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 Canoeing in Western Australia

 Cottesloe to Rottnest Swim*

by Peter Fitzgerald, SWCC

*Nearly 2000 local and international swimmers compete in an annual marathon from a popular local beach, Cottesloe, to an offshore island, Rottnest, a distance of more than twenty kilometres. Each team has to have a motor launch as support and at least one paddler to guide the swimmer through the ocean.

The author is a well known paddler and Avon Descenter, but here pilots the support motor launch.


The adventures all started for me on the Friday before the swim when I launched my boat from Cockburn boatramp and headed over to Garden Island to catch a feed of crabs. For those who don't know me I have a seven metre diesel launch, well fitted out with accomadation and all the toys. Anyway as I was chugging across to the naval jetty at Garden Island, I was buzzed by a fast moving, low flying military jet piloted by a person of dubious ancestry. Believe me, it startled the living daylights out of me.

After trying for a couple of hours unfruitfully to catch a feed of crabs, I decided to pack up my nets. As I was reaching for my last net a big blue-grey shape glided out from under my boat, stuck its big head of peg teeth out of the water and said EEK EKK. It was the biggest dolphin ever, with a gleam of mischief in its eye. I think we had met before because the marks on its fin matched the marks of a dolphin I met in that area two years ago, "Flipper" or "Flippet". It then followed me around begging for fish scraps, bad luck Flippet, go find your own.

I had arranged to meet my crew of swimmers at Lombardo's Wharf at about 15:00 that day, so I packed up my nets, waved adieu to Flippet and proceeded post haste to meet them. My team consisted of two males, two females one crew-come spare paddler and an ex-Descenter as main support paddler. They were an optimistic crew.

After buying up on assorted seafood from Lombardo's, I proceeded to Rous Head, where there is a comfortable mooring area. When you get a SSW weather pattern it is a safe and calm anchorage and usually about midnight the easterly comes in and makes it even more so. I use it also because it is only a short hop to Cottesloe.

03:30 am the alarm goes off, coffee, check the oil on the motor, start up, warm up, pull up the anchor, turn on the radar and the GPS and I am off to Cottesloe to meet my swimmers again. I have often thought about the mind set of people who want to swim to Rottnest when there are several perfectly good ferries. But I suppose they must think that anybody who would want to paddle a river in full flood in the middle of winter is nuts.

My first swimmer got away at 06:30. CHAOS! is the only thing I can say, the start of the Cottesloe to Rottnest swim is absolute chaos. There are support craft paddlers and swimmers all jostling for position. It is a miracle that somebody has not been run down and all in slow motion.

Eventually, at about 2 to 3 kms from Cottesloe the field starts to sort itself out and there comes a sort of order, whence most support boats have located their support paddlers and swimmers. Only the unfortunate swimmers who have lost their support paddlers in the confusion are left hanging to the marker bouys unable to go any further.

On my boat a routine eventuated whereby my swimmers were rotating a ten minute shift in the water. At about five miles out our support paddler showed visible distress, then he puked violently in the water. The luckless sod was seasick and getting worse. Fortunately we had a spare paddler along for just such an occasion. We did a change and the poor luckless wright retreated to a bunk up the front and collapsed asleep. Apart from rapid forays aft to retch what was left of his breakfast over the side, we did not see much of him until we hit the more sheltered waters at Thompsom Bay. At about the halfway mark one of the younger females started to retch over the side and our team of four was reduced to three effectives with another body draped over the forward cabin.

It has been said that the most effective cure for sea sickness is to sit under a shady tree twenty miles inland and drink cool lemonade.

Our three remaining swimmers rearranged their roster to seven minutes each for the time being, and our race continued. At about eight miles from Rottnest our sick, non-effective cabin ornament show signs of life, and resumed our beleagured team of three, now reduced again by sea sickness to two and a half by another bout of retching over the side. Only the boys were unaffected by mal de mere.

With Rottnest only one mile to go our estwhile very sick support paddler who had been asleep for most of the trip seemed to recover, although he still looked very green around the gills. He relieved the spare paddler and all our swimmers were able to finish the swim together.

I have supported swimmers for about eight years now, I find it a rewarding experience, and because of my experience competing in the Avon Descent I know the priceless commodity that a good support crew is. Without people who are prepared to give up time to help out you would never be able to do an event like this.

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