40 Pools

Celebrating a Big Birthday with 40 Swims

Through the Wringer

(Warning: This post contains partial nudity.)

feeding the suit into the wringer

Back in January, I griped about the swamp-like conditions at John Jay College’s pool. Since then, I am both surprised and pleased to report on some significant improvements.

First, the pool. The unusual green hue, which was well on its way to disappearing by the time of the One Hour Swim, is just a funny memory now. The name “swamp” is not presently justified.

On deck, we were down to one working wall clock and a portable, battery-operated pace clock that sometimes went AWOL. I’ll be darned if we don’t now have four working wall clocks–two at each end of the pool, one per side, all in synch. Coach Brad nearly fell over and peed in his pants when he heard the news. Four clocks is far more than we had dared to even dream of.

As if that wouldn’t have kept us happy for at least a few years, the locker room also got some attention. These past few weeks brought tell-tale signs of installation activity and painting, and recently a wondrous device appeared. I was crushed last Thursday when this seemingly fail-proof machine was not working, but all it took was a few more days. Ladies, we now have a functional, adjustable, manual wringer in our locker room! This replaces a self-standing centrifuge that overstayed its welcome in the locker room far after its useful life, and a prior wall-mounted unit.

Simply feed in your wet suit and crank the handle and watch all the water drip out. (Thanks to Piez for both photos.)

Some of my teammates have seen machines like our new wringer, but my swim career coincided with the rise of the Suitmate®, developed by the singularly focused Extractor Corporation. A welcome addition to any locker room, a water extractor helps prevent embarrassing drips from your swim bag later in the day. For all its benefits, the Suitmate has been known to shred improperly loaded suits and to cause faster wear and tear than chlorine alone.

I look forward to many wrings with this new device, and I hope it is not used for anything other than its intended purpose.


#11: SUNY New Paltz Elting Pool

Location: New Paltz, New YorkElting Pool at SUNY New Paltz

Configuration: 6 lanes of 25 yards

Fee: Free drop-in with Gunks Masters

Total Fees to Date: $115.58

I was back in my hometown of Poughkeepsie last night and used the opportunity to swim this morning’s Gunks Masters practice, which was over the river and through the woods at SUNY New Paltz’s Elting Pool. The team had five lanes of the pool for a 1 1/2-hour practice coached by a recent New Paltz graduate, Pete. A varsity women’s swimmer in training for NCAAs used the sixth lane, right under the record board where she’s listed multiple times.

Dave, who had suggested I visit, is a friend from the beach and NYC Swim events. Two years ago, he rented out this pool for 12 hours in order to celebrate his 45th birthday by swimming 45,000 yards. Last summer, another swimming brainchild of his came to life: the seven-day, 120-mile 8 Bridges Swim through the Hudson Valley. The man likes to swim.

I think I had been to this pool once or twice in my younger years, but I’m not 100% certain. It was built in 1964, and, as Dave quipped, it has not stood the test of time as well as one of his teammates who was born the same year. The lanes are rather narrow, the room is dark despite a line of windows on the north side, and climbing out requires considerable upper body strength unless you opt for the ladder. The women’s locker room was designed for people with smaller dimensions than my own; the shower hit me slightly above the belly button. Happily, there is a plan for a new pool to be added within the existing building, but the timeline is unclear.

Post-breakfast at Karma Road

Ed, Tera, Willie, Dave, and me--chlorinated, full, and happy.

After a nice warm-up, the practice switched gears into a fast-paced distance set. Two of my lane-mates had wing spans significantly wider than my own long arms, and it took concentration to not hit them. (I succeeded in avoiding them but was not so good at staying clear of the adjacent lane, twice making contact over there. Sorry!) I enjoyed looking up at the brick-red ceiling during backstroke.

Following the workout, several of us partook of the other time-honored masters swim tradition: hearty servings of breakfast and swim gossip. Yum!

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Riverbank’s Secrets, Revealed!

If page views are the judge, Riverbank’s indoor pool is winning this blog’s popularity contest. To help new visitors learn the ropes at the ‘Bank and enjoy some happy swims there, here are some helpful tips.

