Saturday, August 24, 2019

Women Swimmin' 2019 - A Big Success on a Challenging Day


Trusty Romany likes car rides!

Time for a trip in, if not the Wayback Machine, at least the Back A Couple Weeks Machine.

After skipping last year's Women Swimmin' For Hospicare because of grievous levels of overscheduling, I was delighted to head back to Cayuga Lake this year. I've loved participating in this event since the year when my friend Louise, who organizes the Kayak Safety Team for the event, first invited me to come out. 

Unfortunately I didn't get any pictures of the swim itself or the after party this year, so you just get a writeup. I was running late for the early morning "Star Meeting" (so called because the Kayak Safety Team meets on the water and raft up with our bows all touching in the center, making a star-shaped formation, for last intructions) and in my scramble I left my camera in the car. The event had a bit of an extra challenge this year in the form of a wind forecast that was higher than perfect, starting at 8-10 mph and going up from there, and coming from the NW, giving a fetch (distance wind travels over water, which correlates directly with the size that the resulting waves can get to be) of over 30 mile. Everybody really needed to be at that meeting to make sure we had all of our final instructions before things got going. 

The Kayak Safety Team was going to be OK with the forecasted winds - everybody in that group is an experienced paddler paddling a sea kayak, a craft designed to handle conditions much worse than that - but Louise was rightly concerned about the boats that actually escort the swimmers. That group ends up being a much more diverse set of craft, paddled by people with a much wider range of skills. There are a lot of recreational kayaks in this group, which can run into some trouble if the water gets choppy enough to start splashing into the cockpit - the more water it takes on, the harder it gets to handle. Less experienced canoe paddlers can also have trouble as wind and chop picks up. Also, this is not a race, it's a social swim; some of the swimmers would be fine if things got choppy but some of them might need help. 

The senior safety folks (including Louise, which is part of why we went in separate cars and I ended up being late) actually meet at 5:15 to make the go/no go decision. The forecast looked like there would just be time for the women to do their swimmin' before things got too rough, so they made the "go" decision - but I'm sure there were a lot of fingers being crossed and wood being knocked. 

And everything worked out OK - but not by a whole lot. Probably the best call of the day was to kick off the swim a good bit early, I don't remember by how much but I think it was between 15 minutes and half an hour early. The busses (oh, there was a really sweet story about the bus drivers but I'll tell that in another post) had gotten the first group of swimmers there, the escort boaters for the first "pods" were there, so the word was given to get 'em going. And they did, and that may well have saved the swim for the last few swimmers - the wind was picking up and conditions were approaching seriously borderline right at the end.

For all that, the escort boaters all did an especially great job this year. I've done a few of these now and I've never seen the swimmers stay on such a straight course to the yacht club as they did this year.  A line of buoys is set out to mark the course, and ranges and markers of various sorts have been used at the yacht club, but it's hard for a swimmer to see very far while they're swimming, it's really up to their escort boats to guide them, and that went so well. In addition, in other years I've done this, the Kayak Safety Team kept pretty busy getting swimmers who'd broken from their "pods" because they were either too fast or too slow matched up with a group that's a better fit (one hard and fast rule in Women Swimmin' is that no one swims alone) - this year the escort boaters were really taking care of a lot of that themselves, and filling the KST in as they did so. Excellent group of boaters all around this year!

As the wind picked up towards the end, things got roughest in the middle of the lake, of course, and the very last swimmers were given the very unusual offer of a lift on a jetski to the last course marker before the Ithaca Yacht Club, where they come ashore. A couple of them who were finding the going rough accepted; the ones who didn't were well attended as the Kayak Safety Team joined up with the escort boaters as the last swimmers came across. I'd been keeping an eye on one swimmer at the point the ride offer came out; she'd been laughing and joking with her escort so I was pretty sure she wouldn't take it, and that was the case. She had a couple of escort boaters with her in rec boats and although it was getting bouncy out there, they were doing great too, riding over the waves without letting their boats get swamped.
That swimmer ended up finishing last, because the swimmers behind her had taken rides; it turned out it was her birthday and she'd been talking this up big and had a lot of family waiting for her at the finish line. Louise radioed that information and as the swimmer approached the yacht club, the Yardvarks (the band that plays at the party at the finish line) launched into "Today's Your Birthday". Such a fun way to wrap up a day that had really begun with a lot of concern.

