Emma Radford - Palm to Shelly

Palm Beach to Shelly Beach

24 km (14.9 miles)

6 hours, 28 minutes on 26 January 2021

Observed and documented by Jai Di Tommaso



  • Name: Emma Radford
  • Gender: female
  • Age on swim date: 30
  • Nationality: Australia
  • Resides: Sydney, NSW

Support Personnel

  • Jamie Chismon - skipper
  • Felicity Harrison - paddler
  • Jai Di Tommaso - observer

Observer’s previous experience: Watching CSA observer tasks throughout four English Channel Relays, Assisting swimmers on English Channel training camps, Observer for Emma’s Derwent River Swim 2020.

Escort Vessel

Name Type Port
Striker Runabout Terrigal

Swim Parameters

  • Category: Solo, nonstop, unassisted.
  • Rules: MSF Rules of Marathon Swimming, without exception or modification.
  • Equipment used: Textile swimsuit (Speedo slid flyback), goggles, silicone cap.

Route Definition


Swim Data

  • Start: 26 January 2021, (Australia/Sydney, UTC+11).
  • Finish: 26 January 2021, 06:40:02
  • Elapsed: 6 hours, 28 minutes, 18 seconds.

Summary of Conditions

Feature Min Max
Water Temp (C) 21.9 21.9
Air Temp (C) 22 34
Wind (knots) 0.8 7.4

GPS Track

Trackpoint frequency: 15 minutes. Download raw data (CSV).

Click to expand map.

Speed Plot


Observer Log

Download PDF


What inspired you to do this swim?

I haven’t always felt drawn to this particular route. It is a culturally different part of Sydney to what I have traditionally circulated in, and prior to the COVID induced international travel ban, held little interest to me. I can recall some of my swimming colleagues using the route as a training swim prior to some of their larger goals such as the English Channel in years past but was still happy to let it pass me by.

In Australia, a freeze on international travel was enacted in early March 2020. These bans have not just been to international travel, but between the seven states and even internal regional/urban sectors of my home state, NSW. It has at times felt truly restrictive, and definitely clipped my motivation/sport related travel potential. I had watched with horror, national news regarding flights between Australian states. Passengers had boarded flights with the understanding they would not be required to quarantine upon arriving at their destination, only to have an “effective immediately” two-week quarantine period enforced mid-flight due to positive COVID cases appearing in their port of origin in the time since their departure. These unsuspecting passengers would then be forced into an unplanned, two-week ‘vacation’ in a hotel room as dictated by authorities at their expense or immediately shot back to the airport in which they embarked. I can think of plenty of worse things – but this is pretty bad in my opinion.

However! I was still in a reasonable state in the pool and had dedicated a lot of time to rehabilitating broken ribs through the shutdown period, so I was keen to set some type of goal and see how I would fare. Therefore, being a local swim, which I would be able to complete without too much concern for a ‘effective immediately’ ban or quarantine period, this swim looked to be it.

I realise these aren’t entirely honorable reasons for selecting and executing a swim, but there it is.

Please describe how you planned for the swim.

This is an established route, so information regarding the track was easy to come by.

Another aspect to this swim that has discouraged me in the past is the logistical challenge in executing the event. I will stand by my summary of the Palm Beach area as a wasteland of wealthy holiday homes. There aren’t many resources relevant to myself or marathon swimming in the area. So, trying to arrange the most convenient movement of people and swim equipment took some time to refine.

After ongoing discussion with the skipper on the launch location, a faulty boat trailer forced the logistics of; skipper Jamie leaving from his local area of the Central Coast and boating with a borrowed kayak to the start – turns out this was only a 20-minute ride and suited him well. Jai, Flic and I using a cab from central Sydney to Palm Beach the morning of the swim for a load in at Ettalong ferry wharf. In retrospect this is so simple, I don’t know what took me so long to arrive at this arrangement.

As each crew all operate on very different schedules, it took a while to find a day we were all available –eventually settling on January 26th – the Australia Day public holiday. Locking the swim into a specific date was really rolling the dice with the weather. The night before the swim we decided it would be challenging, with a rolling swell and a North Easterly wind swinging to a South Easterly for the last 5km or so, but swimmable.

