It’s on again! Every year, on this weekend in February, the Rottnest Channel swim, a 19.7 kilometre swim from Cottesloe Beach to Rottnest Island, takes place. From its humble beginnings in 1991, the swim, which is one of the largest open water swimming races in the world, now attracts over two thousand competitors from all round the world. The challenge of competing as a solo swimmer is increasing but there are still many that prefer to do it in a team of two or four.
In the days leading up to the race, the weather is the swimmers only topic of conversation. Will the day be windy, the sea be calm or rough, how high is the swell, how fast the current. This is important for it can make the difference to whether you finish and how long it will take.
Fears are settled as a pink hue covers the early morning spectators and swimmers. Lights on the boats can be seen bobbing on the water and in the distance. It is 5.45 in the morning and most of the competitors have been gathered for a while waiting for the sun to rise and the race to start.

Sunrise at Cottesloe Beach
At 5.45am, the sun is just starting to rise!

It’s tense on the beach as the solo swimmers wait for the starting gun. Because of the large numbers of solo swimmers this year, they have been divided into two groups.
Waiting for the start of the Rottnest Channel Swim
Waiting for the start.

The start of the Rottnest Channel Swim
And they're off!

For each team, there is a support group. A paddler keeps the swimmer online for the finish and a boat and crew is also required to allow the team to rotate swimmers. After a swim of about three hundred metres, the paddler picks up their swimmer and together they head towards Rottnest. A little further out, they will be joined by their boat.
Rottnest Channel Swim
Swimmers head towards their paddlers

As the clock ticks over, it is getting lighter and the number of spectators on the hill has increased.
Watching the start of the Rottnest Channel Swim
Watching the start of the swim

I wander along the beach to where the paddlers have congregated, getting ready for their departure ahead of the swimmers. One has even found fame with the Japanese support crew!
Rottnest Channel Swim starts at Cottesloe Beach
Support paddlers congregate on the beach

Rottnest Channel Swim
Fame at last for this Aussie paddler

It’s then time for the lead swimmers of the duo and quad teams to get ready to start.
Rottnest Channel Swim
Contemplating the hard work ahead!

Rottnest Channel Swim
Another group gets away!

I leave the beach around seven o’clock. The last of the teams is yet to depart but the boats have started to head to Rottnest
Rottnest Channel Swim
A few competitors are still to start

View from Cottesloe Beach
The flotilla heads to Rottnest

Four and a half hours later the first swimmer to Rottnest crosses the line.
Can you see yourself swimming to Rottnest?
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