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, August 28, 2012

John Collingwood's English Channel Swim

John in England before one of his training swims (from
Honorary Pod member John Collingwood's mid-July English Channel crossing attempt nearly ended in disaster, as a severely hypothermic John was pulled from the water after more than 14 hours of swimming -- approximately 500 meters from land at Cap Gris-Nez. As the attached link to a gripping first-person account by one of his buddies reflects, John was immediately rushed by boat  to the hospital in Dover where he was admitted in dire condition, with his lungs filled with seawater and his internal organs shutting down....Once he had recovered somewhat, John also shared some of his reflections on the experience which are included in the link below....

John, a Tupperware executive who is a resident of Florida but a native of South Africa, was swimming to raise money for The Boys and Girls Club of South Africa, and though he was unfortunately unable to complete his swim, he succeeded in raising more than $100,000 for this cause. 

Some of us were privileged to meet John in May of this year, when he joined the West Neck Pod for a heroic open-water swim in 53-degree water to help him begin to acclimate to the water temperatures he'd be facing in England in July (see blogpost at http://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=3454244657463222992#editor/target=post;postID=40153180163331969).

I'm sorry that John was unable to accomplish his goal (the swimming part of it, anyway!), but I offer thanks for his survival, congratulations on his fundraising success, and an invitation for him to rejoin the Pod for an open-water swim anytime! Welkom tuis, John!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The West Neck Pod Goes L-O-N-G...

Scratch...scratch...scratch....One swimmer after another wearily emerged from the water at West Neck Beach Saturday morning after their longest swims ever, and crossed off their latest achievements from their personal "bucket lists."  First-time 5K swimmers Karen Ruth, E.J. Voss and Bonnie Millen, and first-time 5-Milers Gae Polisner and Annmarie Kearney-Woods joined veteran distance swimmers Rob Martell and Rob Ripp -- along with paddleboarders Carole Wickham and Kathy Wickham and a veritable fleet of support kayakers organized by Barry Goldblatt -- in a challenging and memorable long distance round-trip swim from West Neck Beach northward to the point at Lloyd Neck (for the 5K swimmers) and eastward around the point nearly to the Sandhole (for the 5-Mile Swimmers).  After a laptop-aided orientation by Pod-Father and Explorer-in-Chief Rob Martell, who with his training partner Christine K. pioneered the routes the swimmers were about to follow, the swimmers paired up with their designated kayakers or paddleboarders and headed toward the water, which was still shrouded in an early morning fog. One by one they started swimming, and were whisked away by an outrushing tide that virtually hurled the swimmers northward. Kayakers simply rested their paddles on the gunwales and let the current carry them alongside the whooshing swimmers. Rob Ripp, who quickly found the "Gulf Stream" in the center of the harbor, was flung northward as if shot from a cannon, outpacing even Rob Martell, and the two kayakers who were accompanying him struggled to keep pace with his flying body -- and to turn him before he reached Connecticut! 
Rob Ripp on the beach...1/4 mile past the turnpoint
("Where are you guys??")
But, alas, for both the 5K and the 5-mile swimmers, this was a round-trip swim, and most of the return trip was against that same onrushing current....For the 5-Mile swimmers, the current was most forceful at the point, and even the strongest swimmers swam, seemingly in place, for long minutes until, inch by inch, and one by one, they all made their way around the turn and into the home stretch while their kayakers hollered encouragement. With "home" still a mile and a half away, though, and arms and shoulders beginning to ache, this was where both the 5K and the 5-mile swimmers proved themselves to be true champions: putting their heads down, throwing their arms forward, and stroking relentlessly toward West Neck Beach and their goals...(and a well-deserved reward of bagels and bananas from Rob Martell and chocolate chip cookies from "The Muffin-Woman" Susan Robinson!).

Rob Martell posted these Facebook comments for his long-distance novitiates:
"Some passing comments on the 5 Milers.. Rob R- kick ass pace and no wonder you can swim around Manhattan. Gae.. 3hrs 2 yrs ago for 5K.. this year 3 hrs for 5MILES..No more said.. i am seeing at 10K in your future.... AnneMarie.. Never gave up.. 4 hrs swimming. Very few people ANYWHERE can swim that long. .. for everyone.. that last mile from Fort Hill is like those last miles of a Marathon.. Lastly the entrance to the CS Harbor- swimming and getting nowhere. You have to experience it to believe.
"Some passing comments on the 5Kers..40 minutes out to the turn point. sweet.! When I planned the 5Mile route, I never imagined early turn backs. The tide plan was set up to help the 5miles swimmers as they swam longer - 3+ hours , the tide would turn and help them the last mile or two. BUT For the 5kers , it was full against the tide going back ( at least not full moon tide ). Extraordinary endurance for all three of you. That was no easy 5K, its was very tough and you all accomplished it , like other things, without giving up when the conditions could have easily been seen as too hard. !! :)"
Congratulations, Rob R., Rob M., Gae, Annmarie, Karen, E.J., and Bonnie -- See you in the Salt (once you've all recovered)!



