It was a few short months ago I was introduced to Gunter Spilhaus and was asked if I would like to put together an open water event as part of an outdoor adventure multi-sport expo in Poughkeepsie. Needless to say, I jumped at the opportunity to plan another swim in the Hudson River, threw together a rough outline after laying out a theoretical course on google earth and enlisted Rondi Davies to co-direct the event with me. Time was short, as we were already past the 135 day deadline for marine event application submittals to the Coast Guard, so I made a few phone calls to see if the application would even be considered. I wasn’t told no… which is as good as I could expect, so… CG application, Safety Plan, USMS sanction application, CIBBOWS BOD approval, Entry Form submission, etc etc… full speed ahead. Fortunately much of the legwork and equipment would be provided by the Expo including tents and tables, t-shirts, food, P.A. system, land based permits, etc.
I drove to Long Island to gather equipment that has been in storage all winter… kayaks, buoys, anchors, rescue equipment, marine radios; drove it upstate and took inventory. I decided to try and refine the buoy anchoring system a little so purchased some shackles, carabiners, and 1000′ of anchor line. SInce the average depth of the course is 55′, the anchor lines used at Coney Island would be too short. I supplemented the rescue equipment with rescue rings and a spinal board. Banners were ordered for my boat as well.
Rondi is certainly the brains of our operation and excels at things like creating forms, and spreadsheets and calculating current speeds from tide charts… all the things that make my brain hurt. I’m good at things like moving heavy objects. Since the date for this swim was already set by the Expo, We (Rondi) calculated that an 11:30 start for the 5k would be optimal. The 2.5k would start 30 minutes later. A test swim a few weeks prior to the event on a similar tide confirmed Rondi’s predictions. I was happy that Hannah and Janet were able to participate in our test swim since they would both be in Iceland for the IGLA games during the event.
Both events would take place on the same course… a rectangularish course that would wrap around the eastern stanchions of the Mid-Hudson Bridge and the Walkway Over the Hudson Bridge. Both roadways are over 120′ above the river, so it is quite an experience to pass through the shadow and then look up at the bridges under bellies. The course would require 7 buoys. One each 100 yards beyond the stanchions… south of the Mid-Hudson, and north of the Walkway. One at 25 yards east of each of the stanchions, one at 25 yards west of each of the stanchions. Finally, one buoy at 100 yards from the start. There is a 25 yard security zone around each of these stanchions, and we wanted to respect that. There are also a few cables running across the river bed, so care had to be taken when anchoring the buoys.
2.5k swimmers would enter the water at the Poughkeepsie boat launch, swim 100 yards to the turn buoy, turn 90 degrees south, swim around the Mid -Hudson Bridge stanchion and head north, swim around the Walkway Bridge stanchion and head south again until they reach the turn buoy again, then head east 100 yards to the finish. 5k swimmers would do 2 loops.
The forecast for event day worsened every day of the week prior, so much so that on 2 Bridges Eve, I was receiving lots of emails requesting race status. I hate the idea of canceling or postponing an event, and my standard reply was “unless there is sustained electrical storm activity, the event is on!” It rained on and off all night… I got less than 2 hours sleep listening to the rain and checking the radar weather maps every few minutes. I memorized Riverkeeper’s water quality testing charts with all the data for the Poughkeepsie area… how long after how much rain does the water quality deteriorate to a point where it would not be advisable to swim in????? Fortunately, this storm brought us no where near what I would consider questionable… I even put my wife Clare in the water! Rain continued into the morning and we were quite drenched setting the course. Swimmers began to arrive by car and by train. Four agencies provide us with marine patrol… Ulster County Sheriff’s Dept, Dutchess County Sherrif’s Dept, Poughkeepsie Fire Dept, and the Coast Guard. Additionally, we had my boat, a jet ski, and 13 kayakers on a course that is really easy to navigate.
The rain trickled off, and the sun even poked through shortly after the 5k began.
72 swimmers total… a good number for a “first time event”. It was thrilling to have so many aquatic friends come together in one of my favorite bodies of water. I think all the Hudson River newbys were pleasantly surprised by the water quality and the beauty of the Mid-Hudson region. It shouldn’t be hard to convince them to return!
Thank you to everyone who made this event a great success! So many helped with set up, course marking, check-in, timing, safety, operations, break-down, awards/prizes, etc!
Rondi and I couldn’t have done it without you!