Due to several requests I will attempt to continue my diary from
If readers of this diary send me
their observations and accounts of their lake experiences I will try to
include them in this diary as well. Unless otherwise noted all swims are at
One purpose of this diary is to help publicize the great opportunity
we in the Chicago area have for open water swimming. The Chicago
lake front is one of the best spots in the world to enjoy this sport and
it is amazing how few people take advantage of this. However, it should
go without saying that lake swimming can be dangerous and should be
done only by those swimmers with a strong (not necessarily fast) stroke
and sufficient endurance. Moreover unless swimming in a supervised area,
a knowledge of winds, waves and currents is essential. In this context
I am reminded of the words of Irish playright John Millington Synge:
who is not afraid of the sea
will soon be drowned, he said,
for he will be going out
on a day he shouldn't.
But we do be afraid of the sea,
and we do only be drowned
now and again.
- Friday, July 4, 1997, Ohio Street.
- The fourth of July is the generally recognized starting date for
lake swimming, usually the day that wet suits come off and we begin
swimming in earnest. Not today. This was definitely wet suit weather.
Water temperature was 58 F and the air was only a few degrees warmer with
Mike, Jackie and I checked the lake and Jackie decided to jog, not swim,
today. Mike and I donned our wet suits and neoprene caps and swum to
Chicago Ave and back. (Incidentally my source for the neoprene cap was,
of all places,
Chicagoland Canoe Base, 4019 N Narragansett. ) It wasn't so bad
since our arms and legs became nearly numb right away. The water was choppy
but not very wavy. But press reports that lake levels are high are accurate,
much of the beach was under water and there were places where
the water level was at the top of the wall. A few more inches and swimming
will be the only way to get from Ohio Street to Oak Street on the lakefront!
- Saturday July 5, 1997, Racine Quarry, Racine WI
- Just in the way of contrast I swam the 1.2 mile "Racine Quarry Open
water Challenge" today. The water was flat and temperatures varied from
76 to 80 F. The quarry is, of course, tiny compared to the lake but
it is very pretty, especially while swimming along side of the rock walls.
day and a pleasant swim. The meet was very well run and I recommend that
you consider it for your swim schedule next year.
- Saturday and Sunday, July 12,13, Ohio Street
- Jackie and Mike couldn't both go the same day so being a good sport I
went both days. The water was flat and clear. The temperature was marginal
for swimming without a wet suit, in the mid 60's, with a hazy sun.
Saturday Jackie and I wore wet suits and
latex caps and were fairly comfortable. Sunday Mike and I wore our neoprene
caps and no wet suits, this was perfect. Both days we went to the
triathalon club float. Great swims!
- Friday, July 18, Evanston 10:00 AM
- Mike's schedule dictated the unusual hour but it turned out
well as we had beautiful weather between the early morning and afternoon
storms. The sky was clear and the water was perfectly flat and
also clear. The surface water was about 80 but down several inches
it seemed to be about 69. I wore a cap, Mike forgot his in the
car and seemed happy without it. From the beach this year's higher water
level wasn't so obvious but there are some posts left over from
some long since dismantled docks which used to stick out of the
water slightly but now are completely underwater. With today's
clear, flat water that wasn't a problem but it would be wise to stay
well away from shore on a wavy day. We swam to the wall and back.
A good swim.
- Saturday and Sunday July 19, 20. Ohio Street
- Water temperature was a perfect 70 even after Friday afternoon's
heavy rains. Saturday was choppy but Sunday had gently rolling 2 foot
waves all the way into the beach. With Mike and Jackie Saturday but
both brought family to the beach on Sunday. Jackie decided to run with
Son-in-law Tim, Jill (expecting momentarily) was in no condition to
venture into the water, and Mike was late so I started out solo. Part way back
I looked up and there was Mike swimming next to me. Marina joined us
for the last few yards.
- Saturday, July 26, Ohio Street
- The air was hot and the
water was warm (about 74) and flat. Crowds of
swimmers, both triatheletes and competitive swimmers. We saw
friends from Elmhurst and Near North Y among others in attendance.