Sunday, August 19, 2012

"Road Trip" Tripped Up...Otherwise, It's "Swimming as Usual"!

Yesterday's Road Trip to Long Beach in Sag Harbor was unfortunately rained out, but today dawned sunny and clear, if a tad chilly, and the line of swimmers' cars waiting to get into the beach at West Neck stretched back nearly to the roadway as we waited for the lifeguards to arrive to open the gate (thank you, Julia!).  With the tide dead-low but incoming, the Sailboat beckoned in the distance, and the assemblage of a dozen or so swimmers (minus those who were participating in the John Daly One-Mile Ocean Swim in Long Beach (the other Long Beach!) slogged up-current through unusually murky water that -- happily --cleared as we traversed the Causeway. Pockets of September-cold, though, nudged up against the still-sultry August water, prompting even those of us wearing wetsuits to cut short our usual Sailboat-social and head back to the beach even before the back of the pack had arrived.  The stragglers' eventual return to the beach turned out to be an anxious one, but the imposing-looking Lloyd Harbor Police officer they saw chatting the rest of us up by the showers was a "friendly" -- the Pod's own Vinnie O'Shaughnessy, who promises to join us Tuesday morning for our 6:30 swim! 


The day was too gorgeous to go back inside, so Carole and I rounded up various friends and family members and spent the afternoon kayaking and paddleboarding from the Mill Dam in Huntington Harbor through the channel into Huntington Bay past the Lighthouse and then deep into Lloyd Harbor. Past the last of the moored boats, Lloyd Harbor -- which would be virtually empty of water at low tide -- was vast and still and silent but for the cacophony of bird calls our arrival set off, as scores of egrets, osprey, hawks and herons took flight, scolding us for the interruption. The Sailboat -- its mast, anyway -- was plainly visible beyond the "house at the end of the Causeway," but no more reachable then than when I have it in my goggle-sights and am trudging towards it against a relentless current...much like I'll be doing again on Tuesday morning...See you (and Vinnie?) in the Salt!

Friday, August 17, 2012

"Do You Know the Muffin Man?" (er..."Muffin Woman"?)

The just-turned tide was coming in with a vengeance as nine swimmers set out for the Sailboat on this beautiful Friday morning. The water was flat and calm when we all started, but the wind spiked midway through and a surging chop on the surface of the water added to the challenge of the in-rushing tide. Margot and I were pacing one another at a pretty brisk rate and 30 minutes later were still looking wistfully at the Sailboat, which seemed to just keep receding into the distance. Eventually we made it there, followed by Joan, then Gae and Joye, and finally Sharon and her daughter Rachel, joining the Pod for her introductory open-water swim!  Rachel, who up until now had been strictly a pool swimmer, earned her Sailboat badge handily, and despite being obviously tired by the end, promised she'd be back for more!  And why wouldn't she, when on our return to the beach, we were greeted by Susan Robinson, bearing a plate of fresh-baked muffins for the Pod!  Yum!  (Don't tell Rachel this doesn't happen every time!)
Sharon and Rachel

"Look at my arm!...And ain't I a woman?" (Joye, powering to the Sailboat)

Margot and Joan

Steve Lutz, enjoying the last day of his vacation!
Tomorrow some of us will be setting out early for the West Neck Pod's first ROAD TRIP of the season, to the lovely "Long Beach" (a/k/a "Foster's Memorial Beach") on the south shore of Noyac Bay in Sag Harbor.  We're anxiously watching the weather reports and hoping that the thunderstorms predicted for tonight and tomorrow don't happen -- or if they do, that they happen somewhere else! (Watch for updates on Facebook!)  Weather permitting, we'll see you at the west end of the Long Beach parking lot at 7:30! The rest of the Pod will be swimming as usual at West Neck Beach at 8:00 on Saturday morning (weather permitting, of course!) and we'll all be back together again on Sunday morning -- all, that is, but our brave Podders who are participating in the John Daly One-Mile Ocean Swim in the other Long Beach -- on the south shore! Good luck to Evelyn Cruise, Colleen Driscoll, Margot Edlin, Barry Goldblatt, David Kaufman, Andrea O'Brien, Rob Ripp, Susan Robinson, Alice Rogers, and Erik Zaratin!  (Who's bringing the muffins??)

