Onto the story of the day....
3.45am the alarm sounds. I jump out of bed and the first thing I do is don my swimming costume. It's here! The day has come that I'll swim solo across the Rottnest Channel!
All the items I needed were prepared the night so it was just a case of following the routine.
Everyone else in the house stirred awake and fell about their roles for the day. Steve and my parents had to make their way to the Freemantle harbour to board my support boat at 5am. Meanwhile, Grant (my paddler) and I had to make our way to Cottesloe Beach for 4.45am where we'd start the race.
It was still very dark and the roads were eerily quiet. Janet (Steves mum) came with Grant and I to the start to assist with the final preparations. We arrived at Cottesloe Beach and unloaded the kayak from the car. The beach was still fairly quiet but within the space of ten minutes it soon filled to an excited buzz of swimmers, paddlers and supporters! Grant set himself up while I registered myself - picking up my race tag and getting my race number written on both my arms and hat. I felt remarkably relaxed and excited. Looking back, I must have felt very prepared for the challenge ahead. Janet helped 'grease' me up with sun lotion and vaseline. You really can't put enough of this stuff on!
All greased up and ready to go!
We bumped into Tamera from my training squad and it was great to get ready with her and head to the start line together. The call came over at 5.30am..'First wave swimmers please make your way to the starting line'. There were about 100 or so of us in the first wave (all females and seeded males). At 5.45am, Colin Barnett (Premier of WA) blew the horn for the start! And we were off..!
The water felt warm and smooth. It was a barmy 26 degrees. On either side of us were our paddlers. I set a plan with Grant that he would situate himself on the far left hand side. What unfolded, however, was the paddlers and swimmers soon mixing so there was no order. I lifted my head several times to locate Grant, but with all the paddlers looking quite the same, I ended up putting my head down again and just swimming further out in the hope I would find him. After ten minutes or so, I saw the balloons on the end of his paddle and we paired up. The challenge was to then locate the boat. Unbeknown to us, they had also had their own little challenge and by now were quite anxious about finding us. I knew my role was to just swim and so that's all I did. I kept on the course and left it to Grant and Dave (Skipper) to find each other. Just then...there they were! Out the corner of my eye I could see Mum, Dad and Steve waving at me..with big smiles! I settled into a regular stroke and on we went!
5.30am all the boats waiting for their swimmers!
The course across the Rottnest Channel is a direct line west from Cottesloe Beach to Thompson Bay. There was, however, a southerly breeze and so the Skipper had to determine the best route across without taking too much deviation. He decided on taking a northerly route which was the most direct. We found most of the other swimmers went to the south and so for the for 3 hours or so, we were pretty much on our own. I kept to a consistent speed. My stroke rate (arm strokes per minute) was 60 which surprised me a little as it was 48 when I crossed the English Channel. All those early morning sessions with Vlad squad had really paid off - I was actually faster!
In the first kilometre of the swim I went head first into a stinger which gave me an unpleasant shock and a sting all across my face. I thought to myself...'here we go...this is where the challenge begins!'. I didn't hit another one though so I got myself comfortable again..until...wham...another stinger wrapped itself around under my arm and gave me quite a shock! I relate the sensation of hitting one of these stingers to having a thousand hot needles suddenly slapped against you. It's a shock..and a serious one! Once you're over the initial pain, however, it becomes a rather pleasant distraction! I was pleased to not encounter any more stingers but I must admit, I did appreciate the stinging which kept my focus away from what may lurk beneath!
While we're on that matter...there was a period of 5 minutes or so when I was sure something was swimming below me. I saw a murky shadow come back and forth a few times. I didn't raise an alarm as I didn't want to make it 'real'. Instead I convinced myself that it was some seaweed or something I was conjuring up in my imagination. After the swim I learnt that there were two shark sightings, both hammerheads. The actual sightings were several kilometres from my positioning at the time, so my crew made a decision to keep it quiet. They kept excellent poker faces which I'm thoroughly appreciative of! The only other encounter during the swim was with seaweed..and plenty of it!
Good to keep some humour in the face of fear!
