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!

Monday, May 30, 2011

A Not-So-Memorable Memorial Day

 Violent early morning thunderstorms dashed the Pod’s plans for a Memorial Day swim – for everyone, that is, except Tony Santomauro, Mike Paradise, Greg and Magda...Undeterred by the raging tempest, they headed for the beach, waited the requisite time until the last of the thunder and lightning had died away, then entered the water, despite the glowering skies and the steady rain that continued to fall. Also undeterred by the rain, as reported by Tony, were the jellyfish, whose early arrival had been noted by the weekend’s swimmers, and additional throngs of which had apparently been driven into the harbor by the storm and the incoming tide. As with the weekend’s group, today’s swimmers passed harmlessly through the gelatinous invaders, whose tentacles appear to have been rendered innocuous, perhaps by the water that’s still chilly by jellyfish standards. Whatever the reason, Pod swimmers are grateful to be spared close jellyfish encounters of the painful kind. As every open-water swimmer knows (and will soon undoubtedly be humming as they swim), when it comes to jellyfish, "It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that sting [doo-wa, doo-wa, doo-wa, doo-wa, doo-wa...]"!!

Weekday swim schedules this week – the first week of June! – will be posted on Facebook and/or e-mails; weekend swims will be at 8:00 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday. See you in the Salt!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Day Two of the 2011 Open Water Swimming Season

Well, the thermometer still read 66 degrees, but the squeals of the swimmers as they entered the water this morning said otherwise....With the sky still overcast and the sun having not yet burned its way through the clouds, the water felt significantly colder to this morning's flock of 16 or so swimmers, especially those like Peter and Rob Ripp who swam sans wetsuits! The southwest wind had kicked up overnight, too, to throw a pesky chop in the faces of the returning swimmers, but neither that, nor the jellies that dotted the water (still no stings reported!) dampened the spirits of the swimmers in this second official swim of the 2011 season.
Returnees from yesterday Gae, Annmarie, Carole, Margot, Brett, Steve, Joye and I were joined today by Coriander, Rob Ripp, Pete, Rob Todd, Nancy, and Joan (Rob Martell and Christine having taken an earlier dunk before their run -- beware, parking outside the still-locked gate got them both tickets!), and the sun was shining brightly by the time the last swimmers returned to the Beach.  Hopefully it will be again tomorrow,  when the West Neck Pod reconvenes on the Beach at 8:00 a.m. for a Memorial Day Swim!  See you in the Salt!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

"Hooray, Hooray for the 28th of May...Outdoor Swimming Starts Today!!"

Nearly 25 swimmers turned out at West Neck Beach this morning to mark the official start of the 2011 Open-Water-Swimming Season! Striking off from the beach in several waves between 6:30 and 8:30, even the early swimmers (Rob and Christine, followed by Carole, Kathy, Gae and Annmarie) were treated to the same crystal-clear and astonishingly temperate water that Joye Brown and I enjoyed in our preview swim yesterday, and that Margot, Adam, Carla, Don, Scott, Tim, Tom, Steve, Kara, Cathy, Kaitlyn, Sara, Sal, Liz, Joye and Sue, et al. got to enjoy in the later waves today). 
And today, contradicting Newsday's report, the thermometer that Carole hung from the swim lines confirmed what our senses were telling us: that, at 66 degrees, the water is surprisingly warm for late May -- even for those wearing sleeveless wetsuits -- and far warmer than at last year's Memorial Day Weekend season start!  (Perhaps the warmish temperatures account for the large numbers of jellyfish that were spotted below us as we swam, but no stings were reported, and their presence seemed as benign as the water temperature. Hopefully, the jellies will be gone by late June, as they were the last time they made such an early appearance!)

For this inaugural swim most of us, still finding our sea-legs (and our sea-arms), ventured only to "the yellow sign" and back, but some hearties went the distance, swimming all the way to "the house at the end of the Causeway" (the iconic "Sailboat" not yet having taken its accustomed place at the mooring).  All swimmers emerged from the water grinning and glowing, and looking forward to their next sojourn into the Salt....
For me, that'll be tomorrow (Sunday) morning at 8:00 -- hope to see you then!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Raising the Flag on a new open-water season...

In a fitting prelude to the Memorial Day Weekend which begins tomorrow, the faded, tattered flag that had graced the flagpole at West Neck Beach for many seasons past, and had given constant, faithful, critical notice to us open-water swimmers of the wind's direction and strength, was finally replaced this morning. "Adam" of the Town of Huntington's General Services Department did the honors, as his fellow workers busied themselves cleaning and raking the beach to make it ready for the Memorial Day weekend.

