DISCLAIMER: Open-water swimming is inherently dangerous. Open-water swimmers risk drowning, hypothermia, hyperthermia, heart attacks, panic attacks, cramping, jelly fish stings, fish bites, boat or jet-ski collisions, collisions with floating or submerged objects (including other swimmers), and other calamities that can be injurious, disabling or fatal! The "West Neck Pod" is an informal association of open-water swimmers who swim "outside the lines" with no lifeguard protection, it has no formal membership, organizational structure or legal identity, and its participants, including the author of this blog, make no representations and assume no liability with respect to its group open-water swims. All swimmers who participate in West Neck Pod group open-water swims do so at their own risk. Be careful out there!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

"Christmas in the Caribbean...."!

With the winter's first major blizzard bearing down on the New York area and threatening to put the kibbosh on our Caribbean vacation plans, Carole and I were vastly relieved that the storm held off until after our plane landed in St. Maarten on a bright, sunny and HOT Christmas afternoon!

Reports of the approaching storm filtered their way to the beach-bar where we sat sipping our first pina coladas of the trip (it being too late in the day to head for the beach), but the snow did not actually begin to fall in New York until the day after Christmas.

That day also dawned rainy and overcast in St. Maarten, so our long-anticipated return to open-water swimming was postponed (in favor of shopping in Philipsburg) until the following day, when we reopened the 2010 open-water swimming season and spent a long, blissful day swimming endless lengths of the beach at Friar's Bay.  Coincidentally, it was also my birthday, and being able to swim my heart out in the exquisite, turquoise-colored water made this birthday truly feel like something to celebrate! 

Tuesday brought more of the same perfect conditions, but today (Wednesday) was another rainy, windy day, with high waves that both of us deemed too rough for swimming.  Hopefully the sun will be out again tomorrow and we can hit the Salt again -- and again and again and again -- until it's time to leave on Saturday -- but not before we undertake our own New Year's Day "Polar Bear swim" in solidarity with our brethren in the cold, snowbound North!  And so the 2011 open-water season begins....!  See you in the Salt!

Monday, December 20, 2010

"Swan Song" of 2010 Open-Water Swimming Season

In this last week before Christmas and the penultimate week of the year, "Ten Swans a-swimming" greeted "The Crazy Canadian" Rob Martell as he entered the water at West Neck Beach Sunday morning for what he assures us was his last swim of the 2010 open-water swimming season...."Today was my swan song. 5 mins and it was absolutely freezing but so crystal clear it was unbelievable. I wish I could have swum to the boat just to see the bottom on the cove."

Unlike the rest of us who (however reluctantly) long ago retreated to the relative warmth of our respective local pools, Rob alone has doggedly continued to ply the increasingly frigid waters of Cold Spring Harbor on a weekly basis throughout the month of December -- but with the air temperature now a punishing 29 degrees, and the water temperature not far behind it, Rob has finally concluded that "I just don't have the drive to take the beating anymore...!"  So, unless Rob changes his mind or someone else gets REALLY CRAZY, the 2010 open-water swimming season is OFFICIALLY OVER!! 

We'll keep you posted on the start of the 2011 Open Water Swimming Season!  (Anyone up for a "polar bear" swim...??)

Friday, November 26, 2010

"The West Neck Pod: To the Sailboat..."

Stained glass by Carole Wickham

"Pass the Salt, please"

While the rest of us were passing the salt over our Thanksgiving leftovers, Rob Martell was diving into it again -- on this cold, damp, grey Friday after Thanksgiving!  Rob -- the lone holdout of the West Neck Pod -- has swum at West Neck Beach every weekend throughout this month of November, and is threatening to continue swimming into December (which is just around the corner).  So let's talk turkey: The 2010 open-water season isn't over until Rob Martell says it is!

We'll keep you posted!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

It's Not Over Yet...!

One day after the November 7th "Water-Blog" post proclaiming the end of the 2010 open-water season (http://thewater-blog.blogspot.com/2010/11/2010-open-water-swimming-season-looks.html), Long Island awoke to a freak early-morning snow shower, which seemed to confirm the soundness of that prediction.  But with the air temperatures this mid-November week reaching into the high 60s, and the water turned to glass by a gentle easterly breeze replacing the usual northwesterly wind, the open water resumed singing its siren song to the vulnerable....Carole and I, walking our dogs at West Neck Beach these last few days, were sorely tempted to take the plunge despite the steadily dropping water temperature, but dog-duties and the lack of wetsuits prevailed and we stayed dry despite our wistful regrets....It was Rob Martell who succumbed to the call first, diving alone into the Salt early this morning. His caption for the picture below, which he e-mailed to the Pod, reads:  "Stupid Swimmer: to the dock and back. Temp: 42" even as he proclaimed the season "not over yet...."

