When I was six, Mum insisted I learn to swim after I fell off a jetty at Penguin Island and had to be rescued. I learnt to swim at Fred Delacy's backyard pool. I was never the best swimmer, but good enough at breaststroke to win some State medals.
From the age of 16 to 23, I took a break from swimming before returning to get fit and go back too what I knew. Initially, I started swimming on my own but soon got to know some Masters swimmers who encouraged me to join Bunbury Masters.
I was a regular swimmer with Bunbury Masters, which is where I heard about the 1991 Rotto swim, but after the event. Damn… I had always looked at Rottnest from Cottesloe and wondered if it was possible to swim there.
Where it all started - Rotto 1992
In 1992, I decided to get a team from my Bunbury Masters Club together for the Rotto swim. My very first team mates were Ron Edwards, Robin Philp and Joanne Hall. I loved swimming it so much I went on to do my first solo in 1993.
Finish of my double crossing in 1994
I love the process of training and goal setting and decided that I wanted to swim the English Channel. (I had watched and admired Des Renford during his 19 English Channel crossings, I think deep down I have always been a marathon swimmer).
In 1994 I thought a Rotto double crossing would be a good training swim for the English Channel. I hadn’t realised it hadn’t been done before by a female. That year, I successfully completed the first ever double crossing under the rules of the Rottnest Channel Swim Association (RCSA) and also became first female double.
On of my slowest crossings (so far) was 2003 at about 7 hours 30 minutes. Only 43% of the entrants finished. The hardest bit was swimming into the 12 to 15 knot Northwesterly wind and turbulant seas. I had to ration my drinks as I had only planned on a 5 hour race.
My fastest crossing was in 2000 when I came 2nd at 5 hours 2 minutes. The conditions were good and I benefited from my training for the Manhattan Island swim later that year.
In 2011, I was honoured to be awarded life membership to the Rottnest Channel Swim Association.
I trained for and completed my English Channel crossing in pretty average conditions on the 4th July 1995. My time was 12 hours 22 mins and 30 seconds. Water temperature was 14C down to 13C on the French coast.
Training consisted of: squad training in a 25m indoor pool, heated to 30C in Bunbury; then finding the coldest water I could on the weekend to complete a long swim. Luckily Bunbury is near Collie and the Minninup Pool. I would swim there most weekends with only the ducks for company. No one knew much about hypothermia back then so I never realised the fact I couldn’t talk after my swims was potentially a serious problem, especially as I was always by myself....
Channel conditions were good at the start, but rapidly deteriorated. Both wind and currents were stronger than predicted. Remember this was pre-internet days so navigating and obtaining accurate weather information was harder than today.
My English Channel Crossing Log
Nearly there! Finishing the English Channel Crossing near Cap Le Blanc, France
After I returned home, I continued swimming with the squad at the Bunbury Swimming Club. My focus was on another Rotto crossing, and another and another… At this time I was swimming on average 8 sessions a week. My average weekly distance was 70-80 km and up to 100+ km at my peak.
In 1997, I was approached to swim in a team with five other mad West Aussies. The plan was to complete a triple English Channel crossing. We were hoping to beat the record held by another Aussie team.
We completed the triple crossing in 32 hours 47 minutes. My team mates for this swim were: Shelley Taylor-Smith, Nancy Warnock, Gary Bradley, Peter Blackmore and Mark Dawson.
Unfortunately, were beaten by the conditions. But hey that’s the English Channel!
In 1996, with 81 other swimmers I entered the first ever Busselton Jetty Swim. In 2020, hopefully I will enter my 24th Busselton Jetty Swim as one of 3000 entries, providing I get in early!
I like destination swims and the Busselton Jetty Swim is the only swim where you swim 2 km offshore before turning around to swim back in. Conditions can get a little rough 2 kms offshore, but it is all part of open water swimming.
I have been doing it for so long, I am part of the history and appreciate being recognised for my 20th in 2016, which I swam against medical advice. (Ed. What's new Barb?).
Barb's award for her 20th Busselton Jetty Swim
Start of the 1996 Busselton Jetty Swim - Where is everyone?
