MIMS 2013 – Part 3 – Water contamination and shared boats

Part 1. Introduction

Part 2. Start Timing & boat availability

In Part Two, I raised a question, a question that over-shadows much of the discussion of the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim and so needs to remain to the front.

What is the significant entry fee ($2150) per swimmer actually for, if not for a boat per swimmer? Why does the entire fee have to be paid in advance the previous year, if NYCSwim has not been allocating part of it to ensure a boat per swimmer? I know that swimmers believe they are paying for a service that includes boat support.

NYCSwims’s Response to Water Contamination

One part of NYCSwim’s three-fold Mission Statement is “creating stakeholders with a vested interest in the local waters“.

The first line on NYCSwim.org’s page on water quality reads: “The water quality of the Hudson, East and Harlem rivers is fine“.

This is a general assertion, and it’s likely true much of the time. But the water around Manhattan on the day of MIMS 2013 was badly contaminated by over ten centimetres (four inches) of rain of the previous day, Saturday July 7th by run-off and overflowing sewage. Contaminated water is always a factor for MIMS. The organisation has an advisory that swimmers  should get Hepatitis and Tetanus vaccines, which is great advice. Allegedly, the organisation introduced a policy in 2006, based on previous experience of the race being cancelled in 2005 over water contamination issues, and according to comments on the marathonswimmers.org forum, that should water contamination exceed safe levels the swimmers would be told before the swim and the decision to swim left to them. This didn’t happen. If as has been asserted that this is a NYCSwim policy, which isn’t outlined on the website that I could see, then NYCSwim would have violated its own rules. Surely swimmers in MIMS would be amongst the most vested-interest stakeholders that MIMS mentions in its Mission Statement.

One swimmer told me: “Swimmers were told after the event (at award ceremony) that numerous agencies did not want the event to go ahead“.

MIMS swimmers, marathon open water swimmers, are in the main less concerned by these issues than the general public (as any MIMS swimmer will tell you of the many times they’ve been asked if they knew the water was dirty). But that doesn’t mean swimmers are completely unconcerned or don’t want all the relevant information. Not every swimmer has the same health or immunity or preferences. Another swimmer has said they believed most swimmers were aware that of water contamination issues prior to the start. Levels of post-swim illness certainly seemed significant across the entire entry field this year. One participant has written that another swimmer was hospitalised after the swim. I wondered last year why MIMS can’t simply collate the information of sickness from each year’s swimmers, as Ireland’s Lee Swim requests from over 300 swimmers. I still wonder.

Sharing Boats

Another situation that arose as a result of NYCSwim’s ad-hoc approach to ensuring a sufficient supply of boats is that swimmers were asked if they would consider sharing a pilot boat with another swimmer. Should they so do, they would be given a refund of a portion of the entry fee.

Swimmers who agreed to share a boat were told they would receive a $400 refund. But at least one swimmer who did share a boat, only received a refund of $200, less than 10% of the entry fee and half what that swimmer and at least one other swimmer believed NYCSwim had said, that the refund would be $400 per person sharing a boat, NOT per boat. This fractional refund and confusion over such seems mealy-mouthed.

What would have happened at MIMS 2013 had none of the swimmers agreed to share a boat? This question is a corollary of the lack of boats, and one that would worry me if I were a prospective MIMS swimmer.

Amongst those swimmers who did take the option of a shared boat, (which is a possibility any swimmer might have taken to allow other friends to be able to participate), they were sometimes paired with swimmers of significantly mismatched speed, which could be put down to this being a last-minute decision.

A pre-swim risk assessment, based on the now-known fact that NYCSwim didn’t have a plan to ensure boats for every swimmer, should have included this possibility, and more closely matched swimmer speeds. Some swimmers on shared boats, though they all had individual kayakers, of whom reports and my own experience are universally excellent,  were without boat support for sometimes an hour at a time. Kayaker support for swimmers in MIMS is voluntary.

Everyone loves to see speed records and fast swimmers and great races. But it’s the majority of average swimmers that pay the majority of the funds, that make up the majority of any event, we are the cannon fodder. Our sport is unusual in that speed isn’t everything. We celebrate toughness, individuality, endurance and resilience just as much as speed.

It’s true that I’ve covered both speed and endurance on loneswimmer.com, because I believe that I both love and appreciate the full spectrum of the sport. I have many friends covering literally the entire spectrum of swim speed, from Trent to Jackie. But I’d freely admit to having greater personal appreciation for the slower or average swimmers, and those who swim with little chance of medals or glory other than completion, who swim for personal achievement, or the Jackie Cobells, Wendy Trehiou’s and Stephen Redmonds of the sport, who demonstrate that greatness can be achieved in ways other than speed.

I believe that it is the triumph of the ordinary and average person that makes marathon swimming so fascinating and compelling. Our sport is built on a foundation of toughness and determination, of an overwhelming inexplicable desire to participate, to overcome, to finish.