  • There is always long course (50-meter) lap swimming at 6:30 a.m.–weekdays, weekends, and even most holidays. It lasts until 8:15 on most weekdays and 8:30 on weekends and school holidays. Weekends are more crowded because some lanes are taken by special programs such as the super-cute Redtails youth team. The online schedule usually is not updated for holidays, so check for the printed schedule on site or call ahead if in doubt. Occasionally, the full pool may not be open due to lifeguards being late or absent. Be patient.
  • The entry fee for the morning adult lap session is $3. You can pay at the ticket window right by the northern door to the pool building and get a receipt, which you’ll turn in before entering the locker rooms. They also have you sign in in the morning, which means you get to look at the list and see who else is there. January 2013 update: You can no longer buy pool passes at the pool. They are sold at the skating rink only. Do not ask questions. February 2013 update: You can buy single-visit pool passes at the pool but not monthly lap swim passes. They are sold at the skating rink only during selected non-lap swim hours. Do not ask questions. 
  • Currently, said northern door is the only way in to the building. Both northern and southern doors will let you out. Keep checking, though; things do eventually get fixed.
  • During the daytime family rec swim sessions, there are usually four or five 25-yard “courtesy lanes” for lap swimming. On rare occasions when the other end of the pool isn’t being used for special programs and there are enough lifeguards, there may be 50-meter lap lanes.
  • The entry fee for the rec swim period is $2, however the pool ticket window is closed at this time. You can either stock up on $2 receipts from the pool ticket window and save them for future use or go over to the skating rink building to pay your $2 and get a receipt. Yes, this is a government operation.
  • I am not sure what goes on in the evening. Sorry.
  • Time-saving tip for the locker rooms: Lock up most of your stuff in a regular locker, and then put your towel and shampoo in one of the little lockers across from the showers (unlocked). You can also bring extra stuff out onto the deck.
  • The showers in the women’s locker room vary greatly in temperature, from day to day and shower to shower. You might freeze in one and be scalded in another. (This may well be the case in the men’s locker room too, but I can’t speak to that.) There is one shower that is the most reliably temperate, but that is one secret I cannot reveal. In the others, you can sometimes moderate the temperature by turning the dial just part of the way on, or turning on the other shower connected to the same pipe. In some showers, you have to turn the dial and press a button to get the water to come out. For $2 or $3, I’m not complaining.
  • The southern entrance to the park, at 138th Street and Riverside Drive, is closer to the pool building. In the early morning hours, the guard booth there is usually empty, so you may be able to bike in without being reprimanded. Or so I’ve heard.
  • To get between Riverbank and the Hudson River Greenway, you have two options. One involves a steep hill at 137th and Riverside Drive that goes down onto a quiet street. Continue downhill and you’ll come to Fairway and the greenway. This is more enjoyable going down than up. The other option is the elevator in the northeast corner of the park, which goes down to the DEP parking lot right off the greenway. The elevator is bike friendly.
  • Beware black ice in the park when there’s been overnight precipitation and temperatures below freezing.
  • Stay tuned for outdoor pool info and hairball alerts come summer.
  • Beware September. The pool closes for cleaning in September.

Let me know if you have any questions. Once you get used to the quirks, you’ll love it.


Pools I Covet: + Pool

+ Pool

Image by pluspool.org.

In the 1800s and early 1900s, it was common for New Yorkers to take to the rivers to “bathe” or cool off. To allow people to enjoy the water but prevent them from drifting away in the tidal currents, large floating containers were devised. Several million people took advantage of these some summers, before river water fell out of favor due to pollution and the rise of indoor bathhouses and pools such as Met Pool. The story of these pools is fascinating; check it out [PDF]!

Starting in summer 2007, New Yorkers could enjoy a floating pool once again, thanks to the work of Ann Buttenweiser and the Neptune Foundation. The new pool, filled with chlorinated fresh water rather than drawing from the rivers, floated first in Brooklyn, then the Bronx. I visited it in both locations and plan to return this summer wherever it turns up. It’s the only one of its kind, which is a shame.

Drawing on this work, some young local architects have conceptualized a next-generation floating pool using river water and called + Pool. (Get it? It’s shaped like a plus sign.) They’d love to build it and plunk it down in Brooklyn Bridge Park, and then I’d love to go for a swim there. They’ve been testing some cool ideas about filtration, and the design would accommodate a variety of uses and users–lap swimmers, waders/splashers, and loungers. (Not enough lap swimmers, if you ask me.)

