Race for Tide & True
Posted online: Saturday, 11 July 1998
|The Hudson and East rivers become an aquarium for people today as swimmers from around the world take to the waters for a grueling 28.5-mile marathon swim around Manhattan island. |
Fifty-two hardy souls will brave the city's briny brew, with a starting time of 8:50 a.m. from Gangway 6 on the Hudson River side of Battery Park. Besides 16 men and six women attempting to complete the course, there are five relay teams of six members each.
Top swimmers in the 17-year tradition will take about seven hours to swim up the East River with the Tide, through Hell's Gate - where the East River meets the Harlem River - then around the northern tip of Manhattan, under the George Washington Bridge (at around 1 p.m.) and down a long stretch of Hudson River to the finish at Gangway 6.
"I cried into my goggles when I saw the World Trade Center," said Morty Berger, a two-time veteran marathoner, now the director of the sponsoring Manhattan Island Foundation. "You know you're almost to the finish."
The racers - all veterans of long-distance swims such as the English Channel and the Straits of Gibraltar - hail from Ireland, Mexico, Japan, Canada and New York. Ages range from 17 to 63.
Long-distance swimming is an unusual sport in that male contenders do not necessarily have an advantage over women. The race tests endurance, rather than sheer strength. What's more, a little extra body fat doesn't hurt - and sometimes helps - racers.
In fact, the all-time champ is female. Shelley Taylor-Smith of Australia made it around the island in five hours, 45 minutes, 25 seconds. In 1992, Kris Rutford of Nebraska became the men's record holder by posting a time of 5:53:57.
Both Taylor-Smith and Rutford are coming back this year to try to top their own times.
Contrary to popular notions, the water is swimmable and getting cleaner every year, thanks to better sewage treatment and the decline of industry along New York's waterways.
Even in the drink's murkier days, none of the participants dissolved during the race or went into toxic shock after crawling onto shore.
A decade ago, swimmers climbed from the water at the finish and made a dash for the showers, but in recent years, they have gushed about how clean the rivers are.
As for spectators, there are already new and better vantage points to watch the marathon this year, thanks to ongoing construction of the brand new Hudson River Park and East River Esplanade along Manhattan's shoreline.Across from the Fulton Fish Market, workers are busy constructing a bicycle path along
the East River. There are some newly planted trees and a picturesque railing to lean on and gaze across the river.
Next to the Staten Island Ferry building, American Park restaurant just opened, with an outdoor patio offering wide views of New York Harbor and a menu of reasonably priced gourmet fare.
Other good spectator spots include the Intrepid Museum, Chelsea Piers and south of the meat-packing district's Gansevoort Peninsula, where park plans call for the building of a sand beach and ball field.
At Pier 26, between Hubert and North Moore streets in TriBeCa, a boathouse offers anyone who shows up free use of kayaks to paddle around in calm water between long piers - out of range of the racers, who keep to the main part of the river but can still be seen from the shoreline.
There are two more Hudson River swims planned for this summer, both a bit easier than today's event.
On Aug. 2, the 2.8-mile Great Hudson River Swim runs from the 79th Street Boat Basin to Pier 62 at West 22nd Street.
On Sept. 13, the 2.4-mile Hudson River Park Wrong Way Harbor Swim pits the strong-of-heart against the Tide from the World Financial Center, also to Pier 62.
- The New York Post