40 Pools

Celebrating a Big Birthday with 40 Swims

Signing Off at 50

photo of water bottle with sticker by pool

After my illness last spring, I gratefully affixed this “I Survived COVID-19” sticker from Lisa Lisa to my water bottle. When older and wiser swim pal Kathleen saw it a few months later at Riverbank, she deadpanned, “So far.” It took me a while to appreciate her perspective, but she was absolutely right. We are in the “so far” phase of whatever is happening, and we continue to face many unknowns.

Despite much recent introspection about highs, lows, and hassles, I don’t know what I feel about swimming right now, or maybe I just don’t feel. But as 40 Pools turns 10 – and I turn 50 — I’ve decided to release myself from this project. I’d be pleased to continue pool tourism with friends, and I’ll leave this blog up assuming Word Press cooperates, but I won’t feel compelled to post if I am fortunate enough to log pool #108 and beyond.

The Roaring Forties

The 40 Pools Project has had a good run, if I do say so myself — educational, healthy, challenging, FUN! Since starting this effort a decade ago, I’ve:

  • visited 107 pools on three continents;
  • published 192 posts including some awesome guest entries further expanding the blog’s geography;
  • covered some iconic non-pool swim spots such as Aquatic Park (San Francisco), Manly Beach (Sydney), and Barton Springs (Austin);
  • opined on swim-related books, exhibits, and even a film and a play;
  • had my 15 minutes of fame in the New York Times;
  • swum nearly 8 million yards; and
  • best of all, made and reinforced numerous aquatic friendships.

From my bubble of privilege, I’ve also touched on issues from the broader world including environmental challenges, racism, and the Covid-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, out in that same world, blogging has come to feel old-fashioned, the cool kids prefer platforms like Instagram and TikTok, and I can barely navigate Word Press’s latest interface. Changes in my own life include a new job, new cat, new bike, new relationship, new nephews, new eldercare responsibilities, new degree, and, is it just me or is it getting hot in here?

Brighter Times Ahead?

We have a lot of tools at our disposal to keep on surviving, and to keep on swimming, even though maintaining a consistent routine has gotten harder. Fact is, there were issues aplenty in the Before Times. To name a few challenges stemming from pathetic underinvestment in social infrastructure: John Jay’s reconstruction kept – and is keeping – it closed years longer than expected; Riverbank was unreliable (my last indoor swim attempt there in 2020, on Monday, March 16, was thwarted not by pandemic but by mechanical problems); and a plan for a new Lasker pool means a plan for a few years without any Lasker pool.

photo: backhoes attack the remains of Lasker pool
Bye for now, Lasker (photo from November 2021).

Channeling some optimism, on the other hand, I can point to instances of progress. Riverbank recently got many of the repairs it needed. The Plus Pool is creeping closer to realization in the East River. At CCNY, where I work and eagerly anticipate to being able to swim before I retire, I’ve seen the dust and heard the sounds from the pool renovation in progress – although I agree with whoever scribbled “No it’s not” under the “Coming Soon!” headline in the poster.

Coming Soon! headline with pool renderings
CCNY’s “Coming Soon!” sign shows a rendering of the renovated pool — and some well-deserved skepticism if you look closely in the header.

John Jay’s renovations were completed nearly two and a half years ago, so one hopes it will actually reopen some day. Meanwhile, my team has sourced new training options on the Lower East Side and in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. I hope to check these out sometime and to make use of my NYC Rec membership in the months ahead, especially if the recently reopened St. Mary’s pool adds lap swim sessions.

John Jay pool with Bloodhounds sign
My team’s leaders toured John Jay’s beautiful renovations in early fall 2019, and yet the pool has remained closed. (Photo courtesy TNYA.)

An Invitation

I’d planned to mark this milestone birthday at Riverbank with some of the same folks who inaugurated this project 10 years ago. However, we are amidst what I can only hope is Peak Omicron, and it feels foolhardy to encourage friends to cram into in a pool lane for 50 reps of anything. Instead, I’m shooting for a belated birthday swim in 50 days, on February 27. You’re invited. Message me if you want to join in.

Thanks for reading. Happy swimming.

