Yes, although it seemed insane at first, when the 5km radius restriction was imposed in mid-August 2021 our best option for a swim proved to be Birchgrove, between the Balmain Sailing Club and Dawn Fraser Baths. The stories about the presence of bull sharks in the harbour had us hunting down research about them online and it seems as though they don’t really enjoy cold water, so with water temperature around 14 degrees Celsius at one stage and rarely getting to 17 C, we felt relatively safe.
It seems to be about 400m from the Sailing Club to Dawn Fraser Baths and we were happy to stay there. The regular distance allowed us to structure the sessions like our pool sets and everyone seemed content with that too. The water temperature proved shocking at first, but you do get used to it and once again, most of us had wetsuits. There was no cafe nearby, but lockdown rules prevented us congregating at cafes, so there was no point in having one anyway.
We usually swam three to four 800m loops, including some medleys, drills, build-ups, drafting practice in pairs (or threes), distance-per-stroke and some changing pace work.
One of our swimmer’s partner (Helen) loves to bake and she brought us BAKED GOODSTM on a couple of occasions, including the best frosted cinnamon scrolls I’ve ever had.
Apart from some razor sharp oyster shells on ladders and pylons the only hazard we encountered were jelly fish that seemed to stay about an arms length under the water. On a couple of days they were all over our course, but they proved pretty harmless. One swimmer did see a big scary stinger, but I didn’t. Maybe I am blessed with an ability to not notice things?
I missed the last two weeks of swimming due to my wetsuit being sent to Caringbah for repair. I could have driven or even walked down to Caringbah pick it up several days ago, but I wasn’t allowed to and it still has not arrived in the post.
By the last week of September we were led to believe that outdoor pools would reopen on the 27th, so hopefully this will be the last time I need to post about swimming during lockdowns. I live alone and my relations are all outside both my 5km and 10km radius during lockdown, so this was basically the only way I could regularly catch up with friends. Swimming is very important to me in a way that is hard to express, but I don’t much like swimming alone, so I am really grateful to a range of people who kept me company over these lockdown periods: Howard, Henry, Rob, Anita, Justine, Kirk, Axel, Carl, Paul Simon and Richard (hope I’ve not forgotten anyone else who swam with us at any of our locations).
We swam at Clovelly for a month from mid-July to mid-August and in the last couple of weeks when conditions and time permitted we ventured out of Clovelly, at first into Gordons Bay and finally to Coogee and back.
Once we were comfortable swimming to and within Gordons Bay we did it whenever sea conditions getting out of Clovelly and around the headland were favourable and once when swimming within Clovelly was just about impossible (and dangerous). I was shredded on the rocks when getting out at Gordons, but the swim itself was fantastic.
At Clovelly we really noticed a fair bit of sea life in the clear waters. There are a few different types of fish in Clovelly itself, including quite a few Blue Gropers and in Gordons Bay we saw a few generally harmless Port Jackson Sharks and probably a couple of small Grey Nurse Sharks too. They did not seem that interested in us. Nevertheless, I usually wore a Sharkbanz anklet.
It is pretty open going around the headland and heading south towards Gordons Bay, so there was some risk involved. I think the cold waters probably kept one of our big fears away (the nastier Noahs).
As COVID cases started to rise we started to wonder whether a tighter restriction would be imposed thus limiting our access to Clovelly and other open water swimming areas. So in our fourth week we began squeezing in more swims and we wondered whether we should push a swim to Coogee Beach and back. On what was to be our final Sunday swim at Clovelly conditions looked great and so off we went. It was truly memorable and really enjoyable.
Sadly, this did prove to be our final Clovelly swim and the last swim of the 10km from home period. On the way to Coogee we encountered a couple of surfers and also a couple of other swimmers doing a similar route. As we approached Coogee Beach we almost ran into a small group coming out. We all stopped and as I had a light blue swim cap on I asked them for their identity documents in my best authoritarian voice. They said they were only swimming in pairs, so I said I would let them off this one time and we swam away laughing our heads off.
Next up: where to swim after the 5km from home restrictions kicked in. Any guesses?
In mid-July 2021, after the horro of the freezing waters at Murray Rose Pool, we moved our swimming to Clovelly. I had been hesitant to go there as I thought it would be too crowded. Usually, however, it was only croded early morning and around lunchtime. Most people seemed to just come down for a quick dip then warmed up on the concrete and left.
Conditions varied but we usually completed 50-60 minutes with most of us wearing wetsuits. When we started the water temperature was usually 17-18 degrees Celsius, but it was very cold in the shallows
Initially we stayed within the confines of the long bay at Clovelly, doing what was basically a triangular circuit of the swimmable area a number of times (see map below). I had been describing Malabar as “Big Clovelly” because they’re pretty similar in form. They’re both ideal locations for swim training and there’s the added benefit of varying conditions. We all found it very enjoyable.
