40 Pools

Celebrating a Big Birthday with 40 Swims

Not a Pool: Manly Beach

Bold and the Beautiful 12/30 - swim start

Swim start at Manly, courtesy of the B&B blog.

While planning my time in Sydney, I was strongly advised to check out nearby Manly Beach’s Bold and Beautiful Swim Squad, which gathers at 7:00 a.m. every day for a short swim over a marine reserve to a neighboring beach. We followed this good advice on day 3, zipping out to the Manly Surf Pavilion in plenty of time.

From studying the B&B website, we knew that hundreds had been showing up daily this holiday week. The penultimate swim of the year drew a large, genial crowd. “Snorkels, fins, wetsuits, whatever it takes, everything is welcome for all of our swims,” the organizers kindly proclaim.

looking seaward

Ready to go in our new caps.

We signed in at 6:45, mugging for headshots and picking up pink caps–all free. At the appointed time, we eased our way into the water along with our new friends and headed off along the seawall. Plenty of pictures from the swim are on the blog, including us in the seaward parade in the second one.

I like to have my space in the water, so for the 750 meters across Cabbage Tree Bay to Shelly Beach, I swam far out on the ocean side of the group. The water was a lovely shade of green and quite clear, but I couldn’t see much that far out.

getting ready for part 2

Ready for the return from Shelly Beach, courtesy of the B&B blog.

At Shelly Beach, everyone exits the water and waits for the group to reassemble. This is about camaraderie and enjoying the water, not speed.

As we got ready for the return, Frankie recommended that I swim closer in to shore, for better views of the aquatic life. WOW, what a difference. I was more of a snorkler for the return trying to take in all the beautiful fish and plants.

me in the crux of a statue

Jo’s view of me and Manly beach on the return leg.

What did I see? The only creature I can identify by name is the common ray, a sand-colored ray about the size of my torso that fluttered along the bottom. The many, many other fishies included foot-long light gray ones with dark stripes, similarly sized but more oblong black ones with white eyes, colorful little blue and yellow stripy ones, a long and skinny greenish brown one with a bulging head, small flittery minnows, and plenty more. The most interesting plants were bright green bursts that undulated with the passing waves. According to a sign on the shoreside path between Manly and Shelly, there were many other things in the water too, begging future exploration.

I got so wrapped up in the scenery that I very nearly swam straight into some rocks, but fortunately I noticed them in the nick of time. There I am at right waving to Jo, who was perfectly positioned in view of a sculpture.

What do the fish think of this strange human migration that occurs at the same time every day, I wonder. Do we look like different species to them depending on our swim attire and strokes?

Having already completed an incredible swim by 7:45 a.m., we now found ourselves on a beautiful beach that was coming to life with exercisers and sun bathers, many sporting MANLY attire that made me smile. We claimed a patch of sand to stretch out on, enjoying watching the nippers paddle out on their boogie boards, ride the waves in, and then run back out to do it again and again.

In order to make the early start time, we had to drive out to Manly. The more traditional way to get there is by ferry. To complete the experience and have another go at this beautiful patch of water, we will squeeze in a return visit by boat. The downside of that, of course, is missing the B&B Swim, but at least we are now on the official list.

Manly from the main drag


#65: Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre

view of sweeping roof from the shallow endLocation: Ultimo, Sydney, NSW, Australia

Configuration: 8 lanes x 50 meters plus play pools

Fee: AUD6.80

Ian Thorpe won enough gold for Australia in the 200o and 2004 Olympics that Sydney named a new pool in his honor. The Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre is an indoor marvel, and we decided to check it out on our second morning in Sydney due to worries about strong morning winds impeding outdoor swimming.

side of pool buildingThe building is a bit odd looking and hard to appreciate from outside vantage points, but once you get inside it’s breathtaking. A wall of windows on the long side and dramatically sweeping ceiling panels interspersed with clear sections make for a light, airy feel. As at the North Sydney Olympic Pool, you can sit in windows on display for passers-by while admiring the pool.

There’s a larger-than-life picture of the Thropedo slicing through the water in his full-body suit near the entry desk, but otherwise there are no overt homages to the namesake–just a wonderful pool with silky smooth, UV-purified water. Swimming here was an absolute delight. During my backstroke laps, I enjoyed watching the clouds fly by and the weather vanes on the roof spin furiously.

leisure poolWhen you finish in the perfectly temperate lap pool, you can then relax on the sun deck, as we opted to do, having the whole place to ourselves. Alternately, there’s a warm-water “leisure pool,” which was popular with families with young children.

As seems to be the norm at Aussie pools, the change rooms lack lockers, so we stashed our gear in little cubbies at the foot of the pool. This enabled us to use a different change room after the swim, and it was more to our liking.

looking down the middle laneThe lanes were signed for different speed and stroke preferences, but people seemed to swim wherever. Fortunately, it was empty enough to not matter. No pool toys were in evidence.

The building design was chosen through a competition in 2001, the winner being Harry Seidler and Associates. Examples of his handiwork are much in evidence in Sydney, and our caps are off to him for his work here. Well done, Harry!

Jo, Hannah, Frankie

1 Comment »

Australian Pool Vocabulary

DSCN0618For the benefit of future swim tourists, here are some translations to help with the language barrier. (This is a work in progress and may expand as my Aussie vocabulary increases.)

bathers bathing suit
boom bulkhead
budgy smuggler male Speedo-cut suit
change room locker room, with the caveat that Aussie change rooms may not have lockers, as they may be on deck instead
circle swimming the term is the same, but Down Under it means swimming clockwise rather than counterclockwise
cossies bathing suit
nippers young kids in training to be ocean lifeguards
spa hot tub
squad team or training group
stands bleachers
surf beach ocean beach with waves
swimmers bathing suit
togs bathing suit
tumble turn flip turn

#64: North Sydney Olympic Pool

North Sydney Olympic PoolLocation: North Sydney, NSW, Australia

Configuration: 8 lanes x 50 meters outdoor pool. (There is also a 25-yard indoor pool and a wading pool.)