Everyone should understand that there is no speed record in the world that can substitute for overcoming the odds, for being tested and prevailing, for getting there using your own arms … for just standing up at the end.

*

In Part Four I will look at swimmer control and some miscellaneous items before moving to a conclusion and recommendations in Part 5.

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17 thoughts on “MIMS 2013 – Part 3 – Water contamination and shared boats”

    1. There is so much wrong here, I almost don’t know where to start.
      Assume a boat speed at 20mph (under ideal sea conditions)… thats a 5 hour boat ride each way, so… reality check: you’re looking at 3 days and 2 refueling stops (perhaps marina services are available 24hrs where you come from but they don’t here) would you care to do a little research on where fuel might be available? …and where would you moor that boat for 2 nights. Add those costs (not cheap in NYC).
      So… 3 day rental @ 295, 3 tanks of fuel 20 gal @ $5, 2 nights mooring…. so you’re talking $1500 for a boat without the cost of anyone to drive it.

      Your uninformed logistical advise is less than useless… its detrimental to any conversation.

    1. Indeed….. Just imagine what a NYer could do with a 6′ skiff.
      (That’s less than 2 meters by the way)

      When you decide to take a six foot skiff for a spin around manhattan, please let me know. I’d love to film it!

      1. Dave, the fact that Niek doesn’t know the geography of NY, only means that Niek doesn’t know the geography of NY. He is, like yourself, also the director of an international marathon swim. The points about the significant fee paid by every swimmer and the subsequent events of the day including insufficient boats, are still relevant. As is the point that NYCSwim only refunded half what at least some swimmers believed they had been told would be refunded.

      2. Sorry, but Niek’s comments about hiring cheap boats isn’t about what refund swimmers have received, nor is it simply a lack of understanding the geography of NY. Like your post, it makes certain assumptions about how fees are allocated, and further suggests that an outsider might know better how to budget those fees. Well, I’m no insider of NYC swim, but I have some idea of the logistical nightmares (and the relative costs) involved with putting events around Manhattan. I can tell you that there is no boat ramp near NYC that opens before 6 AM. For me, that means I have to launch the day before, and find a transient dock or mooring to overnight…. That’s one small challenge of which there are hundreds.

      3. Dave, I tried not to make assumptions, and if I did I think they are what a regular swimmer might genuinely have after paying a significant entry fee and seeing the upshot. I did and do have questions, as do others and I am trying to articulate what I think are fair questions. I did actually speak to quite a few people who mostly asked the same questions to me. The swimmer doesn’t have to be concerned with the challenge you mention. They pay a fee so they don’t have to, and it had never been clear previously how apparently precarious the organisation of MIMS might be.

      4. A lot of things have to come together for MIMS to happen. With the weather conditions that preceded this years event, it would have been an easy out to just cancel the event. I too have spoken to a lot of the swimmers, and I know that no one would have been happy about that… So? NYC Swim and the vast majority of event personnel and pilots (there were a few rather uncooperative ones) tried to make the best of a bad situation. With the success of the quiet swim, I think one can assume there was an attempt to do the right thing for the participants, though circumstances vary and obviously not everyone was able to take advantage of this second chance, I expect a good number of the other assisted swimmers will grace NY with their presence next season… At least I hope they will, and hopefully the weather will be more conducive for a pre MIMS Brighton Beach swim.

  1. - Bayside Marina, 28-05 Cross Island Pkwy, Bayside NY 20 mi by road or water to Battery Park.
    Boats can be loaded on a trailer.
    - And yes 2 m is big enough to sail around NY. You’re welcome to film me from your a big cruiser sailing alongside.
    - “I can tell you that there is no boat ramp near NYC that opens before 6 AM.” and you don’t think they will make an exception for say $500 easy earned cash.

  2. Notes on these comments: I checked and Niek’s referral is not a 6ft skiff, but a 16ft skiff, almost 5 metres. About the size of RIBs I’ve seen going around Manhattan as safety for MIMS, (though possibly without the same stability or reliability), I’ve crewed for 5 or 6 hours on similar boats myself. Not impossible by any stretch.

    At least one skipper in MIMS came from Port Washington, and the trip was less than an hour from the overnight berth there.

    Long Island Boat rental which operates out of Port Washington, has all-day rental of larger fishing boats which will take 8 people for $575. They operate charters from 9am but also have a note to “call for special accommodation”.

    The point isn’t about the specifics of any company though, only that such an avenue *is* possible. And certainly since NYCSwim knew in advance it didn’t have the required number of boats.

    1. There are some smaller inflatables… not ribs, but full inflatables that are supported by and hoisted from the NYPD launches.
      The smallest rib you may have seen would have been an Avon Sea Rider rescue boat with a water ballast system. Very stable, very sophisticated design… I just bought one.

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