Once again I will offer this diary in case you find it helpful or amusing. In any case I have found it useful to go back over several years and compare conditions.

May 19: Email to Mike:
I had my first swim of the year(sort of) in the Lake today. Actually I went for my first (kayak) paddle. Before I went I attempted to calibrate my thermometer, but I seem to have a problem. Perhaps some of my readings at the end of last summer were low and this might explain why my readings were always below the weather service. So I wasn't able to get a reliable reading today either, but the 60 degrees that has been reported might not be too far off. It was nice out so when I finished paddling I decided to do the "body" test. Obviously I'm not yet acclimated to cold water, I had no goggles and I had my toy wet suit on (which no longer entirely covers my expanding middle), but it seemed colder than 60. I did about 10 strokes and gave up, but I would have been able to go farther with a real wet suit. Not yet swimmable, but not all that bad for May.

I paddled by our Evanston beach. The water is low, some of the poles that were just barely above water last year stick out almost two feet. As might be expected the water was clear, even with mild mild waves. But the surface of the water was very scummy with lots of dead alewives floating. Not very inviting. What we need is a strong west wind to blow all the stuff out, but that would lower the temperature also, so the near term prognosis does not seem good.

Are you up for a swim?

May 20: Reply from Mike:
I'm always up for a swim, how about tomorrow? I'm taking the day off to get some work done around the house, but swimming takes priority.

May 21 10:30 AM, Evanston
So we arrive at the beach for the earliest ever lake swim. A moderate south west wind has blown some of the scum and dead fish away. The main technical problem is that both of our wet suits seem to have shrunk since we used them last. We each required the other's help to get zipped up. The water was cold, but not brutal, as we stepped in. We entered gradually which was easy to do because the water level was so low, we had to go way out even to get waist high. The hardest part was getting our hands warm. Then we breaststroked for a while and finally put our faces in. The outbound swim was painful, especially on the exposed portions of our faces. We went to the halfway mark, but because we waded a good part of the way it is probably safe to say that we actually swam at most a quarter mile round trip. The way back was better, our bodies actually warmed up inside our wet suits and thermal caps. By the time we arrived we were in no hurry to get out, and Mike even had to take off his wet suit and cap and take a plunge. We suffered no ill effects and the 76 degree air temperature was plenty to warm us up even before we returned to the car -- no coffee stop or hot shower was needed this time. We guess the lake water was in the upper 50's.

I got the entry blank today for the Racine Quarry Open water swim July 3. It is a very pleasant flat water swim, highly recommended. And of course don't forget our own 1500 meet June 26.

Memorial Day Weekend - May 29,30,31, Evanston
Last year the 4th of July was questionable as a start date to the season but this year is already seeing action on Memorial day. Saturday and Sunday were two of the best beach days ever.

Saturday I went for a short unscheduled (but not accidental) swim with only my thermal cap -- no wetsuit or goggles. It felt quite refreshing.

Sunday Mike had to do me one better, we did the full swim, to the wall and back, and Mike wore no wetsuit. He now is a member in good standing in the May Club. The water temperature was quite variable. Much of the way it was in the lower 60's, but there were pockets of warm water, probably near 70. The area we swim in is now so shallow that without a wind or waves to move the water around the sun is a very effective heater. Both Saturday and Sunday the water was nearly flat. One interesting thing is that there has been a lot of sand movement over the winter. Even with a lower water level there are places we could stand that are now over our heads, but places that used to be well over our heads are only waist high.

Monday had unsettled weather and there was much indecision as to whether we should even bother. Mike and I cancelled our morning swim and did things with our families. By noon it seemed that nothing was happening weatherwise, and our wives were grateful enough for our morning efforts so they let us out of the house for a quickie half swim. Without the sun and battling a south wind and small but persistant waves that were almost parallel to shore it was probably just as well that we didn't do the whole swim. Mike again didn't wear his wetsuit but this time because he misjudged conditions and didn't bring it. I was glad to have mine. Mike came out with a very stiff shoulder, but in consolation felt the cold was good therapy for his knee.