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Ederle-Burke Swim 2021: Worth the Wait

Location: Battery Park, NY to Sandy Hook, NJ
Distance: 16.1 miles
~Featuring~
Tandem swim partner: Abby
Paddlers: Ilene and Sharon
Crew: Ed and Manami
Boat captain: Sean
Event director: Rondi (New York Open Water)

This swim report starts long before the event date of Wednesday, October 6, 2021: possibly when I got smitten with marathon swimming in 2007; or when I attempted the Ederle Swim on October 20, 2009; or when, sometime in the second half of 2020 on the BQE, Abby and I nonchalantly agreed to seek a 2021 tandem entry for Ederle-Burke, as it’s now known*. (Tandem rules require swimmers to stay within 5 meters of each other at all times and share the same finish time.) We barely discussed it, but I knew that our compatible paces, our quiet reliability, and her unflappable nature would make for a completely different swim than my multisensory experience more than a decade ago. I decided to make this my early 50th birthday present to myself. Neither of us knew on that BQE moment — or when we officially signed up in January 2021, choosing a fast tide in consultation with Rondi — that this swim would also turn out to be Abby’s farewell to New York.

I’m not the most prolific swimmer, but I’ve done a number of marathon swims in the Hudson in the intervening years, some difficult by my standards, all successfully completed. Not before or since my 2009 attempt had I failed to finish an open water event, and this really ate away at me as I ramped up my training. Also in the intervening 12 years, I’d witnessed many others complete Ederle, serving as a boat observer numerous times including for some of the current record-holders and even volunteering as a paddler once. I’ve probably witnessed this swim more than anyone else, ever; such is its allure for me. I found it incredibly humbling to work toward something that hadn’t worked out as hoped without any guarantees for the repeat. (In marathon swimming, even being able to start is not a given!) Happily, I came to feel truly appreciative of the opportunity to try and of the journey involved in training and planning, pandemic complications notwithstanding.

group photo - 9 swimmers all bundled up
The 2009 Ederle Swim field, with Eileen Burke to my right. Like me, she didn’t finish that year, but three of these hardy souls did!

In the months and weeks leading up to this attempt, it was constantly in my thoughts, as in, “I hope I make a full recovery from Covid so I can do the swim.” “I hope I don’t get hit by a car today because that wouldn’t be good for my swim.” “I hope there’s not a hurricane because that could ruin the swim.” (Due to NYOW’s busy schedule, we did not have a backup date.) But actually, doing my longest training swim in crazy rip currents along Fire Island while a September hurricane churned offshore from Canada boosted my confidence immeasurably. Abby was tackling many other swims this summer and fall and had already become stateless in advance of her move to California, so we weren’t training together. Finding adequate pool time in a pandemic required constant hustle, and I felt lonely at times.

This lonely training gave me plenty of time to reflect on “Trudy” Ederle, Eileen Burke, and other strong women who’d influenced my life: especially my aunt Alice Ann, an ardent follower of my exploits, who got taken by cancer in March; and my mother, who supported me at countless swims from her former home base in Poughkeepsie, and who now has Alzheimer’s and lives in a nursing home in Pennsylvania where I hadn’t been able to see her for more than an hour at a time since early 2020. I felt their spirits encouraging me and decided to dedicate my swim to them.

photo of mom and m
2009 – Me and mom before the swim at North Cove.

Revisiting my 2009 race report a few weeks out surfaced some nerves, but I comforted myself with reminders that the 2021 date would be two weeks earlier aka warmer and that the course had been tweaked to be more direct and thus about a mile shorter. Also, I’d have my ace paddler Ilene for escort and Abby with some choice words at the ready if I flagged.

me backstroking and Ilene paddling under the Verrazano
2009 – Ilene and I glide under the Verrazano.

In the days immediately preceding the swim, some of the logistics weren’t totally clear to me, and we had some personnel changes. I tried not to worry, to embrace the mantra of “Shut up and swim.” In other words, quiet the voices in your head and trust your body and your team. Truthfully, everything looked to be shaping up very well: comfortable water and air temperatures, dry conditions beforehand (preserving water quality), negligible or favorable wind, and of course the super-fast tidal assist.

A number of friends came to our boat loading at Pier 40, likewise to see us off at the Battery at the very civilized start time of 10 a.m. (though I’d told them the wrong pier), and later even to watch from south Brooklyn! I was glad to have them as part of the adventure together with our trusty crew and boat support.

group photo
Pier 40 boat loading fun: (l-r) Sharon, Ilene, Lisa Lisa, Neil, me, Abby, Kerith, and John.

