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!

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!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

"Capping Off" the 2010 Open-Water-Swimming Season...

"To the Sailboat and Beyond.....West Neck Pod" is the message emblazoned on the recently commissioned West Neck Pod swim caps (brightly colored for greater visibility in the open water and available in green, pink, orange, yellow and red). With air and water temperatures continuing their inevitable downward trajectory, closely tracked by the morale of the open-water "aquaholics" who are beginning to experience withdrawal symptoms in the waning days and weeks of the 2010 open-water-swimming season, the turnout for the most recent open water swims has been reduced to only the most hopeful, optimistic, addicted or cold-tolerant Pod members.  In recognition of those stalwarts, and of the extraordinary individual and group accomplishments of the Pod in 2010, free swim caps will be distributed to every Pod member who shows up this weekend to try to squeeze out another open-water swim (or to cheerlead their fellows!).

(Swim caps will be available at cost to anyone else, as long as supplies last!). 

Check e-mails for scheduled swim times (mid-day swims most likely to maximize warmth!)

See you in the Salt!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

What a Difference a Day Makes!

This morning a vastly tamed northwest wind was barely filling the flag and only lightly lifting the surface of the water at West Neck Beach -- a far cry from the tumult that raged there yesterday throughout the day.  Rob Martell's trio of space heaters, augmented for the first time by Ken's super-powerful kerosene burner/blower, helped to take the chill out of the 44-degree air as the trio of Robs (Martell, Ripp and Todd), Ken, Gae, Bonnie and I suited up under the overhang.

There was nothing to take the chill out of the 56-degree water, though, as evidenced by Gae's earsplitting screams as she dove in for her first OWS since Wednesday, shattering the morning's relative calm....Gae pronounced this her last open-water swim of the season, but we'll see....we'll see...!

The rest of us have not yet retired our wetsuits (though Rob Todd will undoubtedly be shopping for insulated booties, if not a new full wetsuit!), and are looking forward to at least a few more good swims before Jack Frost finally forces us back inside! So, weather permitting, we'll see you in the Salt next weekend!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Never Say "Never"....!

At 7:30 this morning West Neck Beach was a tumultuous riot of white-capped waves racing across the harbor and crashing on the beach and the jetty.  The waves were driven by a raging northwest wind that blew unceasingly against an outgoing high tide.  Scott Kessler having joined me on the beach shortly before 8:00, we reluctantly called it a "No-Swim" day, and he left while I e-mailed the bad news to the Pod....Don Bond met Scott at the beach entrance and, unconvinced by his report, came on in to see for himself, followed shortly thereafter by Rob Ripp.  We stood there in the wind-tossed parking lot, gazing wistfully out at the roiling water, which looked both forbidding and tempting in the exquisite morning light....

Carefully weighing the pros and cons of swimming anyway despite the conditions, insanity prevailed, and we suited up (Rob still in his "shorty") and plunged into the thundering surf!  The water was actually a relief from the relentless wind, surprising us in its warmth as we turned our backs to the wind and stroked south towards the buoy.  The surging waves lifted us and all but threw us down the beach, the outgoing tide no match for the raging wind.  

Persistent goggle problems were hampering my otherwise thrillingly perfect swim, and I turned back first -- into a veritable wall of water!  The oncoming wind and waves felt like an assault, and I was relieved when I finally made it back to the Pod-Sandal-Station to retrieve my camera-mask so I could film Rob and Don on their return trip (I had inadvertently left the camera in the video-record mode as it was tied up to the PSS -- now that's an interesting video for another post....!). 

Weather/wind conditions for Sunday are predicted to be much the same as today's....See the craziest of you in the Salt tomorrow!   

Monday, October 11, 2010

Christopher Columbus, what a fabulous swim!!!

Whatever one's personal/political feelings might be about Christopher Columbus'  purported "discovery" in 1492 of the already inhabited "New World," which "discovery" is celebrated today, it's still nice to have the day off! Although the Pod's plans for an 8:00 morning swim were aborted for various reasons (including exhaustion from the last several days' exhilarating but draining swims in ever-colder water!), swimmer's remorse set in a few hours later as the temperature climbed into the 70's and it turned out to be an absolutely glorious day.  Fortunately, Gae was the first to come to her swimming senses and call for reinforcements.  Carole and I joined her for a 2:00 high-tide swim at West Neck Beach, which was liberally sprinkled with beach chairs and sunbathers as if it were a mid-summer's day!  There were even bathing-suited swimmers in the water! -- and we (wetsuit-clad) unhesitatingly plunged in for an exquisitely sublime Causeway swim on this most perfect of all days ever in the history of the world!  If yesterday's open-water swim was a "10" (and it was!), then today's was a "12"!

Autumn is truly the best time of the year to swim, and it just keeps getting better and better! 

See you in the Autumn Salt!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

10 Swimmers Agree: 10/10/10 Swim a Perfect "10"!

The flag hung limply from the flagpole at West Neck Beach this morning, but the lack of wind was a blessing for the ten swimmers who turned out for this morning's 8:00 swim (Rob Martell, Rob Todd, Carole Wickham, Bonnie Millen, Gae Polisner, Mike Paradise, Ken Longo, Tommy Capobianco, Tony Santomauro and I). With the air temperature a shockingly low 39 degrees, a lusty gust would have kept most of us in our cars, but the sun was shining brightly in a clear blue sky and the still air felt surprisingly warm...especially when we hunkered in close to Rob Martell's trio of space heaters under the overhang!

