Take an enthusiasm for the environment, and an enjoyment of swimming, and you have the recipe for 49-year-old Paula Jongerden's pioneer swim across Lake Erie to Long Point. Starting from Presque Isle Point in Erie, Pennsylvania (42° 10' 26" N, 80° 04' 27" W) at 07:01 hours on August 21, 2002, after 23 hours 36 minutes, she landed the next day mid-way along Long Point, Ontario (42° 33' 03" N, 80° 13' 18" W). With cross winds from the east, and waves that reached 6-8 feet (over 2 metres), the straight-line distance covered was 43.6 km (27.3 miles). Paula, an Emergency Room nurse from Hagersville, Ontario, became the oldest woman to cross any of the Great Lakes. Her coach was Alan Fairweather, and the Swim Master in charge of the swim was Marilyn Korzekwa.
Long Point is a rare promontory, stretching along a portion of the north shore of Lake Erie. Like Point Pelee at the western end of the lake, it is used by a multitude of birds during their spring and fall migrations. During the summer months, it is home to many waterfowl and shore birds, and numerous other small birds that inhabit the dunes. In the early days of sailing, its bay offered protection for ships; however, its shallow waters and sand bars captured many a vessel, and the wrecks can still be found in the area. As with many areas of natural beauty, Long Point has come under pressure of developers but has managed to resist them. The area is now protected by the Long Point World Biosphere Reserve and it was for this charity that Paula's swim raised some $10,000.
Long Point and its counterpart Point Pelee are notorious for the strong currents that can develop around their points. Many said that the swim to Long Point, rather than swimming away from the point, would be impossible - since a tired swimmer would not be able to make it across those currents. Paula proved that it was possible, even in less than ideal conditions. She fed regularly, at 30-60-minute intervals, on a number of items that included Ultra Shake, PowerAde, soup, and tea with sugar. Throughout the swim, the water ranged from 72°F to 76°F, and the air hit a high of 85°F during day and a low in the mid-sixties on the final morning. While Paula's freestyle ranged from 44 to 54 strokes per minute, she battled shoulder pain during the last 4 hours of the swim and resorted to breaststroke. As an accomplished Masters swimmer with Brantford Masters, Paula lost little time when swimming breaststroke.
The extent of the achievement of Paula's swim is reflected in the Awards Banquet that was given in her honour on 2nd November 2002 at the Vittoria Community Centre, a small village just north of Long Point. The banquet was attended by some 200 individuals, with representatives from the local, provincial and federal governments, the World Biosphere Reserve, many of the numerous individuals (coaches, boat owners, land crew, support crew, etc.) who aided in the swim, and representatives of Solo Swims of Ontario. Letters of commendation, plaques, awards, and tributes from all of these dignitaries were topped by a personal letter from the Prime Minister of Canada, Jean Chretien. An in-process video documentary of the swim was filled with humour and factual details of the swim which involved a previously-planned attempt, the start of which was cancelled due to bad weather.
Throughout the presentations it became clear that the final stages of the swim were most demanding and, in the absence of such experienced Swim Masters and trainers, the swim would have been terminated. The actions of one individual, however, were instrumental in the final success - college student and qualified lifeguard, Nick Wilson. As the boats neared the shore, in the dark and with 6-foot-high waves, a rope became tangled around the propellor of the main support boat - risking the boat being driven aground by the waves. In the darkness and rough water, aided by a pen-light in a plastic bag, Nick submerged without breathing gear and cleared the propellor. . . but this was not the extent of his involvement. He spent a total of six hours in the water pacing Paula - during the final two hours in the rough water and dark, he was the only safety contact between the Zodiac inflatables and the swimmer. Wearing flippers and maintaining a kick-board at the ready for any emergency, he talked constantly to the swimmer, as he took guidance from the Zodiac crew to guide them through the rough water from where it was impossible to see the approaching shoreline of Long Point. This close interaction with the swimmer in the final stages was instrumental in the successful and safe conclusion of the swim.
After the dinner and awards, the attendees at the Awards Banquet were treated to a musical session that was led by Paula's husband, musician Harry Jongerden. The first song was the Lady of the Lake - a moving song written by Harry to honour his wife's achievement, and accompanied by Harry on stand-up bass. A poem was also presented to Paula as a tribute to her accomplishment and her efforts, not just as a swimmer, but also as a Board member of the Long Point World Biosphere Reserve.
An amazing first, open-water, marathon swim, spurred on by a love of nature and an enjoyment of swimming.
A separate write-up appeared on the Boaters Dream web site.
Lake Erie Swim List | Long Point World Biosphere Reserve
Poem to Paula | Song Tribute: Lady of the Lake | Tanglefoot's Angel of the Long Point
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Created: 29th September 2002
Last Updated: 28th November 2011