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, November 27, 2011

Last Swim of November??

The still-swimmin'-wimmin of the West Neck Pod -- Carole Wickham, Annmarie Kearney-Wood, Gae Polisner and I -- were joined for this morning's swim by Rob -- no, not Rob Todd, and not Rob Martell, but the other, other, long-absent-from-the-open-water-RobRob Ripp! Also joining us for the first time this November was Marc Leahy, accompanied by his land-hugging wife Kathleen (who took most of these pictures) and two dogs, who also wisely waited on the beach.  The water temperature was right around 49 degrees, which felt very tolerable to us well-acclimated women but was quite shocking to the men, especially since neither was wearing the insulated booties and gloves that make the cold water bearable to the rest of us. They credited themselves nicely, though, once their hands and feet got numb and they adjusted to the biting cold on their faces and leveled out their breathing...eventually they were grinning as widely as the women as we all swam to the yellow sign where we exchanged high-fives before heading back against a strong outgoing tide.  Marc, having earned his November OWS chops, says he'll see us in the early Spring, but it looks like Rob Ripp has finally remembered who he is and (at least once he buys his booties and gloves) will be joining us for our first December swim....!  See you in the Salt!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

"Indian Summer" Comes to West Neck Beach

The recent summer-like conditions continued for yet another day, and "Pod-Father" Rob Martell was one of the first to savor the gorgeous conditions at West Neck Beach this morning.  He was just finishing up his swim as I arrived for the 11:00 shift, and, with the air temperature already close to 60 degrees, confirmed that we (Annmarie Kearney-Wood, Carole Wickham and I) could expect a delightful high-tide swim in flat, calm water.  He recommended that we start our swim at the north end of the parking lot and swim northward along the Causeway, where, he assured us, the water was at least five degrees warmer. He was right, and we enjoyed a delightful and decidedly warmer swim, encountering a pair of friendly kayakers and this very large work-boat along the way.  By the time we returned to the beach, the sun was high in the sky, and we stripped off our wetsuits and stood drying in the warm sun, where we were ogled by scores of beach-goers who were astonished to see people swimming on November 26th!  "Rich," a Water-Blog reader who normally swims alone at Callahan's Beach on Long Island Sound, was suiting up in the parking lot as we were leaving, and we shared some advice about where to swim and what to watch out for before he set off for his first-ever solo swim in Cold Spring Harbor. We hope he enjoyed his swim as much as we did ours...!

Tomorrow's weather is predicted to be a little cooler and cloudier but otherwise much the same as today -- so we'll continue to take advantage of these unseasonable conditions and grab one more November swim...See you in the Salt tomorrow (Sunday) at 11:30!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving -- With a Dash of Salt!

If it weren't for the 42-degree temperatures, you could have mistaken this bright, clear, sunny, Thanksgiving morning for a mid-summer's day, especially when a half dozen wetsuited swimmers jumped into the water and started swimming like gangbusters! Annmarie Kearney-Wood and I were there, of course, as was Rob Todd as the lone representative of his gender (except for Sal Romanello, who came with his children to cheer us on from the beach and took this photo of what he termed "The Turkey Swim"!). Also coming out of early retirement to swim in the chilly waters were Gae Polisner and Kathy and Carole Wickham, the latter still recovering from her injured shoulder but no longer able to resist the call of the sea!  Pod member Bonnie Millen and her dog Willow watched us incredulously from the beach, until pressed into photographic service by Gae, whose fingers were too cold to hold the camera, so Bonnie took most of the pictures and videos below -- thanks, Bonnie!  We six enjoyed another lovely, energizing, invigorating swim, which whetted our appetites not only for our impending Thanksgiving feasts, but for our next open-water swim....Now that November's almost over, we've got our goggle sights set on December...!  We'll keep you posted. In the meantime, Happy Thanksgiving to all, and much gratitude to this beach, this body of water, and this Pod.... See you in the Salt!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Bye-bye, buoys....!

This year’s model of the "Pod-Sandal-Station" was sitting high and dry on the sand at the high-tide mark when Rob Todd, Annmarie Kearney-Wood and I arrived at West Neck Beach on Saturday morning for the planned 11:00 morning swim. The clasp that tethered the buoy chain to its concrete anchor had broken, and – the tide having receded in the meantime – the buoy was a mere tide-change away from being lost forever. Rob Todd, who had thoughtfully placed the device for the tender-footed Pod after the swim lines were pulled from the water in early September (prematurely, we thought), carried the buoy carefully to his car, promising to clean it up and bring it back "better than ever" next season. Then we laboriously dragged the concrete anchor from the shallow water up across the beach to the parking lot, leaving a long, deep trail in the sand that would leave late-day beachgoers wondering....
Our chores done, we turned our attention to the whitecapped waves breaking on the beach and the wind howling across the water, which made the air feel vastly colder than the thermometer indicated. The idea of swimming in those conditions seemed harrowing and potentially crazy, and we ducked into the lee of the wind behind the bathhouse as we weighed our options: We could forgo today’s swim altogether and try for tomorrow, which was forecast to be even warmer...or, since we were already here, and it was a gorgeous, albeit windy, sunny day, we could suck it up, suit up, and get in the water and swim! After considerable hemming and hawing, we chose the latter – and numerous shrieks and nine strokes later were still regretting our decision as the icy water sliced through our wetsuits and stung our faces, hands and feet. Our faces bright red from the cold, we wondered aloud if we could do this...and then, as we took our tenth, determined stroke through the icy waves, we felt the tectonic shift that has marked every one of our late-season swims so far, as we uniformly proclaimed, "You know, it’s not so bad!," and put our faces down and just kept swimming...Rob Todd, who'd finally yielded to my importuning and put on the insulated booties I kept offering him, quickly outpaced Annmarie and I, his cozy-toesies fueling a sprint to the North Buoy and back on a long, meandering course "way out there" that had me fretting for his safety while Annmarie and I more or less hugged the shoreline in front of the beach. Hopefully Rob got a good long last look at the north buoy, because, like the Pod-Sandal-Station, both it and the south buoy were gone from the water by Tuesday, along with the rest of the boat moorings, leaving the harbor empty and vast....but with no more danger of Rob tearing the top of his head open on a mooring ball like he did last year!