So, finally, the swim? In all honesty, we got off easy. For all that I’d built up in my head, it was anticlimactic in terms of difficulty. In terms of fun, it topped the charts; I ended up feeling happy that I hadn’t finished in 2009 because our day was so awesome!

There was light chop in the harbor as we took off from the Battery and swam through Buttermilk Channel and then past the Statue of Liberty. Abby and I weren’t totally in synch, and I was struggling a bit trying to see her on one side and Ilene on the other. Ilene and I conferred at the first feed and agreed that she’d keep me on track so I could just shut up and swim.

On a work field trip in August I’d learned about a harbor cam. I sent the link out before the swim hoping that people would be able to see us on the live feed. It worked! The operator even zoomed in on our curious flotilla, and my young nephews in California watched us swimming as they got ready for school. One of them observed, “Hannah’s famous!”

harbor cam screen shot - US Army Corps of Engineers boat, tug and barge, and us
Thanks to Matt for this still from the harbor cam as we passed between large vessels.

Around the time of this screen grab, we had to halt for a few minutes to allow the tug and barge to pass. I got cold and crampy during this pause and didn’t really warm up for another hour or so. It was during this cold stretch that I thought most about Ederle and her famous response, “What for?” when asked during her English Channel swim if by chance she wanted to stop.

The water was free of debris much of the way, save for a patch off Bay Ridge that included a Christmas tree! In contrast to my 2009 swim, it also seemed very quiet. Instead of noises from boats and construction, Gustav Holst’s “Jupiter: The Bringer of Jollity” was my mental soundtrack. (Listen to it here, particularly around 1:45 and 3:00; it’s a piece I’d grown fond of thanks to listening to WQXR while working from home). What we did have were swarm upon swarm of nonstinging jellyfish, making for chunky-style water sometimes more jelly than liquid. We’d hit a clear patch every now and then, and I’d think we’d finally gotten through the jellies, only to encounter even more a few strokes later.

The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge is a huge part of the course’s allure for me, and I loved having company at this moment. “Jupiter” practically blasted in my head as Abby and I backstroked under the elegant arch with our paddlers alongside. I was so focused on staying in synch that I didn’t even notice the giant ship passing in the other direction.

photo: Verrazano, shop, kayaks, support boats
Thanks to Kerith for this shoreside pic of us approaching the bridge and a ship I didn’t even see.

After the bridge we hit the choppiest water of the day. It had a somewhat hypnotic effect on me, though I did still pay attention to Ilene’s directions. When she told me to turn to close a gap, I dutifully swam sideways with my head down and ran right into what I thought was a mermaid. Truly, that was my first thought. Only the colorful nail polish on Abby’s toes sparked the realization that mermaids don’t have toes and therefore it must be Abby – who practically qualifies as a mermaid.

We got into a good rhythm from that point on – Abby having completed her requisite hours-long warm-up – and continued cruising past more buoys, islands, and lighthouses. Though slowing a bit, the current was still giving us a helpful boost.

Sandy Hook Channel is always a challenge. As we approached, we were getting somewhat conflicting information about our ETA. When offered an extra feed just in case, I was glad to accept and then put my head back down, shut up, and swim.

This may sound silly but the finish I’d worked toward for so long came unexpectedly. The water was murky, and the depth changed from 20 feet to 1 foot within about one stroke, so I touched bottom before I saw it. Were we really there? I caught a tiny wave to push me in and upright and kicked out a final leg cramp to stand on the beach! Our finish time was just under 5:00 hours, much shorter than my 2009 attempt.

While Manami captured video footage from the boat, Ed had swum in to photograph the moment and deliver Abby’s traditional finish beverage: a shandy! (She is such a fan that her phone would always try to auto-correct the spelling of our destination to Shandy Hook.) She and I both drank up. An experienced channel crosser, she directed me to choose a souvenir shell.

Hannah and Abby with shandies, Sharon and Ilene in kayaks in the background
Shandy Hook finish!

From there it was back onto the boats, kayaks and all, and then to a marina where crew and boats alike exited the water. Also pulling out there were fishermen we’d passed at the start of our day. All of this took place without shivering or other issues. (I mistakenly left my shell on a picnic table we used when changing.) From there we rode in cars to Atlantic Highlands, rehydrated some more, and sat on the upper deck of the fast ferry back to Manhattan. Passing under the bridge once again filled me with awe. It always will.

