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“Wow, your face is super dirty,” my swim pal Maureen says as we staggered out of the Hudson River. “About as dirty as your’s,” I reply. We had the most enormous white-toothed grins in those dirty faces as we had just completed the coolest open water swim in our careers.

New York Swim‘s Little Red Lighthouse Swim is a 10.2 kilometre journey up the Hudson River that begins at the 79 St. Boat Basin, passes under the George Washington Bridge with the tiny lighthouse almost hidden under its Manhattan stanchion and finishes up at the marina at Dyckman St. near the northern tip of the island.

It was like a swimming equivalent of Tom Hanks’ “I made fire!”. We just swam in the Hudson River alongside one of the most incredible cities in the world. We just swam in the frigging Hudson, runway of US Airways Flight 1549.

The elation wasn’t really about the actual swim feat. We had both braved much tougher conditions that summer at our home race of Rattlesnake Island where kayaks guiding swimmers tipped. We even donned wetsuits as the water temperature was so cool that NY Swim made it a legal wetsuit swim. Both well trained for cold water swimming in just bathing suits, the wetsuits seemed like better protection against the “things” in the water. It was more about the sentiment expressed by our New York cab driver. “You are going to do what? You are swimming in the Hudson? You’ve got to be kidding me.”

Assured the water quality was OK we focus on other important things. “There can be a substantial amount of chop in the water from wind and tide action,” NY Swim warned us. “The waterways are salt-water and there is shipping traffic. There may be random jetsam and flotsam in the waterways.”

We also listened attentively about swimming hard by the Sewage Treatment plant and about sighting well at the end of the race and keeping in toward shore to avoid getting sucked down the river.

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The early morning view as we arrived at the Boat Basin

I’ve never swum 10 kilometres so fast in my life (2:05). The tide comes in and you fly along in a strong current. Despite not being able to see your hands as you stroke along in the murky water it felt pretty comfortable out there. Pretty comfortable but amazing all at the same time as you catch glimpses of the Manhattan skyline, Grant’s Tomb and that incredible big grey bridge with traffic zooming over your head. Pretty comfortable until my hand touches some of that flotsam. It was some soft feeling substantial “thing” invisible in the murk. I tried hard not to think of it as someone’s cement boots finally coming off as they drifted along in the current. Clearly I’ve watched to many crime movies about New York…

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And we are off

Despite the flotsam encounter, we felt safe out there in the river. Me and Maureen and 217 others were helped along by about 30 kayakers, 10 larger boats, some NYPD (cool even to write that) zodiacs and some blue-capped “swim angles” who joined the race to look out for anyone in trouble. I think only one of us got hauled out with hypothermia issues and we all made the against-the-current exit with no problems.

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“I swam in the Hudson River!” It was well-organized had ultra cool scenery and we swam in in one of the most famous stretches of river in the world that we didn’t even realize that you could swim in.

Here is a youtubeย of the 2012 race.