Wind SSW

While we all rested on Sunday, the wind was hard at work. We had four days of favorable weather during  the first half of 8 Bridges. On the fifth, as we arrived in the morning refreshed, ready to take on The Beast, a south wind was blowing.

Marathon swimmers rely on their training, kayakers, volunteers, and organizers, but they also rely on luck. Weather and currents can be forecasted and predicted, but not changed. Waiting in the narrow fjord beneath the Bear Mountain Bridge, the sky overhead was blue, but the water below was no longer flat. There was nothing else to do but jump in and hope for the best.

As four solo swimmers and a relay made their way downstream, the day looked promising. The current was running fast early in the course, spirits were high. As the river widened though, the wind was felt. It came in the form of short, choppy, irregular waves, head on. The kind of waves you look at from a boat and think nothing of, but as a swimmer you curse. These waves break your rhythm, and with it your spirits. Gulps of water come as frequently as gulps of air. Getting into the zone is difficult, and staying there is impossible.

As the day went on, the waves lengthened out into a more manageable, regular chop, something we could deal with. But during that time, another damage was being dealt by the wind, something more sinister than discomfit and a slight queasy feeling. The wind was slowing our current on the day we needed it the most. With the river at its widest during Stage 5, finding and using the ebb is critical in reaching the Tappan Zee before the flood.

By time the tide turned, no one was at the bridge. The waves were bigger now, and the lack of forward progress was demoralizing. Lighthouses did not fly by; bridges did not grow larger over time. An hour and forty-two minutes after the flood started, Andrew reached the Bridge. Shortly thereafter, the flood picked up to over two knots and halted the relay only six hundred yards from the finish. No one else made it.

Stage 6, another difficult day began where the last had left off. The same wind was blowing from the south as eleven swimmers splashed, and the ebb was again slow. Four finished before the tide turned, but all fought the same rough conditions for five to six hours. From the bow we watched our friends pushed backwards from the George Washington. It was sad to see so many not finish, especially when everyone gave a valiant effort.

But such is the sport we choose. For a few this event was the goal, but for most it was a part of something larger. For one swimmer who is training for the Ederle Swim, her mood was somewhat lightened to hear that her Stage 6 swim had been tougher than Ederle despite not finishing. Many other swam longer than planned, a feat in itself regardless of outcome.

And then the party afterwards. Sun beaten and weary, we pulled into Inwood. Swimmers, volunteers, kayakers, family, and friends mingled into the evening on the deck of La Marina. Sharing stories of the first six days, making plans for the future. The sunset across the Hudson couldn’t brighten the atmosphere more, though it tried. Fatigue waited patiently at the curb while swimmers reveled in the glory of one another.

Key to success

It is Sunday in the Hudson Valley and the River is quiet. No marathons are being attempted here today, despite the gorgeous summer weather. Things pick back up again tomorrow, today is a much needed rest from the past four days of constant motion.

With the first 66 miles complete, this is on track to be the most successful year of 8 Bridges by many measures. In the first four stages, twenty-two swimmers have started, and all have finished what they set out to do: Mo has completed two consecutive legs, Heather and Ed four, James and Andrew still making progress to seven. Records have been broken in every stage; Dave Farrell set the course record for Stage 4 yesterday on his longest swim to date. The weather has been amazing with nothing more than a gentle tail-wind and some light morning showers to note. The volunteers have been superb, a complex dance of kayaks, patrol boats, and jet skis getting it just right. Success, from any angle.

Rondi and Dave have not just created an event for us to swim. They have created an event that they want to swim. In the past they both have, of course, swum the event and therefore know intimately each leg of the swim and what is needed to complete all seven. But it has become very apparent in the past four days: they still want to swim this event.

From early in the morning, Dave can be found preparing the support craft while Rondi is organizing a stream of kayakers, swimmers, and crew. Through the first hour of each stage, the two can be found hard at work. But once things calm down and the swim is underway, both have been unable to stay out of the water. Each day Rondi has hands off her radio, watch, and clipboard to an able volunteer so she can pace with the lead swimmer for an hour or so. Meanwhile, Dave trades in the helm of Agent Orange for a pair of goggles and hops in as well.