 A bevy of toddlers and their parents, gathered for a two-year-old's birthday party, watched the Town's payloader make pass after pass over the beach, raking up a winter's worth of beach straw and other marine detritus. The bravest of them waded in the water, but it was Joye Brown and I, there to preview conditions for tomorrow's opening day swim, who were the first (and only!) to take the plunge!  And what a plunge it was!  Despite Newsday's ominous reports of 54 degree water temperatures, we found the temperature almost pleasantly comfortable, and both of us forbore the insulated booties and gloves we had so carefully packed.  In deference to my still-healing broken ribs we didn't swim far (only to the dock and back), but we honored the Pod's venerable buoy-chat tradition by lingering in the water for a long time afterwards! If today's preview swim is any indication of what is to come, this 2011 open-water swimming season is going to be the best ever!  See you in the Salt!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

"Fran Schnarr" Is Dead...

For nearly the last 20 years, the open-water swimming community has paid tribute to the memory of Fran Schnarr, a long-time advocate and champion of swimming, who died in December of 1991. This tribute took the form of the "Fran Schnarr Memorial 5K in the Bay," an annual swimming race held in early July and venued in the challenging waters of Huntington Bay on the North Shore of Long Island. From time to time the race, which routinely included age-group events for children, also included a 10K competition, and the Fran Schnarr Memorial race consistently attracted world-class competitors from around the globe. Most notable among these is seven-time World Marathon Swimming Champion Shelley Taylor-Smith, a close personal friend of Fran Schnarr and her family who has swum this event several times, most recently in 2010. So venerable is the tradition of the Fran Schnarr Memorial Swim that in July 2010 the United States Coast Guard established a permanent Special Local Regulation to protect the swimmers and their safety craft, which was published in the Federal Register and is a permanent part of the Congressional record (Federal Register, Vol. 75, No. 128, Tuesday, July 6, 2010, Rules and Regulations, p. 38710).

With but a few exceptions, the Fran Schnarr Memorial Swim has been organized and directed nearly every year since its inception by Bea Hartigan, a Huntington resident and long-time friend of Fran Schnarr, whose grown children still fondly refer to Bea as "Mrs. H." Like Fran Schnarr herself, Bea is also a lifelong swimming advocate, and her many contributions to the sport were recently recognized in an article on Steven Munatone’s reknowned blog, The Daily News of Open Water Swimming (http://www.dailynewsofopenwaterswimming.com/2011/02/bea-all-you-can-bea.html) and in the Huntington Patch on January 31, 2011 (http://huntington.patch.com/articles/bea-hartigan-steps-up). In 2008, Bea, a swimming coach, first aid instructor, meet director and official with Metropolitan Swimming, the local chapter of USA Swimming, was inducted into the Metropolitan Swimming Hall of Fame.

As she had every year since she first undertook shepherdship of the event, in January 2011 Bea Hartigan submitted her usual sanction application to USA Swimming for the "2011 Fran Schnarr Memorial 5K in the Bay" – what would have been the event’s 20th anniversary. Instead of being granted in due course, however, as it had been in past years, the application was "tabled" and then, on February 26, 2010, denied on the basis of unspecified "situations that arose in previous years." On learning of the denial, I spoke with representatives of the Open Water Committee of USA Swimming as well as the Metropolitan local masters swimming committee (LMSC) of US Masters Swimming, who told me bluntly that the Fran Schnarr Memorial race would not be sanctioned "if Bea Hartigan has anything to do with it." When questioned about the reasons for such a drastic restriction (apparently without any disciplinary action having been taken, and without "due process" and a fair hearing), the representatives only spoke vaguely of "problems" with past events.

As a veteran of three past "Fran Schnarr 5K in the Bay" swims (2007, 2008 and 2010), and as a spectator at the 2009 event, I can confirm that there have been "problems" with some of the recent races that did NOT have to do with devilishly freakish currents and occasional jellyfish infestations that are hallmarks of the Fran Schnarr swim. In 2009, the eastern turnaround boat inexplicably – and unforgivably – simply failed to arrive, leaving swimmers confused and disoriented and rendering the results uncertifiable. Last year (2010) a contretemps ensued involving the disqualification of a 10K swimmer for allegedly illegal contact with his support kayak, which was later reversed (without, however, reversing the bitter controversy that ensued). Reportedly, some of the younger swimmers also went amuck last year and crashed the pool and members’ cabanas at the Bay Club where the race has historically been held. In other years, the race has not always started on time, there have been too few marker buoys and/or kayakers to keep swimmers on course, and the timekeepers have sometimes seemed uncertain and overwhelmed. Still, despite the "problems," I (and innumerable other Fran Schnarr veterans) have treasured every one of my "Fran Schnarr" races, and have admired and appreciated Bea Hartigan for her virtually single-handed efforts in making the race happen, year after year after year. Indeed, if Bea is to be faulted for anything, it may be her predilection for "singlehandedness" and a tendency to try to "do it all" – which peccadillo unfortunately appears to have invoked the rancor of the sanctioning bodies and/or their leaders.

