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Swimming from New York to Connecticut

By Steve Fagin

Publication: theday.com

Published August 27. 2012 6:40PM   Updated August 27. 2012 6:56PM

Shortly after dawn Monday, the village of Noank at first glance had the appearance of the staging ground for a Navy Seal-like invasion, as wetsuit-clad swimmers began assembling near Town Dock, along with a small flotilla of kayaks and power boats.

“What are you guys, some kind of club?” a woman out walking her dog asked me as I jammed a leg into the neoprene garment and tightened a strap on my goggles.

“Sorry, ma’am, I’m not at liberty to divulge that information,” I replied.

Just kidding. What I really said was, “Not a club, per se; just a bunch of people getting ready to swim across Fishers Island Sound.” She raised her eyebrows and said, “No kidding. Well, good luck!”

“Thanks. I’ll need it.”

Loyal readers may recall I mentioned a couple weeks ago I had been training for this event, and promised to follow up with an account. Monday was D-Day; here’s my story.

I and the other swimmers — Vince Antonelli, Spyros “Spy” Barres, Laura Ely, Rick Ely, B.J. Ferguson, Anne Galliher, Mary Georgetti, Jack Morehouse, Nickie Pettinati and Barry Sheckley — climbed into four power boats that towed four kayaks and began motoring toward our starting site at Clay Point on Fishers Island.

We had hoped to begin swimming by 7:30 just before slack tide in order to reach Groton Long Point, slightly more than 2 miles north, before the tide began to ebb about 8:30, but getting everybody on board and in position proved about as challenging as herding cats. As one of the slowest swimmers in this mixed group of amateurs and competitive triathletes I was particularly concerned about the timing — more about that shortly.

Anyway, we looked less like the Allied Forces landing on Normandy’s Omaha Beach and more like McHale’s Navy, but after all, this was to be a fun event — or so I kept telling myself.

The kayak support team climbed into their vessels, we posed for pictures on a partially submerged rock, the power boats that would accompany us started their engines, and with a whoop and a splash we were off.

As much as I enjoy recreational swimming, I vastly prefer hiking, running or kayaking because of the isolation.

For the next two hours I never saw another swimmer and only exchanged a handful of words with my “wing man,” Phil Plouffe, who paddled alongside and tried to keep me on course.

“Are we halfway there?” I asked at one point.

“Almost,” he replied.

An hour later we had this exchange:

“Head a little farther to the right.”

“OK.”

With about a quarter-mile to go I noticed I had begun drifting slightly east of our destination.

Uh-oh. The ebb had begun.

Gamely, Phil tried to direct me west, but it was no go. The harder I swam, the farther I slid east.

Spy, behind me, was having the same problem.

A motorboat skipper pulled alongside.

“Don’t fight it,” he said. “You’re like treading water.” He suggested I change course and swim east with the current toward Noank.

“Don’t worry. I’ll pick you up wherever you land,” he added.

“I’m not worried. Thanks,” I spluttered.

Truth be told I felt good the whole way and never doubted I’d make it, but I hadn’t planned to swim an extra half-mile or so, even with an ebbing tide.

Once I began stroking with the current, though, I made good progress and within 15 minutes approached Morgan Point in Noank near the mouth of the Mystic River.

“This is good enough,” I called over to Phil. He nodded.

I swam over to the rocks, touched one with an arm, and then reversed direction and steered for the waiting power boat. Once aboard I saw Spy make a similar maneuver, and I gave him a thumbs up. Moments later we rejoined our companions at Noank Town Dock.

Spy and I had swum to Fishers Island from Groton Long Point a few years ago, more or less on a lark, with Phil accompanying us in a rowboat. It was great to do it again in the opposite direction, and with a bigger crew.

“What’s next?” I asked B.J. Ferguson, the organizer of Monday’s adventure. “Block Island?”

He laughed.

“I can scratch this off my bucket list,” he said. “But there’s always something new to do.”

Amen.

B.J. and most of the others swim regularly at Giants Neck Beach at Rocky Neck in East Lyme, in an informal but hardcore group organized by Barry Sheckley. They typically hit the water at dawn and swim for a mile or two.

I hope to make it out at least once this year before the snow flies so next time I’ll be able to reach Groton Long Point before the tide turns.

Great job, guys and gals, and thanks for having me along.

 

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