I planned to feed every 30 minutes. On the hour I would have a gel and an electrolyte drink and on the half hour I would have a carb drink. The first 3 hours went relatively smoothly but from 10km to 15km the swell really picked up and I found myself feeling quite queasy. After every feed I felt more and more sick and so I started to put them off which in hindsight was not a good move. My pace slowed from 15-19km slightly and I didn't feel strong which would have partly been due to not taking on the necessary energy.
The closer we came to the finish, the more markers there were. Dave's route across the channel took us right past the buoys and as we approached each one I gave a punch in the air - another kilometre passed! There were buoys at 10km, 12km, 14km and every kilometre from there on to the end. It's a strange sensation to describe..with hundreds of boats drawing together for the final 5km, there is a building excitement - a tension hanging that the finish is within reach. I don't consider myself a competitive person and I tend to withdraw myself from situations where there is a competitive tension. I couldn't withdraw from this one though! It was either swim or sink and I definitely wasn't doing the latter. I felt impatient that we were so close and yet there was still 3km or so to swim. I could smell the end...and yet I still had an hour left of swinging my arms over. Would this ever stop I asked myself? There was a period about 17km or so when I kept stopping and popping my head up. With so much going on I wanted to be a part of it..not buried face down in the murky water all on my own! Stopping was getting me nowhere though..I had to swim!
Coming into the final stretch is quite a scene! Hundreds of boats, paddlers and swimmers draw together as the course narrows to a 400m channel where the swimmer goes solo. 1000m out my support boat strips off. I waved to Mum, Dad and Steve and they parted to make their way to the shore. Grant stayed with me for another 600m and then parted himself. I was left to complete the final bit of my own. My arms wouldn't go any faster although I knew I was just on the edge of 7 hours! I hit sand and staggered up. I felt quite wobbly and a little dazed. I was ushered through the finish arch by some volunteers who guided me to some chairs where I just slumped and gazed ahead. I could hear cheers behind me as my support crew had run to the finish to see me over! As I sat there, I felt an overwhelming sense of emotion rise from the pit of my stomach and all of a sudden I was crying uncontrollably. Where had this come from I thought? The volunteers looking after me tried to console me, thinking I was disappointed with my time! I was absolutely delighted with 7 hours (my estimated time pretty much to the minute!). I think the emotion I felt was drawn from the fact I was able to stop. The last few kilometres I had dug so deep. I had to keep focused. I had to keep swimming. I had no choice. The relief of being able to just stop and be ok was extraordinary.
So I did it! 7 hours and 3 minutes. I swam across the Rottnest Channel. I do remember having a thought around half way that this was a goal of mine when I first moved to Australia four years ago. And here I was doing it! I felt proud of myself. I enjoy seeing a challenge through. I enjoy the satisfying nature of having a goal that's out of reach but with hard work and determination it becomes a goal that you can grab with both hands and never let go of. I've thoroughly enjoyed this journey. I've made some fabulous friends in Sydney, I've tapped into a tremendous community of swimmers and I've enjoyed sharing my thoughts through this blog. The biggest take out from this adventure of mine is the reminder that if you allow yourself to learn a habit, develop a discipline and maintain focus, then anything is possible....anything!
Dave (Skipper) & Anthony (Co-Skipper) - Dave, with his boat 'Gone', & Anthony led me on a fantastic course across the Channel. An encouragement from the word go and a tremendously generous pair.
Grant (Paddler) - 'The Protector'. Not for one moment did I ever feel vulnerable or in danger. A perfect guide and motivator.
Mum & Dad (Support crew) - Who flew in from the UK to be on the boat. So wonderful to see their faces smiling as I made my way across the Channel.
Steve (Support crew, boyfriend, motivator and all round legend) - A huge support throughout all my training. Never grumbled once about my early nights, my early mornings, my 'no alcohol' rule, my anxiety and my need to always be in control! . Always there by my side right up to the finish.
Janet & Doug (Support team) - A tremendous support from start to finish, it was a delight to share the adventure with you.
Peter & Alison - For your invaluable support in finding a boat and all your encouragement.
You - You read my blog, you sent me messages of support, you encouraged me and you believed in me. Thank you!