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!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

...Go!....(with the Flow!)...: The 2012 "West Neck Swim"!

Despite the careful and meticulous months-long planning by the organizers of the 2012 Huntington/Cold Spring Harbor 1 and 2 Mile Open Water Swim, none of us could have anticipated that our passage to West Neck Beach at 5:30 on the morning of the race would be blocked by a massive tree that had fallen across the road, just outside the beach entrance! Lloyd Harbor police quickly responded and cleared a narrow path just wide enough for organizers' vehicles to squeeze through on the right (thank you, Lloyd Harbor police!), and Officials Coordinator Joye Brown masterfully directed traffic and guided our vehicles through to the other side, where brilliant sunshine, a freshly-striped parking lot, a recently re-sanded beach, and massive amounts of organizing and setting up awaited us!  Town of Huntington road crews arrived in astonishly short order (thank you, Town of Huntington!), and West Neck Road was completely shut down for a time before a huge bulldozer finally nudged the fallen tree to the side of the road and carloads of volunteers were freed to swarm the parking lot and commence converting the beachfront into an athletic arena. 
Like the fallen tree, we also did not anticipate that the iron buoy anchors that secured the race buoys last year would not be enough to hold the buoys fast against the surging outgoing current this year, so our sponsor SeaTow, who, with Race Co-Organizer/Meet Director Rob Ripp on board, had towed the buoys from the beach and set them in position shortly after the gates had opened, was forced to chase them down and reposition them while our Logistics Co-Coordinator Marc Leahy attached additional anchors to hold them firmly in place (all but the southern turn buoy, which, despite three anchors, may have shifted slightly north  to shorten the course and quicken everyone's times). 

But "going with the flow" is the essence of the open-water swimmer's experience, and despite these glitches and our late start, by the time the first swimmers began to arrive, the "Start" and "Finish" chutes were in place, the registration tables were set up, the numbered caps were matched with corresponding electronic chips, and refreshments were being served. With a few adjustments, Swim organizers were able to basically hold to the timeline, and the first of five waves of swimmers -- ranging in age from 9 to 84 -- headed for the start buoy at or close to the scheduled start time.

By the time the last wave left the start buoy, there were more than 200 swimmers in the water, churning the surface of the half-mile-long course like bluefish on a bunker chase! As the swimmers gradually spread out across the water, a flotilla of volunteer paddleboarders, kayakers, and lifeguards on rescue boards maintained a careful watch, while the Huntington Harbormaster and Oyster Bay Bay Constable kept boat traffic at bay and the Cold Spring Harbor Fire Department and Huntington Community First Aid Squad ambulances and crews manned the beachfront, ready to handle any emergencies that might arise (though none did, thankfully).  By the time the last wave of 1-milers were rounding the first turn, the lead 2-mile swimmers had already caught up with them, and just minutes later 14-year-old Ian Bidwell bested the field by sprinting out of the water in a phenomenal 29:47.4!

Our West Neck Pod made a brilliant showing, too, of course, with Pod members Lou Carminati (who placed 3rd overall), Ken Longo, Liz Perlstein, and Nancy Aboff taking 1st place age-group medals, Tim Sullivan taking a 2nd place medal, and Elena ("E.J.") Voss and Jamie Scholfield taking 3rd place age group medals in the 1-Mile Wetsuit Division; and, in the 2-Mile Non-Wetsuit Division, Andrea ("Ani") O'Brien and Bird Norton taking 1st place age-group medals; while in the 2-Mile Wetsuit DivisionMichael Wright (3rd place overall!), Joanna Grossman and Karen Ruth took 1st place age-group medals; Brett Emsden took a 2nd and Bonnie Millen a 3rd place medal! Mindi DeLeary, Tom Sherman, Vinny O'Shaughnessy, and David Marino also did the Pod proud!

Like mother... (Meghan O'Brien, age 10, 400M)...

Like daughter...(Andrea O'Brien, age 42, 2-Mile)
When the last swimmer had passed through the finish gates, to the cheers of everyone on the beach, Joye and I -- no longer "on duty" -- exchanged jubilant high-fives followed by grateful bear-hugs, which we then shared all around with as many equally proud and happy Swim organizers and volunteers as we could get ahold of!  After the last of the awards were handed out and the swimmers had departed, we all set about dismantling and stowing the equipment, clearing the beach of any Race-related debris, then suiting up for our reward -- a relaxing and much-needed swim in the calm, beautiful, and now nearly empty waters of West Neck Beach. 

