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 11, 2012

"Last Out, First In"...OWS Resumes After Hurricane Sandy

Rob Todd and I had the last pre-Hurricane Sandy OWS at West Neck Beach the day before the hurricane hit nearly two weeks ago....Post-hurricane power outages, gasoline shortages, and concerns about lingering storm debris kept the rest of the Pod out of the water until this morning, when, fittingly, it was Rob Todd who was the first back in, with an 8 a.m. post-Sandy solo buoy swim. I would have joined him, but my left hand is heavily bandaged after surgery last week and I can't swim until the stitches come out.  I couldn't even drive myself to the beach to see him off, and Carole was teaching an early morning yoga class and couldn't take me.  A few hours later, though, her class over, Carole trundled me and the dogs down to the beach in time to watch Gae Polisner and Annmarie-Kearney-Wood as they followed Rob into the Salt.  I hadn't been to West Neck Beach since the day after the hurricane, and the warmish air and brilliant sunshine, and even the salt-scented wind that blew steadily across the water, felt wonderful to me, even if I couldn't join my comrades in the water (which Rob had already warned us was "cold -- in the 40's for sure").  Annmarie was ready first, and I walked with her down to the water's edge, where I handed her my laser thermometer so she could check the water temperature.  Before we knew what was happening, Gae -- whose heat and electricity were only restored yesterday, and who was clearly suffering from an advanced case of cabin fever -- exuberantly tackled Annmarie, plunging them both -- and the thermometer --  into the salt water.  When Annmarie emerged, still clutching the now-dripping thermometer, its digital screen blinked crazily, and the number "39" flashed weakly for several moments before the screen went blank...But how cold was it?? As I had cautioned Annmarie just moments before her crazed companion tossed her into the drink, the thermometer is not waterproof, so the number "39" may have been merely the random output of an electronic device in its death throes and not an accurate reading of the actual water temperature.  The truth is, now we'll never know for sure how cold the water was today, for the first open-water swim since Hurricane Sandy...But there's one thing we do know: Hurricane Sandy has claimed another victim....See you in the Salt.


More cheerleaders arrive

Gae and Annmarie emerge cold but happy (How cold? Don't ask!)

Joye Brown, applauding our brave Polar Podders

Saturday, October 13, 2012

"Cross-County" Swim Crossed-Off by Cold Weather...

Mother Nature, which gracefully provided the West Neck Pod with a blissfully warm, unimaginably long and immeasurably wonderful open-water season last year, has proven herself this season as fickle as innumerable poems paint her...The Pod's long-awaited "Cross-County Swim" across Cold Spring Harbor, which we had carefully planned for the "post-season" when boat traffic would be minimal, was the latest casualty to her caprice, as air temperatures the night before our planned adventure suddenly plummeted into the low 30s...By 8:00 Saturday morning, the temperature was still only 37 degrees -- but Paul Coster, Marc Leahy, Rob Ripp, Annmarie Kearney-Wood, Bonnie Millen, Ken Longo and I were there to "test the waters" -- along with our faithful Pod-dle Boarder Cammy Derosa, and volunteer kayaker Chris....The sun was shining brightly and there was only the barest trace of wind, and the water lay flat and calm, looking for all the world as if we could simply walk across the harbor from Suffolk to Nassau County....But the air temperature was only 37 degrees -- and the beach in Cove Neck was nearly a mile away, and the currents in the middle of the harbor would be stronger, and the water would be colder, and getting out on the other side would be colder still, and we'd still have to swim all the way back, and hypothermia was a real concern, and if anyone did get into trouble somewhere out there, how would we get them back...?  These thoughts and questions were tossed around the parking lot like a football as the assemblage mulled over the pros and cons of proceeding with the swim....In the end, caution settled like a wet blanket over our high hopes, and a buoy swim was deemed the only prudent option.  Paul, Rob, Marc and Annmarie were by then the only takers (Bonnie, Ken, the dogs and I opting to loiter on the beach), and when the swimmers' bright red selves reemerged from the water (especially, Rob, wearing only his "shortie" wetsuit), all agreed that -- regrettable as it was to pass up what might be our last "big swim" opportunity this season -- keeping the swim close to home was the wisest choice in the circumstances.  We all shared hot tea on the beach afterwards, which eventually eased Rob's shivering, but he, Paul and Marc were already gone when impromptu Pod cheerleaders Carole Wickham, Joye Brown and Nancy Aboff arrived for what they'd thought would be a post-crossing congratulatory celebration -- complete with Dunkin Donuts' hot chocolate and Munchkins thoughtfully provided by Nancy (thanks, Nancy!).  Disappointed that our plans were thwarted, but not disheartened, we celebrated anyway, enjoying Mother Nature's gift of a cold but beautiful morning on the shore of our favorite beach...See you in the Salt! 

