It was in the Serpentine one September evening that I (Manda) heard some swimmers discussing how they had just got back from a swimming trip to New York. We didn’t have much time to chat but the brief words spoken about the Manhattan Island Swim left me curious. I started thinking about a shopping trip/girls holiday to New York, failing to appreciate the small 28.5 mile paddle that would also take place, but before I had chance to realise this I had planted the seed in Katie’s head and then we got Kate and Suz on board for our 4 person relay team.. Team “Mermaids in Manhattan” was born.
We started investigating what was actually involved in entering and soon realised it was A LOT. You need to create a profile on NYC Swim, upload your race history onto the website so they could ensure you have sufficient experience to handle the swim, then additionally, provide a team essay to say why you want to compete in the race. We decided that this final task was perfect for Suz. Here is part of an email from Suz discussing the essay:
“Do you think our application has greater chance of being accepted if we go for the patriotic, altruistic angle?: “We understand that the USA has a massive deficit and has recently had to raise its debt ceiling. It may be worth scouring your coastlines for buried treasure, which, under maritime and international law, will doubtless rightfully belong to the US Government. We are happy to do this on your country’s behalf in Manhattan.”
In the end we went for something a little less dramatic. The final essay can be seen at the bottom of this blog. On the required application day I was away in Cuba and apparently there was some confusion over converting the US entry opening time to UK time but they did it and when I got the text, whilst drunk (this is becoming a theme) in Cuba saying we were in, I was filled with joy and dread. Things has just got real!
We started training in earnest… maybe some of us more than others and soon it was only a couple of weeks to go. At this point something called the “East River Monster” was found washed up on the banks of Manhattan and people found utter delight in telling me about it and sending pics. I will leave it for you to choose to click the link to see some pictures of it but I will tell you I refused to google and open pictures of this beast until the swim was over and I am so pleased I did refrain.
We arrived in New York full of enthusiasm and proceeded to eat our way through the town, which was defined as carb loading, so completely justified.
On the night before the swim we made a team home meal of pasta and settled down for an early night. I did not sleep as I was beyond anxious and it didn’t help that our trip coincided with a small event taking place in London called the Olympics.. you might remember it. So with the time difference there were a million sporting distractions taking place on TV in the middle of the night and I couldn’t resist watching the men’s triathlon unfold when I should have been sleeping for my biggest sporting event to date.
Early the next morning we got a taxi to take us to Battery park, where we would register for the swim and meet our crew. Our crew consisted of the amazingly talented Darren Miller (observer), who has completed the Ocean Seven swims, our Kayaker Sweeney (William Sweeney), who amazed us by wearing a kilt the whole day and only taking one small break during the 8+ hour swim (more on that later) and our relaxed captain, who couldn’t have looked after us better on his boat Taz
Katie was doing leg 1 that was a swim up passed the Staten island ferry port and all the way up to Williamsburg bridge. She boarded a rib and we boarded the boat and so our adventure began. After 45 minutes Katie was nearing the bridge and it was my turn. To say I was scared would be an understatement but it was time to jump in. I got in and the first thing that happened was some floating debris hit me… my first thought was “can I get out??”, second thought “nope”, so off I paddled. My swim was also to a bridge (Queenborough) and after c. 40 minutes I was there and out I got.
The remaining swims were 30 minutes blocks that took us up the east river, into Harlem and then back down the Hudson. There are strict cut off times as at a point during the swim the tide will turn and if you haven’t turned to come back down then you never will against the reversed current.
At some point during the Harlem swim, whilst Suz relaxed in her dressing gown, Katie chatted to Darren and Kate sang along to “call me maybe”, the kayaker ABANDONED me to go and speed ahead to have a short break. Yes the boat was still next to me but I suddenly felt very alone and obviously you can’t talk whilst swimming so there was no way of communicating this without stopping. Eventually Katie reappeared and signaled that I only had 5 minutes left. Every-time we exited the water we would get hosed down to ensure we didn’t bring river dirt on board with us but also we needed to be hosed down for our own good. There was also lots of wet wipe action after getting out to remove the river tan we had picked up. Generally it was filthy swim but definitely not as dirty I had imagined.
