40 Pools

Celebrating a Big Birthday with 40 Swims

Not a Pool: Keller Beach

Beach view toward San Rafael

DSCN2284_keller_beachI sometimes wonder whether I’m a mutant type of vampire who is enlivened by outdoor swimming. Nothing makes me feel more vital than time in the water under the bright sun. A trip to California last month provided a good dose, mostly in Temescal Pool, as each day grew increasingly sunny and warm–while the Northeast was socked in by a polar vortex. On President’s Day, the pool was closed, so we took a family trip to the beach I’d learned about from a local friend.

Point Richmond’s tiny Keller Beach is nestled into a cove of San Francisco Bay surrounded by hills at the north end of Miller Knox Regional Shoreline. Attractions include soft sand, amazing views, sea creatures, plus amenities like bathrooms and showers. No wonder the East Bay Open Water Swim group makes its home here. A Google Group helps them coordinate group swim times, and I hopped on the list in anticipation of my visit, asking hopefully for a late-morning holiday swim. A swimmer named Fred took the lead, figuring out the best time and destination given the tides.

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Gratuitous nephew photo–too cute to resist.

My nephew’s schedule favored an early arrival, and we had a nice time playing in the mucky sand and admiring the views of the Golden Gate straight ahead, the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge to the north, and various islands. The open water group convened in the late morning and casually suited up for a swim south along a railroad pier to Ferry Point. If you peeked around the end, about a mile out, you could see the Bay Bridge. A cormorant out there greeted me by chirping and then diving under, as if making sure I was enjoying the water.

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You want views? How about Angel Island and the Golden Gate!

I most certainly was! Conditions were flat as a pancake, with water temperate in the high 50s and the air about 20 degrees warmer. I could see my arms pushing through the deep green bay and the bright buoys of fellow swimmers all around. Apparently the buoys faded from view on the shore, causing my young nephew to become concerned, but then we swam back into range.

Many of the swimmers are also regulars at Aquatic Park and other Bay Area venues, but they have a special fondness for this little treasure. Now I do, too.

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Not Exactly a Pool: U.S. Winter Swimming 2016 National Championships Venue

 

Too wimpy for winter swimming myself, I asked the ever-intrepid Janet to blog about this intriguing temporary pool-ish setup in the Hudson off Manhattan. The write-up is hers, the pictures mine. I admit to a bit of jealousy of the swimmers on this beautiful sunny day but contented myself with my own memories of swimming nearby during warmer conditions.

Hudson not-quite-a-pool, with George Washington Bridge in backgroundLocation: Hudson River at Dyckman Street, Upper Manhattan, by La Marina restaurant

Configuration: 2 x 25m lanes with boat ramp entry

Fee: Varied with number of events entered

On January 30, the United States Winter Swimming Association staged its 2016 National Championships in the Hudson River. “Winter Swimming” in this context doesn’t just mean swimming in the winter. It’s distinct sport, popular in northern Europe and growing worldwide, in which set distances are contested in near-freezing water in outdoor settings.

The International Winter Swimming Association (IWSA) is to the sport what FINA is to pool swimming. As a safety measure it limits the distances raced in specific temperature ranges (200 meters max for water under 2 degrees Celsius, as the Hudson was on this day). It also sanctions a full schedule of winter swimming competitions around the world. Several of the Hudson River competitors and organizers had just come from an event in China, and others were headed on to England, Sweden, and Latvia before the World Championship in Russia. (For any North American readers interested in trying out winter swimming closer to home, there’s also a competition in Vermont coming up in March!)

Over the past couple of years, I have followed the adventures of friends who travel far and wide for these events, and was always fascinated by the various venues. Many are held in frozen lakes, with a 25-meter-by-2-lane rectangle carefully cut out of ice and a lane-line strung down the middle. Sometimes platforms or walls are built at each end of this rectangle, so that swimmers have something to push off of on starts and turns. (The pool in this excellent video, taken at last year’s championships in Vermont and featuring our local legend Capri, gives a good idea of that style of outdoor pool and conveys the appeal of the sport). In these ice pools, ladders provide a means for entering and exiting the water. There are no dive starts in winter swimming, for the sake of swimmers and of everyone nearby.

