40 Pools

Celebrating a Big Birthday with 40 Swims

Not a Pool: Tomales Bay

post-swim on the mystery beach

Now here’s something to be thankful for: sunny sky and calm water in the mid-50s at this beautiful, top-secret Tomales Bay location. Some locals clued me in to this place the day before Thanksgiving, and I returned with my family on Thanksgiving for a morning dip.

Tomales Bay spans the San Andreas Fault, so if someday I have the chance to swim across the bay, I’d be swimming from the Pacific continental plate to the North American one. How cool would that be?!

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#53: UC Berkeley Hearst Memorial Gymnasium North Pool

Hearst Pool deep endLocation: Berkeley, California

Configuration: 33 1/3 yards x 4 double-wide lanes

Fee: Included with RSF day pass purchased for Spieker Pool

Fees to Date: $208.87

I wish I had an underwater video camera in order to share with you the experience of swimming in the Hearst Gym North Pool. Envision a Roman bath to get in the spirit. Imagine following an inlaid-marble black like along the bottom and coming up to an all-black marble wall in the deep end. As you breathe from this elevated vantage point, admire the classical statuary to one side and to the other the campus Campanile, which chimes every hour and is the closest thing to a pace clock at this beauty. My pictures don’t do it justice, so take a look at the photos here and here for more views.

Campanile from HearstThe North Pool is the largest of three pools at this gym, which was built in the 1920s for Cal’s women and now plays host to most PE classes. Like Spieker, this pool had no backstroke flags and warmish water, but here the grand setting distracted me from these quibbles.

Knowing the pool’s history makes it even more interesting. For example: Until this pool turned co-ed in the late 1970s, the school issued “one-piece flapper-style swimsuits” to all bathers and kept the pool clean by having the suits boiled between uses! (Two photos of the swimsuits in action appear in this document.) Subsequent to my visit, I learned that the building has a women-only clothing-optional sundeck adjoining yet another pool–something to look forward to during a future visit.

Hearst shallow endBernard Maybeck and Julia Morgan share credit for the design of this building, which was intended to adjoin an arts complex for which the pool decks would doubles as terraces and outdoor promenades. Morgan is of particular interest to pool tourists, having also created pools at the Berkeley City Club and Hearst Castle.

The Bay Area has a number of other pools that are 100 feet, aka 33 1/3 yards. I haven’t yet figured out why this is the case and welcome theories or explanations.

In addition to Spieker and Hearst, Cal has two other pools on campus, but one is closed for the winter and I didn’t have time for the other. There are plenty of reasons that I’m looking forward to returning to this part of California.


#52: UC Berkeley Spieker Pool

Stacy, me, SamLocation: Berkeley, California

Configuration: 25 yards x 50 meters

Fee: $12 RSF day pass

Fees to Date: $208.87

I’ve swum in a number of Bay Area pools during past visits, including two pools at UC Berkeley, but I was never able to swim in the main Cal pool, Spieker. The last time I tried, it was open but the place to buy a day pass was not, so I just peered at it longingly through a crack in the gate.

Since then, my brother has taken up lap swimming at the urging of his classmate Stacy, and they promised me a swim during this visit. Fortunately, there were no obstacles to entry, just a $12 fee that provided a day’s access to all Berkeley facilities. (For students here, membership for the whole semester is just $10!)

CALIFORNIA and diving boards

In the left of this picture, just below the first I, you’ll see one of the divers midflip.

Sam and I biked to campus for his usual swim time, and I met up with Stacy in the locker room prior to setting foot on the hallowed pool deck. In just the most recent Olympics, Cal swimmers and water polo players came home with more than a dozen medals. The head coach of the 2012 U.S. women’s swim team was Teri McKeever, also head coach of the Cal women swimmers and divers, some of whom treated us to incredible feats of acrobatism in the diving well while we swam. When they’re not at the Olympics, these athletes are gunning for NCAA championships. The banners behind us in the top photo list their most recent victories.

