Coney Island to Sandy Hook, + season recap
by, October 8th, 2012 at 04:54 PM (4131 Views)
I finally swam beyond the pier at Coney Island—far beyond the pier! Yesterday I swam 7 miles from Coney Island to Sandy Hook, NJ as part of a test swim of conducted by CIBBOWS. We met up at the Coney Island Aquarium between 4 and 4:30 am, and the swim got underway a little after 5. Air temps were around 50, so the few minutes of waiting around on the sand after I had relinquished my clothes and sent them out to the waiting boats were a mite chilly. But the water was still relatively warm at 67 degrees, and as soon as I got and things got underway I felt comfortable.
The first hour of the swim was in the dark, and I loved it. The night was clear, and the bright quarter moon was reflected off the water, making for a good bit of ambient light. My escort kayak had lights fore and aft, and I could see my kayakers Teddy and Danika (it was a double kayak) silhouetted against the western sky as I swam along. A few white phosphorescent glows met my fingertips as I stroked through the water, and any air bubbles I made on my entry were lit up too. Everything seemed so calm and magical, and I wasn’t at all afraid. An idle resolution passed through my head: Night swimming is so wonderful it’s the only kind I’m doing from here on out. If only that were halfway realistic,..
Out in the water with me were three other swimmers, John, Willie, and Dan. We each had our own escort kayak, as well as three motorized boats supporting the swim. On the boats were the four swimmers who would be making the return journey, along with a number of CIBBOWS volunteers who were supporting the swim and collecting data for future crossings. For a while I could see the other kayaks’ stern lights ahead of me, as well as some of the boats’ lights in the distance, but by the first feed I couldn’t see anything else around me except for my own kayak. That was actually nice—when I breathed to my left, on the non-kayak side, I could pretend I was all by myself out in the big ocean.
As I stroked along the sky to the east began to brighten noticeably, then broad strata of pinks and oranges began to appear. I was breathing to my left more and more to admire the pre-sunrise show. The water began to get choppier at this point, with the wind kicking up some waves from the west which made breathing left the easier option, as well. Occasionally the waves were big enough to splash over me, and when they did this I could see the reflection of the green blinking light attached to my goggle strap.
Things were seeming very calm until around sunrise, when the grey support boat appeared in front of us, and we appeared to be making a left turn. Then I started seeing the sunrise on my right—were we making a u-turn? I did a stroke of breaststroke and looked over at Teddy—why had we changed directions? “We have to wait—do you want to swim or stop?” he asked. Aha—we must be near the shipping channel. “Swim!” I said reflexively, then started stroking again. But then I decided I wanted see what was going on. I stopped and looked around, only be told “There’s traffic—we have to get out of the channel.” Before I could finish saying “I want to see the traffic!” I looked ahead and saw a very large barge in the distance, heading our way. Nearby was another of our support boats, this one with all the swimmers for the return trip on deck on board, and they were all pointing to the left. I got the message—swim that way. I did, and got well clear of the shipping channel, then swam eastward, while waiting for the tug and its barge to cross. Teddy pointed out that there was another tug/barge approaching from the other directions. They crossed paths almost directly in front of us, a more-than-safe distance away. It was a really cool sight, with the sun glinting off the barges’ loads. It was interesting to see how far the tug boats were from the barges, and see the chains attaching them stretched between the two. I dipped my head down into the water to hear the deep clanking sound they made as they passed by.
Sunrise over the Ambrose Channel (photo credit R. Davies)
(One reason this swim requires so much support is that it goes across the Ambrose Channel, a major shipping lane used by traffic entering and leaving New York harbor—a lot of very big boats, barges, container ships and the like pass through here. Near the beginning of the swim I could see a huge cruise ship making its way across in the darkness, its decks all aglow.)
Once the ships were past we got the green light to continue on. The water seemed to have gotten rougher, but the chop was mostly from the sides and behind rather than head-on, so it remained easy going. I could tell when I stopped for feeds that the wind was blowing from the west—while Danika did the bottle hand-offs, Teddy maneuvered the kayak to keep it from blowing into me during the stops. I could also see some heavy clouds moving in from the west, and hoped any bad weather they were bringing would hold off until I finished my swim.
After another feed or two Teddy told me he could see the beach ahead. I didn’t put much stock in this, since I had learned in the Cape Cod swim how long it can take to reach a beach you can see. But over the next half-hour it did seem to be betting rapidly nearer. When I looked forward to sight I could see strange tall dark figures standing at regular intervals along the sand—the phrase “Easter Island statues” popped into my head. I looked again to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating, but they were still there. It took me a bit to make sense of what I was seeing—fishermen, in dark waders, casting into the surf.
As we got within a mile to half-mile of shore I could feel some large swells propelling me forward. I thought about stopping and asking my kayaker if there would be breakers to contend with when exiting the water—sometimes when there’s biggish surf at my Florida beach swimming into shore feels like this. But I decided that I would be able to judge that better for myself as I got nearer shore. Around this point there also seemed to be some odd currents—sometimes when I would place my hand in the water it would feel like it was being pulled downward or to the side by the water. I worried a little about the current changing before I reached the beach—it can get strong around Sandy Hook, making finishing after slack tide has passed difficult. I picked up my pace to make sure I would make it in. But every time I looked up I was very noticeably closer to shore, so it seemed like I was making good progress.
