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!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Would you like that OWS straight up? or on the rocks?

Yes, those are frozen smiles on our faces...
Now that was refreshing! 
Gae Polisner's earlier Facebook plea for company in a mid-afternoon swim "if it gets sunny" (it did!), was met with a flurry of wistfully regretful declines, but Carole Wickham and I were able to answer the call, and a Polar Tri-Pod entered the "Oh-my-god-I-can't-believe-how-cold-this-is" water at about 2:45 this afternoon.... "How cold was it," you ask? According to my trusty laser thermometer -- employed at mid-thigh depth as it is every time -- and which most recently gave a temperature reading in the low (very low!) 40s -- the water temperature this afternoon was an unbelievable 35-36 degrees!  Just to put things in perspective, the coldest water the West Neck Polar Pod has swum in previously was a bone-chilling 37 degrees -- and that was in January! If it were not for the relatively warm (55 degrees) air temperature today, and a relatively sedate 4 mph wind, we probably would have opted to go out for cheeseburgers instead...But we were there, already half-suited up, and it would have been unthinkable to turn around and leave without even getting wet...So we swam -- with flash-frozen faces, hands and feet  -- not far (back and forth between the dock and the jetty), and not long (20+ minutes) -- but  enough to get our endorphins pumping and make the swim and the effort completely and utterly and unforgettably worthwhile....!

Naturally we'll be doing it again tomorrow!  See you in the Salt!

(By the way, salt water doesn't freeze until the temperature reaches 28.4 degrees Fahrenheit -- so we've still got lots of open-water swimming ahead of us!)

Friday, November 1, 2013

Open-water swimming now? Just say “NO”-vember!!

The first open-water swim of November 2013 was as hair-raising and spooky as yesterday’s Halloween swim should have been....Though the fearsome southwesterly wind did not quite reach the nearly 40 mph gusts that were predicted, it was still blowin’ quite a gale when we arrived – just in time for the pelting rain – shortly before our scheduled 10:30 swim. A thin ribbon of fog was forming on the opposite shore and stealthily making its way across the harbor, threatening to obliterate the South Buoy we’d be swimming toward on an outgoing high tide. But the air temperature was nearly in the mid-sixties, the air felt summer-warm, and the water looked so inviting, despite the white-capped waves crashing on the beach, that it would have been torture not to be able to swim (especially for Annmarie Kearney-Wood, who’d driven up from the South Shore so as not to miss this first November swim). Joye Brown, who’d just checked in with the weather-gods, assured us that this was just a passing squall, and that the thunderstorm/lightning warning for the area (who knew!) would be lifted at 10:30, just in time for our swim. As it turned out, Joye and the weather-gods were right, and we only had to wait in our cars for a short while before the rain stopped and the fog lifted and we could finish suiting up and head into the swirling Salt for our first November swim....

Joye Brown

Gae and Annmarie and waves...


 For Gae Polisner and Annmarie, who haven’t been swimming regularly in this post-season and were not completely acclimatized to the cold water, "The-House-Formerly-Known-as-Blue" was a sufficient target, and they made their way there, hugging the shoreline (which was easy, since that’s where the wind was pushing them!). The rest of us (Carole Wickham, Joye Brown, Steven Leung and I) continued on to the South Buoy – not an easy trek even for Steven, who’d be a West Neck Polar Pod "Big-Dog" if there were any other Big-Dogs out here to swim with him! The way back was a lot easier, though, with the tide and the wind conspiring to whoosh us homeward. Getting out was a breeze, despite the wind, and we were warm enough to enjoy the still-flowing outside showers despite the lack of sun.

South Buoy in November (with Joye, Carole and Steven!)
Holdouts Joye and me, both reluctant to get out of the water....
While the others showered and dressed and Joye and I dawdled on the beach, still in our wetsuits, our attention was suddenly caught by a figure at the far end of the parking lot edging across the sand towards the water. She? – we nearsightedly assumed – was clad only in bikini briefs, and though her arms were crossed in front of her chest, she appeared to be topless! We all watched as she stepped tentatively over the rocks and into the water, then kept going.... Momentarily panic-stricken, I thought, "Oh, no, is this a suicide attempt?" and watched in anguish as the woman forged ahead and then suddenly threw herself forward, disappearing beneath an oncoming wave. She popped up again a moment later and, to my great relief, immediately turned towards shore, found her footing, and made her careful way back onto the beach, her arms again folded discreetly across her otherwise bare chest....No, I realized, this was no suicide attempt – this was the opposite of a suicide attempt! This was a woman daring to feel herself alive...throwing herself into the Salt, giving birth to herself, baptizing herself...She was here to live....She was here for the same reason we were...! I raised my arms in salute and whooped with approbation and solidarity, and she smiled and nodded in recognition and acceptance as she made her solitary way back to the parking lot and her car....