Abby left for California the next day, and now I’m about to reach the birthday I used as my excuse for the swim. Visiting the Gertrude Ederle Recreation Center recently reminded me of my debt to this incredible trailblazer. We are fortunate to be surrounded by swimmable waters and such a supportive swim community.

Results, 1913-present: https://www.nyopenwater.org/historical-ederle-swim-results/

*

From swim organizer New York Open Water:
The swim is named for two pioneering women in the sport of marathon swimming. Gertrude “Trudy” Ederle swam this course in 1925 in 7 hours and 11 minutes. According to family lore, her nephew Bob described this swim as a “midnight frolic,” and a “warm-up” for her swim across the English Channel. The following year, Ederle became the first woman to swim the English Channel on August 6, 1926 in 14 hours and 36 minutes.

Eighty-five years later, an energetic teacher named Eileen Burke jumped into the water off Battery Park on a raw October morning, and stood on the shores of Sandy Hook 5 hours and 45 minutes later. Eileen was drawn to this swim’s history, the challenge of swimming such a distance in October, and like Trudy Ederle, use it to train for the channel. While Eileen didn’t make it to the shores of France in 2012, she harnessed the disappointment to become the first woman to swim the 20-mile P2P swim across Cape Cod Bay.

In 2013, Eileen was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She did not let the pain of chemotherapy get in the way of her dedication to her family and the open water community. She participated in a relay swim around Manhattan with her swimming partner and friend Mo Siegel in 2014, served on the board of the Coney Island Brighton Beach Open Water Swimmers (CIBBOWS), and was a constant volunteer and smiling face at CIBBOWS and NYC Swim events.

On October 3, 2015, Eileen passed away peacefully at home, leaving behind her beloved husband David, a daughter Ann Marie, and a large hole in the open water swimming community. We hope that this swim will continue to serve her legacy as a friend and mentor to all swimmers.

screen shot of our course tracker
Screen shot of our course tracker, which was on Sharon’s kayak.
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#107: Gertrude Ederle Recreation Center

Location: Upper West Side, Manhattan
Configuration: 4 lanes x 20 yards
Fee: NYC Rec membership required

Sorry for not telling you sooner, but it was free to get a one-year membership to all NYC rec centers up through the end of the year. I got my membership in November and first used it on December 30 at the Gertrude Ederle Recreation Center. Coincidentally, that was the last day to get the free membership, so the lobby was packed with New Yorkers who love a good deal.

I normally avoid 20-yard pools, but times are tough and this one has extra meaning due to its namesake, “Trudy” Ederle (1905-2003), arguably New York’s greatest swimmer. Olympic gold medalist, world record holder, English Channel and New York Harbor pioneer and record setter, swim goggle and bathing suit innovator, Ederle has many claims to fame. The first woman to be honored by a ticker-tape parade, upon the occasion of her return from her successful English Channel swim, she is no longer well known outside swim circles. (Here’s a good book if you want to learn more.)

photo: fanfare for Trudy
Overlooking the pool, you’ll find some historical images. This one captures some of the fanfare that greeted Trudy upon her return to New York after she swam the English Channel and dusted the (male) record.

Good for New York, then, for renovating and renaming this early 1900s bathhouse in her honor several years ago. She lived nearby but probably didn’t train here – London Terrace was more her scene – and this is now home base for city lifeguards.

Things were as good as they could be for my swim: nice vibe, good water temperature and chemical balance, ample natural light. Nice to see pool covers at the ready, too, for improved energy efficiency.

I had to circle swim part of the time in one of those nice wide end lanes. It’s just a bit funny for lap swimming because of several quirks:

  • The pool shape is actually an octagon rather than a rectangle, as the corners aren’t flush.
  • The shallow end has a trough sticking out from the wall just under water level, requiring mindfulness during flip turns.
  • The three other sides of the pool have brass (?) railings just above water level.
  • There are no lane markings on the bottom save for the border around the edge. There are, however, cables above the pool to help you stay straight while backstroking.

The short length was actually perfect for me given that I’d been out of the water nearly two weeks to limit Omicron’s chances of crashing my holidays; Riverbank’s looong-course setup felt too daunting. The impulse to try some butterfly kicked in, as it often does in short pools. I’m not sure I’ll be back due to both the length and the schedule, but I’m glad to have paid my respects and to be able to memorialize this pool here.

Pool view from the Ederle Playground (outside). I like the steel trusses and all the windows, among other features. Are the metal railings just for use in hanging out?
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Swimming Through a Pandemic

pool and open water swim locations in a swim icon word cloud
My pandemic swimming wordcloud (created at wordcloud.com).

