That’s right. The Statue of Liberty in New York. The one that was a gift from France to the USA to celebrate 100 years of US Independence and opened in 1886. The one that is there to welcome immigrants from the Old World as they sail into New York Harbour on their way to Ellis Island:
“Keep ancient lands your storied pomp” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless. the tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
The place that was the destination of so many from Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries, and is still the dream of so many from around the world.
This was the fourth time that NYC Swims had organised this event which involves a circumnavigation of Liberty Island, the island on which the Statue of Liberty sits in the middle of New York harbour, off the southern shore of Manhattan Island. The actual swim is only 1.2 km, which is nice and short. But really it is not about the distance or the result, it is all about having the opportunity to swim around this world famous landmark.
The swim was scheduled to start at 6.45 pm, well after the tourists left the island at around 5.30 pm. So the 400 swimmers and their guests had the island to themselves for a few hours. On a hot balmy evening it was very special.
We arrived at Battery Park just before 3 pm and wandered over to the NYC tent to get our special swimmers passes which enabled us to get priority on the normal tourist ferry to Liberty Island. As it was a hot day (around 36 degrees), the line of tourists was shorter than normal (they must have been shopping in air-conditioned comfort), so we got through security quite easily. The security is just like at the airport except you get to keep your liquids and keep your shoes on, though you do have to take off your belt.
The ferry trip over was quite short though everyone rushed to the starboard side once we got close to the island so they could take their photos of the Lady. Once on the island I got my numbered swimmer cap (112), and had my number written on the back of my hand and my shoulder. We also picked up our passes that would enable us to stay on the island after closing time, and also the dinner pass for the pre-ordered barbeque. Both of these were on my wrist, which was strange as there was the chance they would come off in the water during the swim.
We found some trees to sit under looking towards Manhattan. It was marginally cooler there, but we still had two hours to kill before the swimmers pre-race meeting at 5.30 pm. I decided to walk around the island to examine the course. Wow it was so hot in the sun, and so many of the tourists had no hats on. While I was walking around the buoys for the race were being put in position. They were quite close to the island which was good. When I had listened to the webinair swimmers briefing on Thursday I learnt we had to keep the buoys on our left shoulder all the way round.
I walked through the gift shop which was very busy, maybe because it was air-conditioned, or perhaps the idea of a souvenir of the Lady purchased on the island was too much of an opportunity to pass up.
Unfortunately we were unable to access the Lady herself as she has been having a facelift which started in October 2011. So all we could do was walk around her. That was impressive enough. While she looks fantastic from Manhattan, it is when you get close up you realise how magnificent the statue truly is. She stands almost 100 metres high due to the pedestal she stands upon. A bit different to the Big Banana at Coffs Harbour.
After my extensive tour of the island I still had ninety minutes to kill before the briefing. So I lay down on the grass under some trees and tried to keep my fluids up. I went to buy some more refreshments, and a person asked me if I was Australian. Not sure what tipped her off, but it may have been my Sydney Harbour Swim Classic t-shirt. Anyway she was here to support her daughter in the race so I stopped for a chat. Luanne had flown in from San Fransisco on the red-eye this morning. She was in wave five, and I was in wave one. I assured her that they could not have been seeded correctly as she is a lot faster than me.
Finally the swimmers briefing took place under the flag pole (with the flag flying at half mast) in the hot sun. I learnt that we could go between the buoys and the working jetty on the Manhattan side of the island, and all other buoys required the swimmers to pass on the right (ie on your left shoulder). The water was cool at 71 degrees F (21.5 C), but to me that would be just like home. There was also a flood tide (ie coming in) which would make the first leg a bit tough swimming against the current. However, the tide was expected to peak at around 7.30 pm so it should not be too bad. Once you got in front of the Lady, the tide would push you.
Once the swimmers meeting had finished we were given permission to strip down to our swimming costumes. Apparently the National Parks people were a tad shy and did not want their eyes afflicted by semi naked bodies.
One of the different aspects of these swims as compared to those at home is the importance of the race number. It is written on each arm, and your cap (twice), and swimmers are in waves of around 40 or so. The swimmers must line up in numerical order and receive their timing chips in numeric order as well. You have your names marked off twice to make sure. Sure is different from home where you are usually in an age wave and the race number is a backup only for when the timing chip does not work.
So we lined up. Fortunately the people in my wave were lined up in the shade on the dock. A ferry boat pulled into the dock which confused me as I thought we were going to have a water start. However, my confusion was lifted when I found out we entered the ferry on the port side, walk through to the starboard side and then jump into the water. Once in the water we had to swim 30 metres or so to line up behind two yellow buoys which were the starting line. Little chance of a warm up then for this sprint event.
