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! 


Louise said...

What a great write up, Bonnie! And it really did happen just that way, as you've said. It was SO great having you with us again. I couldn't have asked for a stronger team, better than ever this year! So many talented and skilled paddlers, all in one place at one time. I'm overwhelmed with joy for the talent, great decisions and dedication our KST puts into this event. It was truly a challenge but one that everyone rose to meet. So glad you were with us, please come back!

songbird's crazy world said...

sounds like a truly wonderful event!

bonnie said...

Louise - I have to come back, we haven't visited a winery yet! :D