Hammerheads and Blue Bottles = a LONG Weekend

It’s the Australia Day long weekend (Wahhoooooo! Extra day off work!) and I took the opportunity to try and get in a good bit of mileage in. A small group of swimmer friends and I met early down at Coogee beach with our kayaker (i.e. my wife) in tow and trying not to yawn.

Coogee Beach - Cracker of day for a swim!

Just after 6am, kayak packed with our gels and goodies, we kicked off the beach into the mild waters of Coogee Bay, due north. The five of us stuck pretty well together, despite the heavy chop of the waves – particularly as we got closer to Shark Point north of Clovelly. It was truly a beautiful day to be out, and we were all enjoying ticking along until OUCH, wee flucker! The first of MANY bluebottles slapped me in the shoulder and I felt the burning sting as I tried in vain to unwrap the tentacles from my arm.

The lovely mild water we’d been enjoying was a double-edged sword – with warmer currents come the blue bottle armadas. And they really are armadas – the blue coloured floating sacs that act as little sails for them were all around us – a stinging fleet that we had no choice but to swim through to get to our destination – North Bondi. And they were hitting us everywhere – slapping one of the guys in the face, wrapping around someone else’s leg, all our arms at one point or another.

Even our kayaker got stung; a bluebottle having sailed through the air after being propelled up by her paddle and then wrapping itself around her upper-arm. No wonder the other name for them is the Portugese MAN-OF-WAR!

From Bondi, we decided to head back to Clovelly in a dead-straight-line (well as straight as possible) towards Shark Point, thinking that if stayed out in deeper water, we might avoid more of the stingers. Possibly because there was a fair bit going on to distract us in the water, it took us a while to notice that we were being casually trailed by a surf life saver on a jetski, who approached our kayaker for a chat as we neared the Point less than an hour later. I had my wax earplugs in, so took them out and shouted to Alex

“What’s he saying?!”

When I got the response, I almost wished I hadn’t asked. There was a Hammerhead shark circling around an area less than 50m away from us. Apparently he lived around there, and was enjoying the large schools of salmon and other fish we’d been enjoying underneath us as we swam along. Alex didn’t tell me until we were back on the beach, but she’d seen the fin pop up and it was less than 25 metres away from us. The lifeguard asked as what we wanted to go – get out, or keep going south and hope for the best. Apparently Hammerheads weren’t the worst kind of shark either, so we weren’t in as such danger as if it had been, say, a bull shark or a great white.

The kayak had a shark shield dangling down from the back, so Alex and the lifeguard positioned themselves between us and the shark while those of us in the water went hell for leather south. I buried the news story I’d read just a few weeks earlier about the WA diver who’d been killed while wearing a shark shield (admittedly switched off) – I hoped to hell that it would do the job today.

The surf life saver escorted us past the Point and then waved us to (seeming) safer waters. Our planned route was around the back of wedding cake island, so we had a feed and horsed it on, the adrenalin now easing off a bit. Despite the roughness of the waves, our efforts were certainly rewarded when we got there.

The waters behind the island were crystal clear, aqua and bluey greens like you’ve never seen before

The waters behind the island were crystal clear, aqua and bluey greens like you’ve never seen before, and the underwater cliff shelf was covered in brilliantly coloured green seaweed. After a short rest, two of the group broke off from the pack to head back to Coogee, and three of us were heading for a slightly longer swim down towards Maroubra.

Stocked up with gels and feeds in anticipation, we started off south, running into a small fishing tour boat about 10mins past the island. Alex had a bit of banter with the guys on board, and then turned to watch us in the water. After a few sets of strokes, I noticed she wanted to say something, so I poked my head up to find out what was up. Apparently, there was another Hammerhead circling in the water directly in front of us! Needless to say, we called it quits for the day and decided the head back to Coogee Bay. It was a pleasant enough swim back, as we’d almost forgotten all the bluebottles that we’d run into on the way out.

We got back to the bay and decided to do 6 more laps to hit the 12km mark. Annette and Steve are training for Rottnest Island (Western Australia) and wanted to get their mileage up. I could use all the mileage I could get. So we agreed and headed off on our laps, leaving our kayaker to head to shore. Half way across on our first lap, we regretted the decision, and by the end of the second lap, all of us were stung alive by bluebottles. Just over 10kms would have to be enough for the day.

Bluebottle sting! Ouch!

The telltale bluebottle polka dots!

We all got out, licking our wounds, and headed for breakfast. Sharks, bluebottles and rough as f**k waves – we’d had quite a day at the office and, as far as I was concerned, I deserved all the bacon and eggs that I could get my hands on!

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