Even the water temperature had dropped several degrees since Friday and Saturday's swims, to a chilly 55-58 degrees.  But in comparison to the air, the water was relatively warm, and after the initial screams and squeals getting in (mostly from me) and a dozen or so strokes, the water felt merely bracing and not cold....Once past the mooring field it felt even warmer, and all but one of us continued all the way to the sailboat mooring, where we lingered for our usual "buoy-chat" (while the Robs raced each other to the "North Pole").

The wind had picked up a little for the return trip on an incoming tide, so getting out was chillier than getting in, even though the air temperature had climbed to 55 degrees by then...Despite the chill, it was a gorgeous, exhilarating, perfect swim...and on October 10, 2010, this open-water swimming season (which last year ended on October 9th) is still going strong!

Some of us who have the day off tomorrow will be swimming again at 8:00.  See you in the Salt!

Friday, October 8, 2010

October 8, 2010 OWS

The water temperature this morning was considerably cooler than the 68-degree water we basked in last Sunday, registering somewhere between 58 and 61 degrees depending on where you pointed the laser thermometer, but other than an initial shock getting in, it actually was warm enough for a delightful swim for Carole, Gae and I.  It was less delightful for our "Wounded Warrior" Rob Martell, there principally to test his Pod-changing-station heaters, and who couldn't resist getting in the water and swimming a bit despite his macerated foot. 

The heaters worked wonderfully, though, and really helped to take the chill out of the 52-degree air!  Also much appreciated was the recently deployed Pod-Sandal-Station, another of Rob's ingenious inventions designed to extend the Pod's open-water-swimming season!

That season continues this weekend, with open-water swims planned for 8:00 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Air temperatures are expected to be in the comfortably low 50's and the water temperature should be about the same as today. Long-sleeve wetsuits and double-caps are recommended, as are insulated booties if you happen to have them... The tide will be incoming -- perfect for a Causeway swim! See you in the Salt!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

First OWS of October 2010!

With only a stiff northwesterly wind left behind as a memento of Tropical Storm Nicole's Long Island visit, the second day of October dawned clear and bright at West Neck Beach, to the delight of Salt-deprived Pod members who convened on the Beach at 8:00 this morning raring for a rollicking swim. And rollicking it was, as "the Robs" Martell and Todd, Carole, Gae, Annmarie, Evelyn, Joan, Bonnie, and I (joined by Rob Todd's friend Pete and his kayak) were tossed hither and yon in the chop created by the northwest wind's going head-to-head with the outgoing tide.

The wind appeared to have won, but the scintillating swim left Pod members smiling as we reconvened in front of the bathhouse at Rob Martell's ingenious floating "Pod-Sandal Station," designed to help protect the Pod's "pods" from the treacherous, barnacle-encrusted rocks for which the North Shore is famous. Inspired by a nasty foot gash from a loose pool tile which left Rob sporting a heavily bandaged foot double-wrapped in plastic (and they say open-water swimming is dangerous!!), and by the persistent whines of tender-footed Pod members no longer able to tie up their sandals on the swim lines offshore, Rob ransacked his basement and concocted his new foot-saving invention using "50 lbs of diving weights, secured flatiron and 50 feet of climbing rope." (Oh, and the ubiquitous fluorescent green child-safety figure anchoring the line on the beach!)

Secure in the knowledge that our "pods" would be safe, and unwilling to leave the deliciously temperate water (and face the wind on the beach!), Rob, Carole, Gay, Annmarie and I continued swimming northward as far as the yellow "No Passing" sign along the Causeway before returning to the Beach and the "Pod-Sandal Station."

When we finally, reluctantly, left the water, Rob carefully packed up the "PSS" for safekeeping...

Rob and his fellow C.W. Post "poolie" cohorts will be duking it out in their first meet of the season tomorrow (hopefully putting an end to their recent swashbuckling exchanges via e-mail), so he won't be joining us for tomorrow morning's 8:00 open-water swim, but he promises to try to have the "PSS" installed on a more permanent basis before then...In any event, "Good luck" to the Posties tomorrow -- break a fin, guys!-- and we'll See you in the Salt!

Friday, October 1, 2010

First October Swim a Wash-Out!

Rob Martell, the newly anointed "Paul Revere" of the West Neck Pod, sounded the e-mail alarm early this morning for those intent on taking to the Salt for the first October swim of the 2010 season. Although Rob had predicted we'd face windy, choppy conditions in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Nicole, the remnants of the storm exceeded his expectations, and he wound up giving the win to Nicole:

"Calling this one as a NO swim day. The waves and sweep are extremely dangerous for anyone. Sorry for the bad news but it's gusting at the beach at 30 maybe 40 and the sweep would push people to CT and no way to swim back to the beach. For those that can swim tomorrow, it's to be sunny day."
The news left the Pod disappointed, but grateful to have been spared the trip to West Neck Beach in the blustery darkness.

By 9:30, with the tide well on its way out, the wind had died and there were no waves to be seen, but a steady rain pelted the surface of the water under a glowering sky....

With Nicole now drenching eastern Massachusetts, the sunshine is expected to return to Long Island tomorrow! So, weather permitting, we'll see you in the Salt at 8:00!