Barry Goldblatt (Kayak Coordinator) and me (Safety Director)
Sometime in the coming weeks we'll get together for a post-Swim debriefing, to discuss the Swim, review what we did right (great new timing company -- thanks, Nikita Dorcinvil and Just Finish, Inc.!) and analyze what we could or should have done better (definitely "Porta Potties" and extra toilet paper next year -- and a chain saw in the truck!).  We are hopeful that the Second Annual Huntington/Cold Spring Harbor 1 and 2 Mile Open Water Swim will have raised lots of money to support the Huntington YMCA's scholarship program to teach underprivileged children to swim (many, many thanks to our generous sponsors) -- and perhaps in the years to come, some of the graduates from that program will be experiencing their first open water swim event in the annual "West Neck Swim" here in the beautiful, sparkling waters of Cold Spring Harbor on Long Island Sound!
Town of Huntington Lifeguard Julia and YMCA Director Eileen Knauer
See you in 2013...!

(Huntington Masters Swim Team ["HUMS"] Blogographer Mike Engel used my camera to take most of the pictures of the race while I was otherwise engaged; and Carole Wickham took the post-race in-the-water pictures from her kayak! Check out Mike's other fabulous photos on our Facebook page [https://www.Facebook.com/WestNeckPod] and the HUMS Blog! {http://www.HUMS.blogspot.com])

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Results of the 2012 Huntington/Cold Spring Harbor 1 & 2 Mile Swim at West Neck Beach!

Overall and Age-Group results from the 2012 West Neck Swim are available at the following links:

Blogpost and pictures coming soon (Mike Engel's fabulous post and pictures are already online at http://HUMS.blogspot.com and https://www.facebook.com/WestNeckPod).

Thanks to everyone for your support of this incredible event!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Get Ready, Get Set....!

Friday morning's flock of swimmers were disappointed to find pockets of "yuk" coalescing around the swim lines at West Neck Beach as we entered the water for a low-tide early morning swim. The air was hazy and heavy, and the past days' torrid temperatures had cranked the water temperature up to an almost uncomfortable 75 degrees.  But once out past the "yuk," the water largely cleared, with only an occasional seaweed encounter, and Carole, Marc, Kathy, Susan, Karen, Brett and I enjoyed a lovely swim between the north and south buoys, with our faithful companion Cammy accompanying us on her paddleboard. 


Sue (a/k/a mother of the bride-to-be Kaitlyn!)

By the time we returned to the beach, a cadre of Town workers had finished raking the sand, clearing it of all debris in preparation for Sunday's race, and the floating sludge at the swim lines had vanished with the outgoing tide.  The haze and heat remained, though, and by afternoon, a wave of thunderstorms settled over the Island, rattling windows and dumping torrents of rain on and off throughout the day and night. 
Saturday morning dawned crisp and clear, the heat and humidity gone and the air brilliant and sparkling. Even the water seemed scrubbed clean by the storms, and the temperature had dropped to a comfortable 72 degrees. A dozen-plus swimmers converged on the beach for the 8:00 group swim, unabashed by concerns about runoff contamination, although the lifeguards informed us that a health advisory had been issued for all Suffolk County beaches because of yesterday's rain and that West Neck Beach was officially closed. We swam anyway, though a stiff northwesterly wind made the swim to the Sailboat harder and slower than the outgoing tide might have suggested. It was a fun, rollicking swim, though, and a bunch of us lingered for a long time at the Sailboat chatting before we headed south for the relatively swift trip back.

"First-wave" swimmers Frank, Tony, Larry and two friends whose names I'll get next time

The West Neck Pod dressing room


Magda returning from the Sailboat
Tonight, West Neck Swim organizers will be convening on the Beach to begin setting up for tomorrow's Swim -- carting in tables and chairs and hospitality supplies, blowing up turn buoys, testing radios, filling sandbags, etc. The rest of the setup will be completed early tomorrow morning, when the gates are opened at 5:30 to welcome our officials, lifeguards and kayakers and the rest of our many volunteers, and -- by 7:00, our 238 swimmers and their supporters and friends. The Second Annual Huntington/Cold Spring Harbor 1 and 2 Mile Open-Water Swim is on its way to becoming even more successful than last year's inaugural swim!  Ready, set...See you in the Salt!

