Every summer in New York City, hundreds of people dive into the Hudson River and swim. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers go ‘Yech!’ because they are convinced that the Hudson is dirty, filthy, disease-ridden. Swim there? Never!
I am one of those hundreds of people who swim the Hudson, and I have been doing so for more than a decade. That’s when an organization called Swim NYC first had the idea to, as they say, ‘Take Back the River’ – especially seeing the city had made such great strides cleaning it up. It launched a 2.5-mile swim starting at the 79th Street boat basin and ending at Chelsea Piers on 23rd Street. There were 35 of us who dived in, and we swam one of the rarest routes you will ever find. In between strokes I contemplated the water-level views of the Chrysler and Empire State buildings and marveled at the idea of doing freestyle right under the stern of the USS Intrepid. It was a swim one doesn’t easily forget.
Now, a decade later, NYC Swim offers almost a dozen events in the Hudson and East rivers every summer, and each of them draws about 250 people (that’s the limit – NYC Swim can’t control more than that number in the boat-heavy waters around Manhattan). One very popular route, barely a kilometer long, goes under the Brooklyn Bridge, from Lower Manhattan, near Chinatown, to Brooklyn. Another, this past Sunday, was a two-miler around Governors Island, the little-visited old fortress island across the water from Lower Manhattan.
There were over 200 of us who caught the ferry across to Governors Island early that morning, changed into our swimsuits and got our electronic tags, and then were taken by water taxi to the drop-off point directly off of the 18th-century Fort Jay. From there we swam counterclockwise around the island, the Statue of Liberty to our right, the Verrazano Narrows Bridge in the distance, and then, as we turned the corner, the Brooklyn Naval Yard, Manhattan Bridge, and Manhattan. Except that being a left-hand breather, I missed out on all the tourist attractions and saw the island most of the way.
For anyone who doesn’t swim, Governors Island is a great visit anyway. The ferry, right next to the Staten Island ferry, is free, although it runs on a limited schedule. There are bikes for hire on the island, and it’s a good visit for a few hours. Even if you wanted to swim, though, you couldn’t. Uncontrolled swimming in the Hudson isn’t happening, at least not yet. Right now you have to race. So come join us.