Pandemic living stinks. Nearly two years in, our Covided-out world is more maddening and saddening than ever. Rather than providing respite, swimming has become more complicated and less reliable. That said, I appreciate my good fortune in being able to keep swimming this whole time.

I was getting acclimatized to the round-trip bike journey and warming waters at Brighton Beach in spring 2020 when I crossed paths with Riverbank pals Abby and Leslie. It didn’t take long for us to pod up as the Quarantine Beach Club, so named and outfitted by Abby, who whisked us out there in her beleaguered Jetta at the crack of dawn multiple times per week all summer and fall. Among the milestones marked from the BQE: the certification of the presidential vote in Pennsylvania giving the election to Biden.

QBC members Leslie, Abby, and me after a foggy two-hour swim on 6/6/20. Thanks to Jozef for capturing this joyous moment.

Other adventures ensued: Hudson River, Lake Hopatcong, Lake Canopus, and a plan to do the Ederle Swim tandem-style with Abby in fall 2021. Meanwhile, outdoor pools opened belatedly and stayed open into September.

Soon after outdoor season ended, I discovered that Roosevelt Island’s indoor pool was open, free, not taking reservations, and not limiting how long you could swim: a miracle. As with Brighton Beach, I started making the trip by bike. It took several weeks before I noticed how close the ferry stop was, and how neatly the ferry schedule aligned with the pool opening. From that moment on, I had many mental vacations as I caught the ferry from East 90th Street at sunrise, floated down to Roosevelt Island for a swim, and then floated back before my WFH day began. Unfortunately, the pool was prone to closures for mechanical and other reasons, and in summer 2021 it closed its doors for the foreseeable future in order to undergo renovations.

Both my swim team and Riverbank’s indoor pool had started up in the meantime, the latter just as I was recovering from Covid. That first morning lap session at Riverbank in late March 2021, the 50-meter pool felt endlessly loooong, and my goggles fogged up with tears as I reflected on the absence of those waters and so much else the past year. Never mind that pool capacity was drastically limited, swim sessions reduced to one hour, reservations required, and showers on deck only.

Alas, it was a diminished group of morning swimmers who returned. Many of my swim friends had relocated or increased their time spent outside the city, and others had new schedules. The splitting of Riverbank’s two-hour morning swim block into two one-hour sessions divided by a half-hour break also reduced possibilities for connection, not to mention my stamina for long course. The reservation system was merciless, mixing heart palpitations, browser refreshing, and often disappointment at 12:30 p.m. each day that I tried to get a spot for the next morning.

Meanwhile, at my team’s practices at Sacred Heart, the social-distancing requirements on deck and even in the pool sucked away a lot of the fun; it took too much concentration to figure out where we were in the set and when the person at the opposite end of the pool would be starting. (Pathetic, right?!)

Gradually, though, limits loosened. More of us were allowed in the water at once, masks could stay off in the locker room, showers reopened. Best of all, more people emerged once they got their vaccines.

Over the summer, the city again did not offer lap swimming sessions at its outdoor pools, and most pools that in the Before Times had all-day lap areas did not have enough staffing to open those sections. (A vicious cycle is afoot as two years’ worth of potential city lifeguards has missed out on training and employment opportunities. Now that high schools are in person again, here’s hoping that lifeguard cadres will rebuild.) Trusty Riverbank’s outdoor pool filled the gap.

I shelled out for Sacred Heart in September for unlimited, stress-free swimming close to home as I finished training for my Ederle Swim. Come fall, we worried about a prolonged closure for repairs at Riverbank’s indoor pool. Fortunately, the outdoor season was extended, and the repairs were completely before too long and actually seem to have worked: The indoor pool is benefiting from better filtration, quieter lights, and steadier temperatures! Neither of the morning swim times meshes perfectly with my back-to-the-office schedule, so I’ve taken to swimming at 8:00 and then arriving at work a bit late. It seems impossible that I used to routinely get myself to the pool at 6:30 a.m., much as I miss seeing the sunrise illuminate the tower in the northeast corner of the pool.

I also continued swimming out at Brighton Beach through Thanksgiving as I’ve done for many years – with a bigger crowd than ever – even though the Quarantine Beach Club is no more. That’s when Omicron snuck into New York and soon thereafter exploded. For the first time in the pandemic, I voluntarily took a break from the pool starting December 18. No chlorine this Christmas — better safe than sorry given that I was about to see elders, youngsters, and spend time in a nursing home.

