Open Water


Island Hopping

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The Governors Island Swim was a day full of firsts. Held on the first day of August, it was Mara’s first competitive swim of 2 miles or longer. It was the first open water swim for our good friend Carlos, who’s a very fast pool swimmer.

It also marked the first visit any of us had made to Governors Island, even though Mara and I live a mere 2 miles away as the crow flies in Jersey City, and I grew up even closer in Brooklyn Heights (1.08 miles, according to Google maps).

Just like running, open water swimming can make us more aware of our local geography. New York is a city not just of skyscrapers, but also rivers and dozens of islands, including of course Manhattan but many more that are hardly ever noticed by the millions who live and work here.

So on this visit to Governors, I started counting New York's islands. I’ve lived and worked in Manhattan. I’ve been to Staten Island for the start of 6 marathons. I’ve visited Ellis, Liberty, Roosevelt, Wards, and Randall’s islands. Technically, Long Island is part of the city too because Queens and Brooklyn are on one end of it.

But I’ve never been to Rikers, home of the city’s largest jail. I hope to stay on the straight and narrow and avoid that one. I’m also missing City Island off the Bronx. There’s also the abandoned North Brother Island and its smaller sibling South Brother Island in the Upper East River. Didn’t even know about those. From here it gets even more complicated: There are two clusters of islands, I guess you could call them archipelagos, one around Rockaway Beach in Queens and the other called the Pelham Islands near the Bronx. I won’t go through all the names, but if they ever want to settle Rat Island, Goose Island or the Chimney Sweeps, they might want to see about a name change.

NYC Swim, which organizes many of the marquee swimming events in New York, offers races around Governors, Liberty and Manhattan. Another group called CIBBOWS has a few races in Coney Island every summer. But for the record, Coney doesn’t count as an island anymore --- the creek that separated it from Brooklyn was filled in the 1950s.

Back to Governors Island, which Mara and Carlos set out to circumnavigate on this beautiful Sunday morning. The pre-race logistics included not one but two ferry rides, one to get us to the island, and one to take the swimmers a few hundred yards to the designated start area on the northwest side of the island. All 240 leapt into the water, and soon after the race was on. I walked along the circumference of the island and was able to keep Mara in view for nearly all of it. She even waved to me a couple of times in the middle of her stroke. The currents were choppy at times, and forced many swimmers back into the island, but Mara quickly figured out that staying to the outside of the swimmers and far away from the sea wall offered the best route. In open water swimming, the fastest path is not always the shortest. In fact, the winner of the race went far out away from the island and apparently caught friendlier currents.

My walk was 1.5 miles, and Mara completed her 2-mile circle around mine in a fantastic 54 minutes. This was even faster than her 1.7 mile swim in Rhode Island. Carlos was amazing too, finishing in 46 minutes in his open water debut.