Swimmer attempts open water crossing of Frederick Sound

At 8 a.m on Saturday, Andrew Simmonds, 60, entered the chilling waters of Sandy Beach, setting out to prove that age has not slowed him down one bit.

His goal-to swim across Frederick Sound to the mainland over six miles away.

Though his swim began on Saturday, his journey to that moment began much earlier.

Soon after arriving in Petersburg in November, Simmonds, who is a physical therapist at the Petersburg Medical Center, visited Sandy Beach to gaze out over Frederick Sound.

There he admired the whales leaping above the water and crashing back down, but beyond that the mainland caught his eye.

"It was just so magical, so magical to see that and I just said, wow...God only knows what's over there and what it's like over there," Simmonds said.

As he pondered about what lay at the base of the mountains that loom over the sound, he wondered if he could make it over there and see for himself.

He began thinking he could try kayaking across, but with time his idea evolved.

"I said you know maybe I still have enough physicality left in me that I could make it across in a swim."

Over the next several months he worked to build up his stamina in the water and got involved with Scott Burt and the masters swimming program at the aquatic center while he pushed to increase his range.

He also tested himself by competing in the Wrangell Triathlon and while that swim was only a sixth of what his crossing would be, he proved to himself that he had the mental fortitude to attempt it.

On the day of his crossing the calm sea and good weather proved good for the attempt and according to Simmonds' account, the first hour and a half found him halfway across the sound.

"I thought maybe this is going to turn into a cake walk," he wrote.

It didn't turn into a cake walk.

After crossing the halfway point, he battled for over six hours toward the unreachable shore.

The rising tide, the currents, the environment pushing back against him made it impossible to swim in a straight line, increasing the distance he had to travel.

A safety boat captained by Josef Quitslund kept a steadfast watch over him.

When Simmonds would pause alongside the boat he could feel his core temperature dropping fast and found it difficult to speak, but he chose to venture on and began to focus on staying warm by propelling his limbs through the waves harder than he had before.

North of McDonald Island and with 800 meters to go, icebergs flowed around him as the outflowing current pushed him away from the shore.

He wrote that he drew from his experience swimming the big waves of Kauai as he tried moving toward either side to find a hole in the current, but despite his efforts he gained no ground.

Unable to break through, he called out to Quitslund who confirmed that it had been some time since he had made forward progress.

With his core temperature continuing to decline and his body failing, he made the difficult decision to end his attempt and with his last strength he climbed the ladder onto the boat.

He wrote that it was hard to give up on those final 800 meters, but with a few days to reflect on it, Simmonds said he knew it had been the right time to end it.

"I'm feeling really good because I pushed myself as hard as I could physically without jeopardizing myself or jeopardizing the crew that I had," Simmonds said.

He added that he is already talking to people familiar with the waters of Frederick Sound and getting ideas on how to improve his chances of completing the crossing if he tries again next summer.

"Why make another run at it? Why not, maybe is a better question," he wrote.

 

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