And it isn’t just the two of them that want to be in the water. Numerous support crew have been in and out water during the first four stages, pacing swimmers, escorting by paddleboard, and offering eye-level encouragement. They all want to swim. And that is probably what makes this such a successful event. The people running 8 Bridges can, have, and want to be swimming the event. That’s a good sign.

From a swimmer’s perspective, it is wonderful knowing that the crew cares so much about swimming that they can’t not do it. That all tasks are so under control that an hour swim is possible and there are no frantic last minute emergencies is a sign of a well-organized swim. Seeing Dave or Rondi swim up next to you, seeing that they are willing to literally put themselves in your place, means that you are in a good place. It is very reassuring.

No one should be surprised it has been so successful thus far.

Looking forward to a successful Stages 5, 6, and 7.

Jumping in to Stage 1

At 7:20 this morning, an hour before the start, we finished loading swimmers and kayaks onto Launch 5. After introductions, a safety talk, and a briefing on the rules, we left the Catskill dock and motored up to the Rip Van Winkle. As the flood tide slowly went slack, the swimmers slathered up with creams, screens, and lotions. One by one, the kayaks dropped into the still water of the Hudson waiting for us in the shadow of the bridge.

The four swimmers of Stage 1 were all about to set out on at least four consecutive days of marathon swims. Ed Riley of New York, NY and Heather Camargo of Hollywood, FL will swim the first four stages, with James Penrose from London, England and Andrew Malinak from Seattle, WA continuing on with all seven.

One marathon swim is hard enough, but multiple back-to-back swims add many new levels to the challenge. Here is what the swimmers are thinking about the swim in the hour before they jump in:

Why are you doing this?

Heather: is a frequent participant in her local Key West Marathon Swim. Her daughter got the opportunity to play at Carnegie Hall this June, so Heather is missing the annual Florida tradition. Looking for a bit of adventure up north, she found 8 Bridges. She tried signing up for one or two stages, but just couldn’t stop herself from signing up for four.

Andrew: has been thinking about swimming the length of the Hudson for longer than 8 Bridges has existed. He finally got around to scheduling the two weeks needed, and is very excited to return to his hometown (Fishkill) to swim in a lot of familiar water. This is a great opportunity to spend time with an amazing group of people in a gorgeous setting.

James: heard about 8 Bridges last summer when he met Dave Barra at MIMS and fell in love with the idea. He is looking to use this week as training for some other big, difficult swims he has in his sights, and hopes to come out a stronger, tougher marathon swimmer.

What have you done differently to train for this swim compared to other one-off marathon swims?

Ed: has taken the “swim all the time” approach to training. A typical week consists of training sessions once every twelve hours (5am and 5pm) six days per week. He focused on interval training during the morning session and distance during the evening, with longer swims on Saturday. He’s been totaling forty to fifty thousand yards per week.

Heather: sought advice from the event organizers and added some long back-to-back training swims to her routine. She has also been working to strengthen her shoulders by using paddles and weight training.

Andrew: has also been doing consecutive long swims on weekends to prepare himself. Accomplishing this meant altering his training location from the preferred cold water of the Puget Sound to warmer lakes. He has also been making weekly visits to a physical therapist, hoping to avoid shoulder pain early on in the swim.

What part of this swim is most daunting? What will you be working on as you swim?

Heather: lists pacing as a concern. Swimmers are taught to swim fast, but added speed depletes the body and increases the risk of injury. This swim is about maintaining a consistent, comfortable pace and not overdoing it.

James: is hoping to make it through all seven stages honourably. Treading water at the starting line, the path downriver looks very, very long.

Ed: sounds worried about the start of day two. Jumping in after day one, well he is expecting “a bit of an ouch.” But, he reminds us, no one wants to see a grown man cry. I suppose that’s why we all wear goggles, to hold the tears in.

Three, two, one…8 Bridges has begun!

