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!

Friday, September 23, 2011

"The Mists of Huntington..."

The first day of Fall slipped in silently under a dense layer of fog, which hovered over the landscape at West Neck Beach, covering everything like a ghostly blanket. Only faintly visible from the shore, the few remaining boats floated like shadows at their moorings, seemingly suspended in a great, soft cloud. The water lay eerily flat and calm, its mirror-like surface dully reflecting the soft grey blanket tamping it down. A vast stillness swallowed all sound, and the voices of the gulls that swooped over the still water were muffled as if from far away. The overall effect was magical and mystical and ultimately irresistible, and the water called to us like a Siren. We swam, Carole and I, north along the Causeway, past the anchored ghost ships and the fuzzy outlines of the floating dock, into an unrecognizable world...Swimming into nothingness, the boundary between water and sky obliterated, we felt weightless and disembodied, with only the faintly visible misty shoreline to our right to guide us and keep us from being swallowed by the fog. We made our way as far as the yellow sign, then reluctantly turned back toward home in the deepening fog....A strange pair of flip-flops had joined ours at the Pod-Sandal-Station, Nancy Aboff having followed in our wake (though we neither saw nor heard her until her return), and Bonnie Millen soon joined us on the Beach, ready to undertake her own solitary sojourn into the void. As we stood, contemplating the deep, silent peace that enveloped us, a pair of Great Blue Herons flew over our heads, beating their wings soundlessly over the surface of the water, then disappearing into the fog like Great Blue Ghosts....This first swim of Fall felt like a blessing, holding the promise of many more glorious swims to come....

Monday, September 19, 2011

The West Neck Pod: Thank You from "The Fairy Pod-Mother"

Thank you to all of the co-conspirators who concocted the plot to surprise me at my own party with such a loving acknowledgment of my Pod-nurturing efforts...I thank you for your kind words (especially Sue Robinson, who had the guts to say them into a microphone!), and for your wonderful and so-perfect gifts. I love my new embroidered and personalized "West Neck Pod" beach bag and all of the treasures you filled it with: my colorful new beach towel; the lifetime supply of Glide; my "H2O Girl" t-shirt, the photos of me in various aquatic settings, some with magnet-backs to post on my refrigerator so I can see them every day!; the bottles of wine, especially the "Super Swimmer" chardonnay!; the votive candleholders with the "Sailboat" motif; the necklace Margot made from a piece of beach glass she found at West Neck Beach; the booklet of "West Neck Pod Vegetarian Recipes," published by "Pod Press" and compiled by Bonnie, who sampled every one; the three varieties of Tate's chocolate chip cookies (who knew you could get gluten-free Tate's cookies!);the YMCA bathing cap for my inevitable "wintering-over" in the Chlorine; the grossly hilarious "Got strap-ons?" shirt whose ultimately innocent reference to our "SafeSwimmer" flotation bags was cleverly hidden on the back by its author Gae ["What? they're for safety's sake"]; the golf paraphernalia and gift certificates from Karen for when this OWS season is finally over...
I thank you all for your loving hearts and your thoughtfulness and your cleverness and your humor (and Gae for these photos which she took while I was otherwise engaged)....and I especially thank Rob Martell, the "Pod-Father," for his gift of a wonderfully sensitive and creative series of collages of dozens of photos culled from years of "Water-Blog" posts that culminated in this image of me at the buoy -- an image made up of all of those myriad photos of our beloved West Neck Beach, the open water of Cold Spring Harbor, and all the rest of you....That one brought tears to my eyes -- yes, Salt tears! -- because you are now all so much a part of me, as that last image so perfectly reflected....Thank you, thank you, thank you everyone for all of your many gifts, but especially for this gift of you -- "The West Neck Pod." See you in the Salt!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Falling Out of Summer...

