Swimming in front of the Empire State Building in the East River
  • Route

    NYOW 20 Bridges Circumnavigation of Manhattan Island, New York

  • Distance

    46 kilometres (28.5 miles)

  • Date

    15 August 2016

  • Time

    7 hours 55 minutes

Manhattan Island Swim Journal

I first started the onerous application process with another organisation who, at the time, were the only organisers of this swim. Some months after sending off my application and my deposit, it became apparent that this company was no longer going to honour the swim, or the deposit! This left about 30 swimmers quite literally high and dry and out of pocket!

I was actually in New Zealand awaiting to swim the Cook Strait, a swim that didn’t get off the ground due to inclement weather – one of the frustrations of this sport! Roger was going to swim this with me but, instead, came to the rescue for my Manhattan swim. He phoned his friend David Barra, a legend of a swimmer and organiser of several big New York swims already. “David, hey, how are you? David, I need you to organise a Manhattan Island swim for my friend Tracy Clark”! David’s response was a flat “No”! After several calls, emails and stalking on Facebook – David agreed to organise a swim for me which I will be eternally grateful for. He asked Roger when could I be in New York and Roger said “August the 15th as it’s my birthday (Roger’s birthday).” A plan was born! I would swim Manhattan Island on the 15th of August. Roger and Lindsay would crew for me. Then five days later, Lindsay and I would crew for Roger for the Boston Light swim.  After our plans were laid, Jim Clifford offered to come and join us and crew for both swims!

This was a very significant swim for me. In open water swimming there is a challenge called the Triple Crown. To achieve the Triple Crown you must swim the English and Catalina Channels and circumnavigate Manhattan Island. No New Zealander had ever achieved this, so I stood to be the first Kiwi to do so as I had already completed the English and Catalina Channels.

We arrived in New York on the Friday morning, giving us a few days to settle before my big swim on the Monday morning. I say again and again and again about the camaraderie in this amazing sport! A swim friend of Roger’s offered us a house, a great house, to stay in in Brooklyn – thank you Mo! So very generous of you! We also enjoyed many meals with Mo and his swim friend Eri. Again, thanks so much for your hospitality and friendship.

I had never been to New York before. There was a real temptation to rush around and see all the sights but of course that would be madness before such a big challenge. New York was also having a heatwave! Temperatures were soaring in the late 30s!

On the Saturday morning we swam at Brighton Beach with the CIBBOWS (Coney Island Brighton Beach Open Water Swimmers) and I had the pleasure of meeting gutsy swimmer Capri. What a pleasure. Another highlight was lunching with Charlotte Samuels and her lovely family. Roger and I had crewed for her across the English Channel two years earlier at the tender age of 16. What a wonderful open water family I now have!
We did manage to squeeze in Grand Central Station (with Orion and his famous belt lit up on the ceiling), Times Square, the Statue of Liberty and a very special surprise.

Click here to continue reading Manhattan Island Swim Journal

On the Sunday morning, Roger Lindsay and I set off to a mystery destination. Roger gave directions as I drove. To my amazement, we arrived at a cemetery! My mind was whirring with possibilities. My hero David Bowie had died earlier in the year – could we be visiting his grave? Where was he buried? After about 20 minutes, Roger announced we were “here”. I looked over and tears immediately sprang into my eyes. There in front of me was Gertrude Ederle’s grave. The first woman to ever swim the English Channel on 6 August 1926 in an incredible time of 14 hours 31 minutes breaking all previous male swim records!

I crouched down and put my hand on her gravestone full of so much emotion. I felt so honoured to be beside her in her resting place. Tears were rolling down my cheeks as I had a silent conversation with her. I promise I won’t let the girls down tomorrow – I said to Gertrude. There are some things which you will always carry with you in your heart, and this is one of them! Moments in time mean so much to me and I know this ‘moment’ will help me through many swims in the future!

Walking along to the grave, I had found a beautiful eagle feather. Of course I didn’t have flowers with me, so instead I gifted this eagle feather to Gertrude’s grave. Far more appropriate I felt!

Later in the afternoon, our dear friend Jim Clifford arrived who had also offered to crew for me. Roger and I had also crewed for Jim across the English Channel the year before. Again, my open water swimming family showing so much support.

We finished off the day with a pasta dinner ready for the swim the next day.

We met at La Marina on the Hudson River. By this time there were 8 other solo swimmers attempting the swim. David Barra gave a warm welcome to us all and thanked Roger and myself for pushing him to organise my swim. New York Open Water Swim (NYOWS) was now the official Manhattan Island swim organisers (now known as 20 Bridges). David along with Rondi Davies and Alex Arevalo are a formidable team of knowledge and organisation with a huge passion for this sport. Thanks so much for stepping up and taking over this great swim!

