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, August 28, 2011

Good Night, Irene...and Good Riddance!

Though not nearly as harmful and dangerous as was originally feared, Hurricane Irene's driving rains and fierce winds still delivered Long Island a serious whuppin' throughout the night and early morning, flooding the shoreline communities and making a Sunday morning swim completely out of the question....Unless, of course, you're Ken Longo, who sent out a series of increasingly frenzied e-mails this morning looking for other inmates -- I mean Pod members --  to swim with him.  Turns out he's not the only one who was itching to get to the Beach, and numerous other Pod members risked life and limb on their quest to get to West Neck, if only to take pictures!  Most of us (yes, of course I'm one of them!) have been thwarted, as West Neck Road has been closed all day due to flooding and numerous downed trees blocking the road.  My latest attempt was around 3:00 this afternoon, and the road was closed just beyond John Daves Lane as yet another tree had just fallen!  Lloyd Harbor police officer (and fellow swimmer) "Vinnie" confirmed, though, that the water had completely covered the Lloyd Neck causeway, and that West Neck Beach was completely underwater at the height of the storm.  Nancy Aboff (who lives in Lloyd Neck) just reported via e-mail that she finally made it down to West Neck Beach -- along with a bunch of windsurfers taking advantage of the white-capped surf in the Harbor!  That must be that "storm surge" the forecasters kept talking about....Hopefully Nancy will post some pictures of our favorite beach in the aftermath of Irene -- but in the meantime here are some others from those on the Quest, including Rob Ripp (who narrowly escaped being crushed by a falling tree as he was taking these pictures) and Liz Perlstein.  See you in the post-Irene Salt!

Huntington Harbor overflowing onto West Shore Road (Rob Ripp)

Boat dock at Gold Star Beach (Rob Ripp)

New York Avenue in Huntington (Liz Perlstein)

Boat dock in Cold Spring Harbor post-Irene

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Me, Myself & Irene

For the second time in as many years, the West Neck Pod (along with the rest of the eastern seaboard) is anxiously anticipating the arrival of a major hurricane. Last year’s Category 4 "Hurricane Earl" turned out to be a major non-event, bringing Long Island none of the threatened heavy rains and dangerously high winds, and cheating Pod members out of not even one good open-water swimming day as it passed harmlessly north and east of us (http://thewater-blog.blogspot.com/2010/09/hurricane-schmurricane.html) ....The story is likely to be different with "Hurricane Irene" – indeed, as I write this, the television news is reporting that already six people have died as Irene lurches her way northward along the coast. But early this morning, Irene – and those deaths – were still far to our south. With Irene’s arrival seemingly inevitable and imminent, and the immediate future of open-water swimming in its aftermath being something of a cipher, it was perhaps no surprise that a total of 16 somewhat trepidatious swimmers showed up at West Neck Beach for this morning’s swim – to see what Irene might have been stirring up and to get in one last swim before "Armageddon." (Regrettably, the Tobay Triathlon and Tri-Relay must be denoted another of Irene’s victims, having been cancelled early this morning – though Don Bond still managed to claim his commemorative shirt, if not a trophy!) Even Frank Fiore, now fully recovered from his horrific biking accident, rejoined the Pod for his first open-water swim of the season! 

To the great surprise of all of us, Cold Spring Harbor showed no overt signs of Irene’s approach, other than the overhanging clouds. The water was eerily flat and calm, an effect that was exaggerated by the expansive vista of the harbor, now virtually devoid of boats and floating docks -- all moved to safer water in anticipation of the storm. Despite its surface calm, though, there was much stirring below, as we watched wave after wave of snappers leaping from the water in a desperate flight to escape the bigger fish hunting them below. Huge underwater swells, invisible on the still only lightly rippled surface as we began our swim to the Sailboat’s now-empty mooring, swept and lifted us, and in the strength of the incoming tide we felt Irene’s power for the first time. The return trip, though, was no less onerous, with an inexplicable outgoing current holding us as if in place. But despite the challenge, we felt privileged, swimming as a body in the vast, uninterrupted expanse of open water that touched the sky at the horizon. The swim was awesome, in the truest sense of the word – inspiring awe as we contemplated the majesty of Nature, her beauty, and her enormous and sometimes terrible power...

It’s evening now, the air is dense and thick, and a steady rain is falling, signaling Irene’s relentless approach. I’ve done all the preparing I can, I’ve had my "last swim," and, like most of my fellow Long Islanders – swimmers and otherwise – I am waiting....Be safe everyone!...I’ll see you in the Salt! (but probably not tomorrow!)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

August is waning....

