Today I took part in NYC Swim , circumnavigation of Liberty Island, where the iconic statue of liberty resides. Located in New York harbor, where the Hudson River spills into the Raritan Bay, this busy waterway is full of ferries, sailboats, and all sort of activity. The swim scheduled for late afternoon provided an idea way to experience one of America’s iconic statues from a unique vantage point, the water..
We arrived on Liberty island around 4:30 and then after checking in and getting settled we took sometime to blend in with the tourists and take some snapshots of the statue. The island is a national park and it is looked after by Park rangers and security, there are concession areas and you have nice sidewalk running the outer permiter of the island, so you can literally follow your favorite swimmer almost all the way around (the back side was damaged during the hurricane Sandy and is still under repairs, and was closed.)
Weather was perfect 75deg and sunny , water temp 72deg. While a few swimmers elected to wear wetsuits, the vast majority were ready to go with just standard swimsuits.
The park closes around 5:30 and once, it did only the swimmers and family, friends and rangers remained behind.
After a short swimmer’s meeting around 5:30 we were asked to queue up single file in our numeric order, and then wait for the officials to let us proceed. There was a bit of extended delay close to an hour, as apparently the staff and folks had a difficult time affixing the floating steps to the pier.
Unlike previous swims, we were not jumping from a ferry, it appeared this was the first time they way trying this new procedure, and this I think caused the delay.
hen we were ready to go, we crossed the timing mats, in single file and then made our way over an aluminum walkway, onto the rickety , makeshift steps that led us down to the floating pontoon from where would you be sent off. The steps on the pontoon were of course bobbing up and down and while there were folks there to help us, it was clear this start was not the best platform from which to have us start. Recommendation to NYC swim, start us from the ferry again!
Once we were onto the pontoon floor, we waited a briefly for the swimmer in front to clear the area and then we were off. I stepped off and began swimming southeast, (counter-clockwise) near the perimeter of the island. Large red buoys were spaced out along the course, and we just kept aiming for them, plenty of kayakers and police, lifeguards were on hand. NYC harbor police kept all shipping traffic away from us.
The water was what you would expect in the harbor, there was some wash, the occasional smell of diesel (flotsam) , but nothing any worse than some lakes I’ve swum in. Everyone likes to make jokes about swimming in the Hudson, while of course its not a pristine clear clean waterway, its really not much different than swimming in the ocean (minus the salty water) in terms of cleanliness.
The late start did make for a beautiful view of lady liberty in the sunset, and its definitely an iconic memory . The first few buoys came pretty quickly especially as we turned more southerly, as the tides were flowing outbound (into the Raritan Bay). Rounding the back of the island, I was feeling comfortable and tried to catch the heels of a few faster swimmers, but couldn’t quite hang on long enough for any drafting effect.
As we turned north west, the island protected us from the worse of the tidal current, which was yet to come. Buoys were spaced a little further apart here. and I swam a bit wide right of them not sure why, maybe the currents. As we began turning northward, and started seeing Lady Liberty’s face, it became clear the bouys were not arriving as fast as before, and the final stretch to the pier literally seemed like were were stuck in place. The tidal currents were strongest here and you could just see the swimmers all pile up as any lose of swimming momentum would send backwards. Even though currents in this area were like 0.3-2 knots, when your only swimming at 2mph, well you know +2 -2 = 0 , aka not moving…
After fighting the currents like what seemed forever, the swim finish finally came into sight, the same rickety step pontoon, came into view, there was a bit of logjam, as swimmers all arrived in bunches and had to wait as swimmer grabbed the handrails and were helped up the steps. It was done. Not too bad other than the strong currents, the weather and venue were fantastic.
Some slower swimmers were pulled out of the water, and many were not happy through no fault of their own. Even though they might have been under the 45min cut-off , the late start coupled with the strong tidal current near the end of the swim, forced organizers to pick folks up, as by about 8:-00 it was getting dark, and safety concerns took precedence.
Then it was onto the island for some post-race food (bananas, grapes, water) and if you splurged for the catered BBQ , you had that too.
All in all a fun event, organization could have been a little better, some music or more consistent announcements would have been nice. But the venue and course made up for it.
Tips for future ny harbor swims:
Something I recommend if you do this swim is walk the island before the swim, and look up at the statue, try to remember what it looks like from different sides, this will help you gauge where you are and how far to go once in the water, it will also let you know when to expect the strongest currents. Also check this site out Noaa.gov NYC harbor currents .
Also NYC Swim has a pretty stringent entry policy, you need to have completed prior open water swims , under certain times. I suspect the nature of the venues, NYC harbor and rivers, makes it important that some qualifying standards be met.
All in all a great venue, great folks, everyone waiting in line was very friendly and it gave us all time to talk and share the same stories about heckling co-workers and such, but lots of fun!