June 6, Evanston, 8:30 AM
I woke up grumpy this morning, the TV says that the humidity will do that to people. I thought the air was too warm (temperatures in the 90's later today), the water was too cold (still low 60's), there were too many little fish (dead and alive), too much algae in the water and I thought there was a current from the north even though the wind was from the south. Mike disagreed with me on all of the above. But we both agreed that it was a good swim anyway.

June 8, Evanston, 2PM
A pleasant but unexciting day for a paddle. For the first time this summer the people at the beach were in the water, not just in the sun. The water is now at official swim temperature.

June 11, Hyde Park, noon
Down in Hyde Park to help my son move. His promise to buy me lunch turns out to be an offer of $5, a point in the direction of the fast food joints on 53rd St, and the command to meet back in an hour. Meanwhile he takes off with a young lady. So I get a sandwich and head off to Promontory point where the South Side open water swimmers hang out. I am very annoyed at myself for not bringing even minimal swim equiptment, but I hope to get some vicarious excitement by watching others swim. But there is not much action at this time. Eventually a mother-daughter combo arrive on bike. They are clearly not serious swimmers with wetsuits or even goggles but they have the physique for this water. The daughter is in first and declares that it is too cold. The mother gets in anyway and breastrokes out to the first bouy giving us commentary along the way: "yes its too COLD...  well, maybe not TOO cold...  not really THAT cold at all...  its OK...  Its actually NICE!"

June 13, Evanston 8AM
A steady cool rain is falling but neither Mike or I even question whether we should cancel our previous arrangement for the Sunday swim. There is a dense fog and a heavy dead fish smell in the air. We are both so confident that the water is warm, based on the previous week's heatwave, warm water observations and confirmed by the light east wind which should keep the warm water near shore, that neither of us has brought a wetsuit. But we are wrong. The water is the coldest we have encountered yet, probably upper 50's. So we decide, since we are there anyway, to sprint to the halfway mark and back. Not having the wetsuit I realize how it works. My torso, which is normally covered by the suit, is comfortable enough without it, but doesn't generate enough extra heat to warm my arms and lower legs. So even though those are never covered by the wetsuit, the extremities are much colder without it. We don't realize how cold we are until we stop at Starbucks for some hot coffee -- the air conditioning is really bone chilling. I wait outside in the rain, because its warmer there, while Mike does his cream and sugar thing.

Sunday, June 20, 3:00, Promontory Point
I arrive back from a trip to the East coast at noon to nice weather. I check with Mike's wife who says he's busy. My son is wanting a ride back to Hyde Park with all my tools that he's borrowed for a fixup project on his apartment. This time I'm prepared, I bring my suit, cap and goggles. The advantage of Promontory point is that it is perhaps the only beach in Chicago where you can not only get a good swim, but you can park cheaply within walking distance on a Sunday. Actually, this is not really a beach, but a stretch of the rock embankment where only a very observant person might notice that the "no swimming" signs which adorn the rest of the embankment here are instead "beware of submerged rock" signs. On weekend days like this the Park District posts a plain clothes lifeguard, this is sort of an official unofficial swim area. The beach attracts a more mature crowd, the median age is about 60 and with the water low it is somewhat of a challenge for us old folks to scramble into the water. But the Park District has recently installed a ladder which seems to be a big hit with the regular patrons. Anyway, when I arrive there is a crowd of slow breastrokers in the water. No one has a wetsuit, and only a few even have caps or goggles. I am told by a gray haired young lady that the water is in the 70's. I am not suprised to find out that 67 would be a more accurate reading, according to my body. For a day like today, warm with light waves, just about perfect. I swim for about half an hour and then sit on the rocks to dry off listening to the conversation of several women near me. "You know", one says, "on Saturday night the bums come out and drink liquor, throw their bottles into the water right there (pointing to where people are swimming) and urinate on the rocks." "Right here!" she says pointing to the spot where they are sittng. "Then why are WE here?" says another. "Because its such a pleasant spot" says the first.

