Category: Jellyfish

Ah, Friday swims…best session of the week in my humble opinion! Last week was definitely no exception. I missed Tuesday training stuck late at work, and then didn’t make my Wednesday Can Too session (booo) as some idiot knocked over my bike where it was parked for the day and broke the clutch lever…making it a little difficult for me to get there. Anyway, a trip to the parts shop, a screwdriver, a shifter and a youtube video later and I’m back on the road and was back in the water. Yay!

I was running quite late getting out of the office so raced across and threw my gear down and literally ran down to the beach to join the group for the swim. We headed out on a swim safari to the boat ramp at North Bondi, then out and around Ben Buckler with a test of nerve to see how far we would swim out as a group!

I love doing this swim, it’s completely amazing to me to see that magical world under the surface, and it’s one of the charms of ocean swimming for me. I remember being so surprised, when I first took up this sport, to find all sorts of sea life flourishing in Bondi. I think because it’s so sandy in the middle, and quite small, and there had always been soooo many people, and I guess never having swum there with goggles and therefore been able to see properly, I had selfish(pun!)ly assumed there wouldn’t really be much in the way of sea life there.

How wrong I was!

Rarely is there a swim where I don’t see all sorts of fish and rays. At the North and South ends there are rocks and seagrass beds which are absolutely bursting with life. On lucky days I’ve seen whales not far off shore, and even luckier had a pod of dolphins come and swim with me, Jules and coach Kingy! On the unlucky days the place is overrun with bluebottles, and there are all sorts of jellyfish out there…luckily most of them seem to be the non-stinging kind.

Even though I’ve snorkeled heaps over the years, swum heaps in the past couple, and taken up diving in the past few months, there’s just something about being right in there checking out this completely different world that I never grow tired of. Luckily for me, I live somewhere where the geography and the climate mean I pretty much never have to!

After the previous night’s less-than-brilliant training session, I was a bit apprehensive about the Can Too beach session the next morning. Bluebottles are a common hazard, but they’re usually around a bit later in the season when people have a bit more confidence and some better developed skills to help them deal. Also, the weather decided to be a bit crappy again. It’d just be nice to have some good weather to really show off how awesome this sport can be on a brilliant beautiful bright day!

Luckily, though, when I arrived at  the beach, the bluebottles seemed to have come, conquered and left as quickly as they arrived. Whew! Big relief!!!

So, despite the weather being a little grey, we managed an amazing session. I swam with the intermediate group, and they are going so well! I was really proud of how well people had picked up the lessons from last week and remembered them, and how responsive they were to what the coaches were saying and the new things to learn for the day.

I loved watching people trying new techniques, like some basic wave-catching and starting to get the hang of them.

I loved watching people pushing themselves physically and pushing through their comfort zones.

I particularly loved watching one participant who had been too scared to get in the water last week come back again with amazing bravery and a renewed attitude, and not only get in the ocean but swim!!! Truly an amazing moment.

I loved watching some of the people I’ve known from previous programs when they were new, now sharing their experience, advice and contagious positivity with new people.

I Loved being able to share advice on everything from how to dive under a wave to what sort of goggles might be good.

I loved seeing people starting to understand how amazing ocean swimming is, how invigorating, how challenging, how rewarding, how fun.

And I kind of feel a bit like maybe I’m cheating a bit because sometime it feels like I’m getting even more out of this whole mentoring thing than the mentees. It’s such an amazing thing watching people learn and grow like that. I’m so proud of all of them.

Urgh, I don’t say it very often, but I really didn’t enjoy training tonight. I’d had a kind of weird day at work, and the weather was crap (really crap) and as much as I’d like to blame it on those things, I think it just came down to the fact that I was just in a bit of a mood. I like to believe it happens to us all. Crickets? ? ??? ??? Just me then? *Sigh*

Anyway, I’ve had the odd day like this before, and usually I know myself well enough to know that if I make myself go to training, all those feeling seem to melt away as I dive under that divine first wave, and the quiet and the challenge and the focus on just keeping swimming take over…and I have never yet had that not work.

Not until tonight.

Well, it was working OK. I was swimming without a wetsuit, as usual at the moment…it’s too much of a hassle getting the thing on and off, the water is warm enough I don’t even miss it, and I have enough trouble carrying around stuff for work, for swimming, and stuff for motorcycle riding (including all the required wet-weather gear for today) that it was the last thing I wanted to pack.

So the training session would have been fine, except for the bluebottles. Yep, the nasty things, good for nothing other than the dubious honour of being turtle-food (and not even terribly good at that) were infesting the beach. Out of the group swimming today (8 of us, I think) Allison was the only one who wasn’t stung, and the ratio of wetsuits to news was 5:3.