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Countdown Begins: The 2012 "West Neck Swim"

With the registration deadline for this year's Huntington/Cold Spring Harbor 1&2-Mile Open Water Swim a little more than 24 hours away, and the Swim itself just six days hence, the volume of text messages and e-mail exchanges between and among Swim organizers has suddenly increased, as final details are addressed and looming problems resolved, while the number of registrants creeps steadily upward toward the 300-swimmer cap...Meanwhile, back on the Beach, it's been "swimming as usual," though the Sailboat and North and South Buoys have received more than their usual number of visitors as Pod members and Swim organizers rinse away their stress in the healing Salt, and "newbies" come to preview the Swim course and conditions in advance of Sunday's race. Registration closes tomorrow (Tuesday) night at 11:59 p.m., so if you haven't registered yet, tick...tick...tick...!  Group swims are planned this week for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings at 6:30 (in the water!) and Friday and Saturday mornings at 8:00. Sunday morning's group swim is cancelled because of the Race, but feel free to join Pod members and Race organizers and volunteers in a celebratory post-Swim swim after the last award is handed out and the Beach is set back to rights....!

The view north from the Beach -- may Race day be as calm!

"The Sailboat" aglow in reflected early morning light

The Sailboat mooring

Flying back toward the mooring field on an incoming tide

Registration links for procrastinators can be found on our website at http://www.westneckswim.com. Also visit the West Neck Swim's Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=815520298&ref=profile#!/WestNeckSwim.

See you in the West Neck Salt!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

So Soon June...Hello, Full Moon...

Weekday morning swims resumed this week, and as the weekend approached and May yielded to June, a waxing gibbous moon was playing havoc with the tides, which were higher and stronger than usual.  Friday morning's swim to the Sailboat felt endless against the surging power of the incoming tide, and it was almost a relief that Saturday was a "no-swim" day -- for me, because of family commitments; for the rest of the Pod, because of grey, sodden weather (and a Department of Health advisory that closed numerous Suffolk County beaches due to concerns about bacteria-laden runoff from the heavy rain Friday night).  Marc, who came down to the beach Saturday morning anyway "just to look," saw two brave souls swimming "out there" who later turned out to be Chris and Tim.  They'd made their first open-water swim of the season on Friday morning -- Chris's first since his spinal surgery more than a year ago -- and evidently their revivified taste for Salt was undeterred by the incipient gloomy weather!

Sunday morning, though, was sunny and clear, and a veritable swarm of swimmers -- including a half-dozen "newbies" -- descended on West Neck Beach like gnats on a bare neck.  A steady wind from the northwest was stiffening the flag, and the few boats in the mooring field were tugging at their chains against the surging incoming tide as a steady chop rolled across the diminishing beachfront. As we all suited up in front of the lifeguard station, I gave the newbies a little impromptu orientation speech, heavy on dire warnings and disclaimers in light of the unwelcoming conditions: the northwest wind, an incoming tide, and a nearly full moon...While we chatted, the first wave of swimmers set off for the Sailboat, and the full force of the tidal surge could be seen in the feckless, feeble strokes of even the strongest swimmers...

Shortly thereafter, I left the newbies behind with instructions (hopefully heeded) to stick to the area in front of the beach, and set off, in the wake of fellow-laggards Gae and Annmarie, for the Sailboat...Like a salmon struggling to swim up a waterfall, I inched my way northward, and was still hundreds of yards off when the pack of first-wave swimmers stroked by me on their way back to the beach. Gae, Annmarie and I -- all training for the 5K "Sound-to-Cove" Swim Across America -- had originally planned a 2-mile swim to Fort Hill Beach, but by the time I finally reached the Sailboat -- in the time it usually takes me for the round-trip -- I had cheerfully abandoned that plan -- much to Gae's chagrin and disappointment. 

The return trip -- in half the time -- felt rocket-like in comparison, and after more than an hour in the water, I was glad to be home, and grateful for the bagels and coffee Carole had waiting on the beach!
The long swim will have to wait 'til next weekend, when unfortunately the return trip will be against an outgoing tide, but at least on a waning moon it should pack less of a punch. Weekday morning swims are planned this week for Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday at 6:30 a.m. (in the water) and Friday at 8:00. See you in the Salt!