Sunday, June 27, 1999
All the weather reporting stations on the southern part of the lake reported surface temperatures in the mid 60's Saturday, including the mid-lake bouy. With this, coupled with the warm humid weather and a mild onshore breeze, we felt confident of good swimming water. But when we stepped in it seemed closer to 60 than 65. (The official and unoffical reports varied 60 to 70, we found out the next day). But we decided that we were in good enough shape to do our entire swim anyway. (Our wet suits have long been put away for the season). It was a good decision as once we got away from the shore there were pockets of warm water, in some places the surface felt like 70. Thus we had a comfortable swim overall but at a rather brisk pace. In fact, when we got out the contrast of the hot air with the cool water made both of us feel uncomfortably hot after our physical exertion. So we soaked for a while in the cool water and then felt much better.

Friday, July 2 Evanston 5:45AM
The sun was already up at our first before-Mikes-work swim of the season, unlike the last of these swims last fall. But with the cloudless sky and completely flat lake it was still an awesome sight. Looking East there is nothing but sky, water and sun. Its like swimming on the edge of the world. This is probably as close as one can get to the solitude of nature and still be within 15 minutes of a Starbucks. The water was 67, perfect for us but perhaps still on the cool side for most everyone else. The Lake swim season usually starts on the July 4th weekend. We certify the Lake to be ready.

Independence Day Weekend
Saturday, July 3, Racine
I swam the Racine Quarry 1.2 mile race. It was disappointing that there were not more swimmers from Illinois. I was concerned that the water would seem too warm, but didn't have a problem. But our old friend Ingrid Stine did. I told her that we had been swimming in a 67 degree Lake Michigan and she said, "but thats purr-fect".
Sunday, July 4
Family day, so I did not get to the lake. But Mike took his family to Ohio Street and was actually able to find parking at 8AM. He says there were lots of swimmers but he was the only one without a wetsuit. The water was fine, he reports.
Monday, July 5, Evanston, 8AM
This was a frustrating beach day, the water was too cold and the beach was too hot. We wouldn't have blamed you for wearing a wetsuit. We couldn't, not just because we didn't bring them, but because we would think of such a thing between the 4th of July and Labor day. The water was about 63. We think the west wind and evaporation were the culprits, the water level was down from Friday. It took us all the way to the wall to warm up and we were cold again by the time we got back. But we got out gradually so as not to shock our bodies with the heat. The beach was still uncomfortably hot. Finally, Mike's wife arrived. She suggested that we move our beach chairs to the edge of the water so we could be half in and half out. That worked.

I'll be gone for a while, no more reports until July 19th or so. But I will leave you with a factoid I noticed in today's Tribune. The Lake is currently 22 inches below the levels of last July. This is attributed to the previous two mild dry winters.

Saturday, July 17, Evanston, 8AM
While gone I did take a dip in Donica Lake, a small pond fed by melting snow in a remote part of central Oregon. I didn't stay in long and wasn't very successful at getting anyone else to join me. Back here things are not much better. It is incredible that the water has warmed up very little over the last two months. Charitably we will say it was 64 with colder pockets. We were able to complete our swim only because the air was warm, we still had our thermal caps, and because we have this unwaivering belief, in spite of actual evidence to the contrary, that the Lake is always warm enough to swim in between July 4 and Labor Day.

Thursday, July 22, 5:45AM, Evanston
The temperature was a perfect 67, finally. But the Lake was stinky and dirty.

Saturday, July 24, 8:00, Evanston
In spite of a warm winter and Chicago's second worst heatwave ever the Lake stays cool. It was cooler this morning, 66 with colder pockets when we got in, but the Lake and air were exceptionally clear for this kind of weather. With the hot sun we really wouldn't want it any warmer, the cool water felt very good. By the time we got back 40 minutes later we could feel the surface water warming up. It was a perfect day to lie on your back in the water and just enjoy. We hated to leave the water but duty called. The water level was down again from Thursday to perhaps the lowest level yet. Evaporation?

Thursday, July 29,1999, 5:45AM, Evanston
We arrive just after sunrise. The sun is a big red ball floating on the water. The old sailor says there will be a storm today. The new weather service computer says sunny and hot with a high near 100. In either case we figure we have the best part of the day right now. The water here is in the low 70's (we hear it's in the high seventies by Ohio Street) so replacing our thermal caps with ordinary latex caps its just about right. In fact, with totally flat and clear water and no wind at all its just about perfect except for a slight unpleasant odor and a few biting flies that come way out over the water to bite us. By the end of the day neither the old sailor nor the weather computer is completely correct -- we have no storm but enough morning clouds to keep the temperature below 100.