Final stats for the day - 340 swimmers, 170 escort boats, 172 volunteers, and over $410K raised for Hospicare of Tompkins County. The most swimmers, and the most money raised, on the most challenging day of any of the swims with which I've helped out. I'm so proud to have been a part of it - and congratulations and thanks to Louise and all the other organizers for a wonderful day! 


Friday, August 23, 2019

Summers Need Swimming

Grimaldo's Chair, Brighton Beach, NY

I had such a good time helping out with the Grimaldo's Mile event earlier back in July, and that reminded me that I'd meant to renew my membership in the Coney Island Brighton Beach Open Water Swimmers

Took me a while to actually do that, but I finally did on Sunday afternoon, then headed for the beach, where I was greeted with a cheerful shout of "Here's our newest member". They'd been a little surprised to see somebody until they saw it was just me finally getting around to renewing - I get so busy with the paddling in the summertime nobody's surprised that it takes me a while to remember that summers need swimming, too. 

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I'd been puttering around at home and ended up getting out there pretty late. There were thunderstorms forecast for the afternoon, but I got there in time to squeeze in a good half-mile swim. Felt great. Here is me heading home in a very good mood. More beach hair, still don't care! 




And also in the "better late than never" category, I finally signed up for after-work lap swimming this week. In summers past, I've always done evening swimming at the Tony Dapolito Recreation Center on Carmine Street; it's a few minutes closer to work, and the staff there was really nice, and the pool area features this wonderful Keith Haring mural with merfolk and sea monsters and dolphins, oh my - but it's a small pool, and the laps are laid out width-wise to allow more swimmers to fit, so a lap is really, really short. I found out about the Hamilton Fish pool through another Tony Dapolito swimmer on FB - she's somewhere where it's considerably easier for her to get to the Carmine Street center, but I think I mentioned I was coming from near Broadway and she mentioned that the Olympic-sizedat the Hamilton Fish Park Pool might be something I should check out. I did, on Wednesday night, and had a great 3/4 mile swim under enormous puffy peach sunset clouds. Fine first visit, and there's time for a couple more good swims before the outdoor city pools shut down for the season.

Sorry no photos of the sunset clouds, they were gorgeous but I didn't have a camera, but here are a few more photos from the beach, plus fog coming in at the Brighton Beach subway station and storm clouds at Newkirk Plaza. Click the first photo for a slideshow view. Ah, summer. 

Monday, August 19, 2019

Monday Punday



Not my photo (somebody found it on Craigslist and shared it to the Church of the Double Bladed Paddle Facebook group) but this is the punchline to my favorite bad kayak joke and I couldn't resist.

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(frogma kayak smiley, patent pending)

Sunday, August 18, 2019

A Nice Low-Key Saturday in August


Old picture, but the boat looks the same and the conditions aren't far off from when I launched yesterday. 
Surfski spin yesterday after finishing off the repairs to Trusty Romany by gluing the foam support pieces back under the seat. I did 2 laps of the basin, I haven't been using the ski enough to go too far from home right now, plus there was a fog bank rolling in from the Rockaways and I wasn't sure how I would manage the orienteering compass I carry in my lifejacket on this boat - no deck, no sprayskirt, not really any good place to set something down and look at it.

 Started out a little tense but warmed up nicely. I haven't been paddling that boat enough - better exercise than the Romany (with far less stability, a surfski demands full engagement in a way that the average sea kayak doesn't, so even if you aren't pushing really hard, you're still working more) plus so nice not being all buttoned up under a sprayskirt in the summertime.

 There was crazy bluefish action out there - the basin has been thick with menhaden this year and the area under the bridge at the entrance to the basin was seething with schools leaping from the water as the blues attacked from beneath. Great day for fishermen, there were a dozen casting from the beach there. I paused on my 2nd turn under the bridge to watch someone land what I think was a ray - I couldn't get really close because of all the lines but it didn't look like a bluefish.