Approaching Sandy Hook (photo credit R. Davies)
As I neared the beach Agent Orange came around beside me—I could see Rondi and Dave on board and I waved to them mid-stroke. Right before I landed it seemed like my kayak was getting between me and the shore for some reason—I wondered if they were getting pushed towards me by the wind and surf, but then looked up and saw that they were leading me around some fishing lines to a safer place to land. The sandy/pebbly bottom came into view—the sand is much coarser here than at Coney Island., I swam until my fingers touched, then stood up and walked ashore. I was done, in just under 3 hours.
I hugged and congratulated Willie, who was already on shore, then hugged and thanked my Teddy and Danika, who had landed their kayak nearby. The fisherman—wrapped up in waders and layers of clothes—looked at Willie and me as if we had landed from outer space. “Where did you come from?” “Coney Island!” They just grunted and went back to their poles.
I waded back out into the water—it was warmer there--then saw the other two swimmers heading towards shore. I went over to cheer them in and give them hugs after they landed, then we all headed back out to the boats. As I was wading out a crab pinched my toe. I yelped just a little, but no harm was done. I did get my feet up off the bottom pronto, and out swam to Agent Orange. I climbed aboard, put on some warm clothes—my brief time on the beach had chilled me a bit—then settled in to enjoy the return trip. Four new swimmers got into the water for the return crossing, the kayakers stretched and readied themselves for another few hours of feeding and guiding swimmers, and off we were.
The return trip was interesting and fun. The sky clouded over and it eventually rained, but the wind had died down and water conditions were nice and calm for the return swimmers. I used all the clothes I brought—long underwear, wool pants, rain pants, wool sweater, swim parka—but managed to stay pretty warm. Being out on the water is just nice, even when it’s rainy and cold.
And I got to see firsthand all the behind-the-scenes stuff it requires to get swimmers safely across shipping lanes. Dave and the other boaters were constantly on the radio with each other, with our Coast Guard escort, and with commercial traffic, discussing the swimmers’ positions and when they would enter and exit the channels (besides the Ambrose, we go through two lesser boating lanes, the Sandy Hook Channel and the Coney Island Channel). Occasionally we would intercept smaller boats that were zipping by and alert them to the swimmers’ presence. The kayakers also had radios, and used them to get instructions or give reports to the various boats. It made me appreciate all the coordination and care it takes to pull this sort of event off. I’ll never again look at Sandy Hook from Coney Island, and wonder if I couldn’t just swim over there on my own.
The tides gave us a slower trip on the way back, but by 1 pm we were all back at Coney Island. I hopped ashore and went gratefully up to the Aquarium to warm up, change out of my rain gear, and say goodbye to other swimmers and all the kayakers and volunteers who had made the day possible. It was a good day out on the water, and I hope everything goes equally well for the other swimmers who will be test-swimming this route over the next three weekends.
This was my last OW event of the season, and I was happy with how things went—it was pretty much an all-fun-all-the-time experience. I loved swimming at night, I thought it was really cool to see all the various other vessels out on the water, I felt well supported and safe, and greatly appreciated the chance to spend some quality time with the water on a glorious morning. It was a great way to end my 2012 season. And as a bonus, the 7-mile trip nudged me over 500 miles in GTD—so I got a free swimsuit out of the day as well. Thank you CIBBOWS!
This was the last event of my 2012 season:
- May 4: Inaugural Arizona SCAR swim, Saguaro Lake (9 miles)
- May 5: Inaugural Arizona SCAR swim, Canyon Lake (9 miles)
- May 6: Lake Roosevelt, Arizona (10 miles)
- May 13: 2 Bridges test swim, Hudson River at Poughkeepsie, NY (5K)
- June 1: IGLA North Atlantic Midnight Open Water Swimming Challenge, Nauthólsvík beach, Reykjavík, Iceland (250m)
- June 26: 8 Bridges Stage 2, Hudson River, Kingston-Rhinebeck Bridge to Mid-Hudson (Poughkeepsie) Bridge (18.3 miles, 6:31:19, finished 4/4)
- July 7: Kingdom Swim, Lake Memphremagog, Vermont (10 miles, 5:00.28, finished 21/50 overall, 6/19w)
- August 21: P2P Plymouth to Provincetown swim, Cape Cod Bay, Massachusetts (20 miles, 11:45)
- September 9: USMS 2-mile national championships, Lake Hopatcong, New Jersey (2 miles, 52:36.49, 1st in AG)
- September 15: Bannerman’s Return test swim, Hudson River near Cold Spring, New York (10.5K, 3:20)
- September 22: Little Red Light House Swim, Hudson River, NYC (10.2K, 2:06:46, 38/284 finishers, 8th woman, 1st in AG)
- September 30: Bannerman’s Return test swim, Hudson River near Cold Spring, NY (10.5K, 3:25)
- October 7: CIBBOWS Coney Island to Sandy Hook test swim, (7.5? miles, 2:57:47)