By P.H. Mullen
BLOCK ISLAND, R.I., USA, July 26. This week most of the heroic swimming is taking place in Montreal at the FINA World Championships. Most, but not all.
As Michael Phelps and company prepared for their first races, several hours due south, an intrepid Masters marathon swimmer named Jim Bayles did his own version of splash-and-dash by becoming the first known swimmer to swim the 13 miles of cold ocean between Point Judith, Rhode Island, and historic Block Island, RI.
Bayles is an open-water expert with a panache for taking on untested waters. And after Saturday’s successful five-hour crossing, it’s apparent the 53-year-old resident of Newton, Conn. is evolving into a high-seas adventurer and explorer in the spirit of legendary marathon swimmer Lynne Cox.
Consider the way Bayles spends his summers. Since 1997, the man has swum at least one solo marathon per year (a marathon swim is typically considered anything greater than 15 miles). In 2002, he became the third-fastest swimmer over age 50 to cross the English Channel. Last year, he became the first person to conquer the treacherous waters of the Pollack Rip Channel between Chatham, Mass. and Nantucket Island. Saturday’s effort was done in 64-degree water.
The crossing marked Bayles’ twelfth swim for charity, and his fourth in honor of his daughter, Kate, who suffers from an especially severe case of epilepsy that strikes her on average once per day.
Below is an edited first-person report of the amazing swim. For more information, visit www.swimmingforhope.com.
Saturday morning, 6:30 AM. The tides between Point Judith and Block Island can move fairly quickly, faster than I can swim against the tide. So we had to carefully plan my entry point, where I wanted to be when the tides turned and where we thought we would land.
Low tide was at 3:40 a.m., so by leaving at 6:30, we would have 3-3.5 hours of favorable tide pushing me slightly west. At 10, the tide would turn slack then begin to bring us east. (The tides are fastest at the beginning of each tide and lessen as the tide progresses).
All went according to plan. We made great progress, swimming faster than two miles per hour. When the tide turned I was where I wanted to be — aiming almost due south and looking to land several miles south of the Block Island lighthouse. Due to the strong tide, for the last hour I felt as if I was swimming perpendicular to the main support boat and our kayak as I tried to keep on the main heading. Eventually, as I made it inside a small curve of the island, the tide slackened a bit, and I could swim directly toward the lighthouse.
The seas were perfect. I only swallowed seawater twice, and then it wasn’t all that much.
I landed directly below the lighthouse at 11:34 a.m., five hours and four minutes from when we started. I felt elated. The swim went off almost perfectly from start to finish. Although the distance between Rhode Island and Block Island is 10.25 miles, we covered 13.25 miles to get to the island.
I feel extremely fortunate to be able to continue to support this most worthy cause of the Epilepsy Foundation. It was not a hard swim, but logistically it was an intriguing one.
We will continue to look for interesting swims to spread the word about epilepsy, and, hopefully raise money for research in the process. To learn more, visit: www.swimmingforhope.com.