Cammy and "Rocket" escort the swimmers into the water

Rocket decides he doesn't want to be left behind

Bonnie with Willow

Hey, it's 37 degrees out!

Annmarie and Nancy

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

"Road Trip" Tripped Up by Mother Nature...Almost....!

The days preceding our already-once-weather-postponed "Road Trip" to Foster's Memorial Beach ("Long Beach") in Sag Harbor -- now rescheduled for Columbus Day -- were marked by declining temperatures and lots of rain -- including a late overnight shower...One by one, prospective "Road Trippers" defected, and by our planned departure time of 7:00 a.m. only five were left -- just enough to fill the "Pod-mobile" and allow room for gear and grub. Carole Wickham, Kathy Wickham, Karen Ruth and I set off from Huntington, picking up Annmarie Kearney-Wood and her freshly baked crumbcake along the way, and anxiously watching the thermometer as it gradually crept upwards from the low 40s into the low 50s as we made our way eastward and the sun broke through the remaining clouds. We arrived at our destination to find Long Beach in turmoil -- with a chilly northerly wind whipping the surface of Noyac Bay into whitecaps as wave after wave rolled in to the shore. Annmarie and I were undeterred, but Carole, Kathy and Karen voted to retreat inland, so after a quick detour to Big Fresh Pond in Southampton where we dropped off the dissidents and their gear, Annmarie and I returned to Long Beach where we enjoyed a lively, delicious swim in cool, clear, delightfully salty water....
It really is a l-o-n-g beach!

We would have kept swimming forever, but mindful that our Pod-mates were stranded without us, we cut our swim short and, still in our wetsuits, headed back to Big Fresh Pond. Carole, Kathy and Karen were still basking in the windless, flat, calm, and significantly warmer water, so Annmarie and I jumped in for a quick swim across, happy to be able to rinse our wetsuits and our bodies in the fresh water of the pond and add an easy half-mile to our yardage! Once on land we all toweled off, changed to dry clothes, and hunkered down at a nearby picnic table for a feast of bagels, crumbcake and hot coffee. 

Annmarie, wait! I have to put the camera away!
Karen and Annmarie

Yeah, what about it?

There's one here, too!
The ride home was peppered with politics and personal revelations, as well as promises of a return trip next year, for our Third Annual Road Trip to Long Beach in Sag Harbor...Maybe you'll join us....See you in the Salt!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Shine On, Harvest Moon...

