Merewether Mackerels make splash into winter swimming season

Nanjing Night Net

Brave: Phil Callender, diving while Don Platt, Bruce Watson, Andrew Bright and Alice Bright watch, said he once swam in water less than 14 degrees at Merewether. “You just can’t stay in – it’s painful.” Picture: Jonathan CarrollPHIL Callender’s Sunday morning ritualspanning four decades started with a simple question.

Swimming in Merewether Ocean Baths –his “second home” –he met the late Stewart Hetherington, who asked if he wanted to join the Merewether Mackerels Winter Swimming Club.

“I said I’d think about it and 38 years later I’m still here!” he said.

Mr Callender is one of about 50 members agitating for the club’s swimmingseason to kick off on Sunday.

The City of Newcastle RSL Pipe Band will march the cohortto the baths, where they will drop blocks of ice and compete in 50metre raceshandicapped to create an even playing field for the range of ages and abilities.

Race winners will earn a spot in the day’s final.

Club secretary Billie Holmes-Fairfull said while the water temperature was still moderate, it would plummet with the onset of winter to around 16degrees.

“At the start of the season some memberscomplain it’s too warm,” she said.

“As time goes on it will get too cold for some people, but not for us.

“We love the cold, it’s fantastic –the colder the better.

“We’re not allowed to say the F-word –freezing –or the C-word –cold on Sundays, or we get fined [by members].”

The clubstarted in 1972 and meetsevery Sunday from May to September, with registration starting at 8am for races from 8.30am.

Some members arrive a little early for some heart-starting sweet muscat, while for others the water –combined with the wind chill – does the trick.

“When you dive into icy water it wakes you up if you’ve had a big night the night before,” Ms Holmes-Fairfull said.

“It’s refreshing. The cold keeps you moving and is just a great way to wake up and start your morning.

“You could stay in bed but then you might not get up to 12 o’clock.

“This keeps you young.

“A lot of time if there’s big surf and we can’t put the lane ropes out we just jump in and have a swim.”

Mr Callender said it was “unbelievable” how “therapeutic” it was to swim in cold water.

“The hardest thing is getting in –gettingout youfeel ‘At least I’ve done it and got a reward for the effort’.

“After a while you just don’t think about it, you get in, do it, get out and carry on with the rest of your day.”

He walks or cycles to the bathswithout fail inrain, hail andshine “because you’re going to get wet anyway”.

Ms Holmes-Fairfull said the club keptits motto of ‘friendship, fun and fitness’ alive by taking turns to cook pots of post-race soup each week, travelling together to competitions and barbecues.

“There’s so much respect for our older members, including Alf Carpenter who is 101, from the younger members.

“It’s so nice to see kids 12 and up relatingto the older generation as well as being part of competing against them, it’s just fantastic.”

Mr Callender said the club was about camaraderie.

“You might not see them [the members] all summer, but you’re guaranteed to see them every winter.”