Since the pool does not yet exist, I’m just coveting it right now. Please join me in following the progress and helping these guys will the pool into existence.

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#10: McBurney YMCA

Melissa, Hannah, Miriam at the end of practiceLocation: Chelsea, New York

Configuration: 7 lanes of 25 yards

Fee: Fitness Passbook pass (or use a free guest pass)

Total Fees to Date: $115.58

It’s fun to swim at the Y-M-C-A! This is especially true at the McBurney Y, which was the inspiration for the famous Village People song.

The Y has pools strategically located throughout New York. McBurney is one of the newer ones, replacing a facility of the same name that was on 23rd Street. The old McBurney, where the song came from, had a marble-lined pool where financiers Merrill and Lynch first met in 1913. The new McBurney, on 14th Street, has hosted someone even more noteworthy in my book: Michael Phelps. He visited in 2008 as part of a media event, and I’ve heard that he’s stopped by for a swim more recently as well.

He was not there this morning, but I was still in good company. Miriam (above right) was my official swim buddy for the day, and she arranged for me to join the master’s workout with coach Mark. Miriam is a member of my team, and she’s one of the most dedicated cheerers at events, always waving orange and blue pom-poms. Melissa (above left), Phyllis, and Elke were also part of the masters group, plus a couple people I had not met previously. Since we used just two lanes, we got a lot of personal attention from the coach and did a number of helpful stroke drills.

swim mural above the poolMy favorite thing about swimming here (aside from the good company) is a recent addition, a swimural by Arnie Charnick. Originally installed alongside the track that circles the top of the pool area, it was moved to its rightful home above the deep end last summer and can still be seen through the windows from the track and workout areas. It’s full of powerful-looking pool lovers swimming and playing–the big guy on the left looks like Michael Phelps to me–and I love the cool expressions of the swimmers in the middle lanes. Long kicks sets fly by with this mural as a distraction, because I notice something new in it during each lap.

True to its roots, the Y is a family facility. Since there’s only one pool here it’s kept pretty warm to accommodate all ages and types of users, and there is always plenty going on in the lounge area overlooking the pool as well as the rest of the Y.

There was almost a glitch with my pass. Apparently it’s only supposed to be used when the front desk is open, so they wanted me to wait an hour. I was able to convince the attendant to allow my entry in time for the masters group, however, and then stopped by the desk on my way out to complete the necessary paperwork. Next time I go at an off hour, I’ll try to remember to call ahead.

The fact that it’s mid-February and I’m already at pool #10 indicates faster-than-needed progress toward the goal of 40 pools by year-end. This is turning out to be so much fun that I think I’ll keep up the pool tourism and blog throughout 2012, even if the total ends up equaling a higher age. Keep the suggestions coming!


Missing Earl

The news that Captain Earl Sandvik will no longer be out on his boat is still sinking in. Earl died early yesterday morning at his home in New Jersey.

Through helping with NYC Swim events these past five years, I came to know Earl and realize how crucial he was to the safe, successful operation of the swims in New York Harbor. (This obituary tells his story nicely.) I was lucky enough to spend time on his boat, on other boats listening to him on the radio, and in the water under his watchful eye.

“I got swimmers in the water!!!” he would shout into the radio, dropping the r’s in his classic New York accent, as he zipped over to intercept any vessel, large or small, that was encroaching into the swim zone. He considered each and every swimmer to be his personal charge, making sure that all other boaters in range not only knew about the swimmers but kept a safe distance. Earl wouldn’t hesitate to yell at anyone who needed to pay more attention or alter course, myself included, but he always did it with love.

me getting out of the water after a dubious swim adventure

I don't have a picture of me with Earl, so here's something close--me on Earl's boat after climbing aboard in the Harlem River. Photo by Lisa Lisa, 2008.