Despite the promise of last night's Harvest Moon, which shown brightly through the few clouds that remained in the late evening sky, this morning, just like the several before it, broke grey and cloudy...Even the sun slept in, and it was nearly 7:30 before the sky had lightened enough to confirm that it was actually daylight. The gloominess of the sky was not, however, reflected in the water, which had regained its pristine clarity and, once we put our faces to it, glowed a soft marine green beneath the murky skies. The water temperature remained in the high 60s, and I was comfortable enough in my sleeveless wetsuit, though I lagged behind the full-suited Rob Todd, Ken Longo, Lynn Perzetstzy and Chris Vasallo (no, that's not why, but it makes me feel better to write it...!). The full moon had given the incoming tide a power boost, and it took me 25 minutes just to slog my way to the white rock, which Chris and I decided was far enough. We lingered long enough to watch the long-absent sun make a sudden guest appearance across the Sound, lighting up the distant Connecticut skyline like a birthday cake, then we both turned back for a much faster and easier ride home. Rob, Ken and Lynn continued on to the empty mooring, the Sailboat having apparently departed the harbor for its winter quarters, and then they too flew back on the incoming tide. Gae, Bonnie and Annmarie had gotten a late start and were in various stages of comings and goings, leaving Annmarie to press on alone to the white rock, unseen as we bypassed one another. By the time we all made our way back to the beach, the sun had burned blue holes in the skies above us, and was spreading its oblique autumn light across the harbor and warming my heart as well as my bare arms! Even more heart-warming was the sight of Kara Martinsen waiting for us on the beach, with hot Dunkin' Donuts coffee and Munchkins for everyone! ...Not a bad way to say goodbye to September, hello to October, and Happy Birthday to Rob Todd, whose birthday was today, and a belated Happy Birthday to Chris Vasallo, whose 50th birthday was the 28th...(If I'd known this was a BIRTHDAY swim, I would have worn my birthday suit!)

Wake me when we hit the water

Happy 50th Birthday, Chris Vassallo!


Monday's a day off for me, then it's back in the Salt Tuesday morning at 6:30 for my first open-water swim of October 2012! See you then!


Saturday, September 29, 2012

Still Savoring the September Salt

Yesterday's day-long on-and-off rain and this morning's grey, overcast skies and chilly temperatures made the idea of an open-water swim unappetizing for most, and only five swimmers besides me showed up at West Neck Beach this morning for the 8 a.m. swim.  Greg and Magda Petryk were the first in while Paul Coster, Karen Ruth and newbie Andrew Zitofsky suited up on the beach and I waded in for a temperature reading (Andrew's actually been swimming regularly at West Neck with his Tri-pal Jonah Gruda, but this was his first OWS with the Pod).  Surprisingly, the water temperature had actually climbed back up to 69 degrees from 64 degrees a few days ago, but the 55 degree air temperature and the gloomy weather made it feel colder than it actually was.  The water had somewhat lost its crystal clarity, too, and there was a suspiciously unpleasant odor emanating from the water that went beyond the usual low-tide pungency.  Still, on the theory that E. coli is no more smellable than it is visible, and with only two swimming days left in the month of September (and perhaps because we were all suffering from cabin fever!), we plunged in (after first tying up our flip-flops at the Floating Pod Sandal Station -- thanks again, Rob Todd!).  Unsure whether those cloudy skies harbored the potential for thunder and lightning, we opted for a close-to-home buoy swim despite the incoming tide, and headed first to the north buoy so we could at least enjoy a long, fast run to the south buoy. Paul Coster loped his way there with his usual long, slow strokes, making it all look easy and arriving minutes before Karen and I, followed shortly thereafter by Andrew, and we all enjoyed our usual "buoy chat," made memorable by Paul's observation -- in his inimitable, clipped, British accent -- about the "latrine-like" quality of the water....That launched us rapidly toward the north buoy, where Karen and I called it quits and headed for the beach, while Paul, who was just getting warmed up, it seems, and Andrew, who's training for a triathlon and needed to get in some serious distance, continued on toward the yellow sign....None of us have shown any symptoms of infection yet, so unless we succumb during the night, we'll be back tomorrow -- hopefully with better weather!

Magda, heading towards the south buoy
See you in the Salt!

Monday, September 10, 2012

"I Need The Sea Because It Teaches Me"...