Saturday, July 31, Evanston, 8 AM
Real or imagined? That was the question of the day. We assumed, being on the tail end of a massive heatwave, seeing official reports of 79 degree lake temperatures and our own observation of Thursday's conditions, that the water would be warm. But it didn't feel that way to us. I guessed 64 but Mike thought it was even colder. Was this really true or where our bodies so accustomed to the heat that the water just felt cold? In any case Mike, the ultimate cold water swimmer, thought it was so cold that without our thermal caps maybe we shouldn't swim the whole way. We decided to make a decision at the halfway mark whether to push on or come back. By the halfway mark we felt warmer. Was it the water or just our bodies getting used to it? We decided to keep going. There seemed to be more cold patches in the shallow areas so it could have been the water. The strangest thing was that when we got back to the beach the water felt much better. True, a southwest wind had picked up and there was more wave action, but with overcast skies there was no sun so a 5 degree temperature rise in 40 minutes did not really seem reasonable. Not having a thermometer we will never know if the water was really below 65 at the start or our bodies were just playing games with our minds.

Sunday, August 1, 1999, 9:15 AM
Same beach, different Lake. What a difference 25 hours makes. Warm water (75 degrees) and waves. The first significant waves we have encountered this season, we call them moderate, about2 to 3 feet. Due to the late hour and the waves we did a half swim. We wanted to get out past the break zone but the Lake is so shallow this year that we had to go out a long way. So we swam out as far as we swam up the shore. The waves were long enough and not choppy so the swim was not difficult but against the waves and wind did take a long time. But coming back we got to go with waves and wind so it was very quick. When we neared the beach we stopped to do some body surfing, we caught a few fair ones but the waves were not big enough to really have fun. At 10 a lifeguard motioned us out of the water and told us "the water is closed today" due to the waves. I guess we will have to call this "closed water swimming" instead of open water swimming. The beach was delightful with lots of sun and a nice north east breeze to keep us cool and the flies away. This is the first time that both our wives showed up at the same time so we hung around for a while. By the time we left the guards had reconsidered and the water was open again.

Tuesday, August 3, Evanston 6AM
Beautiful conditions: air 68, water 72 and bright sun. The water was still cloudy from the weekend waves and a hungry fish nibbled our toes, but it was a great start to our day. We also got a good lesson in wave dynamics. Where the water was 10 feet deep or more there was a very slight sinusoidal swell with a height of a few inches, a large wavelength and which was barely noticeable to us swimmers. But where the depth was about 5 feet then the wavelength shortened, the wave height increased, the shape became trochoidal and there was a noticeable rolling sensation. Finally where the depth decreased to 2 feet the trochoidal shape steepened and the waves became a foot or more in height. As the water got more shallow still, the waves broke.

Sunday, August 15, Evanston, 9 AM
The weather forcast for yesterday called for large waves. We debated whether to go check it out anyway. But the decision was made for us when Mike got called in to handle a problem at work. Today the signs at the beach were unmistakable, there had been very large waves. So we probably wouldn't have gotten much of a swim anyway. (Note added: the report from Ohio street is that even that protected area wasn't swimmable.) Conditions today were similar to August 3, but the swells were a bit bigger and the trochoids weren't quite as well formed. A nice beach day, my wife and I stayed at the beach until noon.

Monday, August 16, Evanston, 9 AM
Mike took a day off work to make up the missed day Saturday. The conditions were about the same as the last two swims but the swells came more from the southeast. The exciting part of our outing came later at the beach, about 11:20. We got to observe a small seiche. This is a very long wave or wave group which makes its presence known by apparent fluctuations of the average water depth. Had we been swimming we would have not noticed it at all, and normally we would have missed this one sitting on the beach. But a warning had been given and our head lifeguard again closed the lake. So we watched closely. What was most obvious was that the water level suddenly dropped about 4 inches and 5 minutes later the level quickly rose again to normal or above normal. After another 5 minutes this process repeated itself. When the water came back it did not have the appearance of a large wave but rather a series of quick short waves which made a sort of gurgling, running water, sound.

