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We had to show you this... Wilson Island, Great Barrier Reef. (Image by Dr Tiff)

The curse of fresh-water swimming

Snap! Is this the future?

For boofheads, fresh water pools are no friends. Indeed, not just boofheads, but blokes of all persuasions. The reason is that blokes don’t float in fresh water. In fresh water, blokes swim vertically. 

It’s because blokes don’t have the… er, how shall we put it?... the same, er… buoyancy qualities… as laydees. In the lower halves of their bodies. This is not a subjective measure; it’s objective; it’s a matter of fact. The biological nature of laydees’ bodies means that they have greater flotation capacity in their lower halves. Something to do with cushioning them for childbirth, or something like that.

So you can understand why this boofhead has been estranged from fresh water pools for quite some time. In fresh water pools, as a bloke, we swim vertically. In preference, our faves are Sydney’s salties. Sydney has four great salties, as far as we know: Crummy Drummy (Drummoyne), CabaRipperRita (Cabarita), the Boy (Charlton, in the Domain on Walsh Bay), and North Sydney (currently out of action for a rebuild). This man’s fave is Crummy Drummy.

Drummy is called Crummy not because it is crummy. It’s called Crummy because, in rhyming slang, crummy goes with Drummy. We heard the expression first uttered by ‘Dawn Fraser’ in a biopic movie many years ago, in which the swim coach at Drummy, which is just across the river and along a bit from Dawn’s pool at Balmain, was trying to entice her across the Iron Cove Bridge to train with him on the other side. ‘Dawn’ expressed incredulity that he’d even suggest such a thing: ‘Crummy Drummy!?’ she exclaimed, as if to say, ‘Get outta town!’

We don’t know whether that incident actually took place. Movie makers take licence in all kinds of ways. But the fact remains; it’s been Crummy Drummy ever since. For us, anyway. 

Drummy actually ain’t crummy at all. It’s a terrific pool. But we have issues with it: a) Canada Bay Council has contractors managing the joint; and b) we don’t entirely respect the standards of that contract management, or of Canada Bay council in running it overall.


Councils contracting management of public facilities is lazy administration; lazy policy. The best managed pools we know both are council-managed: Sutherland, and Leichhardt. Pools are public facilities with community benefits that are hard to quantify in dollar terms. How do you quantify, for example, the improvement in community health from a local pool? Public facilities such as pools should be managed in the public interest. They are no different to public libraries. We’re not aware of any public libraries that are let out to contractors. So why are pools? Their value as community assets, providing community benefits way beyond a bean-counter’s bottom line, cannot be quantified by such a vulgar medium as dollars. How do you quantify the value of a well-fed soul?

wilson smh
Random punter investigates reef, Wilson Island...

Company law

Contract managers manage in the interests of their shareholders. That’s what they do; they're required to do so by law. Sure, they have standards imposed upon them by the terms of their contract. But their judgement about how they reconcile the contract standards and expectations of shareholders often and inevitably is in conflict with the interests of the community whom the pools are there to benefit, ie us. And our souls. You see this reflected in, for example, the quality of loo paper (flimsy single ply, although perhaps that's supplied by the council), and how well they're cleaned, and the maintenance of their websites. Often, we've fronted for an early morning session at Crummy Drummy to find the change rooms virtually unusable because they’d been 'cleaned', the contract manager’s idea of ‘cleaning’ being to hose them down, floors, cubicles, loos, seats, everything. We turned up for an early morning swim squad at Crummy Drummy one day to find the mess from the previous day’s school swimming carnival still littering the bleachers. Amongst the detritus, there were loose tablets scattered about, as if they’d fallen from someone’s bag. Were they dangerous drugs? PBS medications? Or non-PBS? Were these from the previous day’s swimming carnival? The water poloists practising the previous evening? Or from meticulously neat ocean swimmers getting in a bit of lap time? And this mess, this carpet of apparent drugs, littered the joint just a couple of hours before that day’s horde of swim kids were due in for their own swimming carnival. That was a couple of years ago, and we trust Crummy contract management has lifted their game since then. We haven't done early morning squads there in recent times.


