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February 24, 2022

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We don't take you just anywhere.

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In this issue, we showcase some of the images of our cobber and comrade Forster Turtle, Steve White, who offers his stuff on oceanbeachandcountry.com.au. These images from dawn at One Mile Beach, Forster, earlier this month. See for yourself, here and below, and farther below...

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Ocean swimmers' dilemma? Or meeja beat up?

oos logoAre you worried about sharks...

Since last week’s tragedy when Simon Nellist was attacked fatally by a white shark at Little Bay, in Sydney, the question people have been asking is, ‘Does this incident make ocean swimmers apprehensive about swimming?’

That is, people who aren’t ocean swimmers have been asking that question. We did a chat on the telly with a reporter last week, and it was the first thing he asked. We’ve heard it in plenty of other places, too. Understandable, perhaps, that those who aren’t in the game should wonder.

It is curious, and sometimes exasperating, to anyone in any ‘specialised’ caper that those outside it should be ignorant of it. Unsurprisingly, the meeja, in its coverage of the incident, ran off with all kinds of lines that, to us, seemed implausible. One thing we have learnt over the years re the meeja, however, is that just because they say it, that doesn’t mean it’s right. We have also learnt that, if something is reported by the meeja as fact, irrespective of its accuracy, then it is indeed fact until and unless it is corrected. That is, those who come behind, eg other reporters researching stories in the future, will feel entitled to regard it as fact unless it has been corrected.

This is one reason why we are writing this now.

Please understand that we do not downplay the tragedy of the fate that befell Simon Nellist. We do seek to balance the context of the incident so that ocean swimmers can see it in a more objective, perhaps more realistic light. If anyone wishes to dispute what we say and to debate it, we welcome your contributions. We’ll put a link at the bottom of this newsletter that you can use to put in your two bobs’ worth.

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More from Steve White (oceanbeachandcountry.com.au)... These feet disappearing behind the break at Forster, earlier this month.

Collateral

There are two dimensions to this. But first, a couple of collateral points that should be discussed.

1. Was the victim an ocean swimmer, and was he ‘ocean swimming’ when he was attacked?

It’s relevant to any understanding of this discussion, since the meeja implied that being an ocean swimmer was the reason Mr Nellist was vulnerable to shark attack; for why he was there and open to attack when he was; and for why ‘ocean swimmers’ might feel apprehensive about going back into the water. The meeja also reported widely that Simon Nellist was ‘training for a charity swim’ the following weekend, that swim being the Murray Rose Malabar Magic, scheduled for Malabar beach the following Sunday. Malabar is just around the point from Little Bay. They are very close. Indeed, the first Malabar swim under its current tutelage ran from Malabar around the point to Little Bay. Swim awgies subsequently cancelled last Sunday’s swim ‘out of respect for Simon and his family’.

We are not convinced that Simon Nellist was ‘an ocean swimmer’ as we know it; certainly, he does not appear to have any record of participating in formal swim events. We have searched our annual tallies, which, when we ran oceanswims.com, we would compile with the help of the meticulous Colin Reyburn, and we cannot find him in any swim over the past three years. We also searched the Malabar entries and results going back to 2015, and we can’t find him there, either. Was he entered for the swim on the following Sunday? Awgies tell us that he was not. Indeed, they told mainstream meeja people so, as well, but many of these MSM still reported that Mr Nellist was, in fact, to take part in Sunday’s swim. Perhaps they had better information, but the source was never cited, as far as we could tell.

This is not to say that Mr Nellist was not an ocean swimmer. Or, indeed, that he would not eventually have entered the swim on Sunday. But the meeja appear to have had no certain basis for claiming so or for perpetuating what certainly looks like an inaccuracy. There are plenty of ocean swimmers who don’t take part in events; who swim only informally with or without cobbers. No-one has any handle on who they are, which is part of the glory. He could have been one such swimmer. However, we asked someone who knows or knows of many, many Eastern Suburbs swimmers, and they tell us they know or have met no-one who knew Mr Nellist. He ’certainly (was) not part of the ocean swim fraternity’ in the Eastern Suburbs, this person told us. Malabar swimmers paid tribute to Mr Nellist on what would have been swim day, last Sunday, in a memorial ring in Long Bay (Malabar), so perhaps he was known to them, although another swimmer we know who’s hooked into the Malabar scene said they didn’t know him, either. This distinction may seem like splitting hairs, but it is relevant to whether 'ocean swimmers' should feel apprehensive about swimming in the ocean.