Cutting a pool in the ice was not possible in the Hudson—the brackish water was not frozen, and even if by some fluke it had been, strong currents would have made swimming very far out from its banks dangerous. Instead, the organizers devised an ingenious way to have a measured course, near the shoreline where the currents were negligible, with a boat ramp used to safely enter and exit the water. The result, installed near the docks of upper Manhattan restaurant La Marina, looked like a very short open-water course: two lanes, a yellow start buoy, and orange turn-around buoys at 12.5 and 25 meters. At the beginning of the day, the river temp was measured at 34.3 degrees, and there was still some snow on the ground from the previous weekend’s record-breaking blizzard.

Janet finishing

Janet (left) finishing one of her many competitions.

For each race, two swimmers entered the water, one per lane. We waded down the boat ramp to the yellow buoy, which ranged from waist high to armpit height as the water level changed with the tidal cycle. For the 25-meter races, we swam to the first orange buoy, touched it, turned around, then swam back to finish with a touch of the yellow buoy. Races of 50 meters and longer used the far orange buoy as the turnaround point, making the course similar to a short-course-meters pool, albeit one without walls to push off or a black line to follow.

Sighting could be an important skill—the lanes were wide enough that several swimmers, including yours truly, found themselves in unexpected places due to currents or just plain crooked swimming. Occasional waves from boat wakes reminded us that we were essentially swimming pool events in an open-water venue. It was pretty cool (no pun intended) the way this event merged the two disciplines.

Six events were offered—25, 50, 100, and 200 meter freestyle, plus 25 and 50 meter breaststroke—as well as a concluding 200-meter 4-person relay. Many of us swam them all, making for a busy day.

The competition was run very efficiently, with a warm staging area inside the restaurant. We were typically sent outside with about 1 or 2 minutes left until the race ahead of us finished—just time enough to make our way down to the boat ramp and take off the outer layers before wading into the cold water. Once done we parka-ed up and hustled back inside, where warm drinks and soup awaited. Plenty of volunteers—many from the wonderful Coney Island Polar Bears, which helped put on this event—kept swimmers safe and ensured that everything ran smoothly.

What was it like, swimming in water that cold? Mostly, I felt the cold intensely while wading in, but once the “Ready go!” command was given, it just felt like swimming. During the latter half of the longest race, the 200 free, I started feeling some painful tingling in my feet, and my fingertips were a bit numb by the end. In all my races, it felt really exhilarating to have been in the water, and that feeling was shared by all the participants—I’ve never seen as many red-cheeked, exuberant people.

Warming up between events was not as difficult as I worried it might be—it was great having a warm indoor refuge so near the water. The restaurant is seasonal, so we had the run of it throughout the day, and its glassed-in portions provided good viewing for the races and plenty of places to curl up in the sunshine between icy dips.

As fun as the swimming was, the other swimmers were the highlight of the day. The winter swimming community is wonderfully friendly, and as a newcomer to the sport I felt embraced and welcomed. As evening gathered and swimming races gave way to socializing and feasting, it was heartwarming to ponder the lengths we go to do the sport we love, and to be reminded once again that the water unites us all, in whatever crazy ways we choose to swim in it.

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Not a Pool: Siljan

postcard: Hälsning från Siljansnäs

Swedish swims #2 and #3 were in Lake Siljan, the heart of Sweden’s heartland, Dalarna. The country’s seventh-largest lake, Siljan is a vision in blue surrounded by red houses, purple roads, golden fields, and green hills, punctuated by flowery maypoles and flag poles with blue and yellow streamers, and known for craftsmen who carve and paint those iconic Swedish horses. It’s both simple and stunning. In high school, I spent a summer in the idyllic lakeside town of Siljansnäs, so returning here took me even farther down memory lane. Everything was just as I remembered, except perhaps the trees being a little bigger.

tree-covered island off SiljansnasA three-hour train ride northwest from Stockholm whisked me into this beautiful countryside for the weekend. I slipped back into life in the same house I’d stayed in 27 years ago, now occupied by my host family’s youngest daughter and her wonderful husband, daughters, and dog. “My” room had a view of the lake just down the way out the back.

