New York maps show Manhattan Island plumbing a line from north to south, bounded by three rivers, the East and Harlem rivers circumscribe the east curve of Gotham with the East River swerving out and around lower Manhattan, up through Hell Gate and the confluence of the East and Harlem rivers and the Long Island Sound, and then the Harlem river arcs back northwest and cuts through the gash of Spuyten Duyvil, and bludgeons into the Hudson, which delineates the long straight west side of the island, arriving back at the southern tip.
It’s all a convenient and anthropocentric lie of course.
In reality there is only one river, the impressive Hudson, following an 167 mile fjord down from far up New York state, the East and Harlem rivers are just tidal straits (like the Kenmare River in Ireland is just a Bay). And there is the Atlantic, and the island is actually aligned closer to a southwest/northeast axis.
The rivers are convenient names and fictions to please mapmakers and give us humans that sense of control over the world we endlessly seek. Changing an island’s direction from reality to fiction gives us power over the world. Swimming around the same island may be another way of attempting to achieve a similar result. If you know why I swim, please tell me.
Dee & I landed in New York three days before MIMS 2012, in the middle of the first heat wave of the year, the sun above the city hammering us onto the streets with temperatures in the high thirties (97°F). It abated slightly over the next couple of days, bringing thunder storms, one of the potential difficulties with MIMS which can force delays or even stop the swim.
On Thursday Dee and I walked the Brooklyn Bridge, everyone else looking at the astonishing cityscape, and I mainly focusing on the East River below, watching the high volume of traffic.
On Friday morning Magnificent Seven swimmer Ciarán Byrne, myself, and our crews met some of the MIMS Soloists and some CIBBOWS swimmers at their regular open water location of Brighton Beach. CIBBOWS is one of the world centres of Channel swimming, with Dover, La Jolla, London’s Serpentine, Chicago, Perth … and of course Sandycove. We met such luminaries as Dave Barra, (fastest Triple Crown ever and Director for 8 Bridges), Jim Fitzpatrick from California (once swam 700,00 yards in 30 days in training) and the remarkable Forrest Nelson and more.
The water temperature was about 21° C, in the realms of “imaginary” until that point, and Ciarán and I swam an easy 45 minutes punctuated by some chatting. Very warm, (but not unbearably so we were relived to discover, as we’d been worried it would be too warm for us cold-water swimmers).
We were also relieved to discover that we both still knew how to swim, a ridiculous but perennial concern for swimmers coming off taper, all rationale, evidence and history to the contrary notwithstanding.
And very salty, similar to the English Channel’s one-percent salinity increase over our more open and exposed side of the Atlantic, where the water has more freedom than the bays and Sounds of New York to become more dilute.
The forecast for Saturday had the thunder storms passed by Friday evening after the mandatory final briefing, when we’d met more of this year’s MIMS Soloists, of whom this year there would be a total of 38 swimmers.
A quick recap for those of you not familiar with MIMS, it’s NYCSwim‘s flagship event, and has been run annually as a race since
1993 1982, the island having first having been circumnavigated by Robert Downing in 1914 in under 14 hours (using a different course) and swum by many famous marathon swimmers since then. It typically runs in late June, and entries open in November, the available slots usually filling with swimmers from around the world within minutes, all of whom must already have completed at least a six-hour swim in the preceding 24 months. If I was to use my English Channel Solo as a qualification, it had to be this year or never and there would be very few Solo swimmers there without marathon experience, (a couple only having a single 6 hour qualification swim). No-one would be a beginner.
And it’s a race. With Argentina’s 2012 Parana swim cancelled for this year due to inclement weather, it would be one of the longest swim races in the world,
with the record standing since seven-times World Champion Shelley Taylor Smith swam it in 5 hours 45 minutes, (only 15 minutes slower than the computer-estimated fastest possible time), in 1995, my friend Evan Morrison, a much better and faster swimmer than I, was second last year in 7:31, and other friends Eddie Irwin, Gábor Molnar and Ned Denison from the Sandycove club have previously successfully swum it.
With a later start this year than usual because of tides, the earlier online briefings were punctuated with warnings of increased traffic because of conflicting events on the rivers on the same day, and because we would be out there later in the day, and therefore winds on the Hudson would also be stronger and the water more choppy, and yet another boating event had been announced for the East river, adding to events of which we’d already been informed.