On Sunday 19 November, a number of us in Sydney participated in the annual 1.1k swim to Cockatoo Island and back, or the 2.5k swim around Cockatoo Island. Both swims started and finished at the Dawn Fraser Baths (‘Dawnies’) on Sydney Harbour at Balmain. And they were good.
The swims themselves had their heritage value. For more than 140 years, Cockatoo Island was a shipbuilding yard and dockyard and, before that, a convict women’s prison. The same waters saw Australia’s first aquatic festival 135 years ago. Alas, the festival was restricted to sailing and rowing – few people swam in those days as either they didn’t know how to, or most people considered our wondrous sport as ungentlemanly or unladylike. These days UNESCO-listed Cockatoo Island is a museum, a camping ground and a major cultural venue for art, film and music.
A highlight of the round-island swim was swimming under the bridge between the land and the ferry pontoon on the northern side of the island (see the green letter F on the map below). We also had an audience of island day-trippers cheering and clapping us on as we passed. Both swims encountered a lot of jelly fish - but they were of the non-stinging variety; just lots of slimy blobs to grab onto with every stroke.
While it was an excellent swim with the water temp being just fine at 22 degrees (compared with just 16 degrees at Sydney’s ocean beaches on the day), there were no categories for swimmers ‘of a certain age’, with the most senior age category being 56+. Had there been a 66+ age category, our one swimmer who did the round island swim would have been the fastest. Our one male swimmer in the 1.1k swim would have come third and our one female swimmer in the 1.1k swim would have come fourth in their age groups. So, congratulations all round. Let’s hope there are better age categories next time.