The rest of the family is scattered around the small town, and after dinner one night the middle sister, her two boys, and I made for the lake. Everyone had been complaining that there’d only been about five days of summer–or was it three?–so a post-downpour clearing was excuse enough to go out, never mind the chilly air.

We rolled down a dirt road to a wooded beach at the east side of town and plunged in. The water was comfortable, and the sinking sun made long shadows and dark reflections. An island in the sun a couple hundred yards off shore was all the motivation I needed for a quick out-and-back swim.

the twins and I

Geese (upper right) kept us away one night, but they were gone when I returned on my own.

The next night, I walked down the street to a boat launch. We’d thought about swimming there the night before, but it was full of geese who didn’t seem to want company. They were gone by the second night, so I had the water all to myself–and once again I headed for an island. The water was quite shallow, so reeds brushed up against me most of the way. The shallowness explains something I’ve seen in the winter, namely, drivers taking a shortcut across the ice!

Looking back at the town from the water was the opposite of the postcard view I’ve seen so many times: blue expanse in the foreground, then fields dotted by red houses with white trim, trees, church, and hill rising in the distance. (Perhaps I should apologize here for the lack of pictures owing to my camera giving up the ghost on day 2 in Stockholm, and thank those who kindly shared their images with me.)

Both of these swims took place in a relatively tiny pocket of the lake created by the näs–“nose,” or isthmus–sticking into the big, irregularly shaped lake. It’s wonderful to be able to simply walk down the street and hop in, and to know that miles and miles more of lake are there for the swimming. It’s not quite right to say that Swedes take access to nature for granted. Rather, it’s unfathomable to them that they wouldn’t have it. The Swedish tradition of allemansrätt gives all comers access to almost all the land and the water in the country for reasonable recreational use. In other words, of course you can walk down the street and hop in the lake on a beautiful summer evening!

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Not a Pool: Hellasgården

Janet apres swim at Hellasgarden

Janet after her swim.

My big swim adventure of the year was a trip to Sweden. The same meet that took me to Iceland three years ago was held in Stockholm on August 5-7, so 80 of my closest teammates and I jetted off across the Atlantic to represent.

I spent my junior year of college in Stockholm and was very excited to return to this beautiful city where I learned to love beer, subways, and cultural activities on a budget. My joie de vivre in Sweden’s capital led directly to me settling in New York, and many interests that first emerged there are still important to me nearly a quarter century later.

Swimming, however, took a backseat that year–save for a few lap sessions at a nondescript indoor pool and occasional dunks in the Baltic near the university. I had some make-up swimming to do on this return visit, not to mention catching up with friends and checking out new attractions such as ABBA The Museum. It would be a full itinerary.

Janet and I traveled from the U.S. together, schlepping our foul-weather gear for the cool, rainy week that was forecast. Our first day, cold rain came and went several times. The next day dawned clear and comfortable, encouraging us to visit an open water swim spot that locals had recommended.

Stockholm is full of open water swim spots, mind you. An island city bordered by an almost endless archipelago, Stockholm sits at the junction of lake and sea. The water is clean and accessible, and there are beaches all over town. There are also boats everywhere, except at this freshwater lake in a nature preserve in the southern part of the city.

vatten temp 17CHellasgården, right along a bike path or a short bus ride from downtown, turned out to be a swimmer’s paradise. Large, wooden docks in the sun, bathrooms with running water, a café, waterfront saunas, and a sprinkling of islands–what more could you want? The water in Källtorp lake was exactly the right temperature. I swam out past three islands–a bird sanctuary, a naturist’s beach–and over to a waterfront house before spending at least as long stretched out on the dock. A pod of triathletes in wetsuits was out when we got there, but at times during our stay there was no one else in the water.

Just like at Brighton Beach, swimmers congregate here year-round, only at this lake they need a pump to keep a patch from freezing. Should you have enough swimming and sunning, there are a few other activities you might do instead: beach volleyball, mini golf, running, mountain biking, tennis, boule, orienteering, and an outdoor collection of exercise machines that looked like torture devices. No time for navel-gazing here! Swimming is free of charge, but there is a fee for the sauna and other indoor facilities.

We thoroughly enjoyed our morning swim–the perfect way to work through jet lag and limber up for the challenges ahead.

island-bound

Water + islands = happy Hannah.

