Manhattan Island Marathon Swim 2012: Follow the Red Herring!

By Vladimir Brezina
(Title suggestion by Johna Till Johnson)

Each summer, NYC Swim organizes a series of short and longer swims in New York City’s waterways. The premier event is the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim (MIMS), a 28.5-mile race around Manhattan. Along with the English Channel and Catalina Channel swims, it is one of the three swims in the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming.

Each swimmer is accompanied by a kayaker (as well as a motor boat). Last year, I kayaked for the Lone Starlettes, four women from Texas swimming as a relay. And two of the Starlettes, Gretchen Sanders and Pamela LeBlanc, must have had a good time, because they wanted to return this year and repeat the experience as a two-person relay, The Texas Two-Step.

So this past Saturday, I prepared to spend the whole day on the water. It did mean missing the Coney Island Mermaid Parade, but I knew I would be able to experience that vicariously through the photos of  Tugster (and, as it turned out, also The Quotidian Hudson).

On the bright side, though, it was going to be the inaugural paddle of my new kayak! It’s a red Feathercraft Heron. Johna, who thinks all boats should have names, immediately named it the Red Heron, which soon mutated to the Red Herring. And so for the Texas Two-Step, this year’s MIMS was a matter of following the Red Herring around Manhattan…

Last year I posted quite an extensive write-up of MIMS 2011 and of what MIMS is like in general. So here I’ll just show some of the photographic highlights of MIMS 2012.

The kayakers gather off South Cove for the start of the swim. A cold front has cleared away the heat and the humidity and it’s a beautiful, blue, cool summer day…

And they are off! Gretchen has a strong start.

After a brief stop to let a ferry depart, round the Battery.

Into the East River, with helicopters taking off over our heads (on the right of the photo) from the Wall Street heliport. (Later in the East River, a seaplane landed not far from the swimmers…)

Gretchen is swimming strongly!

Past the United Nations, the water get a bit choppy…

… and even more choppy as we approach the Queensboro Bridge.

Feeding time for swimmers ahead of us in the beginning of the Harlem River.

Swimmer switch in the Harlem River: Gretchen takes over from Pam.

Gretchen swims under the Amtrak Bridge at the end of Spuyten Duyvil out into the broad Hudson…

… where the huge George Washington Bridge, and beyond it the distant Midtown, comes into view.

Gretchen swims under the George Washington Bridge.

Now with a good ebb current, Pam speeds past the West Side of Manhattan, through dark shadows of clouds and out into the sunshine again…

Pam swims past the Intrepid

Past the Chelsea Piers, the classic shot with the Empire State Building in the background.

The finish is in sight! But even with a good current, it will still take the best part of an hour to reach it.

On our boat, Gretchen gets ready for the final swimmer switch.

Smiles off Pier 40: Pam is done for the day.

In the last twenty minutes, with the low sun in the west lighting up the scenery, Gretchen swims past North Cove and the rising tower of the new World Trade Center…

… along the sea wall of Battery Park City…

… and finishes in 8 hours, 18 minutes. A great swim by the Texas Two-Step!!

Here is the GPS track of the Texas Two-Step, hard proof that they actually did swim round Manhattan—or rather, that I kayaked round Manhattan, since the GPS unit was attached to the Red Heron (Herring). It appears that we did leave some bits out, especially in the Harlem River. But we made up for it by subsequently zooming up the West Side Highway, at speeds up to 47 miles per hour, and crossing Central Park over to the Upper East Side! (I took the GPS unit home with me in a cab…)




And here is a slideshow that includes the photos above and many more:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The individual photos are here. Photos taken by Chris LeBlanc from our support motor boat are here. Take a look also at Pam’s blog post about the swim!

59 responses to “Manhattan Island Marathon Swim 2012: Follow the Red Herring!

  1. Wow, such great and exciting photos! Those swimming stars must have so much strength and stamina.I do so admire them. Your Red Herring looks very smart. ;)


  2. Vlad, I love this! Thanks to you and the Red Herring for leading us expertly around Manhattan. I’ll never forget what it feels like to swim down the Hudson River with you and your big yellow hat to my right and the Empire State Building to my left. Awesome!


  3. Great photos, I feel as if I came along for the ride/swim. Much credit is given to the swimmers and you too. Wow, what an adventure!


  4. Great pics Vlad! Wish I could have been there this year. Too many things on the calendar I’m afraid.


  5. Yay for crazy-strong women and the good people who faithfully document them! Wow. I can barely get to Zumba this week, never mind swim around Manhattan…


  6. Wow, never seen New York in this view before. Thank you so much for these pictures. Amazing. :)


  7. Thanks for the tour and great images of the event, wouldn’t want to run into these swimmers in a dark alley :), MJ


  8. As the neutral Boat Observer I got to watch not only the swimmers but your absolutely excellent boat handling. Gretchen and Pam could not have had a better partner.


