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!

Monday, November 7, 2016

I Vote We Go In !!

There was a lot of head-shaking going on at West Neck Beach yesterday morning, as one by one we would-be November swimmers arrived for our planned 10:45 "in-the-water" swim....It was a gloriously sunny day, the air temperature a moderate 53 degrees, but an 18 mph northwesterly wind was pushing up two-foot whitecapped waves that washed chillingly over our feet as we dithered at the water’s edge about what to do...what to do? We weren’t worried so much about the water temperature (52 degrees? 53?) as about what that wind would feel like on the back end of our swim when/if....

Finally, newly minted Polar-Podders Lider Raynor and Pedro Xavier Palacios – already in their wetsuits – announced that they were going in anyway, while Gae Polisner, Annmarie Kearney-Woods and I had quietly tumbled into the "NOT!" column as we stood there shivering in the wind....And then Gae made that crack about how "Hillary Clinton would be ashamed of us," which got me tugging off my sweatpants and t-shirt and pulling on my wetsuit...Not for Hillary herself (although I will be voting for her tomorrow), but for the recognition of what it has taken for a woman – finally– to be actually on the brink of possibly becoming the next president of the United States of America; and for the remembrance that every season, it is we women of the West Neck Pod who are always the first in and the last out, and if November 6th wound up being the last swim of this 2016 season, that would be the end of that tradition! So ultimately there were five of us Polar Podders (with our wounded sister Joye Brown on the beach taking pictures) who edged our way into the breathtakingly chilly water yesterday morning, and who emerged an exhilarating half hour later, smiling and happy and ineffably proud of ourselves and each other. Thank you, Lider, Pedro, Gae, Annmarie, and Joye (and Eleanor Roosevelt) for always encouraging and enabling me to do the thing I think I cannot do.

Please go out and vote tomorrow. See you in the Salt...

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

What the...??? or, Apocalyptic Swim...

For nearly a week, an unrelenting wind had been whipping across the Island, bending tree limbs and rustling leaves and whipping up whitecaps across the water everywhere....Saturday was relatively calm, but by Sunday the blustery wind had returned, and midway through our 8:00 morning swim it changed direction and intensified, forcing the handful of stubborn stay-ins to stick close to shore to avoid head-on collisions with unseen mooring balls or other swimmers. Conditions were much the same for the Tuesday morning 6:30 swim, as Margot Edlin and I fought our way to the North Buoy against the northwesterly wind and then fought our way back against what we’d thought would be an incoming tide but felt awfully outgoing....

So when Gae Polisner and I arrived at West Neck Beach for the Wednesday morning 6:30 swim, we were relieved to find the flag hanging limply against the flagpole and the water flat and still, though the air was chilly at 55 degrees. As we pulled our wetsuits on in the parking lot, deeming the water still too cold for bathing-suit-only swimming, we discussed our options for the swim. According to my iPhone’s tide app, as confirmed by Gae’s, the tide was still incoming, with high tide not until 8:57.  So, taking into account our years of observed wisdom that the tide actually turns about an hour earlier in Cold Spring Harbor than the tide table reflects, we figured we still had a good hour’s worth of swimming on an incoming tide before it turned, so our first "Sailboat swim" of the season was our objective.

As we headed to the water, though, our attention was caught by a long, breaking wave out in the middle of the harbor directly in front of the beach. The wave kept breaking in place, curling over itself, and we could hear the sound of the water moving long before a series of rolling waves washed over the beach. Other than a few stationary clamboats dotting the harbor, there was no boat traffic, though, and we wondered, somewhat anxiously, what was out there causing the water to move like that...Fish...?? Big fish...?? How big...?? And how many...??

Gae pointed out that the swim lines were bowing, despite the lack of wind --but not in the direction we would have expected with a still-incoming tide. Once we waded in (we were there to swim, after all, and the water was so clear and clean and calm and lovely despite the unknown force "out there"), we realized that our bodies were moving, too, just like the swim lines, and we were being pushed northward, as if on an outgoing tide. It made no sense – high tide was still at least an hour and a half away, but there was no doubt that the water was moving northward towards the Sound, and pretty forcefully, too, and we were moving with it.

We quickly readjusted our swim plan: To the South Buoy against the apparently though inexplicably outgoing tide, then to the North Buoy and then in, for a mile-plus swim. Off we went, but both with a sense of uneasiness, a feeling that something is off, that things are not what they’re supposed to be....

We had been talking on the beach, of course, as I imagine people all across the country and even the world have been, about the deliberate and merciless slaughter of my gay brothers and sisters in Orlando and the apparent ease with which this latest mass-murderer (who I believe was more of a crazy person than a Muslim terrorist) obtained the assault weapon that made killing each of them and so many of them so easy...so easy.... 

