RECORD numbers are expected to take the plunge in Newcastle’s iconic Australia Day harbour swim after organiser’s doubled the prizemoney for this year’s event.
More than 400 swimmers took part in the social and competitive events, held across 700m and 1400m respectively, last year.
Stockton Surf Life Saving Club has doubled the prizemoney for the top three places in the 1400m race.
Male and female winners will receive $1000 each, second $500 each and third $250 each, making the swim one of Australia’s richest open water events.
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Stockton resident Bob Kench, who has missed only three harbour swims since it started in 1995, said it was a great way to celebrate Australia Day.
“The whole place is buzzing with all of the swimmers and spectators looking on, it’s a lot of fun,” he said.
“I’ll be swimming again, it’s the only chance you get to swim the harbour when it’s legal and safe.”
Mr Kench, whose mother used to work as a barmaid at Stockton’s General Washington Hotel that overlooks the harbour, said the swim tradition started as a bet between friends.
“Mum would race up home and let us know there was a harbour swim on, there would be bets placed and a lot of money riding on the winner,” he said.
“That’s where the idea came from. I’d always wanted to try it and when it became an official event I got the chance.”
Once a year keen swimmers are legally allowed to swim across the harbour from Stockton to Newcastle.
The harbour master gives Stockton SLSC the all-clear to let the swimmers cross the world’s largest coal port.
Mr Kench said swimmers encounter three currents as they make their way across the 700-metre crossing, one on either side and in the shipping channel.
Newcastle-bred Olympic swimmers Thomas Fraser-Holmes and Justin Norris are both previous winners of the charity swim that raises money for the surf club.
The main 1400-metre swim across the harbour to Stockton and back begins at Queen’s Wharf at 10.30am.
It will be preceded by the single crossing for social swimmers and juniors at 9.30am from Stockton to Queens Wharf.
Ferries will be available to take swimmers from Newcastle to Stockton for the start. Swimmers in the 700-metre event are allowed to use flippers and other swimming devices.
Trained water safety personnel on boards, jet skis and rubber duckies accompany the swimmers across the harbour.
For more information and online entries please visit www.oceanswims.com.au