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Maple Syrup with a Side of Chlorine

07/21/12: Peaks to Portland

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Another fair warning: long race report blog to follow ...

This marked my third year swimming in the P2P 2.4 mile swim in Casco Bay, separating Peaks Island from the East End Beach in Portland, Maine. I first learned of this event after stumbling across the blog of Pat Gallant-Charette and asking our friends who live in Portland about this fundraising event for the YMCA in the region. Bobby had heard of it and had a kayak and a willingness to paddle for me, so I began my dive back into swimming (after a ten year + hiatus from the sport) by training for it. Most folks take the ferry out to the island in the morning (although one EC vet opted to swim it as a warmup this year), and after finalizing registration and a brief meeting we are sent off in one of four waves through the Atlantic Ocean to the finish line, passing Fort Gorges. Here is a link to the race map.

Since the weather was forcasted to be beautiful, we headed up to Maine in two vechiles: Lena took Preston and our nephew Adam in the car and I took the motorcycle. It was cloudy until we hit the border of Vacationland on the five hour trek, but then the sun popped out and did not disappear the entire weekend. What a glorious ride! After checking in at the Y and picking up my packet on Friday, we met up with our Maine hosts and ate at Tortilla Flat before heading back to the house, where Bobby and I took a short motorcycle cruise around town and to the park overlooking Casco Bay towards Peaks Island:
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JBS contacted me earlier in the week to invite me to join the group that he and slknight swim with for a warmup at the outdoor Kiwanis Pool if I was up for it. I figured that I since I was able to get up to join tjrpatt in Philly for a 6am practice I could do the same in Portland, and Bobby and family was willing to get up so I dropped in for some pool tourism and about 400 meters are stretching out before the race. John gave me a ride to the ferry and I had a new friend, Jeff, snap this picture of your intrepid bloggers for your viewing pleasure:
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We reached to island and signed off on waivers and got our timing chip. In the process I met up with Bobby, who paddled out with a friend instead of boarding the ferry, and was able to pass off my clothes to him and get duct tape on my feet before the final morning briefings took place. Duct tape? Yes, since the beach is essentially a mussel bed with sharp shells and some rocks, so wading out to the start can be treacherous (I still managed a few cuts on my toes this year). I also finally met Pat before the swim, as I did not find her last year during a season where she completed both the English and Catalina channels. Pat rocks!

There was a brief moment of silence to honor three pioneers of the race before a warmup period was allowed. After the my experience the first year, shivering in the cold between "warmups" and the start of the swim, I stayed on the beach and watched as the yakers departed from the beach and many got in some practice strokes. After a bit of work on the organizers part to clear the water and line up the waves of swimmers, I slowly entered the water with the first group to the end of the pier to await our sendoff, gazing past the waiting kayakers and towards the far end of the bay.

As arms and legs started to flail at the start, I found myself towards the center of the pod as we made strides into the cool water, a balmy 64-65 degrees this year. I have gotten a little more accustomed to not only the "ice cream headache" from the cold water but also the bumping at the start of the race, and didn't really get to tied up with anyone besides the usual hitting of hands and tapping of toes. I was able to get my head fully submerged within twenty strokes, and got into a strong swimming pattern. I found Bobby easily off shore due to the American Flag sailing above his kayak, and we made our way out into the ocean. Overall the water was much warmer than last year, but we found some colder spots.

Low tide occurred about an hour before the race started, so we ventured into the slack tide, which really didn't play into the swim until we rounded Fort Gorges around the halfway point. Bobby kept our line a little more to the west of the Fort, and we didn't have any issues until one of the swimmers without a kayak suddenly cut right in front of us. Bob moved from my right side to the left, then I saw legs appear out of nowhere! He kept heading towards the Old Port, until the police boat on the periphery pointed him in the right direction: we joked afterwards that he must have been swimming to the West End Beach! A few waves from the ferry splashed us around, but the water was fairly calm until the currents picked up after the Fort. I was about to get a quick drink when Bobby announced that we were at 34 minutes, which prompted me to forgo the feed and usual comedic banter to power on towards our goal.

