20 Bridges manhattan island swim 

The final leg of the Triple Crown was in doubt because the organisers for this swim had been impossible to communicate with. Eventually, I found David Barra, the central figure in the newly created, New York Open Water Inc. He had rebadged the swim as the 20 Bridges Manhattan Island Swim.

I was signed up to swim on August 20, with Rachael and Michael, two friends from Sydney. It was to be the second ever 20 Bridges Swim, covering a distance of 48 kilometres. This date, by chance, made it less than 12 months since I had finished the English Channel.

Recovery between the Catalina swim and the 20 Bridges should have, according to my coach Vlad, been a very relaxed and unhurried few weeks. Instead Kylie and I had a wonderful road trip up the Big Sur, where the highlights were swimming up close with a huge pod of dolphins at San Simeon, and then getting engaged to Kylie in the Sequoia National Park. Later we met up with our friends again, to swim around Alcatraz in San Francisco, which was an amazing experience where we felt the full force of the strong currents around the island on a 7.2 kilometre event called ‘Swim around the Rock’.

By the time we reached New York, and yet again joined with Rach and Mike, we were ready to go. We met the organisers and supporters at Pier 26, at the southern end of Manhattan, where we were briefed and met our teams. I was assigned a support boat and also a super experienced kayaker, Louis.

There were three of us from Australia and two local New Yorkers in the race, and at precisely 9 a.m. we dived into the water from a zodiac just off Battery Park. We set off in an anti-clockwise direction. It was on a Sunday morning and the East River was buzzing with activities. 

Our first real challenge was to reach Hell's Gate before the tides changed and locked us out of the swim. Many friends had warned us to go hard to get past this narrowing of the East River, and many had failed to complete the swim because of it.

We all swam hard and I recall just making it through the pass as the tide was turning. From there it was up and along the filthy Harlem River. I checked the bridges off as I watched the many straight streets fall behind us.

It was a fascinating swim with so much going on around us. At one stage a stand-up paddleboard race sliced through our small pack of swimmers, while helicopters, ferries and NYPD boats went about their business.

At the northern end of Manhattan, just before the Henry Hudson Bridge, the Harlem spews out into the mighty Hudson River. The intersection is called Spuyten Duyvil, Dutch for "in spite of the devil".

Once I was around the northern end of the island I was spat out, more than half way to New Jersey, on the other side of the Hudson. It took a great deal of energy to get back into the middle of the river. When I did I took off like a steam train. I think the river must have been running at about 5 or 6 kilometres an hour and with my 3, I was making good time. 

The Hudson leg of the race is more than 20 kilometres and even with the benefit of the current, it is still a long hard slog. Stupidly, I had thought the tide may change and I’d be caught out, only afterward realising that the Hudson only ever flows in one direction. It was a blessing really because I pushed myself all the way to the end and was really happy to see Mike and Rach at the end to talk through their experience of it. 

As always, Kylie had been in the pilot boat supporting and encouraging me through the entire swim. She is a faster swimmer than I can ever hope to be and the only thing that slows her down is the cold or in this case, filthy water. 

We were elated, three Australian Triple Crowns within one hour of each other. We celebrated with all of the swimmers, crews and supporters, and acknowledged the professionally coordinated and iconic race that is now the ‘20 Bridges Swim’.

robben island

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