Carole Wickham's photo from our whale-watch tour
...and then of course I needed to buy the ridiculously expensive tee-shirt on which that message was inscribed, because it was so ineffably true, as this weekend had once again proven....Carole and I were in Provincetown visiting friends for a long weekend, the highlight of which (after the whale watch on Friday afternoon) was intended to be the 25th Annual Swim for Life and Paddler Flotilla in Provincetown. I had first participated in this annual 1.4-mile open-water swim across Provincetown Harbor (a fundraiser for AIDS, women's health and the Provincetown community) some four or five years before, and had found it both challenging and enchanting....Aside from its quaint town and picturesque harbor, Provincetown is renowned for its quirky and creative inhabitants, and it was a unique and memorable experience to be welcomed ashore by hundreds of gaily costumed (ahem) supporters shouting encouragement and waving pom-poms and feather boas!  I was looking forward to repeating the experience and sharing it with Carole (who had been a spectator the last time around). But when I walked into the living room a few weeks ago and found Carole mesmerized in front of the TV, watching -- of all things -- "Shark Week," everything changed.  I, too, found myself riveted by the gripping scenes of massive sharks leaping from the water and tearing apart seals and other hapless victims.  Helpless to resist, I plopped myself down on the couch beside her, unable to stop watching the horrors that were unfolding on the screen....Most horrible of all was that the program was focusing on recent (i.e., July 2012!) great white shark sightings in the waters off Cape Cod -- where we were shortly planning to join our friends!  Familiar place names like "Truro" and "Chatham" and "Race Point" were now linked in my mind with ominous aerial video images of enormous sharks plying the coastline feeding on the unprecedented numbers of seals that had recently taken up residence in the area. 

From "Discovery"
As the day of the Swim approached, of course I could not get the thought of sharks out of my head -- which, as every open-water swimmer knows, is where most of our "monsters" live.  News of a late-July great white shark attack on a man swimming 75 feet off of one of the Cape Cod ocean beaches only deepened my anxiety -- this shark threat was no longer just "in my head," but real!  By the time we were packed and ready to leave for the Cape, I had lost much of my enthusiasm for participating in this year's "Swim for Life" -- or would it be "Swim for Your Life"?!

It was Friday afternoon's "whale watch," though, that helped set me back on course.  Together with our friends Chris and Chris (I know!), Carole and I boarded The "Dolphin IV" an hour or so after we arrived at the Cape, and within an hour had sighted our first pair of humpback whales.  Shortly thereafter more than a dozen more came into view. These massive, majestic creatures seemed aware of but unperturbed by our awed and respectful presence, and their gentle, unhurried surfacings and graceful turns and dives communicated a sense of peace and serenity shared by everyone on the boat.  From time to time we saw a seal's head break the surface of the water, and once or twice saw a dolphin slicing by...but we saw no sign of sharks, and somehow in the vastness of the ocean, my fear of them dissipated...I remembered that this is their home -- as it is the whales', and the seals', and the dolphins' -- and in some small measure, mine...

Provincetown Harbor is a relatively protected harbor within Cape Cod Bay, and reasonably distant from the ocean beaches where all of the previous great white shark sightings of the summer had been reported.  Carole and I were mindful of this, and of the fact that 402 other swimmers would be joining us in the water, making the odds pretty good that an errant shark would not choose us for its breakfast.  Still, we made record time (46:25!) "Swimming for Our Life" from Long Point to the Boatslip in Provincetown...!

See you in the Salt!

On the boat, approaching Long Point Lighthouse

404 swimmers wait for the signal to start

The reception committee

Carole and I, approaching the finish

Thursday, September 6, 2012

It Was Swell Swimming Today!

Nursery-colored skies dotted with soft pinks and blues greeted the earliest arrivals at West Neck Beach this morning...The water was crisp and clear despite yesterday’s downpours, and its surface was flat and calm, though mysterious underwater swells kept lifting and rolling us as we swam to the buoy and back on an outgoing tide. Second-shift swimmers Joye, Bonnie, Joan and Magda were just suiting up as Carole, Bill, Mindi, Jamie, Tim, Chris and I returned to the beach from the north buoy...Weekend swims are scheduled for Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 8:00 a.m., but Carole and I will be taking our Salt treatments in Provincetown this weekend – where we plan to partake in the 25th Annual Provincetown Harbor Swim for Life and Paddler Flotilla on Saturday morning...See you back in the West Neck Salt on Tuesday for the 6:30 a.m. swim!