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, 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!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Labor Day Weekend Open-Water Swims

Scores of swimmers sampled the September Salt at West Neck Beach this Labor Day weekend, signalling the "unofficial" end of Summer 2012.  A full moon on Friday marked the last day of August -- as it had the first -- bringing not only stronger than usual tides but the first "blue moon" since December 31, 2009!  Joining "the usual suspects" in the seemingly interminable against-the-current swim to the Sailboat on Saturday, September 1st, were, quite appropriately, "once in a blue moon" Pod swimmers Paul Coster, Rabbi "The Rabbit" Steve Moskowitz, Harrison Huang, Tommy Capobianco and Barry Goldblatt!                      After battling Saturday's ferocious full-moon current -- as I had every day that week -- I was surprised that I still had arms left to paddle my kayak into Huntington Harbor on Saturday afternoon, along with fellow Podders Joan Addabo, Karen Ruth and E.J. Voss, to attend the Sixth Annual Huntington Lighthouse Music Fest. This unique event -- a veritable "Woodstock on the Water" -- was founded six years ago to raise money to benefit the Huntington Lighthouse -- a beautiful, historic working lighthouse in the middle of Huntington Bay that is celebrating its 100th anniversary and is well worth preserving. Hundreds of yachters, boaters, kayakers, canoers and dinghy-ers congregated on the water to listen to fabulous music by eight different local bands throughout the day. I bought my Lighthouse-supporter tee shirt from the "pirates" who were circulating among the floating concert-goers, and left proudly sporting my "Jolly-Roger" pirate flag and making plans to be back next year -- with even more of my fellow West Neck Pod members!

By Sunday, I truly had no arms left, so I opted not to swim and instead took advantage of the dead-low tide to walk the shoreline northward from West Neck Beach to the "house at the end of Causeway," following the early morning swimmers as they slogged their way to the Sailboat against the current, then flew back on the incoming tide. It was a fascinating perspective -- with the well-spread-out line of nearly 20 swimmers in the water stretching as far as I could see -- and the orange "floaty bags" being towed by most of the swimmers dotting the surface of the water like a paprika garnish.... 

Monday -- Labor Day -- was a little bit less of a truck push as the full moon continued to wane -- and the nearly 20 swimmers who labored their way to the Sailboat were rewarded on their return with a Pod-first -- blueberry pancakes on the beach! -- courtesy of Susan Robinson (formerly known as "The Muffin-Woman," but who, after previously plying the Pod with homemade cinnamon muffins, then chocolate chip cookies, and now blueberry pancakes, has been redubbed simply, "Susie Homemaker"!).  Todd Rowley supplied the real Vermont maple syrup and orange juice, Rob Ripp the coffee, and Carole Wickham and I threw in a dozen bagels with butter and cream cheese to ensure that no one went home hungry -- including the lifeguards --for whom today was their last day of work for the season before heading off to their respective colleges! 

Hungry swimmers ready for pancakes

The "Floaty-Bag" Flotilla

It was a fabulous Labor Day weekend -- but the 2012 open-water swimming season is far from over! See you in the Salt tomorrow -- and the day after that...and the day after that!