“Rottnest Channel Swim”
COTTESLO to ROTTNEST- A dorsal fin glides along the surface of the Rottnest Channel, exploring the space between two ships. The Captain of the Carpe Diem, Len Leggo, picks up his cell phone and calls to report the dangerous sighting.
“No shark is going to stop me from hitting that 15 km marker,” 26-year-old Perth native Jessica Churchman shouts, before diving into the water and high fiving her partner, 21-year-old Hannah Green.
“That girl’s got guts.” Captain Leggo shouts from his seat high above the deck.
The Knicker Kickers are determined to reach the end this year. Because of a disappointing end to their Rottnest Channel Swim attempt at the 17 km marker last year, the four women are even more determined to finish this time.
Perth slowly grows hazier on the horizon as Rottnest Island and it’s distinctive lighthouse grown closer and closer.
“I can see pine trees!” Kerry Hutchinson, 59, shouts in a hopeful voice as Julie, 43, the new addition to their team, trails behind the boat following her son Ricky in their kayak.
On deck, the other three swimmers gulp down Gatorade and sandwiches to keep up their energy and keep down the cramps.
Len makes calculations on his phone to keep the women updated on their speed. “2.7 km,” he shouts back at them.
Hannah takes in the calculations and urges the women harder. “Lets move our turns down to eight minutes and go full-out,” she suggests.
They nod in agreement while slopping on sunscreen and icing their stinger bites.
“Closer, closer, closer each swim,” adds Kerry. They hoot with excitement and give each other eager smiles, always staring at the goal on the horizon.
“Oh wow,” says Jessica, surprised. “There are some people way back there.” They all look towards the various dotted boats on the horizon, remembering that they were those boats just a year ago.
Len monitors his surroundings, making sure there are no swimmers or boats in his way.
“I don’t want to stop at eight minutes,” Kerry says, “I’m feeling really good I just want to keep going.”
They’ve reached the halfway mark and sprits are up.
“Last year was so hard, we got hit by waves from all sides. Bam, bam, BAM, it was horrible!” Jessica explains, observing the almost flat blue waters of today’s near perfect conditions.
All around the boat kayakers paddle alongside their swimmers, many with brightly coloured flags or balloons so their swimmers and boats can easily identify them.
Their dark orange kayak floats without much obstruction from other swimmers with one of our three paddlers, including the captain’s son Richard, Jessica’s fiancé Dave Mance and Ricky, watching the time and helping the women in and out of the boat.
“Wash!” Dave shouts to a boat going way to fast and kicking up waves.
Throughout the afternoon the boats thin in the channel while they bottleneck together in Thompson Bay, creating a party atmosphere for the tired but adrenalin rushed finishers and their support crews.
Jessica climbs onto the boat, ripping her pink and blue swim caps off, her hand emptying her goggles of seawater. Her body slumps onto the cushy white seats.
“You kind of get this muscle fatigue,” she says. “Like your muscles are saying ‘hmmm I’m kind of over this, I don’t think I’m going to work as well anymore.’”
Not only are the women tiring, but they have faced other obstacles as well. Every so often they pull themselves out of the water and examine a new raw cut from a stinger, or any other odd assortment of injuries.
“Girls, girls, girls…” Kerry shouts, “It’s the wind tower!”
They all peer out the window and realize how close the island is becoming. They pass the 18 km marker and hoot with joy as they realize that they conquered what they couldn’t do last year.
“I’m so excited I can taste it,” Kerry says.
Hannah nods in agreement, but looks worried. “We can’t get complacent,” she explains. “We have to swim like we’re not going to make it.”
Julie climbs into the boat, and the girls warn her to keep her swimming cap on. Soon they will all need to jump into the water to finish up the race together. They all smile at each other, realizing that even though they may not have a record breaking crossing, they are about to do what has taken them over eight hours on a boat and uncountable amounts of hours training to do. Cross the finish line.
Soon it is time. They line up on the back of the boat and jump in together, swimming towards the beach as a team. Many other boats train behind them with exhausted swimmers and broken-down boats. This may not be their year, but this year four women worked together and made reached a goal that was impossible last year.
The Knicker Kickers- Take 2 made their goal in 8:13:34.