Cottesloe Beach to Rottnest Island - 19.7km!
Every year on the last Saturday in February sees nearly 3,000 swimmers attempt to cross the 19.7km stretch of water between Cottesloe Beach and Thomson's Bay. You can do it solo, with a mate (typically swapping every 5-10 minutes or so), or with three friends (like a relay, typically swapping every 30 seconds to 5 minutes or so).
I vividly recall taking a ferry across to the island in February 2002, watching the event, soaking up the amazing atmosphere, and thinking, "this is where I want to spend the rest of my life coaching!", such is its brilliance.
To date, I've coached well over 1,000 swimmers to successfully cross this channel and have completed four Solos and six Duo events myself. It is definitely one for your swimming bucket list...and with the world slowly starting to open up again (our borders open on Wednesday - whoop!), maybe the dream is not so far out of your reach?
The Rottnest Channel Swim has been a competitive event for over 30 years, but it's origins date back to 1956 when Gerd von Dincklage became the first person to cross the channel unassisted. The RCSA (Rottnest Channel Swim Association) has a very cool timeline of key events in this iconic swim's history here, check it out.
The BIG Day
You can check out some of the footage from the event in the video below, including some great insights from those who swam the event regarding the conditions and their tactics.
The entire results can now be seen here as well as the official post-event video summary here (which is just awesome!)
Anna Van Hazel Is All Smiles!
Anna Van Hazel (below) prepares to tackle the 19.7km Rottnest Channel Swim for the first time - if her name sounds familiar, it should, she's the wife of Mr Smooth himself, Jono Van Hazel - imagine how good their kids are at swimming!
Even though the Rottnest Channel is a comparatively simple navigation affair (compared to say the English Channel), mysterious dark arts are often at play between the lead boats as they guide their swimmers to victory, no one wishing to give away their secrets, and most pilots remaining faithful to their swimmers over many years.
It's almost a perfect due-West course, with relatively little currents (though there are some!) and relatively stable weather conditions (there's only been one cancellation in over 30 years, 2007).
However, like any open ocean event, there are elements that need to be accounted for, and until this year, no one has attempted to create a sound oceanographic model to provide the swimmers with suggested routes based on their known starting speeds, their predicted average pace, how often they'll stop for a drink and a feed (and for how long) and what the weather and currents are doing on any given event day. That is until now...
Route Optimisation Tool
I was super excited to see the launch of the Rottnest Channel Swim Route Optimisation Tool this year. Even if you have no intention of ever coming and visiting us over here in Perth for this great swim (and you'd be more than welcome to!), why not give the tool a try with your known information and see what route it plots out for you - its a lot of fun - but, be careful...
Expectation VS Reality
The following email was the last one I sent out to my swimmers on the Thursday before the swim - whether its this event you're targeting this year - or another - please pay heed:
In less than 48 hours time, many of you will have left Cottesloe Beach on your way to Rottnest Island - wow! What an amazing event this is.
Every year I post out a link to a bunch of useful snippets of advice on things such as nutrition, how to manage shoulder pain, recommended change-overs for DUO/TEAM swimmers etc. Obviously, a lot of this advice remains consistent each year (and can be found here).
One thing that doesn't remain consistent is the weather. I posted some tips about that on Instagram yesterday here.
The biggest addition to this year's event - which stands to be a gamechanger - is the new https://www.rcs.optiswim.com/ route planner. I've had a play around with this and conceptually I think it's a really great idea, but I do have some significant reservations about it. Not that it's not plausible that it could help you plot out a great course (I think it can - and all the tracks I've tried as examples seem sound), but what it might do to perceptions on the day. Imagine the planner estimates you'll swim the event in 7h00m, but you're at the halfway mark in just over 3h30m and the SW wind is already starting to kick in and you're dropping off your pace and feeling a little flat...is that going to start to mess with your mind? Expectation versus reality. I've seen it countless times (and have experienced it myself too) and it can be hugely damaging for morale. Be careful!
The planner also requires a very good estimate of your swimming speed at the start of the event and then halfway across. This is very tricky to get right, and plotting in an adjustment of 1min/km can vary the outcome wildly. Again, just be careful.
So, am I sceptical of the planner? No, not at all. I'd use it myself. I think the track it plots for you is likely to be a very good stab at the best line for you to take (it's certainly the first time anyone has been able to demystify the dark arts of a Rotto crossing and democratize that toll for everyone - bravo!), my only word of caution is trying not to get too hung up on the estimated time that it suggests. I for one am hugely excited about the data that it will generate post-swim for those who used it against its predictions but would be wary of how you perceive these expectations during the swim itself.
Case in point, my first solo was in 2009. I felt I was capable of <5h00m. The guy who won (a friend of mine) was sure he could break the record (4h00m). I crossed the line in 5h23m and was distraught, even though I'd placed 6th in the men's event and 9th overall (my best performance to date). David Cox was one of the only swimmers under 5 hours that day and a good 45 minutes behind the record. Were we both overly ambitious re. our times? No, I don't think so, but mother nature and her infamous currents around Rottnest played their part for sure. All I'm saying is, don't cross that line and be disappointed with yourself until you know exactly where you've finished within the field and what the race has been like for everyone else, and certainly DON'T PANIC halfway over if you're ahead/behind of the planner's estimation. Swim your own swim and use the tools that you have to your disposal as a guide only.
Good luck - I'll be on the beach at Thomson's Bay with my kids ready to welcome you all in, including my wife Michelle who's doing her 6th DUO swim - go Mish!
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