the day I swam there in what was to become my defining channel training swim.
I happened upon English Channel Therapy quite by accident and quickly realized it was for me. The secret I discovered is that preparing to swim the English Channel takes all the essential ingredients of B2 treatment and rolls them into one convenient to use program.
The story of my English Channel crossing begins in the mountains of Papa New Guinea.
There, in the spring of 2007, I walked the Kokoda Trail. The trail runs 97 km straight up and straight down the Owen Stanley Ranges and is the path of the great battle between Japanese and Australia soldiers that saw the Japanese defeated for the first time in World War 2 and Australia protected from invasion.