Joye, who by now had stripped off her wetsuit, tossed me a sidelong look, grunted something unintelligible, then set off resolutely towards the water. I knew, and I knew Joye knew, that there was no way our wetsuited/begloved/bootied swim to the South Buoy and back could match the chest-clutching, bare-breasted heroism of that unknown woman on the beach, and I knew that Joye was on a mission to rectify that. Of course I followed her, stripping off my wetsuit in the Salt, while Joye, shoulder-deep, busied herself beneath the waves. Moments later, she held her bathing suit aloft, and as our now-dressed-and-ready-to-leave woman-hero’s car drove slowly past the beach, I pulled my bathing suit down to my waist and raised my arms in a bare-breasted salute to her, to Joye, to my Polar-Pod fellows cheering us on from the beach, to the Salt, to Life....

Of course Gae took a picture, but I’m not posting that....See you in the Salt tomorrow at 8:00 for the second open-water swim of November 2013!  L’chaim!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween Swim...Wicked Fun!

No icy fingers reached up to grab our unsuspecting ankles and drag us soundlessly down to Davy Jones' locker... no bloated corpses leered up at us from the murky depths below...no sea monsters from the deep swallowed us whole...and we were not churned to mincemeat by the outboard motors of a deranged boat captain bent on mayhem....In fact, this morning's pre-dawn Halloween swim was pretty benign, and the five of us who suited up in the early morning darkness -- Carole Wickham, Joye Brown, Jimmy Kwong, Tony Alizzi and I -- had an eerily nice time! Unlike the hair-raising swims of last week, this morning there was absolutely no wind, the water was, well, dead calm, the air temperature was a practically balmy 50 degrees, and the water, back up to 52-53 degrees, did not invoke the usual ear-splitting shrieks as it crept into our wetsuits...In honor of the occasion we wore bright orange Halloween caps, and Joye handed out glowsticks that made our floaty-bags glow like jack-o'-lanterns as we swam to the yellow sign and back. It was even warm enough to shower on the beach afterwards -- yes, the showers are still on! -- and then...our last open-water swim of October 2013 was over....!
But November swimming begins tomorrow....See you in the Salt!

Jimmy and Tony


Looks like there were some Halloween ghosts out there after all!

Joye's floaty-bag glowing under the water

Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Another Fall Mourning

The waning full moon was still faintly illuminating the surface of the water when Joye Brown and I arrived at West Neck Beach in the early morning darkness for a 6:45 swim....By the time we got in the water just before 7, both water and sky had brightened somewhat, and we could actually see the buoy we were swimming towards. As the moon light faded and the sun dawned, lighting up the opposite shore, the colors of the changing leaves on the distant trees glowed like embers....
This is heaven, this October swimming. This is heaven. If only it could last forever....


See you in the Salt! 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Swimming to "The Other Shore"

Conditions could not have been more perfect for today's long-awaited and long-imagined "Cross-County Swim" from our home beach in Suffolk County directly across the harbor to Cove Neck in Nassau County!  The morning was overcast, but the sun kept bursting through great, gorgeous cloud formations that were as dramatic as the occasion. The air temperature was comfortably in the high 50s and rising, there was virtually no wind, and the 67-degree water looked as inviting as that opposite shore....Nearly 30 swimmers turned out for the adventure, along with a fleet of paddleboarders and one kayaker who'd volunteered to escort us across and protect us (we hoped) from the boats that regularly criss-cross the harbor.  Though we'd hoped that the late September date would mean there'd be less boat traffic to worry about, I watched with growing uneasiness as one boat after another sped northward past the distant yellow buoys marking the path where we would be swimming.  I counted ten boats by the time we were suited up and ready to go -- an unheard of number for an early Saturday morning in late September -- even in this busy harbor.  But the distant shore was beckoning, and no one was backing out despite the obvious risks, so off we went toward "The Other Shore"!

Boat #9?

We swam in three tightly packed groups spaced widely apart and kept a vary eye out for approaching boats, as did our escorts. Though the round-trip distance -- a little less than two miles -- was not much more than a typical "Sailboat" swim, which most of us do regularly, the fact that we were so far from shore and swimming across an active boat channel made it seem much, much farther....So when we suddenly saw the flashing lights of the Oyster Bay Constable's boat approaching, and watched it take up a watchful position alongside the phalanx of swimmers, we were greatly relieved -- at least once we realized he was not there to arrest us!  We all relaxed a little bit and were able to really enjoy the fabulous swimming conditions and the extraordinary view of our home beach from far out in the harbor. When we had all arrived safely at the beach at Cove Neck, without having seen another boat crossing the channel or bearing down on us, we were elated -- and then we remembered that we still had to swim back!  After a brief rest (too brief -- I forgot to look for my flip-flops which had drifted away a few weeks before on an easterly wind -- I know they're here someplace!), we started back across the harbor, in the same three-group formation, but a little more practiced at keeping ourselves together and swimming at the same pace.  The Bay Constable's boat followed us all the way back to West Neck Beach and, despite the early traffic, we didn't encounter any other boats and all arrived safely "home."  There, swimmers, paddleboarders and friends enjoyed an end-of-Summer feast of bagels, donuts, muffins, crumb-cake, watermelon and hot coffee and tea -- and the exhilaration of having completed what for many of us has been a long-term dream! Many, many thanks to our group leaders Rob Ripp and Carole Wickham for keeping us organized and in formation, and to our kayaker and fellow-Podder Nancy Reycraft and paddleboarders Sal, Nick, Edgar, Linda, Jamie, Jackie, Katie (and one other whose name I didn't get) for keeping us safe and on course! For those who missed out on today's adventure, you can count on us doing it again next year....See you in the Salt!
View from Nick's paddleboard
Arriving at "The Other Shore"
Home again....