Fortunately the water had some floating seaweed and other
stuff in it to remind us that this is a natural body of water and
not a swimming pool. It would have been a good day for a swim
to Oak Street or further, but Jackie and I had other obligations
so we swam only a little further than usual. I'm heading out
of town this week so this might be my last lake swim for a
- Saturday, August 16, Ohio Street
- In spite of an early morning thunderstorm, a stiff wind and small
craft advisories, the water here was perfectly flat. Perhaps because
this area is shielded from a southwest wind by the buildings of the
loop, plus the waves are blown out rather than in. The other effect
from this wind is
that the warm surface water is blown out into the lake, so the
water temperature was about 72, several degrees cooler than it had been.
It felt a bit chilly at the beginning but very nice after we got going.
With the conclusion of triathalon season the beach was nearly empty with
mostly real swimmers present. Even though Jackie and I were early
this morning the Elmhurst bunch beat us into the water and were returning
from Oak street about the time we finished.
- Sunday, August 17, Dave Ackermann writes:
- "Of course we checked the water temperature before we left Sunday morning.
Parked and made it all the way to the waters edge before a lifeguard told
us we couldn't swim. Bacteria. It never entered our minds, all nine of
us. We went out to eat instead. Apparently the revolving restaurant at
the top of the Days Inn no longer is there, so we ate at Elaine's and Ina's
on the same block. OK for downtown food.
Looking forward to cleaner water."
- Monday, August 18, Evanston, 8AM
- Mike and I drove out to see if the lake was swimmable. A heavy
Northeast wind had created 2 to 4 foot waves and it looked like the
going might be tough. While we were surveying the scene a park district
employee came by to test the water quality. He approached the
lake at arms length, with rubber gloves and a long pole, as if he were
approaching a toxic waste dump. Any thoughts of swimming vanished.
- Saturday, August 23, Ohio Street
- No problem parking at 7AM in spite of the air and water show.
The cool weather has had some effect on the lake temperature, it
is back down to a perfect 70 F. Jackie, who almost never
takes off her wetsuit, tested the water and decided to leave the wetsuit
on the beach. A slight roll and gentle sun made for almost perfect
swimming conditions. Had the water been clear it would have been
- Tuesday, August 26, Evanston, 8AM
- Mike and I checked out the lake again and this time we hit the
jackpot. True, the lake was a slightly chilly 68, true, the water was
murky and, true, there was a slight chop on the 1 foot swells, but the
lake was still very swimmable. With the warm, albeit hazy, sun for
a change this was one of those days when we did not want to leave the
water when we were done. So Mike and I stood waist deep in the water
and speculated about what it was that people had to do that was so important
that the two of us where the only ones on the beach on this beautiful
late summer day.
- Thursday, August 28, Evanston 10AM
- Northeast wind again and I suggest to Mike that we should try
North Avenue. But Mike likes our Evanston beach so we compromise and
agree to check out Evanston and, if that isn't satisfactory, then drive
to North Ave. At Evanston the waves seemed to only be averaging 2 feet
and it looked marginally swimmable, so we decide to give a try.
The one nice thing about the northeast
wind at this unprotected beach is that, since we start off in a northeast
direction, if the going will be tough you
find out at the beginning, not on the way back. But today the waves were
well organized, regular and relatively free from chop. So the going
wasn't bad at all and we swam all the way to our regular wall and
back, but staying further out than usual, well clear of the break zone.
Mike, as readers of this diary probably know, doesn't care
for pools, his comment was "Now, THIS is SWIMMING!"
- Monday, September 1, Ohio Street
- Jackie and I were unable to recruit a crowd for our annual Labor Day
swim and breakfast. We did pick up Mike, however, and the three of us had to
settle for our typical weekend swim and coffee. The wind from the southeast was
not typical. At the beach the water was warm and smooth and seemed
easy to swim in. But the farther out we swam the colder and choppier
it got. By the time I reached the yellow line and turned around I realized
that there was a outbound current. Swimming back against the current reminded
me of sailing against the wind, it felt like I was swimming faster, but
in actuality I was making much slower forward progress. What had promised
to be an easy holiday swim ended up being almost a workout. The
good news is that on the average
the water temperature was still above 70 and with a bit of luck
this might hold through next week.
