Making a splash at the crack of dawn


By Jefferson Siegel

Downtown Express photos by Jefferson Siegel

Kyle Smith was the first swimmer to arrive at North Cove Sunday morning.

It was 6 a.m. last Sunday morning in the middle of a three-day holiday weekend. Most of Battery Park was deserted except for the occasional cyclist or dog-walker. While the rest of Downtown was still dreaming, a dream-like scene was unfolding near the Staten Island ferry terminal.

The scene wasn’t part of a movie or even a flash mob. Almost 200 people, donning rubber wet suits, goggles and latex caps, filled the promenade. The crowd, ranging in age from 16 to 71, was preparing for the second annual Lady Liberty Swim, an aquatic jog a mile upriver from Gangway 1 in Battery Park to the North Cove Marina in Battery Park City.

“I like to swim,” East Villager Bruce Goldberg said, explaining why he was ready to jump into the river at dawn. Another out-of-towner was a bit more expansive. “What better way to see the city?” offered Wes Bruckno of Lancaster, Penn. as he zipped up his rubber suit. “I did triathalons before 9/11. This is another way to see the city.”

The opportunity to see Downtown from a sea-level perspective brought dawn-treading paddlers from as far as England, France and even Australia. As those around her pulled on yellow and orange swim caps, Anita Disney, a Greenwich Village resident, explained why she beat sunrise to break the waves. “I did the race last year. For cold-water adaptation and swimming Battery Park, it’s more challenging,” as compared to other rivers and pools, she said.

Some stood waving their arms to warm up but most relaxed on the benches until Dave Hornig, one of the organizers, offered a pre-race briefing in a booming voice. “The water temperature is 57 degrees,” he said to cheers. The other news was the start time of 6:45 was being postponed because the current was still running downriver.

The morning’s race was a two-part event. The first set of swimmers were participating in the 23rd Liberty-to-Liberty triathalon. “They’re starting here with a one-mile swim and a little bit of a current,” Hornig said as water continued to chop offshore. After arriving at North Cove, “They’ll come out, change clothes, walk through Wall St. and get the full New York experience.” The triathletes would then board the SeaStreak ferry at Pier 11 for a trip to the Atlantic Highlands in New Jersey.

There, Hornig continued, “where their bikes are waiting for them, it’s an eleven-mile bike prologue to Middletown, New Jersey, then a 76-mile bike ride into Camden, then a final four miles into Philadelphia.” They would then dismount for a final 10-K run through the streets to the cinematic steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum. “I know I can hear the theme from ‘Rocky’ playing in the background,” Hornig said.

After the triathletes finished the first leg of their race, a second contingent of swimmers would take a dip as far as North Cove.

As the clock on the New Jersey side of the river neared 7 a.m., organizers decided they couldn’t wait any longer, so a line of about 50 swimmers began walking down a blue carpet on Gangway 1 and diving into the river. At 7:02, with a sea of yellow caps bobbing in the water, the signal was given and the river began to churn with stroking and kicking.

The 1.5 kilometer course was expected to take 10 minutes, but the downriver current stubbornly persisted with a counter-speed of 1.5 knots, forcing all but a dozen to eventually board one of a small flotilla of support boats. Fifty minutes after he started, Kyle Smith of Hillsborough, New Jersey finally swam into the North Cove and walked up a small stairway onto a dock. “My arms are really tired,” he said when asked how it felt battling the currents for almost an hour. A volunteer stood at the end of the dock, hosing the Hudson River off Smith and the rest of the swimmers.

The remaining Triathletes slowly stroked their way into the cove, as several boats, including an F.D.N.Y. rescue boat, arrived bearing other swimmers. One swimmer had been pulled from the water after suffering an asthma attack. She was helped ashore and into a waiting ambulance for a check-up at New York Downtown Hospital. There was little time for the competitors to rest, though, as many only had a minute to grab a banana and a bottle of water before the fast walk across Downtown to the waiting ferry for the next leg.

At 8:45 a.m. the second wave of racers finally entered the water at Battery Park and began the journey north. Twenty minutes later Jeffrey Jotz of Rahway, N.J., climbed onto the North Cove dock, followed seconds later by New Yorker Michael Rossner. “It was bright and early but the water was great,” Jotz said as the remainder of the 128 swimmers made their way into the marina.

Australian Rondi Davies finished first in the women’s division and third overall with a time of 21:25. New Yorker Bonnie Schwartz finished third in the division and tenth overall with a time of 22:00.

The second annual Lady Liberty Swim is the first in a series of summer events organized and sponsored by the Manhattan Island Foundation. The city’s Parks Department, the Battery Park City Parks Conservancy and the Port Authority also participate.

Upcoming summer events will include the inaugural “Aquathlon: Freedom Tower” on Sunday, July 23. The Aquathlon includes a half-mile swim/three-mile run, the eighth annual Cove-to-Cove Swim and the ninth annual Race for the River Swim. The finish line for all three events is the North Cove, near where construction on the Freedom Tower recently began.

On Sat., Sept. 9, the Summer Swim Series will conclude with the inaugural Brooklyn Bridge Swim. Swimmers will start the one kilometer course on the Manhattan side of the Bridge in East River Park, swimming parallel along the southern line of the Brooklyn Bridge, and then following the seawall of Empire-Fulton State Park to the beach in Brooklyn Bridge Park.

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