Swim awgies also tell us that they have learnt enough from their contact with investigators to accept that Mr Nellist was a regular swimmer over that course between Little Bay and Malabar.

white forster rays 220211 600 02Rays, startled off Forster by Steve White...

2. Was the victim engaged in ‘a training swim’?

There are several aspects of the incident that struck us as discordant with the practices of 'ocean swimmers'. Mr Nellist was swimming a bit after 4pm, heading north-east into a sea breeze, just a couple of metres off a rock shelf in water that was bumpy from chop and reflected swell. He was wearing a wettie, although we don’t know whether it was full length of short legged and/or sleeved. Neither do we know whether he was wearing fins, or whether he had with him other equipment, such as spear fishing tackle. However, most ocean swimmers, if they are ‘training’ for an event, would swim earlier in the day, in calmer conditions – if only to simulate conditiions on event day – and they would stay farther out from the rock shelf in smoother water. At this time of year, experienced swimmers usually would not wear a wettie.

Was he on a training swim? Or even a regular informal ‘swim’? It doesn’t seem likely that that’s what Mr Nellist was doing. It seems more likely that he was swimming or mooching along the rock shelf looking at the sea life, enjoying the scenery and the water, perhaps even that he was spear fishing, and that that was something he may have done regularly. If you’re interested in sea life, you need to stay in close to a rock shelf to see it and, if you’re fishing for it, to get within catching distance. There’s much less of it that’s easily observed out wide. We saw the horrific videos on social meeja that had been captured by bystanders to the incident, and it appeared to occur five-10 metres from the rock shelf. That’s not normally ‘ocean swimming’ water. (We stress that we did not go looking for these videos; they came into our timeline, probably because of the practice of social meeja platforms to know the kind of thing that might interest you. Looking for these things is not the kind of thing that interests us.)

One of the aspects that does seem undisputed is that Mr Nellist was a diver (a dive instructor), so it's reasonable to assume that his primary interest was the underwater world. That would be more consistent with wearing a wetsuit, and perhaps fins, in water that was c. 24C and so close to the shelf. Swimmers (other than triathletes) wear wetties generally to keep themselves warm, and in water that warm, you need warmth usually if you’re not swimming consistently, ie you’re mooching around looking at stuff, stopping and starting, and you’re not generating body heat sufficient to keep you warm over time and distance.

All that said, we don’t believe that Mr Nellist was an ‘ocean swimmer’ as we understand the term; and it’s misleading of the meeja to portray the event as an attack on an ‘ocean swimmer’. Mr Nellist was there, we believe, for some other purpose. It appears, judging by reports, that there was no-one around who was with Mr Nellist or who knew with certainty what his objective was. Perhaps he was doing a regular shore mooch along the shelf, around the point and into Long Bay and back. But he does not appear to have been an ‘ocean swimmer’ as we know it. Thus, we believe that the meeja got it wrong in portraying the incident as an attack on an ‘ocean swimmer’.

Attacks on users of craft in the ocean, and on spear fishers, are different stories. See below…

white one mile dawn 220210 portrait 300Our artist, Steve White... Self Portrait.

Two dimensions

Answering the question about whether swimmers would be apprehensive about going back into the water, there probably are two responses, to do with the experience of swimmers.

Experienced swimmers would secure the incident in perspective more readily than non-swimmers or even newby swimmers. Their perspective would be that there is always a risk of this kind of incident, but it is very, very rare, and it can be minimised by smart swimming. Smart swimming is to do with where and when you swim: the rules generally are pretty-well accepted, and reinforced over the past few years by excellent work by the NSW Department of Primary Industries – 

  • Be careful swimming in enclosed salt waterways and estuaries (such as harbours, river mouths) especially in the early morning and the late afternoon/evening. That’s shark feeding time, when they are more active, looking for food, ie don’t swim in such places at those times.
  • Don’t swim in the ocean near the mouths of harbours and estuaries during or after heavy rain: the water is likely to be turbid and any hungry sharks might take a bite to find out what you are, because they can’t see you to be sure.
  • If you see a lot of bird activity, hovering, diving, fishing, etc, stay clear, because that indicates a school of fish that may be rounded up by larger animals, such as sharks and dolphins. The birds are opportunists who spot this action and seek a bit of it. If you swim into a school of fish, get out of it quick and smart. You don’t want to get in the way. 
  • Fish like to shoal just behind the break, which is why (and this is our hypothesis) many such incidents take place in that break-and-just-behind-it area, such as involving board riders. Swimmers, once through the break, are a bit farther out. Perhaps that makes us a bit safer: we’re less likely to get in the way of a shark chasing fish. Again, our hypothesis.
  • Best to swim with cobbers, so you can keep an eye on each other. That doesn’t mean you can fight off sharks with your bare hands, but perhaps there’s some greater safety in numbers.

waves collide 300Waves collide... Image found on the electrical internet; not sure whose image (sorry)...