Paddleboarder Linda with fellow paddleboarder Jamie's mom Amy

Swimming/paddling across the harbor makes you hungry!

The harbor two hours later...

Saturday, September 14, 2013

"Coney Island" Comes to West Neck Beach

The white-capped waves were plainly visible from the roadway as I turned into the parking lot at West Neck Beach this chilly September morning, and as the rest of the morning swimmers continued to arrive, they joined the growing throng on the beach incredulously watching the rolling waves as they raced past us from north to south.  The wind driving the waves was from the northwest and though the still-high tide was already going out, the wind was clearly winning the battle, and howling its victory.  The madly pitching boats in the mooring field gave some clue to the bum's rush we swimmers could expect were we to venture out there. Of course we regulars were game, but two returning "newbies" from last week's introductory workshop, and a clutch of brand-newbies, stood wide-eyed and open-mouthed on the beach as they contemplated entering the turbulent scene in front of them. Incredibly, every one of them did, joining the rest of the Pod as we pitched and yawed and clawed our way over the tops of the biggest waves only to plummet to the bottom of the wave troughs -- like riding the roller coaster, the Ferris wheel and the drop tower all at the same time!  But the water was clear and clean and still summer-warm, and we'll be back tomorrow at 8:00 to see what the open water has in store for us...!  See you in the Salt!



Reconnoitering at the Yellow Sign

Stephanie's first OWS with the West Neck Pod

Sophia at the Sailboat

Helen at the Sailboat

Saturday, September 7, 2013

"Open Water 101"....

Orientation on the beach (photo by Gae Polisner)
The West Neck Pod’s first formal "‘Newbies’ Intro to the Open Water" was a splashing success today, with nearly a dozen novitiates gaining or honing their open-water chops under the watchful guidance of seasoned Pod "mentors," who buddied up with newbies one-on-one and accompanied them as far as their skill, comfort level and endurance permitted. The newbies ranged in age from 10 to 60, and their bright yellow caps dotted the water all the way from the dock to the Sailboat (to which three of the newbies actually ventured with their mentors alongside!). The weather could not have been more accommodating, and the newbies were treated to bright warm sun, clear blue skies, and sparkling clear water, with just a light wind rolling in gentle waves from the west (and relatively few of the nibbling brine shrimp that had been plaguing swimmers earlier in the week – most of which were concentrated around Gae today, to hear her tell it!).

Congratulations to our new "newbies" Jonathan Zeit, Gina Foglia, Anthony Sarchiapone, Amy Baker, Chris Nugent, Miriam, Alexis Napoli, Sarina Napoli and Dana and returning newbies Peter Dennin and Merry Lewin; and many, many thanks to the Pod members who volunteered as mentors: Joye Brown, Gae Polisner, Annmarie Kearney-Wood, Bonnie Millen, Margot Edlin, Dana Termini, Will Spencer, Jamie Scholfield, Joan Addabbo, Tony Alizzi, Nancy Reycraft, Karen Barbosa, Rob Todd, and Rob Ripp (with special thanks to Dana Termini for providing the delicious tea and snacks afterwards, and to Rob Todd for his early morning deployment of the foot-saving Floating Pod Sandal Station!).

The morning’s activities were documented and photographed by Sylvia King-Cohen and Heather Walsh of Newsday, which is planning a story on open-water swimming (though it probably won’t appear until next April, they warn us). Their unobtrusive presence, thoughtful questions, and obvious admiration for what we do "out there" made them welcome visitors and earned them both honorary Pod-member status (though we’re hoping that Heather, a swimmer herself, will eventually come out and join us in the Salt as a full-on member of the ever-growing West Neck Pod).

There are still two weeks left of summer and plenty of open-water swimming time left in this 2013 season....Hope to see today’s "newbies" in the Salt again soon! Next group swim: tomorrow morning at 8:00!
Heather Walsh captures Carole Wickham in the morning light

Sylvia King-Cohen of Newsday
"My" newbie, Chris Nugent

The 2013 "FPSS"
Newbies Miriam and Chris