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!

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!

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