Saturday, September 17th, was an eventful and memorable day for the West Neck Pod, which celebrated the impending end of summer with the first-ever annual "Buoy-to-Buoy Sprint" in the morning (for those athletes not participating in the 34th Annual Cow Harbor 10K/2K run!), followed by the annual Swimmers’ End-of-Summer Barbeque at Carol and Carole’s in the afternoon. The Sprint was the brainchild of Pod member Ken Longo, who, along with fellow Pod members, honored me by designating it the "Swim-Moore Buoy-to-Buoy Sprint," and by engineering the first-ever beer toast at the South Buoy....! Despite the distinctly-non-summer-like chill in the 56-degree air, 15 swimmers showed up for the event (happily, the water is still holding on to its summer warmth, measuring a comfortable 69-70 degrees). Ken, who opted not to swim in order to pilot his beer-laden kayak alongside the sprinters, escorted the lead swimmer (who else but our Roman candle, Sal Romanello) along the course from the North Buoy to the South Buoy, then commenced prying off bottle caps and pouring Corona beer into plastic glasses, adding a freshly sliced lime wedge to each, and handing them out to the swimmers as they assembled at the buoy. Short-course (beach to South Buoy) "Buoy-Lite" swimmers/cheerleaders Gae Polisner, Annmarie Kearney-Woods, Bonnie Millen, Harrison Huang, Mindy Deleary, Heather Ciccone, an unknown newcomer and I were already there to welcome Sal and the rest of the Sprinters as they completed their course (roughly in order of finish): Cathy Kabat, Vinny O’Shaughnessy, Rob Ripp, Lloyd Garten, Tim Sullivan, and Nancy Aboff. Sal then led the already high-spirited assemblage in the first-ever open-water beer toast (and, another first for me: beer for breakfast!), and we all swam back to the beach to prepare for the "season-ending party of parties" as Ken has dubbed it!

Shortly after 2:00, Pod members, accompanied by their spouses/partners/significant others/children/friends/and-in-some-cases-dogs, began to arrive at "The Carols’," bearing platters of food and goodies to augment the basic barbeque fare provided by the hostesses, and displaying unsuspected levels of culinary prowess – as well as other gifts and talents well hidden by those skimpy Speedos and bulky wetsuits! As our good friend and hugely talented singer-songwriter-guitarist Cathy Kreger (http://www.cathykreger.com) provided fabulous musical entertainment throughout the afternoon, Pod members Tim Sullivan and Bob Miller, along with Bonnie Millen’s partner Tim Peterson, joined Cathy on the stage (yes, we had a stage!), adding their harmonica/mandolin, banjo and guitar tracks to Cathy’s full-band sound for a rockin’ and rolling’ jam session that had the rest of the audience singing along like groupies!

Also hidden beneath Speedos and wetsuits -- and the real gift of this out-of-our element gathering: depths of conversation and insight not readily observed or shared "at the Buoy" or "at the Sailboat...." What was apparent in this gathering, as it has been for the last several years, is the deepening sense of community shared by the members of the ever-expanding Pod. We are a remarkably diverse, yet remarkably cohesive, group whose shared love of swimming and the open water has opened a pathway to a kinship that parallels that of many extended families....We were gathered to celebrate the end of summer, but more than that, the community and connectedness of the West Neck Pod!
September 23rd marks the Fall Equinox and the official end of summer, but the open-water-swimming season continues – for as long as we can tolerate the dwindling air/water temperatures! The fairest of us all have already hung up their wetsuits, but with the water temperature still in the high 60s and the air temperature in the mid-50s (with a promise of warmer weather in the week ahead), the 2011 open-water swimming season is still in full swing! If you haven’t joined us yet, there’s still time....See you in the Salt!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A memorable swim on a never-to-be-forgotten day...