 

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NYC Swim’s Last Summer

Me jumping off ferry boat in New York Harbor.

2006 Governors Island Swim plunge. Photo by David Nager.

At the start of this season, open water swim organization NYC Swim announced that this would be its last full summer of events. The announcement–which I helped write–is decidedly mixed for me, being one of its biggest fans and busiest workers.

I’ve swum and kayaked in every single event these past several years, and I love them all. The swimmer’s view of our great city is unique and eye-opening; it’s given me an education in topics ranging from tidal cycles to combined sewer overflows to women’s sports history. Open water training has also lent new purpose to days spent at the beach, leading to deep friendships with those who luxuriate in the same. I’ve come into contact with like-minded people from all over the world, and I’ve tackled challenges that I never even knew existed. The fact that I’ve swum around Manhattan still makes me smile almost every time I cross a bridge off the island. I truly can’t imagine what my life would be like without NYC Swim.

Just another chilly day at the beach. Photo by Richard Peterson.

As our water gets cleaner, more and more people awaken to the possibilities of our archipelago city. Ruminations about swimming to, or around, various islands in our vicinity are now commonplace. Some of the people I’m lucky to call my friends have pioneered not just new swim courses and records, but marathon-swim safety gear, training techniques, culinary creations, and community-building tools.

My work with NYC Swim also helped me identify professional strengths, leading to a search for more fulfilling full-time work. This transition that took years but recently paid off.

Meanwhile, a lot of thankless work is involved. I’m on the front end–the tip of the iceberg–helping swimmers and volunteers get registered and to the right place at the right time. Qualification requirements, event-day logistics, and Monday morning quarterbacking are some of the areas for which I’ve responded to far too many e-mails to count. As swimming in New York Harbor becomes less of a novelty, the overall level of appreciation goes down. People join us to check off an item on their bucket list rather than to enjoy the experience in and of itself, ignorant of the variables inherent and the fact that sometimes, Mother Nature wins.

The increasing popularity of the waterfront also adds to the challenges for event organizers. Areas that once felt like our own private domains are now so full of life that we can no longer squeeze in. Restaurants, kayak clubs, bike paths, ferry docks, parks, and beaches all compete for the waterfront, both physically and bureaucratically. Storms roll through without regard to our plans and our facilities.

Just like everything in New York, costs are on the rise, and somehow our ranks of volunteers have not been replenished with youngsters. The lack of economic reward and growing time commitment take their toll–and if I feel this way after “only” eight years, I am sure it is even more acute for those who have been involved longer.

Plans for future seasons still remain to be decided. I’m not convinced this is really the last summer, but I’m relieved that for those of us who are most entrenched, our separate conclusions are the same–we need a break. Most of all, I’m grateful to have been along for the ride. Even when I’m off-duty, I’ll be in the water.

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Not a Pool: AquaTech Alameda

breath holdingMy handsome and brilliant nephew recently added to his list of accomplishments by getting me and his mother in free to a pool! Two days shy of hitting the six-month mark, he squeaked in for a free infant swim session with his two adult buddies at AquaTech Swim School in Alameda.

While it’s true this pool is 25 yards, it’s kept at 88 degrees, making it “not a pool” in my book. However, it was perfect for the pod of infants who showed up at mid-day last Wednesday.

Little O. enjoyed being tugged around atop a large, duck-shaped float, using his limbs to splash as much as possible, and making eyes at the scantily clad babies sharing pool time with him. He didn’t fuss at all until the swim ended and he had to be stripped of his swim diaper and bathing suit. His coordination and strength have improved markedly in the short time since his last swim, and once again he made his aunt very proud.

 

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Mohonk Mountain House Pool: Nephew’s First Swim

O. gets ready to get wet

The Mohonk Mountain House‘s beautiful 20-yard pool may fall short of the length needed for my consideration, but it scores big as the site of my nephew’s first swim. We were up there last week in celebration of his grandma’s big birthday, and little O. liked his first dip so much that he went back for more the next day. His aunt is very proud!

