Crocodiles, box jellyfish fail to deter 155 from swimming across Darwin’s Fannie Bay
By Emily Smith
It was the thought of swimming 1.2 kilometres through a known crocodile habitat that had her feeling “very, very nervous”.
But today Ms Pursehouse, along with about 155 others, braved deadly sea creatures and a strong headwind to take part in the annual Fannie Bay Swim.
It is one of the few times swimmers set foot in the bay, given the presence of tentacles and toothy threats.
Yet the Darwin Surf Lifesaving Club, which organised the event, said safety was their number one priority.
It conducted scans for crocodiles, and said jellyfish were deterred by the cooler waters at this time.
While it was not enough to have Ms Pursehouse feeling completely confident, she and friend Yana Warrian made it into the water.
“It is always reassuring when they tell you they haven’t seen any crocodiles for two weeks,” Ms Warrian said.
“It’s probably out one chance to actually swim in the ocean.
“We’re surrounded by all this beautiful water and can never swim in it, so now’s the time to do it.”
As another competitor Ed Archer said: “there’s plenty of other people to eat.”
Liz Oliver, who recently moved to Darwin from Brazil, completed the 2.1 kilometre race while quietly hedging her bets.
“(I decided to) swim in the middle of the pack, and I never thought a crocodile would aim at me,” Ms Oliver said with a laugh.
“We all felt pretty secure, they had a lot of life guards.”
After the race, Ms Oliver hobbled up the beach to meet her family, who brought her crutches and a moon boot.
“I broke my foot on Wednesday so I was really disappointed I wasn’t going to make it,” she said.
“And I said, ‘you know what, I’m just going to try’.
“[I broke it] cleaning the house. I thought I was never meant to clean the house anyway.”
‘We’ve never lost a swimmer’
Despite the jitters of some swimmers, Darwin Surf Life Saving Club’s Bob Creek said the event was completely safe.
“We’ve never lost a swimmer and we don’t anticipate losing one in the future,” Mr Creek said.
“Our main focus is to make sure it’s a great event, everybody enjoys themselves, but it’s safe. That’s the first question people ask when they do this event.”
Mr Creek said the ratio of safety people to swimmers was about four or five to one.
He also said the area was scanned for crocodiles in the lead-up to the event, which he said were generally quite visible, and the water was too cold for jellyfish at this time of year.
Mr Creek usually swims in the event but skipped this year.
“There’s something iconic about swimming across Fannie Bay,” he said.
“The best part about it is just the participation.”
Tough training regime for competitors
The 1.2 kilometre event was taken out in 20 minutes and 22 seconds by 16-year-old Hamish Bjornskove Mcdonald, who was determined to beat his friend and defending champion Ryan Blenkinship.
Hamish said the most difficult aspect was the headwind, but was pleased his training (four to five kilometre swims six times a week) had paid off.
“Ryan is coming in second,” Hamish said, shortly after crossing the finish line.
“He won it last year so I was hoping to beat him.”
Ryan, who won the past two years, said he had been wary of his friend’s current form.
“I was nervous about Hamish because I know he’s been training heaps, and I haven’t been,” he said.
After downing a cappuccino and a Nutella sandwich, Giorgio Romano went on to win the 2.1 kilometre swim in 28 minutes and 18 seconds.
That gave him three wins in a row, although he said he still felt a little nervous beforehand because of the animals.
“But once you start swimming, it’s just keep steady, calm and try and maintain the pace and everything will be fine hopefully,” he said.
“It was cold enough not to have any dangerous jellyfish. I don’t like cold water but it’s better than being stung in the water.”
Mr Romano had been training for five and 10-kilometre races, swimming up to seven or eight kilometres six times a week.
‘This is pretty special’
Megan Gallagher was the woman’s champion in the 2.1 kilometres event, finishing in 32 minutes and 28 seconds.
In May she won the 10-kilometre race across Lake Argyle, which had seen her spend long hours training in the pool.
“This is pretty special being able to swim in the open water here, [I] felt totally fine,” she said.
“[There was] no threat of stingers at all. The water temperature is cool enough that they won’t be anywhere near here — I’d say it’s 27, 26 and we start to get a bit worried around 30 degrees.”
She also said a large number of interstate swimmers competed, some of which may have actually been encouraged by the events apparent risk factor.
“[Some come] to say they survived, definitely,” she said.