Leslie Hamilton - Around Staten Island

Staten Island circumnavigation (CW) from Goethals Bridge

58 km (36.0 miles)

14 hours, 34 minutes on 9 July 2023

Observed and documented by Rondi Davies and Paula Croxson

First woman



  • Name: Leslie Hamilton
  • Gender: female
  • Age on swim date: 30
  • Nationality: United States
  • Resides: New York, New York

Support Personnel

  • Sean Makovsky - boat pilot
  • Alex Arevalo - kayaker
  • Terry O'Malley - kayaker
  • Thomas Krystal - 2nd boat pilot


Escort Vessel

Sean Makovsky’s boat

Swim Parameters

  • Category: Solo, nonstop, unassisted.
  • Rules: New York Open Water*
  • Equipment used: Textile swimsuit, cap, goggles.

* Note: This swim was organized, observed, and ratified by New York Open Water, who gave permission to publish the documentation for the historical record and benefit of future swimmers who may wish to attempt this route.

Route Definition

  • Body of Water: Arthur Kill, Kill Van Kill, New York Bay, Raritan Bay
  • Route Type: circumnavigation
  • Start and Finish Location: Goethals Bridge (40.635441, -74.197068)
  • Minimum Route Distance: 58 km (36.0 miles)


One previous swim of this route, by Palmer Donnelly in 1961, per New York Times.

Planning for the Staten Island Swim

by Rondi Davies, New York Open Water

The Obstacles

Planning for the Staten Island swim amounted to addressing many obstacles.

  1. The long distance of 35.5 miles

  2. The many waterways (Kill Van Kull, NY Harbor, Raritan River, Arthur Kill) with unknown currents. These are not as strong as the currents around Manhattan we are used to working with, when a swimmer can complete 29 miles in about 8-9 hours. It was a challenge to find favorable currents for the duration of the swim, and we expected Leslie would need to fight the currents for the last few hours of her swim in the Arthur Kill.

  3. The swim had never been done to our knowledge, though we learned about Palmer Donnell’s two swims in 1961 and 1979 while planning for the swim.

  4. There are many sunken boats, piers, and other obstacles that we had little knowledge of. This was mostly in the vicinity of Shooters Island in the Kill van Kull and the Staten Island Boat Graveyard in the Arthur Kill. Our safety boater requested that the swim was timed to navigate the Boat Graveyard area in daylight, so we’d have a better chance of seeing any solid objects beneath the water surface.

  5. The waterways are narrow and heavily used by large commercial vessels. Thus we choose to swim on a Sunday starting at 12:30 AM when traffic is expected to be lighter.

  6. The water quality is questionable in the industrial sections, particularly the Arthur Kill which hosted the largest landfill in the world when it closed on 2001; there are also multiple waste management facilities, powerplants, and tugboat docks along the shoreline.

  7. For all reasons outlined above, one of the biggest hurdles was finding a Sunday in the summer months with decent currents.

Background Research

The Staten Island swim has been on NYOW’s radar since 2014. In October 2015, starting at South Beach, four of us kayaked clockwise around the island as reconnaissance, to see how doable the swim appeared in terms of distance, current assist, and water quality. The kayaking trip took over 12 hours in which time we experienced plenty of wind, chop, and commercial activity. From this we learned the swim was doable, but it would take a fast and highly adventurous swimmer that was up the challenge. Step in Leslie Hamilton. Leslie had asked us to help her do this swim in 2022, but it was pushed to 2023. Leslie came to the swim well prepared in top physical and mental condition and with a fierce determination to get it done.

The Swim Model

Rondi Davies of New York Open Water prepared the model for Leslie’s swim. To do this she considered Leslie’s pace and the predicted currents based on NOAA tidal current predictions at stations along the course. She also used the current predictions published by the Steven’s Institute of Technology Urban Ocean Observatory at Davidson Laboratory. Using the Steven’s tides, Davies found a comparable tide cycle from the past (in this case July 26, 2020) to build a model for the swim. The model was refined the day before the swim when Steven’s published a model for the predicted currents for the following 48 hours. At this time Leslie’s predicted finish time dropped from 18 hours to 14 hours 33 minutes. This also meant that as long as Leslie maintained her pace and the winds were mostly favorable, she would swim with a current assist for the entire swim. The final model predicted Leslie would swim one minute faster her final time of 14:34:04.

The Swim

Starting at Goethals’ Bridge on a clockwise path in the early hours of Sunday morning meant making the transition from the Arthur Kill to the Kill Van Kull with favorable currents, while also getting one of the most heavily trafficked areas, between Shooters Island and St George Ferry terminal, out of the way early in the swim and with presumably minimal boat traffic. This mostly went to plan; however, there were many large container ships arriving and departing through this narrow channel at this time. In addition, it was not ideal swimming this section in the dark due to the abundant sunken debris near Shooters Island.

