Almanac Flashback – Pier to Pub 2019: Murray won’t be home tonight

This weekend twelve months ago I wrote this piece about former teaching colleague, swimming friend, and all round good guy Murray who tragically drowned during the 2019 Pier to Pub.


This weekend as we enter the ocean  for this year’s swim I’m sure there will be a moment of silent reflection as we swim this one for Murray.



On the ocean side of the pier in front of the restaurant is where swimmers have their final workout before their swim in the Pier to Pub Ocean swim.


I zip up Steve’s wet suit and he zips up mine, some stretching exercises on the beach and after navigating the rocks, the deep pools and seaweed I’m in the water. It’s refreshing, surprisingly, not as cold as I thought it might have been. I stand chest deep letting my body become accustomed to the temperature, then pushing forward I start to swim towards the end of the pier. Water enters my goggles and I stop  to make adjustments, the swim cap causing the goggles to slip more easily. Adjustments made and satisfied leaking have been resolved I make my way back to the beach.


Someone mentions a large stingray has been spotted at the end of the pier, thankfully it wasn’t a shark! The water is murky because of the currents and wave action which may or may not be a worry. Sharks do have a tendency to lurk in murky water and I do prefer to not to see too much of what is below me as I swim.


Back in the assembly area I catch up with some fellow swimming friends. As we wait for our wave to swim we chat about the conditions, discuss our tactics for the swim and organise to meet at the finish. People may be surprised that we have tactics or a plan of attack for ocean swims. You need to take into account the conditions; direction of the wind, whether the tide is in-coming or out-going, the wave motions, choppy or swelling and so on. All are taken into consideration before making a decision.


The Super Veterans Grey Caps make their way down the ramp to the starting line, a line of small buoys stretched between two large buoys parallel with the pier. This year my plan of attack is to swim on the inside, the shore side of the group, to go quickly for the first 50 metres or so in order to get away from the slower swimmers and the general congestion that always occurs at the start then settle into a steady rhythm of four strokes to each breath.


I cling to the starting line, treading water nervously, waiting for the starting gun.


We’re off; arms and legs are going everywhere, swimmers are bumping into one another, some pushing and shoving for position, the sea  foaming and bubbling. I get a good start and miss most of the congestion, I’m feeling good which can be a trap encouraging you to go harder and ultimately sapping required energy sooner than anticipated. I resist the temptation.


I’ve managed to get the inside running and swim 10 metres or so to the right of the direction buoys and keep up a steady pace. I wonder if perhaps I’m going too fast. I am. My breathing is losing its rhythm, instead of four strokes per breath, I’m breathing every stroke taking more energy for more head rotations but I’m feeling comfortable.


About the half way mark is the time the mind starts to wander, concentration is lost and the body starts to ache. Noticeably there are not as many swimmers around me. Unless I’m way out front this will be the case but extremely unlikely. More likely I’m off course and as usually happens with me during ocean swims I  start to zig-zag. As if the 1.2km course is not enough, zigzagging will add further metres to the swim. 


I’m beginning to feel the outgoing tide so I must be past the Point, more energy required, body aching, I look up and align with the surf club, breathing becoming more laboured.


The last 200 metres or so is the hardest part of the swim, it seems to take for ever. You’re tired, you just want to be able to put your feet down and touch the bottom a most welcome relief but no, seemingly no progress is made. A fierce determination pushes you on, so close yet seems so far but the club house is looking closer.


Swimmers around me are beginning to stand, some smarties start to run, the energy! But me, I’m relieved, as I wade towards the shore. I’m exhausted. 


The crowd are cheering, I make a feeble attempt to run but it’s beyond me, I’m stuffed. 


Volunteers direct me up the chute, someone takes the timing device from my ankle and another, thankfully, unzips my wetsuit. The relief, the constriction of the suit around my chest finally relieved. 


I’m ambivalent to the noise and sounds around me as I reach the drinks table for a welcome drink. Unfortunately, the water is not cold and too warm but drink I must.


I see Denise and make my way towards her, Stan and Frank find us and we all compare notes about our swims. We acknowledge other swimmers we know as they pass. We wonder where Murray is. He should be here by now. Maybe he is still in the chute and chatting. Denise is concerned. After a few more minutes I decide to leave, I’m cold and I’m shaking. Time to get changed. I farewell my swimming friends and head back to the car and home.


Back home my daughter Anna rings from Melbourne. She’d heard on the news a swimmer had died during the Pier to Pub swim and is relieved it wasn’t me.


A few minutes later I get the message. Our friend Murray won’t make it home tonight. I’m devastated!


Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.




About Colin Ritchie

Retired teacher who enjoys following the Bombers, listening to music especially Bob Dylan, reading, and swimming.


  1. I am sorry to hear of your friend Murray’s death, Col. Very sad.

    Thank you for your piece.


  2. Geoff Woolcock says

    Thanks for the terrific piece Colin.
    Really enjoyed the swim yesterday- especially the multi-generational participation- but very sad afterwards to hear of Murray’s passing

  3. Yvette Wroby says

    My thoughts are with you and Murray’s family . Thanks for the piece

  4. Jeez Col – after Rick and Jan’s piece I’m starting to think Almanackers are jinxed. Or maybe just a representative sample of life’s rich tapestry. Deep colours and loose threads.
    Must say I was glad to read your piece – my mind turned to you when I heard the news yesterday. Glad my fears were “somewhat exaggerated”. Go well.
    I struggle with 2 laps of the local pool.

  5. That’s very sad, Colin. We just never know where our lives are headed, do we, and I can’t imagine how Murray’s family are feeling right now! Commiserations.

  6. That’s a sad story Col. In the middle of all the celebrations, no matter if its footy cricket or whatever…there is often sadness. It doesn’t always touch us as close as this. Thanks for the reminder to stay in touch with those we love and respect.

  7. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Hope you’re bearing up ok Col. What a sad time it must be all around. Thanks for your words and my commiserations to Murray’s loved ones.

  8. Thanks for writing this, Col.
    First and foremost, my condolences to Murray’s family and friends.
    Maybe, if there is one small upside, it is that Murray went out doing what he loved.

  9. It’s devastating. Can’t say anything other than my sympathy towards Murray’s family and friends. You are brave to write the story…

  10. Oh Col.
    I’m sorry.
    Best wishes and condolences to family and friends of your Murray.
    Thanks Col. Go well.

  11. What a shock Col. Terrible to hear. I saw that reported on the news and wondered what his family and friends are going through. All the best.

  12. Col, I was watching from the elevated path when i realised a swimmer was in trouble.
    What a tragedy for his family and friends.
    Take care, Rod

  13. Luke Reynolds says

    Col, well done on completing another Pier to Pub swim.

    I did not know Murray, but certainly knew of him. There is much sadness in the Elliminyt Primary School community (my children attend Elliminyt PS) at his sad passing.

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