For the faithful multitudes who follow this epic quest, can I begin by saying, ‘Children, the hard years are behind us.’ It seems the wretched COVID has swum offshore (drowned, I hope) because borders are open, international travel is back on, and, most importantly for us here, The Quest is back in full flight. I’m not one to dwell on agony, but if you’d allow me a moment’s temporary grief. Two years ago, I turned 50 and the plan was to conquer 50 pools in a single year. An ambitious target and one not attained since the glory days back when The Quest was new and every pool was a new scalp. But then along came COVID and 50 turned into 15. Last year, was a little better.
But that’s all in the past. I travelled overseas twice in 2022 and swam my heart out. Domestic adventures served me well too. So dry your eyes and read on.
First, some stats:
- New pools conquered = 21
- New countries conquered (a valid sub-quest) = 2 (Austria and the Czech Republic)
- New US states conquered (another sub-quest) = 1 (Hawaii, bringing the total to 30)
- New Olympic venues conquered (yet another very valid sub-quest) = 1 (Munich, bringing the total to, umm, 4. Need to work on this a bit.)
- Total conquered at year end = 589
Now, let’s dive in.
Special mention – Munich Olympic Schwimmhalle
No nation has had a more tortured relationship with the Olympics than Germany. They’ve held the famous ‘All the world is watching’ event twice – Berlin in 1936 and Munich in 1972. If you know anything about those games you’d forgive the Germans from ever wanting anything to do with the Olympics again. Berlin is remembered as a PR exercise for the Third Reich with its short, un-athletic and distinctly un-sportsmanlike leader. Munich, if possible, was even worse. The new, trusting and welcoming Germany – fully signed up to the Olympic ideals of the brotherhood of mankind – discovered there were still people in the world who didn’t think so. The tragedy played out live on tv across the world. This pool is number 4 – not very impressive I know – of one of my VSQ’s (Valid Sub-Quests), namely to swim all the Olympic venues. Back in ‘72, records tumbled here like never before. The legendary American Mark Spitz entered 7 events and thus became the first person to win 7 Olympic medals and set 7 world records. And our own Shane Gould became the first and only woman (girl, really, as she was only 15 at the time) to win 5 Olympic medals in solo events at a single games. This feat has never been equaled. It’s a gorgeous pool with vast windows facing the Alps and the grippiest tiles I’ve ever walked on. Magnificent. Pool #585
Biggest pool ever – Waikiki beach
The famous English navigator, James Cook, was speared to death in Hawaii. Not Waikiki, but nevertheless. He couldn’t swim apparently. Which was a problem as he couldn’t reach the longboats that were coming to his aid. The Hawaiians revered Cook when he first arrived. By a series of extraordinary coincidences he appeared almost bang on the date when several prophecies about a god arriving from over the seas were due to be fulfilled. He sailed off weeks later, worshipped. Then his mast broke and so he returned for repairs and the Hawaiians got suspicious. Gods didn’t usually require running repairs for their Earthly vessels. The Hawaiians got grumpy, Cook’s men got grumpy, and it ended badly. I’m sure there’s a lesson for us all here somewhere, but I’m having trouble formulating it. Anyway. The pool. It’s massive. It’s bounded by 3 sea walls, the long one running parallel with the beach is 200m long making this the biggest pool I’ve ever swum. It was low tide when I conquered it, one end barely navigable (there’s a nautical term that Cook would be proud of). The sun was beginning to set and I was (and I’ve written this more times than I recall) the only one in Speedos, the only one in googles and the only one doing laps. And of course, the only one confidently holding the state flag at full stretch. Pool #584
Best 25m pool EVER!! – Salzburg
No doubt you’ve heard the saying, when in Rome… But sometimes you have to think, yeah, maybe not. Even when the locals are suggesting it. What comes to mind when you think of Salzburg? Mozart, high culture, gorgeous baroque churches, the Alps? How about looking at all of the above stark naked from the roof of a three storey swimming pool? In winter. Yes at the pool I selected, there is a spa with incredible uninterrupted views of this gorgeous fairytale town and nudity is mandatory. If you blushed at that last sentence, you’re not very euro are you? Possibly not even very cultured by Austrian standards. Well don’t worry, neither am I because the Webb’s all declined the offer-I was with my family after all-and instead settled for the lap pool. And it’s a good thing I did because this is hands down, the most amazing indoor 25 meter pool I have ever seen. It’s entirely made of metal, has a climbing wall down one end, and has a ceiling like something out of the Death Star. Oh, and then there’s the views too. Every floor in this building has amazing views. There’s been a pool on this site for over 100 years –I got a backstage tour when I mentioned The Quest –and this is the latest iteration. Frankly, if you’ve seen 100 baroque churches, you’ve seen them all. But you ain’t never seen a pool like this. Pool #587
Best Reconquered – Oasis, Tweed Heads.
What could be more Australian for new years than inflatables, palm trees, hot weather, and fireworks? I’ve been to a few parties in my time. And hosted some too – I feel it’s my natural state. But there are parties, and then there are pool parties, and I know which I’d rather be at. I’d swum the Oasis many years ago, and it was fine, but tonight it put on the Ultimate Pool Party. What I haven’t captured in this shot is the music and the food. I didn’t want to leave. Let’s dance! Let’s have a sausage and a XXXX! Let’s bounce on the inflatables! Let’s float and watch the fireworks! The following morning, the pool was back to normal – lap swimmers, all seriousness, and hyper-map-my-swim. But for this one night, it was just super fun. Best reconquered pool of the year.
Most metal in a pool – (MMIAP) – Stadthallebad, Vienna
Oscar Wilde wrote that to lose one parent through misadventure is a misfortune. To lose both seems like carelessness. He never mentioned what to think of losing a third. I’m the same. If I see something a bit odd, I tend to shrug it off and give it no more thought. Second time, I take notice. Three or more? I’ll tell everyone who’ll listen. I swam three pools in Austria. All three were made entirely of steel. That’s 100%. As you’d know if you’ve been following The Quest closely enough, I’ve swum over 600 pools in 15 counties and exactly zero – except for the ones in Austria – were made of steel. 0%. You’ve heard the adage, ‘He could sell snow to a snowman.’ Or, something like that. Well, someone in Austria has a lot of steel on his hands and he’s very, very good at selling it. If you’re wondering what it was like and if the water tasted somewhat metallic, well, no, it didn’t. It felt and tasted the same though you’d have to say it lacked charm. I felt a bit like a fish in a steel pot. Odd. Tiles are fine. So’s concrete. Leave the steel for bridges, buildings and automobiles. Pool #588
Pool of the year (POTY) – Stromlo, ACT
Just thinking back to my time swimming this pool, warms my heart. Whenever I see something being built, whether it’s a hotel, a new house, and especially a swimming pool, I always hope that something special will come into being. That the architect won’t be just doing things by the numbers, but will have a vision from God, find a bucket full of cash and stir magic into the mix to create something truly one of a kind. It does happen, but all too infrequently. Pools of course, have to be a certain shape and size, so how much realistically can you do with the place? An awful lot it turns out – some of it’s in the details and some of it is mighty grand gestures. Stromlo Aquatic Centre sits on the top of a decent rise with extraordinary views, made possible by vast windows along its entire side, of the centre of Canberra. It rests there, confident and stretching like something out of a James Bond movie. Inside beautiful timber struts line the ceiling – far more than necessary. They must’ve cost a fortune, but the effect is beautiful. As I drove back down the winding road I reflected, this is the best pool in Canberra. It easily wins that most coveted title, Pool of the Year. Pool #577