Sunday, August 22, Evanston, 8:30 AM
Very good conditions, water 72, underwater visibility 4ft, calm. But I was DQed because I refused to swim the last 3 yards through heavy bird poop to the wall. It was not surprising on this Air and Water Show weekend to see an unusual number of boats in the Lake at this hour, but we were surprised that even at 10AM the beach was almost totally deserted.

Friday, August 27, Evanston, 6AM
The early morning swims are getting harder as the days grow shorter. Today we were almost at the wall by the time the sun came up. But fortunately the dawn was light enough so we could see the wall and that was all the detail we needed. True, we thought we saw a small penguin on the beach which turned out only to be a quart beer bottle with a bag on its head when we got closer, but those details were not important. The water was the warmest its been, about 74 and otherwise the conditions were similar to those on August 3. Seems to be a typical condition for a day after larger waves.

Saturday, August 28, Chicago
I have to work Saturday mornings for the rest of the season so Mike took his dog Marina to swim with him at a Chicago beach. Mike reports that the water was fine but the flies were so bad that Marina's nose was red and raw from fly bites.

Sunday, August 29, Evanston, 8:30 AM
No flies today. A brisk wind has developed from the East and Northeast blowing the flies away. The weather service had predicted 4 to 6 ft waves but they weren't at this beach either. The waves were around 1 to 3 feet. But it is a mistake to judge waves on their heights alone. Their lengths, shapes, regularity and smoothness are all relevant factors. These waves were short, cycloidal, and very irregular. In other words, trouble. We didn't try to get to the wall, it seemed quite rough there and we wanted to go out to avoid the break zone which, because of the shallow bottom and cycloidal waves wanting to break even in deep water, went far out. We probably swam as far as we usually do, anyway at least as long. Going directly into these waves shouldn't be too difficult, breath in the troughs and swim under the narrow crests. But the irregularity made timing impossible. The only direction for easy going was directly with the waves. I agree with Mike that this was the hardest swim yet this year, but he thinks, and I disagree, that this rates among the worst conditions we have every faced here.

Thursday, September 2, Evanston 6AM
It is dark, flat and cool. The water is fine (73?) but with the 60 degree air and no sun it is chilly until we get moving. In the early dawn the wall seems larger and closer than it is. Initial optimism that we've gotten faster fades as the close wall doesn't seem to get much closer.

Sunday, September 5, Evanston 9AM
We don't learn. The water looks OK today, only some small trochoidal waves, and we decide, in deference to my training for Big Shoulders next week to swim wall-to-wall, lengthening our swim by about 25%. The swim to the near wall was wavy but the water was shallow and so this was expected. But after the turn we expected better as we got out beyond the break zone but it didn't cooperate. Swimming parallel to the waves and breathing towards the open lake puts the horizon at the nearest crest and often I couldn't see Mike even though he was only 15 feet from me. By the time we got to the far wall it was very rough with spiked waves. We then realized from the flag that there was a stiff breeze from the South which we hadn't noticed from the beach since it is sheltered from that direction. It was a tough swim back against the wind and waves, I think harder than last Sunday.

Labor Day, September 6, Evanston 9AM
Surf's up. No question today, with waves averaging 3 feet and wave sets of 4 and even 5 feet and a brisk, cool, north wind, we knew we were in for a tough one. Actually, it wasn't that hard swimming into the waves for there was about 30 feet between waves, plenty of time to breathe and get ready for the next one. But with the wind it was hard to make progress uplake. So we swam for about 15 minutes, not even getting to the usual half way point and then turned around and came back. Usually coming back with the waves is easy, today enough were breaking on us to make it a very wet swim, face wise. On return we went body surfing with Mike's younger son and actually caught a few good rides until the lifeguards showed up to close the lake. With the cool wind we felt sorry for Mike's wife on the beach but it actually turned out to be a beautiful beach day. The water was about 75, or at least seemed so compared to the cool air.