Leslie started her swim as the Kill van Kull was beginning its ebb. She reached the New York Harbor early in its ebb cycle, possible too early, and rode a building ebb current (up to 1.7 knots) through the Narrows and past the west side of Hoffman island at which time the current markedly dropped. The course stayed close to the shoreline in the Raritan River when current assist was at a minimum. The currents were most sluggish at the southern tip of Staten Island near Perth Amboy. However, from this point on a current switch occurred and Leslie used the flood current of the Arthur Kill to make her way back to the Goethals Bridge.

Swim Data

  • Start: 9 July 2023, 00:42:00 (Eastern Daylight, America/New_York, UTC-4).
  • Finish: 9 July 2023, 15:16:04
  • Elapsed: 14 hours, 34 minutes, 4 seconds.

Summary of Conditions

Feature Min Max
Water Temp (F) 76 80
Air Temp (F)    
Wind (mph) 0 10

GPS Track

Trackpoint frequency: 10 minutes. Download raw data (CSV).

Click to expand map.

Speed Plot

Nutrition: See observer log.

Observer Log

Download PDF

Swimmer Statement

by Leslie Hamilton

By 11:00 PM on July 8th, 2023, I had never felt more ready to be in the water.  I’d trained hard all year and despite all the difficulty I normally have sitting still and how unnatural it felt, I had rested more intensely than ever in the days pre-swim after constant encouragement and help from my coach Charlotte - I even enjoyed the nothingness of it!  But all the stillness was catching up to me. “Anxious” isn’t the right word, I just felt like I was about to explode if I couldn’t get in the water immediately.  I waited at North Cove Marina with Yan and Rondi for the rest of the crew to arrive and watched a large party boat go past. I’d forgotten for everyone else it was a regular summer Saturday night in Manhattan and thought about how if I were a “normal” person maybe I’d be on that boat instead of one headed into the unknown. But what would be the fun in that?

I’d already pictured 1,000 ways in my head that this swim could go wrong - most of them involved running into some sort of tanker, scraping myself so badly on sunken debris, swimming too slow and being washed away by the current, catching some disease in the Arthur Kill, or being really cold. And that was part of the reason I wanted to do it - to take a risk and push myself. 

I’d heard from the NYOW crew circa 2020-2021 that this swim had been contemplated before but that it would be difficult and execution would be tricky with currents, shipping traffic, and water quality.  Finding NYOW in 2017 and swimming the 10k current assisted Spuyten Duyvil in a wetsuit while having no idea what I was doing changed the trajectory of my life - it was a gateway swim for me and every year since I’ve done swims with and volunteered for them.  I finished open water seasons 2018-2021 feeling very accomplished but with a nagging feeling that I could have pushed myself harder.  In that time frame I did Spuyten Duyvil again, 8 bridges stage 1,3,5, and 6, and 20 Bridges, among other non NYOW events. In 2022, at my evening celebration a couple hours after completing the last stage of 8 bridges, I was tipsy after half a beer and I got the courage to tell Alex I wanted to be the one to make Staten Island happen. It was history from there.   I was so excited to do this swim and am so grateful for Rondi, David, Alex, Sean, Terry, and the entire crew at NYOW for supporting me. 

When I finally jumped in the water at 12:42 AM on July 9th, I was so relieved. But that was short lived because almost immediately I was greeted by the sharp sting of hundreds of sea lice filtering into the stomach of my swimsuit.  I’d anticipated that this might happen a little, but didn’t think it could be the thing that derailed my whole swim.  So from the start to the first feed, I remained calm and tried to appreciate the surreal scene in front of me.  We’d motored to Goethals Bridge from downtown Manhattan and were now swimming back the way we came, clockwise.  As Sean was driving us to the start, Alex and I were looking around, looking back at each other, and basically saying “oh shit, this is so cool!” every few seconds. The old, rusty ships and shipping ports and the way the light was reflecting off the water was calm, eerie and apocalyptic.

But this wasn’t enough of a distraction. I thought maybe if I ignored it we’d eventually swim away from the patch of sea lice but they just kept coming and my skin was crawling even when I tried to turn over on my back and shake them out of my suit.  The water was unseasonably warm and had jumped from low 60’s to mid 70’s in just a couple weeks, so my guess is that they all started breeding at the same time and I swam right into their nursery.  After my first feed I told Terry and Alex to get my 2 piece ready - I really didn’t want to take the 1 piece off because I knew the change would waste time and there would be more drag, but I didn’t think I could handle being stung that much more.  Still, I debated a little longer and made some pro/con lists in my head before deciding that the costume change had to be done if I wanted to finish the swim. I also figured the less fabric the better and it was still dark, so I grabbed just the bikini bottoms from Terry.