I’m a bit lucky, I suppose, in that I don’t actually seem to react too badly to stings from the nasty blue guys. I’ve been stung plenty of times at Bondi, and plenty of times as a kid (perhaps that’s part of it) and it never seems to be too bad after the initial shock of the sting. Tonight, however, I discovered that getting stung in the underarm with the tentacles wrapped down around my arm, over my shoulder, and up around my neck, is a touch more painful than in other places. In fact, it hurts quite a lot!

I pulled the perpetrator off my skin, and I did keep swimming for the rest of the session…which I’m kind of glad to admit didn’t go for the full hour tonight (something about the rain and the recurring jellyfish stings, perhaps?). I can’t honestly tell you that I enjoyed the rest of the session though, The thing is, once you’ve been stung, the rest of the session you do have a bit of a tendency to get a bit jumpy and edgy at every bit of seaweed, and every stray wave that laps at your toes. I know it’s all a bit pathetic compared to some of the full-on marathon ocean swimmers who get stung repeatedly by much nastier creepy crawlies than that, but I’d like to make the disclaimer that I’m saying I didn’t enjoy myself, not that I couldn’t have kept going if I’d really had a good reason to.

Anyway, we did call the session off a bit short, and then everyone pretty much split and headed straight home. I had an equally miserable ride home in the pouring rain and freezing cold, and was feeling more on the verge of a Claire Danes Cry Face than my usual post-swim sense of happiness, joy, wellbeing and elation.

After a hot shower to help with the stings and thaw out, one I was perched on the couch in my dressing gown and slippers I did have a bit of a chance to reflect on the evening. Even though it was one bad session, it doesn’t mean there were no lessons in it. Here’s what I came up with:

  1. It’s interesting to note that even when you love something, it’s never perfect all the time. Helps put in perspective the things that are perfect less of the time.
  2. Ocean swimmers are tough! And brave! We kept going several rounds even after pretty much everyone had been stung and was hurting, and not one person gave up, stopped swimming or opted out til we called the session (admittedly a touch early) at the end.
  3. Tough training days like this help keep things in perspective during races. It may be a little rough or not as nice a weather as I hope or somehow suboptimal, but I’ll still know I’ve survived worse!
  4. Bluebottles are actually kind of interesting creatures when you’re out of reach of their tentacles. My trivia-loving partner had a bit to do with that one when he got home. He knew, for example, off the top of his head that they are actually made up of two different organisms, and that where the bubble part of their bodies (the sail, apparently) joins their tentacles, they can change the orientation to ‘sail’ with the wind. Also, according to the combined efforts of the 4SEASons crew, I now know that they are popular food for turtles (and a few other things).

Wow, another cracker of a day today….although not without its unique challenges…..

My cold and chest infection seem to have properly passed now…at least with the help of a final cold and flu tablet an hour before the swim, just to keep the snot levels under control!

Conditions were very similar to last week at the outset. Practically no waves, sunshine and crisp but not freezing water temperature.

We did a kind of unusual point to point…more like a “V” shape for the faster swimmers starting from the middle of the beach, diagonally to the south point, back to the middles, then repeat to the north point (with a bit of an adventure around the end for fun)..

For the slower amongst us, we took off directly from the south end of the beach and headed straight out to the point…exactly where we’d been the same time last week.

Soon we noticed something was quite different. It seemed, initially like there were clouds in the water that were like swimming through cellophane noodles! Longish, clear jelly-like things! Yup, something was up with the jellies. I tried doing a bit of research and I still don’t know what on earth was going on. The swarms were thicker in the shallower water over the rocks, and definitely thinned out in the colder currents, but that’s as much as I know. I don’t know what they were, or whether they drifted in or were spawning or what!

They weren’t stinging, so that was a bonus, but it was a little freaky at times. In amongst the clear jellies were some familiar looking bigger jellies, a bit of googling seems to identify as sea walnuts, and some really beautiful lacy small white round things that I have had no luck whatsoever at identifying.

Just goes to show that you never know just what you’re going to find week to week even swimming at a relatively small beach at the same time once a week. I’ve been doing ti for two years now, and I’ve literally never seen anything like it. It also makes you realise that whilst we often think of Bondi in a very urban, human sense a lot of the time, when you’re out there you realise that it is very far from being truly our domain.

They weren’t stinging or bothering us, but I was certainly making a pretty concerted effort to avoid accidentally swallowing any seawater and risking an mouthful of invertebrates. I’m a vegetarian after all! That being said, although I had my camera on me, I wasn’t feeling particularly inclined to stop swimming and take happy snaps in the middle of fields of jellyfish!

Later in the session we headed up to the North end of the beach and were frolicking jellyfish-free at the boat ramp, I did get another chance to take advantage of the amazing water clarity and stunning light (and a couple of new willing models) to work on my underwater photography technique. Plus Allison had a go too, to actually manage to get a few shots of me getting my mermaid on!

Check it out in the gallery below…..

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