In Orlando...and before that San Bernardino, and before that Charleston, and before that Newtown, and before that Aurora, and before that Columbine...and so many more in between -- all of those innocents, taken so easily from their families and their friends and their futures....

It is no wonder that the winds are raging, that the tides are unpredictable, that the earth is erupting, that our human hearts are breaking along with that of our Mother the Earth...and that Gae and I felt so vulnerable swimming in the face of all this to the South Buoy and then to the North Buoy and then in....

Like Isak Dinesen (or because of her), I believe that "the cure for anything is salt water"....But this is going to take a lot of swimming...a lot of swimming....

See you in the Salt...and be mindful of the shifting tides....

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Memorial Day Weekend 2016

Our official season opener on Saturday morning saw a dozen swimmers hit the still-chilly but deliciously invigorating waters of Cold Spring Harbor, in a somewhat aimless swim southward, the yellow racing buoys we’ve affectionately dubbed the "South Buoy" and "North Buoy" being still conspicuously absent (as detailed in my blogpost from that date at http://thewater-blog.blogspot.com/2016/05/the-2016-ows-season-begins.html)....

Margot Edlin
By Sunday morning, though, the buoys were miraculously restored, and an even larger cadre of swimmers happily plied their way from buoy to buoy in water that to my bare arms may even have been a teensy bit warmer than the day before. Back in the Salt on Sunday for the first time this season were, among others, Margot Edlin, whose Facebook pictures I’ve purloined to post here, having forgotten my otherwise ubiquitous camera – an omission probably habituated by my more recent Polar Pod excursions where cold-numbed, gloved fingers were useless for operating the camera’s tiny buttons.

Joanna Grossman
Also back – for what it turns out may be one of her last swims with the West Neck Pod – was Joanna Grossman, who announced that she and her husband and fellow law professor Grant will shortly be relocating with their family to Dallas, where fabulous new teaching jobs await them, but Salt water will be in short supply. I’m so sad to see Joanna leave – and not only because she’s been an integral and longstanding member of "Team West Neck Pod" for our annual cancer-fighting "Sound-to-Cove" Swim Across America! We’ll miss you, Joanna, and wish you and your family much happiness in the Big D.

Joanna may be leaving, but back in the Salt for the start of her fourth season with the West Neck Pod, and now signed up for her second stint as a member of Swim Across America’s "Team West Neck Pod," was Merry Lewin – who started her training on Sunday for her first 5K swim with the Team!

Welcome back, too, to Polar Podders Annmarie Kearney-Wood (who will soon have her daughter Missy married off and can then return to compulsive open-water swimming if we can overcome her recent Cross-Fit obsession) and Tony Alizzi (whose chiseled Roman good looks seem only to have been enhanced by his recent faceplant on a Manhattan street), as well as to Rob Todd, Marc Leahy, Joan Addabbo, Gary Baker, Denise Tirino and everyone else who was there whose name or face I can’t quite conjure up now. (Oh, and a hearty Pod-welcome to Denise’s gutsy friend "Josee," an open-water newbie whose caring and concern for Denise – who was temporarily hung up and struggling to make headway "out there" against the outgoing tide -- managed to overshadow her own fear and anxiety...That’s what makes us a Pod...Just sayin’...).

Julia, Connor and Gabby
Though I’d optimistically planned to fete the Memorial Day swimmers with bagels and coffee, the weather forecast for Monday turned out to be accurate, and the rain that fell periodically throughout the night was still soaking Huntington by the time I posted on Facebook that the day’s swim was cancelled. Even though I'd officially cancelled the swim because of the then-pelting rain, I couldn't resist heading down to the beach anyway, because even though I wasn't planning to swim, I still like to look and see what I’m missing....I wasn't expecting to find any swimmers there, so I decided to bring bagels and coffee for the lifeguards instead, who have been so patient with us swimmers and so tolerant of our annoying habit of thronging the beach- house and overhang and taking over every inch of bench space every weekend morning...The lifeguards were there (Julia, Connor and Gabby), and, to my great surprise, so were Marc Leahy, Stephen Leung and Pete Ventura, already suited up and ready to get into the water (with Pete’s wife Vicki watching from the bench)! The rain, of course, had stopped completely by then, so Daisy-Mae and I walked the beach as Pete, Marc and Stephen swam first to the North Buoy and then made their way towards the South Buoy. Midway through their swim the sun started to peek through the clouds, and I felt a twinge of regret – I wonder if this is what it’s like to be a meteorologist! Daisy and I left before they returned, but I hope the lifeguards shared some coffee and bagels with them!
Daisy Mae
This week of spiking summer-like temperatures holds the promise of much warmer water this coming weekend, when I hope that I’ll see the rest of you back in the Salt for the first group swims of June!