Swimmers should be aware that this week
the city starts a major repair project on the promenade, warning signs
were already posted at Chicago Ave, so Ohio Street may not be the
swimming spot of choice for the rest of this season.
- Tuesday, September 2, Evanston, 10AM
- The forcast was for winds to shift from southwest to north later
today, but when we got to the lake it was evident that this had already
happened. But the lake had not responded and there were only minor
waves under the windblown chop. Mike and I felt the similar sensation
to yesterday, only this time the swim out was against the wind and
the swim back was with the wind. Mike wanted to swim near the shore,
the water was reasonably clear for a change although lack of sun made
under water visibility poor, and we thought we were swimming slowly
and carefully, but we made it back in almost no time at all. When
we got back we noticed the waves had picked up quite a bit, this was
one of those days when the early birds get the smooth water. The water was about
- Thursday, September 4, Evanston
- The conditions were very similar to last Thursday, only the water
was slightly cooler, maybe 68. Rather than swimming the entire
usual distance Mike and I swam only part way but at a faster rate
than normal. Sort of a sprint workout to help me get ready for
big shoulders this weekend.
- Sunday, September 7, Big Shoulders, Ohio Street, 8AM
- Southwest winds the last two days threatened to blow the warm
water away but with yesterday's warmth and today's northeast wind
that wasn't much of a problem. I would say it was 72 near the
promenade but maybe only 68 on the backstretch, I could definitely
feel the difference. But with the northeast wind came some complex
wave patterns, i.e. chop, all the way into the beach. Under this
there were some 2 foot swells out by the far turn. Because
of the condiditons, the consensus was that this year's race was
"long". All in all my time was decent, even though I didn't place
- Tuesday, September 9, Evanston 10 AM
- Still north-northeastern wind but this open area was no worse
than the enclosed Ohio Street area had been on Sunday, so overall
the lake must be calmer. The one unpleasant thing was that the
winds brought in a fair amount of garbage near the beach. The water
was still reasonably warm but I was feeling lazy so I wore my wetsuit
for the first time since July 12. I became aware again of just how much
of the feeling of the water you loose in a wetsuit. As Mike said, a
wet suit is like "a condom for swimming". We went to the wall and back,
as usual, but it seemed to take a long time.
- Friday, September 12, Montrose Avenue Beach, 2 PM
- It was simply too nice a day to not go to the beach so I decided
to leave work early. Since I couldn't find Mike or Jackie at that time
I decided to go to Montrose. You certainly get the most spectacular
view of the lakefront here. If you walk out to the end of the breakwater
you get a good view of Navy Pier and the Loop in the south and all
the way up to Evanston in the north. Unfortunately there is not
a really good place to swim, but since this was just for fun I swam
out to the buoy closest to the end of the breakwater and back, a round
trip of about 1/2 mile. This time I left the wetsuit in the car, the
thermal cap was more than sufficient. The water by shore was warm but
out by the buoy it felt a very refreshing 67. Light waves posed no
problem but the water was still murky, and trash and algae was collecting
near the shore. But this was certainly better than sitting in my office.
- Sunday, September 14, Ohio Street
- Jackie drove so we went to her favorite beach, the one within
walking distance of Starbucks Coffee, in spite of the construction.
Actually the construction has been delayed so, although the promenade
was closed at Chicago Ave, nothing much is happening. It seemed like
it would be a good day: there was little if any wind, the water
was flat except for a 3 inch swell, and the water temperature seemed
OK. Jackie wore her wet suit, I a thermal cap and Mike his usual latex
cap, and although the murky water felt cool and damp (about 68?), we certainly
were not chilled. But something didn't feel right. I don't know if it was the low sun at this
time of year at 7AM, the mostly cloudy sky, the morning fog, the lack
of people in the water and promenade (there were only 2 other swimmers
the whole time we were there), or the fact that most of the buoys
separating the swimming area from the boating area were gone. Jackie
said "the water's wierd today."