We were again able to pick off some of the swimmers that stayed on a line closer to the Fort, and as we came closer to the finish area I could see the beach was packed! This year saw the highest number of participants at 316, over half of them were first-time athletes and 19 of us swam "naked," without a wetsuit. As we approaced the boats floating just off the beach, we were joined by three other kayaks. I focused on a strong kick and a faster turnover as I made my way into the finish area. Again I did a few breaststroke cycles before trying to stand up, then did my best to jog out of the water to the finish line. I was excited to hear the announcer mention that "it looks like our first non-wetsuit swimmer is making his way up the chute," and looked up to see a time of 51:52 before seeing John on the beach. Susan was the first female to emerge without a wetsuit shortly after - note that both of them swam without a yaker!

I met with my family and the Browns on the beach for pictures and celebration. After getting hosed off I took advantage of the free massage for swimmers before watching and cheering all of the swimmers into the beach. The harbormaster sounded the siren as the last swimmers reached the finish - Terry Swain, the aquatics director of the Y had waited near the boats offshore for all of the other swimmers to make land before finding her way there.

We packed up the cars then headed into the Old Port for lunch at Flatbread before heading home for a nap! We finished off the day by wandering down to Old Orchard Beach for some seashell hunting and relaxing on the beach before eating our way back to the house. It was another great weekend for a swim, and by far the most pleasant on the weather front. Susan sent a link to the Press Herald writeup and agreed that everyone finished about two minutes behind the pace from last year, likely due to the tide. John also saw a link on The Daily News of Open Water Swimming site about the swim that I am sure Pat sent in.

I can't wait for the excitement of next year's 32nd annual race with my friends in Maine! (I might even try to swim over to Peaks in the morning, but don't hold me to it too much) A lot of hard work goes into making this event happen, and I am very thankful that God has blessed me with a supportive family, a great team (including someone crazier than me that volunteers to kayak and his family, as well as Linda and Ron, who always cheer us on), all the volunteers, and the collective ability of all the swimmers to be able to raise money to help offer the benefits of the YMCA to folks who otherwise could not gain access to them.

Here is a picture of the best wingman in the business, my yaker Bobby, before the race:
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Updated July 22nd, 2012 at 11:33 PM by rxleakem

Swim Workouts , Masters Swim Meets / Events , Open Water


  1. jaadams1's Avatar
    Nice going!
  2. ViveBene's Avatar
    Very nice story! Congratulations on being the first appropriately garbed swimmer to the beach, with Susan close!
    Is that your kayaker in the photo?
  3. rxleakem's Avatar
    The photo is just us bloggers: Rx, JBS, and slknight, about to board the ferry to Peaks.
  4. GregJS's Avatar
    Another nice swim! Thanks for bringing us all along with you. The fact that way more people wear wetsuits gives an idea of how chilly it must've been. That, and the description of "ice-cream headache!" (I wonder how much difference a wetsuit makes?)

    Way to lead the pack of non-wetsuiters!
  5. swimsuit addict's Avatar
    Congrats on your swim! sounds like a wonderful race that I should put on my to-do-someday list!
  6. rxleakem's Avatar
    Jbs mentioned in his blog that he felt the wetsuit provided around a 5% time advantage, Greg. It was about 2-3 degrees warmer this year, and the tides did not push us along quite as much.

    SA, this is a great swim in a fantastic small city offering lots of activities. Even made the state by state bucket list here. (Do you recognize that lake from the link?)
  7. jbs's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by rxleakem
    Jbs mentioned in his blog that he felt the wetsuit provided around a 5% time advantage, Greg. It was about 2-3 degrees warmer this year, and the tides did not push us along quite as much.
    I did say that about the wetsuits, but the more I think about it, the less certain I am of the percentage. I think there may be too many variables between the two races to draw much of a conclusion.

    Which is not to say that there isn't an advantage -- just that I'm not sure how to quantify it. Plus, in my opinion, the advantage is not the same for everyone. Some people gain more speed with a wetsuit than others do.
  8. Sojerz's Avatar
    Im going to try to time myself with/without sleevelss wetsuit over the same 400m lake course in the fall. Body poition is definitely higher with the wetsuit on, and it's "easier" kicking with hips higher up. Does easier kicking and reduced skin friction mean faster and/or using less enregy?? Possibly, and even more so for poor to ok (not good) swimmers who's body position would otherwise be very crappy and slow them, i think. They also have the psychological factor of additional float. For a good swimmer, i think the impact on speed and energy use is smaller, so excpet for warmth it might not provide as much benefit. I did notice that i seem to have an easier time swimming straighter without the wetsuit, but i have no idea why. i tend to drift to my right (dominant and breathing side) when i have it on and don't seem to have that problem without it on.