Scheduled weekday morning group swims will begin next week, most likely on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings at 6:30 and Friday mornings at 8:00 – but please feel free to share your swim plans with your fellow swimmers by email or on Facebook:   (https://www.facebook.com/WestNeckPod/?fref=nf).

Summer’s coming! See you in the Salt!

Saturday, May 28, 2016

The 2016 OWS Season Begins...!

A dozen swimmers showed up at West Neck Beach this first day of the Memorial Day weekend to inaugurate the 2016 OWS season in near-perfect conditions: The sky was blue and clear, the air warm and nearly windless, the water relatively flat and calm, and its temperature comfortably welcoming even for those swimmers who were returning to the open water for the first time since last Fall (who, it must be noted, were all gratefully wearing full wetsuits). Polar Pod regulars Gae Polisner and I (giddily sleeveless) together with Jimmy Kwong were joined by the slightly-less-Polar Merry Lewin, E.J. Voss, Steve Albright and Brett Emsden, and even Scott Kessler forsook Chlorine for Saline today! Also joining us, from NYC, were Chris, Claire and Jean, who last swam with us in September 2015 (and another guy – who was that??). Since the tide was outgoing (though it felt suspiciously incoming), we swam south toward what would have been the South Buoy if it were in place, which it’s not yet – and wound up reconnoitering at the red, green and white buoys of the Lloyd Harbor Beach mooring field. Our round trip left us just short of a mile, and Gae and I (after stripping off our wetsuits) and E.J. tacked on an extra leg to the dock and back to give us a mile+ for the morning’s swim....Everyone agreed that it was a beautiful start to the 2016 open-water-swimming season....

Tomorrow’s supposed to be sunny and warm...I’m expecting an ever bigger turnout, and looking forward to seeing everyone again after this long winter hiatus....

There’ll be bagels and coffee on the beach on Memorial Day, compliments of the Fairy Pod-Mother...See you in the Salt!

E.J. Voss, Merry Lewin, Gae Poliser and Jimmy Kwong
in the foreground (and thanks to Bondy for taking this
and other pictures posted here!)

Gae Polisner and Carol Moore

E.J. Voss

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Looks Like We Made It....Again!

January 31st swim, with Joye Brown, me, Gae Polisner, and
Annmarie Kearney-Wood -- and an anonymous harbor seal
Well, that wasn’t so bad, was it? The Winter, I mean – especially compared to the last several years of bone-chilling cold and seemingly endless snowstorms. This Winter the West Neck Polar Pod managed to eke out at least one swim in every month except February, so we’re pretty well acclimated and ready for the official start of the 2016 open-water-swimming season on Memorial Day weekend! It’s been a cool Spring, though, despite its early start, and the water temperature has been slow in making its way up into the comfort range for most swimmers. But by Memorial Day weekend, I’m anticipating that the water temperature will have nudged its way into the 60s...at least the low 60s...and that it will be tolerable for some if not most, at least in wetsuits (no, not you, "Princess Rabbi"!).
     The water conditions have otherwise been lovely, though, with extremely clean, clear water throughout most of the pre-season. On my last couple of swims with the Polar Pod I kept thinking I was about to scrape the water bottom, which seemed just inches beneath my outstretched hand, but with each panicky stop I found that the water was still well over my head, and Gae Polisner reported on our last swim that she saw a couple of crabs hugging the bottom as she swam above them. You may remember that last summer, Cold Spring Harbor and Long Island Sound were widely reported to have been visited by a number of Beluga and humpback whales, and this winter the West Neck Polar Pod was astonished when it was joined on one of its swims by a lone harbor seal, who perhaps mistook our black-wetsuited selves for its friends and relatives. These recent sightings may be signs of our harbor’s steadily improving health – or of more dire conditions elsewhere – but I am heartened to see these changes, and look forward to welcoming the dolphins when they, too, return to our harbor.  

April Fools -- me with Gae Polisner and Tony Alizzi
     In the meantime, it looks like we’ll be welcoming more newbies to the West Neck Pod, based on the steady stream of emails and Facebook messages that I received as the winter season waned. The West Neck Pod is still the only truly "open" open-water swimming group on Long Island, with no formal membership or dues, and we continue to welcome all swimmers to join us in appreciating and reveling in the many gifts of the open water. Whether you’re a recreational swimmer, a competitive swimmer, an Ironman triathlete or anything in between, you’ll find a home and fellows here at West Neck Beach. If you’re on our email list or want to be (by request only to westneckpod@verizon.net) or have "liked" our West Neck Pod Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/WestNeckPod), but you haven’t yet joined us for a swim, then maybe this is your year (at your own risk, of course, for competent swimmers only – and be sure to read the disclaimer on our Facebook page)!