I’m not setting any swim goals because pursuing them is too stressful. I’ve gotten used to wearing my suit to the pool, rushing through the locker rooms so as to not lose any precious minutes of the reserved hour, and barely topping 3,000 meters per swim. I’ve gotten more flexible about where and when I swim, more grateful to the pool operators and lifeguards who keep pools running safely, more accepting when swimming doesn’t work out. To combat feelings of loneliness, I’m trying to crawl out of my shell and talk to swimmers I don’t know. My 2021 yardage was my lowest annual total in 15 years, and, unless the Riverbank morning schedule changes, I foresee swimming even less in 2022. I keep getting slower.

My new thing? An hour-long morning walk along the East River on weekdays that I don’t swim. I enjoy the time to myself with the ever-changing water views and boat traffic. Even though my route is the same, it’s never boring. There are far fewer walkers out these days than in the first year of our pandemic, but sometimes I see swim friends along the way.

The setting moon hangs over the East River during my morning walk, 12/20/21.
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#106: Lancaster DoubleTree

view down pool to stingray tilework on wallLocation: Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Configuration: 2 lanes x 20 yards

Fee: Available at no additional charge to hotel guests only

My first indoor pool swim in six months happened here at the Lancaster DoubleTree in September, where I stayed in order to visit my mother — through two panes of glass, natch — in another first of the pandemic era. I’ve been back twice since, most recently with my tape measure to check the length because, yes, I am that much of a pool nerd. This is no time to be picky, given the paltry pool openings and hours these days, but this place is actually pretty good.

play pool with frog slide

The hotel — originally the independent Willow Valley Resort — bills itself as a golf resort with water park. Boosting its claim to the latter are the two lap lanes, rec area in the regular pool, hot tub, and spacious play pool that earned my young nephews’ stamp of approval. Also, check out the great murals all around the deck of the regular pool — sea turtle, whale, and stingray, oh my!

Lap swimming is a pleasure with the morning sun streaming through the eastern wall of windows. Although there are no Ts on the walls or backstroke flags, it’s easy to follow the line on the bottom and the ceiling ribs and pipes. The 20-yard distance was good for easing back to indoor swimming, even encouraging me to do some IMs. The water is a tad warm as you’d expect of a hotel pool. Depth ranges from 3 feet at the walls to 5 feet in the middle.

view from the other end of the pool

The CDC has indicated that chlorinated pool water deactivates the coronavirus, but nonetheless I’ve noticed a tendency of pools to be overchlorinated these days. The chemicals here are so strong that I end up with a dry, sore throat, which is a worrisome symptom in this COVID era. Today I drank diluted orange juice during my swim and had hot tea afterward, both of which helped.

During all three of my morning lap swims this fall, I had both lanes to myself and never shared the pool with more than two other people. Today it was just me the whole time.

During my most recent two days in Pennsylvania, the state implemented new restrictions for travelers. Whenever I’m able to return, I’ll be glad to do so for many different reasons, this pool being one of them.

hot tub with underwater mural

The wall art is especially nice in the hot tub alcove.

 

 

 

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Some City Pools Open, Finally

south end of Astoria Park Pool

Lap swim area at Astoria Park Pool.

Within the past week, all of the city outdoor pools that are going to open have opened — a total of 15. All of the regular park rules and procedures are in place. This means that, unlike at the state pools, indoor lockers and showers are being used — so be sure to bring your lock. In addition, there are social distance procedures and mask requirements.

I’ve visited K-Poo[l] and Astoria and am pleased to report that a lap swim area is available at the latter. According to a lifeguard I asked, it will always be sectioned off. Enjoy!

I was at Astoria yesterday, opening day, and found the water visibility to be low, likely due to a chemical imbalance. Otherwise it was delightful, and there were even lounge chairs available in the filled-in diving pool. Astoria also has the benefit of extremely spacious locker rooms with very high ceilings and excellent ventilation. Pool capacity, even with COVID reductions in place, is over 1,500.

There’s more than a month of outdoor pool season left. Summer is as steamy as ever, and it’s great to finally have more places to cool off.

