The Not Top 5 pools
‘What’s that under there?’ are not words one should ever hear from the lips of a swimmer gazing down into a pool.
It’s true. I’ve had the pleasure of diving into so many beautiful, sparkling wonders; powering (yes, powering) through clear, clean, crisp waters; watched the bubbles dance in my wake. And then, every so often, I come across a catastrophe.
I have swum the requisite kilometre in each of the following – otherwise, they couldn’t be on the list, of course – and it is the clearest possible evidence of God’s good love for me that I have survived such experiences sans infection, sans paralysis and with my strength of will intact. I don’t list these pools here as badges of honour. Rather they serve as warnings – there are horrors lurking ‘neath the waters. And when only a pair of Speedos stand between you and them, well then, you will not leave this life without knowing the meaning of fear.
1. Tambourine Bay, Sydney, NSW
This delight stands out for all the wrong reasons. There was water in it the day I swum, but I believe that it is now closed. However, that fact won’t erase my memories – all of which are pretty strong.
If you want to feel vulnerable, try easing yourself into septic-coloured water of indeterminate depth wearing nil but Speedos. There was no way I was going to let myself touch the bottom because, well, that’s fairly obvious really isn’t it? And I had to swim with my head continually popping up to look for the end of the pool as even though it was painted white, it was invisible under the water from even 2 feet away.
Failures on the construction engineer’s side manifested themselves as the concrete at either end had deteriorated in the salt water exposing nice little sharp rocks so that by the time I’d finished, my fingers were bleeding. Nice. Haven’t experienced that before. Needless to say, I had the place to myself.
This pool is the only one I’ve come across so far that I’d class as truly ghastly. I fully expected entering a coma by the time I’d returned to my car.
2. Como Baths, Sydney, NSW
Don’t be fooled by the serenity. If you happen to visit these baths on the upper reaches of the Georges River, you won’t be swimming above the water.
Look, as baths go, it’s no better or worse than many of the others. You’re swimming in a river in the middle of a city of 4 million people so the water’s never going to sparkle like Evian. But Evian don’t have things living in it that sting you and make your skin start sparking.
The big concern swimming in Sydney’s rivers (less so the harbour itself, funnily) is the sharks. Dog sharks etc. They’re fairly little as sharks go, but then how big does a row of razor-sharp teeth need to be if they’re gripping your testicles? But here, it’s not the sharks that make one’s lazy laps uncomfortable. It’s the jellyfish. There is a net. But that just serves to keep out all the jellyfish over a foot in diameter. Their ‘little’ brothers and sisters can drift through. In packs.
Coming face to face with numerous large jellyfish puts this place firmly on my least desirable pools list. They didn’t wrap their tentacles around me and drag me to their jellyfish lair. I didn’t go into cardiac arrest. But I did exit the water looking over my shoulder in fear and tingling in a way that made me wonder if someone had tossed a toaster into the water nearby and turned it on.
Location here (note, I swam in the river. Not the nice safe, blue pool.)
3. Avalon Ocean Baths, Sydney, NSW
To be fair, this one is on the list of evil pools due to my experience there. Which could have happened at any pool. But didn’t.
Avalon pool is an irregular quadrilateral and that term now casts fear into me. It means no sides are parallel so that, depending where along any edge you start, you will swim a different distance as you cross the pool. It might be hard to gauge from these photos, but there is no obvious place to begin to do laps here. I choose the point closest to the ocean-side wall. Other swimmers were coming at me from the side throughout and eventually one silly individual swam into me putting his hand through my goggles and into my eye. It was a little disorientating as you would attest if you’ve ever been whacked in the eye, and I trod water for a good time recovering and holding back the expletives. Fear not, I finished the K.
You might go there and have the time of your life, but as I’ve never been whacked in the eye before (even when swimming in the city at lunch time with 8, 9, 10 hard core office workers per lane overtaking each other – myself included, of course) this pool goes on my least favourite list. Oh, and apparently, from time to time you’ll get a shark in there.
Bottom line: In the world of pools, irregular quadrilaterals suck.
4. Tony Dapolito Leisure Centre, New York City.
Look, it wasn’t entirely dreadful and by the time you read this it will have been renovated (apparently). But the day I visited this penitentary-inspired swimming dive, I was new to New York and I seriously thought of giving up my favourite pastime for the duration of my US visit and taking up jogging or yoga or yelling at taxis while crossing five lanes of traffic.
Everything in the place was seemingly 100 years old, and damp, and the paint was peeling with a genuinely uncharming New York grunge. I remember lots of big burly gym types in the locker rooms (there’s a gym upstairs, apparently) who could crush me with one hand. And there were two massive fans that looked like they’d once belonged on an aircraft blowing the hot air around. It was summer you see.
I swam the K and didn’t catch anything, so I’m thankful for that, at least. Chlorine is a chemical miracle.
Location here (Note: I swam indoors. The outdoor pool was used in the 1980 film, ‘Raging Bull’, and looks very pleasant in comparison.)
That folks, is it. I know I promised you 5 horror stories, but so far, it’s been a very pleasant journey. But I’ve a long, long way to go and there is room on this list and something tells me I will have no problem filling the remaining places. Got a disaster round the corner from your place? Let me know, but don’t expect me to come and dip my toe in it.