Last week was a gorgeous mid-August swimming week at West Neck Beach, despite torrential rains that washed out Sunday's swim and raised concerns about contaminated runoff that kept swimmers out of the water on Monday.  Ten of us ventured back under still-cloudy skies on Tuesday, for what turned out to be an exquisite swim in crystal clear water, only to find on our return that signs had been posted announcing the Beach was "officially closed."  We swimmers survived with no ill effects, and the signs were gone when we returned on Wednesday, but the "moon jellies" apparently took this as an invitation, invading Cold Spring Harbor in unprecedented numbers that made our old jokes about "swimming through tapioca pudding" seem like happy memories...The jellies were so thick in the water that we could have practically walked on their backs to the southern buoy, and Cathy Kabat, who swims without a wetsuit, was scooping them out of her too-loose bathing suit like extra helpings of mashed potatoes....Happily, the evening's outgoing tide swept the moon jellies with it, and the rest of the week was virtually jelly-free! The dire predictions of rain and thunderstorms for the weekend never materialized, and though our numbers were diminished by the Huntington Tri-Masters Swimmers Tobay Triathlon and Tri-Relay practice swim on Saturday, and the John Daly 1-Mile Ocean Swim on Sunday, the remnants of the Pod enjoyed lovely, languid, leisurely weekend swims marred only by the intrusion of a speeding jet ski on Sunday...By Sunday evening the rain had returned, and with it the disturbingly chilly air that seems unusually premature for this date in August.  As always when the air temperatures begin to dip, signaling the imminent transition from Summer to Fall, I become a little wistful, because I know that my remaining open-water swimming days are numbered....How ironic, as this season I've actually been counting those days in pursuit of a "100-day open-water swimming season" -- like the "perfect" skiing season I've heard downhill skiiers rave about...Today's swim, on Tuesday, August 23rd, was number 59 -- and with the air temperature at only 60 degrees at 6:30 this morning, I began to wonder if I'll be able to achieve that goal before the deep cold sets in and I'm forced to retreat to the chlorine....That makes me wonder about the 87 names on the West Neck Pod's e-mail list and the 75 "Friends" on the West Neck Pod's Facebook page, many of whom I've not yet seen in the Salt this season....
As this month of August draws to a close and September looms, and with it the summer's end, I invite those holdouts to reconsider their other "pressing business" and remind them of the drawing power of Salt...

Monday, August 15, 2011

Swim Across America: Raising Funds to Fight Cancer, "From Sea to Shining Sea...."

The year 2011 marks the 25th anniversary of "Swim Across America," a not-for-profit organization dedicated to raising funds and awareness for cancer research, prevention and treatment through swimming-related events. In addition to numerous pool events, there are now 13 open-water Swim Across America ("SAA") fundraising events in various venues throughout the country, including two on Long Island.
This year, five West Neck Pod swimmers participated in the August 13th "Sound-to-Cove" open water swim from Long Island Sound to Morgan Park in Glen Cove: Evelyn Cruise and I swimming the 5K and Bonnie Millen and Karl Bourke swimming the 1-mile as part of "Team Hope;" and Meghan McGovern swimming the 5K as part of "Team T.O.A.S.T." Together we raised more than $6,000 for local cancer research programs sponsored by Swim Across America. Next year we plan to swim as part of "Team West Neck Pod" and raise even more money to fight this monstrous disease that has left virtually no family – including the West Neck Pod family – unscathed. Bonnie, swimming the 1-mile event just a few months after her own surgery for breast cancer, swam in memory of her best friend Gail Scamoni, whom cancer claimed in January; Karl swam in memory of his Uncle Edward Burke; Evelyn swam in honor of her Uncle Michael; Meghan swam in honor of her two aunts and friend who are currently battling cancer; and I swam in honor of my Pod-mate Bonnie, and in memory of my Aunt Mary Agnes Patscott, my friends Richie Clarke, Richard Thatcher and Barbara Sforza, and too many others....

Swim Across America’s mission has been embraced not only by hometown athletes, but by numerous Olympic and world swimming champions, including Diana Nyad, a longtime SAA supporter, whose heroic effort to swim 103 miles from Cuba to Florida had been cut short just a few days before the "Sound to Cove" SAA swim. Like so many others who had been both inspired and humbled by Diana’s "Xtreme Dream," my heart was still aching with disappointment -- not for myself but for Diana -- when I set out to swim a course that I was mindful was approximately 100 miles shorter than the course Diana had set for herself! Having swum several 5K events before, I was confident that I would be able to swim the 3.1 mile distance, but I was somewhat daunted nevertheless by the one-way course whose start point was out in the middle of Long Island Sound! The seemingly endless boat ride out to the starting buoy, the wait for the last 10K swimmer (10K!) to pass on his way all the way across the Sound from Larchmont, the leap from the boat into DEEP, unfamiliar water, 3.1 miles from a shore that I could no longer see, unnerved me, especially when I realized that my goggle strap had detached when I jumped, and I watched my fellow 5K swimmers recede into the distance as I struggled to rethread it and adjust my goggles for the swim. When I finally started swimming (of course I had to take a few photographs, first!), I was far behind the pack, and all alone in the middle of Long Island Sound (except for the kayaker who quickly zeroed in on me – thanks, Fran!).

Anxious to catch up with the pack, I found myself beginning to hyperventilate, and had to stop swimming to calm myself and regulate my breathing. I found myself thinking again of Diana Nyad, swimming for nearly 30 hours straight, much of it in total darkness, in a vast body of roiling water, plagued by excruciating shoulder pain, innumerable jellyfish stings, relentless nausea, and an inexplicable attack of asthma that left her gasping for breath as an implacable current carried her ever farther off course, and I felt ashamed of my seemingly petty fear and anxiety.

As I found my breath and settled into my swim, trying to channel my inner Diana Nyad (except for the asthma and the shoulder pain!), my thoughts turned to the courageous cancer patients and their families whose struggles for survival, quality of life, and dignity are ultimately the motivation for this and all of the other "Swims Across America." Though their struggles are not freely chosen, unlike the "Xtreme" challenge Diana Nyad had set for herself, and the far more modest one I had undertaken in swimming from "Sound to Cove," they all bear witness to one fundamental truth: It’s not the destination that matters, but how you make the journey.... See you in the Salt.