The novice

At the end of the innings I slip off my black flippers and emerge from the water, waist-deep in the shallows of the sanctuary.

At the end of the innings I slide off my snorkel and make my way to the shore.

At the end of the innings I take off my black gloves, head across the sand as the saltwater drains from my wetsuit.

It is in this last act, removing the gloves – with flippers tucked under one arm, snorkel dangling from a wrist – that I come closest to ever acting like a cricketer. Like a batsman, I’m removing protective equipment while walking away from the playing field.

And, as often as not, I may glance eastward toward the little cricket ground a few hundred metres away where, 20 odd years ago, I tried to be a cricketer. At the tender age of 30. A fifth X1, suburban, no-shade-anywhere, melted-Tim-Tams-for-afternoon-tea park cricketer. A getting-baked-under-the-hot-sun-I-should-have-more-sense-at-my-age park cricketer.

I was a no-spin slow bowler whom the skipper would summon from the deep when we needed to buy a wicket. Put all the fielders on the boundary, a few nearly in the water, and let the batsman take the bait. The deed done after all of two nervous overs, I’d be back fielding in the middle of nowhere, chuffed with my wicket but also looking out at that water.

Jawbone Marine Sanctuary, Williamstown

The solitude of cricket leaves you plenty of time to ponder the big questions. Can I actually bowl? Can I actually bat? What, really, am I doing out here, in the heat? What lies beneath the surface of cricket, of life, of that water just over there? What moves and swims and darts and glides in the octopus’ garden?

After two summers of ineptitude I put away the pads, the gloves, the white hat, the unmarked bat, the hopes. Put them in the garage, let the dust settle on the dreams. Contented myself with playing cricket in the backyard and the driveway with my children.

But the cricket ground and the marine sanctuary were only a few minutes on the bike from home, on a bike path that skirts this seaside suburb. One summer after another I would pause my pedalling, watch the bowler running in, and then gaze across to the water, to the rocks and the pelicans, to a handful of people in the water. Snorkelling. Diving. Seeing things I’d never seen before.

Despite not being a strong swimmer, I bought a wetsuit. Flippers. Snorkel and goggle. Gloves. Earplugs.

Then I waited. For a 30 degree day. For clear skies. For calm waters.

I pack my gear into my bike’s panniers, and pedal past the little cricket ground to this suburban marine sanctuary. Three-storey townhouses overlook the small beach from about 400 metres back. Refinery towers breathe fire about two kilometres to the west.

I leave my bike by the fence, walk the narrow gravel path, treading loudly to keep snakes at bay.

Beach sign

You can never be sure how clear the water will be, if clear at all. It’s like trying to read pitch conditions and bowlers from afar. You don’t know what you’re in for until you’re out there in the middle.

Still, there’s enjoyment – even satisfaction – in the anticipation: in tugging on the wetsuit, zipping it up; in popping in the earplugs, putting on the snorkel. You carry your gloves and your flippers out to a waist-deep rock.

You gaze up at the sky. Glance back at the shore. Out to the horizon. You’re still surprised that this is what summer really means to you now. After all, this was never part of your childhood, of school days, of holidays. This was never on the back pages. Or on the telly. This was never, ever, on the radio, day after day after day. You knew you’d never be, say, Jacques Kallis. And yet, here you are at Jawbone Marine Sanctuary in Williamstown being, in your own little way, Jacques Cousteau.

The solitude of snorkelling leaves you plenty of time to ponder the big questions. Am I breathing? Am I floating? Can I see, not just below me, but around me, in front of me? Is the tide of life going out or coming in?

There’s just you and the deep cool sea. (Well, four or five metres deep at the most.) Just you and the sun and the salt. Just you and the zebra fish, the banjo sharks, the starfish, the seagrasses, the rocks, the stingrays…

Just you and your breathing.

Just you and the best innings of summer.

rocks and snorkelling gear

Jellyish video by John Pahlow

Week 41 – missed swim in Singapore

Week 41   Saturday 9 March to Friday 15 March 2013

Pool at Singapore Airport

Singapore Airport. A missed opportunity.

After a farewell dip on Saturday morning  9 March at our very own Hanoi Hilton, I headed back to Williamstown via Singapore. A friend had mentioned there was a pool at the Singapore Airport and while I had packed togs and a little towel into my hand-luggage when I was heading to Vietnam, I didn’t for the return journey. Not sure why.  Which left me with five hours to ponder the lost opportunity. The pool is at Terminal 1 of the airport and charges $13.91 (Singapore dollars.) Five hours between flights, and my togs were probably already on their way to Melbourne. Five hours and I was too cheap to buy another pair. Imagine how many laps I could have done in five hours. (Not many if you’ve seen what a poor swimmer I am. I’m a five-minute dipper, if that.) Five hours of night-time swimming. Ah, well, there’s always next time. (Do other airports offer such swimming facilities? Let me know.)

We got back to a warm Williamstown about midday on Sunday 10 March. I headed down to Jawbone Marine Sanctuary about 3pm. The water was fairly clear and absolutely gorgeous the next day. To my surprise Jawbone on Tuesday was very ordinary, despite the weather conditions seeming to be very good. The week concluded with short dips at the Williamstown beach.

Snorkel

Murky waters in Williamstown. Illustration by Andrew Baird, from the January 2003 edition of The Mariner

 

Next week: triathletes clogging up Chicken Channel!

