It is that time of year again when we set out to compete in the Rottnest Channel Swim. Months are spent juggling children, training and preparing for the event. It is worth all the effort to challenge yourself and to taste that ice cold beer at the Rottnest pub once it is all over!
About The Rottnest Channel Swim
Swim to Rotto is one of Western Australia’s iconic events, the Rottnest Channel Swim is a 19.7km open water swim from Cottesloe Beach to Rottnest Island. The race can be done as a solo, duo or in a team of four and you need to have a support crew of a boat and a paddler.
On paper it looked like it was going to be a wonderful day and we were hoping to swim to Rotto in less than 6 hours. The weather forecast was in our favour. A hot day, 40C and the wind direction was expected to give us an advantage and gently push us towards the island.
It just goes to show you what is happening above the water is very different to what is going on below the surface. The current kicked in a lot earlier than usual. The southerly current, choppy water and a southwesterly breeze meant that we were unable to swim in a straight line.
Last year Kate and I did the swim in a duo. This year we welcomed her 14 year old daughter and niece Talea to our team. Kate left Cottestloe beach in the second last wave at 7:25am, dove into the water and began our team swim. At the 500 metre mark she was met by her son Pete who was paddling for us. His kayak had a purple octopus helium balloon attached to it so it was easy for Kate to identify.
As you can imagine there are hundreds of swimmers, paddlers and boats out on the water so it helps to stand out among the crowd. The next challenge was for our boat to find the paddler and swimmer. The race officials gave the call over the UHF radio that the boats from the purple wave could make their way to the 1 kilometre buoys.
With binoculars in we hand were on the lookout for Kate and Pete. We needed to locate them before the 1500m mark where the Leeuwin ship was anchored. Swimmers are not able to go past the ship without a support boat so the pressure was on to find them.
It didn’t take too long before they were in our sites and we changed over swimmers. Nat jumped into the water, tagged with her mum and started her first Rottnest Channel swim.
At the start of the race we changed swimmers every 10 minutes for a few rounds and then dropped down to 7 and 5 minutes. The water was murky and I assume this has to do with the recent heavy rains we have had and the rivers flowing out into the ocean.
It took as 2.5 hours to reach the 7 km buoy and we knew that we were not on target to do the swim in under 6 hours but we were still making steady progress. It was after the 10km buoy that things started to get challenging. Our pace was dropping to 30 minute kilometres. The current, chop and southwesterly breeze must have kicked in.
One of our paddlers told me I was swimming all over the place. One minute I would be just about on top of the kayak and the next I was a few meters away. Now it all makes sense why I was not swimming in a straight line.
Once we dropped down to 5 minute change overs we started to make up time, in hindsight we should have done this much earlier. When we felt the current getting even stronger we dropped down to 2 minute change overs. This way we could go hard and fast in short spurts.
At 18 kilometres our main boat left us and we were supported by our tender (dinghy). I was in the water while the girls were changing boats and they were having some engine problems. I had no idea what was going on so I just kept swimming wondering where they were. I swam straight into a large patch of stingers that gave me a nasty red welt and a hell of a sting. No time to worry about it I just had to keep going.
Eventually the tender pulled up along side me and we started changing over swimmers again. Thankfully we had Ben on board who helped pull us into the tender as it saved some energy trying to get into the boat.
At the 19 kilometre mark the 4 of us were swimming the final leg. The boat left us and we were accompanied by our paddler for another 250 metres before he had to leave. Land was so close and the ocean floor was changing with lots of sea grass visable. I knew that we were almost there but this part of the race always feels like it is going on forever.
Finally the water was shallow enough to stand and we made our way over the finish line in 8 hours 22 minutes. It didn’t matter that our time was much slower than we hoped for. I was just happy to have made it and got a buzz out of seeing my kids waiting for me at the finish line.
A quick photo under the Rottnest Channel Swim sign and then it was time for a little champagne to celebrate!
A big thank you goes out to all the event organisers, sponsors and all our support crew. We had amazing people on the boat who kept us fed, hydrated and most importantly kept us safe during our swim.