Swim Report – April 19, 2014 – Holy Saturday

For some reason, we always seem to get a spectacular sunrise on Holy Saturday morning! The water conditions…well that was another story altogether.

Nick, Martin, and I arrived at L1 just as the sun was rising. And boy was it ever a magnificent one! The air temp came in at a brisk 39F with a slight wind from the north adding an extra bite to the cold. As we were already starting to get chilled just standing around, we quickly donned our gear and started our swim.

I continued the pattern of jogging down to Oak Street Beach to begin my swim. The quick run helps warm me up internally and puts me in the aerobic zone prior to getting into the water. There were some 3-5 foot waves breaking at the beach, but they were not as bracing as I was expecting. So our initial lake temp reading of 47F seemed to be accurate.

I slogged through the first 100 meters trying to stay as far away from the wall as possible. The lake itself was a royal mess with both waves and very ugly chops – the latter of which completely obliterated one’s ability to perform any smooth swim stroke. So it was more or less a test of endurance over speed.

After about 20 minutes, I made it back to L1 – but not without inhaling multiple mouthfuls of lake water. The real challenge was that you never knew how or when the chops were going to hit you. So trying to time one’s breathing was an exercise in futility.

Nevertheless, Mother Nature gave us some strong sunlight and a clear morning to help out out along the journey. And if that’s all we get on any given day, I’m okay with that!

Skyline and moonset


Sunrise shots




The mess we had to swim in


Video of sunrise and post-swim footage

Swim Report – April 13, 2014 – Palm Sunday Swim!

Despite the dire weather forecast, the conditions proved to be quite ideal when Nick and I arrived at L1.

The lake temp came in at 46F, and we only had a slight sustained southwest wind which really wasn’t producing any swells. The only irritating factor was the presence of garbage in the lake left by the dull-witted masses who continually defile the lakefront once the weather turns warmer (yes, that means YOU, you careless sick slobs!).

Undaunted, Nick and I applied neoprene to our extremities only and entered the swim area.

I actually did a repeat of last week – a quick jog to Oak Street Beach followed by a point-to-point swim back to L1. Nick chose to get in at L1 and turn around at the halfway point to the beach. Either way, we got in a swim while the air temperatures were still in the pleasant 59F – 65F range.

Post-swim, we had to go through the predictable afterdrop. But it didn’t seem to have the same severity as last week. So it looks like the halcyon days of summer are right around the corner!

The sun peeks out


Nick pre-swim


Calm swim area


Avian spectator


At the beach


Pre-swim video!

Swim Report – April 5, 2014 – In the plus-40F zone!

The sun was already up for a good hour when I met up with Martin out at L1. The official lake temp came in at 41F, which was a bit lower than what I’ve typically swam in without full body neoprene. But given the light winds and fairly civil lake conditions, we decided to do a half mile with just gloves, hoods, and booties/foot covers.

We jogged down to the beach from L1 and started to wade out into the surf. The swells were a bit more intense at the shore, but the water didn’t have the “sting factor” that had been present a week before. So we plunged in and started heading north.

After about 20 minutes, we arrived back at L1 and quickly changed out of our wet swim accouterments and into layers upon layers of dry clothes. I was running a bit late for a breakfast meeting with Amanda and Phil over at Elly’s, so I gathered up all my stuff and hurried off to meet with them.

As it was, I was in full afterdrop mode by the time I arrived at the restaurant. Fortunately, lots of coffee and hot food helped me pass through that purgatory.

But even with teeth a chattering, it was well worth the time spent in the lake, as the swim was amazing and the vista was magnificent. And as always, you should have been there!

Sunrise from Sheridan Road


L1 pre-swim



Newsflash: OWC Ownership Change and New Direction

After much deliberation and discussion with my family and friends, I have decided to sell off the ownership and marketing/branding rights of Open Water Chicago to a soon-to-be announced outside party.

While I cannot divulge too many details of the transaction due to a non-disclosure agreement, below are some of the new prospective changes that will take place once OWC is transitioned to the new owners.

Thanks to everyone for a wonderful six years!