The gauntlet that Rob threw down this morning was unknowingly picked up later this afternoon by an unknown swimmer named "Joe," who, unable to resist the beckoning water, took a slow, leisurely swim and emerged from the chilly water wearing only a Speedo and a big smile. 

Humbled by Joe's seemingly heroic feat (and not aware yet of Rob's earlier swim), and chagrined that I could not follow suit (or wetsuit!), I comforted myself with the still-glorious day, the spectacular sight of a rainbow peeking through the clouds framing the sun over the water, and the flock of seagulls taking flight over my head, but my body was aching to be lifted again by the Salt, and my heart was wishing for an early Spring....

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The 2010 Open-Water Swimming Season: Looks Like It's Over....

On this chilly Sunday morning, Rob Martell and Rob Todd took their first open-water swim of November 2010, as Carole Wickham and I had done earlier in the week, on Election Day....With the sun just barely risen and the air temperature hovering just a few degrees above freezing, the conditions "The Robs" encountered at 8:00 this morning were considerably harsher than what "The Carol(e)s" experienced on a sunny Tuesday midafternoon.  Although they gamely termed it a "nice short swim" in water that Rob Martell generously estimated as "in the high 40's," the Robs' descriptions of "pins and needles" and numb faces, hands and feet told the true story of this morning's swim -- presaging not only the end of this year's open water swimming season, but the approaching end of autumn and the beginning of winter....    

As a die-hard Salt-water junkie, reluctant to see the season end, I had harbored my own wishes for yet another open-water swim today, and after a half-hearted stint in the Y pool, I made my way to West Neck Beach to check out the conditions.  As I stood there on the beach, as I had dozens of times in the last seven (!) months -- checking the tide, gauging the wind direction and strength, and just taking in the gorgeous vista -- I suddenly knew that my open-water season was over....

The sun was warm and bright and the water was clear and calm, but the air was cold on my face and hands, and the northwest wind (of course!) kept finding its way into and under my jacket...I felt cold, and knew that in the water I'd feel even colder.  More importantly, I didn't want my last open-water swim to be anything less than perfect -- as every swim had been all season long. I wanted my memory of my last swim of the season to be like that of Tuesday's swim, in crisp, invigorating, crystal-clear water, with the sun shining brightly in a brilliant blue sky, reminding me of how lucky I am, to be blessed with this gift of open-water swimming and my "Pod" of fellows who share it with me. I wanted to remember nothing but the sheer joy of the open water...and so I will....until next year, when I see you in the Salt! 

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Election Day OWS Voted "Best Swim of November 2010" -- So Far...!!

Election Day dawned bright and sunny, but the bright sunshine was not enough to lift the temperature out of the low 40's -- seemingly too cold for what we'd hoped would be the first open-water swim of November! An early reconnaissance at the beach was heartening, with a gentle breeze stirring the air, and the water sparkling in the sun so invitingly that I was tempted to ignore my common sense and go in despite the cold. 

There were no other takers, though, but when Carole later had a bout of swimmer's regret and said, "Maybe we should go anyway," I leapt at the chance, hastily dragging her off to the beach before she could change her mind.  She didn't, and we both had an amazing, invigorating, energizing swim to the sign and back.  We emerged from the cold-but-not-too-cold water giddy and giggling, high-fiving each other for an awesome swim and for having extended our open-water swimming season into yet another month (month "7" for me, having swum in May, June, July, August, September, October, and now, November!). 

The fact that we were swimming on Election Day gave the event added significance.  Mindful that the early suffragists endured jailings, beatings, forced feedings, and other tortures so that I could exercise my right to vote on this Election Day (which I proudly did, first thing this morning!), my swim today was in part an homage to those fearless foremothers....Happy Election Day!  See you in the Salt!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween swim frightfully good!

