40 Pools

Celebrating a Big Birthday with 40 Swims

#47: Chelsea Piers Sports Center Pool

Lounging by the poolLocation: Chelsea, New York

Configuration: 6 lanes of 25 yards

Fee: Free with guest pass, otherwise $50 per day

Fees to Date: $191.87

As impossible as it seems four days later, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, a Hudson River pier was a relaxing place to spend Friday night. I hurried out of work to meet a few friends down at Chelsea Piers, the luxe sports complex, as Janet had some free passes that were about to expire. She, Rondi, John, and I got in some sorely needed practice with pool-to-hot tub transitions and did a challenging workout with the USMS team alongside our beach buddy Sil.

The four piers that are now part of the sports and entertainment complex known as Chelsea Piers entered this new chapter of existence in the mid-1990s, having outlived their glorious maritime past. (How glorious? This is where the Titanic was heading a century ago.) Photos from the piers’ heyday line some of the repurposed waterfront walkways, lending a sense of place and history. People who come here now intend to stay rather than to set sail.

The developers of the new Chelsea Piers focused on sports that weren’t widely available in New York. You won’t find tennis or handball here, but you will find gymnastics, bowling, boxing, rock climbing, ice skating, beach volleyball, a driving range, a marina, and a pool. Throw in a quarter-mile indoor track, a large assortment of machines and cardio equipment, and a spa, and there’s more than enough to do for days on end. The pool is part of Sports Center at Pier 60, which is the membership gym, whereas the rest of the piers are mostly pay-as-you-go.

hot tub!

Me and Coach David after the workout.

I can’t say I’m in love with the management here, nor do I appreciate how the complex squished the Hudson River Greenway into a dangerously skinny strip out front, but I always appreciate a visit to the pool and locker rooms. The pool is on the upper level at the western end of the pier, far out in the Hudson, with seemingly only a sun deck separating it from New Jersey. The floor-to-ceiling windows on three sides bring in my second-favorite pool amenity: light. In the corner, there’s my favorite thing–the hot tub. I only wish I had visited on a sunny day so that the pictures truly captured the experience. Instead, check out this 360-degree view.

Without these elements, the pool is just standard. It’s a bit on the warm side–though you don’t realize this when you come from the hot tub–and the water always seems to be a little cloudy. A strange rim around the edge a few inches below the surface messes up my flip turns. The lifeguards are fairly proactive about ensuring a pleasant swim experience, but space is limited.

The locker rooms, on the other hand, are a cut above, with attractive tiling and wood decor, private showers, plush chairs, and plenty of room. They give out bathrobes (see above), and I recommend that you take one for the long walk to the pool. Towels are abundant, as is all manner of product for hair and body. Pretty much all you need to bring is your swim suit, cap, and goggles.

The facility sustained significant water damage and lost power due to the storm and is now closed at least until next weekend. The piers have seen a lot in their day, so here’s hoping that they are soon again in business and that this latest challenge becomes just another page in the history books.

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#46: Jeremiah H. Mahoney Pool at City College of New York

CCNY pool - view from the shallow end

Image by CCNY.

Location: Harlem, New York

Configuration: 6 lanes of 25 yards

Fee: $10.13 TNYA subscription

Fees to Date: $191.87

City College is all about opportunity. For generations of studious New Yorkers, it was the place to gain a post-secondary education regardless of religion, family history, or financial means. More recently, it imposed modest fees for tuition and opened its doors to all New York City high school graduates regardless of their grades. For me, several years into my New York existence, it provided the opportunity to improve upon my collegiate education and earn an MA that I could pay for out of pocket. For my swim team, it is a place to come home to again.

I swam laps here occasionally while in grad school, so I was immediately comfortable returning to the pool when I first joined my team. We had two-hour-long workouts on weekends with legendary coach Paul Fortoul, a CCNY alum who orchestrated the pool like a symphony, wrapping up complicated sets where each lane did its own thing with everyone finishing in unison. We also held a day-long edition of the One Hour Swim here each January, and we even used the pool for a photo shoot. When CCNY tripled the rates a handful of years back, my team found more affordable waters to swim in. That same fall, coach Paul died, and my mind has conflated the loss of him with the loss of the pool.

A worldwide financial crisis and several pools later, my team was again in need. Columbia was kicking us out along with some other rental customers, and we were able to get back in at CCNY. Practices there started over the summer, but I couldn’t be bothered to swim indoors until the outdoor pools closed up for the season, and then I hurried back. If I had to be swimming inside, at least it would be in an old favorite that would count as a “new” one for this blog.

pool ceiling

Ziti and tea lights, anyone?

Little has changed in my years away. Access to the pool is still through a circuitous, poorly signed series of corridors. The women’s locker rooms are still massive and creepy. The ceiling fixtures still resemble tea lights and uncooked ziti. The pool schedule leaves the water empty much of the day. All this notwithstanding, it’s still a lovely place to swim. The water is so clear that my teammate’s false tooth with a fleck of gold was recently recovered from the 12-foot-deep end two days after it was lost, and there have been diamond earrings lost and found here as well. If only Paul could still be here with us, it would be just like the good old days.

The biggest change I’ve noticed is a void where the diving boards used to be. There are also new wall-mounted pool covers, a là Hunter. Given the warm water temperature, I’m hoping that this energy conservation tactic isn’t being deployed.

CCNY from the deep end

Coach Scott under the flags and pool covers.

The workout I attended right after Labor Day was led by Scott, who is now half a year into being my team’s head coach. His practices always include much more speedwork than I’d ever do on my own, and this one was true to form. Whereas the lanes were always pretty full at Columbia, CCNY doesn’t draw quite as big a crowd despite being just two more stops north on the subway, so I had plenty of room to enjoy the pool and the friends I hadn’t seen all summer while focusing on the workout.

The pool is open to the CCNY community for just three hours a day. My team now uses it for three practices a week, and like CCNY itself we are very welcoming. Give us a try!

Update: Sadly, the pool closed in summer 2013. My understanding is that there was an immediate issue with the pump and a bigger issue with the stairs to the pump room, such that no one will descend to fix the pump. My team has relocated to other pools (Dwight, Hostos), and the prognosis remains uncertain as of spring 2014.

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