After a while we started to notice a few swimmers coming into the bay from Tom Caddy Point which is to the far right of the image above. They looked to have swum around the car park on the headland, from Gordons Bay or perhaps even from Coogee to the south. Then we saw some people swimming around in front of the car park so that seeded the thought for us …
On some days it looked a bit rough to get out beyond the rock wall at Clovelly so we stayed put for a few more days. We did, however, eventually venture out towards Gordons Bay one day when conditions looked ideal.
To find out what happened when we did venture out, you’ll have to wait until my next post.
When the 10 km radius limit was imposed we could no longer travel down to Malabar as it was beyond our travel limit. Ugh. This new phase of our COVID lockdown had started badly. Redleaf or more correctly Murray Rose Pool is a harbourside pool run by Woollahra Municipal Council on Seven Shillings Beach. It looked ideal for us with change rooms, showers and a decent cafe for a post-swim coffee.
I was unable to find parking anywhere nearby, so I was not going to make our agreed start time. I did find parking eventually, somewhere in South Melbourne from memory, and then began the long trek with my wetsuit and towel to the pool. I may as well have left the car at home and walked from there. In the end I was only a few hours late, but I still raced to get into my wetsuit and then ran down to the beach to feel the water temperature and join my freezing comrades.
It seems to be a little-known fact, but the waters in Murray Rose Pool are piped in directly from the Antarctic. This pool is the coldest pool on our planet. Upon entering the water my brain was immediately frozen and I had no idea what I was doing for the next 45 minutes. My Garmin watch told me the water temperature was 15-16 degrees Celsius, but that is rubbish. It was nowhere near that warm.
Unfortunately there are no photos of this swimming location as my fingers were too frozen to be trusted near a camera or even my phone. It took me approximately three weeks to warm up and feel somewhat human again. My brain may never recover. Needles to say, we did not return.
We were plunged into another COVID lockdown in June 2021, so we returned to Malabar and started getting used to colder water once again. It was a bit shocking at first because our regular outdoor pool is pretty well-heated. Weather conditions in June and July were not always great so a couple of swims were cancelled or postponed.
Once again, most of us swam in wetsuits and the shallow waters of the bay had not warmed up at all. According to my Garmin watch the water temperature varied between 18 and 19 degrees Celsius, but it stabilised around 18C as we moved into July. Little did we know at the time, but we would soon be looking back on this as “positively balmy”.
Once again we would structure our swims so they resembled the variety of our regular pool sessions. This meant including some medleys, drills, build-ups, pyramids, distance-per-stroke work and some change-pace work. Because we were not confined by 50m laps, it was usually based around stroke counts, during our laps between the ocean pool and the northern boat ramp.
In 2021, however, we could only swim at Malabar in June and early July because once the 10 km radius restriction was introduced, most of us could no longer make it to Malabar from our homes.
Now we had to farewell Malabar and find somewhere else to swim …
When the COVID lockdown closed swimming pools in Sydney in 2020, we moved our regular swimming down to Malabar (or Long Bay). We’d drive down and most of us swam in wetsuits four to five times per week for about an hour. Most of our small group were working from home so we were flexible with the time of day that we swam, but it was usually mornings and not much later than lunchtime.
We’d usually leave from the beach area, swim out to around the first boat ramp and make sure that nobody had frozen to death, then swim on to the ocean pool on the south side of the bay. We always found the shallows at Malabar freezing, but the deeper water from about the boat ramp onwards and near the ocean pool was always much more welcoming.
As you can see we’d then do a series of crossings between the ocean pool and the northern boat ramp, with the sessions structured similarly to what we used to do in our pool sessions.
With the boat ramps used by people who are fishing there was a little concern, at least initially about certain other things in the water that also eat fish, but I don’t think we ever saw an “Noahs” there. Some days the water was pretty clear and we’d see some fish and the local stingrays. It was a real pleasure down there once we got used to it.
We saw quite a few groups swimming down there in 2020 and the bay is also used occasionally by surfers, stand-up paddlers and ski paddlers. Everyone seemed to get along pretty well and nobody was just hanging around as there were barriers, warning signs and regular patrols by Council officers.
It certainly kept us going when we could no longer use suburban swimming pools during the lockdown. I think it also made us appreciate how lucky we are to have access to safe open ocean areas for swimming like this in Sydney. It is a beautiful and sometimes spectacular area of Sydney’s vast coastline that I’d not really explored much before despite belonging to Maroubra SLSC, just around the headland to the north.