He likes it!We did two laps, me using a diagonal egg-beater kick to hold O. up on my chest, taking in the natural light and snowy views at either end. Look at his impressive concentration as he absorbs this amazing experience. We also enjoyed blowing bubbles with suitable sound effects, splashing the gutter, and finding the sunny spot. I feel certain that this won’t be his last pool as a zero-year-old.

Pool viewI also have to commend him on his venue selection. Aside from lacking five yards, this is a very tasteful, mid-2000s addition to the historic New Paltz resort, which previously had lake swimming only. Timber framing and muted tiles and lounge chairs give it a natural feel, and you can’t beat the views toward the Catskills from the large window banks on three sides. Plus, swim diapers are available free of charge. We scared the other patrons away had both pool and locker rooms to ourselves for this special occasion.

In case you swim so much that you lose your mental faculties, a helpful sign reminds you how to open the door to exit the pool deck. With our guest stay expiring, we made our exit, eager for more shared pool time.Instructions for opening a door

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Other Australian Beaches and Swim Spots

Balmoral Beach Bondi Icebergs Club | Wylies Baths |
Tathra | Torquay Loch Ard Gorge | Brighton Baths

Having reported on all of the “real” swims I did in Australia, it’s now time to share some of the baths (pronounced baaths) and beaches. Although I just took leisurely dips or did quick swims at these lovely places, they would work well for training purposes and thus merit reports here. Plus, writing these up gives me a chance to claim a whole “new” ocean!

Balmoral Beach, NSW

side view of Balmoral

En route from downtown Sydney to Manly Beach by road, you pass the turnoff for this beach on Hunters Bay. I’d heard that it was very pretty, so we stopped here after our Bold and Beautiful Swim. The rumors were true; it’s a stunning crescent of fine sand spilling out into calm harbor water. From the beach, you can look out to the Sydney “Heads,” the peninsulas that mark the dramatic opening from the Pacific into Sydney Harbor.

Buoys keep boats out of the swim area, and there’s a classically designed beachfront pavilion with food and changing facilities. Walking out the aptly named Rocky Point, you can see where the beach’s shark net used to be anchored. Ahem, used to be anchored? That’s right, there is no longer a shark net here, and I’m not sure what to make of that fact.

Bondi Icebergs Club, Bondi Beach, NSW

Icebergs pools

Bondi (rhymes with fond pie) is probably Australia’s most famous beach. It’s got a factually based reality show, a professional lifeguard staff (more in a future post on how rare this is), good surfing breaks, and a hipstery vibe. Among swimmers, its claim to fame–and worldwide envy–is the Bondi Icebergs Club.

Founded in 1929 by a group of cold-water-loving swimmers, the club has grown to offer two seawater lap pools–one of them 50 meters with lane lines, both with lines on the bottom–along with change rooms, gym facilities, a sauna with an amazing view, and dining facilities. (Entry: AUD5.50) When the surf is up, as it was during our visit, the waves crash into the pool, jostling the swimmers around among lanes and creating waterfalls in the gutters.

To say it makes for a memorable swim experience is an understatement. The beachside end of the 50-meter pool was closed due to the rough conditions while we were there, so we contented ourselves with partial laps. It being the height of summer, we could not fully enjoy Icebergs traditions, but my understanding is that people relish in the joys of swim here year-round. No matter what the time of year, a swim trip to Australia simply would not be complete without a visit to Bondi.

Wylies Baths, Coogee, NSW

Wylies Baths

If you can tear yourself out of the water, I highly recommend the waterfront cliff walk from Bondi 6 kilometers south to Coogee. You’ll weave in among bays and beaches, up and down from sea level to hilltop, with each unfolding view more stunning than the last. I’m not just talking about the water views either. Flora, rock formations, and manmade structures all merit attention. There’s even a snorkel trail with underwater informational signs.

Coogee Beach, at the end of this walk, looked to me like a kinder, gentler Bondi, a comparison that extended up the hill to Wylies Baths. Open 365 days a year just like Bondi Icebergs, it has a large concrete deck, an unfinished bottom, and impressive stilt-supported boardwalks and facilities including cafe and change rooms.

Swimming here was like being in an aquarium. Fishies, fishies, more little fishies, and colorful sea urchins everywhere. I haven’t come across many of these in my travels, but their spiky appearance is sufficiently threatening that I tried to avoid putting my feet on the bottom.