Grace breaks the Catalina Chanel Record

2012 8 Bridges winner and record holder Grace Van Der Byl broke  Karen Burton’s 18 year old record when she swam across the Catalina Chanel in 7 hours and 21 minutes in October. Congratulations Grace!

Grace has been nominated for open water swimmer of the year for 2012. You can vote for her here.

Bannerman’s Return Tour (Test 2)

Last Saturday we did a second test swim of the Cold Spring – Bannerman’s Island 10.5K Return.

Bannerman’s with Caitlin, Ethan and Terry. Photo credit Capri

This time it wasn’t just me and a kayaker, it was a party of people: David and his RIB Agent Orange, three paddlers, and nine swimmers. The idea was to start swimmers of different speeds on the flood tide at different times so we all converged at the island when the tide was slack. Then we’d return to Cold Spring on the ebb. The swim was calculated to take between 2.75 and 4 hours depending on swimmer speed.

As we motored down the river in AO, I was surprised how rough the water was in the Hudson Highlands where we would be swimming. Flags on poles were barely being lifted by the wind, but the river was full of white caps. The forecast was for winds out of the north at 12 mph; nothing serious but enough to churn the water as it was pushed against the flood current.

Because of the head wind we started the four waves of swimmers 10 minutes earlier than planned. As soon as we got out of the seclusion of Cold Spring and into chop it was clear we should have all started at least 30 minutes earlier. The head wind negated any tidal push. In fact we were crawling along while getting pushed backwards.

John who was paddle boarding beside me had a pretty rough time in the bounce and retired after a few miles. I wish at that time we had tied the board to one of us and swam together as we had planned to do after we got to the island.  I joined another group of swimmers: Janet, Hannah, Eli, and Willie with Andy kayaking. It was great fun swimming with so many friends, taking feed stops together and having a chat while doing so – feeding is slow with four swimmers and one kayaker. It helped that the water temps were in the mid-70s.

We reached the Island after two hours and had to push hard to make our way around it as the ebb current had started 30 minutes earlier. Once around, the water calmed down and we leisurely swam back to Cold Spring with some more chatting and scenery stops. Capri, beaten down by swimming against the ebb current below Breakneck ridge, had gotten out, so Gary, her kayaker, joined our group and Eli, Willie, and I went on ahead. We finished in 3 hours 20 minutes.

Gary. Photo credit Capri

I was happy that Caitlin and Ethan also made it around the island. They had to battle a stronger ebb as they were about 45 minutes behind us. They completed the swim in 4 hours 20 minutes.

The swim certainly didn’t pan out as planned, but there were some good things we learned in the process.

  •  It’s really fun to do this swim with a group of friends, with ample chatting and scenery breaks. This has to be one of the most scenic parts of the Hudson. So why not make this swim a tour rather than a race. Swimming for speed is permissible of course. On the other hand you can take stops, say at little Stony Point, an inviting sandy beach half way to the island, and at the island itself where there is a great ruin that looks like an ancient castle.
  • The flood tide between Cold Spring and the island is weak and unreliable in moderate winds. This requires more investigation but probably means getting swimmers to the island with plenty of time before the ebb begins.

In light of all that we plan to offer the inaugural Bannerman’s Island Return (Tour) on September 1, 2013 or Labor Day weekend Sunday. So mark your calendars!

John and Agent Orange at Cold Spring. Photo credit Capri

Some links from the swim:

Janets blog write up

Flickr photos and videos (below) from Capri:

Ethan and Caitlin – heading to Bannerman Island

yes! Caitlin and Ethan – make it to the north side of Bannerman Island

Caitlin and Ethan pass Breakneck


Well, its nearly October. I saw a few leaves drop today… granted it was quite windy, but days are getting shorter; mornings are cooler; apples abundant and I am back to swimming mostly indoors.

We (Rondi and I) are already deep into the planning of the third annual 8 Bridges Hudson River Swim which will take place from June 15 – 22.  In addition to 8 Bridges, we will be hosting a couple of other swims in the Mid-Hudson: The 2 Bridges Swim Under the Walkway 5k and 2.5k and Bannerman’s Island Return, a 10k tour of perhaps the most scenic stretch of the Hudson River…. dates TBD.

