Written by Brendan Maher
On 07 July I took on the 20 Bridges swim around Manhattan Island, a swim of 46.5 km although it is tidal and doesn’t swim as long as that. It starts in Lower Manhattan at The Battery and goes counterclockwise around the island. Starting time is determined by the tides. Mine was about 10 am.
The East River was turbulent, especially in the early stages, but with a big tide behind me, I went under the first of the 20 bridges, the Brooklyn Bridge. I made a point to breathe to the left, so I saw all the sights, including the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, United Nations etc. I had heard stories of how you had to get to Hell’s Gate, the confluence of the Harlem and East Rivers by a certain time, and if you missed the tide, you were forced back and had to get out. That might have been why I took off going well above my usual stroke rate. At my first feed, the kayaker said that we were ahead of schedule and to take it easy as we would be forced back if we got to the Harlem River too early. I then dropped back to a more sedate pace (some would say I always do that!), counting off the four bridges of the East River. I was feeling groovy as I went under the 59th Street Bridge, only to be brought back to reality with a shock when I was almost forced under by a rogue current, which turned out to be the edge of a wide world pool at Hells’ Gate. Ten minutes of frantic sprinting then followed as I looked up and could see I was making little, or no progress compared to the nearby shoreline of Randalls Island.
Eventually, we made it through into the Harlem River. The first part of that swim was into the tide, and it was slow going. Gradually the tide ebbed and eventually picked up behind me. I was told that the Harlem is the longest part of the swim as you don’t have the tidal push behind you that you have elsewhere. 15 of the 20 bridges are in the Harlem, and I counted them off slowly. We were an object of some curiosity to the people in the parklands on the Bronx side of the river. Eventually, we got to the northern part of the island, past Yankee Stadium and into the surprisingly green and pretty northwest tip of the island. It was with some relief that I eventually made it into the Hudson River so at least I could say I had swum in all three rivers. They reckon they all taste differently. I tried not to compare them!
I took a peek up the mighty river but then got back to the job of swimming down towards the last of the bridges, the George Washington Bridge. I wasn’t sure why we went halfway across the river and then immediately zigzagged back but had been told not to question the kayaker, so I did as I was told. Other swimmers had suggested that I backstroke under all the bridges, but being a bit unsure whether I would get there in time, I left it to the last and backstroked under the George Washington Bridge, blissfully unaware that we were under warning from the NYPD boat, which had been escorting us for some time, to get out of the way of a barge that was bearing down on us and had said it wasn’t going to stop!
I’d been told by Justin Hanby that there was still 15 km to go, even though that was the last bridge, so knuckled down for the long slog down the Hudson. The wind was picking up against me, as well as the chop, but I could feel the tide behind me. Eventually, I could see the skyscrapers of Lower Manhattan come into view, although I was concerned that there were more off in the hazy distance, which turned out to be the World Trade Centre and rest of the Financial District. I couldn’t believe how far away it still seemed. Eventually
I made it to the finish in 10 hours 10 minutes and 10 seconds.
Swimming Manhattan completed for me the Triple Crown of open water swimming, having previously swum the English Channel in 2017 and Catalina Channel in September last year. I think that makes me the 36th Australian to do that and the “least young” to have completed Catalina and Manhattan. It certainly is a different swim than being in the middle of a channel with nothing in sight!
Many thanks to all the people at Tattersalls who took an interest and gave me some good advice about this swim. And no, no dead bodies were encountered.
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