Desperately Seeking Susie [39]

See also the articles by the other paddlers: “A night (and 2 days) out with Susie”, “A night out with Susie” and “A hard day’s night”

Prologue

By Robert Mercer

Sunday afternoon, April 4 Discuss supporting Susie Maroney with Andrew Eddy
Thursday afternoon, April 8 Andrew calls, suggesting that we rendezvous with the swim entourage about 7 km seaward from Barrenjoey at sunrise on Sunday
Friday afternoon, April 9 Collect freshly repaired Mirage from Paul Hewitson. His phone is running hot with updates on the swim details. Paul and I watch trees leaning northward in a strong southerly. We are sceptical.
Friday evening Andrew calls from Newcastle. Robert Gardner and Sundra John will paddle with Susie from Merewether Beach. Robert is planning to paddle the whole distance.
Saturday afternoon, April 10 Andrew calls with ad update. Susie is making good time. He reschedules our launch from Barrenjoey to 3 am.
Late Saturday afternoon Sharon and I paddle from Sydney Heads to assess the weather and sea conditions. As the sun sets and conditions worsen, we become less comfortable with the prospect of a 3 am start.
Saturday evening Andrew calls and confirms our fears about the weather and the effect it is having on the swim. He indicates that Dennis Kleinberg will be joining us. He now wants us at Barrenjoey at 6 am.
Late Saturday evening Andrew calls with another update. We are to meet Susie 3 km off Long Reef at sunrise. The weather is really taking its toll.
Very late Saturday evening Make arrangements with Dennis and pack the car.
Sunday morning, April 11, 4 am Wake-up call from Andrew. He says to wait for a further update.
Early Sunday morning I speak to Dennis and Andrew. We are now to meet Dennis at Sydney Heads at 8 am and paddle north to welcome Susie and the flotilla.
Still early Sunday morning Salo John rings with details for the previous nights’ excitement.
Sunday 8:30 am Dennis, Sharon and I are 2 km due east of Sydney Heads. The wind changes direction from steady south-east to north -easterly squalls. Storms roll through, the phone-in-a-bag runs hot. Plans are scheduled and rescheduled. It becomes apparent that noone really knows where Susie is. I start to develop a new technique for bracing whilst using a mobile phone at sea.

We cross the paths of a procession of bewildered looking Coast Guard and Water Police. They say nothing as we all bounce around,

but I know we are all …

Desperately Seeking Susie [39]

By Sharon Betteridge

We thought is would be a fun way to spend a Sunday — meeting Susie Maroney off Barrenjoey and paddling with her to Darling Harbour. However, Sydney’s usual fickle Autumn weather had set in and, with predictions for large seas and swells and stiff south-easterlies, we were fairly confident that Susie’s Newcastle to Sydney swim would be difficult if not impossible.

I don’t know what bothered me more: the shrill ring of the phone in the early hours of Sunday morning, the on again-off again rendezvous plans, or sitting offshore in a heavy swell watching a pale sun in a murky sky, our eyes continually scanning the horizon. The cold sleety squalls and my churning stomach called a stop to all this nonsense and we surfed into Sydney Harbour for a hot drink to thaw ourselves out and a phone call to assess Susie’s progress.

Rob, Dennis and I donned our paddling gear for a second time and pushed off from Watson’s Bay. The wind had eased and swung around to the south-east. The seas were more manageable. The rain had stopped and the clouds began to thin, allowing the sun to warm us. I could hear the bark of a penguin and a flock of sea-birds flew on ahead.

We paddled out … and out … three small craft on a large expanse of sea. We paddled out to where the police and Coast Guard boats had stopped. We all waited and watched.

Bobbing up and down, I caught glimpses of Palm Beach to the north and Maroubra to the south. Hornby Lighthouse appeared as a red blemish perched on the crumbling sandstone. The blast of Rob’s whistle brought me back to earth, alerting me to the sight that we had all been waiting for – an old fishing boat towing a cage, quickly, too quickly to be towing a swimmer, even if her nickname is “The Fish”.

Once back inside the confines of Sydney Harbour, we scored a free ride to Bradleys Head by sitting in the wash behind the cage, continually jostling for the best position.

The news media were out in droves. From helicopters, water taxis and boats with their video cameras working overtime. I felt foolish peering into an empty cage, but the videos continued to whirr and the cameras to click. The sun shone from a vivid blue sky. There was a carnival atmosphere as we paraded up the harbour, albeit without the star attraction.

At Fort Denison, the cage was unclipped and the Coast Guard took over the task of manoeuvering it into Darling Harbour. This was the first (last and possible only) time I’d paddled so close to Circular Quay and not had commercial craft using me for target practice.

Susie’s sudden appearance caused a rush of excitement as the news media clawed their way over one another to get closer. I could see now why Susie needed a cage. It was these ‘sharks’ that she also needed protection from.

Amid cameras, interviews and the support of people both onshore and on the water, Susie swam into Darling Harbour. The chants of encouragement from the little girls on the Police launch kept her going. The crowds closed in as she climbed the steps. The congratulatory speeches over the microphone buzzed on. The crowds applauded loudly.

The sun warmed our backs as we paddled back under the Harbour Bridge, past the Opera House and around Garden Island. The ferries were once again using us for target practice and the yachties yelling abuse. My energy was flagging as we neared the sand flat as Rose Bay.

“Let’s roll,” came a voice out of the silence.

After paddling 39 kilometres, sitting in a cramped kayak all day and having only slept for four hours on the previous night, could I be hearing voices? No, there was the voice again, only this time louder and more insistent. I relented.

Cold, wet, tired and hungry, we pulled our kayaks up the beach and then sat watching the sky turn from pale blue to pink. The first stars started to shine and Venus took its position in the western sky. Perhaps tomorrow would have been a better day for Susie’s swim. But tomorrow the media would be somewhere else, the crowds would be back at work and we’d be planning another rendezvous somewhere on the sea.

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