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#105: Roberto Clemente State Park

RCSP pool and deckLocation: Morris Heights, Bronx, New York

Configuration: 50 meters by 25 yards

Fee: $2

This state-run outdoor pool opened in early July. Unlike its Manhattan cousin, Riverbank, Roberto Clemente State Park pool does not have designated lap swim times. However, on a quiet day you can swim to your heart’s content. My summer pool buddy Alex was having good swims up there, so at his urging I ventured north on Saturday, July 11, arriving for the 9:30 opening and knocking out 5,000 short course yards. Even though the temperature was in the upper 80s, the pool was empty enough that I had barely any interference. Toward the end of my swim I moved to the far (south) end where there aren’t black lines to follow, but there was a seam that kept me straight as I crossed the long course markings. I was thrilled.

Post-swim selfie

How happy was I after 5,000?!

More recently, I’ve heard that the pool is not always staffed enough to open fully, and that the turnout has been higher, so be warned that you might not get your laps in.

Even so, it’s a nice place to hang out with spacious bleachers, a snack bar and picnic tables right off the pool deck, and entertainment in the form of fearless youngsters in the diving pool and spray park.

Hand and wirstband

The magic wristband. Pro tip: put it on tight so it doesn’t bug you when you swim.

There are many concessions to the pandemic. For one, make very sure that you arrive with your bathing suit on and that you’ll be able to show it easily more than once. (Actually, that might happen anyway.) The changing rooms are closed, and the showers are on the deck. Only if you have to use a toilet do you go inside. Your entry fee gets you a wristband that is snipped when you leave: only one entry per session. Hours are reduced from the normal summer schedule to 9:30-1:00 and 2:30-6:00. You’re not supposed to bring a bag, although I did and so did the people who entered in front of me. The wading pool is not opening.

Roberto Clemente statue

This statue by the entrance, whose sponsor I am not endorsing, gives a glimpse of the park’s scenic Harlem River-front location. Swindler cover in Manhattan is across the way.

This park, which abuts the Bronx’s tallest buildings — the nearly 1,700-unit River Park Towers housing complex — was the state’s first within New York City, opening in 1973. Soon named for the famed baseball player who died young in a plane crash during a humanitarian trip in 1972, it has been renovated and refreshed in intervening years. North of the pool complex is a lovely waterfront area that serves multiple purposes: greenway, passive and active recreation space, wildlife habitat, flood mitigation, and rainwater filtration. I also found it to be a fine changing area to get out of my wet suit before the ride home.

If you are coming here by bike from the south, note that online mapping directions have you use the Major Deegan service road. Do not get on the actual expressway. (Right, Brad?) A later stretch along the waterfront brings you to a parking garage that seems to have no way out, but miraculously a gate will open and deposit you by the pool. Enjoy.

Another view of the pool

The diving well is at upper right. I didn’t go up there — it opened late into my visit — but bet it has a great view.

Spray zone

Who doesn’t love a giant spray park?

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Not a Pool: Onteora Lake

Onteora Lake, looking north

If you find yourself in Ulster County looking for a lake to swim that’s not Minnewaska, here’s the spot: Onteora Lake, a few miles west of Kingston. I met three NYOW swimmers here one Saturday morning at the end of a short June vacation in the area, and another swimmer happened to be already in the water when we started. Other than us human vessels, human-powered fishing boats and slow-moving electric ones were the only other craft in the lake. The fishers mostly hugged the shore, leaving the middle clear for swimming. We stuck together and switched off between easy swimming and upping the effort for set numbers of strokes. Phew.

Onteora Lake looking south, with fishing boats

This skinny, kilometer-long lake must have heated up due to recent warm temps; it’s less than 20 feet deep. We could see flowers along the edges and some interesting bird life. Part of Bluestone Wild Forest (in the Catskills), it felt quite remote except for the sounds of the the nearby highway at the south end. It was also quite silty both to taste and in my bathing suit, turning my post-swim shower briefly into a mudbath.

Should any nonswimming companions join you, they can hike or bike on trails around the lake and beyond. Parking is easy in a lot off the highway or farther in the same access road right by the lake. We left our things by a picnic table and no one paid them any mind. There’s no schedule or lifeguard, meaning you can come and go as you please — a particularly important feature during this darn pandemic.

 

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103 and 104: The Club at the Claremont

lounge area within poolLocation: Oakland, California

Configuration: One 25-meter pool, one 25-yard pool, plus hot tub and kiddie pool

Fee: Members and hotel guests only

Here’s a throwback Thursday look at an incredible facility in the Bay Area.

