Brooklyn Bridge 30 July 2011

Brooklyn Bridge

We had been planning a trip to New York City for a few months, and my research had revealed a swim under the Brooklyn Bridge was to be held while I was there. I was intrigued by the course and the reputation of the waters around New York of being quite dirty. I had read of the exploits of Shelley Taylor Smith swimming the marathon round Manhattan swim and coming across bodies in the water. After some research on the nycswim.org website and despite the references to flotsam and jetsam in the water I decided to enter the event. After all how often can a resident of Sydney get to swim in New York? The cost was high compared to the swims in Australia, but hey it was all about the experience.

The actual swim was from Fulton Landing near the Manhattan Bridge, downriver to the Brooklyn Bridge and then across to the Manhattan side of the East River, a distance of about one km. I went to the swim course the day before so that I was comfortable with the location, and how to get there on the subway.

Another view of the course with both bridges

I had made contact with a fellow swimmer from Australia, Alan, who had swum the Governor’s Island swim previously. We agreed to meet near the start line.

When I arrived for registration I was asked if I was wearing a wet suit for the swim. When I replied no, they said oh you are an Aussie and you are used to the cold water then. When I enquired as to the water temperature I was told it was around 75 degrees (about 24 C). That was warm and I wondered why anyone would wear a wet suit.

The organisers wrote my entry number on my arm and told me I was in wave five of the seeded nine waves. I was not used to seeding as the events at home had waves based on age. So that was different. I was also told to be sure to line up in numerical order when the wave was called. I thought that was strange too, as the numbers we had at home were only for identification if the chip fell off, or for a medical emergency. Alan and I chatted about how warm it was, and how much the current was moving in the river. He was in wave one, so he hit the water first.

My swim plan was to swim as hard as I could to start with in order to swim away from the others in my wave. With any luck I could catch the wave in front of me who left a few minutes previously. I also made note of the briefing where we were told to keep the deck of the Brooklyn Bridge above us once we arrived at the part of the course.

The course under the bridge

As we waited for our wave to enter the water I looked around at my fellow competitors and thought that they looked different to the surf swimmers I was used to in Sydney; they had less of a sun tan and less sun damage to the skin. A guy behind me boasted about his long drive from Baltimore to do the swim. I asked him how long that took and he said about three hours. He asked me how long it took me to get there I said twenty-two hours on a plane. He was amazed. I also noticed a swimmer wearing Bondi Icebergs swimmers.

We entered the water at a small beach to wait for our water start. Fortunately I was towards the front of my wave so I moved to the front to  put my race plan in action. Soon enough we had started and I was swimming away from most of the others in my wave. By the time I arrived at the first turning buoy I had caught swimmers from the previous wave. I felt fast and strong knowing that all that training was starting to pay off.

I turned right at the buoy under the bridge and swam past those in the previous wave quite easily. I was enjoying the swim in the warm brackish water even though it was murky and it was difficult to see past your fingers. Swimming across the East River was relaxing, and I was even catching swimmers from wave three. I was starting to think that this was great and that perhaps I would be doing a good time.

But then the current hit me as I was about two-thirds of the way across the river. It was pushing me upstream, and I had to go downstream to get to the next buoy. I then realised that I had not swum under the deck and was off course. Looking around I realised that most other swimmers were more off course than me. I put in big strokes and remembered to try to swim across the current and not into it. After a few minutes of seemingly making no progress I got out of the current and made it to the stanchion. I looked up for the finish line and noticed that swimmers in front of me were swimming past the finish line and were having to swim back. I took note of that and aimed for the small beach just up-stream from the finish line to allow the current to push me directly to the finish. Before long I was standing up and was out of the water.

Coming out of the East River

I was thrilled and amazed that I had just finished the race. The Brooklyn Bridge is an icon, and I had just swum under it. I was floating on cloud nine and gave a big smile for the volunteers and my support crew. I was timed at just over twenty minutes for the one km whihc was a lot slower than my pool time for the same distance, but was a good indicator of the strength of the current. The time placed me in the top forty-five of the 320 swimmers, and I had finished eighth in my age group. That was my first ever top ten finish in my age group so I was very happy with that. It was also my best overall placing in a swim event. I thought I may have to swim here more often with those sorts of results. I had even managed to beat Alan, even though he was a far more experienced swimmer than me. It turned out that wave one had more of a current to deal with the whole way. Oh well the luck of the draw.

I was very impressed with the efficiency of the race organisers, and even more impressed with the gift bag containing amongst other things a t-shirt. I was used to buying them at home, so it was good to get one for free.

As I sat down to a nice cold beer at the presentation I thought that now I have competed in races on two continents. I had now swum in the Atlantic Ocean (well a tidal river that feeds into a harbour that goes into the Atlantic) to add to my races in the Pacific Ocean, and my swims in the Indian Ocean at Cable Beach in Broome in Western Australia.

Now I could enjoy the rest of my holiday knowing that I had achieved another goal.

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