A positive about Drummy is that, in the Men’s showers, at least – we can’t speak for the Laydees’ showers – they have replaced the shower nozzles that require you to head-butt the wall in order to get wet. The new nozzles allow you to get wet without head-butting the wall. Other pools in our experience still compel head-butting, however (including Leichhardt, although again we can't speak for the Laydees'). How their risk managers allow them to get away with this is beyond us. In Forster, our home town, there's an outdoor shower that we use after early morning swims with the Forster Turtles. That shower also is of the head-butting variety. One morning, we leant into the water flow to get a more direct coverage, and we head-butted the post holding up the shower. But right at the spot at which our head butted the hexagonal post, the council, in its wisdom, had riveted a plaque, a plaque with sharp corners, and sharp corners that extended beyond the face of the past. That's what we head-butted. We didn't discover we'd gouged our scalp till we dried ourselves a bit later. 

And the school swimming carnivals... In February and into March, every year, Drummy usually is closed on week days for different schools to have their carnivals. This means that rank-and-file members of the community can get there either very early, or very late, but not during the bulk of the day.

Drummy has long been popular for school swimming carnivals, it seems even more so now that the rebuild of CabaRippaRita and the closure for rebuild of North Sydney appear to have pushed many more schools to Drummy for their carnivals. There is barely a week day during that period – if any at all – when the pool is open to the public at times when many members of the public wish to swim.

Apart from all that, the pool at Crummy Drummy is terrific: a saltie, by the river with a glorious riparian aspect.

Caba, also riparian, seems not as popular for schools these days, especially since its rebuild a few years back that shrank the bleachers on the southern side of the pool, restricted the change facilities, and removed those change facilities to a spot on the upper level of the curtilage remote from the actual pool. We understand the council won an award for this rebuild. This reminds us of Yes, Minister, of the efficiency award for the new hospital that had no patients. Caba won its award before users got the chance to tease out its defects. Drummy and Caba are controlled by the same local council.

So when we decided earlier this year that we needed to swim more regularly when not at our home on the NSW North Coast, which is by the beach, we gave up on Drummy in frustration that it was never available. We tried Caba, but twice we turned up there, having checked its website for lane space availability, only to find a school swimming carnival going on. When we questioned the poolie about the contradiction between the website and the actuality, the poolie just shrugged, like a French person.

wilson sunset
Sundown, Wilson Island.

Where else can we go?

The answer was Leichhardt. Especially after Mrs Sparkle called them to check whether there was a carnival there, too, to be told by a very helpful and enthusiastically forthcoming phone answerer that Leichhardt pool NEVER has school swimming carnivals. So it was, Hi ho! Hi ho! It’s off to Leichhardt we go! There was a carnival there one day, The Pride Carnival, part of World Pride week in Sydney. But it’s a matter of pride for Leichhardt that they choose that pool for such an event. Good on ‘em.

The only other problem is that Leichhardt is… fresh water!!!


Many years back, we did a 5km swim in a dam in the Upper Hunter Valley in water that was billed as ‘fresh’ although you couldn’t see past your elbow. It was actually a key part of the water supply for Newcastle. We swam that 5km vertically. It was hell. That’s when the problem of boofheads in fresh water first manifested in our psyche. Not only were we vertical, but we also couldn’t see our legs. In 2002, we swam the 3km of the World Masters Games in Hazelwood Pondage, a cooling pond for a power station just east of Melbourne. The course was 1.5km out, and 1.5km back. At the turning booee, 1.5km out, we found the turning markers actually were officials standing in the water waste deep. Yet over the entire 3km, we never once saw the bottom. (Just by the by, Mrs Sparkle contracted a bug from that water that laid her low all the way back to Sydney.)

The key problem with fresh water, however, is the vertical swimming. It’s like swimming with an anchor attached to your ankles. To find out what that’s like, try strapping your ankles together and swimming. (Use an ankle band, made from slicing up sections of a car inner tube). Your legs drop, because you can’t kick, and you realise how important it is to use your feet for balance and body position, even for blokes who notoriously don’t kick at all. While blokes aren’t ‘kicking’, their legs and feet still hover, providing a counterbalance to their fishtail swimming, thus the non-kicking still helps them along, and helps them not to sink
Some nasty swim coaches use this kind of activity as a drill. The ‘straps’ are cut up slices of car tyre inner tubes. You can’t go more than a metre or two before your toes are scraping the bottom. The answer, as any squaddie should know, is to engage your core, thus helping to keep your legs up. But this is no simple thing for a boofhead whose idea of exercise is to click his fingers to summon another beer from the fridge, which must be delivered to him so that he doesn’t miss a moment of the footy. A related drill is to strap your ankles, but put a booee between your legs. The difference with this drill is that the booee holds your legs up and obviates the tendency to vertical swimming. That’s called ‘pull’, and places emphasis on stroke and stroke length. The booee, then, is a ‘pull booee’.