Two bob

We’ve written before about the use of craft. Most incidents involving sharks happen to people using craft, such as surfboards, boogie boards, etc. Not sure why, but our guess is that, again, sharks aren’t sure what you are and will mistake you for something, eg a seal or a turtle, and will take a bite to find out. Usually, they’d find out quickly that you’re not what they’re interested in, but that’s a bit late for you.

There’s also discussion about whether wearing wetties put you more at risk, whether wetties make you more like a seal, for example. Sharks apparently have poor vision, and they can’t be sure. They like to eat seals and turtles, and people in wetties look more like them than newd swimmers. 

For all these reasons, our hypothesis is that ‘ocean swimmers’ – that is, swimmers doing distance in cossies, cap and goggles – are safer in the water than other water users, because we are more obviously not their normal food. We are less likely to provoke tasting.

In the case of last week’s incident, while initial reports were that the shark was ‘4.5 metres’, later reports, from authorities, cited ‘from 3 metres’. Authorities work this out from bite sizes, etc. If so, three metres for a white shark is not huge, and it’s possible that it was a young shark going through the phase of diet change and working out what it is they prefer to eat. We’ve read reports that cite white sharks at this phase of their lives as being the most common protagonists in ‘attacks’. Older sharks, the story goes, are more certain of these things and less likely to act with aggression.

This places the incident, perhaps, into the category of ‘just one of those things’. 

Birds

The other aspect we noticed from the videos of the incident were the gulls hovering overhead, close in and just above the incident itself. The first thing we thought, apart from the tragedy on the video, was that the Mr Nellist might have stumbled into a clump of baitfish and got in the way of the pursuing shark. We don’t know for sure, but it’s possible. We see plenty of this action on the Mid-North Coast, where we hang out a bit, and it’s usually other birds as well as gulls, but this time we could see just gulls. Were they lured by the action, or had they been there because of a clump of baitfish. They were there pretty quickly, so it suggests they were on the scene anyway. If the victim was spearfishing, perhaps they too had been attracted by a bag of catch attached to the victim if not a ball of baitfish.

Another thing you notice from the incidents in recent years is the number of times sharks ‘attack’ divers and spear-fishers. They are thought to be after the bag of catch that fishers often attach to their dive belts. Some fishers these days leave that bag at the end of a long line, so if the shark wants it, they can have it and leave the fisher alone. We spoke with one such experienced spearfisher on the mid-North Coast; he showed us the scars on his hand from where he had, some time earlier, fought off a shark that was after his bag of catch. He niow keeps his catch bag on the end of a 15 metre line. If the shark wants it, he says, they can have it. But perhaps this was another factor with Mr Nellist in his wetsuit (we’re not sure whether he was also using fins). The shark may have thought he had a bag of catch, hence where it attacked, which appeared to be around his waist. In recent years, there've been incidents in the Whitsundays in North Queensland of sharks attacking divers around their waist, apparently looking for their catch.

Experience

Experienced swimmers have the relevant factors in mind when they swim, so the answer to the question about being apprehensive is, not so much apprehensive, but perhaps a little more wary for a while. White sharks, on dit, usually don’t hang around the one area. Any shark that’s there one day is not expected to be there the next day. That said, up in Forster, we have a white shark that seems to be our resident, judging by the frequency with which this particular shark triggers the Shark Smart alerts, which these days cite the shark’s tag number, if it is tagged.

The answer for the less experienced swimmers is to take note of the above. By all means, be apprehensive, careful, but it’s no reason overall not to keep on swimming. There’s been an explosion of ocean swimming since the pandemic arrived, especially over winter, and this is not a reason why that should not continue. We fear that this incident places 'ocean swimming in a bad light, wrongly.

