Ray Gandy came close to his goal on Sunday, but wind, crossing currents and a little bit of boat traffic stopped him just short of the finish line.
The former Warwick and current Coventry resident was attempting a 50-mile swim through Narragansett Bay beginning on Saturday morning to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS). He was in the water for 27 hours and 42 minutes and swam a total of 45.6 miles before the conditions brought his journey to an end.
Still, he broke his own 41.2-mile world record for longest swim in the bay – which he set last year by circumnavigating Jamestown twice – and he helped raise over $10,000 for LLS.
“At the end of the day I look at it as a huge success and I’m very proud of my crew,” Gandy said. “They were critical in making sure my feedings and well-being was taken care of.”
The captain of that crew, Rich Hittinger, made the call to pull the plug on the swim around 2 p.m., as his boat that was following alongside Gandy was drifting closer and closer to shore, and Gandy was making little progress through the choppy conditions. The boat had moved so much that it was in just three feet of water.
The crew had already altered the route earlier in the swim near Prudence and Patience Islands because of the conditions, and this time it was just too dangerous to continue.
“We just couldn’t make progress there and it became a dangerous situation,” Gandy said. “I was no doubt emotional and disappointed at first, but understanding that these things happen. It was weather related and sometimes it can be safety related. At the end of the day, safety has to be first.”
Also swimming was Boston’s Elaine Howley. She, too, was hoping to finish all 50 miles but had to retire due to exhaustion after 25 miles in the water. Still, she set the mark for the longest swim in the bay for a female.
Both swimmers are accomplished open water swimmers, as Gandy is the only Rhode Islander to ever swim the English Channel, while Howley has also swum the channel. This swim though, in particular, was a roller coaster ride for both of them.
“There’s a lot of parallels between the swim and life,” Gandy said. “There were a lot of ups and downs. At the end of the day, time goes by and distance goes by and calmer waters prevail.”
Coming out of the water early was hard on Gandy, but physically he was in decent shape. He had trouble standing or sitting up after being horizontal for nearly 28 hours, and he got sick on the boat as it pulled into the harbor.
Paramedics had been awaiting his arrival, and they took him into the truck and evaluated him. Everything checked out, and Gandy was given the option of going to the hospital as a precaution but elected not to.
“I’ve had some issues in the past (after long swims) and we didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “I felt fine. I was emotional, but I felt fine.”
Gandy never expected not to finish the swim, and even when the conditions were working against him, he assumed he would reach the end.
In fact, even when his crew called him over to tell him that it had to end, he assumed they were going to tell him they were canceling his scheduled feeding, because the conditions would make it too difficult to execute.
In the end, though, it was the way it had to be.
“We‘re going northward and we got near the Warwick lighthouse and the conditions were just unbelievable,” Gandy said.
On Monday, Gandy said he was a little bit sore but was moving around just fine and was busy throughout the day. Some of the time was spent with members of the crew, watching videos of the journey.
Next up for the swimmer is another trip to the English Channel, which he has already booked for August 2012. His goal this time is not just to swim across it, as he has already done, but to double-back and swim it twice consecutively.
“I’m looking to go back there and take care of some business,” Gandy said.