Anyway, it was with trepidation that we turned up at Leichhardt to swim in fresh water. In the backs of our minds, however, we knew that the worst part of fresh water pool swimming were those first few sessions as you get through the unfamiliarity of it. After a few sessions, it becomes normal, and you don’t feel the difference as much as when you swim in fresh water only occasionally. That doesn’t mean your legs are dropping. Maybe it means your core is beginning to compensate.

bongin dhd
Autumn poetry, Bongin Bongin Bay. (Image by David Helsham @glistenrr)

We’re regulars

So we’ve been swimming a bit at Leichhardt lately. We quite enjoy it, as it turns out, for other reasons. Last time we were there, we got a lane to ourselves. It was the ‘Fast’ lane, which we took because there was someone already swimming in the ‘Medium’ lane. The Medium lane swimmer was far too slow to be in the Medium lane, which meant they created a blockage in that lane. And the Fast lane was empty, so available. Normally, we would create a blockage in the Fast lane, but we teeter on the edge between fast and medium, so in a sense we felt entitled to it. And the slow swimmer in the Medium lane forced the decision upon us, Your Worship. But we don’t have tickets on ourselves. And we remain alert always to genuine ‘fast’ swimmers who need the faster space. To be fair to swimmers, Leichhardt has a habit of placing its Fast, Medium and Slow lane signs behind lane ropes, across lanes, so they are ambiguous. The call is left up to personal judgment.

The difference is etiquette. The blockage of the slower swimmer in faster lanes is a blockage only to the extent that they do not observe pool etiquette. They are not a blockage, for example, if they remain conscious and respectful of other, faster swimmers, keep to the side of the lane, not swimming down the middle, thus allowing faster swimmers to overtake; if they stop at the end again to allow faster swimmers to overtake; if they respond co-operatively to a faster swimmer tapping them on the tootsies as an indicator that they wish to overtake; if they keep their albatross arms in, thus creating more space for other swimmers with neater strokes.

If there are many faster swimmers in a lane, however, and one slow swimmer, or slower swimmer, then that slower swimmer always will be a blockage because, with myriad princesses flouncing up and down the lane, there are few opportunities for them to overtake the slower swimmer in safety. The show-offs are forced, for example, to squeeze between the slower swimmer traveling in the same direction and the faster swimming oncoming. This is always a recipe for concussion. Or they suddenly slow up, waiting for an overtaking opportunity. Or they cut their laps short, turning before the end to jump ahead.

Great expectations

Anyway, mid-morning at Leichhardt, you’re generally between peak times, so you’re unlikely to be inconveniencing anyone. We still keep our eye out, though. At one point, as we turned, we saw a couple, probably in their 50s and both quite buff, in what looked like matching cossies (they weren’t, as we found later on closer examination, but their colour schemes were in harmony… We were watching. People look much better under water than above it, especially as they age.) as they prepared to enter the water. They appeared to be eyeing ‘our’ Fast lane enviously and meaningfully as we occupied the lane that, perhaps rightly, should have been theirs. We kept going for the time being, however. We fully expected them to jump into ‘our’ lane, in which case we’d have re-evaluated our position in the lane, once we’d been able to gauge their relative speed. We were quite prepared for that, and quite happy to switch lanes, if etiquette called for it. 

As it happened, Mr and Mrs Buff jumped into the Medium lane with the slow swimmer. This can be technique in itself, mind you: faster swimmers jump in with slower swimmers and, without making too verbal a point, they ‘intimidate’ the slower swimmers into a more appropriate choice of lane, ie they encourage them to wrack off to a slower lane. The Buffs seemed to co-exist quite harmoniously with the slower swimmer, however. Eventually, the slower swimmer in the Medium lane finished up and was replaced by a more appropriate medium swimmer. 

viktor hand
Our Russian cobber, Viktor the Ice Man, posted this image. It captured our imagination for the trails off the fingers. (Image by Viktor Bikiniev)

Happy lappers

For our part, we had broken our session into sets: 500m warm-up free (get the blood flowing); 10 x 50 harder free on an interval (get the heart rate up, and justify a cuppa afterwards); 300m pull (with pull booee, maybe chips as well); another 10 x 50 harder pull on interval (now we’re talking bacon and egg roll); then 200m warm down broken into 4 x 50 made up of 25m scull kick (kicking without a kick board) and 25m of form stroke (alternately, breast and back). It was a nice little session, and just the thing to help us from lethargy onto some kind of road to greater fitness.