Start of the 2016 Busselton Jetty Swim - I am there somewhere !
After my English Channel crossing, I set my sights on completing an around Manhattan Island Marathon Swim (MIMS).
The 19th June 2000 saw me complete the 48km circumnavigation of an amazing island; Manhattan.
I had a wonderful swim and finished as 2nd female and 4th overall.
I had two great paddlers as my support crew; their knowledge and enthusiasm made all the difference on the day. They had paddled the course previously on the same tide and worked out the best and quickest way around the island for me.
Unfortunately they both lost their lives in the 9/11 tragedy.
After the Manhattan swim I was honoured to be presented with the Australian Sports Award by then Prime Minister John Howard on behalf of Her Majesty The Queen: now that’s an honour!
I am in the foreground next to the blue kayak. Both my paddlers were killed in the 9/11 terrorist attack.
Finish of Manhattan Island Marathon Swim.
Australian Sports Award 2000
Both teams at the finish of our Lake Taupo Triple Crossing
In January 2009, I was asked to be part of a team to complete a (then) world record triple crossing of Lake Taupo, New Zealand. The world record was for the most distance in an inland waterway by a ladies team (120.6 km’s) in a time of 33 hours, 33 minutes 54 seconds.
My team was a truly international team made up of: Penny Palfrey (Aust), Julie Bradshaw and Lucy Roper (UK), Michelle Macy (USA) and Heather Osborn (NZ). Our organiser and support crew for this swim was the absolute legend: Phillip Rush.
We were swimming against a men’s team who also set a men’s team record in a time of 33 hours 31 minutes 15 seconds. The men’s team was made up of: Stephen Junk, Chris Palfrey, Stephen Spence, Dougal Hunt (Aust) and Mark Cockroft (NZ).
We were nominated for the 2009 World Open Water Swimming Performance of the Year.
On August 11th 2013, 2 years after coming back from shoulder surgery, I completed a 32km crossing of the Catalina Channel in California in 11 hours 19 minutes and 30 seconds.
This crossing completed my Triple Crown of Marathon Swimming, comprising crossing the English Channel in 1995, completing the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim in 2000 and the Catalina Channel in 2013.
I became the first West Aussie to complete the Triple Crown and only the 72nd person worldwide to complete it.
Catalina done and dusted. Back on the boat with Pete
Mandurah Mannas honour Barb's Triple Crown
In 2015, I completed a solo crossing of the Gibraltar Straits. It is very similar to Rotto in distance and conditions; although, the water temp was a very pleasant 17C; a little cooler than a Rotto crossing. It took me 6 hours 7 minutes. On the day we had rain, thunderstorms and sunshine. The last 3 or 4 km was very tough because I had a strong current against me.
Heading into Morocco. You can see how strong the current was!
Gibraltar Straights at the mouth of the Mediterranean
Rottnest Channel Swim Association Hall of Famers
(L to R) Peter Tanham, Barb Pellick, Ceinwen Roberts and Rohan Hollick
2014 saw me become an inaugural inductee into the Rottnest Channel Swim Association Hall of Fame, with Ceinwen Roberts, Peter Tanham and Rohan Hollick.
Over my career I have been a finalist 3 times for the WomenSport West Sport Star Award (2001, 2010, and 2013) and also a finalist for the South West Sport Star of the Year Award (Bunbury) in 1996, after my English Channel crossing.
I have always had a passion for helping people and seeing people achieve something they previously thought was impossible. To that end, all through my career I have mentored and coached swimmers. There is no point of having knowledge and not passing it on, it is there to be given.
In 2015, I started Rottoswmr Swim Squad. I have loved seeing people develop themselves and their swimming; some from almost non-swimmers to competent open water swimmers.
I continue to swim Rotto, having completed 30 solo crossings to date, which equals the most number of crossings anyone has made. I absolutely love the event. I love seeing people achieve something they have worked so hard to accomplish. I love being a part of it and hope to continue swimming Rotto for many years to come. After all, I owe this swim a great deal; it is what ignited my passion and love of marathon swimming. I have traveled the world thanks to the Rotto swim. And my journey is not over yet!