Organizers of St. Vincent’s Swim Across the Sound can reel off plenty of numbers that are going up — dollars raised, cancer patients and families assisted, athletes who have participated, volunteers mobilized. But there’s a number that’s gone down in recent years, and only one demographic can turn it around: boaters.
Owners who are willing to volunteer with their boats — sail or power, 22 feet and larger — are vital to the success of the 15.5-mile swim across Long Island Sound, which the World Open Water Swimming Association recognizes as one of the country’s top 100 open-water swims. “We can’t put swimmers in the water unless we know we’re going to have enough boats to protect them,” says Lyn McCarthy, executive director of St. Vincent’s Medical Center Foundation, which runs the event. “The more swimmers we have, the more relay teams we have, the more escort boats and perimeter boats we need,” she says.
Many of the boat volunteers return year after year, helping train newcomers and dealing with on-water problems, such as mechanical breakdowns. “Boat captains have been more than generous by participating in the marathon in the past,” McCarthy says. “We could get 200 swimmers this year. We had 160 swimmers last year, and we were losing boats. Boats register, and a week before the event, we can lose them. It’s more than stressful. Maybe this year the tide will turn.”
Organizers want at least 110 boats signed up for roles that include escorting swimmers and helping mark the quarter-mile course perimeter. Boaters who want to sign on for the Aug. 5 competition, which starts at
Danfords Hotel & Marina in Port Jefferson, New York, and ends at Captain’s Cove Seaport in Bridgeport, Connecticut, have until the end of July to commit. Free slips, food and beverages, and parties are among the incentives. Visit give.stvincents.org for information on how to volunteer.
Swim Across the Sound is a charitable, grassroots organization run by Bridgeport-based St. Vincent’s Medical Center Foundation. Since 1987 it has provided cancer education, screening and prevention programs at low or no cost for those who are underinsured and uninsured and helped cancer patients pay for wigs and prostheses. The group also provides medication assistance, transportation to treatments and appointments, day-care scholarships and support groups.
The swim has raised millions of dollars in its 30 years, helping 30,000 people annually. Last year the event raised $340,000. Though aid recipients are primarily in the medical center’s service regions of southwestern Connecticut and Westchester County, New York, the reach extends to other areas, as cancer can have a compounding effect beyond the patients.
And although not all swimmers and volunteers are cancer survivors, the disease has affected many of them in some way. Richard Langlois has participated in the marathon with his three children since 2008 aboard Seastar, his 25-foot Four Winns Vista. Langlois lost his wife, Marylee, to breast cancer in 2005 and bought the boat the following year. “It was such a difficult time for us, and their mom was such a wonderful person,” he says. “The boat was a vehicle to focus on something else.”
As St. Vincent’s Medical Center cared for Marylee, the swim organization reached out to Langlois in other ways. “Their support in the last few days was priceless,” he says. “It’s amazing how people come together to help each other through these challenges. I didn’t need the financial assistance because we had insurance — the bills are ridiculous. Thank God I had the money and people to talk to.”
Langlois and his children decided to volunteer for the swim with their boat, flying a banner with Marylee’s name. “It’s a way of keeping Marylee’s memory alive and vibrant,” he says.
“Everybody seems to know someone who’s had cancer,” he adds. “The swim is a great cause. We all talk about helping, but this is your chance to get out of your chair and do something to make a difference.”
Langlois admits it’s a long day on the water but worth the effort. “At the end of the day you’re exhausted, in a good way,” he says. “When the swimmers come down the last 300 yards, the exuberance is amazing. I’m going to send out a photo of our boat with the banner in Marylee’s memory in hopes this will help us get more support this year.”
Kevin Blanco, a Coast Guard-licensed captain, has been involved with the swim for a decade aboard Finaddict, his Grady-White. “I’m busy — I travel a lot for work — but I make the time to do this,” Blanco says. “Why? Because of what the foundation does to help victims of cancer. It’s a great day on the water that’s dedicated toward providing hope to individuals with this disease.
“You’re going to spend time on your boat, anyway,” he adds. “This is a terrific way to give back to a great cause and share your boat with others. We get owners who are just proud to donate their time, boat and fuel toward this fantastic cause. It’s a truly rewarding experience.”
This article originally appeared in the June 2017 issue.