I was graciously permitted to join in a masters practice at the Claremont during a trip in February. While this hotel and club rightly boasts “rich history and elegance since 1915,” what now qualifies this post for throwback status is the facility’s temporary but lengthening closure, since late March, due to COVID-19.

north wing of the Claremont Hotel

Here’s the north wing of the hotel and, to its left, the club and spa areas I visited.

This castle-esque structure sits on a hill rising out of Oakland and Berkeley, and I’d long admired it from afar. A couple of years ago, an East Coast friend was going to be staying there right after I was in the area, so I dropped off something for her at the hotel desk and got a quick peak around the grounds. Pool coveting ensued.

For my February trip, I looked at splurging on a stay at the Claremont but dithered and the rates shot up — and I was happy to end up at the Berkeley City Club instead. The Claremont website clearly states that visitors aren’t allowed at the Club, which includes the pool, but just in case I reached out to the masters coach. After a while I received approval to join a practice on Valentine’s Day! What’s more, the workout would be coached by Suzie, a fellow open water lover I came to know years ago.

training pool

Training pool.

Thrilled that my name was on the manager’s list, I ascended Claremont Avenue and walked through the parking area to the spa. Check-in was an exercise in agreement: Would I be using the towels and locker room? Would I like a robe? Yes, yes, yes!

On Suzie’s advice, I’d arrived a bit early, so I stretched out a bit in the 25-meter pool in my own lane, of course. Over in the 25-yard pool for the masters practice, I enjoyed the company of jocular swimmers and Suzie’s technique-focused workout. Both pools were crystal clear saline, with a minor temperature variation between the two. They had digital pace clocks and plenty of gear, plus a hot tub for apres swim.

view from the pool deck

The view on the pool deck.

It’s hard to say what I liked best, but it just might be the view. From the training pool, you looked into a wooded residential area. From the deck, it was down into Berkeley and out toward San Francisco Bay. My photos don’t do any of it justice. Had I not been meeting my brother and family at a delicious bakery nearby soon after my swim, I could have easily enjoyed a long, comfy, umbrella-shaded lounge on the deck.

Months later, we have no idea when previously common activities like cross-country travel will resume, let alone indulgences like luxury resorts. Thanks for the memories.

 

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Excelsior: NYC’s State-Run Outdoor Pools Open

Roberto Clemente State Park pool

Roberto Clemente State Park pool, August 2008.

Hallelujah, the outdoor pools at Riverbank State Park in West Harlem (Manhattan) and Roberto Clemente State Park in Morris Heights (Bronx) opened with scant notice today! Both are offering two daily, ticketed rec swim sessions. Our beloved stalwart Riverbank will also have two one-hour lap swim sessions in the morning seven days a week starting Monday. Preregistration is required for those slots and is only available to current card-holders; I got the instructions this afternoon and hope I make the cut for two doses of chlorine next week.

Pool addicts have a commuting challenge in store: Both facilities are operating without locker rooms; as I suggested early on in this darn pandemic, so swimmers have to arrive dressed to swim with little else. Riverbank has limited outdoor showers and restrooms, and one hopes Roberto Clemente does too. Masks are required for everyone out of the water, and no bags can be left on deck. I look forward to the fashion creativity that emerges from these constraints.

Riverbank’s outdoor pool is a standard 6 lanes x 25 yards. Roberto Clemente’s is much bigger — probably 25 meters x 50 meters. My notes from my only visit there, in 2008, comment on its beautiful location on the east shore of the Harlem River and its red lines on the bottom. (It’s been renovated since, so perhaps the color of the lane markings has changed.) My party of four had the entire place to ourselves, and I bet that will be possible in the morning hours later in the summer. Judging from the park website, it now has a fantastic-looking splash zone too.

Capacity will be reduced from pre-COVID limits to facilitate social distancing. I’m sure the pools will be very popular and appreciated this hot holiday weekend. As summer stretches on, my prediction is that attendance will taper off, making a trip to the pool more of a sure thing.

The more scientists and medical experts figure out about COVID, the greater the evidence that outdoor swimming is safe and physical fitness is beneficial. Let’s all do our part to keep our time at the pool out of the water safe as well, and please be sure to thank the lifeguards, attendants, managers, and other people who are staffing and sanitizing the facilities.

Finally, a word of thanks to the Empire State for providing this vital cooling and social infrastructure! The full list of newly open state outdoor pools is here. Ever upward.

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