As many signs and memorials point out, Wylies dates to 1907 and was built to enable the first female Olympic swimmers train. These days, the lap swimmers do their thing in the “deep” (far) end, sans markings or lane lines, going back and forth the 50-yard length. Meanwhile, the shallow side of the pool had a lot of young kids wading and playing. I’ve read that waves sometimes crash here just like we’d seen in the morning at Icebergs, but the water was flat at the time of our visit.

There’s a modest entrance fee and also a fee for the showers.

Tathra, NSW

Tathra beachThis relaxed beach town was our swim stop during the two-day drive along the coast from Sydney to Melbourne. Jo’s parents used to take her and her siblings here on summer vacations, and I could see how easy it would have been for them to rack up fun memories.

Tourist publications bill this area as the Sapphire Coast, and that’s no hyperbole. The water is an ever-so-nice, deep shade of blue with just a hint of green.

The Old Tathra Wharf, dating to the 1800s, sits several hundred meters off the beach and makes for a good swim destination. Stay close to the rocks for the best sea life views. After the swim, you’ll naturally want to fuel up at the beachside cafe.

Torquay Front Beach, Torquay, VIC

TorquayThis outdoorsy paradise sits on the Bass Strait, southwest of Melbourne, marking the start of the Great Ocean Road. If the Wednesday morning activity is any guide, Torquay (rhymes with porky) is also ground zero for triathletes in training. Everyone and their Baby Jogger seemed to be out for an early ride, run, or swim.

The really popular activity, though, is surfing. Multiple surf company headquarters, a surf museum, and plenty of waves at the back beaches are key to the local culture.

Since my visit here coincided with my birthday Eastern Standard Time, I pulled out my flowery cap for a birthday swim at the front, or bay, beach. Buoys a ways out section off the swim-only area, providing a ready-made swim course. Back on shore was a pretty stand of Norfolk pines, which used to be planted along beaches for ship masts.

As at all of these spots, it would have been nice to spend more time here, but that would have meant missing other attractions and my chance to swim in a whole new ocean.

Loch Ard Gorge, Port Campbell National Park, VIC

Loch Ard Gorge from the topAt some point during our Great Ocean Road journey, it dawned on me that we’d come to an ocean I’d never seen or swum in before. How better to round out this swim adventure than with a WHOLE NEW OCEAN?! I was scarcely able to give proper attention to the wonders we passed en route–roadway engineering miracles, beaches and more beaches, rainforest, and resort towns, to name a few.

My first glimpse of the Southern Ocean came at Johanna Beach, soon past Cape Otway, where the Pacific goes one way and the Southern the other. We then stopped at the Twelve Apostles–massive, striated limestone pillars standing in the surf that carved them. Everyone agrees that twelve is an overstatement, but the exact number is debatable, and even with fewer than a dozen this is still a very popular tourist attraction and probably the highlight of most Great Ocean Road Trips.

We saluted the apostles and then continued a short distance west to Loch Ard Gorge, where you can walk out on cliffs or take stairs down to the beach to admire the limestone cutouts from all angles. Its beach looks like it’s being embraced by giant rock arms that aren’t quite touching, leaving a narrow opening where the water flows in. Frankie and Jo had seen giant waves crashing in here before, but today’s late-afternoon surf only sent in ripples that rode up the side of the rocks all the way in. It was fun to watch, since from the beach you could barely tell when a wave was coming until it broke into the gorge.

Loch Ard monster

So, at last, my chance to swim in the Southern Ocean. (Here is where I admit that most of the world does not consider this location to be the Southern Ocean, instead designating it the eastern end of the Indian Ocean, with the Southern kicking in more to the, um, south. Australia begs to differ and deems this the northernmost flow of Antarctica’s Southern Ocean. Since I was in Australia and referring to Aussie maps, that’s what I’ll go with. Either way, it’s still a new ocean for me.)

I got right in, enjoyed some waves, and even did some butterfly for good measure. Nevermind that the namesake Loch Ard is a famous shipwreck. I wish I could say that I felt the chill of polar waters, or noticed different kinds of sea creatures, but in truth the ocean pays no mind to the boundaries we assign, and it seemed pretty much the same to me. This did not in any way diminish my excitement, and I hope to someday return to the Southern Ocean for more swimming and also to make it to the Indian. (Perth, do you read me?)