 

Week 32 – fresh water

Week 32      Saturday  5 January to Friday 11 January 2012

Photo by Teresa Dowd

Photo by Teresa Dowd

This week’s guest columnist is Willy Dolphin Teresa Dowd, who – having moved to central Victoria last year – now enjoys fresh-water swimming in a reservoir near Chewton, a town near Castlemaine.

Three kilometres past the site of the 1851 Monster Meet, Chewton’s version of the Eureka Stockade, there’s a reservoir. It’s a regular spot for teenagers, and women take their kids there for a dip after school on a hot day.

There are some sights along the way. There is an alpaca farm where the animals have been shorn a bit like poodles; very close cropped around the body, leaving frilly ankles and fancy feet. Quite posh really. There’s a also a family of ducks who have taken up residence in some grass and they move back and forth across the road without a care in the world.

ducks by roadside

Photo by Teresa Dowd

Most mornings I have the reservoir to myself. Recently, however,  I shared it with a bloke who was trying to catch a redfin for his breakfast and three 60-pluses out for an early morning skinny dip.  The guy with the delicious breakfast aspirations had pulled his hippy bus up alongside the water the previous night, made a camp and had claimed the prize spot on the fairly small muddy bank where the swimmers enter the water. As for the skinny dippers*, eyes averted was the best approach.

One morning this week there was a mystical vapour coming off the water as the air temperature was down to 2 or 3 degrees (reaching 30 by 2pm in the afternoon).

And the distance from one side to the other? 130 strokes. Cheers.

*Editor’s note:  365 Swims has pencilled in Saturday 1 June, 6am, for the inaugural meeting of The 365 Swims Skinny Dipping Sub-Committee. Lanyards optional.

Recommended reading: Freshwater Swimming Holes in Victoria

Hampton beach

Hampton beach. Photo by Reuben Maskell

Meanwhile 365 Swims’ dips this past week were:

Saturday morning: Williamstown (very crowded)
Saturday afternoon: Jawbone Marine Sanctuary with my mate JD (too choppy, poor visibility)

Sunday morning: Williamstown

Sunday afternoon: Hampton (windy but good.)

Monday morning: Williamstown

Tuesday morning: Williamstown

Tuesday afternoon: Jawbone with my mate Walter (very good visibility, especially of the sun-lover on the eastern shore)

Wednesday morning: Williamstown

Wednesday afternoon: The Bunburys, a little rock pool between the Willi beach and the Willi footy club

 Bunbury rock pool

Thursday morning: Williamstown

Friday morning: Williamstown

Friday afternoon: Bonbeach, Chelsea, Edithvale.

Next week: The Crystals and The Great Oyster Heist of 1885.

Click on any of the images below for cinematic viewing.

Thanks for visiting 365 swims.

Week 26 – half-way there

Week 26 Saturday 24 November to Friday 30 November 2012

Sandy beach

39 degrees. 5.10pm. 29 November 2012

365 Swims has reached the half-way point: this caper started on 1 June 2012, so if my calculations are correct there are only 182.5 swims to go. Easy. It won’t get cold again til April or so, by which time I’ll be counting down the last 60 swims. Too easy.

The Half-Way Week had plenty of variety.

Snorkel drawing

Illustration by Andrew Baird, from The Mariner, April 2002

‘Snorkelled at Jawbone Marine Sanctuary on Saturday, Sunday and Thursday. Hardly any fish, but it’s always cool and peaceful.

Image of banjo shark

Image courtesy of Reefwatch

‘Saw a small banjo shark in the shallows  at Willi beach on Wednesday morning. Banjo sharks are also known as fiddler rays and banjo rays. I reckon they have the head of a stingray, the tail of a shark and the colouring pattern of, almost, a giraffe. Talk about an identity crisis.

Vessel

This strange vessel turned up at Willi beach on Wednesday morning. Mysterious at first, by day’s end the riddle was solved. A new marker.

Beach and rocks

In the background, the new yellow marker. (I wasn’t game enough to swim out there and take a pic.)

The new marker has buoyed the spirits of the serious swimmers. No need to worry about the yellow buoy near the angling club floating away anymore. There’s now a large yellow marker with a sign and a cross, a solid post for all to see: swimmers, anglers, and %^&*% jet-skiers.

Crowd at beach

39 Degrees. 5pm, 29 November. Several hundred reasons for swimming at 6am.

Serious heat arrived on Thursday. Thirty-nine degrees heat. Snorkelling at Jawbone was a relief – from the heat, and from the crowd at the beach.

Swimming in 1929

Willy Dolphins celebrate reaching the 365 Swims half-way mark. Photo courtesy of fortinbras/flickr

 

Week 23 – Jawbone (1)

Week 23: Saturday 3 November to Friday 9 November 2012

Beach sign

The weather was warm, the sky was clear. Jawbone was calling. I hadn’t snorkelled at Jawbone Marine Sanctuary since May, so it was great to be back. Not that there were many fish to see last Sunday. Only two, in fact. Don’t ask me their names. (Larry and Harry, maybe. Bill and Ben, perhaps. Wilma and Thelma, possibly. Scarlet and Penelope…)

The sanctuary is just around the corner from Williamstown beach. On a warm day the beach will be packed. Around the corner you’ve  just about got the water to yourself, save for the stingrays, the zebra fish, the banjo shark, the Northern Pacific seastars…

It’s a gorgeous spot that was pretty much inaccessible before the old rifle range was developed, 20 years ago, into the Rifle Range Estate. You pedal through modern suburbia – brick houses jammed up together like sardines in a tin can – and then you’re on a little beach, in a little oasis.

Here’s hoping there are a few more fish for The Great Victorian Fish Count in a few weeks’ time. It was fun last year.

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