Best wishes,


OWC Membership Fees

Starting immediately, OWC will now assess membership fees to new and existing swimmers. “Lake Monsters” will have a choice of either paying a $250 annual fee for unlimited swim meetup access, or they can alternatively pay a $10 “drop-in” fee to attend individual meetups.

Swim Proficiency Requirements

Because of the new transition to a high-intensity training (HIT) model, all swimmers attending any OWC meetup will need to demonstrate the ability to swim at least two (2) miles in the open water. Anyone not being able to meet these basic requirements will not be able to participate in any of the OWC meetups.

Organized HIT Workouts

Each OWC meetup will involve a structured swim workout organized as follows:

- WARMUP: One (1) mile distance swim at a moderate pace
- SPRINT & RECOVERY SET: 1/4 mile hard sprint swim followed by 1/4 mile moderate recovery swim on the return leg
- INTERVALS (ramp up set): 4 x 100 meters at moderate pace
- INTERVALS (anaerobic set): 4 x 100 meters at hard pace
- INTERVALS (recovery set): 4 x 100 meters at easy pace
- TABATA SPRINTS: 20 second maximum effort swim followed by 10 second rest (repeated 8 times)
- WARMDOWN: One (1) mile distance swim at a moderate/easy pace

These will be instructor-supervised sessions, and OWC swimmers will have their individual times tracked and monitored throughout the 2014 swimming season.

Swim Gear & Safety Requirements

Due to potential safety issues, all swimmers will be required to wear wetsuits to enhance buoyancy while in the open water. In addition, no swimming will take place in water temperatures above 78F or below 55F.

OWC On-Site Rules

Swim start times will be strictly enforced. Anyone causing delays due to watching sunrises or socializing with other members will be expelled from the group and will permanently lose their Lake Monster number.

Swim Report – March 31, 2014 – Lighthouse Beach

The sunny skies and 60F air temperature were just too much of a distraction for me today. So I gathered up some basic swim gear and headed out to the lakefront.

For the uninitiated, Lighthouse Beach can be a cruel place to swim in the colder months. The water is shallow for quite a ways out, and there’s a sandbar close to the shore that makes it almost impossible to start swimming right away. So you are forced to wade out slowly and painfully until you get into water deep enough to start your swim. Nevertheless, as Lighthouse Beach is the closest beach to where I live, it’s often my default choice for spontaneous outings.

There was a sustained wind from the southeast that was churning up the surf, but it wasn’t as bad as I had been expecting. So I donned my jammers, foot covers, gloves, and hood and began the lengthy slog out to the deeper waters.

The water was warmer than I had anticipated. There wasn’t the “pain factor” on my exposed skin that had been present during previous non-wetsuit swims. After finally getting into the deeper waters, I plunged in head first and started cranking out strokes while I acclimated to water.

The cold shock wore off after about a minute and a half, and I was able to stay in the water about 10 minutes, or just under 1/3 mile in total distance. After that, I made a sharp westward turn and heading back to the beach. By then the sun had faded and the wind had intensified to the point where it now had a colder edge to it that wasn’t there at the beginning. So it looks like I finished up just in time!



Lakefront pre-swim


The author post-swim


Today’s video:

Swim Report – March 9, 2014 – Ghost World

We didn’t get the heavy west winds over the weekend, so the lakefront was completely iced over all the way out to the cribs. But with a little perseverance, we managed to gain access to the water below the ice layer where discovered a strange world of both beauty and terror…

When Martin and I met out at MSW, we took one look at the lake and decided to write the whole morning off. There was absolutely no clear open patches of water anywhere within sight. However, on a whim, I climbed down the ladder to kick at the surface to see how thick the layer really was. Only a small area broke away, but it revealed an astonishingly clear lake. This surreal glimpse was just too much to pass up, so I went back to my car to gather all my gear for an adventure underneath the ice.

I was only able to clear about a meter square worth of water in front of the ladder before the ice became too thick to break. I decided to go with a full neoprene set up, and I took a quick peek underneath the ice layer while at the bottom of the ladder.

The scene below the ice was simply indescribable. The rays of the unclouded sun illuminated the ice layer and turned it into a shimmering white ceiling above the strange and formidable ultramarine world. Eager to explore this fascinating space, I secured the safety line around my waist and ventured out beneath the ice.