The last several days' flurry of e-mails reflected our anxiety and apprehension about this morning's planned Halloween open-water swim. Despite the summer-like temperatures of the past week, the thermometer had suddenly plummeted, and the forecast was for much colder weather. With colder weather comes colder water, and the fingers and toes of some of us were still tingling from last weekend's bone-chilling immersion. Friends' and family's uncomprehending comments and dire warnings added to our apprehensions -- as did my own laser thermometer readings from both the dock and the water's edge...The water was definitely getting colder, and a Halloween swim began to seem more and more scary....

So when we arrived at the beach at noon today in brilliant sunshine (having pushed back the start time to take advantage of the day's warming temperatures) and were met by a howling northwest wind and an endless vista of surging white-capped waves, it was enough to make us change our minds and head back home to wait for trick-or-treaters.  All of us, that is, except Rob Martell, who, mindful of the day, stepped out of his Honda Element-cum phone booth clad in his red and black wetsuit, blue swim cap, and long red cape flapping wildly behind him in the wind, looking like the superhero we all know him to be!

Of course, the rest of us couldn't resist (well, Gae could -- after dipping her toes in and bleating like a slaughtered lamb -- she stayed on the beach shooting most of the photos and videos you see here).  So Rob Martell, Bonnie Millen, Rob Todd, Nancy Aboff (here to earn her Pod swim cap!) and I threw ourselves into the onrushing waves -- which promptly tried to throw us back again. It was rough swimming into the wind and against the incoming tide (even the seagulls were flying backwards, beating their wings uselessly against the wind [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cNg9T5ErkEM]), so we paid a hurried visit to the dock and then turned back to body surf our way back to the beach where our cheerleaders (Gae Polisner, Joan Valerio, Joye Brown, Evelyn Cruise, Bonnie's friend Jo, and HUMS blogographer Mike Engel) were waiting.  (See Mike's report and photos at http://hums.blogspot.com/2010/10/open-water-halloween-swim-west-neck.html and Joan's video complete with howling wind sounds at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KTlnAqBxqsk.)

On the way, Rob Todd smashed head-on into a barnacle encrusted mooring ball, cutting his scalp through two swim caps -- but what's Halloween without a little blood and gore?

We emerged from the water exhilarated and smiling, and making plans to do it again -- in November!

See you in the Salt!

Monday, October 25, 2010

New 12-Step Program Forming for "Aquaholics"

Are you an open-water "Aquaholic"?  To find out, answer Yes or No to the following statements:
  • You check the tide tables on a daily basis, even in the off-season.
  • You usually know the air temperature, water temperature, wave heights, and wind direction and speed for your local beach.
  • You made the above picture your screensaver.
  • You have been the only one to show up for an early-morning swim, and you actually think about swimming alone even though you know it violates the #1 safety rule of open-water swimming.  
  • You actually do swim alone when no one else shows up.
  • You have posted at least one picture of you wearing your speedo or wetsuit on Facebook or Twitter.
  • You own more than one wetsuit.
  • You have taken a shower on the beach, using shampoo and/or soap.
  • You want to swim farther and farther each time you swim.
  • As you swim, you are mentally calculating when you will be able to get in your next open-water swim.
  • You talk about "swimming to Connecticut."
  • You have swum at least one long-distance event (5K/10K) and can't wait to do it again.
  • Your friends are tired of hearing you talk about swimming.
  • You crave salt.
  • You are definitely not a morning person, but you get up at 5:00 in the morning, arrive at the beach in darkness, and swim for nearly an hour before you go to work.
  • You do this more than once a week.
  • Reading "The Water-Blog" or "The Water-Log" is the highlight of your day.
  • You used to be afraid of the water, but now you love it when the water is really rough and you are tossed around by the waves.
  • You are still swimming in the open water in October.
  • You are still swimming in the open water in November.
  • You are still swimming when the water temperature is less than your age.
  • You are depressed at the thought of the open-water season ending.
  • You have been binging on potato chips, pretzels, and salt water taffy.
If you answered Yes to five or more of the above, then you are almost certainly an open-water "aquaholic."  Fortunately, a confidential 12-step program is now available to help you and your fellow aquaholics resume a normal land-based life.  For information about meetings in your area, call 1-800-LUV-SALT, and tell the operator that you are a "Friend of Barnacle-Bill's."  An adjunct chlorine-maintenance program is also available to help get you through the long winter months.  Remember, the first step to recovery is admitting that you are powerless over saline....  See you in the Rooms...

Sunday, October 24, 2010

October 24th: Still Swimming...!

