Each year a swim is held in New York that circumnavigates Manhattan Island. Sounds easy swimming around an island. Except this swim is 45 km long if you swim in a straight line, and the winner took seven and a half hours to finish. This year’s event was held on 23 June 2012, and I was there. Well when I say I was there, that does not mean I swam in the race, but I did watch.
So what was I doing in New York City? I had taken some well earned long service leave and travelled to the big apple for a holiday. I am planning to compete in a series of swimming races while staying in New York. Our trip from Australia was long, thirty hours door to door. I can never sleep in planes as I find the seats too small. Maybe if I could afford a flat bed up the front it would be a different experience.
To help with the jet lag I went for a swim at Coney Island with the CIBBOWS (Coney Island Brighton Beach Open Water Swimmers).
Well I can tell you that Coney Island is no Bondi. It is a long open stretch of sand with the water lapping the shore with a distinct absence of swell, and a broad board walk and amusement park. The good thing about it was that the CIBBOWS group were welcoming, it was open water, and you can swim a long way. It is around three km from one end of the beach to the other.
The water is murky but quite clean, and quite warm for this early in the season (around 21 degrees). Some of the locals thought this was awfully cold and insisted on wearing their wet suits. I did get talking to one chap Tom who swims here year round. In the winter he is part of a polar bears club (like icebergs), and he said that in winter the water can get down to 30 degrees (or -1 celsius). Though for the winter just gone he was disappointed that it did not get below 40 (5 celsius). Sure makes you think about a cold 13 degree day at Bondi.
Back to the swell. Well the only time there is one is when a storm comes through. You might get a wind chop on the water and that is about it. However, there is a current to deal with that goes along the beach. So swimming one way you get the current and then you can turn around and swim into it. Did I tell you about the lifeguards every 50 m or so to protect the swimmers from the rips?
So I have now swum there three times. It is a lot of fun and good to get a hitout in calm water. The beach is also easy to get to on the subway with three different lines arriving there. The locals are friendly and keen to see a person from down under. They also want to have long service leave in their country.
It is a colourful neighbourhood down there as well. At one end of the beach is the amusement park with a rollercoaster that is 85 years old. Next door is the New York Aquarium At the other end is Brighton Beach which is where a large number of Russian immigrants live. The shop signs are in Russian, and the beach safety signs are in English, Spanish and Russian. Makes me think that those at home could do with a few more languages such as Mandarin, Bogan, as well as English.
The organisation that runs the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim (MIMS) is known as NYC Swim. It is a volunteer run organisation that organises a number of swims in the NYC area. I have entered three of the swims this year after my efforts at the Brooklyn Bridge Swim in 2011. So I decided to see if they wanted any help with the MIMS event. I helped to pack the goody bags for the swimmers and organise the medals a few days before the race. I also decided to help out at the finish line at South Cove in Battery Park on the day of the race.
This year there were no Australians doing the MIMS event, unlike other years where my countrymen and women have won the event. I think the record time is also held by an Aussie. I had not entered this event because I have never swum for that length of time. There were also a qualifying requirement, and that may mean doing the Rottnest Island swim in Perth one year. While the swim is 45 km, the start time is set so that swimmers swim with the tide as much as possible. Believe me in the East River you do not want to miss the tide as you will go backwards. There is a time cut off of ten hours to finish the race, meaning the slowest swimmers do 4.5 km an hour or a km every 13 minutes (50m every 40 seconds). The fastest swimmer did it in seven and a half hours, or a km every 10 minutes (50m every 30 minutes)!!!!
On the day of the race I was asked to assist on the pontoon where the swimmers leave the water. They have to climb some steps, and then get up onto the dock to get their refreshments and massages. The day was quite warm (around 32), so one of the cooler places was that close to the water. So I assisted the 45 swimmers who finished the race out of the water. Most of them were surprisingly fresh and did not need much help from me to get onto the dock. Several of the swimmers had swum the English Channel,which is in far colder water and the tide often hinders progress. I was slightly in awe of them all as they are at the highest level of our amateur sport with the ability to swim for long periods.
On the way back to Brooklyn on the subway I did think that just maybe in a few years I might just be able to do this event. Of course I would need to do a qualifying swim, have a support crew for the boat (sure I would get lots of offers) and save for the entry fee.
At least my next race around an island would be a lot shorter: Liberty Island just over one km. Looking forward to that.