I have received e-mail from Ed and Dennis in Columbus Ohio who write
"On a related note, we both thoroughly enjoyed big shoulders and WILL BE
BACK NEXT YEAR!!!!! We have already started recruiting others on our
team. You are certainly fortunate to have such a great resource to train
in compete in. Those living in Chicago and nearby communities should hit
the water more often and take advantage."
- Tuesday, September 16, Evanston 10:00
- It seems like we are swimming more now, but we realize the season
is limited and we want to take advantage of every last day. Today
is the kind of beach day we should have had, but didn't have, in
August. South wind, 80 degrees air temp. The lake appeared to be cooperating,
near the beach there was light chop on small backwards swells.
We swam quickly and effortlessly to the wall, where, as might be
expected with a south wind, there was serious chop. Coming back
we noticed instantly the difference of swimming into, instead of
with, the waves. That we expected. But we also expected easier
going as we neared the beach and this did not happen. In the
short time we were out the wind had picked up and there were waves
all the way into the beach. Still, the conditions were awesome for
- Thursday, September 18, Evanston 10AM
- This is probably the last great beach day of the summer,
the forcast is not promising for the next week. The conditions
were much the same as Tuesday, fast swim out -- harder swim
back, but the water was clearer and a bit warmer. Actually
over the last week or so we have found the water to be somewhat
colder than recorded by the weather service and today was
no exception with a reported 73, but we'll take 70 any day in September.
It was such a nice day Mike and I hung around the beach for
about an hour before we had to leave and take care of our various
- Tuesday, September 23, Evanston, 10 AM
- Although our swim time is dependent on our schedules, today
we managed to time it perfectly: after the morning rain and before
the wind picked up the waves. As it is, we noticed large waves
on the horizon as we drove up to the beach and in just the time
it took us to get our stuff together and get down to the beach
the surf had picked up. But since the wind was expected from the
North and that was our outbound direction, we figured the worst that
could happen is that we would have wind and waves behind us on the
way back. As it turned out, conditions remained stable for the rest
of our swim. I wore my wetsuit, mostly because I was recovering from
a weekend cold, but Mike still resisted. The water was still warm,
and probably felt warmer than it actually was since the air temperature
was below 60.
But I was glad to have my wet suit. Mike said he
was not cold, but I noticed that as soon as we got in the car he
turned on the heat and seemed very eager to stop for a large cup
of hot coffee.
- Thursday, September 25, Evanston, 1:30 PM
- We were a little premature in declaring last Thursday the last
great day of the season. Mike and I both had medical appointments, mine
early but Mike's at noon and only 10 blocks from our beach. So I walked
to the beach from Mike's doctor and waited for him. Bright sun, air in
mid 70's, with a moderate wind from the northwest made for a great beach day,
even the flies were not as bothersome as usual. In a way I was sorry
to see Mike turn up so promptly. The water has cooled (65?)
and I was a wuss
and wore my wetsuit but Mike stuck with the thermal cap only. He was
probably the smarter one today. A great swim we hadn't expected!
- Sunday, September 28, Ohio Street
- Mike overslept but Jackie and I took pity on him and waited
for him to get ready, so we were somewhat late. The air, with
a soft south wind and broken clouds, was fairly warm, and since
this protected area usually has warmer water I opted to leave
my wetsuit in the car, as did Mike (of course). This was a reasonable decision
as the water was about 68 and quite pleasant. It was as flat as
we have seen it for a long time, but still somewhat murky. While
no construction was actively going on we opted to swim only to the
rusty poles, partly because of our late start. We were the only
ones in the water and there were few people in the park or promenade.
But a police helicopter hovered nearby and police vehicles were
dashing back and forth continuously on Lake Shore Drive for some
unknown reason. The joys of the urban wilderness!
