It's 3am last Sunday and Ross Youngman has just slid into the cool waters of the Derwent River at the New Norfolk Bridge.
The sky is pitch black, and as he rolls over to take his first stroke, the only thing he can see is a spotlight on the back of a small boat being driven by his brother Mark and two mates.
"I'm swimming towards the boat, the boat is trying to stay in the middle of the river, all I see is the light," Ross said.
To any onlookers on the banks of the Derwent, it would make the most unexpected scene. But this is a precise science in action. It was the culmination of months of planning.
As part of an all-Tasmanian team, Ross wanted to become the seventh person to complete the Derwent River Big Swim, a 34-kilometre river marathon from New Norfolk to the Tasman Bridge, one of the world's "Toughest 13 swims".
He also wanted to be the first Tasmanian. While he now lives in Sydney following a successful career as an international investment banker, Ross reflects fondly on his upbringing in Launceston where his passion for swimming came from his father over countless hours at the Windmill Hill pool, now the Launceston Aquatic Centre. He's proud to say he's among four generations of the family to be members of the South Esk Swimming Club.
His love of swimming has always been with him; a form of relaxation, yoga, a way of resting his mind after a day working in a high intensity industry. And, more recently, the challenge of marathon swimming has drawn him in, after his children reached adulthood.
Yet like with everything else, 2020 threw a spanner in the works. Ross was booked to complete the English Channel solo in August, having finished it as part of Team MadFish in 2013, a three-person fundraising relay team. He planned to swim alongside another former Launceston man, Tom O'Byrne, in the next attempt.
When the coronavirus forced a change of plans, Ross had to look for new challenges.
The Derwent made sense for the 60-year-old.
With careful study of tidal behaviour and wind, they landed on 3am as the best time to start. Sunday, December 13, was predicted to have north-northwesterly winds, ideal to buffer his swim.
"We're looking for high tide early in the morning, and found a day when it was high tide at 7am in Hobart. We backed that to 7.30am at Bridgewater, and worked out it would take me 4.5 hours to swim the 14 kilometres from New Norfolk," Ross said.
An accomplished ocean swimmer, the Derwent River posed something new for Ross. It did not have the benefits of salinity which can be buoyant for swimmers, meaning he trained for several weeks swimming laps of the freshwater Manly Dam. The river is also significantly colder than the ocean, so Ross did two weeks' worth of ice baths at 11 degrees Celsius for 45 minutes each time.
The 16-degree waters of the Derwent were comfortable by comparison.
The first two hours were pitch black before the sun rose as he reached Boyer. He was swimming against the tide as it came in, but knew once he reached high tide at Bridgewater, he would have until 3pm before it turned again.
But Bridgewater also posed risks.
"You have the mud flats. You've got to stay in the navigation channel, but the river wants to move you out of there and into the eddies," Ross said.
"The boat ran aground just south of Bridgewater. Lucky my brother had waders and could jump out and push the boat off. I kept swimming."
By this stage, the immense toll of the swim was causing his shoulders to scream. His stroke rate is higher than average at 67 per minute. After five hours, he has already done more than 20,000 strokes.
"When you think about how many times your shoulders are rolling over, the wear and tear is quite high," Ross said.
Others attempting the swim in the past have encountered issues at Cadbury Point, which requires a wide berth and a change in direction. It's where wind speed and tidal conditions are crucial. In 2015, a swimmer was caught in a storm there and spent hour after hour swimming into the teeth of the wind and rain, before heroically reaching the Tasman Bridge.
Fortunately for Ross, it all lined up in his favour.
The first 14 kilometres took five hours, but the next 20 kilometres took four hours before he came to rest in Hobart.
Their preparations had paid off: Ross arrived at the Tasman Bridge in nine hours and 10 minutes, making him the fastest male and the oldest to complete the Derwent. It placed him second overall, behind Emma Radford, who finished it in seven hours and 46 minutes on New Year's Day this year.
In fact, it was Emma's swim that gave him the inspiration.
"I was here in Tasmania at the time [of her swim] and thought, 'that's a great idea'," he said.
An ocean of challenges to conquer
Marathon swimming is an endurance test like few others.
In the early morning four days a week, Ross will be out on the waters off Sydney with members of Vladswim where they swim up to five kilometres for 1.5 hours under the guidance of legendary swimmer Vlad Mravec.
One of his training mates is Emma Radford.
On Saturdays they swim between 10 and 18 kilometres in the ocean or in a dam, depending on what type of event is coming up.
"I'll probably swim between 27 and 33 kilometres per week," Ross said.
Events are where marathon swimmers can truly test their improvement. The worldwide goal was always the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming: the English Channel, Catalina Channel off Los Angeles and the circumnavigation of Manhattan Island.
Australia has also recently developed its own Triple Crown: the Derwent, the Port to Pub from Fremantle to Rottnest, and the Palm Beach to Shelley Beach in NSW.
Only one person has finished the Australian version.
Ross could become the second.
"I'm probably going to have a crack at both of those. That will be good conditioning for the English Channel when that's available again," he said.
Ross said he owes a lot to swimming, which brought his family close together when growing up in Launceston, but also gave him a lifelong passion.
He encouraged all Tasmanians to find their passion.
"Swimming was always a complement to my work. Working in funds management and assets management with portfolios of shares and investments for many years around the world, one constant is that when I was under stress, I was able to have a swim," Ross said. "It clears my head. It's important to have good physical management of your body, especially these days now we know how vital good mental health is.
"For me, it's swimming. For others it's yoga, it's running, it's relaxing and reading a book.
"I just love getting in the water. It keeps me on a level plane."