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 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!


  1. Hi Carol, great blog! I just discovered it while searching for information about the springs that give Cold Spring Harbor its name. Are they truly cold? Have you ever measured the water temperature at the springs? photos? do the waters flow directly into the harbor, or do they collect in a pond first? just curious and thought you might know!

  2. Thanks for your comment. I'm afraid I don't have much information about the harbor's "cold springs," but, yes, I can assure you THEY ARE COLD! The springs feed directly into the harbor from underground, and you can feel the difference in water temperature as you swim over them. I've never measured the temperature (my laser thermometer is not waterproof), but in some spots, and at some times, the water feels arctic! It's very refreshing in the Summer -- not so much now! I hope you'll share the results of your research with the West Neck Pod -- it's a fascinating topic and obviously very relevant to us!

  3. Hi Carol,


    That's about all I've found so far (52F and 50-65F) but it's a different location. from what you posted, sounds like your springs well up from the seabed. It looks like the sea temps get pretty chilly in the winter, so the springs probably feel warmer than the sea for some months?


  4. Cold Spring Harbor has very interesting water temperature during this season. The influx of very cold fresh water from the springs feeding into the harbor, the rapidly cooling salt water ( making it less dense ) and rain water makes the temperature in the harbor move dramatically at times. Somedays the water is truly "faster" soley due to salinity and water temp.

    By December, it will be definitely be in the 30s. By January it will drop to the very low 30s and very high 20s. ( crystalized )

    I have heard rumors that some people are still swimming , miles at a time.

  5. If those rumors are true, I know of at least one blogger who'd love to get a picture or two...!