Captain Earl Sandvik, 1943-2012

Captain Earl Sandvik, 1943-2012

NYC Swim reported that Captain Earl Sandvik, the lead boat captain for the past 12 years, a 17-year veteran of NYC Swim events with 114 NYC Swim events under his helm, passed away. This is how NYC Swim remembered him:

It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Earl Sandvik, NYC Swim’s lead boat captain, at the age of 69. Earl lost his brief battle with cancer and a long battle with emphysema this past Wednesday morning.

For 17 years, Earl was a constant at NYC Swim events. As dependable as the tides, he missed just one race since 1995 when the love of his life, his wife Johanna, was fighting a particularly challenging battle with cancer herself.

Earl and his boat, the Mi Jo, named for his wife, worked 114 NYC Swim events including 26 Manhattan circumnavigations. In human terms, nearly 14,000 participants were able to realize their dreams and enjoy the waterways of New York because of Earl’s selfless efforts and commitment to make the events safe and professionally operated.

For the last 12 years, Earl oversaw all the boaters at each event as NYC Swim’s lead boat captain. In this role, he helped to create a safe zone for the swim and to prevent unaffiliated vessels from entering it, keeping in constant radio contact with ferries, the Coast Guard, NYPD, marina operators, paddlers, and other boaters—all the while also keeping a very close eye on the swimmers. He considered himself the personal protector of the swimmers, and the swims to be a celebration: of everything that is great about our city, of the restoration of the health our rivers, of the ability of individuals of all ages to accomplish their dreams with proper training and a solid commitment to healthy living.

Earl’s background made him uniquely qualified for the NYC Swim volunteer role that he assumed. For many years, he was a tugboat operator, guiding barges daily on New York’s waters. Earl learned the subtle nuances of tide and current firsthand and knew how the water interacts with manmade structures both in ideal and less-than-ideal weather conditions.

Later, as a captain for New York Waterways, Earl learned how to maneuver ferries quickly and safely while sharing the harbor with numerous other vessels. His intimate knowledge of the demands placed on ferryboat captains and of communication protocols was instrumental in avoiding accidents and ensuring that swimmers and motorized traffic alike reached their respective destinations safely.

When he was younger, Earl raced cars, and this enabled him to relate to the adrenaline highs that swimmers sought as they raced in NYC Swim events. He was also a swimmer, favoring the Atlantic beaches where he grew up in South Aqueduct, Queens.

Earl lost his ability to swim due to lung damage caused by smoking—rarely would you see Earl without cigarettes—and since then his greatest pleasure came from spending time with family and friends on his boat at the marina or fishing in the harbor. He sustained his cigarette addiction nearly until the end and, with conscious irony, he credited cigarettes as the fuel that allowed him to function and organize swim events that emphasized good health. In recent weeks, recognizing the toll his smoking took on himself and his family, he became a staunch opponent of the vice he had embraced for so long.

A modest man who didn’t mince words on or off the radio, Earl had a saying when swim events did not go according to plan, a frequent occurrence in our dynamic harbor: “Man makes plans and God changes them.” Now we can say the same—NYC Swim may have swims scheduled for the next five years, but God has other plans for Captain Earl. We will continue to feel Earl’s presence at the races, albeit from a different vantage point, making sure that harm does not befall our swimmers, or as he would say, his swimmers.

Earl leaves behind his wife of 47½ years, three sons, hundreds of friends, and thousands of swimmers around the world. We are forever indebted to his contributions, commitment, and friendship. Thank you, Earl. You were truly one-of-a-kind and will be dearly missed.

If you were ever touched by Earl, please send a note to the Sandvik family at 282 Shaler Blvd, Ridgefield, NJ 07657, USA. There will be no ceremony, as per Earl’s request. We are hoping to flood the family with notes of love and stories of how Earl aided in helping dreams come safely true. If you wish to make a charitable donation in his memory, donations can be made to Swim Free in his name. Earl believed in its mission with all his heart and soul and loved New York City, the Hudson River, and NYC Swim.


Used by permission. Copyright © 2012 by NYC Swim. Photo courtesy of NYC Swim.