The water was very refreshing and we had a chop and I could feel the current in my face. Finally we got the countdown, and I had edged my way to near the front of the starting line. The hooter went and we were off and racing to the sounds of cheers from all the other swimmers lined up in the hot sun watching us. There was little of the usual chaos of floundering arms and legs that I am used to in events at home. I quickly settled on the feet of a young chap wearing a wetsuit. The chop reminded me of the Cockatoo Island swim when the wind was up and a ferry went fast. The tide was in our face, so it was a tough pull to the first marker. I had to remember to breathe left sometimes to catch a glimpse of the Lady from the water.
Round the first marker, and there were about fifteen swimmers in front of me. Round the second marker and swimming through the shadow cast by the Lady and I was still in around the same position. I looked up and saw the work dock was the next mark, and noticed that most of the pack were swimming to the right. Ah I thought they have been caught by the tide, so I aimed left to try to cut the corner and make up some placings. It worked – I had caught five swimmers.
Around the back of the island there was no chop (we were in the lee) and no tide so it was quite calm. If I looked right I saw Manhattan, if I looked left I saw the Statue of Liberty: how good was this. I was trying to put some speed on here and make up more room. A fellow swimmer came back to me and he could not swim straight. I tried to swim away from him, but I could see his stroke rate increase. We were heading away from the next marker, and I had to make a decision soon: would I try to outswim him, or stop and change direction. Well foolish me tried to outswim him, and that did not work. So I had to stop and then swim at an angle back to the marker buoy. He did notice after a few strokes that I had passed behind him and he quickly changed direction. I was not happy with myself. I also noticed a couple of caps from the following wave pass me at this time.
I had been swimming hard and one part of my brain told me to slow down and enjoy the water. But another part told me that I had not flown half way around the globe to take it easy, and it was only a one km event. So I kept up the pace.
There were two swimmers just in front of me so I got on their toes to get their draft. I planned to swim around them on the last corner. And that is what I did. We turned the last corner and had around 75 metres to swim to the finish line. I pulled out from behind them and swam hard to get away from them. I quickly put a couple of body lengths on them and looked up for the pontoon finish line. This was the same one used in the MIMS swim and I was very familiar with it having stood on it for four hours on the previous weekend. I made it to the finish line and heard my number called out just ahead of the other two. I clambered up the steps and crossed the timing mats for the finish line. I had done it.
I said hi to a couple of the volunteers I had got to know and they were happy to see me finish.
I checked the handwritten timing sheet and saw that I had finished in the top ten in my wave. I would not know how I had done overall until the presentation after dinner.
I had some photos taken with my medal on, and then went and grabbed my t-shirt and goody bag. It was fun to realise that I had packed the goody bag and written the number on my cap earlier in the week. It made me feel that I really was part of the event.
I caught up with some of the CIBBOWS swimmers as they finished. They, like me, we on a high after such a fantastic event.
The hotdogs and burgers eaten, and then we learnt that due to some technical problems the presentation would not take place this evening (I later learnt that the electronic timing system had not coped with the heat). So that was a let down. I dis not expect to get a placing in my age group as it was a ten-year age group, but it was a bit of a disappointment that this was not going to take place.
We watched the fireflies(or lightning bugs as one local called them) light up the grass under the trees as the dusk fell. It looked like a bunch of fairy lights at Christmas time, and is not something we see at home.
So all we had to do now was to wait for the nine pm ferry back to Manhattan. It was nice sunset over Jersey and a balmy evening. Very special to be in such a place. Not many people have had the opportunity to swim here, and I was one of them.
As I entered the ferry to go back to Manhattan I realised that this was the same ferry we had jumped off to start the race. We went on the top open deck of the ferry, and it was awesome to see the lights of the Big Apple ahead of us. I remembered my first ferry trip in New York in February 2007 when there was ice in the harbour as we crossed to Staten Island, and it was far too cold to sit in the open.
The walk to the subway through Battery Park was hot, and the subway platform was hotter. Soon enough our air-conditioned subway train showed up to take us back to Brooklyn.
This was one of the best swims I have done. I have swum under the Brooklyn Bridge, near the Sydney Opera House and at Bondi. But this was very special.
The results have been posted and I came 75th out of the field of just under 350 swimmers. I am very happy with this as the impact of the strength of the tide does play a part in the results. Another finish in the top 100.