 Sometimes when I want to sit still on my surfski I put my feet in the water to add more stability. I wasn't doing that yesterday - with all those hungry bluefish I was afraid one might have a go at my toes!


A couple of the Sebago sailors who'd gotten off the bus with me were just coming back from their sail, having cut it a little bit short because of the fog. I wish I'd had my camera because their little white sail in the fog was such a picture. Nice quiet afternoon at the club. I watered my garden afterwards, picked some chard and pulled up a couple of carrots and came home and incorporated those and some leftovers into a really fantastic homemade skirt steak lo mein.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Loved This Book - Can You See Me


Lifted from a Tuesday night FB post written not long after I'd finished reading the book. I think "I missed my subway stop because I was reading your book" is one of the highest compliments I can pay an author, and this one did that! I'd intended to share this here then, but then I read that heartbreaking story of that poor woman dying of measles complications and chose to post that instead. 

My logging of books I'm reading this year went by the wayside after June for some reason. I think I got a little discouraged by somebody mistaking my list for recommendations - it was a kind comment but sort of embarrassing because I get so many of the books that I read off out of either the giveaway shelf at work, the book swap shelf in the basement, or the local Little Free Library. The result of this is that my reading list is about as well-curated as a squirrel's collection of acorns in the fall.

However, I am going to mention this one, because it was a really good read. It's one from the giveaway shelf at work (I work for Scholastic but this post is purely my personal opinion); it was originally published by Scholastic UK in Spring 2019 and is coming out here in the states in March 2020. It's a middle-grade novel written collaboratively by Libby Scott, a young autistic writer who came to the public eye when her mother shared a short piece she'd written on Twitter and it went viral, and author and teacher Rebecca Westcott.

The main character, Tally, is autistic, and the book begins just as she's getting ready to start 6th grade at a new school and follows her as she tries so very, very hard to fit in. It's so well done, I just found myself really feeling what it felt like to be in Tally's shoes. Interesting thing is that there were descriptions of going into tailspins that just reminded me SO much of things I felt myself as a kid, and even sometimes still as an adult...I read an essay once that really struck me about how children and young adult books can serve as windows or mirrors. This book was a fascinating window into life with a condition I don't really know that much about, but there were mirror moments too as I remembered times when I was just overwhelmed and couldn't keep my feelings in check right when I most wanted to. As far as I know, I'm completely neurotypical, but oh, there was common ground for me here, and I suspect many people would feel the same.

I finished it on the subway ride home tonight and was so engrossed by the end that I missed my stop and had to switch to a train back the other way at King's Highway. That only happens when a book has completely grabbed my attention.

Goodreads page for the book

Window and Mirrors essay

More about the tweet that went viral!

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Flight attendendant dies from measles complications


Oh, gosh. Remember earlier this year when I found out through a friend that the MMR vaccine I was positive that my incredibly responsible parents would've had me get as a youngster might not, in fact, be giving me any protection at all from our local measles outbreak?

 This is tragic. Rotem Amitai was most likely in a similar situation - she had been vaccinated as a child and probably, like me, just didn't know there was any reason to worry. She contracted the measles in late March, shortly before
 the time I got myself tested and re-vaccinated.

I'm so grateful to my friend Laura for cluing me in. Having my titers done proved that I was indeed among the large set of people who were given vaccinated in the late 60's/early 70's and yet did not, after all, have lifetime immunity due to the recommended dosages at the time being insufficient. With my asthma and allergies having a tendency to complicate even the stupidest of colds, I'm pretty sure a round of measles could have gone very badly. Hopefully not to this extent but I'm still having a little "That could so easily have been me" moment here.

And I'm just so sad for this lovely woman who should have had so much of her life ahead of her.

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

More Random Inwood Things

Sunday was lovely, but Saturday was pretty darned good too -- I just blogged about Sunday first because it was SO pleasant. Saturday was the 2nd leg of the annual races for the Joe Glickman Cup. The first was at Sebago in July, the third will be at the Yonkers Paddling and Rowing Club in September, and Saturday's was at the Inwood Canoe Club, the oldest paddling club in NYC, going back to 1902! Sadly, the original boathouse burned down, and so did the rebuilt boathouse, but they rebuilt a third time and never gave up, even when the Hudson was at its most polluted. Check out their History page for the whole story, it's pretty interesting. There's a chapter in F. Scott Fitzgerald's This Side of Paradise where the protagonist is wandering the city, broke, and catches a bus uptown.

