Swimming at Chicago’s Promontory Point

Summer’s almost gone in Chicago. The winds are picking up; white caps on the lake are a little more frequent; the morning temperatures have a little more bite; the evenings a little less light. Soon, the lake will turn over, bringing the cold depths to the surface, and the air will fail to warm them.

So, it’s about time that I write about my favorite little corner of Lake Michigan: the cove formed by the southern face of Promontory Point and the 59th Street Pier, with the 57th Street Beach in between. “The Point” has been used by long-distance swimmers for decades, who appreciate its several unique features:

Here’s a satellite image of the swim area, showing approximate distances:

Most people just follow the buoy line, but you can mix things up with a trip to the 57th Street beach. Point-to-Pier is 750m as a straight line, but the buoys run slightly outside the line drawn above, which makes that path closer to 800m. The triangle shown above is a total of 1700m.

While most people swim on the south side of the Point, the north side also provides a nice (albeit shallower) swim zone, with a protected cove, small beach, and buoys during the summer. Swimming on the north side of the Point is technically illegal - it’s not an officially sanctioned “swimming beach” - but this doesn’t appear to be actively enforced.

The Point also provides natural protection against swells and chop, depending on the wind direction. With a north wind (swells coming from north to south), the north side of the Point bears the brunt of the action, which protects the south side. With a south wind, the opposite occurs.

Yesterday we had northeast winds. Here’s what the north side of the Point looked like:

And here’s what we had on the south side of the Point:

I took these pictures within 5 minutes of each other!

The water has been holding steady in the mid-60s, but the “Point penguins” know time is short, and the lake will soon become inhospitable to even the hardiest among us. “50 to 50” is oft-heard saying - that is, 50 degrees (spring) to 50 degrees (fall). Most likely, we have less than a month remaining of temperatures reliably in that zone.

After that, it’s “see you in the spring!” In the meantime, enjoy this beautiful article written for USMS by one of the morning regulars.

Posted 17 September 2010 in: local Tags: Promontory Point