Swimming Around the City

CIBBOW’s Triple Dip

Having no swims between the Border Buster in July and the Suck in October, I was persuaded by a friend into signing up for back-to-back September swims in New York: the Triple Dip, run by CIBBOWS in Coney Island, and the Spuyten Duyvil 10K, run by NYOW in the Hudson River. These swims seemed like a fun way to spend the weekend. Then Hurricane Irma struck Florida. The week leading up to the storm, South Florida became a hysterical madhouse: long lines at the gas stations, hardware stores, and grocery stores. The pre-storm stress was dovetailed by the one brought by watching the path of the storm creeping toward Florida and finally feeling its effects. My neck of the woods was left with downed power lines and trees, though sadly other parts of the state were left in much worse conditions. Once the storm passed, communities grappled with the lack of power and kids enjoyed their break from school. The pools were closed. By the time I had to leave for New York, I was ready for a break from two weeks of constant stress.

I arrived in a very hot New York City on a Friday and on Saturday morning took the subway to Coney Island in Brooklyn. Coney Island features a beach, boardwalk, and amusement park. The Triple Dip is one of the races run by CIBBOWS and offers 1-, 2-, and 3-mile options which start within ten minutes of each other. Capri Djatiasmoro, the affable leader of this cheery pod of swimmers, put on a fun, safe and well-organized race. Close to a hundred swimmers participated.

The morning was foggy, but not enough to obscure the buoys marking the course. The air temperature was 71 F (21.7 C). I measured the water temperature at 70.8 F (21.6 C) at the shore. The safety meeting was held right on time just outside of the New York Aquarium’s Education Hall on the boardwalk. The course for the 3-mile swim was one and a half loops. Swimmers would head south for half a mile, turn at the buoy adjacent to the Steeplechase Pier, swim a mile north, turn at the northernmost buoy, swim a mile south, and finally swim half a mile north and toward the finish line at the beach.

Triple Dip course map (CIBBOWS).

The 3-mile swimmers (pink caps) started in the second wave. The water felt cooler, perhaps in the upper 60s. Because of Hurricane Irma, I hadn’t swum in ten days. My stroke felt terrible. My shipment of contact lenses had also been delayed due to the storm so I had to dig out a pair of ancient prescription goggles. I was certainly glad I hadn’t thrown them away because without those goggles I would’ve strayed from the course as I did on the Potomac last September. I was happy to be swimming in cool saltwater―my favorite kind of water.

Heading south, there was a gentle push from the wind and the waves. After rounding the buoy at the southernmost, I felt the chop, which is always fun to swim against. Rounding the northernmost buoy I was grateful the volunteers in the safety boat offered me water, but I had some Gatorade left in the silicone bottle I stuck inside my suit. Swimming south I had to contend with the swell, which pushed me toward the shore. That was not a good thing, since the beach has rock groins jutting perpendicularly into the water. I passed a couple of two-mile swimmers, but for the most part I was swimming alone. I rounded the southernmost buoy for a second and last time. A volunteer in the safety boat offered me water and this time I took it because I had run out of Gatorade. Swimming into the chop again I caught a flash of what I thought was another pink cap. Soon I heard someone yelling at me from behind. It was one of the swim angels in an orange cap. She was shouting encouragement. I felt somewhat taken aback because I didn’t feel I needed it. I figured the swim angel probably thought I did because I’m a slow swimmer. In any case, I smiled and resumed my swimming but now I was stopping every so often because she kept encouraging me and directing me toward the finish. My rhythm was now lost, but the swim angel was so happy I couldn’t help but feeling happy, too.

Three-mile race start (photo by Sebastian Moll).

I walked out of the water and when I saw my time my heart skipped a beat. It was the worst time for a near 5K I’ve ever had. I don’t get many finisher medals these days, so I was happy with the one I got from CIBBOWS: a little bottle opener shaped like fish bones. Capri told me there was one last swimmer in the water. The fog had not yet lifted. I walked back to Education Hall wrapped in a thermal blanket. Awards were already being delved out. I received an award for being last, not without protesting since I really wasn’t and didn’t want to take the prize from the rightful winner. It was given to me anyway and I hoped the lady still in the water got one, too. I got another award for finishing fourth in my age group. Fourth out of four was quite amusing. The Triple Dip was a fun swim. Most of all, I felt grateful to be back in the water.

