Part 3. Start timing and boat availability
In Parts Two and Three, I raised a question, a question that overshadows much of the discussion of the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim and so needs to remain to the forefront.
What is the significant entry fee ($2150) per swimmer actually for, if not for a boat per swimmer?
The swimmers who were pulled in MIMS 2013 were (almost) all in the same region, that of the confluence of the East and Harlem rivers known as Hell Gate, the first critical timing point for MIMS.
One swimmer told me that as swimmers neared the north end of Hell Gate on the east side, (let’s call them Swimmer A, a four-kilometre-per-hour swimmer), Swimmer A was pulled because they were told they wouldn’t get through the tide. Another swimmer (B), marginally slower, was about ten metres away behind, i.e. further into the tide. There are conflicting reports of what happened: Swimmer A says Swimmer B failed to evacuate the water after instruction, breaking NYCSwim rules. Another report is that Swimmer B never got the message1. Yet another report is that crew of Swimmer B told an NYCSwim land-based official who was stationed on the river bank to monitor in that section that Swimmer B would not evacuate.
The point here isn’t which swimmer says what or even who actually did what. It seems to me that we can actually set aside the assertions of either swimmer, both of whom I can understand and empathise with, and look at a different aspect. Whether a swimmer stayed in thereby breaking NYCSwim rules, or wasn’t accurately communicated to there results in a disturbing implication; that NYCSwim weren’t in complete control of who was in or out of the water.
During MIMS 2013, I asked NYCSwim’s twitter account, using the marathon_swimrs Twitter account that Evan Morrison and I jointly operate, if we could get the number of swimmers continuing. I didn’t ask for names or places. NYCSwim responded; “Just to note, in fairness to swimmers, we won’t be posting results on Twitter or Facebook until the official results are in”. I wasn’t owed an answer but NYCSwim’s response wasn’t directed to the question I asked.
It’s also the case that another swimmer was removed from the water later in the swim to accommodate a ferry. Having to accommodate and give way to ferry traffic is another accepted hazard of MIMS, like thunder and lightning storms. However here it seems NYCSwim did not know until well after the event was finished and was so told by another MIMS swimmer after the award ceremony.
Open water swimming is a serious concern, which we all understand. Safety is all important. Two2 of the people whom I know on the MIMS committee I also have seen to be personally and consistently highly committed to swimmer safety, above all else. If NYCSwim couldn’t account for one or two swimmers out of thirty-nine at any time, that had potentially serious implications.
- Swimmers were told repeatedly in briefings that the course would be marked by buoys, including at the previous day’s briefing. They were told that failure to stay in the line marked would result in disqualification and this was emphasised (repeatedly according to some swimmers). Those buoys were not present on the day however. Should the inability to lay those repeatedly emphasised buoys be necessarily laid at the door of insufficient boats, it is nonetheless true that the swimmers were not told before the swim that the buoys would not be present. As any swimmer who has even been given incorrect details about a swim course, check station, buoy or similar during a short three to five kilometre swim or race can confirm, this is enough to discomfort a swimmer. Accurate information is therefore even more important in a 45 kilometre swim.
- Another simple question that should be asked is; why the Awards Ceremony was scheduled BEFORE the race was over? What message does this send to the majority of MIMS swimmers?
- One thing I haven’t previously mentioned, that affected a lot of swimmers and that NYCSwim put up front in their newsletter, was the unseasonably cold water. I haven’t mentioned it because that’s a swimmer preparation issue. NYCSwim weren’t responsible, it’s not relevant to the other problems. It was undoubtedly tough for swimmers not fortunate enough to have the cold waters if Ireland and Great Britain for preparation.
We all revel in the elegance of a great open water swimmer and know that the elite swimmers don’t get there by accident but through years of hard work. But anyone, anyone who thinks that finishing the course, even last, is less important to the person doing so than it is the person that finishes first, profoundly misunderstands the nature of our sport and most of its participants.
When a swimmer enters MIMS, amongst the many items they must provide are details of crew. It is not possible to change crew at a later date, and up to two crew may be named. This requires asking two people to commit to an event six months in the future, without having the incentive the swimmer possesses. Late substitutions or additions of crew aren’t possible. One swimmer added a crew member at a late date this year.
As we have seen, unlike the English and Catalina the MIMS entry fee is quite obviously NOT for a guarantee of a pilot and boat. There’s nothing wrong with NYCSwim making money or being a commercial organisation. Channel swimmers, (Gibraltar, North, English, Santa Barbara, Catalina) pay pilots for their time and expertise and do so with signed contracts and a clear understanding of contractual obligations on both sides and therefore protection for both sides.
Most swimmers have no objection to anyone earning a living from swimming, many of us would be happy to do it ourselves, some do. But MIMS and NYCSwim seem to want to take a professional fee from swimmers yet provide the service or (lack of) comeback of some volunteer organisations. Not all. Most volunteer organisations are responsive to their swimmers and problems, I refer you again to the swim I mentioned in the previous post in Ireland where tidal problems arose and the organisers publicly engaged in discussion.
Despite the heavy restrictions that swimmers must comply with to enter, NYCSwim, as is now apparent, don’t reciprocate and has refused refunds to swimmers who have directly requested such, being aggrieved over NYCSwim’s failures to run MIMS in a way consonant with the substantial fee.
In the conclusion I’ll ask the question many marathon and prospective MIMS swimmers will now be asking themselves:
- Is MIMS 2014 worth the financial risk?
I’ll also consider some recommendations that NYCSwim must consider to save MIMS for future swimmers and return it to we all want it to be, a premier global marathon swimming event.
1 I’m not sure how that would be possible given calls went out over VFH radio. I’ve also had a report from swimmer who successfully finished that their crew thought there was a terrorist attack in progress, such was the chaotic nature of the VHF calls.
2 This is not to say the others aren’t, I’m sure they are, it’s just that I know these two people personally and have seen this demonstrated repeatedly.
- MIMS 2013 – Part 1 – An outsider’s opinion – Introduction (loneswimmer.com)
- MIMS 2013 – Part 2 – An outsider’s opinion – Start timing & boat availability (loneswimmer.com)
- Part 3. Start timing and boat availability (loneswimmer.com)
- New York MIMS 2012 (swimmersrock.com). By second-placed female SISC swimmer Carol Cashell.
- The MIMS 2013 Debacle (throwmeintheocean.com)
- Paul Newsome’s Winning MIMS 2013 race report (feelforthewater.com)
- Karen Throsby’s MIMS (June) Report, Part 3 (thelongswim.blogspot.com)
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