40 Pools

Celebrating a Big Birthday with 40 Swims

Missing Earl

on February 16, 2012

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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