Posted on Monday 4th March, 2019

Shiralee Swims Rotto

My sister, Allison Hass, and I swam as kids, nothing big, but Allison was still pretty good at longer distances. As adults we moved to different parts of the country and Allison started ocean swimming. I did my first ocean swim when I visited her more than 10 years ago in Perth, and have been doing them ever since. We both joined Masters Swimming after that too. Last year Allison proposed that we should do a duo for the Rottnest Channel swim. 19.7 kilometres from Cottesloe Beach to Rottnest Island off Perth. Allison has done seven solo crossings and multiple duo and team crossings herself. It sounded like a good idea when we were talking about it, and I was warm and dry and half a continent away! Allison was my “coach” and had me swimming a lot more kilometres in a week than I would normally do. I have to say my training buddies Graeme, Ralee, Rodd and sometimes Trevor from QIP were brilliant!

Saturday, 22 February 2019 – the big day finally arrived.  My first Rottnest Island swim experience, and about Allison’s one hundredth. It started with a 3am wake up to be at the boat for a 4.30am departure with the whole crew except Allison, who was starting on the beach. We were in position at the start area by 5.30, drinking in the atmosphere and waiting for our 6.20am wave start. The conditions were really great – very small swell, no appreciable wind and only a cross current to deal with. Sea sick tablets taken, we were all ready! Allison, of course started well, and Simon, our paddler picked her up pretty early. James, our skipper, expertly manoeuvred his way through hundreds of support boats, and by that time, paddlers and swimmers too. We had spotted Allison and Simon well before the 1500m mark cut off. We also had on the boat Ang who was spotter, Martin 2IC and dinghy skipper, Nat as timekeeper for changeovers and general hand, and Chantel as PA and communicator.

Everything went smoothly for the majority of the way. The water was crystal clear, you could see the sea bed the whole way. Not much wild life though, just the occasional school of small silver fish, but thankfully nothing too big! The water was a bit chilly I found, especially since the girls did such an excellent job of keeping me warm, fed, watered and sun screened on the boat. So it was freezing all over again every time I got back in. Aarrggg! We seemed to tick off the kilometres pretty quickly overall. That was a nice feeling. Started out at a cracking pace, but the current and fatigue slowed us down a little as we went. Allison was brilliant of course, even though she was a bit underdone.

Then we got to the 17k mark and that’s when I fell apart. I got sea sick, and that made me cold. We had a small unforeseen issue with the dinghy that we had to use in the last couple of k’s, so that threw our changeover timing out a bit. But no drama, we got the last 3 done, and Allison and I swam the last 1k in together. Finally we saw some wildlife! In the last 700m (finishing chute) we swam over a massive sting ray! We both saw it but Allison actually stopped to point it out to me! That was really cool. I’ve never been happier to finish a swim though. It was simply bliss to have my feet on land again! We got interviewed when we crossed the finishing line and Allison told me afterwards that was a big deal as not that many people get interviewed – woohoo!

The good stuff – we got 27th out of 193 duo teams overall, 7th female duo team, 1st in our age category and broke that age record by 17mins! Well chuffed with that! The bad stuff – my three greatest swimming fears were realised. 1. I got stung by a jellyfish in the first few minutes of my entire swim! I had nasty welts on my right upper arm and down into my side. It feels ok now, but was not at all pleasant, 2. I got sea sick and 3. I was very cold. At least this didn’t happen until the 17k mark, but those last three kilometres were a bit miserable. I wasn’t in good shape when we got out of the water and my team wanted to take me to the medical tent. I just rugged up and stayed in the sun and eventually got some colour back. I didn’t get to join in much with the team party for lunch and the afternoon though. I spent the rest of the day lying on my back recovering.

Overall, it was certainly an experience! I can’t praise the team enough – they were brilliant! So a massive thank you to Allison, Chantel, Nat, Ang, James, Martin and Simon – couldn’t ask for a better team!

Shiralee Bielenberg,

QIP Ipswich City Masters.