MIMS 2013 – Part 5 – Conclusion and Recommendations

Once I finally decided to go ahead with this series of posts, I decided to wait until the “Quiet MIMS” swim of Saturday the 24th of August was finished, as I did not want it to in any way interfere with any of the swimmers. A marathon swim is always a challenging prospect for swimmers and I had no wish to even slightly disturb anyone’s mental equilibrium beforehand. The title “Quiet MIMS” is NYCSwim’s term for the swim that was open to, as far as I know, a maximum of ten swimmers from July’s MIMS. (They were offered this swim, not free, or for a fuel surcharge, but at a cost of $1,225). Nine swimmers took part. All completed the course. Congratulations to all!

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Throughout this series I’ve asked you to keep to the forefront a question most swimmers would understand, a question many swimmers are now asking, based on NYCSwim’s own post-swim communication: Why exactly does MIMS cost an entry fee of $2150, if the fee doesn’t include a boat? That most of the swimmers who have ever swum MIMS have had a boat is irrelevant, when ten swimmers were left without a boat, NYCSwim did not offer any refund. I’ve previously included an NYCSwim post-swim email to one of the swimmers, and it’s worth repeating.

I know it sounds incredulous that we did not anticipate the boater shortage and the problems that spun from that, however it is the case every year that we do not have enough boaters signed up as the event approaches . . . and then they come out of the woodwork as a result of our final push in the days immediately beforehand.” 

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The same day as MIMS 2012, while I was swimming around Manhattan, there was a four kilometre local swim race here in Ireland with 100 entrants on the same day. Things didn’t go very well. Tide timing was off and many swimmers were pulled from the water. As I was resting in New York the day after MIMS, I saw the emails, discussions and recriminations. Within a short period of the event, participants, both critical and otherwise, and organisers had their say, and public acknowledgements were made on both sides of mistakes and future improvements.

If such maturity can be shown for local swim, which is entirely voluntary, why is it that it can’t be shown by a commercial organisation that is taking an amount per swimmer that is a multiple by a factor of one hundred, and is known globally?

The Triple Crown of Swimming, is for (self-) promotion of MIMS, “to compare to the famous American horse-racing series” as I was told by the chief organiser and executive of NYCSwim last year and two of the swims are in the US. This would seem designed to appeal to that market, when either the Gibraltar or Cook Channels would make more sense as a third leg. NYCSwim has a FAQ about the English Channel to foster this notion of equivalence to the English Channel. Yet in correspondence to a MIMS 2013 swimmer complaint it wrote:

“Our event is not a solo swim like a channel crossing, and because of this we have to handle all the arrangements centrally. This has benefits—such as making our swim more affordable—and drawbacks”.

Many of the 2013 boat-assisted swimmers, who paid a substantial amount, include successful English and Catalina Channel swimmers (and other locations of course) with a considerable body of knowledge between them of various swims at all levels, including previous MIMS swims.

It’s hard to credit NYCSwim’s claim that MIMS is more affordable. There is no refund because of organisational failings on NYCSwim’s side. Those who wish to swim again face all the same financial costs. NYCSwim seems to want to be compared to or granted equivalence with the Catalina and English Channels, yet to be granted exemption in how it conducts MIMS, and to so do without the transparency available to Catalina and English Channel swimmers. These swimmers have a contract with a professional pilot, a governing organisations with rules, and voting rights for members. Comparing with the English Channel, which NYCSwim fosters: A swimmer who has booked an English Channel solo, who doesn’t get to swim due to weather or a boat problem or other, usually loses no more than the deposit with the pilot, the deposit size varying with the pilot. The worst case scenario is a loss of fifty percent of the total as some pilots require a payment of that amount in the year ending before the booked swim.

  • Should you consider swimming MIMS?

This post has seen quite a bit of prevarication on my side. What aided my decision was when I was asked by a friend about MIMS 2014 as their next swim. I’d already written a first draft of this and put it aside but I felt the need to answer that person and this question honestly so I sent them the considerably longer first draft of this series, (which has seen over twenty drafts since then). I finally responded and told them that while the idea of swimming around Manhattan is highly attractive, as it was for me, the financial risk that a person would take now seems too high in light of events of MIMS 2013. My own feeling is that any swimmer considering MIMS 2014 (or later), should not apply unless there is a clear indication that the organisation has made significant procedural improvements for the future.

All other considerations aside, disagreements with me on any of this aside, NYCSwim’s own words speak for themselves.

I know it sounds incredulous that we did not anticipate the boater shortage and the problems that spun from that, however it is the case every year that we do not have enough boaters signed up as the event approaches . . . and then they come out of the woodwork as a result of our final push in the days immediately beforehand.”  

Do you want to take that risk?

Following is a list of recommendations for NYCSwim.

  • Recommendations

These are based on this one average swimmer’s experience of swimming and general requirements for safety. I have had some valued input from many friends and correspondents around the world to this list, but it mostly contains my own ideas, though I believe others will have valuable additions. I believe these actions are required for future swimmers so MIMS can regain (because it has very definitely lost) its place and credibility as a premier global marathon swim event. Some of these recommendations come from other aspects of MIMS 2013 that I haven’t even touched on in this series, which are nonetheless also an indictment of NYCSwim’s handling of the event.

