Aerial photographs of the Cliff Walk (top left, looking SW towards Land's End and open water) and Land's End (bottom right, looking NW at Land's End and Ledge Road): © John Forasté (photographed for America 24/7 project in May 2003).
Date: 18 September 2006.
Distance: 6.7 miles roundtrip (10.8 kilometers).
Route: The length of the Cliff Walk in Newport, Rhode Island, from Easton's Beach (aka First Beach) to Land's End at Ledge Road (where Bellevue Avenue ends and Ocean Drive begins).
Water Temperature: 66.5º F (temperature during swim at Newport Station per NOAA website).
Air Temperature: 63-65º F.
Time: 3 hour 40 minutes (1:52 out, 1:48 back).
Swimmer: John Forasté.
Kayaker: Sean Connor.
This is my longest swim to date.
This had been in the works for quite awhile. Having completed two 3 mile, a 4 mile and - only 2 months ago - a 5 mile swim, I wanted the challenge of an even longer one. I was also interested in an open water swim that was even more open, i.e. beyond the protection of the Bay. From this came my plan to swim the 6 miles from Land's End in Newport to Sakonnet Point in Little Compton. My open water swimming partner, Angela Lang, was also game - but we were unable to agree on a date. However, she made a counter offer of a 6 mile swim across and back Lake Champlain in Vermont. We did, in fact, attempt this on 10 September, but had to abandon our effort after only .8 miles due to the cold water. That made me even more determined to complete a 6 mile swim this year.
Sean Connor, who had kayaked for me before, agreed to the Land's End to Sakonnet Point challenge. (Diane, my wife and kayaker, and Angela were unavailable. Both were greatly missed.) Then, just the day before the swim, concerns for safety across this expanse of open water resulted in our agreeing on another 6 mile route which I also had my eye on as a backup and had already named The Cliff Walk Swim (love that name). And then, ironically, extremely heavy fog and limited visibility the morning of the swim made it all too clear (pun intended) that the Land's End to Sakonnet Point route was not an option for that day. So, we went to our backup route.
After my traditional dinner of spaghetti, sausage, salad and beer the night before, I awoke at 4:30 am to the beautiful, but foreboding, sound of the fog horn at Conimicut Light. I picked up Sean at 5:20 and we headed off to our Newport adventure. When we arrived in the parking lot of First Beach at about 6:15 am, we could not even see the cliffs only 1/4 mile to our right. But the air was wonderful and the water quite smooth. We readied the kayak. I had a packet of "Gu" energy gel (having already had a banana, scone and hot chocolate) and put on my wetsuit with lots and lots of "Body Glide" to protect from chafing caused by the repetitious rubbing of skin against wetsuit and aggravated by the salt water. I also added petroleum jelly to arms and legs not covered by the wetsuit to add some insulation. Then earplugs, goggles and 3 swimcaps - I was concerned not only about the chilly water, but the length of time I would be in it.
We entered the water through the breaking surf at 6:55 am. It felt chilly, but good as we headed into the fog after sighting the cliffs to our right. I sensed some irritation from the wetsuit in a number of places and hoped it would not become an issue. I set pace as Sean set direction, keeping us a constant distance off the shore. He enjoyed the very special morning and view of the cliffs while I, through fogged goggles that wouldn't clear, kept him just visible to my left - a form in the fog. I too enjoyed the special experience of swimming through the chilly medium green water knowing the cliffs and mansions of Newport, which I had first visited some 55 years ago at age 5 or so when vacationing from New York with my family, were just off to our right. As I tried to maintain stroke - long and smooth for the distance - I also tried to maintain an image of where we were and - when breaking every now and then - breathed in the view and the satisfaction of where we were and where we were heading.
In the water. So small in a place so big. The world becomes very localized at the same time that it's so open and vast - simultaneously. In a specific time and place, yet also far beyond it - simultaneously.
About half way out, the water took on a swell, nothing serious, but something to deal with. We probably stopped a total of 5 or 6 times (I believe the first was at 55 minutes). I think it was the second stop that placed us off water breaking on a play of huge rocks at the bottom of the cliffs - and I was seeing this from in the water and the fog. Wow!
As we came even with Land's End - I love that name - Sean asked if we had reached our point of return. We were a right angles to the point and Ledge Road that runs straight up to the point. I figured that, if we had come this far, we had to do it as planned. So, we continued until we were straight off the point and took it all in! The rocks and breaking surf there are exceptional and the two mansions Newportesque. The fog had lifted a little, making the shore more defined. The sight was magical - especially from our vantage point! There was also water out beyond the rocks that was breaking powerfully in what appeared to be open water. Something was causing impressive turbulence just ahead of us. Going farther was not an option. Thankfully, we had arrived at our turnaround point. While we relished in the satisfaction of where we were and what we had already done, I consumed another packet of "GU" energy gel, half a power bar and some Gatorade (Sean handed these to me as I tread water).
It was then time to make the return trip. During the entire swim, we had an outgoing tide which I had planned for based on the Land's End to Sakonnet Point route. So, I expected the return trip - going against the tide - to be harder. Strangely, this was not the case. Both Sean and I both felt that, as he put it, we had a following sea on the way home.
Distance swims are hard both physically and mentally. You have to get in a rhythm and maintain stroke. Frequent stopping does more harm than good - though I find a few stops helpful. As the beach beckoned our completion, it actually required greater concentration. It reminded me of our family trip in 1986 when we were heading across the open plains of Colorodo towards the Rocky Mountains which we had first spotted some 100 miles away - they were so much farther than they appeared and took so much longer to reach than we ever imagined.
During that last mile or so, my arms started to feel somewhat weak and I struggled a bit with an annoying pain in my right shoulder. But, knowing our landing was ahead, I bore down to finally revel in the sand under my feet in the breaking surf. Sean had to power through the waves to shore, taking in water before happily beaching in the low tide.
We had done it! And, except for bumping my head once on the back of the kayak and the food Sean had handed me (as I tread water), I had not touched anything more solid than water and air for the entire 3:40.
It took about 2 days to recover. After the swim, I was wiped. The next day, I swam an easy workout in the pool to stretch out and loosen up, but still felt achy. Two days after I had a normal workout and felt good. The only physical evidence of the swim are a few abrasions from the wetsuit where I neglected to apply Body Glide.
If there is a longer swim in the future, I don't know about it and wouldn't tell anyway - until it's completed! Yet, I'm already looking forward to what next summer may bring.
(It is now 2018 and I no longer envision a longer swim than this one. This will happily remain my longest.)
To see another view of the Cliff Walk, mansions and water off of them (as well as see some amazing technology), visit Aerial Pano Gallery.
Map data ©2006 NAVTEQ from maps.google.com