I started open water swimming by chance when I saw an add in the local paper for an open water swim near where I lived in Glebe. I thought it sounded like fun. The next Sunday I turned up nice an early at Dawn Fraser Baths in Balmain for a swim to Cuckatoo Island and back. 1.1kms. I was sold. From there started a Sunday commitment to swimming in the harbour or ocean where ever there was an organised ocean swim. This love has taken me all around Australia and overseas. More on that in a later post.
Like many during the Covid lockdowns I have been pushed to new discoveries to pursue my love of swimming.
During the first lockdown in 2020 that extended to swimming in at Balmoral, regularly swimming from Balmoral Beach to Chinaman’s Beach or round the beach to HMAS Penguin.
During the second lockdown I explored the southern side of the harbour within the 10kms radius from home which enabled me to travel from Balmoral to Camp Cove and Coogee to swim. During this time I fell in love with the increased sea life that I was seeing, turtles various types of rays, groupers and Port Jackson sharks and other fish.
5kms from home
Then the compass restricted and I (we, I have a swimming buddy, R) could no longer travel to our golden beaches be they ocean or within the harbour. We had to stay 5kms from home.
After a night of being down in the dumps I looked at the map using the tool offered. I put in my address and worked out where 5kms allowed me to swim. I soon realised I had no reason to complain at least I lived near the harbour. I live in Glebe.
I started a reconnaissance of where we could swim and what we would need. R did the same.
These were the things we realised we needed to swim.
1. Somewhere to get in and out. Steps or a beach, preferably without oysters or other things on which we could stumble or cut our feet.
2. Somewhere where we wouldn’t be crossing boat lanes, ferry lanes in particular, marinas.
3. Somewhere we could leave our stuff where it might be there when we got back.
4. Moving down the list… Somewhere we could see some sea life! A sandy bottom!
5. Before swimming check the Beachwatch website https://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/beachapp/OceanBulletin.aspx?NoMobile to check on water pollution. Usually it is not great swimming in the harbour after heavy rain for a few days, sometimes longer.
6. Before picking your spot, check the wind strength and direction and whether where your swimming will be affected. I wear an orange blow up buoy to be seen and this can be a nuisance if it is blowing over my head as I swim. If the wind is too strong the water is likely to be choppy and conditions not so good.
First Swim 5kms from home
On day 1 of the new 5 kms from home we started at Beare Park Elizabeth Bay and swam around to Rushcutters Bay, swimming across one marina but no boats so all okay. There is a sandy beach at Beare Park where you can get in. Within Elizabeth Bay we swam around the shore line and there was reasonable visibility and a sandy bottom in parts. Swimming around to Rushcutters Bay there is reasonable visibility on the point but it gets murky as you swim into the Bay. On the western side of Rushcutters Bay there are steps where you can get in and out but the bottom is muddy.
We did subsequently do other swims from Beare Park, around the point and across to the other side of Rushcutters Bay and around to McKell Park at Darling Point. This was a nice swim with much better visibility as the bottom is sandy on both shorelines BUT we had to swim across Rushcutters Bay in front of some large marinas. This proved to be worrying on occasions due to boat traffic, not large amounts due to Covid restrictions but still a worry.
The second swim spot took us to Balmain. A bit more tricky finding somewhere to get in, particularly at low tide. We were able to get in on the eastern side of Dawn Fraser Baths. At the end of the Park, Fitzroy Ave Reserve there is an inlet with a sandy/rocky beach where you can get in and out. The bottom was mud so not great visibility but the water appeared clean. Lots of interesting houses and boat sheds to look at as we swam.
On our third swim we decided to venture to the north side of the inner harbour, Berry’s Bay at Waverton (still in our 5kms as the crow flies). Not knowing this part of the harbour very well R had to search to find a suitable spot to get in and out.
We meet at the end of Horace Street Waverton where we walked down some stairs to a walkway which joined some parkland. We found an inlet along the walkway with some small boats leaning against the rocks and got in there, leaving our things behind one of the boats. There is a Navy depot, HMAS Waterhen to the east (we don’t swim in front of Navy land) so we swam across Oyster Cove. There is a Marina in Oyster Cove but it was not busy so we swam around it to Gore Cove and around Berry Island Reserve. The shoreline was park and bush land.
It was then back to Balmain to Snails Bay. Snails Bay has a sandy beach at the western end with stairs so it is a good spot to get in and out. From there we swam to Ballast Point and around into Mort Bay.
This is a good mixture of houses and parks along the shoreline. Parts of the swim have good visibility to the bottom although not sandy except close near the beach in Snails Bay. Only local private wharfs to swim around, no marinas. Also quite a social swim as people called out from the park, took pictures of us swimming and asked where we got in.
By this time we decided we were well on the path to making our harbour swims an adventure and went back over to the north side of the harbour to swim around Blues Point.
We got in from a boat ramp at the western end of Sawmillers Reserve and swam around Blues Point to a sandy beach next to Henry Lawson Reserve. This beach would have been a good spot to get in and out from but it was next to a building site with no grass or anything other than beach, but certainly possible. The shoreline was easy swimming few boats and no wharves or Marinas to swim around. Mainly parkland and bush land to look at as well as an old shipwreck close to the shore but not much to look at in the water. The highlight of this swim was coming around Blues Point to the Sydney Harbour Bridge in front of us.
The final swim for this blog is Mort Bay around East Balmain to Peacock Park return. You can get in at a sandy beach at Propellor Park in Mort Bay. There are a few private wharfs to swim around but otherwise a pretty clear swim. The only issue is the ferries that visit East Balmain Wharf and Mort Bay (Balmain) Wharf. We always swim close to the shore line and under public wharves rather than in front of them but the wash from ferries is unpleasant as is the fear of them getting too close. We also don’t want to create a problem for the the ferry masters. There are quite a few ferries that travel between Goat Island and East Balmain and the waterway there is not wide. It is safe but you need to be careful.
Visibility varies depending where you swim. A sandy bottom is best for visibility. We have seen many fish and stingrays even a coffin ray but no sharks.
Aren’t you worried about Sharks?
Most people say as soon as they see us swimming “Aren’t you worried about sharks?” Foolish I may be but the answer is “No”. I have read many articles and studies about sharks in the harbour. The one of danger to humans that comes into the harbour is the bull shark. Most of the studies suggest this is in the warmer months and we have been swimming in winter but regardless of this while there have been a few shark attacks in the harbour over the years I believe the danger aspect is probably less than injury or death in most sports.
There are many more places to swim around the Harbour some which are waiting for another Blog and many more to explore. I love it!