Some of my favorite memories of Earl include his liaising between the world’s best swimmers and his crew of boaters– two groups that did not exactly see eye to eye–at the NYC Pro Swim off Governors Island, his dogged work during last fall’s Match Race that toppled the records for swimming around Manhattan, his shepherding of my own wrong-way swim adventure around Manhattan starting at 4:45 a.m. by the Brooklyn Bridge, and his helpfulness with my Ederle Swim attempt that came up short due to cold. There’s always plenty to worry about at swims, but with Earl on the job, the worries had less to do with navigational obstacles and waterborne hazards and focused more on personal goals and internal struggles.

I’d like to think that, with his Norwegian heritage and my Swedish background, Earl and I have Viking forebears in common. His last name translates roughly to “sandy bay” or “sandy cove,” and it’s easy to envision him permanently trolling his own bay or cove, squawking on the radio, and keeping an eye out for swimmers in the water.

I know I’ll be expecting to hear from him whenever I use my marine radio. RIP with fair winds and following seas, sweet Earl.

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NYC Fitness Passbook

New York Fitness Access PassbookFee: $60.25

Total to Date: $115.58

An important accessory for New York City pool tourists is the handy book depicted at right, which contains scores of passes to hundred of gyms throughout NYC, generally for two visits each. Participating facilities include Asphalt Green, Manhattan Plaza, the 92nd St Y, and many YMCAs, all of which I expect to become part of this project.

I usually use only the passes that provide access to acceptable pools, for about a dozen or so visits during the course of the year. The possibilities are much greater if you want to go to classes, do strength training, or do other normal gym-type activities. I have never gotten a sales pitch on-site when using a pass, although sometimes I get a follow-up call from the membership office.

This year I organized a group order so we could take advantage of a buy-three-get-one-free offer, dropping the price a bit, but even at full price it’s a good deal. I’m going to add the amount to my fee tally now, and then all the passbook-enabled visits will not count further toward my annual total. If you want a book for yourself, take note that the online order form is not secure; I recommend mailing in a check.


#9: Hommocks Pool

Hommocks Pool skylight over the middle of the poolLocation: Mamaroneck, New York

Fee: Free with guest pass, otherwise $10 in the company of a permit-holding member

Configuration: 16 lanes of 25 yards

Total to Date: $55.33

It was a good week for skylights. I traveled up to Mamaroneck today to go for a swim with Westchester John. The venue was Hommocks Pool, adjacent to Mamaroneck Middle School and used by many local schools and teams. As you can see, there’s a huge skylight over the part of the pool where we swam, and I’m told that in the summer it opens up to let the sun shine in directly. (Hmmm, I wonder if that’s the case at Met Pool, too.)

The Hommocks area, named by sailors who spotted small hills along the marshy shore here, now includes a 7.6-acre conservation area with woodland, meadow, and salt marsh. John grew up nearby and remembers visiting the site when it was a dump. Once it got turned into a pool, the dump’s legacy made itself known as the landfill settled under the weight of the water, causing problems like tiles popping out and concrete beams shifting. Some of those issues cut into his high school swim time, but now they are distant memories, and John watched the next generation enjoy the pool, including his son’s high school swim team.

It’s a neat facility, with 16 lanes that were being used for a variety of purposes today. Don’t let the lack of lanes lines fool you; we did our laps right here parallel to the diving boards, each of us following our own line on the bottom and joined for a while by John’s friend Ed. Instead of having a deep end, this pool has a deep middle. There are eight lanes in this section, abutting shallow ends of four lanes each. Scuba practice and family rec were some of the other activities under way. It’s a BYO facility, without accessories such as pull-buoys and kickboards available for use. The pace clock wasn’t even turned on, so we had to guess how fast we were going. As is common at multiuse pools, the water was rather warm.

John is training for his first solo Manhattan Island Marathon Swim under the mostly virtual tutelage of Lance (my Palladium swim partner), who had provided a challenging 5,000+ yard workout. I hadn’t anticipated how this project would enable me to glom onto other people’s workouts, and it’s a nice perk.

John demonstrates how he used to gain access to the poolBack before the glass skylight was built, the pool roof was wide open in the summer and proved quite enticing to certain local youth. As John demonstrated, they could hop up a wall by the parking lot and then climb onto the roof to access the opening. The town added metal fencing to deter this type of activity, visible at left.

After the swim, we headed to downtown Mamaroneck for excellent Sicilian pizza and gelato, joined by Richard, who had tales of other local pools I may get to visit.

