Port Nelson Sea Swim Series opener

By Peter Gibbs
The Port Nelson Sea Swim Series opened on a sombre note on Thursday, with a modest turnout of 105 swimmers on a cold windy night, with sea temperatures of 16 degrees.

Last season's national ocean swim champion Sierra Thomas won a close-fought race in women's section of the opening swim of the Port Nelson Sea Swim Series on Thursday. Photo Pete Marshall

By comparison, last year's opening night was cancelled, but 159 swimmers appeared the following week.

Conditions didn't detract from the enthusiasm or the standard of competition, with both of last summer's series winners toppled by the narrowest of margins.

Luke Kelly set out in his usual fashion in the long swim of 700m, unable to escape the lead role while others stuck to his heels. 

The course headed south into the tide from the Nelson Yacht Club ramp, utilising moored yachts as marker buoys for a triangular course, returning with a slight current but knocking in to waves from the north.

The lead bunch stayed close together until the final sprint from an offshore yacht to the finish line.

Bendi Kepess upped his game over the final 50 metres for the narrowest of wins over last summer's winner Kelly.

Within a second, Fergus Drummond and women's winner Sierra Thomas touched shore, with Oxford Bayley, last year's women's winner Abbey Smale, 47-year-old Terry Bone, Nic Hall and Sophie Alexander.

Hamish Neill, 56, belied his age to round out the top ten finishers, but he was only two places ahead of 69-year-old Ben Van Dyke, who was closely followed by Denis Cooper (60), proving that open water swimming is truly a sport for all ages.

In the short swim of 350m, Brooke Swan was a clear winner, swimming strongly to win by 26 seconds from Emily Chadderton, with a further gap to Mia Langley, Caitlin Alexander, Eva Ellena and Corey Tremblay.

Nicola Le Bas Thurlow (53) broke a teen deadlock to finish in tenth place. 

Swimmers face a season of 18 swims in the Thursday night Port Nelson Series, while the four-race Clements Endurance Series extends the distances on selected weekends dotted through the season (starting with the 2km Opening Splash on November 24).

The national Banana Boat Ocean Series of seven swims begins on Auckland's North Shore on December 7, arriving in Nelson for The Big Tahuna on March 7.

Nelson swimmers are dominant in many age groups of this series and Sierra Thomas was the overall winner of the women's series crown last summer.

Interest for now will centre on the local series, which sends Nelson swimmers around the country better prepared than those in any other location.

Full results, nelsonseaswims.co.nz.