October 2016 - SWIMMING
Lake George Marathon Swim, Sept. 17
By Bob Singer, Event Director
The 2016 Lake George Marathon Swim took place on Saturday, September 17, starting in Ticonderoga, at the historic start of the first Lake George crossing in 1958 by Diane Struble. Fourteen teams of three to six swimmers and 12 intrepid solo swimmers started the swim in waves of five to six teams one-half hour apart, starting at 3pm. These 84 swimmers were supported by 230 volunteers in 32 powerboats and 26 kayaks.
The forecast was marginal at the start. Winds were 10mph from the south, but forecast to diminish to 7mph by nightfall. The safety plan for the event called for reversing the course from north to south to south to north if sustained winds of 15mph were forecast, since swimming and kayaking with a following wind is less tiring than with a headwind. With all the infrastructure and safety gear already installed at the southern end of the lake, and a forecast of decreasing winds, the decision was made to stay with the start in Ticonderoga.
The starts proceeded as planned, and swimmers did well against the light chop in the confined channel at the north end of the lake. The faster swimmers, starting toward the end of the pack, began to pass slower swimmers by 7pm. Despite the size of the lake, this led to some congestion, but consistent with the plans, it made it easier for the safety boats to keep track of the swimmers. The kayaks were equipped with GPS trackers which allowed the safety boat and fans on shore to track the progress.
Unfortunately, the National Weather Service’s forecast of diminishing winds did not take place, and winds picked up at sunset. Estimates were winds of 10-15ph, with gusts to 20mph. In the open lake south of Anthony’s Nose, conditions were very hard on the kayaks. At that time, the official weather reporting station at the Glens Falls airport eight miles from the lake, was reporting 11mph. The wind can funnel between the mountains surrounding Lake George and create locally strong gusts.
Several kayakers were not able to keep up with their swimmers, and concerns arose that swimmers would get cold in the 72-degree water if they had to stop frequently. All the boats carried at least two kayakers, and they began to switch positions to rest from the wind and waves. During these kayak exchanges, several kayaks swamped with water. The five safety boats came in to either help kayaks or to escort swimmers while the kayakers were assisted by their support boats.
The waves and spray entered the fuel vents of four rental boats, which are not designed for rough open water. Fuel contamination disabled these boats. The rental company was able to replace two of them, but two required towing. In addition, one of the safety boats went to shore when the boat captain was stricken with a medical condition. He was taken by ambulance to a hospital and has since made a full recovery.
The event safety plan was very clear that when the safety boats were all engaged, and no more of the “safety net” was available, the event was to be cancelled. As the event director, I consulted with the organizing committee via two-way radio and cancelled the event at 8pm. It took another half hour to get the word out to everyone, but all personnel were accounted for with no injuries. The Lake George Park Commission officers assisted with the evacuation of powerboats and kayakers.
Some of the teams were doing fine and could have continued for a while, but most everyone was ready to succumb to the weather. Even those that were doing well would have been pulled by 10:30pm, when heavy rains and lightning were spotted over the lake.
The cancellation was disappointing, but this is a common occurrence in open water swims. A look at the goals of the event puts this ending in perspective. The goals of this event were: 1) Be safe; 2) Have fun; and 3) Develop Lake George as a destination for marathon swimming.
Note that none of our goals included completing the 32 mile swim. We anticipated that under ideal conditions not everyone would finish. On September 15, two days before the event, when we knew conditions were not going to be ideal, I wrote to all the participants:
It’s open water swimming. You get what you get. That’s part of the excitement. It’s an event no matter how far we get. We have no prizes for finishers – only prizes for starters. You’re all winners. Good luck to everyone. Be safe. Have fun.
We are disappointed that nobody finished, but swimmers did experience several hours of swimming in the beautiful but tumultuous waters of Lake George. Many of them commented how rewarding it was to train together for this swim. The visiting teams reported the weekend in Lake George was a lot of fun. Most of them are making plans to come back next year and settle this unfinished business.
Teammates from the “Cross Country Mermaids” enjoying their weekend in Lake George.
One very positive outcome of the event is that the swimmer’s collective fundraising efforts exceeded the ambitious goal of $14,000. With some donations still to be recorded, the swimmers raised $21,800 for charities. This includes $8,555 for charities of their choice across the country, plus $13,301 for local charities committed to improving water quality on Lake George. The local charities are the Fund for Lake George/S.A.V.E. Lake George, Lake George Association, Lake George Historical Association, Lake George Land Conservancy, and Darrin Fresh Water Institute. We are very proud of our swimmers for their generosity and hard work.
Plans are still under consideration for 2017. If we do it again, it will likely be a smaller event, and more emphasis will be placed on equipment, training kayakers, and allowing for weather contingencies.