 The morning clouds had nearly dissipated, the flag hung limply in a windless sky, and the water lay flat and calm -- much to the relief of the ten intrepid swimmers who gathered at West Neck Beach this morning intent on etching another OWS notch onto our goggle-straps.  

Rob Martell, just back from a 6-mile run, sat steaming on the bench in the 48-degree air as he donned his new full wetsuit, while Rob Todd pulled on his "long-john," leaving his arms and shoulders bare.  But when Tommy Capobianco arrived in his suit, fresh from church, and (having forgotten to pack his wetsuit) proceeded to strip down to his Speedo, the Pod gained a new hero! 
With all swimmers wearing the new Pod swim caps bestowed on them by the "Fairy Pod-Mother," we posed for pictures on the beach (taken by Jim Imhof, who, along with Margot Edlin, Joye Brown and Greg Linakis came to cheer us on -- or administer CPR!). 

Then we all (Rob Todd, Rob Martell, Bonnie Millen, Ken Longo, Mike Paradise, Tommy Capobianco, Don Bond, Carole Wickham, Annmarie Kearney-Wood, and I) plunged into the 55-degree water with a collective scream.  After a dozen or so strokes, the nearly naked Tommy (well, really, how big is a Speedo?) still couldn't catch his breath, and wisely returned to the beach and relative warmth.  He said afterwards:
"It didn't feel as shocking as I thought it would and I really wanted to stay out there with all of you in just my Speedo but I was honestly afraid that once my slow moving brain realized how cold my body was I might be out too far and be in trouble.  Hope you had a good swim!!
The rest of us doggedly continued swimming, and as the initial shock of the cold water wore off, the bone-chilling pain in our exposed faces, hands and feet turned to a far more bearable numbness. (The water also warmed up somewhat once we got north of the dock and beyond the cold springs for which Cold Spring Harbor is so aptly named.)  As we swam, we experienced a growing sense of exhilaration, and kept extending our goals: first, "to the dock," then "to the end of the mooring field," and then "to the first sign along the Causeway" (all of us, that is, except for Mike Paradise and Rob Tobb, who kept swimming north, nearly to the sailboat mooring, before turning back!).  We all recognized that despite our initial discomfort, there was still something absolutely priceless and precious about what we were doing, and the awareness that this could well be our last open water swim of the season made us savor the exquisite beauty of the water, the sky, and our fellows all the more, and not want to leave the water despite the cold...

Rob Todd, who, having swum the farthest despite his skimpy "long-john" wetsuit, was the last one out of the water, shared his thoughts about the swim by e-mail:
"Today was a gift!
My feet hurt bad getting in, but the flat conditions made it too tempting
not to give it a real good try and I also felt like I had to earn the cap!
Once my feet were numbed as if shot with Novocain, the swim became quite
enjoyable. I did get a bit spooked from the pre swim chat about the shark
attack and the loss of Fran Crippen, but swimming is what we do.

The big question is, can the swim season really continue..................?

Not straight jacket conditions, but it is getting close."
Close, but not necessarily here yet!  Plans are afoot for a Halloween swim.... See you in the Salt next weekend??!

By the way, even though the open-water season is almost over, you still have to watch out for boats "out there"!

Boat crashes into car, Mill Dam Road, 10-24-10

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Evelyn "Cruises" Through Her Last OWS of the Season!!

Despite the "warmish" air temperature of 48 degrees, the steady northwest wind made the prospect of plunging into the icy water at West Neck Beach at 9:30 this morning a daunting one, particularly to Evelyn Cruise, who was determined to earn her Pod swim cap -- a red one, she decided. After an earnest parking lot consultation, the tri-Pod of Evelyn, Carole Wickham and I decided to proceed with our open-water swim, but at a different venue, more sheltered from the wind. 

We rendevouzed at the new site a short while later, coffee cups in hand, and enjoyed a gentle, relaxing open water experience in the clear, calm waters of the Carol(e)s' hot tub!  With my ubiquitous camera swim mask in place, I documented the event for posterity (including capturing images of all of us proudly wearing our new brightly colored Pod swim caps!

There, Evelyn took her last few strokes of the 2010 open water season, demonstrating the smooth, effortless, high-elbow form she perfected over the last several months, and bid a sorrowful goodbye to the open water...until next year!

Meanwhile, some members of the Pod remain unconvinced that the open-water-swimming season is over, and will be convening at West Neck Beach tomorrow morning at 8:00 to prove it.  Of course I'll be joining them!  See you in the Salt!