(very belated) 2012 South Head Roughwater Swim Report – Part 2

As I mentioned in Part I was lucky enough to be staying at Bondi Beach which was the starting location for the swim, and the swim start was at a very civilized time, so the normal pre-swim rush around was largely absent. Time enough for two breakfasts ūüôā

Getting ready at the start

Getting ready at the start

After days of beautiful blue skies and relatively calm seas we had overcast skies and decent size swells for the day of the swim. The water temperature was roughly in the 70F range so it was a decent day for swimming but somewhat miserable for the crews. It did end up raining intermittently during the swim, and the swells caused my brother to throw up half a dozen times (though thankfully I only found that out after the swim).

And we are off!

And we are off! – Photo from southheadroughwater.com

The start was the usual melee of swimmers as the course was somewhat constrained as we made our way out to the¬†committee boat. The regulations of this particular swim required every swimmer to check in with the committee boat and then be directed to their escort boat. I met up with my brother and the charter boat ok and the main part of the swim was under way. The coastline of Sydney from Bondi to the entrance of the Harbour is fairly foreboding cliffs, there is no where to get ashore if you did run into trouble – a fairly committed swim as it were.¬†For this swim I didn’t have a kayaker, so I was feeding from bottles that my brother would throw to me. The bottle was tied to line so he could then retrieve it when I was done. This work reasonably well other than a tendency for the escort boat to get tossed around by the swell, so the line was often¬†under tension¬†while I was trying to feed.

a foreboding coastline

a foreboding coastline

I did a few 11,000 yard swims in preparation for this event, and my times were consistently around the ~3h 30m mark. I was not sure exactly how that would translate into open water times. My previous solo open water swims had all been in San Francisco Bay where the strong tides result in currents that make it hard to determine what your actual speed is. Based on my pool times I was hoping for a 4 hour time finish, but mostly wanted to come in under 4h 15m which is the qualifying time for the Rottnest Channel swim. I remember hitting the 4 hour mark and the finish not being in sight and feeling a bit dark about the whole process. It did not help that when we rounded the heads and entered Sydney Harbour the water temperature dropped a few degrees.

Eventually though managed to make it to the finish at the Vauclause Yacht club and very happily staggered up the ramp 4h 36m after the start. Unfortunately by that time there was no more hot water left in the showers, so was a bit of a shivering wreck in the changeroom until my brother got me some hot tea and a stranger loaned me a warm jacket.

Warming up after the swim. My brother is only 2 inches taller than me so either he is standing on something or shrank during the swim...

Warming up after the swim. My brother is only 2 inches taller than me so either he is standing on something or shrank during the swim…

I had three main goals for this swim:

  • Finish
  • Finish in 4h15m (Rottnest Qualifying speed)
  • Not come last

I succeeded on 2 out of those three goals so was definitely happy, but the incredibly slow time was a bit of a concern.

I had worn my GPS under my cap, but due to likely operator error the track did not save so I had no record to look back at. My GPS does buzz every mile though, and I believe I counted at least 7 buzzes, meaning that my likely swim distance was over 10km. I think the other factor is I just underestimated the difference between my open water speed and pool speed.

This was a very valuable learning experience but it did put a pause in my plans to swim the Rottnest Channel. It wasn’t until later in 2012 when I did a lake 10km in 3h 28m that I felt confident about committing to the swim in 2013.

The Southhead¬†Roughwater is a great swim though, well organized and with an interesting course. I’d love to do it again (subject to finding a cheaper boat). Highly recommended.

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