To Bannerman's and Back
by, September 16th, 2012 at 10:38 PM (2483 Views)
Yesterday I was part of a small group test-swimming a new course in the Hudson from Cold Spring, NY north to Bannerman’s Island and back. It’s probably the most scenic swim route I’ve ever done, and a glorious day to be out on the water. The day had a little bit of everything—beauty, difficulty, adventure, and most of all fun. The course itself featured a lot of the highlights of the beautiful Stage 4 of 8 Bridges, which I had loved swimming in 2011.
The route was first swum solo by Rondi a few weeks ago; her blog gives a map of the route and a description of her trip. For Saturday’s adventure we had 9 swimmers of various speeds; part of the point of this swim was to test tidal predictions and swim times for a range of swimmers. The start was very near the MetroNorth train station in Cold Spring, a plus for those of us traveling up from the city. We were divided into four pods of swimmers, each with its own kayak or paddleboard escort, while Dave patrolled the course on Agent Orange.
We started during the latter stages of the flood (northerly) tide, and the goal was for all swimmers to reach the northern tip of Bannerman’s Island around slack in order to ride the ebb (southerly) current back to our starting point—a “tide me up, tide me down” swim, at least in theory. But since we would be catching only the last, weakest part of the flood and the corresponding early portion of the ebb, the current assist wouldn’t be very great—Rondi estimated the 10.5K swim would take around 2:45 to 3 hours for my group.
The day was wonderfully sunny, with a hint of fall crispness in the air. Strong winds from the north were predicted, and we had seen white caps on portions of the river during the train ride up. The kayak launch where we started was in a protected cove, though, so during our preparations before splash time things looked very calm. That changed as soon as we started swimming. Once we headed out beyond the cove into the main portion of the river, it became clear that the wind would be pushing some nice choppy swells directly at us for the first half of the swim.
With me in the third pod were Hannah, Willie, and Eli, with Andy kayaking alongside. We swam well together, and I could usually see all three of them to my right as we travelled along together. Stroking into the swells turned out to be fun if challenging—there were some nice roll-y waves which we were swimming directly into. I played with the water’s undulations, occasionally switching to dolphin kick with freestyle arms when the waves pushed my legs up behind me. Air temps were in the 60s, but the water was warm, in the upper 70s. Still, with the wind, it was pleasant feeling the sun on my back as we swam along.
We passed the densely wooded rolling hills of the Hudson Highlands, punctuated by sheer rocky cliff faces. Sometimes I would roll over to do backstroke and admire the puffy clouds moving along rapidly overhead. When I did that, the waves breaking over my head would send sprays of water over my face that left enough space for me to breathe. I really liked that effect, and played around with it several times on the trip up.
Our pod swimming upstream: me, Hannah,Willie, Eli
(Photo credit A. Moore)
We could see Bannerman’s Island in the distance, and I would occasionally pick up my head to see it getting closer. We stopped once or twice for leisurely feeds—it takes a while to feed four swimmers from one kayak—but otherwise stroked steadily along. Our instructions had been to swim steadily at a comfortable pace up to the island, in order to get there before the tide changed—then on the way back we could “play tourist” all we wanted.
As we neared the island the water grew flatter and much easier to swim in. At the time I thought the wind had died down, but in retrospect it seems we were just being sheltered from the wind and waves by the island itself. Around this time the fourth pod caught up to us, and Rondi joined in with our group. As we neared Bannerman we all stopped for a final feed before heading clockwise around the island and its ruins.
Bannerman’s Island is a bit of a curiosity. It’s a small bit of land about 300m from the eastern shore of the Hudson, and contains what looks like the crumbling ruins of a medieval castle on its northern side. The ruins are actually those of an arsenal built around the turn of the twentieth century by a munitions baron. The island and ruins are clearly visible from the railroads that run along the Hudson’s eastern shore, and when passengers first see the structure they wonder what the heck it is, and what it’s doing out there in the middle of the river. The site is now owned by New York State, and tours of the island are given every weekend.
Hannah and Eli swim past Bannerman
(Photo credit A. Moore)
As we headed up the west side of the island, we could see that one of those tours was about to start—people were disembarking from an official-looking boat onto the island’s dock. The idea flickered through my mind that we could climb out and join in—I’ve always wanted to go on a Bannerman’s Island tour, but have never been up there at the right time. But mostly by this point I was preoccupied with the swimming. Conditions had grown tough fast. Once we were no longer sheltered by the island, the wind hit us again with full force, and it was apparent that the tide had turned early and was ebbing south as we were trying to make our way north. It took some hard swimming at this point to make it to the north tip of the island and round the point, but we all managed.
When we finally rounded the tip and reached the eastern side of the island we were able to float and chat for a bit, marveling at how fast the current was carrying us back southward. It was fun watching the scenery go by as we relaxed in the water for a bit. The trip back seemed like it would be much easier, with both the wind and current with us.
We swam together for a while, then split up as we were joined by a second kayak—Eli and Willie went on ahead with Rondi, while Hannah and I enjoyed a more leisurely pace. We took full advantage of the “playing tourist” provision, stopping and making sense of the different landmarks we passed. Hannah showed me the road she loved biking on Storm King Mountain, we stopped to admire the view of West Point in the distance, the Croton Aquaduct tunnel, and whatever else happened to catch our attention. Andy proved to be an excellent tour guide as well as kayaker. Hannah was kind enough to share some of her wonderful feeds with me—applesauce and chocolate pudding. (I had only brought juice and water for this trip, and was missing my figgy pops around the 3h mark). I really enjoyed the meandering journey back to where we started—races are all well and good, but I think I enjoy social open-water swimming even more.
Finally we arrived back at where we had started. The entire swim took us around 3h20m. It was a spectacularly beautiful trip, and a really wonderful way to spend a glorious early fall day in the Hudson Valley.