It’s Only Natural: Swimming, Boating, Frolicking in Salt Water


I am reborn, once again a child of the sea.

— From a poem written by Amy Kirshbaum as a gift for my wife and me.

Life on earth began in the sea. Perhaps that’s why I feel at home walking into salt water. I love the feeling of buoyancy as I go deeper into it, and especially when I am in over my head and start swimming. I take a break by turning onto my back, slowly moving my hands and feet, and letting gentle waves rock me in the cradle of life.
July was especially hot this year. The water off Long Beach in Sag Harbor was refreshing and totally clean, as I swam back and forth parallel to the beach. How lucky I am to be living just a few minutes from it.

Growing up in Brooklyn, I learned to swim in the ocean at Coney Island. I became so good at it that I became a lifeguard, first at Hewlett Harbor and then at Jones Beach, while I was in high school and college for five summers. In fact, most of my friends who swam with me also became lifeguards.

While on duty, I loved running into the ocean during breaks and lunch hours, and then returning ashore and just letting the air cool me as it dried me.

The only thing I did not like about it was the drills we had in heavy, cool rain (when there was nothing for us to do), practicing saving people, with each of us lifeguards taking turns pretending to panic in the water. But eventually I became a drill supervisor and rated other lifeguards on how they performed in the drills.

For years, I had a Flying Scot sailboat in Westhampton. I belonged to a sailing club and competed against other sailboats of the same class on weekends. A couple who were our friends invited us to sail on their boat, and I found out that the woman in the couple was the women’s sailing champion in New York State. She taught me to sail expertly and volunteered to crew with me as I competed in sailboat races on weekends. We won many of the races we entered, thanks to my crew member advising me on sailing. I almost laughed at the idiocy of some men we beat in the races, male chauvinists who were annoyed to be, in effect, beaten by a woman.

Years later, I had a 22-foot powerboat with a swimming platform and a folding ladder on its stern. My wife and I took it to areas of calm, clear water, anchored it, and enjoyed swimming from it. Using our powerboat, we found a new and exciting way to explore the waters and coastlines of the East End, swimming from Southold’s Paradise Point through the coves and inlets of Peconic Bay, the shoreline of Gardiners Island and out to Block Island Sound and Montauk — what an awesome pleasure!

I took a one-year boating course given by the U.S. Coast Guard, which was only given twice. (I asked the Coast Guard why they didn’t give it after the second time, and they answered that it was too expensive for them.) The course was free — we students only had to pay for the excellent textbook that we were required to buy.

We would begin on a Saturday morning in a classroom, then go out for the afternoon on a Coast Guard boat. The course was so esteemed that the insurance company that insured my boat lowered the yearly premium by one-third.

RICHARD GAMBINO urges people who swim in the ocean to be careful of strong undercurrents and rip tides.