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Pools I Covet: Oceana at Brighton Beach

As should be clear by now, if you invite me to a pool, you can expect me to eventually turn up with swimsuit in tow, ready to swim with you. Pools make it onto my suggestion list because I have every intention of swimming in them some day. Even if they are in Australia.

Another category of pool is becoming apparent as this project progresses, however. That is the coveted pool–the pool I want to swim in but am not invited to, or that does not actually exist at present, whether because it’s out of commission or not yet built. With the hope that the interwebs may be able to make some pool dreams come true, I am going to post some of my deep, dark, secretly coveted locations.

Behold, Oceana at Brighton Beach, a large outdoor pool that I have never seen in person, even though I swim in the namesake ocean across the boardwalk quite often. Janet alerted me to the rumored existence of a large private pool here a couple years ago, and sure enough I spied it on Google Earth and was able to figure out what development it was attached to with a bit more digging. Further rumors suggest that Lenny Krayzelburg lives in an Oceana condo, and that the pool is 50 meters. If you look closely you can see the suggestion of lines on the bottom. Wouldn’t it be lovely to swim there come summer?!

We have friended Lenny on Facebook along with the Shorefront Y, where he has a swim academy, but so far no pool party invitations have been forthcoming. (If you would like to enlist your swim school-age child in this quest, please be in touch.) Meanwhile, we keep swimming in the ocean and hoping that wicked backstroker breezes by.


#8: Metropolitan Pool

Nickname: Met Pool

Location: Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Fee: Free (first Mondays only)

Configuration: 3 lanes of 25 yards

Total to Date: $55.33

City of New York Parks & Recreation, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways, starting right here in Williamsburg:

  • You have a pool designed by the architect of the Lincoln Memorial.
  • The pool has such amazing natural light that it is almost like being outside.
  • One of the lanes bans breaststroke. Hello!
  • Tiled floral bouquets decorate the women’s showers.
  • The building entry is graced by an inspirational mural.
  • These wonders and more can be enjoyed free of charge.

This was my first visit to 90-year-old Met Pool. Due to a last-minute baby-sitter cancellation, the friend who was going to go with me couldn’t join in. I decided to make the trip anyway–it worked well with several errands and meetings on my list for today, and there is a chance that my Mondays will become less conducive to pool tourism–and will gladly return with my friend, who is sure to love it here as well.

After last week’s space crunch at LaGuardia, I checked regarding the swim session and learned that the pool would be fully devoted to lap lanes, but I still wasn’t sure what to expect. The pictures show striping for six lanes, but it’s set up with just two lane lines, making three pleasantly wide lanes for circle swimming. Swimmers were in and out constantly during my hour-and-a-half swim, with a maximum of about eight in the lane and a minimum of three. People were friendly and observed good etiquette for the most part.

My favorite thing was the skylight, which sounds small when described as such, but is comparable in size to the pool itself. Check out the first two photos, above right, to see how the copper shone a number of years ago, and how elegant it looks now with its green patina. I swam lots of backstroke just to enjoy the sunlight.

The pool hall and pool itself are lined with white-glazed terra cotta bricks, which make a nicer swim surface than you might imagine. The black lines on the bottom go all the way to the wall, but there are no other markings, so you do have to keep an eye out for the oncoming wall. The temperature was pleasantly cool, and the visibility good.

Located in a part of Brooklyn that is cuter than I’d like to admit, this pool has quite a following among newcomers to the neighborhood and long-time residents alike, as well as a dedicated staff that recently earned top honors from the Parks Department. To accommodate the large Hasidic population nearby, it even offers women-only sessions several times a week.

If you’re looking for a Valentine’s Day gift for yourself, or perhaps a swim date, bring your love of pools here. You’ll be glad you did.


Image borrowed from Medhat Salam Associates, Architects

Met Pool skylight

The cooper ceiling has taken on a patina like the Statue of Liberty since being shined up in a late 1990s renovation.

Met Pool fast lane: no breaststroke allowed

A lane that does not allow breaststroke is the lane for me! (Will travel to kick.)

Met pool mural: Let the good spirit grow

"Let the good spirit grow." This mural to the left as you enter the building depicts happenings in the pool pretty accurately.

Met Pool facade