Ed Horne tackles 20 Bridges in ‘life-threatening’ rainstorm. Brooklyn-based journalist Margaret Hetherman reports
On Friday 29 September 2023, while most New Yorkers were hunkered down amid record-setting rainfall that flooded cars and knocked-out subway lines, 68 year-old Brit, Ed Horne, was swimming his way around Manhattan. It wasn’t his first brush with tumultuous weather. Forced to call it quits in July due to lightning, Ed was determined to nail 20 Bridges: a 28.5 mile loop that starts and ends at Battery Park in New York City.
That victory, combined with the English Channel and Catalina Channel, puts Ed in the elite category of Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming achievers. To boot (ratification pending), he’s the oldest person to have done so!
Weather ramps up
When the adventure got underway at 7am, it had been merely drizzling. Nathaniel Johnston tucked under the spray skirt of his kayak. Thomas Crystall readied a RHIB with observer Louise Darlington on deck. The crew set to strategising timing for getting around the massive Staten Island Ferry.
“Nowhere in the week before, were the winds forecast to be below 12 miles an hour,” Ed said, radiant a day after his stunning achievement. “What kept changing intermittently during the week was the amount of rain [predicted] to fall.”
By the time they reached the Brooklyn Bridge, his kayaker’s eyes were getting pounded. “Wow, this is really something,” Nathaniel thought. “I couldn’t see more than 50 yards ahead.”
Nathaniel remained poised to pass feeds to the swimmer, including carb powder in water with concentrated juice and an occasional caffeine pill for a man accustomed to two large cappuccinos and a double espresso per day.
Determined support crew
Louise monitored adherence to rules from a vantage that offered little protection from slamming horizontal rain.
“She was getting hammered… but she did a wonderful, wonderful job,” Ed beamed. Louise was a last-minute addition to the role, when the scheduled observer failed to show.
For hours, Ed dodged plastic, tissues and leaves – the usual assortment expected in Big Apple waterways with a huge rainfall.
Navigating his way toward the Triboro Bridge, the corporate turnaround specialist had no clue that the governor had declared a state of emergency, thanks to remnants of Tropical Storm Ophelia.
Harrowing. But not the threat to life and limb that he encountered on his previous attempt this past summer.
Ed’s first try had started off easily enough. With a night start from Pier A, he enjoyed views of the iconic Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg Bridges. He swam north up the East River toward Mill Rock; a confluence of currents made it imperative to hit that mark within 2.5 hours, or turning tides would make getting further along impossible.
He expected calm water at the Hudson. “Instead, it was a roller coaster,” Ed recalled. Wind and current were moving in opposite directions. “Whoa, where did this come from?… a little bit further in and all of
a sudden there was this lightning bolt.”
The river lit up underneath him. “On my next breath, the kayaker put his oar up.” The captain had called it.
“The heartbreaking thing,” Nathaniel remembered, “as soon as we got on land, the storm went away. We were all just sitting there at night on this pier, watching it suddenly clear up and turning into a
But Ed is not one to give up; after all, it took three tries to cross the English Channel.
The English Channel
His first attempt in 2020 challenged with hours of brutally difficult water. “Every time you would breathe, you didn’t know whether you were getting air or water… It seemed to be bouncing around like a
Ed tried again in 2021. “To avoid filling up with water, I probably didn’t drink enough.” With bad cramps at French inshore waters, he persevered. But after battling excruciating pain for two hours, with three to go, he decided to touch the boat.
Finally, in 2022, he saw the boulder wall near the sandy beach at Wissant. Ed had done it in 15 hours and 51 minutes!
The Catalina Channel
With the English Channel under his belt, and one aborted attempt at 20 Bridges, Ed set his sights in August to California’s Catalina Channel. It tested him to the core.
“Through the darkest night I have ever ever done… There was total cloud cover so there was no moon. There were no stars. There were no other boats out.” The kayaker attached glow sticks to the feeds. Ed pushed on for seven hours as darkness ate into his psyche.
From Catalina back to Manhattan
Ed conquered the Catalina Channel in 13 hours and 43 minutes; and determined to get back to the Big Apple for a second attempt at 20 Bridges – and the Triple Crown.
So last month, again with Nathanial at his side, they braved an onslaught of 8+ inches of accumulated rainfall, in pursuit of that elusive 20th bridge. “The George Washington Bridge now will always have a place in my heart.”
At Pier A, finishing in 8 hours and 29 minutes, Ed messaged a local OWS group: “Completed the 20 Bridges in the most diabolical weather and was greeted by one total stranger who turned his back on us!” His tone, jovial. He praised his crew. “Strong winds and horizontal rain. It was slightly more fun in the water!”
What’s next? A break for the family. And there’s the Lake District in England. He’s swum Coniston and Windermere, but not Ullswater. He gets a twinkle in his eye. “I may just put my trunks in a bag and
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