Competitors scanned their ticket – an electronic wristband – and dived in at Queens Wharf for the return journey to Stockton.
The Newcastle Harbour swim returned from a one-year hiatus on Friday and was described by organisers as one of the “best years” in its 24-year history.
More than 400 swimmers took part in the social and competitive events, held across 700m and 1400m respectively.
On a low tide, swimmers fought a mild current pulling out to sea as they traversed the Newcastle Foreshore to Stockton course.
Little did they know that shortly before the main race entered the water, swimmers were being hailed from the sea at Bar Beach following a shark sighting.
There was no sign of the finned stalkers inside the harbour though, and the humidity and glass-like water set-up premium conditions.
Waratah’s Lucas Soars returned to the race after finishing as runner-up when it was last held in 2016 and the 19-year-old didn’t disappoint, taking first-across-the-line honours in both races.
The Redhead Surf Life Saving Club member claimed the main 1400m race in a time of 15:46 and finished the 700m event in 7:34. He was closely followed in the 1400m race by Chris Wilson (16:07) in second and Jayden Wright in third (16:28).
In the women’s category, there was over a minute between the first three with former winner Shelley Clarke winning in a time of 17:07 over Brinlei Baxter (17:46) and Seraina Danoser (18:14).
Clarke had only recently returned to ocean swimming, having won the women’s race multiple times in the “late ‘90s, early ‘2000s”.
“I retired from swimming seven years ago,” she said.
“I did two races last season and thought I really want to get involved this season, I really missed the racing.”
The 36-year-old from Merewether said she went out too hard too early and struggled to hold on.
“It was flat, my first 300 was really good and I was happy thinking ‘look how good I’m swimming’ and then I died and was just trying to make it the end.”
Stockton Surf Life Saving Club (SSLSC) president Callan Nickerson said it was one of the biggest fields the event has ever had.
“We had a small hiatus last year but we’ve come back with a big bang,” Mr Nickerson said. “We’ve had over 400 competitors this year, which is certainly a record for the last ten years at least.
“Lucas’ time this year was pretty quick, it might have been just a fraction slower than the race record.”
Mr Nickerson said his club was pleased to have the swim back on the Newcastle events calendar.
The SFLSC have put a five-year plan together to help grow the race and hope to see it return to its former glory.
“There’s two reasons we’re happy to see it back on the calendar: it’s an important fundraiser for our club, all of the money raised goes directly towards us putting a lifesaving patrol on the beach; and the second thing is, ‘what better way to wake up and start your Australia Day than with a swim across the harbour’.”
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