I had the honor of crewing for Bridget S. in the Boston Light Swim, an 8-mile ocean swim with a long, illustrious history. She lucked into a slot when someone who made it through the swimmer lottery had to drop out. She and I know each other going back to 1992, so it was just dumb luck that I’m living here now and she got a slot in the swim. And I was already volunteering on the Friday night prior to the swim.
I must admit up front that I volunteered for selfish reasons: If you make it through the volunteer lottery (yes, a lottery for swimmers and volunteers), and you qualify, then next year you can skip the lottery to swim the race! So while I’d love to say I volunteered for altruistic reasons, I really had a game plan for 2019.
Friday went well; I got to meet a lot of swimmers I’d only known through the internet and the MSF forums. I also met some great swimmers who aren’t on the forums, to include a man who has swum the BLS 20 times, but also has swum BLS doubles at least 3 times. He’s also swum the original Boston Light route (12-miles from downtown Boston to the Light). Kim Garbarino was incredibly modest, and quite the swimmer. I met an 80-year old swimmer who has written the histories of the BLS; yes, I had to buy his books to add to my OW swims history collection. Bob McCormack was wonderful to meet and a true lover of this swim.
Saturday found us up early and out of the house by 0455. We had to stop at a Dunkin Donuts (they’re like Starbucks here) to get our pilot an iced coffee. We met all the other swimmers, got Bridget’s stuff together for the fly-away bag, and went out to the pier to wait for Kevin, our pilot.
This really is the worst part of any swim, the nerves at the beginning. All you can think about is the swim: How will I feel? How cold will the water be? Will the weather hold/get worse/get better? Did I train sufficiently? What did I forget? Where’s the pilot?
Kevin arrived and we loaded the boat. His boat was pretty small; Bridget had told me that he said she could have one crew member. I can see why. Small boat, but very capable. We motored on out to the Light for the start.
You can kind of see what looks like a small radar at the front of his boat. That is something like a “trolling motor,” if I understood him correctly. It is electric and with this motor Kevin can control his boat by remote control, with the main engine off. There would be times during B’s swim that I realized the motor was off and Kevin was steering the entire boat with a handheld remote. Nice and slow like the swimmer, none of this rush ahead, let the swimmer catch up, repeat.
The swim would start with a 5-min warning by radio, then two short horn blasts. Nothing fancy. Swimmers were not allowed in the water till those horns blasts. The current was in the swimmers’ favor, so jumping in early, then you have to fight to stay back behind the line. So the blasts go off and Bridget gets in the water. She is admittedly a gradual enterer in cold water so this jumping in was not to her liking. In fact, she jumped in, surfaced and screamed. Turns out the water was 57*. Bridget didn’t whine or hesitate, she simply put her head down and got to work. Within 60-90 seconds, she was cruising with a beautiful stroke.
She actually started in the very back of the line; all other swimmers were ahead of her at the start. But within 30 minutes, she had passed 5 other swimmers. Within an hour, she had passed eight more swimmers. Most of this was due to Bridget’s beautiful stroke, but a large part of this was the navigation by Kevin. He found fast water. He took an occasional weird route which turned out to be the right choice as Bridget would just zoom by other swimmers. Turns out he isn’t new at this. He’s piloted for BLS swimmers before, and knows the course.
Between Spectacle and Thompson islands, a bunch of different currents met, and there was slow water there. I ended up calling that area the Doldrums. (I didn’t tell Bridget that till after the swim.) It was about a half mile or so long and a lot of swimmers got stuck. I didn’t stop her at the 30:00-feed mark in this area because I didn’t want her to see herself being pushed backwards. Kevin took us almost directly north to Spectacle after we went through the Long Island “bridge,” then we took a sharp left past Thompson and caught a beautiful current.
That current took her straight to the L Street finish. I asked Kevin a couple times if he thought she would make it to the beach before the five hour cut-off. I didn’t want to stop her for a feed if she was within minutes of finishing. Kevin had no worries. He had her on a good line. One of the Irish swimmers was going directly to the yacht club where we started. Only problem with that is that was not the finish. By the time his pilot realized, Bridget almost caught up. It became a race then. Kevin wanted her to beat that guy! And she almost did.
Kevin and I cheered for Bridget as she arrived, then motored on back to the yacht club where we started. I tentatively booked Kevin for 2019. After watching him find fast water for Bridget, I knew who I wanted to be my pilot next year!