Fearing a mouthful of 'pristine' port water

A harbour swim will take competitors around Timaru's North Mole and into Caroline Bay.
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A harbour swim will take competitors around Timaru's North Mole and into Caroline Bay.

OPINION: I'm nervous.

It's not an entirely unusual state for me. I've been of a fairly nervous disposition throughout my life, though I've managed, in recent years, to cut down on how nervous I once got about fairly mundane matters.

Now I tend to save my nerves for bigger events and challenges, like interviews - the kind where I'm being interviewed - and long-haul flights, though to be fair the most recent example of the latter I experienced, in October, was one of my best ever.

A separate ocean swim has been added to Timaru's triathlon event.
MYTCHALL BRANSGROVE/FAIRFAX NZ

A separate ocean swim has been added to Timaru's triathlon event.

No, what I'm nervous about now is just what's in the water of Timaru's harbour.

Because I think I'll be getting closely acquainted with it in about five weeks' time.

Yes, for the first time since I've lived in South Canterbury, there's going to be an ocean swim here, and I have to do it. The challenge is too good to pass up.

There's also little doubt that in order to be able to get in an event of the appropriate distance in Timaru, without exposing swimmers too much to the vagaries of the open ocean, the harbour has to be utilised, because it's a largely protected area. And once swimmers are round the North Mole and heading for the Caroline Bay beach, they'll be protected again.

All safe as houses, and no doubt there'll be kayakers or surfskiers at hand along the route to come to the aid of anyone who strikes any trouble. Provided you're fit enough, then, it shouldn't be too much of a problem.

The only thing that's worrying me is the idea that I might somehow open my mouth while my face is staring into the harbour's depths and take a deep swallow of Chateau de la PrimePort 2016. I enjoy a good port, but that would be taking things a bit far.

Or, and this is more likely, that I might open my mouth for a breath and have a gentle swell, or the wake from a fellow competitor, roll into my gasping maw, sending me into a mid-harbour paroxysm of coughing and gagging.

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Because I'm going to get tired, let's face it, and that's when I'm both less likely to concentrate on properly closing my mouth when my face is in the water, and more likely to open it really wide when I do turn my head for a breath, presenting any stray swells with a large, if temporary, target.

Now I don't want to cast any aspersions here; I'm absolutely sure our harbour is one of the best and cleanest around. I just think it's natural that in a fairly small area of water, which sees a healthy amount of traffic from vessels, ranging from the pilot boat to the occasional cruise ship to, most recently, cargo ships calling on the new Holcim dome, there'll be some stuff going in the water that wouldn't be all that wholesome to ingest.

Back in the not-that-long-ago day when an early morning walker could stroll onto the harbour precinct virtually unchallenged to watch a cruise ship berth, or just to admire the sunrise on the harbour's still waters, I saw dozens of shags nesting on a wharf there. Which is lovely, but also means they'll habitually be performing their ablutions over the stretch of water South Canterbury's finest ocean swimmers, and me, will soon be knifing through en route to Caroline Bay.

I will say, though, that I'm encouraged by the fact the port's chief executive, Phil Mehlhopt, is one of the 'Prime' movers behind the revival of an ocean swim for Timaru. If he's happy to put his face in his own harbour, it should be good enough for me.

It's at this point that I really would encourage you to sign up for the January event if you're in any way interested in swimming.

I mean it. I'm genuinely excited by the prospect of such a race on our doorstep, because it's something I've wanted to do for several years. Somehow it's always been too much trouble.

Open water swimming is definitely not everyone's cup of tea, but it's a growing pastime in New Zealand. I've had a couple of cracks at it, the first as part of a team competing in a triathlon at Lake Hood, near Ashburton, nearly a decade ago. The swim was only 700 metres long, but in a silty, man-made body of water that isn't particularly deep, I didn't enjoy it much.

The second was part of the ocean swim series around New Zealand that must have been going for close to 10 years now. I signed up for the event at Corsair Bay, near Lyttelton, in February 2007. If my memory serves me correctly, the previous year's event had been washed out by heavy rain and in the week leading up to 'my' event, I woke up a couple of times from nightmares of towering seas.

Instead, I arrived to find a sheltered bay, with beautifully calm waters and plenty of rescue personnel in attendance. The distance was a challenge, though. About a third of the way around the second 1.4km lap of the triangular course, I got a leg cramp, but I waved away the kayaker who offered assistance as I briefly lay on my back until it eased. Then I dragged my weary body home, doing breaststroke most of the way, because it was just easier.

I was glad I had, because the sense of achievement at finishing was something else.

Nine years on, here's hoping for a repeat that leaves a sweet taste in my mouth.

 - Stuff

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