Cal Olympians

There’s room for more Olympians in these waters, and on this plaque.

It was great to swim with Sam and Stacy. Sam opted for team sports as a child and in fact just came around to the idea of lap swimming this semester–much to the satisfaction of his big sister. Stacy had been holed up at home for almost two weeks as she finished off her dissertation, so she was full of smiles to be out in the world while the copy shop printed her tome. We commandeered our own lane, and then I moved over when the one next to us opened up. The off-and-on rain stayed off for our swim, and it was a treat to be swimming outside.

The company was great, and in my opinion far surpassed the pool, which at 30 years old was not as inspirational as I expected. The setting is particularly unglamorous, shoehorned in between buildings. The water is warmer than I prefer, and there were no backstroke flags. The lanes are nice and wide, but we had to install the lane line ourselves, and most of the pool toys not available to regular lap swimmers. I knew in my head that legions of amazing swimmers had graced the water, and that up-and-coming stars are lined up to be next, but I couldn’t feel their presence in the water. In fact, I think I would have liked this pool more had I not had such grand expectations.

I did a fairly easy swim, with plenty of kicking in order to watch the divers, and saved some energy to visit another campus pool.


#51: Hamilton Pool

Is that a waterslide behind us?Location: Western Addition, San Francisco, California

Configuration: 6 lanes of 25 yards

Fee: $5

Fees to Date: $196.87

Thanksgiving travels brought me to the West Coast, a vast area of swim opportunities. For my first dip out here, I met up with bike-buddy Nancy on Monday morning to check out Hamilton Pool, which is run by the City of San Francisco. Unlike in New York City where the indoor public pools require a Parks & Rec membership, anyone can drop in here for some laps.

view of lap lanesChuck the lifeguard filled us in on the pool’s story: A recreation supervisor from Florida had grand ideas about renovating this underutilized 100-foot pool. His vision? Waterslides! The shallow end was sectioned off into a landing ground from the spiral slide, the deep end used for a cannon-like shooter, and presto, this pool is now one of the city’s most popular since its reopening in 2010. Alas, these attractions were not open during our visit, so we contented ourselves with laps.

The water was nice and clear, and it’s treated with bromine rather than chlorine. Floor-to-ceiling windows along one side filled the pool with light, making it easy to see the variety of curious strokes and swim aids in use by the lane-mates I had to dodge. (NB: Nancy said she’d never seen the pool so crowded, and that sometimes she has the place practically to herself.) The bulkhead sectioning off the waterslide area had large holes through which to view the water on the other side, and if I were any smaller I think I would have been tempted to try to slither through.

Inside the locker rooms, I found the motion-activated showers to be a challenge, but with perseverance I was able to rinse off. We speculated that the concrete floor had some type of build-in heating to cleverly prevent puddle accumulation. I can see why Nancy is proud to call this her home pool and would definitely plan a return visit were it not for limited time and a plethora of other pool options.

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#50: Rye YMCA Brookside Pool

Weekend WarriorsLocation: Rye, New York

Configuration: 6 lanes of 25 yards

Fee: Free as guest of member

Fees to Date: $191.87

My enthusiastic follow-up on JGH’s pool suggestions brought me to the Rye Y last Sunday morning to swim with the “weekend warriors,” an informal, testosterone-heavy group of mostly former collegiate swimmers. They swam a challenging workout for an hour or so starting right when the pool opened and then went on with their days.

how to increase your quality of lifeAs I overheard in the locker room later, where I was incognito as a visiting warrior, they are not beloved by other Y members due to the turbulence they create. By my observation, they used the space very efficiently, considerately leaving the rest of the pool free for civilian lap swimmers.

