The Boston Light Swim is an eight mile swim in Boston Harbor, from the Boston Light (a light house) in to shore of South Boston. I first heard about the swim last year on the Marathon Swimmers Forum, and after a brief discussion with the Race Director to determine if I could make the cutoff (I am not the world’s fastest swimmer), I had resolved to sign up for it. The event is kept small to ensure safety and has become increasingly popular over the years, last year it sold out within minutes of registration opening and thus I missed out on it and did C3 instead.
This year the event switched to a lottery system for and I managed to secure an entry, the day of the event was three weeks before my scheduled Catalina swim, however I figured it would be a fun way to start the tapering process. As it turns out, Catalina was not to be this year, so I was very glad I had the BLS in the line up to look forward to.
I did try to organize an escort boat through friends of friends, but ultimately ended up with one arranged by the swim organizers; in retrospect this was probably better as the skipper was experienced in escorting swimmers on this course. As a swimmer I always appreciate an experienced pilot, it makes establishing the needed trust so you can just stop worrying about what they are doing and focus on swimming so much easier.
Serendipitously a good friend of mine was going to be in Massachusetts the weekend of the swim, and she was able to convince her niece to join her in crewing for me. It was definitely a bonus to have some friendly faces on the boat.
In the weeks leading up to the swim, the race director Greg O’Connor (who I met at C3 last year) had been letting all the swimmers know via email and the event Facebook page that the water temperatures were lower than expected. I’d been mentally prepared for a low 60’s swim (which is apparently typical for the event) and had done a few two hour swims at that temperature and found it to be comfortable. The news that the water may in fact be in the 50’s for the whole swim was a source of concern for me; the longest swim I’d done in sub 60F water was only 1h 40m, and I was definitely getting cold by the end of that.
However not having any control over the temperature I resolved not to worry about it; I figured at worst case if I DNF’d due to the cold, I’d at least learn what my limits where with respect to cold water :)
The night before the swim there is a briefing at the L Street Bathhouse which is the finish point of the course, and a pasta dinner down the road at the Boston Harbor Yacht club, which is where would all be departing from the following morning. Because the swim is small enough there was time at the dinner for all the participants to introduce themselves and talk about some of their past swims – I guess I should be used to it by now but it is still a little daunting to be in a room full of people who have swum the English Channel, Catalina, MIMS or all three.
The morning of the swim my crew and I grabbed some food at a local Dunkin Donuts at an ungodly hour and headed to the Yacht club for the registration and to load up on our pilot boat. We were then off for the roughly 40 minute trip out to the start of the race, the Boston Light itself. The lighthouse was undergoing repairs and so was surrounded by scaffolding, but it was still beautiful to be on the water early in the morning.
The start of the race was announced with a loud horn and I jumped into the water. The water was definitely cool, probably around 57-58F but certainly not bad in the short term. My hope at that point was that it would warm up as we got closer in, and certainly the expected warm weather would help.
Boston Harbor is actually pretty crowded with various islands, so the swim course wends it way along and around various of these, the swim is not really a straight line, but as a result there is a lot more scenery than your typical ocean swim. The different landmarks along the swim served also as natural mile markers, allowing a good sense of progress throughout the swim.
The start of the swim is timed to maximize the assistance of the incoming tide, and the first couple miles definitely flew by. Around mile 3 (before the bridge that marks the rough halfway point) there was a lot of chop, and much as in the C3 swim last year I was grateful for the time I had spent swimming in similar conditions in Aquatic Park. After the bridge though things calmed down and the conditions were pretty decent for the rest of the swim.
My crew had definitely taken all the warnings about hypothermia to heart and were quizzing me at each feed to make sure I was all there, but the water temp seemed to warm up a degree every mile, and there was plenty of sunshine, so there was never any danger of it on the day; contrary to the warnings the night before no one ended up being pulled for hypothermia.
My pilot did a great job, there were times where he had to take a slightly different course to me because of the draft of his boat, but he did a great job in explaining when that needed to happen and where I should go. Right at the end of the swim I think I may have added on a little “extra credit” by mistakenly taking a route through some moored boats that my pilot couldn’t follow (my GPS read 8.44 miles at the end), but we sorted it out and I finished with an official time of 4h3m which was pretty dead on for what I had guessed the swim would take me prior.
Given the small number of swimmers in the event I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to see other support boats the entire swim. Three other soloists and two relays finished in the ten minutes before me, out of a field of 29 total (soloists and relays) over 4 hours that is a very tight grouping.
After watching the remaining swimmers finish and chatting, I headed back to the hotel for a nap, and then out to dinner. There were a number of restaurant recommendations on the swim web site, so picked a gastro pub place that seemed interesting. The pub had a deal with a shuttle service for pick ups and drop offs, so took advantage of that. While chatting with the driver I discovered he not only knew of the swim, he was a mate of my pilot! Small world, but also reinforces the community involvement aspect that this swim has.
This was a really fun swim, well organized, scenic and with great people, highly recommended!