Sunday kept its promise of even warmer weather, and Annmarie and I returned to West Neck Beach for an even more amazing and exhilarating and invigorating late-morning swim as Joye, Carole and Kathy (and the dogs!) watched from the beach.  Adopting some of the suggestions of Cold-Warrior Rob Martell, whose recent HUMS blogpost on cold-water swimming is destined to be a Pod classic (http://hums.blogspot.com/2011/11/cold-water-swimming.html), we wore extra "compression" layers under our wetsuits, and were amazed at how much warmer our hands and feet felt with that extra protection for our cores (oh, and my "grande" soy chai tea latte from Starbucks also helped -- not to mention the encouragement from Liz Perlstein, whom I bumped into there!).  We stayed in far longer than our initial squeals getting in would have suggested, exchanging exhilarated high-fives when we eventually tore ourselves from the water with a now familiar reluctance that grows more intense with each successive late-season swim....The water is cold, and getting colder, and our open-water swims grow increasingly symbolic as their length and distance wane....

But we're not ready to give it up yet, and with Thanksgiving approaching, what could be more symbolic than a Thanksgiving Day Open-Water Swim to express our gratitude for an open-water season that continues to thrill and inspire us! So, this year our Thanksgiving "Turkey-Trot" will take us to the beach, across the sand and into the water for an 11:00 (in the water!) open-water swim at West Neck Beach! Late-season regular Gae Polisner, who bowed out for the last two swims, is apparently thinking about joining us -- maybe you will, too!  See you in the Salt! -- and Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Late-Season Swims "Cold Comfort" for Pod Members!

The wave of swimmers hitting the water at the beginning of the open-water season has now slowed to a trickle, if not an occasional drip, as water temperatures in Cold Spring Harbor have dipped into the low 40s. Air temperatures have danced crazily between the low 30s and the high 60s, sometimes in a single day, while we "holdout" swimmers anxiously watch the thermometer for the window of opportunity to open for "just one more" open-water swim. Weekday early morning swims are now out of the question, even with the end of daylight savings time, as the beach is too dark and too cold for pleasurable swimming, so we are relegated to the afternoons, weekends, days off, or borrowed or stolen times when a fellow conspirator calls or texts and says, "Let’s go!" – a call that none of us has ever regretted answering...Today, Election Day, was one of those days. The air temperature had wafted up to 65 degrees under a brilliant sun in a clear blue sky, and even the water temperature had risen to nearly the 50-degree mark, so "frequent flyers" Annmarie Kearney-Wood and I (Gae Polisner having been summoned for "refrigerator-repairman duty") suited up for yet another glorious open-water swim in this still-ongoing 2011 open-water season.  It seems like the cold weather came earlier this year than last, but the threshold of tolerance for the cold seems to have changed for we Pod members who have not yet left the now-very-chilly water. Where last year an open-water swim was unthinkable if the air temperature was not at least 45 and the water temperature at least 50, those numbers have now become meaningless.  For me, the determinant remains whether I am still able to enjoy the experience of being in the open water notwithstanding the cold, but I am finding that that is the case even when the temperature of both the air and the water is a scant 42...
As my tolerance for cold has increased, my tolerance for heat appears to have diminished, so when I ventured into the YMCA pool one weekday morning last week, I was horrified -- and nearly asphyxiated -- by the 85 degree water temperature. With my body made heavy by the heat, the unaccustomed lack of saline- and wetsuit-assisted buoyancy also hindered me, and I labored to pull myself through the chlorine-scented water that seemed thin as it slid between my fingers. Eighteen strokes later, I was at the wall, and as I turned to face the wall I had just left behind, I felt my heart sinking, until it felt as heavy as my body in the hot, still water. Back and forth I swam until I could no longer bear the heat or the heartache, and when I left, I sat for a long moment in my parked car, once again tasting the Salt as it ran down my cheek....
I haven’t been back to the Y since, and despite the sometimes heart-stopping coldness of the open water, it still feels more pleasant to me than a return to that box of hot water that we call a pool. It seems that the thing that has changed the most in me – and in more than a few of my fellow Pod members – is that I am no longer merely a "swimmer." I am now, first, foremost, and forever, an "open-water swimmer," and I am compelled to keep swimming, and to extend the boundaries of my open-water season as far as possible before I am forced to go back to the pool – if, indeed, I even can. That remains to be seen, but in the meantime, I’ll see you in the Salt!