Incidentally we discovered today that the patch of prairie next
to the beach is actually the Jane Addams Memorial. Apparently
some Jane Addams fans are not happy about the location of this
memorial. I agree, this beach is much more in need of a John than
- Tuesday, September 30, Evanston, 10 AM
- Wind. Yesterday there were reported gusts of 50 mph. By this morning
the wind has subsided but there is still a brisk northwest wind. Because
the wind is offshore the breaking waves on the beach were unimpressive
so we figured we could swim. Our route took us well away from shore to
avoid the break zone and out there the waves were somewhat more impressive,
a few 5 footers even. On the outbound swim a few waves picked us up and
quickly disappeared, leaving us virtually up in the air. Earlier in the
season I would have regarded the waves as a nuisance but by now I regard
them as a big part of the fun. I thought the air was cold and wore my
wetsuit, now that I have gotten used to it I actually have to agree that
the slight added hight in the water does help with the waves. But Mike
still refuses to wear his. He obviously did not get very cold because when
we returned the surf was up and we body surfed for about 15 minutes. Mike,
a former Hawaiian and Californian surfer, said that this was some of the best body
surfing conditions he has seen in Lake Michigan.
- Thursday, October 2, Evanston, 10AM
- A new record, October 2 is the latest we have ever swum in Lake Michigan.
that cold would be the problem today. I was cold all morning and wore
an extra layer of clothes to the beach. After we tested the water, which
seemed cold (about 63?) and Mike announced that he still wasn't going to
wear his wetsuit -- it would not be an official October swim for him
with a wetsuit -- I only half jokingly asked if I could wear his over mine.
From the beach the water looked very calm with only some small swells
breaking lazily on the shore in spite of stiff, variable but mostly southwest,
winds. But when we got out into the lake it became clear that we had been
mislead. There were many small steep waves and lots of chop. The swim out
was not bad, but the swim back upwind was one of the hardest swims I can
remember. Visibility was very poor with waves constantly in my eyes and
often they would dislodge my goggles enough to fill them with water. I had
to stop every minute or so to clear the goggles and figure out where I was.
At one point I was judging my progress according to a flagpole on shore.
I was very frustrated that I didn't seem to be getting anywhere until Mike
shouted that I was off course, I was swimming in a large arc with the
flagpole always over my right shoulder. Lesson: look ahead, not sideways.
I guess I have to take back what I said on Tuesday, the wetsuit did not
help in these conditions and waves are not always fun.
By the time I finished this strenuous
swim I was warm for the first time today. I left the beach with one less
layer of clothing on than I had come with.
- Friday, October 3, Evanston, 2PM
- Some say its global warming, some say it has to do with the cycles
of the sun, some say its El Nino and some say its just the luck of
random weather patterns. Whatever, we love it. October 3 and not only
still swimming but still having GREAT beach days. Mike and I had planned
to do other water sports this afternoon, him sailboarding and me kayaking.
But I convinced Mike that the forcast of a 25 knot southwest wind and
small craft advisories made it prudent to do something that we were
more experienced at, i.e. swimming. So we agreed to meet at the beach
at 2 which was as soon as I could reasonably ditch work. When I arrived
early he was very comfortable in his beach chair reading a novel and
this time he looked very disappointed to see me. But he had stuff to
do later so we started our swim right away. Execpt that the air temperature
was 25 degrees warmer, the conditions were similar to yesterday. This
time I was going to be prepared. I tightened my goggles, left the wet
suit in the car and suggested a route close to shore where we would
be somewhat protected from the wind. It worked, and now I can also
claim full membership in the October club (wetsuiters not allowed). Mike
claims the water was a few degrees colder than yesterday and he was
probably in a better position than me to tell since he used the same
equiptment both days. But I thought it was about the same on average. The surface
was warm but 2 inches below the surface it felt icey, but in a good
sort of way with the hot air and sun. After the swim, Mike had to leave
but since I had the boat on the car I drove to the nearby sailing
beach and paddled around for another hour, the wind had not yet reached
expectations. By then I really missed
being in the cold water. This would have been a great day any month
of the year, but especially October.
- Sunday, October 5, Evanston 9AM
- Jackie is grounded for the rest of the season and without her to
keep us in line both Mike and I slept late today. Obviously Ohio street
was out of the question (on Sunday it is impossible to park after 7AM) and
Mike and I prefer Evanston anyway. But even our Evanston beach has parking
problems Sunday mornings and we had a backup plan, however the
same angel of October who is looking
after the weather saved us a space right by the beach. The wind was lighter
and more westerly than it has been, but there were well developed waves
rolling in from the southeast. But these are the sort of waves easy to
swim in so it wasn't too bad except that going parallel to the crests is
not the easiest direction to swim. Often Mike, who was swimming only
5 feet from me, would disappear from view on the other side of the wave.