When I made the change, I was so relieved and had what was possibly the most fun 4 hours of swimming of my life. The water on my bare top without textiles in the way soothed the stings. I could now really take in and appreciate the strange scenery and my stroke felt much more relaxed, I’d been tensing up from the stings without even realizing it.  I swam by a late night crowd staring at me from the dock in St George, I went smoothly past the Staten Island Ferry terminal without a moving ship in sight, and on the way down to the narrows, the Norwegian Joy cruise ship passed me - this is the ship Yan and I later took our honeymoon on and I knew it had to be a sign. 

I’d been debating for a couple hours whether or not I would flip over on my back under the VZ bridge and do backstroke despite being topless. As I approached the bridge I knew I had to embrace how ridiculous the situation was and so I flashed Alex and Terry (sadly the boat didn’t see it) once underneath and yelled “tits out for Staten Island!”  

Shortly after the VZ, we got first light and I began to mentally prepare myself for 6-7 hours of boring beach. I’d also gotten a very eerie feeling like I wasn’t alone as we went more into the open ocean.  There were a bunch of reports of whale sightings around the VZ in the days after my swim, so i think I may have had a premonition! 

I kept my expectations low and chugged along.  At sunrise I made a very long stop - I ate a banana, had some pain meds, I replaced a contact, and I tied on my bikini top - none of which were easy to do unassisted.  Rondi called from the boat that I needed to pick it up - we’d lost some time with the costume changes and honestly, although I don’t have a lot to work with up there, I felt a significant amount of topless drag. About an hour later, Alex pointed to a tree on a point straight ahead and said I needed to get there in 40 minutes or less.  I said challenge accepted and put my head down.

Then something so strange began to happen in the Raritan Bay - the sea lice came back and it felt like they were stinging me without being trapped in my suit - it was like little electric pricks all over my body.  I stopped momentarily and I could see little specks stuck between my fingernails.  I was spitting them out every few seconds.  There were large patches of ocean where I’d be crawling and then periods of calm. I’d quickly roll over to clear them out of the bridge of my goggles and the hairline of my cap. They were more uncomfortable and annoying than painful like the Kill Van Kull ones, but at the time they raised my anxiety level majorly and each time when I thought it was over another wave came along.  I became worried if I’d have some sort of reaction from too many of them stinging me. I got a lot calmer by telling myself that if something were to happen to me allergy wise, it already would have and if plenty of swimmers get stung by huge jellies on other ocean swims and do just fine, then I could handle this army of little MFers.  

The patches became less frequent the closer we got to Perth Amboy and as the scenery changed from empty beaches to residential homes and back to industrial landscapes as we neared the Arthur Kill, I felt more encouraged with every step towards the urban. I also got a big boost when the 2nd safety vessel joined us mid- morning, Paula, Dan, and Thomas brought some new energy.

The only time I felt grumpy was rounding the tip past Perth Amboy and into the Arthur Kill.  The wind direction changed from the forecast which was a little annoying since it was now a headwind, the air temperature was warming and I began to feel hot, and I had miscounted my feeds, which had me thinking I was behind schedule. I hadn’t studied the swim model that hard to keep myself from getting in my head, but I did know the exact times I needed to be under the Verrazano and Outerbridge.  I’d also done a scouting trip around this area pre-swim and had mis-remembered where the Outerbridge crossing was which also added to my mood.  

Past the bridge I asked for a time check which made me feel better, and there were lots of tankers which were fun to swim next to so I perked up.  Although they would always win, I would pretend I was racing them and I enjoyed all the different models and colors.

We’d anticipated that the boat graveyard on the western shore of Staten Island would be problematic.  We’d specifically designed the swim model to go through this area in the daylight so we could see and avoid any wreckage that could scrape me.  In the end, it was much less dramatic than I expected but every bit as awesome scenery wise.  Across the narrow river there were green, rolling hills which were such a neat contrast to all the wreckage. It was when I got there that I realized I was going to be able to finish the swim!  I’d been so wrapped up in the moment for the past 12 hours that I sort of forgot the goal was to get back to Goethals.  I was ready to finish but at the same time couldn’t believe that it was going to happen.

An hour from the finish we passed by some buildings that looked like factories and suddenly the water got to jacuzzi level - 90+ degrees for a few minutes.  It gave me a new appreciation for the 80 degree water I was complaining about earlier. 

When I finished, we were all equally in shock that the swim had gone off basically without a hitch.  I was about to cry from relief, accomplishment, and the stings that started to itch already but then someone said that my time was just a minute off the swim model projection and we were all just laughing and celebrating while I was still in the water.  I absolutely loved this swim and I’d do it all again….wearing a two piece.


Click to enlarge.



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