"He got off and with no distinct destination followed a winding, descending sidewalk and came out facing the river, in particular a long pier and a partitioned litter of shipyards for miniature craft: small launches, canoes, rowboats, and catboats."

I instantly thought of Inwood and the neighboring boathouses that used to be up there the first time I read that, and although it was just one brief moment in the novel, it still spoke to me of the recreational boating tradition that the city had and then mostly lost. It's been pretty amazing being part of the resurgence - the growth in paddling and rowing since I took my first kayaking lesson in 1998 has been something to see. Inwood's one of the few places where it carried on unbroken. The boathouse is relatively new, but the history is still there. 

Their location is quite spectacular, being just north of the George Washington Bridge, as you can see above. I do love Jamaica Bay but I really look forward to these events at Inwood and Yonkers because it's just so nice to get back on the Hudson up along the New Jersey Palisades. I used to love coming up here back in my Pier 63 days.  


It was another beautiful day and I took a ton of pictures, so I thought I would put a few up tonight and more another evening. 

Here was a really beautiful boat - I wish I'd gotten the name of the builder! Couldn't resist taking some pictures. 

And of course the food at these things is always great - I was so happy to see this giant tub of sweet corn being prepared for grilling! 

Sunday, August 04, 2019

Quintessential Summer Paddle

We ended up having some scheduling issues at the club this weekend that meant a last minute change of plans for me today - but with an absolutely beautiful forecast today I did know that one way or another I wanted to get out on the water. Swimming and getting out the surfski were both under consideration, but in the end I invited a couple of new members who were clearly also really interested in getting out to join me, and another clubmate who turned up looking to launch around the same time joined us.

Without much of a plan beyond "See you at the club at noon, we'll do something", we ended up having kind of the perfect summer paddle. Everything was green and blue, the water was a smooth as a lake at times, and the clouds were the perfect marshmallow puffs in the sky. The new members were interested in seeing some birds, so we went to the marsh in Ruffle Bar, saw lots of good birds, joined the sailors for a little break on the sandbar (sailing would've been fun too but that'll have to wait for another weekend) and then headed on back to the club. It was a really nice low-key afternoon, with great visibility and the city skyline showing clearly, and I enjoyed it very much. My only disappointment was that I was sort of hoping to see the unseasonal seals that have been seen by Ruffle Bar this summer. At one point I got very excited because I saw a little round head pop up out of the water -- but as we got closer we started to see that it was bright purple, so nope, not a seal.

Lots of birds, though, and even some horseshoe crabs still hanging around (mating season around here is May through June, but nobody told these guys). I had a second moment when I thought I saw a seal but this time it was a piling - TQ and I have a running joke about all the seal-shaped things you realize are out there when you're looking for seals, funny to be thinking "Seal-shaped piling!" in August!

Pix from the day - click on any photo for a better view.


Not a seal. Grrr. I picked it up.
Patrick D. and company in his Goat Island Skiff, I Am Zenia, Pterodactyl (IAZ,P for short) - Manhattan in the distance

In the marsh at Ruffle Bar
Possibly a juvenile Great Blue Heron

Just outside the marsh, watching oystercatchers and terns fly by

Rest break on the sandbar 

Sailors a-swimming

I joined the sailors in a refreshing dip
Horseshoe crabs who didn't read the Critters of North America guidebook page where it says they mate in May and June (animals don't always read those books)

Sailors setting out again
Hey, is that a - oops, nope, seal-shaped piling 

Canarsie Pol Daymark with osprey nest
Trash haul - purple balloon, plastic bag, and a straw

Post-paddle non-adult refreshing beverage back at home - root-beer float yum!

And I did laundry and I think I will sleep very well. 

Saturday, August 03, 2019

Dragonfly at the Inwood Canoe Club


Great day at the Inwood Canoe Club today! They have a lovely little garden in front of their boathouse which was very popular with the local insects. This lovely dragonfly was quite cooperative about posing for photos!

