Swim “the Rip”
Even the concept of the Rip Swim seemed foreign to me as the small body of water was renowned for being such a treacherous place for large container ships and fishing boats, let alone swimmers. I had heard of swimmers making the journey across the heads of Melbourne’s Port Phillip Bay, but only after rigorous training and a small fleet of support boats behind them. But this is not the case, although it’s not for the novice swimmer, the Rip Swim is now available as a supported and guided team swim, that not only provides a challenge, but brings a unique experience to this part of the world that could possibly rival the Bosphorus Cross Continental Swim or the Cook Strait Crossing.
In the following we get an intimate insight into a group of swimmers who made the trek in early 2016 with the guidance of Spirited Away, who are now providing swimmers with the chance to make the crossing in a safe and supported setting.
I remember it was a couple of years ago. I was travelling across Port Phillip Bay on the Queenscliff Sorrento Ferry with some swimming friends. We were on our way to Sorrento to swim in the Pier to Perignon ocean swim. I was looking out from the starboard side of the ferry, over the beautiful vista of the entrance to Port Phillip Bay which is The RIP.
The RIP is known as the most treacherous body of water in Australia. This is a place along the southern coast of Victoria, where in the nineteenth century many ships came to grief in our short maritime history. I can remember saying to my mate, “I’d love to swim across that one day.” I knew that ex Victoria Premier Ted Baillieu had swum it (twice), but I was also aware that no organised swim event was currently swimming it.
Fast forward to 2015 and I was in Point Roadknight, at the Rock to Ramp Swim talking to the same mate who had just completed the RIP crossing with a group called Spirited Away. “It’s called The RIP Race and its run by Grant Siedle,” he tells me. Then he introduced me to Grant who encourages me to form a team and give it a go in 2016. So, I log on to www.riprace.com.au and register my team called “Willy Mussels.” A team of eight members is required and I set about recruiting another seven swimmers to cross The RIP.
Fortunately, I’m a member of a great swimming group called the Williamstown Mussels Ocean Swimming Club (where I stole our RIP crossing name from) and I started asking around if anybody is interested in joining me. At first there was little interest, probably due to the high cost of the swim, but I persist and slowly the idea of swimming The RIP begins to stir the curiosity in a few.
First to say count me in was the Mussels founder and fearless leader Tim the Toe Tapper aka Tim Dowling. Now there are six positions to fill. Next was Neil Isles aka Zoolander whose only issue was his speed and his perception that he would be too slow. Next was The Albatross aka Andy Moffat, then came the only female to sign up, Club Osteopath and Organiser Jess Evans. After a few nervous weeks asking as many swimmers as I could find, a new comer to the Mussels Phil Britz said he was in, and that he had a mate who wanted to join us too. Garry Smith was in.
With one position still to fill I was contacted by event organiser Grant Siedle, to ask if I had any vacant positions in the team. Grant advised that a swimmer from the previous year had had to pull out at the last minute due to injury, and that he was looking to join a team. I agreed and the final position was filled. Welcome Ross Hardie position eight and the Willy Mussels RIP team was complete.
Over the next couple of weeks following Zoolander’s suggestion, I arrange for the team to meet at Williamstown Beach to get to know each other and swim together in “RAAF” formation to practice speed and teamwork and swimming together in a group.
During one of our practice sessions, Garry gives us a pep talk and shares some of his experiences with endurance events where team members have not been able to continue. It is a pivotal moment. We make a pact to work as a team for each other, but be honest with each other too. This helps us gel very quickly and we can all feel the “force” around the team.
We meet twice before the swim scheduled for 21st February, and both times we are successful in staying together, but more importantly swimming together at the same pace and supporting each other. We also practiced changing the lead swimmer and a random stop by one swimmer to simulate a problem. Success, and we are now confident that we can complete the crossing safely. There is now much enthusiasm and anticipation within the group as the 21st February 2016 approaches.
It is now 21 February 2016 6.30am in Queenscliff, and I am waiting in the dark at the ferry terminal car park. I was first from my team to arrive. It’s cold and a stiff wind is blowing from the south west. I was feeling pretty good, but I was not without some nervous energy building. The flags on the marina are noisy as they indicate the strength of the wind. The next team member to arrive is Jess, and then the remainder trickle in looking bedraggled like they just got out of bed. All are looking forward to the swim.
Grant is next to arrive and quickly signals that we should gather around him for the pre swim briefing. Grant tells us that we should all be proud of ourselves for having the courage to swim The RIP, and he also tells us that he will look after us as our safety is paramount. I have belief in him and his team of professionals from Spirited Away. His message is simple …stay together (or I will pull you out of the water), follow all instructions and just swim!
Soon we are boarding the boat and crossing Port Phillip Bay to Point Nepean where we meet up with the support boat and kayaker who will lead us across the water to the finish line at the foot of the lighthouse at the Point Lonsdale pier. In no time, we are instructed to jump and swim to the tiny beach called Fort Nepean at the Heads of Port Phillip, where we wait for our instructions to start.
Conditions are good — a small chop with gentle swell — and the breeze has dropped a bit. We briefly line up on the beach and contemplate the swim. We hesitate and the guys on the boat start gesturing for us to get going….it’s on!
Like the start of any event it takes 100 metres or so to settle the breathing and stroke rate and establish a rythym. But we bunch up quickly and start to move as a group, staying together in a pretty tight formation.
We quickly reach the first marker and then start following the kayak with a boat behind and a Jet Ski circling us. We briefly bunch up at the next marker and glance over at the surfers outside Pt Nepean. Looks rough over there but our path looks pretty good. No time to dawdle and we push on.
I keep telling myself….relax, enjoy the moment and savour the swim.
In what seemed like no time, we stop mid-way for a view — hoping to get a 360 view of what it is like to be in the middle of The RIP…. but Grant tells us to keep moving — we need to get across the shipping channel and we do this within a minute of Grant’s planned schedule. There is no time to take the good conditions and tides for granted (if you pardon the pun).
Anyway, it was hard at water level to appreciate where we were — almost all we could see was water — Pt Nepean and Pt Lonsdale hard to spot from the middle!
We plug on with the group encouraging each other and just steadily moving as one. The security of swimming right next to each other is re-assuring and adds to the experience.
Then we pull up again. Suddenly the Pt Lonsdale pier is almost right in front of us. It’s all over too quickly! We know we are virtually there and have it in the bag. The last 100 meters or so along the pier is a slow celebration — kind of a victory lap as friends and family wave from the pier.
We arrive at the beach — and then stagger out tripping on the sharp rocks. A couple of us, can’t get steady on our feet because of the rocks and decide to crawl out of the water.
Time for a big team hug, family hugs and high five’s all round. After dwelling on the beach for quite a while, it’s time for brekky and to enjoy the afterglow with the team and family.
Grant joins us, and shares that he has lots to think about as a guide. But he goes on to explain that he doesn’t worry us with all the logistics, and instead just keeps it uncomplicated for us by his simple instructions — “stay together (or I will pull you out of the water), follow any instructions and just swim!”
There is a great feeling of relief and satisfaction, but no swagger, no talk of “conquering” or “smashing”. We know that we have been guided across this notorious stretch of water by an expert who has perfectly executed his plan, and that the conditions were very good. We consider ourselves privileged and fortunate to have been able to undertake this experience. Thanks Grant and his team and the “Mussels” for such an exciting and rewarding experience!
The Arrow & Zoolander
This story is from Issue 4 of Open Water Magazine, a free online magazine specializing in open water swimming and being active outdoors, the magazine is a quarterly publication that can be downloaded as a PDF from the website www.openwatermagazine.com