See you in the Salt!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

..."And the Caissons Go Rolling Along"..."

A dozen swimmers participated in this morning's "Memorial Swim," swimming, kayaking, or paddleboarding out to the great, hulking iron channel marker in the center of Cold Spring Harbor to mark the one-month anniversary of the July 4th drowning deaths of young Victoria Gaines, Harlie Treanor and David Aureliano.  The giant marker, formerly believed by many of us to be made of concrete (I don't know why), has long loomed large in the consciousness of West Neck Pod swimmers, who sight on it regularly -- even unavoidably --in our northward swims to the Sailboat and beyond.  Once it seemed impossibly far away, but as our ever-lengthening Pod swims took us further north, we eventually discovered that it was actually only a mile from West Neck Beach and less than a half-mile offshore from neighboring Fort Hill Beach...But the marker's location directly in the center of the harbor, and the high level of boat traffic passing by it on the way to and from Cold Spring Harbor and Oyster Bay, made it seem too dangerous a destination for swimmers.  Even Armand D'Amato had never swum out to the marker, though his house near Fort Hill Beach overlooks the harbor and he sees the marker and swims by it every day.

With the deaths of the three young children on July 4th, though, the channel marker took on a new meaning for the swimmers of the West Neck Pod.  Just beyond it was the site where the boat in which the children perished came to rest on the bottom, 60 feet below the surface, and for days after the tragedy we could see the distant police vessels hovering protectively above the site while the logistics of raising the boat were calculated and debated. Water is a conductor, and though we knew the children's bodies had been recovered, the body of water in which they died -- and in which we swam every day -- seemed to carry the unspeakable grief and sorrow of the tragedy. The channel marker came to seem a symbolic headstone for the three young souls, so when Rob Martell announced his plan to swim out to the marker to place a memorial wreath, it was inevitable that he would not do so alone...

The "Memorial Swim" was planned for the one-month anniversary of the tragedy, and mindful of the danger of swimming across an active boat channel, we planned the swim for the early morning, notified the Oyster Bay Bay Constable and Nassau County Marine Police of our plans, arranged to embark from Fort Hill Beach (thank you, Armand!), ensured that we would have kayak and paddleboard support, and sported our "SaferSwimmer" orange "floaty bags."  Though our purpose was solemn, there was an underlying measure of excitement and discovery as we approached the never-before-seen-up-close channel marker...It turns out it is made of iron and not concrete -- and does not float but is firmly fixed to the harbor bottom. The iron is heavily rusted, and its surface is pitted and chipped, but it is enshrouded with a lovely patina of soft green seaweed and moss layered in horizontal striations that mark the decades of ebbing and flowing tides. Bright orange coral adorns the base of the structure at the level of the water.  A metal rung ladder leads up to the top, on which rests a tall metal tower that holds a light, powered by a south-facing solar panel. Rob Todd bravely climbed the ladder to place the wreath that Rob Martell had procured, and that I had ferried out on my kayak.  The rest of us waited silently in the water below, then Joye Brown spoke movingly -- and personally -- of the numerous inter-connections of the lost children to the members of the Pod -- as neighbors, students, and schoolmates of some of our own children....When we had all finished saying our piece and paying our respects, we headed back to Fort Hill Beach, through water that felt cleansed and cleared by our ceremony...one that some thought we should repeat every Fourth of July...

The channel marker, I've since learned, is actually the "Cold Spring Harbor Light," which is described on nautical maps as a "caisson" topped by a light on a skeleton tower 37 feet above the water and bearing a "red triangular daymark."  I was unfamiliar with the engineering concept of "caisson" and read the description and history with great interest...This is not the artillery "caisson" of the famous Army song, circa 1908, or that of the silent, solemn, somber funeral procession I remember watching as a child as JFK's coffin was brought by horse-drawn caisson to its final resting place...
And yet....

Carol, Rob T., Armand, Annmarie, Karen, Margot, Tish, Joye,
Rob M., Carole, Kathy (and Gae behind the camera)

Rest in peace, Victoria, Harlie, and David.  See you in the Salt...