Determined to keep the "Fran Schnarr Memorial 5K in the Bay" alive, a group of local Huntington swimmers (myself included) immediately convened to lend our support in the hopes that a "committee" approach to organizing the race would deflect any personal animosity of the sanctioning organizations towards Bea Hartigan. Our plan was to "track" the Huntington-Cold Spring Harbor 1 & 2 Mile Swim planning process, with which several of us were intimately involved (and which was being organized by the open-water chairpersons of USA Swimming), and thus ensure that all sanctioning requirements were met. Despite our involvement, we were told by the sanctioning officials that if Bea was involved in any "official" capacity, as anything other than a mere "volunteer," the race would not be sanctioned. Period.

In light of the fact that Bea Hartigan is one of but a handful of local officials certified to direct open-water events, her exclusion from the planning process was devastating. More devastating still was the reaction of the Schnarr family – Fran Schnarr’s adult children, who had been avid sponsors and supporters of the race since its inception. Faced with this extremely onerous constraint, and the insult embodied in the relegation of their friend Bea Hartigan to the role of a mere anonymous volunteer in a race that bore their mother’s name, the Schnarr family requested that the committee discontinue its efforts, and withdrew its sponsorship and support. Reluctantly, the committee agreed to defer to the wishes of the Schnarr family, and accordingly, there will be no "Fran Schnarr Memorial 5K in the Bay" in 2011....or ever again. An innocent victim of organizational politics and personalities, the "Fran Schnarr Memorial 5K in the Bay" is, after nearly 20 years, dead....

Rest in peace, Fran Schnarr....May your memory live on....

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The 2011 Open-Water Swimming Season Is...OPEN!!

Rob Martell in his 2010 Halloween swim garb
  True to his Canadian roots, Pod member Rob Martell(a/k/a "The Crazy Canadian"), whose last swim of the 2010 open-water season was on December 19th, continues to expand the outer boundaries of the open-water swimming season, taking to the Salt again for the first open-water swim of the 2011 season on Sunday, May 15th!! Rob's two-and-a-half-minute swim in 53-degree water, under grey, cloudy skies, without a wetsuit, marks the earliest documented open-water swim in the recorded history of the West Neck Pod, and throws down the gauntlet for his still-pool-bound swimming fellows in his adopted country to the South.  Rob's exploit was captured on video and posted by fellow Pod member Rob Todd on the West Neck Pod's Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/pages/West-Neck-Pod/128827940504281), where you can almost hear the sound of Rob's teeth chattering above the sprightly music of the soundtrack! (also check out the first of Rob Todd's series of instructional swim videos designed to help the Pod improve its technical proficiency...)

While Rob Martell may now hold the Pod record for the longest open water season (May 29-December 19, 2010), and has evidently entered his bid for 2011, the competition for highest number of open-water swims in a season is still open, and begins when the next Pod member hits the open water!  For me, that will be the Memorial Day weekend (as my broken ribs continue to heal)...See you all in the Salt then!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Register Online Now for the First Annual Huntington/Cold Spring Harbor 1 & 2 Mile Swim!

As the most punishing winter in recent memory drew to its inevitable close, Salt-deprived members of the West Neck Pod joined with local representatives of US Masters Swimming and USA Swimming to organize the first-ever Huntington/Cold Spring Harbor 1 & 2 Mile Swim, to be held at West Neck Beach on Sunday, June 26, 2011.  A benefit to support the Huntington YMCA's children's swim scholarship program, this sanctioned event will also include a 400-meter swim for children ten and under, and will feature both wetsuit and nonwetsuit divisions.  On-line registration opened this week -- follow these links to register for the USMS, Open, and USA Swimming divisions:
US Masters Swimming:
 https://www.clubassistant.com/club/meet_information.cfm?c=1743&smid=3166 (register as a member of the Huntington Masters Swim Team ["HUMS"] and swim for the "Home Team"!)
USA Swimming:

Although the water temperatures are still hovering around the 50-degree mark, West Neck Pod members expect to hit the Salt again by Memorial Day weekend at the latest (check the Blog for dates and times). Come join us and start training for the First Annual Huntington/Cold Spring Harbor 1 & 2 Mile Swim!  See you in the Salt!