At the end of one of those sets, we noticed Mr and Mrs Buff had paused at the other end of the pool – we kept an eye on them… you must always be aware of what swimmers around you are doing, just like driving a car – so – in a gesture of goodwill, knowing well how some couples love to swim together, so the bloke can beat the laydee (although it’s not the case in our case) and feel superior at something – we switched lanes into Medium, the lane at which they currently were pausing, perhaps expectantly, at the other end. We gesticulated to them, with our index finger, pointing to the now empty Fast lane. Mr Buff took the hint, and they switched, Mr Buff himself gesticulating with some signal of gratitude, of acknowledgement, like finger-acknowledging a driver who lets you into a long line of stationary traffic. And we all lapped happily ever after.


All was good. At the end, we were weary in the shoulders, because we’d done more work in the pool than we had in a while and that work had been in fresh water … Yes, yes, we know it doesn’t seem much, but all things are relative.

We headed into the change rooms. 

It was such an innocent movement in itself: we’d showered, towelled ourselves down, and had opened the locker where we’d stored our stuff whilst we swam – normally, we keep our stuff on a seat by the pool, but rain had threatened, so we’d used the locker instead – and we pulled our swimming backpack out of the locker. We dried, dressed, packed the bag and, pretty much without thinking, with the backpack across one shoulder, we leaned across and pushed the locker door closed with our free hand. It was an unusual movement, with the backpack already on one shoulder, and our free shoulder had to twist a bit to get the right purchase on the door. But it didn’t weigh much, so no problem. But as we leant and pushed the door, we felt a ‘pop!’ across our upper arm, as if something had snapped across our humerus in the pushing arm. Simple, quick, innocuous… But with the ‘snap’ came a quick, sharp pain, and suddenly we couldn’t lift our arm without that sharp pain running right up our arm. OMG! We’ve heard about this kind of thing… this ‘injury’, from the simplest of situations. 

viet nam boat
We've been swimming in Viet Nam.

Verrry serious?

Rotator cuff tears are about the only serious injury a swimmer can suffer, and they come from stroke defects. And they can be verrry serious, as the late Peter Harvey would have put it.

The afternoon was uncomfortable; sleep that night was restless; we couldn’t roll to our right side, as we did normally, without now dull but deep pain in the shoulder. Panadol Osteo didn’t help much.

We saw a physio next day. She took us through various movements to gauge the location and extent of the injury. And she sent us off for an ultrasound. We knew what the worry was, the worst-case scenario. And the sonographer confirmed it, showing us on the screen as he passed the sensor over the injured site, the monotone ultrasound screen exploding in a blaze of colour as it scanned over muscle with unusually heavy blood flow. ‘You have a tear in your rotator cuff,’ he said. The colour, he said, indicated unusually high blood flow as blood attempts to heal a wound. The sonographer isn’t supposed to tell the patient things like this. That’s the job of the doctor, after interpreting the images captured by the ultrasound. That’s why they get paid more. But the sonographer was a nice chap and open to limited prodding.

A rotator cuff injury can go a couple of ways: best case scenario, it responds to specific exercises and the muscles surrounding the tear can make up for it to some extent, at least allowing careful swimming; or the tear is so significant that it requires surgery and months of rehabilitation. We’ve seen the worst case quite a few times in others; and we’ve seen the better case plenty of times, too. 

Which way would we go?

This is the last thing, the very last injury that a professional swimmer needs when about to embark on a winter of oceanswimsafaris. The last day before Easter, and most of the following week away on a planned trip interstate, a man won’t get back to the physio or any doctor for two weeks. In the meantime, here he is. 

We’re still in the phase of allowing the injury to settle, but we have a couple of minor exercises that we do to keep the muscles from tightening too much.

Now here we are, a week on and our shoulder has improved. Pain isn’t gone, but we can lift our arm without too much discomfort. We’ve returned only yesterday from a visit to Wilson Island on the Great Barrier Reef (sorry, had to throw that in), where we swam around the island (1.02km), and out and about a bit off the beach over three days. The shoulder is not so much better that we’d want to put too much weight on it yet, but the improvement is enough to give us comfort, some optimism that perhaps we can get out of this with exercises, not surgery.

We blame fresh water.