     Though Summer is still nearly a month away, this coming weekend marks the official start of our open-water swimming season, with group swims scheduled for Saturday, Sunday and Monday (Memorial Day) mornings at 8:00! This weekend schedule will continue throughout the season and the post-season, and as the morning air and water temperatures continue to rise, a schedule of weekday morning swims will evolve and be posted by email or on Facebook and/or "The Water-Blog" (http://thewater-blog.blogspot.com/) (and hopefully my personal and time constraints will enable me to return to more regular blogposts, which regretfully have been few and far between of late!).

     As our Pod continues to grow and expand, so do the number of impromptu or ad hoc "Podlet" swims, and now, at virtually any time of the day, you can see swimmers ducking under the swim lines and making their way to the South or North Buoy or The Sailboat or beyond (hopefully sporting the brightly colored "floaty-bags" which have become the ubiquitous symbol of the West Neck Pod’s commitment to safety "out there"). We encourage you to post and share info about these informal swims with your fellow Pod members...(and to buy and use those International Swimming Hall of Fame-developed "SaferSwimmer" flotation devices).

Gae Polisner and Joye Brown
     As you begin to "get in the swim" again this year, here are some important upcoming events to post in your calendar:

     This year, for the fifth time, our home West Neck Beach will be the site of Long Island’s premiere open-water swimming event, the "West Neck Swim," with one-mile, two-mile, and 5K events. This year, the Swim will be held on July 31st (race organizers changed the original date from June 26th to avoid conflict with the Huntington Tri and to take advantage of warmer water temperatures and the high-tide schedule). Registration information will be posted on the West Neck Swim website (westneckswim.com) and the West Neck Pod Facebook page.

     Then, in August, the West Neck Pod will once again be participating in the annual "Sound-to-Cove" Swim Across America in Glen Cove. Since we first started participating in 2012, "Team West Neck Pod" has raised nearly $100,000.00 to help support local cancer research, treatment and support services. Like so many Long Island families, our West Neck Pod family has been deeply and personally touched by cancer, and many of our members have lost friends and family members to this disease or are cancer survivors themselves. Each year, the members of Team West Neck Pod pledge our swimming bodies to the fight against cancer – a fight the recent research shows we are winning! To help in the fight against cancer in our community, join Team West Neck Pod – or make a generous donation on behalf of the Team or your favorite swimmer. (http://www.swimacrossamerica.org/site/TR/OpenWater/NassauSuffolk?team_id=18308&pg=team&fr_id=3944).
     See you in the Salt!
Paul Coster and Kevin Flannery

Friday, January 1, 2016

Waving-In the New Year

Jimmy, Sharon, me, Tony and Stephen
The sun had almost but not quite burned its way through the clouds, so the air was decidedly chilly at 41 degrees. A west-northwesterly wind was roughing up the surface of the water, which looked stern and cold as the West Neck Polar Pod arrived for its annual New Year’s Day swim. Jimmy Kwong, Stephen Leung, Tony Alizzi, Sharon Berg Hochberg and I were there to swim, but bikini-clad Pod-member Nancy Aboff was there, too, hunkered in her SUV, steeling herself for her first-ever polar plunge. Her friend Karen, who was there for moral support, decided to join her at the last minute, and as we wetsuited swimmers huddled at the shoreline adjusting gloves and goggles and nerves, Nancy and Karen, both wearing only bathing suits, ran headlong into the swells, laughing and shrieking like...well, like they were running nearly naked into ice-cold frigid water!

 The rest of us soon followed suit as fellow Pod member Mark Heuwetter, there just to cheerlead, encouraged us from the beach while taking pictures and videos of our progress (including the ones posted here - thanks, Mark!). The wind-driven chop made swimming difficult, and several of us struggled with leaking, fogging goggles that were impossible to adjust with cold, gloved hands. Back at the beach, Jimmy’s friend Bondy waited for our return, intent on taking her own first polar plunge, which Jimmy had promised he’d join her in after our swim. That was all I needed to hear to be inspired myself, and when the Polar Pod’s brief but exhilarating excursion was over, Jimmy and I both stripped off our wetsuits and joined Bondy in a bathing-suit-only bone-chilling New Year’s polar plunge before dashing back to our cars to dry off, warm up and drink hot tea.
Cold-water swimming certainly isn’t for everyone. For the members of the West Neck Polar Pod, our compulsion to push the boundaries of the "open-water swimming season" is motivated less by a fondness for cold water and goosebumps than by a stubborn unwillingness to relinquish the delicious freedom of the open water for the finite container of the pool (though the cold water definitely kicks up our endorphins!). That’s why we were out there today on this first day of 2016...and why we’ll be out there again as often as the weather and our personal constraints allow. So if you weren’t able to join us today (Gae Polisner, Annmarie Kearney-Wood and Joye Brown, you know I’m talking to you!), don’t worry – you’ll have 364 more chances this year!
Happy New Year, everyone! See you in the Salt!