What is (and is not) a pool?
You’ve got some clear idea in your head, no doubt, but before you shake your head in disbelief and blurt out, ‘I know what a pool is, Porpoise, for goodness sake!’, let me put you in the position of numerous hapless souls who I’ve cornered at parties and who’ve been too polite to walk away.
Let me divulge to you the definition, scope and, dare I say, chlorine-induced clear-thinking that I have, over many minutes, revealed to them.
For the purposes of this mighty challenge a pool:
1. Has at least two hard ends.
It doesn’t necessarily need four sides as the Balmoral Baths in Sydney will attest where 8 x 50m lanes are marked out on two floating beams, but they need to be hard ends otherwise one ends up swimming in all kinds of netted enclosures that more closely resemble a casually put together oyster farm.
For example, the numerous so-called ‘baths’ in Botany Bay down the Brighton side, do not qualify. Nor does an inflatable ‘pool’ (though, I must confess, if it’s a massive inflatable pool, I might be tempted).
2. Is publicly accessible.
I have to be able to rock up, sluggos and goggles over my shoulder, and gain admission. No joining clubs. No enrolling in an undergraduate degree. It’s only a firm lack of commitment that’ll get this job done. A new day, a new pool. Loyalty ain’t the go here. I swim it and laugh over my shoulder at their membership fees as I walk away.
There is one exception – international hotel pools. In Australia they don’t count, but overseas they do. This is for two reasons.
Firstly, in places like Malariastan and the Outer Festering Islands, large bodies of water aren’t for swimming in (unless you’re a rabid dog). The large hotels are often the only place you can swim without contracting the plague.
Secondly, some of the coolest pools in the world are found in hotels and resorts (for example the largest pool in the world in Chile, and the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore – both feature in my section ‘Top 5 Unconquered Pools’.) Any keen swimmer who happened to be visiting those places would give their right arm to swim those pools.
I will always favour the publicly accessible pools, but those awesome hotel pools just have to count.
3. Must have water in it. Hmmm.
Sounds silly but I’ve swum some that nearly didn’t. Some that were so full of sand that I had to float, arms and legs as far above the water as I could manage relying on the prevailing winds to carry me across. Sometimes one just has to come back at high tide.
Sometimes I’ve got to wait until the council vacuums out the sand or removes the shopping trolleys. The amount of times I’ve turned up ready to go and discovered I’d chosen the one week in 400 when the pool is emptied, cleaned and wildlife rehabilitated, I wouldn’t want to recall.
But this is a long range project and nothing as temporary as an empty pool will stop me from finding a way to swim it.
What isn’t a pool?
1. The English Channel.
This might seem obvious but in fact I could find myself standing in my sluggos on the beach at Dover facing towards Calais pretty quickly if I allowed myself some fuzzy thinking. Here’s how you get there. Sydney is famous for its ocean swims. They start at around 1.2k – not long – so wouldn’t it be fun to do a few? Sure. But then soon I’d be swimming the longer ones (more like 6ks.) It’s only natural for an uber-sportsman like myself who is always on the hunt for the next challenge, to keep pushing it, pushing it.
Then it’d be Manly to the Quay dodging the ferries (around 10k). Further afield, Sicily to the Italian mainland would be tempting (less than 5k). Country to country would surely be worth a go (one has to dream of something big during all those mindless hours in the water). Greece to Turkey? Spain to Morocco?
I can see myself perched over GoogleMaps measuring the expanses of ocean, studying the flow of the currents and the seasonal migration habits of great white sharks and sea snakes. It would only end poorly. I know myself well enough to know I’m in danger of seriously considering any challenge that begins with, ‘You know, no one’s ever swum…
So I’m sticking to pools and if, for some reason I find myself saying, ‘Yeah, sure!’, the next time someone says to me, ‘Dude, why don’t you do the Palmy to Whaley?’, I shouldn’t be surprised when I find myself attempting to circumnavigate Tasmania.
2. The pool in your backyard – no matter how big it is.
(It might look nice to you, but, sorry – not interested.)
I’m not a whizz at tumble-turns and the thought of doing 80plus inside 20 minutes doesn’t appeal. Besides, there’s the issue of them being not publicly accessible, which as you’ll note above, is one of the conditions I’ve set myself. The thought of spying a nice pool in the grounds of some mansion on GoogleMaps, sneaking around when the owners are away, popping over the fence for a cool (illegal) k terrifies me (cause I know I’d be tempted).
The only pool I’ve swum which I am not permitted to is the Women’s Baths at south Coogee, but my wife was keeping watch, it was dusk, and there was no one else there. The fact that I swam the second half of it naked (just to feel even more naughty) serves as a constant reminder to me of exactly what I’m capable of.
All that said, if you are the owner of a mansion and you have a seriously nice pool, pop me a line. I might very well break this rule should the current owners of San Simeon or one of the Vanderbilt homes gives me a call.
3. Rivers, lakes, storm water drains, flood waters, sewerage settling ponds.
All of these would be a lot of fun and a bit of a challenge, but as well as surviving, a secondary goal in this whole exercise is not to pick up cholera or the plague. Sometimes the distinctions are hard to ascertain (for instance, there’s a body of water in Manly, QLD that’s somewhere between pool and ‘hard-edged man-made lake’ that I’m tempted to do just to stop me tossing and turning at night). Sometimes the distinctions are not so hard to spot – for example, when the Brisbane river flooded the CBD I didn’t for a moment consider all the extra ks I could clock up swimming streets that I’d never be able to swim again.
This is not ‘The world’s most extraordinary swims ever’. Which is a good thing as having watched plenty of David Attenborough documentaries I reckon it’s physically possible for a man to swim into the mouth of a whale shark. It’d be worth a try at least.