Brighton Baths, Middle Brighton, VIC

backstroke in the BaaaathsMy epic swimcation wrapped up in Melbourne. We hopped from pool to pool on this last day, at the end of which Jo had one last treat in store: Brighton Baths (AUD5).

Bath houseI haven’t resolved the ethics of boxing in a rectangle of seawater and calling it your own, but this seems to be an acceptable practice in Australia (examples above)–or at least it was in 1881 when these baths were established–so I did my best to enjoy without passing judgment. It wasn’t hard, as there was a lot to enjoy here. Think landmark 1936 building (what’s up with that year and swim facilities?) remodeled to include a swank health club and gourmet restaurant overlooking a private beach and seawater pool bordered by sun decks and filled with fishies.

Jo was startled to come across a ray, and in the course of looking for it I found another; we later were told that they are trapped here. Narrower fish would have no problem swimming in and out of the bars propping up the decks, but the rays would have to be pretty clever to make their way out of what’s essentially an underwater prison.

the view toward shore

Close in to shore, I fluttered through sea grass and relived the Wylies Baths swimming-in-an-aquarium experience, minus the sea urchins. The biggest novelty here were starfish, with far more points or legs on their stars than those I’ve come across previously. The water–Port Phillip Bay–had a slightly sweet taste to it.

From the deck, you could admire the bath house, a nearby marina, and the city skyline in the distance. Meanwhile, at the far end of the enclosure, there are three backboard-type wood panels on each side, allowing for 50-meter laps with flip turns. Clever, right? Check out this image for the full dimensions. Yes, I did go under the boardwalk to check out the bars and stilts, but it didn’t strike me as a place I’d want to do laps.

Accomplished local swimmers train here regularly, and there’s an Icebergers squad taking to the water sans wetsuit year-round, surely enjoying the sauna and showers after their chilly dips. The fitness club here had by far the nicest change rooms of any I’d visited in my travels, the only hitch being that they closed at 7:00 when really it would have been nice to swim and lounge a bit longer.

Just as in New York I spend a lot of time at Brighton Beach, so could I imagine life as a Melburnian including frequent visits here. Brighton Beach: good for the soul.

sunset over the baths

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Not a Pool: Manly Beach

Bold and the Beautiful 12/30 - swim start

Swim start at Manly, courtesy of the B&B blog.

While planning my time in Sydney, I was strongly advised to check out nearby Manly Beach’s Bold and Beautiful Swim Squad, which gathers at 7:00 a.m. every day for a short swim over a marine reserve to a neighboring beach. We followed this good advice on day 3, zipping out to the Manly Surf Pavilion in plenty of time.

From studying the B&B website, we knew that hundreds had been showing up daily this holiday week. The penultimate swim of the year drew a large, genial crowd. “Snorkels, fins, wetsuits, whatever it takes, everything is welcome for all of our swims,” the organizers kindly proclaim.

looking seaward

Ready to go in our new caps.

We signed in at 6:45, mugging for headshots and picking up pink caps–all free. At the appointed time, we eased our way into the water along with our new friends and headed off along the seawall. Plenty of pictures from the swim are on the blog, including us in the seaward parade in the second one.

I like to have my space in the water, so for the 750 meters across Cabbage Tree Bay to Shelly Beach, I swam far out on the ocean side of the group. The water was a lovely shade of green and quite clear, but I couldn’t see much that far out.

getting ready for part 2

Ready for the return from Shelly Beach, courtesy of the B&B blog.

At Shelly Beach, everyone exits the water and waits for the group to reassemble. This is about camaraderie and enjoying the water, not speed.

As we got ready for the return, Frankie recommended that I swim closer in to shore, for better views of the aquatic life. WOW, what a difference. I was more of a snorkler for the return trying to take in all the beautiful fish and plants.

me in the crux of a statue

Jo’s view of me and Manly beach on the return leg.