    • Thanks, Bill! Good to meet you, belatedly! Well, I’ve done it many times, and I’ve also found that it is more enjoyable, for me, if I do actually focus on making a positive contribution, as opposed to just tagging along…


  9. What a beautiful day you had! Almost as good as being there to share your experience! I will show all these great photos with my husband who is a kayaker,too! Fun post!


  10. What an amazing event! I’ve never heard of people swimming in NYC – it seems like such an alien city to me, being from a city of only 2 million people in the sub-tropics. It’s fantastic to see it differently than we do in TV sitcoms. ;) Sounds like you had a lot of fun out supporting the swimmers too :)


    • The great thing about NYC is that includes, somewhere within it, all of that—yes, what you see in the sitcoms, but also many quite unexpected scenes, including swimmers that come from all over the world to circle Manhattan… Thanks, Andrew!


  11. Wow! Thanks for sharing this event with us! It’s really great to see the progress that was made and the progression as far as the water and the scenery!


  12. Did all the swimmers get lucky and have photo-kayakers??! What wonderful memories those photos hold! I know they loved them!! Wow, I can’t imagine the stamina that must take! Very impressive!


    • I believe the swimmers were quite happy to have the photos ;-)

      Yes, the swimmers are most impressive indeed! I am always amazed to see, as I paddle alongside, how they go on hour after hour…


  13. Oh wow, Vlad, what a great event. Brilliant portraits of the girls in action – I’m exhausted just thinking about swimming around the island of Manhattan! And yaay. love your red herring! Congrats on your lovely new red kayak :)


    • You can start with some shorter swims that NYC Swim also puts on each summer. How would you like to swim across the East River under the Brooklyn Bridge, or around the Statue of Liberty? I’ll tell them you are interested ;-)

      The Red Herring is working out pretty well, I think, now that it’s been around Long Island…


      • Are there jellyfish? If you can guarantee I won’t encounter jellyfish I might consider it. But I have a long and troubled history with jellyfish….


        • Unfortunately, there are a few jellyfish in the East River in the summer and early fall, and so an encounter cannot be ruled out if you swim there. But there are essentially none, in my experience, in the Hudson, so you could do one of the short swims on that side of Manhattan…


        • I’ve been stung (repeatedly) by the little devils – after one particularly nasty incident I was afraid to swim in the ocean for years. Then, one summer, I was in Greece watching hundreds of people frolicking joyfully in the crashing waves, and I said to myself “Ailsa, get over it” and joined the happy crowd in the ocean. For 2 minutes. At which point a jellyfish wrapped itself around my leg and wouldn’t let go. Had to drag it off and couldn’t walk for days.

          Yeah, apparently I am irresistible to jellyfish. Or maybe it’s the same jellyfish, lurking just offshore, waiting for me to take the plunge again. :)


        • It does sound as if you are a jellyfish magnet :-(

          You could wear a wetsuit or body suit like they do in Australia…


        • Now you’re talking! Take that, jellyfish!


  14. Great event and great shots… :-)


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  16. Wow. Crazy Texas gals and a Red Herring. Another perfect day around Manhattan! Thanks for the great post and storytelling!


  17. Gretchen Sanders

    Vlad! You kayak like a master and shoot photos like an artist. What other talents do you claim? I love this photo essay almost as much as I loved having you right beside me in the water. Thank you for the encouragement and the feedings all the way around the island. How did we get so lucky having you as our guide?! The Texas Two Step’s lap around Manhattan will go down among my fondest memories.


    • Gretch, thanks for that wonderful comment! I am so happy that you will remember it that way, and that you enjoyed it, as I did. But of course you succeeded due to your own efforts. The kayaker can’t go any faster than the swimmer—however much I wished we could go just that little bit faster when another swimmer was overtaking us or a pier was looming up ahead ;-)


  18. Red Herring? Love it :-) Great photos, another adventure!


  19. Amazing pics and great day for it by the looks of the blue sky. Congrats to your Texas 2 Step team… well done!


    • It was a great day for it! The race is always in June (or, very rarely, early July), and the prevailing weather pattern at that time of year often includes afternoon thunderstorms, which indeed have disrupted the race in several years. But this year a frontal system came through the day before and swept all the heat and haze and humidity away, and we had a beautiful day with clear blue skies…


      • Looks perfect… hope the water wasn’t too cold being so early June. I know here waters don’t warm up until summer is almost over, but that is the deep Great Lakes for ya!


        • Actually, it was already June 23, and the water around NYC warms up reasonably fast in the late spring and early summer. It’s true that the swimmers in this race are required to have cold-water experience, but from what they tell me, quite often the problem is the opposite—the water threatens to become too warm. That’s one reason not to have the race later than very early July…


        • Wow the water does war quickly. Thanks for the info.


  20. Great pictures and slideshow. Nice kayak. Thanks for sharing.



  21. That’s a tremendous swim.


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