Stage 7: George Washington Bridge to Verrazano Narrows Bridge, 18.1 miles. All to Play For

By Liz Morrish

This was the last leg of our odyssey down the Hudson. The conditions were perfect, as they are always claimed to be, except they really were. Light cloud, no wind or rain and good prospects for the day. The group of swimmers all assembled at La Marina, the scene of last evening’s 8 Bridges party. Everybody seemed to arrive early, excited to get going. Today’s stage demanded complex logistics; the congested shipping lanes of New York City, and the ports of New Jersey, require all swimmers to be accompanied by a boat, as well as a kayak. On board the boat is an official observer, and I was accompanying Harry Finger of Brazil. The 8 Bridges swim, like other marathon swims is conducted under Channel Swimming rules. These require that the swimmer is unassisted, so no touching the boat or kayak, and they must wear only traditional swimsuits, cap and goggles.

Splashtime was around 7.30am, and swimmers were starting in the flood tide. They were directed towards the New Jersey side of the river where they hugged the shore, with kayakers skillfully steering them away from rocks, pilings and general debris.  Right breathers were treated to a view into some of the most opulent properties in the New York area – large homes with private docks and marinas. Left breathers were about to see the magnificent skyline of New York City as we passed the Chrysler Building, The AT&T Building, the Chrysler Building, Bank of America Tower and the Empire State Building. It is hard to imagine a swim with a more impressive backdrop.

The swimmers were making the most of the calm waters as they reached the Battery at the tip of Manhattan. Just as the tide turned to ebb, the benefit was almost neutralized by the emergence of a sharp chop and a headwind. This was at the point where the Lincoln and Holland tunnels disappear under the Hudson, their locations identifiable only by their ventilation shafts. At this point, both bridges were in view and the distant Verrazano Narrows Bridge seemed to arch her eyebrows in amusement at the swimmers’ discomfort.

It was not only the waves and chop which were an impediment to the swimmers. As the current towed us into the shipping lanes around the Statue of Liberty, a dizzying array of craft appeared to be aiming right at the swimmers. There were tankers, barges, cruise liners, ferries, water taxis, sightseeing boats and of course, the Staten Island Ferry which is not used to having to alter course. With skillful maneuvers from the boat pilot, the jet skis, and the kayakers, the swimmers were kept on line and out of danger. An escort from the NYPD Launch Antonio Sanchez offered Harry Finger safe passage for the final two miles. The calmer conditions allowed Harry to reach the bridge and complete his 7 swims before the tide slackened.

The best reward for a week’s solid and improving swim performances is to secure a finish in all 7 stages. This is testament to preparation, determination and execution. Since 2011, only 6 swimmers had nailed each of the stages. They are now joined by 9 more – a quite sensational result. It seems discourteous to speak of a winner when clearly, at the end point of the 8 Bridges, there are 9 winners, and many more who have met personal goals. The official record will show the fastest swimmer over the week was Stephen Rouch, but I know him to be a humble and generous man who will insist on sharing the glory with Graco Moran, Abby Fairman, Flavio Toi, Marta Izo, Ed Riley, Jamie Tout, Steve Gruenwald and Harry Finger. An honorable mention as well is due to Katrin Walter who suffered with the cold on stage 2 and did not complete it. Since then she has resolutely returned and completed all other stages. She has been an inspiration, as have all the others.  As they all swam under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, there was no flotilla to meet them, no firehoses or bands. There was some honking from the bumper to bumper traffic above, but it was not aimed at them. The affirmation and congratulation comes from those around you – this exceptional community which today has almost tripled in size. Those bonds will endure far and long beyond 8 Bridges 2017, and it has been my privilege to be a part of this wonderful endeavor. Swimmers, kayakers, volunteers and organizers – I offer my congratulations, and my thanks for sharing this hugely momentous week.