Bannerman’s Island 10K

Inspired by the pioneering efforts of my swim buddies who ventured the 20 miles across Cape Cod Bay this week, today I tested a new swim in the Hudson: Cold Spring to Bannerman’s Island return, a super scenic 10.5K trip timed with the changing current, so you swim north to the island on the waning flood and south on the ebb. This is a destination well known to kayakers, but I am not sure it has been swum before.

Swimming  through the Hudson Highlands toward Bannerman’s Island.

Neither direction offers a lot of tidal assistance since the swim is timed around the slack tide. However, I was about 30 minutes late to start this morning so the tide was turning when I was only half way to the island. The island generously offered a tidal shadow, with the tell-tale debris patches, which I hid behind until I had to venture out into the current to get around the island. At a leisurely pace it took a 1hr 40 mins out and 1 hr back. The conditions were calm and great for those of us with cold blood — water temp was 82˚F!

The ruins of Bannerman’s Island arsenal

Heading back to Cold Spring

Grace’s thoughts on 8 Bridges

By Grace Van Der Byl

Life is funny, as soon as you think you’ve got it all figured out and you have done all you can do with what you’ve been given; life throws you an opportunity to do more. You can take on the challenge or you can let it pass you by.

When I decided to take on all of the 8 Bridges, I had no idea that it would be such a defining moment in my life. The experience was everything I had imagined and so much more!

Stage 1, I showed up to the dock with no idea what to expect. I kept to myself while I got ready away from the group. In typical So-Cal fashion, I had on my board shorts, flip flops, surf shirt, and a trucker hat. It was obvious to everyone that I was from out of town.  My anxiety was nearly a 10 when I jumped into foreign waters, racing a distance further than I had ever gone before. Once into the swim, I settled down and started to enjoy the river.

Stage 2, like stage 1 was also uncharted territory for me in distance but I found myself so focused on the sights that I forgot about the how far I was swimming.

Stage 3 seemed to go by so fast that before I got my head around the swim; we were already at the bridge.

Stage 4 was one of my two favorites. There were beautiful cliffs, an island with a castle, Monistaries, trains, and when Rondi and I swam past West Point, they shot their cannons for us!

Stage 5 was a beast!! Rondi and I swam together for half of the swim. It was really nice to have company while we were swimming against the current in warm water. On this stage the river widens and it is massive!!! I was so focused on my kayaker that I didn’t notice until I stopped for a feed and peeked around us. I was gobsmacked by the size and the amount of traffic on the water. Captain Greg of Launch 5, David Barra on Agent Orange, and Buddy on the rib kept us all so safe that  I never considered what was out there a threat.

Stage 6 was supposed to be a super fast stage but Mother Nature decided otherwise. Even with the crazy conditions it was a blast!

Stage 7 was unimaginable! The conditions had smoothed out from the day before, so that definitely helped make it fun. However, the feeling I got when I swam past the Statue of Liberty made any hardship I had faced totally worth it.

The 8 Bridges Hudson River Race is the most awesome marathon event that I have ever had the privilege to participate in to date. Swimming in the river that built America, racing in conditions that are unpredictable and challenging, the opportunity to see a stunningly beautiful part of the country from a unique perspective, and most importantly meeting new friends that will last a lifetime!! Thank you so much Dave, Rondi, Margrethe, Captain Greg, Lisa, Clare, Riverkeeper, Bridge Authority, Scenic Hudson, and everyone else that I didn’t mention but was there, for the experience of a lifetime!