Their pool–new in 2003–is lovely, a standard 6-laner with light from large windows on two sides piercing the pool with sunbeams. Add in a friendly lifeguard who writes messages like the one at right and the typical YMCA homeyness, and you have a nice place to swim. As at many Ys, there’s a separate teaching pool (theirs dates to 1955), leaving the Brookside pool mainly for the enjoyment of lap swimmers.

view from the deep endOne locker room innovation that I haven’t seen elsewhere is the placement of the suit spinner: built into the counter between two sinks. This puts it by both a drain and a power source and avoids an unsightly outcropping from the wall. Other facilities should take note.

The “Brookside” name refers to Rye Brook right alongside the parking lot. It’s so prone to flooding that the Y installed floodgates for protection, and they worked well in the recent storm, allowing the Y to reopen and welcome in community members soon after the storm passed.


#49: Vanderbilt YMCA East Pool

Location: Midtown, Manhattan

Configuration: 6 lanes of 25 yards

Fee: Free via Fitness Passbook

Fees to Date: $191.87

The Vanderbilt Y was my very first pool in New York City. My first job was three blocks away, and I joined the gym and ducked out to Body Conditioning class at lunchtime, it being the early 1990s and all. The pool was my destination regularly but less often during those three or so years as a member, and I have since returned from time to time using Fitness Passbook passes.

It’s a solid pool: six lanes, 25 yards, cool temperature, shallow the whole way across. A separate teaching pool allows this one to have endless hours of uninterrupted lap swimming. Towels are available free of charge, and there are showers right on deck. The Y has changed a lot in the intervening years, but it’s still a welcoming hub of activity for all ages.

Back when I was a regular here, I knew no other swimmers, but now I recognize plenty of people. My yoga classmate Hank was my official swim buddy when I came here two Saturdays ago, and there in the next lane was Kenn training for his swim around Manhattan.

I didn’t take any pictures because supervision was tight, so here are some from the masters group for your enjoyment. (Also check out these more recent pool pics that Capri was able to sneak.) If I still worked nearby, I’d be glad to use this pool.

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#48: Greenwich Family YMCA Wren Weisenburger Pool

Greenwich Y poolLocation: Greenwich, Connecticut

Configuration: 25 yards by 50 meters, give or take a ramp

Fee: Free for indeterminate reasons while in the company of a Rye Y member

Fees to Date: $191.87

The very first follower of my blog got right into the spirit of my project and immediately suggested three pools. I made it to one of them– Hommocks–in the dead of winter and have returned a bunch of times but hadn’t ventured to the other options so kindly offered up. With the end of the year fast approaching, it was time to take action on JGH’s recommendations.

Pool Donated by the Wren Weisenburger FamiliesThe Scoring System is a Gift from Kathy and Bill SmithMy office was closed on Election Day, making it a good time to travel across state lines for a swim at the Greenwich Family YMCA. The aquatics center is new within the past several years and presented many naming opportunities to the town’s wealthy denizens. The pool itself was funded by the Wren and Weisenburger families–though whether they funded the Y out of default or just the initial estimated cost I couldn’t tell you–and elements such as locker rooms and the timing system (above right) recognize their respective donors. I just hope that none of their cars were parked in the garage underneath during the unsuccessful test of the pool’s ability to hold water.

Another goof was a miscalculation regarding the length, such that the wheelchair ramp has to be removed for the full 50-meter length to be swimmable. We were there during 25-yard time, and there were a plethora of lanes available even with the diving well sectioned off and some lanes taken up by a youth team.

Between the ample space and the sunlight pouring in, the visit was quite enjoyable. Despite the rich Zip code, this is still a Y, with all the friendliness and community programming you’d expect. The unpleasant surprise came later when a rash in the pull-buoy-contact area of my legs broke out. I diagnosed this as cooties. Fancy, Greenwich-variety cooties, specifically.

Earlier this year, another 50-meter pool opened nearby. It does not allow drop-in visitors or trial memberships, and the masters coach did not reply to an inquiry about a trial workout. For occasional 50-meter training in southwestern Connecticut, the Greenwich Y is the place to go.

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