NYOW’s Spuyten Duyvil 10K

On Sunday I had the season’s second appointment with the Hudson. Back in June, I attempted Stage 4 of the 8 Bridges Hudson River Swim and did not finish. I had mixed feeling about returning to the Hudson, though given the forecast of light winds, I judged the likelihood of finishing much higher.

On its second installment, the Spuyten Duyvil 10K was purported to be a very fast race. The start was timed to get a good push from the ongoing tide. The race takes its name from the Spuyten Duyvil Creek, which connects the Hudson River to the Harlem River just north of the finish point at La Marina Restaurant in Manhattan. In Dutch, Spuyten Duyvil means spouting devil, a reference to the turbulent flows in the creek before it was channelized from the late 1800s to the early 1900s to accommodate shipping traffic.

On race morning many swimmers congregated at La Marina Restaurant to board the shuttle buses to the starting point a the JFK Marina in Yonkers. Just like the previous day, fog hovered above the water. After preparing for the start, we turned in our bags to be taken back to the restaurant. During the safety meeting, Dave Barra, one of the race directors, announced that a film crew would be documenting the event for a short film for Riverkeeper. The filmmaker, Jon Bowermaster of Hudson River Stories, aims to demonstrate how people can enjoy a much improved Hudson River. I’m looking forward to his piece.

Spuyten Duyvil 10K course map (NYOW).

About 200 swimmers were numerically ordered in five waves, slowest to fastest. To my surprise, I was in the second wave. Rondi Davies, Dave’s co-race director, saw swimmers off a the dock. My group gasped when we realized how fast the river pulled the first group of swimmers downstream. The second wave swimmers jumped into the water and laughed while we waited for the go signal and drifted downstream as a group. Soon enough Rondi gave us the go and we took off.

I enjoy seeing how much a body of water can change from one day to the next, from one month to another. Stage 4 was very present in my mind as I started Spuyten Duyvil. The conditions couldn’t have contrasted more. The water was glassy and the wind very light as opposed to the choppy water and the wicked headwind back in June. The water was warmer, which surprised me. Perhaps the Hudson and I would kiss and make up. I swam uninterrupted mile after mile. This was a new and welcome feeling. Whether the Hudson punishes me or carries me gingerly, it always makes me feel like I belong in the water. But not having to stop… who does that? Fish… Mermaids…

Knowing that the deepest part of a river is the fastest, I tried to hug the line of kayaks that herded the swimmers downstream. I saw many swimmers on my left, closer to the shoreline, but I enjoyed my spot since not many swimmers were close to me. Every once in a while the water rippled, but for the most part it was like glass. The kayaks looked like cars driving down a highway that disappeared in a mirage. The George Washington Bridge (a double decked suspension bridge) appeared within the fog. I knew that we wouldn’t swim under it, but its appearance signaled the finish was near. The fog lifted and I immediately felt hot and wished for the race to end. As if summoned, the Spuyten Duyvil Bridge (a railroad swing bridge) and the Henry Hudson Bridge (a steel arch bridge) beyond it appeared on my left. I was ecstatic. The kayakers directed the swimmers toward the restaurant’s marina. We had to make a hard left, otherwise the current would sweep us downstream past the finish.

The GWB from La Marina Restaurant.

The timing mats lay on a concrete boat ramp. Swimmers had been warned about how slippery the boat ramp would be. In addition, water chestnuts―an invasive water plant whose fruits have sharp barbs―could make our stepping onto the boat ramp painful. Shuffling was recommended. Well, I tried to stand up and promptly sank into a gelatinous mud. I fell on my butt. I tried to stand again and my knee met the boat ramp’s concrete. Very ungracefully I gained some balance and finally stood up. Rondi gave me a hand and I was able to walk toward the timing mat. I’d finished in less than two hours. That was indeed very amusing. After a quick shower, I enjoyed the perks of finishing a race at La Marina: good drinks and good food. The mood was festive as this was NYOW’s season closer. The winners received awards and all swimmers received glasses emblazoned with the funny logo of the race.

Hello, little devil! (NYOW).

At the end of my swimming weekend in the city, I was glad I returned to the Hudson. If I’m fortunate enough to swim in the river next season, there’ll be no hard feelings, at least on my end. I can only offer the Hudson an honest swim and the Hudson can only give me whatever it’s got in store that day.

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