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BIG BAY SWIM 2015 ( Port Melbourne to Williamstown)

Posted On 24 Feb 2015


Congratulations to Theresa and Michelle for competing in the 27th Big Bay Swim, Melbourne on Sunday 22 February 2015.  Both ladies were thrilled to have completed the crossing agreeing it was an open water swim with different challenges than any other open water swim they have completed.  Theresa’s report on the swim can be ready below…..

The annual Big Bay Swim is a one-way swim from Sandridge Surf Life Saving Club, Port Melbourne across the Port Melbourne channel to Williamstown covering 3.2km.   This was Michelle’s first 3.2km open water swim and both our first “channel” crossing.  Sunday morning in Melbourne started cloudy with the bay water a cool 22 degrees.  Whilst wetsuits are encouraged for this swim there were a handful of swimmers just in bathers – very brave.   The Port of Melbourne channel is closed to all shipping for 2 hours between 10am & midday to allow swimmers to make the crossing – swimmers who don’t clear the channel by midday are collected by waiting boats.

From shore the swim seemed quite straight forward – beach start, keep orange marker buoys on your right, turn right at the yellow marker buoy indicating you’ve cleared the rock wall jetty and about to start the channel crossing, continue swimming keeping the orange marker buoys on your right and turn right at any yellow marker buoys.  A safety briefing by the Sandridge Surf Life Saving Club instructed swimmers to keep close to the marker buoys the entire way as once swept off course swimming against the tide to re-join the marker buoys would be difficult however.  Powered and non-powered boats were there to assist and swimmers in distress were asked to remain calm, roll onto your back and place once arm in the air to attract the attention of the nearest safety vessel. Jelly fish were also out in force but Victorian jelly fish are friendly unlike the NQ variety.

These were all quite straight forward instructions and we felt more at ease after the briefing confirming the course & safety instructions.  A quick warm up swim in the shallows 15 minutes before the start calmed the nerves even further and the general feel amongst our fellow swimmers was friendly banter and final words of encouragement.  Only one wave start and all 174 swimmers commenced the swim on time.  At the time we did not realise that we were also swimming with Chloe McCardel.  The 29 year old Melbourne lass who successfully completed a world record 126km swim in the Bahamas last October. Chloe finished 2nd overall and first out of the 50 females.

Back to our swim….as Chloe was finishing & towelling dry, Michelle & I were still crossing the channel.  What neither of us was prepared for was the fact that marker buoys cannot be placed across a channel.  A course map at registration showed “large dots” marking the way across the channel and as nothing was mentioned to the contrary during the briefing we assumed the dots indicated the location of each marker buoys – we were wrong! On arriving in the channel, without a marker buoy to be seen arose a whole new feeling of loneliness like nothing either of us had experienced before or were expecting. A marker buoy to an open water swimmer is like a teddy bear is to a child, or more appropriate to our situation, like a channel marker to a boat.  On top of this, the wind had picked up and a chop had developed.  We soon realised that to cross the channel we would need to use shore markers such as buildings or trees to sight to.   During the briefing the two tall housing commission buildings were mentioned and we soon realised why.   What amazed us both was how one moment you can be surrounded by fellow swimmers all with a common goal of reaching the next brightly coloured marker buoys but remove those marker buoys and swimmers dispersed so very quickly.   Keep in mind the majority of the 174 swimmers were locals who either swim the event each year or had known or trained with someone familiar with the course but we certainly learned a valuable lesson never to assume a dot on a course map indicates a marker buoy and be prepared at any stage of an event to revert to shore markers and trust them just as you would a marker buoy.

Once across the channel the first sighting of an orange marker buoy again was pure bliss – it doesn’t take much to excite Michelle & I.  The approach to the finish line required us to swim into the Williamstown marina – million dollar maxi yachts to your left, fishing boats to your right.  Whilst the boat ramp finish was a little muddy under foot and an elegant exit certainly not possible the welcoming crowd on shore soon eased any pain with a smile and sense of achievement.  It was also nice to hear your name & finish time announced as you crossed the finish line – Theresa Donnelly 42.29 minutes (7th overall female), Michelle Caffrey 58.42 minutes (40th overall female).

The Big Bay Swim is organised by the Rotary Club of Port Gellibrand and all profits are donated to charity – another reason why we chose this open water swim over others happening in Melbourne last weekend. To organise any open water swim requires skilled, hard working volunteers.  The Rotary Club of Port Gellibrand ran an excellent event and a huge thank you to the organisers who after learning we were from out of town offered to drive our self-appointed “Team Manager” (Michelle’s sister Kylie who was also part of our girls weekend) to be transported from the start to the finish line.  The goodies bag contained a t-shirt & cap which we proudly modelled that day.

The finish line photo was gate crashed by an former Cairns local now living in Melbourne who couldn’t help himself and wanted to be photographed with two good looking chicks.