9-8-11 Heart above Empire State Bldg
This morning's blue sky and brilliant sunshine was itself a tribute to the memory of that terrible day, whose 10th anniversary we commemorated today....The dozen or so swimmers gathered on the beach at West Neck stood together for a long moment of silence, as we remembered those who were lost, honored those who survived, and thanked those who continue to serve and put themselves in harm's way. Rabbi ("The Rabbit") Steve Moskowitz (our resident Man of God) said a few well chosen words of hope and healing, and then we eased ourselves into the Salt for a cleansing, clearing Causeway swim.  Rob Todd had thoughtfully provided us with a brand-new floating Pod Sandal Station (thanks Rob!), so our feet were happy even if our hearts were not....We headed out to the Sailboat mooring against a rip-roaring incoming tide, which had us clinging to the mooring for dear life as we waited for our fellow swimmers to arrive, lest we be instantly flushed all the way back to the beach! Carole, Kathy and Joan decided to forgo swimming for an easy ride back, heads cushioned on their orange flotation buoys as they kicked along lazily while the tide whisked them beachward, prompting Nancy Lipira to threaten to revoke their Pod membership cards and take away their buoys...!
Rob Todd's new Pod Sandal Station
When we returned to the beach, it was still the 10th anniversary of September 11th, a day that will always feel like it happened "only yesterday," but in the Salt, and in the fellowship of the Pod, there is comfort and healing and peace....


Friday, September 9, 2011

We're Back in the Swim!

After seemingly endless days and nights of relentless rain, it was wonderful to finally see the sun -- and to taste the Salt again! Carole, Gae, Nancy Aboff and I reveled in our return to the open water this morning, enjoying a leisurely, invigorating, s-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g-out kind of swim along the Causeway and a silly, giddy, noodling-swim back, in water that already has the crystal-clarity of Fall though the calendar tells us it's still Summer -- at least for a little while yet. But in this post-Labor Day landscape, the new season has already begun...The lifeguard station is shuttered and locked, the swim lines are gone, and the showers are already disconnected, leaving us to mourn not only the end of our ritual ablutions on the beach but our MIA floating Pod-Sandal Station (Rob Martell, we need you!). But the water temperature is still comfortably in the low-70s, you can see all the way down to your feet no matter how tall you are, and the best of this season's open-water swimming is still to come! See you in the Salt!

Monday, September 5, 2011

"Thirty Days [of open-water swimming] hath September...."

In the wake of Hurricane Irene, the usually traumatic transition from August to September went relatively unnoticed by the swimmers of the West Neck Pod. Only a small group (Ken, Tim, Carole, Kathy and I) ventured into the Salt on Thursday for a short, "First of September" swim that was characterized by a shockingly littered seascape -- with the water chock-full of logs, branches, twigs, leaves and other storm washups that, as Ken described, had us constantly "picking our heads up like prairie dogs" as we swam through the debris. 
By Friday the water had cleared again, with only a few remnants of the storm still littering the harbor. Carole, Kathy, Rob Ripp, Rabbi Steve and I enjoyed a wonderfully energizing swim to the Southern Buoy, where we lingered and chatted as I snapped the inevitable photos and videos to memorialize the day. Steve (still a relative newcomer to the Pod and open-water swimming), casually commented, "You know, no offense, but the pictures on Facebook and the Blog all look pretty much the same...." His comment might have stung a little bit but for its undeniable truth. The fact is that the West Neck Pod (or some portion of it) swims the same routes, nearly every day, from the same beach, and in the same harbor, so the scenery, background and subjects tend to be much the same from day to day and week to week, and maybe even year to year. Those of us who have been swimming here year after year appreciate and rely on the constantly changing water and wind and waves and weather to keep it interesting and fresh...but sometimes a little outside perspective is a good thing....
Robb Ripp, recognizing an opportunity to "change it up" for the Pod with a new "photo-op," wasted no time in coaching Carole, Kathy and the surprisingly willing Steve in a carefully choreographed circle-dance in front of the buoy, and my video camera, which even Rabbi Steve must concede produced images never before seen out there by the Southern Buoy!
Inspired, no doubt, by the grace and beauty of Friday's performance, the 20-plus swimmers who turned out for Saturday morning's group swim were easily inveigled by Rob and his cohorts to perform a celebratory end-of-summer circle-dance around the Southern Buoy -- again captured by my video camera as evidence of the not-always-the-same exploits of the West Neck Pod!
By Sunday, when more than 30 swimmers showed up for the 8:00 swim, circle-dances by the buoy were beginning to seem old...so the Pod "changed it up" again with a first-time swim beyond the Southern buoy to the "beach before the jetty," for a two-mile round trip that exhilarated and inspired all those who participated (including Cammi and Ursula, who accompanied us on their stand-up paddleboards and helped keep us safe and on-course -- thanks, you two!).  Everyone lined up on the beach for a water-start return, which was absolutely phenomenal viewed from the water....
Monday's Labor Day swim, though well-attended, seemed almost anticlimactic, with one group opting for the usual "Buoy-to-Buoy-and-back swim" and the rest of us opting for the shorter "Buoy-lite" swim, but here the weather and wind intervened to take this swim out of the ordinary, as all were made to battle a brisk outgoing tide and howling southerly wind that stirred up a sizeable wave-chop.  Also memorable were the coffee, bagels, donuts and muffins we enjoyed on the beach afterwards, as well as the company of our Pod-sister Joye, still striving to heal her badly broken ankle so she can rejoin us in the Salt before this 2011 season closes....