We got on the boat piloted by Ed on his boat No Problem.  Ed had the best tunes playing!  We started to make our way around to the start point – ominously named Hell’s Gate! I had heard horror stories about how rough it would be here. When we arrived it was flat calm! As I was preparing for the swim with sunblock and Vaseline, Roger said to me “you can’t wear a cap”. What! Have you seen my hair!! The water temperature was a roasting 29 degrees Celsius!!! I had spent most of the last three months training in the North Sea which varied from 13-16 degrees Celsius. This was going to be HOT!! I found every hair tie I could get my hands on in my swim kit and proceeded to wrap my hair up tight. I jumped in the Harlem River where my kayaker Terry O’Malley was waiting. On this swim you need a boat and a kayaker as the boat can’t always be with you. Terry was fantastic! Believe it or not, when I’m on a swim, I don’t like to talk! Thankfully, Terry is the same way. His reputation preceded him as one of the best kayakers and within the first half an hour I felt like we got into a great rhythm. The only problem was, it felt like someone had turned the hot tap on! It really was HOT!!

Lindsay had been roped in as my observer and Roger and Jim watched over me when the boat was alongside me. Faces are very important to me on these long swims. There’s nothing better than looking up and seeing people you care about looking over you. I also have deep respect for both of them with all they have achieved in this sport. With each feed I got gentle words of encouragement. From Jim “You’re doing great Diva” and from Roger “Turn this way. I’m trying to record you” as I threw up in front of the Empire State Building.

Sometime into the swim down the Hudson River, Terry and my crew started to put ice in my drinks to cool me down. I got a bad headache early on in the swim from the heat. I’m sure it was the heat which caused me to throw up as well. What I didn’t tell my crew was that I started to see spots in front of my eyes as well. I was afraid they would pull me out due to possible heat exhaustion. I tried to distract myself by breathing to the left occasionally and take in the New York skyline which did work for a time. I also promised myself that I would never complain of feeling cold in the North Channel when I came to swim it…ha!!! My mind started drifting back to the day before, sitting beside Gertrude Ederle’s grave and promising her I would never let the girls down. So I just got on with it. I learnt a trick from my good friend and fellow Channel swimmer Matthias Kassler. When you’re feeling sick, cold, hot, in pain etc – always ask yourself if it’s bad enough to go to the back of the boat and climb out. NEVER!

We turned into the East River and the temperature dropped a few degrees. It was also a bit lumpier – my kind of swimming. My crew told me they physically saw me pick up. I even gave a few smiles apparently!! The current was so strong, I was swimming at 8 miles per hour!! It was quite surreal to breathe, see a building, breathe again and that same building had whizzed by already! I felt like I came into my own here in the slightly cooler and bumpier water.

Every now and again, I could feel the current in the water being thrown out by a jetty or a pier. This really kept the water interesting. At one of my feeds, Terry said “this is your last feed in the river” or that’s what I thought he said. I thought he meant we were turning out of the East River and back into the Harlem again. What he meant though, was it was my last feed and then I was finished!! Minutes later, a woman came up to me on a jet ski and stopped me. She said “You’re DQ’d” (meaning disqualified). I said “What” with tears in my goggles! At that moment Roger and Jim jumped into the water in all their clothes! Yelling at me “You did it, you’re finished, you’re a Triple Crowner”. I looked at the lady confused and said “I’ve finished, I thought I was disqualified”!! I had done it! I had finished and I was the first Kiwi to complete the Triple Crown! My two mates Roger and Jim reached me and just hugged me. Three Triple Crowners together!!!

I had tears and so much emotion. It was great to get out of the water too and enjoy the breeze of the boat speeding us back to La Marina. My time, 7 hours and 55 minutes for a 46 kilometre swim! I couldn’t believe it. Thank you currents!

I am so lucky to have such amazing friends who support me so much but it’s always difficult going away for these challenges on my own and leaving my family behind. What a lovely surprise it was to come home and find a banner hanging on our front fence congratulating me on being the first New Zealander to complete the Triple Crown!

Manhattan Island Swim Photo Journal
Gertrude Ederle Grave

Gertrude Ederle Grave.

Gertrude Ederle Grave with Roger Finch

Gertrude Ederle Grave with Roger Finch.


Manhattan Island Swim Boat appropriately named No Problem.

Click here to continue viewing Manhattan Island Swim Photo Journal

Jim Clifford applying my sunblock.

Jim Clifford applying my sun block

Swimming along the Harlem River.

Swimming along the Harlem River

Swimming along the Hudson River.

Swimming along the Hudson River

Swimming along the Hudson River.

Swimming along the Hudson River

Swimming in front of the Empire State Building in the East River.

Swimming in front of the Empire State Building in the East River

Finished! First New Zealander to achieve the Triple Crown.

First New Zealander to achieve the Triple Crown

Three Triple Crowners.

Three Triple Crowners

My welcome home banner.

My welcome home banner

20 Bridges Manhattan Island Circumnavigation Certificate

20 Bridges manhattan island swim certificate