Other Lake news today: Several Chicago beaches, among them Foster and Montrose in the north and 57th and 63rd in the south, are closed due to high E. coli counts. Nobody seems to know exactly why since there has been no rain lately. The Ohio Street area seems OK as are the beaches north of Foster. Also, and perhaps related, are reports that the Lake surface temperatures are well above normal for this time of year. In particular there is a warm pocket (mid 70's) centered about Chicago but more seasonable mid to upper 60's are as close as Michigan City IN. Based on past experience, this situation can flip-flop quite quickly so I will be bringing my thermal cap to the beach from now on.

Friday, September 10, Ohio Street, 6AM
As a final warmup for Big Shoulders we decided to do our morning swim at Ohio Street. Its actually more convenient for Mike who works in the loop. The water was warm and flat, not much different from swimming in a pool except the view is better and the chlorine smell is replaced by the aroma of automobile exhausts on Lake Shore Drive. Those swimming at Big Shoulders who are fastidious about their cars might want to take advantage of the reduced rate parking inside Navy Pier. We had no trouble parking on the street before 6 but the pigeons bombed my car 7 times in the hour we were there.

Big Shoulders, Sunday, September 12, Ohio Street
The cold front held off just long enough for a pleasant race day, a relatively warm morning with scattered clouds and a moderate south west wind. No waves and just a very light chop, no problem for swimming. The water, in the low 70's, was just at that point where it felt a bit chilly but not cold enough so the blood rushed to the skin to warm one up. The course seemed set a little longer, to the Chicago Park district a mile has always been a concept, not a fixed distance. The first time around the course seemed arduous knowing I would have to do it all again but the second time was easier as I concentrated on swimming faster rather than just finishing. There was a large group, at registration there was some fear that the race was being taken over by the "narrow shoulders" wetsuit crowd but this group and the 2.5K group was relatively small, and most did the 5K the correct way. A nice race but not too challenging, 12 hours later it would have been a better test of Lake swimmers -- cold rain and waves.

Saturday, September 18, Evanston 3:30 PM
The unusual time was dictated by our schedules, this was the only time we could get together. But Mike had a bicycle mishap earlier in the day so was not in peak performance condition. So we did a slow half swim. The water was around 69, not uncomfortable in our thermal caps even though we were not moving fast. The waves were strange, past the break zone they were medium length 1 to 2 ft waves which degenerated as they got close to shore into a bunch of short 6inch waves. But, at least at the speed we were going, they were quite easy to swim in.

Sunday, September 19, South Side of Chicago, midday.
Paddled my kayak in the 3rd Annual Lake Michigan Watertrail Day. This annual event is put on by a dedicated bunch of guys who work tirelessly all year to protect the lake and increase access for us non-motorized lake goers. Today we paddled from 67th Street to 95th Street. We got to see a part of the lake that we are not real familiar with. We also got another lesson on low wind waves. From Lake Shore Drive the Lake looked quiet, just a bit of chop. But the South West wind was producing waves heading away from shore. While not large, they were often coming over the bow of the boat which means the wave length was considerably under 15 feet. Especially on the last leg, into Calumet harbor, which was directly into the wind, the trip was was extremely arduous. As with a difficult swim there was really no option other than to keep going forward, with the conviction that, however slowly, one would eventually get there.

Saturday and Sunday September 25-25, Evanston, 4PM, 1PM
This might be this summer's last hurrah. With 80 degree weather supported by brisk southwest winds Mike decided that his broken rib was healed enough to swim. The water was about 64, with warmer and colder pockets on Saturday but uniform on Sunday. The waves were one to two feet high but going more outward than towards shore so with little break on the shore. It was easy swimming out, harder back. Saturday we went to the wall and back. I had trouble with visibility coming back caused partly by the disorientation of swimming into a sunset rather than our more common sunrise. Sunday we went only half way, being somewhat concerned about the fast speed at which we covered that distance and expecting a very hard swim back. But it wasn't so bad and when we finished we were sorry we hadn't gone farther. For once my Speedo Stroke Monitor worked, it took me 7 minutes and 164 stroke cycles going out but 9 minutes and 221 cycles coming back the same distance.