Mike thinks the water is getting cooler, I have a hard time making subtle
distinctions at this temperature, but my wet suit was back on. Probably
about 63 degree water, but 75 degree air temp.
- Tuesday, October 7, Evanston, 10AM
- The endless summer continues. Every swim is a new record. But we
are not really pushing it, just the beautiful days seem to be going on
and on and on.
Yesterday, unable to pry me from work, Mike got his wife to ditch work
and sit on the beach while he swam. Today the air is already in the upper 70's
on the way to 83. I decide that on such a nice day that I won't wear
the wetsuit regardless of water temperature. It was cold, but I don't regret
the decision. Our nice weather comes from the southwest flow, but one
disadvantage of the southwest wind is that it tends to blow the warm water
out into the lake. So in spite of the continuous 80 degree days lately
the water temperature is dropping. I'd guess 62 today. But I was not
cold when we finished and neither of us were in any hurry to leave the
water. Today the water was probably the clearest we have seen since
July 18 (cold and clear do seem to go together) and on our way back
we swam close to shore and could see the bottom the whole way.
- Thursday, October 9, Evanston, 10AM
- It is fitting that for our last Thursday swim the weather has
changed to somewhat more fall-like. Next week Mike starts a new job
that requires him to sit in a loop office building staring at a
computer screen during normal working hours, so regardless of the
contitions we won't be here. After a morning shower it is cloudy,
about 70 with water temperature about 60. Still, it's not bad at
all for October. Strong southwest winds and the low
indicated trouble coming back. But with the lack of sun and cold
water I opted for the wetsuit anyway. Mike still was content to
use his thermal cap although he actually admitted to being cold on
the way out. At first coming back was fun since the larger waves
give time to breathe and look around at the crest. Since the crest
speed is often twice the wave group speed which in turn is much faster
than the actual current one gets the impression swimming against these
waves that he is swimming at a very high rate of speed as the waves
whizz by. But in the lower trochoidal waves the crests don't really
lift you up, they just wash over your face, so its not a whole lot
of fun. When we finally finished
the 70 degree wind actually felt warm. The cold water made us
hungry and we had to stop for food twice on the way home.
- Sunday, October 12, Evanston, 9AM
- Prudence dictated that we swim at Ohio street today as the water
would probably be warmer and the waves would have been smaller in that
area well protected from the southerly winds. But
the last few times we swam there it was sort of depressing with the
absence of activity. So on what might be the last day of the season,
and Jackie not available to make us make the prudent decision, we
came to Evanston anyway. The good news was that the water was not
as cold as we had feared, in fact the water was warmer than it had been,
perhaps as warm as 65. But the waves were not good news. It was another
of these days where the waves looked much worse in the water than they
looked from shore, and they didn't look too nice from shore. This was
a day I was happy to wear my wetsuit, as a floation aid it makes me
feel quite secure, so I could relax and enjoy the wild ride. Mike was
estatic that he still didn't have to wear his, he had been moping about
this the whole ride to the beach, but he had to work much harder today.
When we got close to the north wall the water was very wild and we stopped
to discuss whether it was prudent to try and touch the wall. We decided that
it wasn't, but prudence was not the order of the day. After all we wanted
to be able to tell our grandchildren that we had swum TO THE WALL AND
BACK on October 12. And even if we didn't make it our ancestors could
still tell the abridged version "they swam TO the wall." So we went to
the wall being extra careful to avoid the sharp metal plates sicking
straight out. But we didn't know about the submerged rocks at that
spot and we both collided with them. Fortunately the cool water was
as effective as an efficient athletic trainer carrying ice so we were
able to survive the injuries. Mike got the worst of the swim back
as he breathes on the left so was breathing right into the oncomming
waves. Had this not been the last day of the season we might have
been worried that we might not get back to shore, but the thought of
the day was that if we did make it back then we might not be able to have
this much fun again until next summer.