What did I see? The only creature I can identify by name is the common ray, a sand-colored ray about the size of my torso that fluttered along the bottom. The many, many other fishies included foot-long light gray ones with dark stripes, similarly sized but more oblong black ones with white eyes, colorful little blue and yellow stripy ones, a long and skinny greenish brown one with a bulging head, small flittery minnows, and plenty more. The most interesting plants were bright green bursts that undulated with the passing waves. According to a sign on the shoreside path between Manly and Shelly, there were many other things in the water too, begging future exploration.

I got so wrapped up in the scenery that I very nearly swam straight into some rocks, but fortunately I noticed them in the nick of time. There I am at right waving to Jo, who was perfectly positioned in view of a sculpture.

What do the fish think of this strange human migration that occurs at the same time every day, I wonder. Do we look like different species to them depending on our swim attire and strokes?

Having already completed an incredible swim by 7:45 a.m., we now found ourselves on a beautiful beach that was coming to life with exercisers and sun bathers, many sporting MANLY attire that made me smile. We claimed a patch of sand to stretch out on, enjoying watching the nippers paddle out on their boogie boards, ride the waves in, and then run back out to do it again and again.

In order to make the early start time, we had to drive out to Manly. The more traditional way to get there is by ferry. To complete the experience and have another go at this beautiful patch of water, we will squeeze in a return visit by boat. The downside of that, of course, is missing the B&B Swim, but at least we are now on the official list.

Manly from the main drag

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Not a Pool: Aquatic Park, San Francisco

Dolphin Club waterfront

Aquatic Park is one of the few places in the world that makes this New Yorker jealous. Sure, we have mile after mile of beaches, an impressive array of outdoor pools, a richly fascinating maritime history, and heaps of iconic waterfront structures, but we don’t have anything that compares to this landmark embayment. As if the opportunity to go for a quick swim in downtown San Francisco were not enough, the place is in the shadow of a chocolate factory. You’ll be taunted by a giant “Ghirardelli” sign every time you breathe or sight to the south.

What really makes this place special, though, are the rival swim and rowing clubs with clubhouses complete with saunas, showers, lockers, boat-building facilities, bars, historic photos, and a wealth of other wonders. I’d swum out of South End Rowing Club on a visit to the Bay Area a few years ago and this time was able to try the neighboring Dolphin Club.

My host was the incredible Swimmer Suz, aka the 50-year-old freshman, whom I’d been in contact with as she applied for her latest undertaking: the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim. She’s been training and racing in the San Francisco Bay ever since she was a kid. When I let her know I’d be in the area to meet my new nephew (!!!), and hinted at my pool tourism proclivity, she picked right up on what I was after and whisked me into the city for an early swim on Thanksgiving Day.

South Enders, aka SERCers, were pouring back into the cove when we arrived, having just done a quick swim to, you know, Alcatraz. Nonmembers are not allowed out of the cove, and the Dolphin Club is a bit more cautious in its explorations anyway, so we contented ourselves with a circuit going to a flag buoy, then following a bulkhead, peeking out at a bridge you might have heard of called the Golden Gate, and finally making our way back to the club beach past a bunch of beautiful ships. All along the way, Suzanne stopped to greet friends and let me catch up. I even saw people I know. I mean really, can it get much better than that?

Dolphin Club clubhouse

Yup, that’s 1877, as in pre-earthquake.

The water temperature here fluctuates far less than New York’s seawater and was in the low 50s for our swim, pleasantly warmer than my last dip at Brighton Beach. With the clubhouses right by the beach there’s no worry about not being able to warm up after. The custom is to put your towel in the sauna while you take a shower (not too hot!) and then go join your towel and your swim buddies until you are toasty. It being Thanksgiving, there was much talk of pie and stuffing.

The Dolphin Club dates to 1877 and survived the 1906 earthquake that did in much of San Francisco. It’s history is fascinating and very much in evidence in the clubhouse today, both physically and spiritually. While some consider the choice of Dolphin versus South End to be a defining allegiance, passed down from generation to generation, others point to Dolphin’s more spacious women’s locker room and sauna with a view as a deciding factor. Some even join both clubs to have the best of both worlds.

I, too, would have a hard time choosing and am equally jealous of both clubs and the Aquatic Park they help to define. I hope to be back soon, especially now that I have a nephew to school.

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