Monday, July 29, 2019

Kayak Support for the 15th Annual Grimaldo's Mile

From what I've seen, the Mayor's Cup in Hoboken on Saturday went great. Meanwhile, I was helping out with the Coney Island Brighton Beach Open Water Swimmers'  (CIBBOWS) 15th annual Grimaldo's Mile swim race.

Grimaldo's Mile is named after a lifeguard who was really instrumental in turning Coney Island and Brighton Beach into the popular open water training ground it's become for NYC area aquatic athletes. It's funny - if somebody just stumbled across this blog today and just poked around in the last couple of years, they would think that recreational water access is just a normal thing here in NYC. That's getting to be the case now, and certainly was the case historically, but there was a rather large hiatus when the city's waterways got to be too polluted to play in.

The passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972 (thank you Pete Seeger & friends!) mostly stopped the river from being used as a legal dumping ground for industry, and the local waterways began a long, slow recovery, setting the stage for a renewed interest in recreational use.

That wasn't as much of a no-brainer as you might think, though. Perceptions of the water quality stayed bad for a long time -- when I started paddling in the late 90's, people's reactions when I told them about my new hobby generally involved cracks about how I must glow in the dark; I get a lot less of that and a lot more "That must be fun!" these days, which is really neat. Also, the impression I have is that NYC had lost the recreational traditions that naturally grow up in port cities, and with no recent history, and deep concerns about liability, the higher-up powers that be weren't entirely sure that opening up access was a really good idea.

It took people who were actually there on the waterfront and in a position to vouch for the idea to make it happen. There were a number of people and organizations to whom I would give credit for opening the waterways to the level of paddling and rowing we have here today, and I owe a lot to all of them.

Lifeguard Grimaldo Medrano was the guy who did that for the open-water swimmers. Before he took up their case, Coney Island and Brighton Beach lifeguards didn't let anyone swim outside of the jetties, which are spaced maybe 500 to 600 feet apart.

I started swimming at Coney Island far too late to meet him, but the love that my swimmer friends have for him is profound, and every Grimaldo's Mile is a tribute to him.

You can read more about him in a moving NY Times article I always like to share when I talk about this race - it tells his story way better than I could. Click here to read.

It was a beautiful morning at Coney Island and I had a wonderful time helping out. I always enjoy doing kayak support for CIBBOWS races - and this year was extra fun because my friend Steve the Paddling Chef has been doing some lap swimming and decided to give open water a try. Grimaldo's is a fantastic intro - my first open-water swim was in the Hudson, where just going to the beach isn't an option, and it was a little intimidating. I'd never swum any serious distance in water where I couldn't see, and the green murk of the Hudson was enough to freak me out a bit. Fortunately one of my paddling friends was doing swim support that day and came paddling up just as I stopped to tread water and think for a minute. Couldn't whuss out in front of Harry!

Steve did report a similar reaction (his open water experience had also been somewhere with tropical fish and coral), but he carried on just fine. The last few shots here are him finishing the race - I took about a million of him but I think these ones show the sequence pretty well, right down to the high-five with one of the Swim Angels (experienced swimmers who are there to encourage less experienced swimmers as necessary) as he left the water. There were a number of other Sebago Canoe Club folks paddling and we were all so excited to see him pull this off!

And then afterwards I joined another friend who'd volunteered in a roughly 3/4 mile swim. The water temperature was perfect for swimming. All in all, just a great day.

Photos from the day - click on any photo for a better view. 


Early morning in the Coney Island Aquarium's Education Hall
Registration underway
Buoys heading out
Marker buoys awaiting pickup

Education Hall filling up!
Paddling to the start - such a calm morning!

Starting Line - at Grimaldo's Chair in Brighton Beach
Swim Angels are ready!

Into the water

And they're off!

Heading for Stilwell

Paddlers gather to cheer on Steve the Paddling Chef

who is now also Steve the Swimming Chef! 

Approaching the finish


High-five with Eric the Swim Angel before the run to the finish.

My post-swim look. Beach hair, don't care!