We finished! 7 days, 7 stages, 120 miles

Today it’s hard to believe it’s all over. It’s certainly going to take a few days to digest the events of the past seven days. Right now I’m feeling somewhat stunned about all that just unfolded in the past week, and a mix of bliss and indebted gratitude to the amazing group of people that came together to make 8 Bridges happen. From the boaters, particularly Greg Porteus and his daughter Amanda and son Buddy on Launch 5; to the kayakers, particularly Pat, Terry, Margrethe, Steve, Gary, Rosanna and Suzie; the 24 swimmers who worked so hard, were so focused, and also jazzed about their swims; Lisa Neidrauer for coordinating the kayakers, feeds, swim logs and finisher videos day after day; Janet Harris for coordinating boat loading for Stage 7, swimmer escort support, and all the ginger cookies; William Miller for all the help with Agent Orange; Tara Sullivan and the NYS Bridge Authority for transporting us all over the Hudson Valley; sponsors Blueseventy, Keen Footwear, and Gu Energy Labs. It was an incredible team effort. Thank you everyone!

Lisa Neidrauer coordinating kayakers and swimmers on Launch 5

For yesterday’s Stage 7 the weather gods were overly generous and completely made up for the harsh head-wind conditions of Stage 6. We motored to the George Washington Bridge in calm waters under sunny skies with a gentle tail wind from the northwest. A last minute discussion between the boaters and race directors had the swimmers splashing on the New Jersey side of the river. Here swimmers could be also be protected from the flood while waiting for the tide to turn. In addition, we found that the flood was weaker here than the Manhattan side of the river. It also meant we didn’t need to cross the shipping lane once the ebb kicked in — a win-win-win situation.

Martin and Amanda splashed at 8:30 am followed by John at 9 am, and Patty, Grace, and myself at 9:30 am. The tide was scheduled to turn after 10 am but we felt the push of the ebb almost immediately and made good headway down the Hudson. I reached lower Manhattan after about 2.5-hours of swimming and the Statue of Liberty around 3-hours. With the staggered start swimmers converged on the harbor about the same time which made it easier for the boaters to protect us.

Grace swimming past the Statue of Liberty. Photo credit Greg Porteus.

I’ve never swum past the Battery in such calm conditions; at times the water was glassy flat. With Gary and the Osprey at my side I felt safe and protected from the mayhem of water taxi’s, ferries, yachts, boats, and helicopters. I learned later that as I swam blissfully through the harbor, our boaters and two ribs were aggressively directing boats and ferries out of our way.

I visited Amanda and Martin during the swim, sadly this was the only time I saw Amanda yesterday as we were on different boats. Martin, having just become a US citizen, was stoked to swim by Lady Liberty.

We flew through the upper harbor toward the Verrazano-Narrows at over three knots. I was sad the swim was coming to a rapid close and was disappointed when feed times arrived because it meant another half hour had passed.

The Riverkeeper boat paid a call south of Bay Ridge. As I was swept by I heard Captain John Lipscombe, my hero, call out his appreciation for what we are doing for the rivers. This brought an unexpected rush of emotions, more so than finishing the swim. The Riverkeeper folks then motored off to test the waters of the Gowanus Canal at low tide. We got to catch up again with Capt. John last night as we grouped for a celebratory dinner in Ossining and saw photos of the Gowanus’s disgusting pollution.

The Riverkeeper boat visiting us en route to the Verrazano Narrows.

Meeting up with Captain John Lipscomb of Riverkeeper with David, Grace, John, myself. Photo credit Greg Porteus.

Arriving within 30 minutes of each other, the six of us finished the swim on the Brooklyn side of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, moving out of the best current to keep clear of the large tugs and tankers arriving and departing the harbor through the shipping lane.

Me under the Verrazano Narrows, the most spectacular bridge of them all. Photo credit Greg Porteus.

Grace and I are the first to finish the 120-mile swim, the longest stage swim and marathon swim in the world! It was a complete honor to share this experience with Grace. Not only is she a fantastic athlete, she is grounded, warm, real, courageous, and inspirational. Swimming with her kept me focused on the task and brought out the best in me. Thank you Grace. Grace has set the bar high for future 8 Bridges swimmers. Also a big thank you to David for making this all happen. Dave and I each did our separate thing to organize the event, but David is the one that holds it on his shoulders; he’s incredibly flexible, generous, and stoic in the face of adversity.

Grace and Rondi – all finished! Photo credit Greg Porteus.

It’s a thrill that this years event was such a success. May there be many more 8 Bridges in the years to come.