Lost at Sea

swim caps lost at sea

Ever since we inaugurated oceanswims.com, back in the last millennium, we've sought to draw attention to the importance of swim caps. Some swimmers regard their caps as a meaningful souvenir of their participation in an event. Many, however, pay them scant respect, regarding caps as a nuisance, some even discarding them insouciantly just as the gun's about to go off. Many (most?) awgies seem to regard them as just another nuisance that must be covered in the course of running their swim. At best, they're another opportunity to charge for advertising space.

But swim caps are one of the most important elements of a safe swim, because they allow swimmers to be seen in the water, by other swimmers, by organisers (awgies) and, most importantly, by water safety crew. 

So it never ceases to amaze (appal) us to see the caps that many awgies distribute to swimmers. Of all the colours caps could be, there are only a handful that allow swimmers to be seen at distance in all conditions. Yet many (most) organisers distribute caps of colours that make it very difficult to spot swimmers, especially at distance. Check out the cap colours above...  We call them the 'lost-at-sea' range of cap colours. Why? Because wearing those caps, especially in difficult conditions, is a recipe for the swimmer being 'lost-at-sea'

It's alarming to think how many colours that appear 'bright' to the naked eye on land actually cannot be seen at sea, particularly if conditions turn bad, eg against grey skies and seas. But even against clear, blue skies, some colours cannot be see, eg any of the blues and whites, not to mention darker colours.
Some years back, after several junior lifesavers lost their lives in wipe-outs at national championships, the Surf Life Saving Association issued (56/2012-13, 14/12/2012) a directive that swim caps, including in mass participation events involving the public, such as ocean swims are, must be drawn from amongst only five colours: fluoro pink, fluoro green, fluoro yellow, fluoro orange, and fluoro red. The SLSA even issued colour specifications that awgies had to meet or nearly meet. Yet look at the cap colours above!

Those caps above are drawn from Mrs Sparkle's collection over the years. Some of these caps may have been issued prior to the directive above, but even after it, few swim organising clubs observe it. To this day, most caps issued are of 'lost-ast-sea' colours.

Below are some of the caps that either meet the SLSA's safety directive, or go close to it.

We're happy to send any awgie who asks a copy of the SLSA directive on cap colours (... click here). And next time you enter a swim, if they hand you a 'lost-at-sea' cap, you might ask the awgies why.

To be fair to awgies, surf clubs are high cost/value, intensive operations to run these days (we speak as someone who was secretary of a Sydney surf club many years back, so we have some idea), awgies generally are volunteers, and communications within clubs often don't operate as smoothly as one might expect. That said, it's been over 12 years since the SLSA issued its colour directive. You'd think word would have filtered through by now. A man feels a bit like George Bernard Shaw who, when he arrived by ship in New York, was asked what America should do to fix its society, and he replied, 'I told you what to do last time I was here, and you haven't done it!'

fluoro swim caps

dividermana start
Swim start in Ocean Swimming Stadium, Mana Island.

Mana Fiji SwimFest

October 17-22, 2023 – Mana Island is one of the great ocean swimming experiences. Five days swimming in some of the best water in the Pacific. There are two formal events: 10km (solo or 3.3.3km relays) on the Thursday, and 5km, 2.5km, and 1km on the Saturday. In between, you'll enjoy a beautiful tropical island, you'll meet lots of new, like-minded friends, and you won't have to run around commuting to different locations every day for your swimming. You can just swim, and relax, and enjoy yourself... Click here

Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef…

heron bait ball

November 8-13, 2023 – Heron Island is emerging as our marquee experience. We’re off to Heron with three oceanswimsafaris in June, October, and November. The first two are filled, but we have space available in our November 2023... Click here

Tonga – Swim with the humpbacks

tonga whales

Tonga, August, 2023 – Come with us to swim with the humpback whales in Tonga. This has proved to be one of our most popular oceanswimsafaris. In 2023, we have one spot available July 31-August 8, and two spots available August 7-15. We spend three days swimming with whales and two days ocean swimming around and between islands in the Vava’u archipelago… Click here

Advance deposits

You can reserve your place in any oceanswimsafari with an advance deposit of $500 per head. When we finalise the packages for each trip, we’ll give you the option of accepting or declining. If you don’t wish to proceed, we’ll refund your advance deposit in full. But in the meantime, you will have your space set aside.

See oceanswimsafaris.com for more.


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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.

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Hellercamp Pty Ltd t/a oceanswimsafaris.com
PO Box 719
Rozelle NSW 2039 Australia
ABN 97 163 965 704