There does not seem to be anything of interest rocking New Zealand swimming at present. So, I thought I would reminisce about my worst weather training day. I have some experience on the subject. I have coached through the fringes of Florida and Virgin Island’s tornadoes. Through my high school years, I trained every day in the Hawkes Bay, Hangaroa River. There were some bad weather moments there. Flooding, silt water that stung deep into your eyes and dead cows and sheep floating past were normal events during the winter months.

But the worst of the worst happened in Wellington. For three years at university, I was woken by my grandfather at 5.00am to be served with a huge plate of thick Scottish porridge. I then caught the 5.30am Kilbirnie to Courtney Place bus and walked around to the Freyberg Pool. “You can’t beat Wellington on a good day”. That walk was no exception: past the central fire station; past the Embassy Theatre, oblivious to the Peter Jackson first night events that were to make it the centre of worldwide attention; past Oriental Bay’s brightly coloured boat sheds broken only by the exclusive opulence of the Wellington Sailing Club. Unaware that years later I was to be entertained for lunch there by Bill Garlick, then President of the New Zealand Olympic Committee. And into the Freyberg Pool, usually just in time to see the SS Wahine glide the final few metres into port after its overnight journey from Christchurch.

But the 10 April 1968 was different. The rain and wind were lashing down. I was not looking forward to my morning walk. My grandfather recognised the problem and said he would drive me to training. As we battled down the hill, around the Basin Reserve, I saw the torn New Zealand flag and said, “Wow, this is pretty bad.”

Now my grandfather knew the meaning of bad weather. He had spent his working life as an engineer in the Royal and merchant navies. He smiled and said, “You will see a few like this, David. This is Wellington.”

Along Kent Terrace our Ford Prefect was being pushed across the road by savage gusts of wind. At the pool I discovered, apart from the receptionist, I was the only person there. For an hour I swam alone, peacefully unaware of the drama taking place outside. Unaware that is until I heard a crash. I stopped. Behind me, shattered into a thousand pieces was one of the pools huge plate glass windows. Unable to stand the beating of the Wellington winds it had given up the fight and crashed into the pool. That was the end of training for Wednesday 10 April 1968. I wasn’t too worried. Being Wednesday, it was my recovery swim. No great harm done.

Two other important events happened that day. Of course, the SS Wahine sank after it hit Barrett’s Reef at the entrance to Wellington Harbor. Tragically 51 people lost their lives. Over 200 were saved.

Wellington’s busses had stopped by the time I left the pool. I had to walk around to the cable car to get up the hill to university. By the time I got to the cable car my socks were soaking. When I began university, my mother had given me her Kirkaldy and Stains credit card with strict instructions that it was only to be used in an emergency. I convinced myself this qualified as an emergency. A few minutes later I emerged clothed in a lovely new, woolly and warm pair of socks. In three years, it was the only occasion I used her card.

As it turns out I could have saved myself the trip to university. Lectures were cancelled for the day. I spent it in the university library (with very warm feet) sitting in exactly the same chair as I was sitting in a year later listening to Neil Armstrong say, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Eventually I got home. My grandfather suggested we drive to Seatoun to see the Wahine. As we sat looking at the helpless hulk lying on its side in the now pacific still water, I couldn’t resist saying, “I hope you are wrong and there are not too many days like this in Wellington.”

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