Lessons from the Circle Line

The Circle Line cruise is almost a rite of passage for first-time MIMS swimmers. A 3-hour circumnavigation of Manhattan island, the cruise boat traces the same path as the marathon swim – albeit starting from 42nd St on the Hudson instead of South Cove.

The Circle Line is a unique and worthwhile experience in itself. The Manhattan skyline is visually stunning and full of interesting history – and the city’s geography lends itself to being viewed by water. But for MIMS swimmers, it’s essential research. Unlike most other marathon swims, you always know “where you are” in MIMS (i.e., how far you’ve gone, how far you have left) – so long as you’re familiar with the landmarks. Actually, I can’t think of a single other marathon swim with as many visual stimuli as MIMS.

The lower Manhattan skyline, as seen from the entrance to the Hudson River on 27 May 2011. The building under construction at center-left is the Freedom Tower, which will eventually rise 1,776 feet above Ground Zero. Swimmers will pass this view just a few minutes after the start of MIMS.

As it happens, I was in New York City this weekend. On a whim, I booked a slot on a late-afternoon Circle Line cruise. Why not get an early preview of my big swim – less than 3 weeks away? For any future MIMS swimmers-slash-Circle Line customers, here are a few tips:

  • Book online, and save $10 with the coupon code FB09.
  • Arrive early – perhaps 45 minutes to an hour – to ensure a seat with a good viewing angle.
  • The best viewing angle is on the port (left) side of the ship, given the counter-clockwise direction of the trip (same as MIMS). The top (open-air) level tends to be more crowded than the lower (covered) level. My trip was on a hot sunny day, so I took a lower-level port-side seat – and had a perfectly nice view through the window.
  • Alternatively – especially if you arrive too late to claim a good seat – they open up the ship’s bow shortly after setting sail. Position yourself near the lower-level front door and claim your “king of the world” spot when they open the door. (I hate that movie.) Personally, I think this is the best viewing spot; the obvious downside is having to stand for 3 hours.
  • Shortly before the cruise begins, find the narrator (who will be sitting on the lower level wearing a uniform) and make sure your cruise will actually make the full circumnavigation. Occasionally, due to high tides, the ship is forced to turn back at Hell Gate (entrance to the Harlem River) because it can’t clear the bridges. No refunds are offered – but as long as the ship is still in port you can leave and exchange your ticket for a later trip.
  • Watch only for the most obvious landmarks – these are the ones you’ll be able to see from water-level during the swim.
  • The Statue of Liberty – no matter how many times you see her image in books or on television – is awe-inspiring up close, in person. This really took me by surprise – I’m not ordinarily moved by such things. It’s a remarkable object.

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