I have an overwhelming desire to go for another swim today. Yesterday was Saturday and I swam, as I do pretty much every Saturday, at Williamstown. The last few weeks we have done three kilometres, yesterday a little less but I’m guessing, still well over two. The water was cold and clear, calm for most of the swim until the swell picked up in the last half hour. So clear that when we swam over the reef, we gazed at the swaying seaweeds, the anemones and starfish fixed to the rocks, forgetting, for a while, the chill seeping up our arms.
Today, Sunday, I have things to do. I need petrol. I don’t want to wash a whole lot of neoprene. Again. There are garden cuttings that need dealing with and I’m hesitant to swim alone. I am supposed to be walking, to stretch the knotted muscle behind my knee, a result of a kayaking mishap in surf last week. Compared to the sea, walking seems monotonous, the inner urban landscape predictably dreary. Wet grass, cafes, joggers.
I assume there will be other swimmers in the water. There is always someone plying the water between the yellow markers and usually someone at the life saving club. In any case, I want to have a think. So, I gather my stuff together. It’s a bright, sunny winter’s day. The desire to be in the water pulls me toward Willy and I’m in the car.
The instant I turn into Nicholson Street, I’m snared by a line of cars, momentum arrested. Not exactly traffic, just cars spread out in crooked single file across two lanes, the way they do in Melbourne. It’s a habit drivers have of hedging their bets so if the right hand lane becomes blocked by someone making a last-minute right hand turn, they have monopolised enough space to avoid getting stuck. The feeling of pushing against the tide lasts until I am well over the bridges.
By the time I pass the Williamstown tennis courts, my mind is starting to become bogged down with doubt. Will the water be cold and rough? Scary, alone? Willy beach comes into view. The water is calm but there is not a single other person swimming. A couple of torso-hugging kids in hoodies stand thigh deep in the water and walkers in puffer jackets with little fluffy dogs on leashes make their way along the Esplanade. A few others sit hunched on the sand. The life saving club is deserted.
Still, I’m here now. I have brought my old wetsuit and just as I unpack it in the change rooms in the clubhouse, I realise I’ve forgotten my bathers. I have a spare pair in the car but put the wetsuit on anyhow, wondering if having nothing on underneath is going to look obvious. It seems to take ages to get changed and forgetting I’m alone I nearly lock my keys inside with the rest of my stuff.
Almost immediately, the anticipation of a swim lifts me out of my mood. Wading in, the water seems warmer than yesterday but still deliciously cold. My old wetsuit is better than the new one and once in the water I realise it gives me much more buoyancy as well as more insulation. That sense of immersion kicks in and the swim out to the first marker seems effortless.
After that it’s across to the second cardinal marker. The water is clear and green and I can see the sea floor most of the time. Perhaps it’s the calm water but soon I’m there. Looking up, there is a clear view of the distant You Yangs and the ragged outline of Altona, across the bay to the south.
I think about writing a job application. I think about sea kayaking. I think about finding work, again. Unwillingly, I think about a whole lot of stuff that I want to put out of my mind so I concentrate on the sea floor. I map out a triangle by changing direction and heading toward the shore. Sighting, I can see a couple of people on the beach watching me swim. I am still pre-occupied with earning a living. Kayaking during the week is all very well but it’s recreation, not work.
I do a second lap, about a kilometre all up. Breathing to the right I can see the lumpish building at the footy ground and Sirens restaurant at the northern end of the beach. I kayaked there with a friend a few weeks ago. Wet and sandy, and to our surprise, we were allowed inside for a coffee. Not that the waiter cared; we guessed he was most likely a backpacker on a working holiday. Worked for us anyhow.
Once out of the water, I have a little tinge of regret that the swim has finished but the thought of swimming alone for another lap doesn’t appeal, especially since I know I’ll start to get cold and irrationally, I worry about drifting away hypothermic and unseen.
The clouds have thickened now, their coppery underbellies suggesting that the warmish northerly wind will swing around later. A few kids play on the beach with their mothers. One family has a kite. The three year old holding the string is pulled along the sand after it. Whether through luck or mastery, everyone is pleased with his success at keeping it high in the air. We all cheer as it dodges the down drafts and surfs the gusts.