Battling My NYC Obstacle Course

September 21, 2008 at 4:36 pm Leave a comment

Just swim to the big cruise ship. That’s what I told myself a week ago Saturday as I stood at the start of the 5.8-mile Little Red Lighthouse Swim in New York City’s Hudson River.

The Carnival ship with its red and blue smokestack was docked next to the West 56th St. finish and could easily be seen from the start at 168th St., even though it was almost six miles downstream.

I had spent a lot of time swimming this year because even with the expected strong tidal push I figured I had to be ready to swim for more than two hours.

The water temperature was 75 degrees, which was good because you can’t wear a wetsuit if you want to be eligible for the awards. Just a handful of the 175 swimmers wore one. The water had zero visibility and tasted a little funky, but so does the Mystic River.

Soon my wave was standing along what passes for a beach in Manhattan and we were off. Organizers told us to keep the line of boats that would escort us down the river to our right and the kayakers to the left.

We were a good 600 yards or so out in the river which was needed to get us past the city water treatment plant between 135th and 145th streets. We had been warned that the plant could suck us in if we got too close. But nobody mentioned being pushed around by the swells that bounced off the plant and back into the river.

The best route was to head straight for the cruise ship. My wave quickly strung out as we headed down the river and began to catch slower swimmers in the waves ahead of us.

As I approached one of the first buoys I finally saw just how strong the current was. Because I was going a few yards left of it I adjusted my course but after a few more strokes I realized I had been swept by with no chance to go back.

When I reached the Riverside Church at 120th St., it seemed the race was going by fast, but I just thought that was because I was swimming well and felt good.

At times when I breathed to my right, it was a little unsettling to see 400-foot freighters and tankers not that far away.

At times we got hit from behind and to the right by large swells. Little did I know it was like surfing down the river. Soon I’d see the current was even stronger than I imagined.

The cruise ship was getting closer and closer and I could see the dock alongside it, which I thought must be the finish. There was a orange buoy we had to round before heading to the finish. As I headed to the dock a kayaker told me I had to go left to the finish.

That’s when I noticed the finish was not right at the ship. I also noticed a number of swimmers had skipped the last buoy and cut around a pier about 100 yards before the ship. I had to fight the current back to the real finish. My fixation on the cruise ship had cost me be about minute.

I climbed onto the floating dock and walked across the timing mat. I looked down at my watch. It read 1:17. I had just broken the world record for the mile six times in a row.

I just won’t tell anyone about the current.

Joe Wojtas
The Day

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Entry filed under: Get Wet, Manhattan. Tags: , , .

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