One point I hadn’t had to consider before any of my previous swims, was needing to deputize the paddler as the official timekeeper. An entirely simple, yet effective strategy (always the way, isn’t it) to maintain standards across all swimmers undertaking the Palm Beach to Shelley Beach route, is to have the swimmer clear the water at each end (Palm Beach to start, then Shelley Beach to finish). In doing so, each swimmer can complete an equivalent, repeatable course that can be measured precisely and gives clear parameters to timekeeping. Nature has provided us with a rational principle to which we can structure and create integrity for our sport. Please just use it.

With consideration to this parameter - I knew the boat would be unable to travel beyond the surf zone at the start of the swim, and I was correct in assuming that due to the volume of people on the beach for Australia Day celebrations, it would be difficult for the observer to see me clearly at the finish. So, after learning it was an acceptable solution, I had Flic (paddler), as official timekeeper.

How did the swim go, generally? Did you face any unanticipated challenges?

I can’t say I enjoyed it.

The first seeds of doubt set in as we departed the Ettalong ferry wharf, travelling around the Barrenjoey headland. I couldn’t help but notice the size of the swell, which in the event of even a slight increase in wind speed/change in direction would have made the conditions extremely challenging. I put my doubts aside, convincing myself it would improve once we rounded the headland and entered the Palm Beach bay it would subside.

My theory was disproved once we entered the bay and I saw numerous surfers enjoying the sizeable swell.

We approached the surf zone, idling the boat at my intended jump location. It was always to be, that I would have to swim about 150 meters into the shore to start, jumping in from the boat with the paddler as accompaniment. As we started to move about the boat getting things ready, I heard Flic announce, “oh look, a fin”.

The four of us looked over the side of the boat to see a shark about 2 meters (admittedly, not the biggest shark in the sea, but big enough to stop me in my tracks). It was probably a good 20 seconds we watched it swimming so beautifully about the exact spot I was about to jump in. I was perfectly aware of the sharky potential of this swim and had planned to attach a shark shield to the kayak when heading around the reefs. I just wasn’t expecting to see one so clearly, so early on.

People will often say to the effect oh you must see sharks all the time on your swims. Despite routinely swimming way off the back of the beaches in Sydney, I had not ever seen a shark on a swim. This was my first shark. I was totally disturbed. My brain snapped to the old adage ‘where there’s smoke there’s fire’ – I was instantly set on the idea there must be more waiting for me on the track and I didn’t want to attempt this swim.

Despite my steep reservations, my crew were determined to get me to start, and made the decision to move the start (we were idling toward the Northern) to the Southernmost end of the beach. Skipper Jamie had interpreted my characteristically vague instructions regarding the start as the Northern end of the beach, which upon inspection the morning of my swim, was unswimmable due to dumping waves full of sand. Meaning, we were likely to travel to a more southerly location to jump anyway.

I wasn’t concerned, as the repeatable, and official route actually starts at the Southern end and the organized event (2019) that this solo swim was meant to reflect, began at the Southern end anyway. In creating this swim route, the shortest measurable (and subsequently repeatable), is from the Southern End (nearest to the sea pool). It would be unreasonable to maintain the same standard for each swimmer by using the Northern end – exactly how far North? Difficult to canonize and would generate a variety of distances.

So, moving me down the beach and away from the shark didn’t have any impact on the swim plan (yes, I know sharks can swim).

My crew had talked me into swimming through the surf zone, clearing the water and then swimming back out in the hope it would somehow inspire a change of mind. I was determined to not complete this swim, to the point that I didn’t bother to put any extra sunscreen or grease on. I thought I’d appease their strategy, swim back out from the shore and tell them I wanted out. Unfortunately for me once I reached the boat they’d taken off and I was left with no choice but to swim on.

At some point as we rounded the cliffs separating Palm Beach from Whale Beach I inadequately tried to express my concern about sharks to Flic, to which she told me with total conviction that the shark we had seen was really just our friend Rachael (who had recently moved to the other side of the country) coming to see me off. The earnestness of the comment will probably stay with me for some time – had it of even been half a degree to disingenuous, I might have been brave enough to terminate.

Aside from spending the 6 hours thinking about sharks, I just wasn’t having a great time. The conditions were average with the swell rolling over my shoulder for the most part, engulfing my left side and stopping my stroke, and making it difficult to breathe in a reasonable rhythm. I knew this was likely going to be the case though, and at some point, Jai must have noticed I wasn’t thrilled (I have zero poker face) and told me to just think of it “as a swim for your head – it’s good for you”.