fitness · swimming

“Love that dirty water”: Catherine jumps into the Charles River in Boston

The Charles River in Boston: I’ve kayaked there many times– with Samantha, even! But I’ve never swum in the river. Why not? Because the river was too polluted. This is a sad truth about some of the great rivers in some of the great cities– the Seine in Paris, the Thames in London, the Tiber in Rome, the Yongding in Beijing, and on. Centuries of no sanitation procedures followed by decades of neglect resulted in water water everywhere, and not a place to swim.

Happily, the situation is changing all over the world. Governments, spurred on by environmental advocacy groups, have been doing cleanup for the past decades. And it’s making a difference. Paris recently opened up a summer swimming area along the Canal de L’Ourcq, and it’s hugely popular.

Happy Parisians swimming and sunning in an enclosed area along the Canal de L’Ourcq (yes, I checked the spelling).

Boston has something similar in mind. But it takes a while. So they’ve started out with a one-day-a-year Charles River in a deep-water roped-off area, with timed entries and lifeguards. Here’s what the Charles River Conservancy says about it on their website:

The Charles River Conservancy’s first City Splash on July 13, 2013 marked one the first public community swims in the Charles River in more than fifty years. Swimming has been prohibited in the Charles since the 1950’s when a growing awareness of the health risks posed by pollution in the Charles caused the beaches and bathhouses lining the river to close. After years of environmental health progress, most notably the EPA’s Charles River Initiative, swimming is now allowed through state-sanctioned events such as the Charles River Conservancy’s City Splash events and the Charles River Swimming Club’s annual One-Mile Swim Race, which began in 2007.

I’d intended to do this swim for several years. But, with the added motivation of going with my friend Nina, I managed to score a ticket (they’re free and run out in a couple of hours). So off we went on Saturday June 18.

We waited in line, and then ambled to the dock, our identities checked twice– once on the way in, and once on the way out. They don’t want to lose anyone…

The water was warm– around 72 F/22 C. Nina and I swam and chatted and got out and dived back in, making satisfying splashes. Most folks got out after 5–10 minutes, but the die-hards (including Nina and me) swam for half an hour.

You can probably tell from these pictures that it was very big fun for everyone who went. Seeing (and being one of the) adults squealing and laughing loudly, using their outside voices– we need more of this.

The Charles River Conservancy has a vision to create a seasonal home for swimming in the Charles. Here’s what their vision might look like:

A vision of a future water park and swimming area on the Charles River in Boston, with a false bottom to protect swimmers from sediment and allow for different depths. I want to swim here ASAP.

Readers: have you done any urban swimming in rivers or lakes in cities? Was it sanctioned or wild swimming? How was the water? I’d love to hear any stories you’d like to share.

Before I go, I’ll leave you with the song my blog title was based on. Please to enjoy the Standells with “Dirty Water”, an ode to the Charles River in Boston.

2 thoughts on ““Love that dirty water”: Catherine jumps into the Charles River in Boston

  1. I grew up swimming in an urban lake. I still swim there more than I do in pools (other than my brief stint as a competitive swimmer). Tom Lehrer wrote of downstream pollution in his song “Pollution”, released in 1965. The east coast version said “The breakfast garbage you throw out in Troy/They drink at lunch in Perth Amboy”. The west coast version was “The breakfast garbage you throw into the bay/They drink at lunch in San Jose.” That Standells riff was one of the first (only) things I learned to play on guitar and bass.

  2. I love swimming in lakes! There are too many to name that I have been to. I love to float about and swim around with family and friends on the weekends and during vacations. But the funny thing is I refuse to swim in a river. Weird I know.

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