At the top of the island, what amazes you is the shear barrenness of the landscape. Often as a tourist in Manhattan you stick to Central Park and below so to see this other side of Manhattan was surprising. There are easier ways to see this though as there is the circle line ferry that does laps of manhattan… I wish I had known about this before!
Once you have passed the C on the cliff for Colombia University you are on your way back down. In the Hudson you dodge being sucked into the sewage works, whilst the buildings that Manhattan is most famed for reappear and you suddenly realise you are nearly there. The whole way through the swim Katie’s mum and sister, who had come to Manhattan to support us, kept reappearing when you least expected it. It is always great to have support, especially on the other side of the world. My boyfriend on the other hand rang me before the race and I obviously thought he was ringing to wish us good luck… No…he wanted to check in about buying a welsh dresser! Charming.
After 8 hours, Kate swum the team into the finish and was greeted there by our adoring waiting public and supporters, as well as, a TV crew. The 3 of us and the crew headed back to battery park to moor up and unpack.. We had done it. Something that had consumed my waking and sleeping thoughts for months was done…
We then celebrated in true mermaid fashion with wine, cocktails and steak and proceeded to tell anyone and everyone in New York about what we had done.
People say you will always remember where you were the night Mo Farah, Jess Ennis and Greg Rutherford won their gold at London 2012 and I know I always will. I was swimming around Manhattan Island with 3 amazing Mermaids. Beat that!
Here is a video by Sweeneey of our swim: http://vimeo.com/47531573
and another one by NYC Swim: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SKnDstBPd8w
As four independent, highly-motivated women, we lead busy, occasionally frenetic, lives in London pursuing our careers and trying to maintain a healthy family and social life. Mindful, though, of the timeless Latin adage “mens sana in corpore sano” (a healthy mind sits in a healthy body), we make a point to incorporate fresh air and exercise into our lives, and the way we prefer to do that is to swim in open water: the sea, lakes, rivers, lochs, fjords. In our increasingly desk-bound existence, we appreciate the opportunity it gives us quite literally to wallow in nature and to pit ourselves against the elements.
For each of us, swimming has always been and remains an important part of our lives. Amanda grew up on a small island off the coast of France where she became accustomed from an early age to the rough swells and cool waters of the English Channel. Katie swam to a high competitive standard at both school and Cambridge University, where she gained a ‘blue’ representing the university against its counterpart in Oxford. Kate swam competitively at school and regularly takes part in triathlons, while Suzanne spent long summers of her youth swimming along the lengthy beaches of the French Atlantic coast.
Wild water swimming is not just for us an exhilarating physical experience; it is also a social one. Nothing, we’ve found, unifies people quite so well as a shared open water adventure. We have recently started to take part, as a group, in open water relay races; the highlight of which has been racing together in a 10km open water relay this summer. Two of us have, independently, already completed a relay swim of the English Channel (Katie in 2000 and 2002, and Suzanne in 2011 – her team winning the Channel Swimming Association trophy for the fastest relay swim of 2011). On top of our competitive swimming, we also enjoy the lighter side of the sport. The four of us swam together in the Greek Mediterranean this summer on a SwimTrek holiday, each covering distances of 6 or 7 kms per day.
The Manhattan Island Relay swim is our chance now to consolidate on our individual and shared aquatic experiences and together to take on the next big swimming challenge. We relish the opportunity to focus our minds and energies on achieving such a momentous goal and we would value enormously the privilege of being able to swim in such a special, iconic setting. We believe that we have demonstrated already that we have the commitment required in terms of training for the Manhattan Island Relay swim; that we have the will and drive, in short, to make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime event. We know, also, that we work well together. We bring different skills and abilities to the table, and we know, respect and like each other. In other words, we are confident that we have the key ingredients required to undertake this feat.