Today, I drove to Plymouth MA to pick up a Zodiac hull that I will be outfitting, over the next couple of months, with a new motor, new tubes, new electronics, and a customized top designed to store a variety of safety gear and facilitate the clear display of warning/caution/swimmer banners slightly above eye-level. This seems to be the logical progression for a swimmer obsessed… have boat; will/can travel. Of course, there is the tiny detail of needing willing/able/capable pilots… more on that plan soon.
Since I have been thinking about a swim from Plymouth to Provincetown for some time now, I decided to take a small detour to White Horse Beach, which would be the logical start for this swim. Taylor Road runs parallel to the beach and is fairly close to the high water line, but there are many beach cottages, at times crammed four deep between the pavement and the sand… some on stilts, and only a very few appeared to be set up for winter occupancy. To say the neighborhood was quiet on this Saturday in January would be an understatement. Still, there were a few dog walkers on the beach, and as I was on somewhat of a recon mission, I was determined to have a chat with anyone who might provide a bit of info. Mr. Black Lab – iPod was in a bit of a hurry, but did stop long enough to point in the direction of Provincetown. He was also kind enough to add that it would probably take days to swim that distance… thanks… you can go now… Fido is getting restless…
Cape Cod is a rather narrow and low-lying strip of land that extends from the mainland in a counter-clockwise sweep to the terminal fist that is Provincetown. As the horizon is somewhat less than the 19-20 miles between W-H Beach and P-Town, there was no visible land, but the Pilgrim Monument http://pilgrim-monument.org/monument.html , at 252 feet tall, is the only thing one can see in the distance.
I thought this was a stretch of water begging for a first crossing, but have just recently learned that it has, in-fact, been swum once successfully and attempted several times. According to my friend, (and director of the Boston Light Swim www.bostonlightswim.org) Greg O’Connor:
I did find that many people have attempted the swim from Plymouth to P-town or the reverse, but only Russell Chaffee of Sayre, PA has succeeded. Chaffee was known for his long river swims such as the Susquehanna River (250 miles). He would swim 30 or so miles during day light and get out at night, much like the 8 Bridges.
He swam from Plymouth because of the counter clockwise rotation of the current in Cape Cod bay.
Chaffee made his swim on Wednesday August 14, 1968. He started from Manomet Beach in Plymouth at 4:00AM. This timing coincides with the height of the ebb tide in Plymouth on that day. He finished at Herring Cove Beach just south of Race Point in Provincetown at 6:40PM, about 14 hour and 40 minutes. The distance is about 18.5 miles. He wore no cap, but just goggles and blue swim trunks (or a “skirt” as my friend Pam would say).
Before starting he ate a breakfast of eggs and ham (not green) and during the swim he drank 8 cokes and ate a box of sugar cookies. The tide was still going out when he got to P-town and he had to “work like mad” to finish. Chaffee was 41 at the time.
The first reported attempt for a bay crossing before Chaffee was in 1915. On a bet (most marathon open-water swims back then involved a lot of boasting and money to back it up) Henry Sullivan of Lowell (1st American to cross the EC!) and Samuel Richards of S. Boston left Nantasket way up in Hull and swam for P-town. Charlie Toth of Boston (3rd man to swim the EC) jumped in at the last minute. Richards quit after 5 hours, then Toth after 10. After 14 hour, with 9 miles to go, Sullivan got out.
There were several failed attempts in the 1950s to swim from P-town to Plymouth.
Now, I have to say that this bit of history really adds to the allure of the swim for me, and having a few more friends with an interest in reviving the route is exciting and reassuring.
How many days until summer?