There are a lot of sharks out there in our ocean; there are a lot of species of sharks. But there are generally only three species that cause problems along the coast: Bulls (can be very aggressive, but usually hang around in turbid water, such as estuaries, preferring warmer water from around Sydney north), Tigers (which usually go, we understand, for distressed or injured prey, and also prefer warmer water), and Whites (who like cooler water as well). Of the rest, they generally just mooch about, and if you stay out of their way when they’re hunting, they won’t be interested in you, except perhaps for some occasional, mild curiosity. There are plenty of instances around of people swimming with these species of shark with no adverse consequences. Indeed, in Forster, we’ve found ourselves swimming with Bulls and Whites (usually smaller ones); the Whites are skittish and take off at a rate of knots; the Bulls just mooch along and couldn’t care less. We don’t seek these instances out, but sometimes they happen.

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Bongin, dawn today, and the DawnBusters look for all the world as if they're waiting for a spaceship to collect them and take them to another dimension. Image by David Helsham (@glistenrr)

Deterrent devices

We're sceptical about some of the 'deterrent' devices on the market. From what we’ve read, we understand the larger shark shield devices are effective at repelling sharks, but they're cumbersome, perhaps too cumbersome for ocean swimmers, especially swimmers in groups. We’re highly sceptical of the smaller ankle and wrist bands also on the market. The point about all of these devices is that they appear to attract before they repel when the shark gets too close. The issue is the range, the point at which the magnetic or electrical field that they emit and which causes the shark eventually to turn away. It’s generally pretty close. We wonder, for example, if you have such a device on your ankle, then how safe is your head and your outstretched arm if the shark will come into to a matter of centimetres before being repelled?

The most effective appear to be the shark shields, but they’re large and come with a trailing antenna a metre or so long, so you might need to be careful that the antenna doesn’t contact the bottom or other swimmers. This raises questions about practicality, quite apart from effectiveness.

To anwer the question from the start: Should ocean swimmers be apprehensive about going into the sea: You always need to be careful, but this incident does not appear to have targeted 'ocean swimmers', and we see now reason why we should not keep on swimming.

If you’d like to comment…Click here

(PS: We use an icloud email address these days because our oceanswimsafaris.com email address is too easily caught up by anti-spam systems.)

We’ll post comments at the bottom of the online version of this newsletter... Click here

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Gog prices slashed

Xmas sale extended

We sold another pair of Selene Swipes this morning. A lady at the beach whom we hadn’t met before. She’d been using another brand, which she said ‘kept fogging up’, and she kept ‘losing the seal’. We felt her pain. The great bain of ocean swimmers, other than dangerous things in the ocean, is gogs that don’t work.

V825AWe were introduced to this lady – let’s call her ‘Robyn’ – by our cobber, Terry, who uses our gogs, currently View Selene Swipes, and had been recommending both us and them to her over a cuppa at Beach Bums, our post-swim joint of choice. ‘Robyn’ called around later; we took her into our garage, opened our boot, let her try on a pair, gave her the spiel, and ‘Robyn’ walked away with her very own pair of Selene Swipes – Clear Blue ones, which are lighter and v. good for early morning swimming – two sets of blue ear plugs (which have a strap behind the head to make sure you don’t lose them; she’s giving one set to Terry), and an oceanswimsafaris silicone swim cap.

Lovely lady.

She called us a bit later and said, ‘You’ve under-charged me’.

‘How is that,’ we said.

‘You’ve charged me only for one set of ear plugs.’

The second set was an afterthought; she wanted them for Terry, who, in his mid-80s, swims daily in Forster’s ocean pool, the Bull Ring.

'Robyn' came around again shortly after and gave us the undercharge amount.

That’s the kind of punter we deal with in ocean swimming: high quality.

caves hams moon night 220216 300Full moon last week over Hams Beach, Neville's Navy glistening in the distance. 

It’s the gog

The incident got us thinking about how many Selenes we sell, of all the gogs that we offer, and particularly since they were released with Swipe anti-fog technology.

We’ve been selling Selenes in their original form since c. 2005, and they’ve always been our most popular gog for their comfort, quality and durability (they have a soft, wider silicone seal that doesn’t leave Rocky Raccoon marks around your eyes). We had regular Selenes and mirrored Selenes. We still offer them.

At Malabar a few years back, where with Mrs Sparkle we were running a stall (actually, Mrs Sparkle was running the stall; we were standing around chatting to people), a lady approached us there and said she felt it was about time she got a new pair of gogs. She was already using Selenes. We asked her how long she’d been using her current Selenes, but she couldn’t remember. She thought about it for a bit, then she pointed at her husband, and she said,

‘Longer than I’ve had him’.

So we said, ‘How long have you been married?” And she said, ‘Nine years’.

We sold her a new pair. But the fact that she’d been using the same gogs for at least nine years is the mark of someone who looks after their gogs – who respects their gogs – and of the quality of the gogs in the first place.

