Stage 6: the swim I will always remember

Originally I did not plan to do stage 6. I wanted to do the spectacular stage 7. Swimming into New York and seeing all the landmarks from the water level – the Statue of Liberty, The Colgate Clock, Empire State Building…I bought Stage 6 when I got a letter from the organizers encouraging the swimmers to do more stages and offering good conditions to those who would.
Stage 6 (15,7 miles) is believed to be an easy one because of the fast and helpful current. The forecast for the day looked good, air temp
23C, water temp about +20, quite comfortable for me. The only thing to worry about was chop, I do not have much experience swimming in choppy waters. On the other hand stage 6 could give me the experience I needed.
The splash was planned for 10:30 which gave enough time to get to the start, put on sunscreen, check the goodie bag with the famous “recycled” T-shirt, talk to Dasha, my kayaker and meet the swimmates. It was good to see my SCAR fellows “Batches” and Andrew Wells, both doing all the stages.
Another exciting thing about 8 bridges was Solaris, the solar-powered boat, that brought us to the start under Tappan Zee bridge. The air felt chilly, the water looked very choppy. Josh suggested a small intro game where everybody should answer a few simple questions: who are you, where are you from, how nervous you are on the scale of 1 to 10, what’s your favorite dish. “I am Professor of Medicine” said Charlie. “Great to have someone like that with us”, replied Josh. This is how I met Charlie and that is the only thing I remember from that intro game as my own nervousness was way above 10.
We jumped into the water and it all began. For me the chop was pretty tough, I could hardly see anything. “Just keep swimming”, that was the instruction given during the brief “your kayaker will find you”. Eventually I was relieved to see Dasha and the nose of her red kayak. The waves were pretty high and very dense. Once It felt like a giant fish fell on my back, so dense were the waves. They say that the scenery along the shore is beautiful but I am afraid I missed most part of the beauty as I was trying to keep my head as low as possible. I drank so much water from the Hudson that during the first couple of feeding sessions I skipped the water to make it easier for Dasha as it was tough for her as well. By the way, I agree with those who says the Hudson water is salty.
After the first hour I started feeling chilly which seemed to me a total nonsense. The air is warm, the water is warm why should it be chilly??? Later the guys said it was because of the head wind which takes the warmth from the surface. But I did not know that when in the water and so kept saying to myself that there was actually no reason to be cold, which as I now think helped a lot. Once I mistook a railway bridge for the GW bridge which was a slight disappointment. To avoid further disappointments I was just swimming from feed to feed until we cleared George Washington bridge and Dasha said we are done.
The majority of my swimmates had already been on Solaris, I was 11 out of 17. I did not look at it as a race, rather as a learning, so I was happy that I completed the stage, wasn’t in pain and even wasn’t too much cold. Almost everyone said they thought of quitting after the first hour, no one quitted.
The tragic end of the story is well-known. I wish I knew Charlie longer and better. From what my swimming friends told me and what I read myself later he was really a remarkable man with a big heart.
Despite the heartbreaking ending I think it was good to do stage 6. It showed weaknesses with which I can work and proved again the huge amount of warmth, friendship and support in the open water swimming community. I still want to swim into New York pass the Statue of Liberty which gives another reason to come to New York and eventually do it. ❤️Stage6 ❤️CDVH