The opening swim of the 28th Port Nelson Sea Swim Series was always going to have an element of mystery. Who'd been training hardest? Which dark horses would bolt from the swim stables?
The men's race followed predictions, with some tight competition, but the women's result came out of left field as Marlborough's Sally McMath cruised home to win by nearly half a minute from pre-race favourite Caitlin Delany.
Organisers took a gamble by starting the series early this year. With the recent snow on the mountains and cold winds, the air temperature at the Nelson Yacht Club ramp was far from balmy, although the water temperature close to shore was an encouraging 18 degrees C.
Nevertheless, 156 swimmers lined up, facing an incoming tide over the first leg but being pushed home at a good clip.
As expected, Thomas Heaton, a national record holder over 1500m in the pool, set a good pace, but Luke Kelly clung on tenaciously, the pair being split by five seconds at the finish.
Forty seconds later, Hayden Squance and the series winner from two years ago, Kaiori McGuinniety, battled for the minor placings, with Squance prevailing by three seconds.
In fifth place was McMath, a butterfly and backstroke specialist.
She said she enjoyed the warm sea temperatures - a welcome contrast to the chilly water at Picton, where she had a training swim on Monday.
McMath said she travelled across to Nelson because she wanted the sea swim experience to prepare for the national State Ocean Swim series. She'll compete in the Auckland race in December and follow this up with Wellington, Akaroa and Takapuna over summer.
"That's probably the roughest swim I've ever done. I've never really swum with current before," she said after last night's race.
Behind McMath was the first non-teenager, Terry Bone. The winner of the short series two seasons ago, Bone has been working hard over winter and will be a real force this season in the M40-49 section.
Matai McGuinniety was close behind, with another body length to Jody Keefe-Laing.
Caitlin Delany took out ninth place - the second woman to finish - ahead of Simon Kneebone, Hamish Neill and Denis Cooper.
Pip Dwyer and Talya Harwood took out the women's third and fourth spots, followed closely by international long-distance triathlete Britta Martin, showing the benefit of some top-level coaching and hard training.
The next women's places were filled by Georgie Trengrove, Christina Harris, Kerry Mathieson and Claire Ballance.
The short race had a high attrition rate, with five of the 36 starters pulling out, the chilly water and strong current taking many of the swimmers by suprise.
Ben Price came home strongly to finish ahead of last season's short-course winner, the non-wetsuited Charlie Perkins.
Bryony Marriott was third, leading the women's field comfortably, with Mark Bishop, Charlotte Walker, Hannah Price, Mandy Medcalf-Stephens, Marnie Brown, Lisa Healy and Andrew Smith completing the top 10.
Sea swimming continues every Thursday throughout summer. News and results at nelsonseaswims.co.nz.