Today's Labor Day swim also marks the completion of my 69th open-water swim of the season -- bringing me that much closer to my season's goal of 100 days of open-water swimming.  As the September air grows disturbingly crisper, I am less certain of reaching that goal -- but I celebrate and am grateful for the memory of each of those 69 days, and the subtle nuances that make each of them unique and different -- even if those endless photographs and videos don't show it...

See you in the Salt!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Swimming in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene...

The ravages of Hurricane Irene, and the resultant Health Department "advisory" that closed 131 Long Island beaches – including West Neck Beach – had Pod members itching and twitching to get back in the Salt by mid-week. Mindful of the Health Department recommendation that "bathers" wait 48 hours and four tidal flushes after a heavy rainfall, by Wednesday morning five of us deemed the water "safe enough" for swimming, even though the health advisory had not yet been officially lifted at 6:30 a.m. (though it was later that day, much to our relief!). But as I pulled into the parking lot at West Neck Beach that morning -- for the first time since Irene swept over our Island -- and viewed the altered landscape, I felt oddly sad and disoriented. The parking lot – which had been underwater days before – was still filled with sand, the beach was littered with logs and branches and other debris, the concrete bench lay broken where the surging tide had dumped it, and the swim lines were cast up on the beach, along with the buoy that demarcated the "Swim Area." The empty boat moorings – too soon for the season -- amplified the sense of strangeness – and this place that was so familiar to me now felt vaguely foreign. As I waded into the water, I felt somewhat apprehensive, not knowing what hazards Hurricane Irene may have hidden there....
We set out towards the Sailboat mooring – Gae, Evelyn, Karen, Cathy Kabat and I – marveling at the comparative cleanliness of the water, even as we dodged the occasional tree branch or other floating remnant of the storm. It was wonderful to swim again – and by the time we reached the mooring, I was starting to feel "normal" again....On the return trip, Karen, Cathy and I were roughly pacing one another (Gae and Evelyn having turned back earlier), and I knew it was Cathy swimming to my left because I saw her orange flotation buoy trailing behind her. So when I stopped to sight midway to the dock, saw Karen to my right, but found that Cathy was nowhere in sight, I became alarmed – especially when I looked back toward the Sailboat mooring and saw an orange flotation buoy in the distance just off the mooring, but moving rapidly northward. My alarm turned to confusion, especially when I saw an unknown, lone swimmer (with no flotation buoy) heading north along the Causeway at a rapid pace. I consulted with Karen, who at first was equally confused, but we finally came to the realization that the orange buoy was Cathy’s, which had somehow become detached from her waist belt, and that she was chasing it down, hell-bent for leather!
Dara Torres certainly has nothing on our Cathy Kabat, who was skimming along the top of the water like l'Hydroptere in full sail, and who caught up with her buoy before it reached Fort Hill Beach! Karen and I swam back to meet her, and we all swam back together giddily, all the tension of the morning now lifted, and glad to be back home in the Salt for this last, wonderful swim of August 2011!