The rest is history

The original Selenes were supplemented by Selene Swipes in November 2019. Since then, we’ve sold over a thousand pairs of Selene Swipes alone.

The Swipe technology involves a coating on the inside of the lenses that provides an extra-high anti-fog capacity. When we start to use new Swipes – we use Wide-Eye Swipes – we generally get around 30 uses out of them before we need to do anything other than just put them on, dry, and keep them clean.

We respect out gogs, you see. We even have an essay on Goggle Respect on our website. It’s a guide to looking after and getting the best out of your gogs.

Since that time in November 2019, when we began to offer gogs with the Swipe technology, we have sold almost 2,000 pairs of goggles, over 50 per cent of which are Selene Swipes. People who start to use them never go back. In all the years we’ve been selling Selene gogs – 17 years – we have had only one punter who didn’t like them and sent them back.

That said, no gogs are any good over time if you don’t look after them. Check our essay on Goggle Respect (you find it under Buy Goggles on oceanswimsafaris.com)… Click here

And to buy your new gogs… Click here

Sale

V630ASA non mirroredIt's well into the New Year, but we've extended our 'never-before' sale of View gogs. We've kept most prices down at pre-Xmas sale levels, except for one model (Swipe Wide-Eyes non-mirrored) which we've brought into line with our most popular Selene Swipes. We realised we'd droped that price too low in the first place. But at $35, it's still triffic value for the quality of gog.

Here are some of our bargains…

  • View Selene Swipes – down from $40 to $35
  • View Wide-eyes Swipes – down from $40 to $35
  • View Wide-eyes Swipe Mirrored – down from $45 to $39
  • View Xtreme masks – down from $40 to 35.95
  • Prescription goggles – new Swipe hi-anti-fog models $63

Here's the link to order your new gogs. Click now and we'll get them away to you quick and smart… Click here 

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Heron Island
Historic derrick, Heron Island.

2022 oceanswimsafaris

Dates open for Heron, but uncertainty o/s

We continue watch developments with Covid-19, as we're sure are all of you, too. There are some developments that encourage us — we are confident in domestic travel into Heron Island, for example (we don't expect state borders to close again, apart from WA) — but there remains uncertainty about some international travel. While our regular destinations mostly are 'open', entry restrictions applying currently muddy the waters a little. It's not simply a case of 'Are we able to go there?', but 'What restrictions will apply to us when we do go there?' And, Are we able to easily transit 3rd countries en route and back to destination countries? This applies to Fiji and French Polynesia, while Tonga has a considerable cloud hanging over it (pun unintended, but applicable) following last week's volcanic eruption. We must wait and see.

In the meantime, We are taking bookings for our Heron Island oceanswimsafaris in 2022, thus March 14-19 (sold out), April 24-May 2 (sold out), June 12-17 (sold out), October 19-24, and November 6-11. There is till plenty of availability in most room standards for October and November.

Best get in quick and smart.

Find out more and book… Click here

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New model Swipes

Prescription gogs now in Swipes

vc510 swipe lens 370Big news from View: our very popular prescription goggles now also come with high-anti-fog Swipe technology.

Our Swipes, so far in both Selene and Wide-Eyes versions, have been a big hit, offering what View (the makers) describe as 10 times the anti-fog capacity of other gogs. We've been using them for almost two years now, and we know that it works. We've sold over 1,000 pairs of Swipe gogs since their release just prior to Xmas 2019, so many of you must agree, too.

Now the Platina prescription goggles come in Swipe versions, too. Lenses come in strengths ranging from -1.0 to -10.0, and +1.5 to +6.0, and you can have different strengths in each eye. Just select the strengths you want when you order your gogs online.

View's new Swipe prescription gogs are available at $A63 a full pair, which is cheap compared with how you will pay at a spectacles shop.

Be aware: View is phasing out the old versions of prescription goggles, currently selling for $A54.50. Some lens strengths are no longer available, and strengths will not be replaced as they run out. Your alternative is to order the new Swipe prescription goggles, which offer 10 times the anti-fog capacity of the older versions.

You can order your new Swipe Platina optical (prescription) gogs online now… Click here

 


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bongin dawn DHD 220218 600
We consider ourselves privileged to have as our cobbers two of the most gifted photograrphers you could imagine, in ocean swimming, David Helsham and Steve White (see Steve's stuff above). This is Dave's image of Bongin Bongin Bay on Fridee last week. Dave is a man of few words, but he doesn't need them...

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Paul Ellercamp

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