Petersburg swimmer tried but could not reach the mainland

At 8 a.m. on July 30, Andrew Simmonds, 60, entered the chilling waters of Sandy Beach in Petersburg, setting out to prove that age has not slowed him down.

His goal was to swim across Frederick Sound to the mainland, more than six miles away.

His journey started months earlier.

Soon after arriving in Petersburg in November, Simmonds, who is a physical therapist at Petersburg Medical Center, visited Sandy Beach to gaze out over Frederick Sound. 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 ... 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 pool while he pushed to increase his range.

He also tested himself by competing in the Tongass ToughMan Triathlon in Wrangell on July 2, 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, calm seas and good weather helped with a solid start. After about 90 minutes, he was halfway across the sound. "I thought maybe this is going to turn into a cake walk," he wrote.

It didn't work out that way.

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

The rising tide and current 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. 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 about half a mile 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 zigzag 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 swim and with his last strength he climbed the ladder into the boat.

He wrote that it was hard to give up on those final yards. 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," he said.

He said 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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