Fee: AUD7.10

My pool tourism dream vacation to Australia is under way! After a looong flight that arrived in the wee hours yesterday morning, I needed help to feel human again and get on the local schedule. In other words, I needed the North Sydney Olympic Pool, which is just a short–and beautiful–walk away from the Sydney apartment I’ll call home for the next week.

me at pool entranceLong-time friends and pool fans Jo, Frankie, and I strolled along the waterfront to get here, passing landmarks such as the prime minister’s Sydney residence and the governor-general’s residence while catching views of the famous Sydney Harbor, Harbour Bridge, and Opera House. One of the best views is commanded by the pool itself, nestled on the waterfront between the base of the bridge and an amusement park. Built in 1936 like so many of my favorite New York pools, it’s got classic Deco style in the brickwork and terra cotta.

The facility has expanded over time to include a cafe, a sun deck, an indoor pool, spa, and fitness center, all run by the municipality. It’s not just another pretty pool, though. It’s fast! Among its records is the record for having the most world records–a whopping 86.

Swimming here lived up to my grand expectations. The water was clear, pleasantly salty and chlorinated, and just the right temperature. There was plenty of room even on a Saturday in the height of summer, and the views were spectacular. I did have to concentrate a bit to stay on the left side of the lane, but even in my depleted state I managed. The deep end goes off a cliff, sinking to depths suitable for high diving. The pool is fully lined, a temporary measure intended to extend its life at least until 2018, when more extensive repairs are planned.

Jo, Hannah, Frankie

Jo and Frankie gave me this purple North Sydney Olympic Pool cap when they visited in 2007. I saved it all this time for just the right moment and will now wear it with pride and authenticity.

The full pool was available for lap swimming when we got there, and lanes were arranged by speed including subdivisions such as “freestyle only” (!) or “no breaststroke” (!!). After a short while, a masters team took over a few lanes for a midday workout. Having had enough of a swim by that point, I enjoyed watching them from a poolside seat in a window that protrudes off the deck.

Other impressive features include solar panels about the indoor pool and, scheduled for opening next month, a natural gas-powered cogeneration plant. This will provide electricity and heat while reducing carbon emissions and power costs, helping the local government to significantly reduce its electricity use, given that the pool currently accounts for 35 percent of said usage.

The locker rooms, I mean “change rooms,” pale in comparison to the pool and seem to function mainly for revenue generation–you have to pay extra for a key to a locker and for the shower. Still, there’s plenty of room, and they are clean enough.

Whether this is your neighborhood pool or an attraction you travel around the world to visit, it won’t disappoint. We plan to return for a nighttime swim and after-dark views. And plan we must, since there are more than 100 pools in Sydney!


Not a Pool: Aquatic Park, San Francisco

Dolphin Club waterfront

Aquatic Park is one of the few places in the world that makes this New Yorker jealous. Sure, we have mile after mile of beaches, an impressive array of outdoor pools, a richly fascinating maritime history, and heaps of iconic waterfront structures, but we don’t have anything that compares to this landmark embayment. As if the opportunity to go for a quick swim in downtown San Francisco were not enough, the place is in the shadow of a chocolate factory. You’ll be taunted by a giant “Ghirardelli” sign every time you breathe or sight to the south.

What really makes this place special, though, are the rival swim and rowing clubs with clubhouses complete with saunas, showers, lockers, boat-building facilities, bars, historic photos, and a wealth of other wonders. I’d swum out of South End Rowing Club on a visit to the Bay Area a few years ago and this time was able to try the neighboring Dolphin Club.

My host was the incredible Swimmer Suz, aka the 50-year-old freshman, whom I’d been in contact with as she applied for her latest undertaking: the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim. She’s been training and racing in the San Francisco Bay ever since she was a kid. When I let her know I’d be in the area to meet my new nephew (!!!), and hinted at my pool tourism proclivity, she picked right up on what I was after and whisked me into the city for an early swim on Thanksgiving Day.

South Enders, aka SERCers, were pouring back into the cove when we arrived, having just done a quick swim to, you know, Alcatraz. Nonmembers are not allowed out of the cove, and the Dolphin Club is a bit more cautious in its explorations anyway, so we contented ourselves with a circuit going to a flag buoy, then following a bulkhead, peeking out at a bridge you might have heard of called the Golden Gate, and finally making our way back to the club beach past a bunch of beautiful ships. All along the way, Suzanne stopped to greet friends and let me catch up. I even saw people I know. I mean really, can it get much better than that?

Dolphin Club clubhouse

Yup, that’s 1877, as in pre-earthquake.

The water temperature here fluctuates far less than New York’s seawater and was in the low 50s for our swim, pleasantly warmer than my last dip at Brighton Beach. With the clubhouses right by the beach there’s no worry about not being able to warm up after. The custom is to put your towel in the sauna while you take a shower (not too hot!) and then go join your towel and your swim buddies until you are toasty. It being Thanksgiving, there was much talk of pie and stuffing.

The Dolphin Club dates to 1877 and survived the 1906 earthquake that did in much of San Francisco. It’s history is fascinating and very much in evidence in the clubhouse today, both physically and spiritually. While some consider the choice of Dolphin versus South End to be a defining allegiance, passed down from generation to generation, others point to Dolphin’s more spacious women’s locker room and sauna with a view as a deciding factor. Some even join both clubs to have the best of both worlds.

I, too, would have a hard time choosing and am equally jealous of both clubs and the Aquatic Park they help to define. I hope to be back soon, especially now that I have a nephew to school.