The dreamlike landscape reminded me of Crater Lake with its color and clarity. I made several free dives in various directions, and I tried to capture as many images as possible. I was hampered a bit by the buoyancy of the wetsuit, and often found myself floating up against the ice ceiling – something which would have been horrifying under different circumstances. And indeed, there were not-so-subtle reminders of the deadly power of the ice in the form of perfectly preserved water fowl who had perished alongside the shoreline.

I hauled myself out of the water onto the ice and took a few more shots of the swim area and of Martin as he got in sans wetsuit. The ice was so thick that he was able to walk around on it afterwards without any signs of “structural failure.” In fact, we commented – only half-jokingly – that he could probably save some time on his return trip home by just taking the straight path across the ice to Belmont Harbor.

After our brief adventure, we climbed back out onto terra firma and changed out of our swim gear. Fortunately, we had a very intense sun that made this transition somewhat tolerable in the 20F air. And just as last time, Elina was on hand to capture all of our lakefront shenanagins and to quietly question our sound-mindedness.

Iced Earth


Fire and Ice


Gateway to the Underworld


Entering the abyss


The world beneath the ice





Martin from a different perspective


Taking a break


Casualty of the Winter


Video clip


Swim Report – February 23, 2014 – Return of the Polar Vortex

Last week’s warmer air temperatures and high winds proved to be an effective one-two punch against all the ice wedged against the shoreline. By the time the weekend arrived, the lakefront was no longer caught in some Shackeltonian nightmare. So we had plenty of open water available for our swimming pleasure.

Mike and I met up at L1 with Martin and Elina. We got suited up pretty quickly since our hands were starting to really feel the sting of the 12F air temperature. The Ochoa brothers stopped by during their run, and we chatted with them while we geared up. Truth be told, I felt sorry for them since I was about to jump into a lake that was almost three times as warm as what they had to run in!

I kicked away a light glaze of ice off of the bottom rung of L1 and dived down into the water. Just like last week, the swim area was a veritable aquarium. I took several shots and video clips while Martin and Mike got in the lake. Mike had some issues with his wetsuit zipper and had to make a quick exit to fix things. While he stepped out, Martin and I headed south towards the beach.

I made it past the 1/4 mile mark before I ran into a layer of ice chunks hugging the wall. I pressed on, but they got worse the farther south I swam. I turned around and made a wider arc farther out into the lake to get into the ice-free areas. Martin and I started to swim back and had to do a double take when we saw two Chicago police vehicles idling on the lakefront path right by L1. Undeterred, we swam back to the exit point.

Mike joined up with us in the water shortly thereafter, and we heard one of the police officers yell out “Have fun!” before driving away north on the path. I climbed out briskly and began the painful ritual of changing out of my swim gear in our “open air locker room.”

I finished my third cup of hot tea and was very pleasantly surprised to see Lisa and Ted with and their magnificent beagle, Louis. Seeing familiar faces like theirs out at the lakefront always reminds me of the warmer months. And almost as if on cue, the sun finally peeked out from behind the clouds.

It’s always summer out at L1…

The pool is open!


Ice free at L1


Wardrobe malfunction


Crystal clear



Elina getting shots of the swimmers


Today’s dramatis personae


In-swim video

Swim Report – February 15, 2014 – Winter Morning Dream

Encouraged by Jeri-Lou’s FB post yesterday reporting that the ice had cleared around L1, Nick, I, and Nick’s father-in-law Jim made the jaunt down to our favorite swim site and met up with Martin who had already arrived by bike. We were excited to see several ice-free patches close to the shore, but we had to do a little work on the ladder to ensure that we could actually get in – and out – of the lake easily!

After chopping away at the ice around the bottom rungs with my trusty pick axe, I managed to clear an entry point. And while there were still some significant ice sheets close to shore, the northbound current was slowly pushing them away from the wall and creating a very convenient swim lane for us.

Martin and I got in first and carved a channel through the remaining ice sheets out to the open water. As luck would have it, the water was perfectly calm and almost surreal in it’s clarity. Plus we had the added benefit of clear skies and very intense sunshine that helped take the edge off of the 12F air temperature.

