As the buzz from my alarm clock slices through the darkness at 4am it suddenly hits me. Despite the multitude of reliable (and shark free) ferry services available, today was the day I (and my iiNet team mates) had decided to swim the lazy 19.7km to Rottnest. Arriving at the Left Bank for something other than Sunday drinks, I join my fellow swimmers and we meet our skippers for the day. We’re bleary eyed, excited and carrying enough energy bars and carb gels to power a small army.
The usual start line at Cottesloe Beach has been washed away from the high tides as a result of the cyclone. ‘Perhaps it’s washed away the stingers too’ I think hopefully as I apply another layer of what is perhaps the world’s biggest jar of Vaseline to my neck. Those critters can’t possibly get me now!
I nervously chew my muesli bar and scan our neighbouring boats for cute athletes. But the Bondi guys are nowhere to be seen and there’s no sign of Ben Cousins either. Such is life. I’m sure that I was definitely in with a shot rocking a home-made stinger suit and zinc cream, while occasionally puking off the back of the boat. It seemed that my nerves were the real winner in this race. But I was determined to overcome them.
Our first swimmer Eric joins us from his 1km swim from the shore. He’s had a rough time finding our paddler among 2,300 competitors, their kayaks and half of Perth’s boating community. Luckily the oversized ‘Number 2’ balloon saves the day for visibility – the iiNet flag on our boat hangs limply in the still morning air. Eric’s covered in stinger welts but thankfully remembers my paranoia and lies – blaming the red marks on being scratched getting into the boat.
We start in ten-minute swimming stints at a pace of around 3km per hour, before tagging the next team-mate with a high five and some much needed words of encouragement. First swim done, our support crew throws me a rope and I grab the attached buoy with shaky arms to be pulled back into the boat for a break of sun-cream, Gatorade and marshmallows (breakfast of champions).
Throughout the day, we eventually drop to eight minutes, six minutes and down to four-minute sprints as we get closer to the island. The water is surprisingly warm and the sea breeze is kind to us, however I didn’t anticipate the wake of the boats churning up the water. Having swallowed half of the ocean, I get onto the boat after swim number seven declaring that after today I would “NEVER EVER swim again.”
After being in and out of the water for the better part of seven hours, ‘iiNet Naked’ plunges into the water for the final 600m swim to shore. Crossing the finish line together to thunderous applause, we hear that we’re the first in our category! (Only later do we discover we were the only competitors in our category, but hey- I won’t tell if you won’t!)
Medals around our necks, smiles on our faces and beers in our hands we join the throngs of athletes, supporters and socialites for the island’s biggest party. “Would you do it again?” I’m asked. I survey the damage. Stinger welts, wrinkly skin, sore arms, aching back, water filled ears and sunburn. I think of the 4am wake up, the sharks, stingers and jellyfish, the fierce swell, strong currents, murky shadows, the hours of training in the pool and the longest day ever. “No bloody way!” I reply.
Well, at least not until next year.