  • A contract between NYCSwim and each swimmer. This should include a guarantee of a boat per swimmer or an almost full refund (excluding an NYCSwim membership cost) should NYCSwim fail to provide a boat for the swimmer, or ensure the swim starts within a reasonable period of a designated and advertised start time.
  • Refunds for those swimmers caught up in the MIMS 2013 debacle who did not get to finish and who were listed as boat-assisted, regardless of whether or not they participated in the later “Quiet Swim”, excepting swimmers who might choose to forego the refund in favour of a public guarantee and free entry for 2014.
  • A procedure to verify and ensure in advance that the boats to be used are fit for use.
  • Pairing of skippers, swimmers and kayakers with contact details to the swimmers at least a week in advance. UPDATE: Please see the very interesting comment below from Harald Johnson, MIMS 1983 winner, about how things were done before the current NYC took over,when swimmers and boats were paired months in advance.
  • Confirmation that every boat skipper has a VFH radio and is familiar with its use with guidelines to every skipper of communication and evacuation procedures and foreseeable but abnormal events.
  • Skippers and kayakers to be present at the previous day’s briefing and participation in online briefings.
  • While retaining a maximum number of two crew as reasonable, all swimmers should be able to add or substitute crew up to two weeks before MIMS.
  • Remapping of the NYCSWim.org domain name to NYCSwim.com to make clear its commercial nature.
  • Risk Assessment and Safety Plans available on NYCSwim’s website.
  • Clarification of NYCSwim’s rule on water evacuation, specifically that the penalty for a swimmer refusing to evacuate per instructions is disqualification without appeal, in common with other swims.
  • NYCSwim previously had a policy or guideline of informing swimmers should water contamination be below acceptable levels. NYCSwim should re-iterate publicly its commitment to swimmer stakeholder safety and health.
  • NYCSwim should collate and publish annual figures of swimmer illness from each MIMS swim before opening up applications for the following year’s swim as part of its avowed Mission Statement.
  • NYCSwim should publish each year’s water cleanliness test results subsequent to its major swims (in the way that it already publishes previous year’s water temperatures) as part of its Mission Statement. It should improve the reporting of water quality tests on its website and keep these current.

NYCSwim aspires to be and designates itself as a premier global marathon swimming event. I have swum it myself and loved the swim and the location. Swimmers around the world should be confident of its organisation and I make these recommendations in the hope of that the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim will address its failings, improve and prosper.

To re-establish credibility NYCSwim must make changes. These changes must put swimmers first.

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I’d like to close with some thanks once again to the many people, around the world who reviewed or contributed to this series, some of whom were consulted for their expertise in different areas: solo swimmers from MIMS 2013 and previously or eligible for future MIMS, relay swimmers, crew, volunteers, publishers, swim directors and lawyers. Without their assistance, these posts would never have been published. I am indebted to them all. I have been given permission for every quotation that I have used. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________ All facts I have researched to the best of my ability, any mistakes are unintentional and will be addressed if someone sends new, credible and verifiable information. _______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Other essential reading on this subject

Second-placed female swimmer Carol Cashell’s blog report

Initially-boat assisted and later successful Quiet swim finishers

Karen Throsby

Caitlin Rosen

The marathonswimmers.org forum discussion

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5 thoughts on “MIMS 2013 – Part 5 – Conclusion and Recommendations”

  1. Thank You Donal for writing a super summary of a very big event. I think we should all take from it, that changes need to be made for MIMS, lessons must be learned and acted on. I will be looking on at the 2014 event with eager eyes, to make sure NYCSwim make it an even better event for all involved. :)

  2. Dear Lone Swimmer: I had no idea about this “chaos” surrounding the 2013 Manhattan Swim until seeing your hardworking blog about the wonderful subject of open-water (or “sea” as you put it) swimming. As a participant in an early Manhattan Swim (I won it in 1983), I am incredulous at the boat situation now. For perspective, let me tell you what we did way back then…

    All swimmers were given a list of “accepted” (vetted) boat captains. We, as individuals, then contacted and contracted with our boat captains many months in advance, and kept up that communication regularly to remain up-to-date on all issues concerning the boat, the rivers, the weather, etc. There was no confusion, and no “pairing” right before the race. That idea is absurd in the extreme as was born out in this summer’s event.

    It seems the old ways may be better than the new, eh?

    Keep up the good work.

    Harald Johnson
    Winner, Manhattan Island Marathon Swim, July 1983

    1. That’s a really valuable perspective Harald. How many entrants were in the race back then, and can you remember the cost? I’d love your perspective on what’s changed with MIMS, if you are at all familiar with how it’s run now.

  3. Hi Donal (it is Donal, yes?),

    With some input from my friend Richard Marks (who placed 2nd only a few minutes behind me that year), here is what I remember from the 1983 MIMS race with regard to your questions:

    1. There were 28 starters and I believe 22 finished. Several of those were voluntary DNFs (pulled out); I know two of the pre-race favorites did as stated in the Aug 1, 1983 Sports Illustrated coverage of the race. (FYI: this race got huge press coverage; I have the scanned clippings from Sports Illustrated, New York Times, New York Daily News, New York Post, etc. – can share with you if you want)

    2. The event entry fee was very modest. Don’t remember the exact amount but it was insignificant in the overall scheme of things. The race was founded by Drury Gallagher in honor of the tragic death of his eldest son, and I have only the highest regard for Drury and what he was trying to do.

    3. Although I have visited the swim as a spectator a couple of times over the years, I really do not know anything about its current structure or operation. And I’m not sure if Drury is still involved in an official way.

    4. But if what I am hearing from serious observers such as yourself is true, especially about the purpose of the entry fee, the sketchy boat situation, etc., then something is amiss. And I can honestly tell you this: If I had been thinking of entering the 2013 race, I would have made darn sure that there was a solid agreement between the event and me before plunking down my $2,150. And I would have never travelled all the way to NYC (from California) without knowing or speaking to my boat captain in advance. Maybe things are not done that way anymore, but maybe they should be.

    Harald Johnson
    a lifelong swimmer

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