I stopped at several points during the swim and took several shots and videos of the lake and the skyline. In the meantime, however, Nick had raised the stakes altogether by doing several laps in the lake without his wetsuit. So we just could not let that go unchallenged…

Martin and I got back in the water sporting just our hoods, gloves, and boots – much to the astonishment of some early morning runners on the lakefront path. Truth be told, I bailed out pretty quickly. But even a very short swim in these amazing conditions was an absolutely wondrous experience.

Hope to see some more of you out there come Spring!

The swim lane is open!


Navigating the ice sheets


Nick getting ready


Floating in space


A closer look at the lake bottom


Beneath the ice


Martin finishing the wetsuit part of his swim


Nick drying off in the open air locker room


One last look back at the “aquarium”


In-swim video (with underwater footage)

Ice Monsters in action

Swim Report – February 2, 2014 – Groundhog Day Swim!

We were hoping to get in a swim on Sunday out at L1, and the swim area looked pretty promising from a distance. While the rest of the lake was iced over to the shore, there appeared to be a clear swim area close to the side wall near the ladders. However, once we got right to the edge of the lake, it was pretty apparent that the swim area was still one big skating rink.

Disappointed but not deterred, we relocated up to MSW in the hopes that the west/southwest wind had blown the ice layer out at that site. Upon arrival there, we were quite elated to see a vast expanse of calm and clear water about 15 feet past the ladders. But we still had to contend with iced over ladders and a thicker-than-expected ice layer hugging the entire shoreline.

We scoped out several possible entry points and eventually decided on one that looked the most promising. With the help of my trusty pick axe, I was able to clear away enough the ice from the ladder to ensure that we could get in and out easily. I then suited up and climbed down into the lake to work on the intransigent ice layer.

For the first couple of feet, it was easy to smash through it with my gloved hands. However, the ice sheet was thicker and stronger past that point, and I had to climb on top of it and use my body weight to break through it. Fortunately, this only took a few minutes.

Nick decided to do a quick dip sans wetsuit close to the ladder, while I went out for a more extended one out past the ice layer. We both agreed that the water at MSW was the clearest we had ever seen it. I did about 1/8 mile and could easily have swam much more, but we were already short on time after squandering a good 30 minutes at L1.

Still, despite only getting in brief swim, it was nevertheless a very pleasant one. With the calm waters and abundant sunshine, even the 14F air temperature was quite tolerable. So we are definitely acclimated to winter at this point!

P.S. Big thanks to Elina for showing up on such a brutally cold morning to photograph our follies and exploits!

L1 and the skyline


Tools of the trade


Nick scoping out the swim area


Nick and Elina at the MSW site


Video at L1:

Swim Report – January 12, 2014 – Return to L1!

Martin and I met down at MSW at 9:00am, and the swim area was an absolute nightmare. The south winds had pushed all the ice floes against the wall, and the ladders were all iced over and completely inaccessible.

On a long-shot bet, we decided to relocate to L1 to check out that swim site. The good news was that the L1 swim area was completely clear. The bad news was that L1 itself was completely encased in ice as well.

Given this very frustrating dilemma, there was only one thing to do – break out the hammer(s) and get to work!

I started at the top of the ladder and managed to clear the top half of L1. By that time, the sun had intensified and the ice was starting to get slushier. I was soon able to clear a path to the edge of the wall so I could begin clearing the ice between the rungs going down to the water level. It was very slow going, but things started to really progress once the both of us were on the job.

Finally, after more than 20 minutes of hammering, Martin and I managed to clear off enough ice so we could safely enter and exit the lake (success!). We were already pretty heated up from all the hammering, so getting in the lake was actually quite a relief!

All in all, we swam halfway to Oak Street Beach before turning back – about 1/2 mile total. Even in the distance, we could tell that Oak Street Beach itself was not accessible due to ice. So L1 was really the only way in or out of the lake.

Below are the pics and video clips. Wish you all had been out there with us!

The mess at the Montrose South Wall


The mess at L1


Martin working on clearing the rungs




Victory laps


Post-swim Ice Monster recovery area


Video compilation