I put in some time on a familiar trail with some new faces – the Little Red Lighthouse Swim, organized by NYC Swim.
The Little Red Lighthouse is a retired lighthouse just below the George Washington Bridge. Someone wrote a children’s book about it not long after the bridge was built; the gist is that the lighthouse was despondent over no longer being needed, what with the bridge’s arching span and foghorn, until one foggy night only the lighthouse’s light could stave off a rocky doom for local vessels.
In real life, the lighthouse was retired from service yet persists as part of Washington Park, which is quite literally down the road from me. If you were to walk downhill about two hundred feet and then south about five blocks, you’d be there. So, I signed up to support the swim in my kayak, along with several friends from the Inwood Canoe Club.
Now, this race was different. For one thing, it was a lot farther than the swim portion of the Triathlon – over six miles at least, longer by my reckoning. It also exposed swimmers to stronger currents, putting them out in the channel for most of the race, and in less sheltered waters. The moderate breeze we had managed to kick up some foot-high waves at certain points – mountains, if you’re swimming in the water.
Another difference is that current plays a much stronger role. Now, regular readers will recall that I have gone on at length about current and wind on the Hudson. In this case, the race started with some ebb current left, but quickly turned to flood current, helping the swimmers. Unfortunately, not everyone in the race seemed to realize what that meant (and to be fair, for the swimmers it’s hard enough to see anything, let alone the direction you ought to travel). I found myself telling people to make hard rights or hard lefts to avoid boats and other obstacles, because a gentler turn would not take them where they needed to be.
That said, once we got past the initial launch, when everyone is crowded at the front, things went along decently. Those of us in kayaks keep an eye on the swimmers, watching for gaps in coverage, and chasing down wayward swimmers. I might joke it’s the slowest paddle I’ve made with current to Dyckman street – altogether, about four hours in a boat.
To get there, I paddled the Argonaut out of Pier 96. Incidentally, against near maximum ebb current (actually, not near – it was max ebb). It wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought, using the usual tricks – stay close to shore, make a ferry crossing when moving across the current. I made it up to the staging area at 79th street in about half an hour.
I also saw something I wasn’t sure happened. Do not read any further if your are squeamish or easily grossed out.
Very near the end, one of the last swimmers paused and tread water for a bit. I asked if he was OK, and he said yes. He asked if that was the end, and I said yes. We drifted a bit and I asked again if he needed help, and he said no. Then he threw up. A couple of convulsions, still treading water. “Let’s get you in,” I said, but then he started to swim. I let him go. he made it in.