Due to several requests I will attempt to continue my diary from last year. 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 7:00 AM

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:

A man
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 cloudy skies. 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. A beautiful 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 while.

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 awesome.

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 72.

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 very well.

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 mid September.

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 responsibilities.

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 a Jane.

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. It appeared 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 trochoidal waves 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.

Trochoidal Wave

Looks gentle
but better to be with than against
This wave may have a wavelength of 15 feet with a height of only 1 foot. Swimming with the wave increases the period (time between crests) and as the crest comes up behind you lifts your body so the wave passes harmlessly under your head. But swimming into the wave decreases the period and the wave hits your face before lifing you up.