On June 5, Andrew Ball spent almost two hours swimming on his back from Saba Rock to Leverick Bay Resort and Marina in Virgin Gorda’s North Sound. By the time he stood on solid ground, his legs were wobbly and his hands severely pruned.
Ball was one of 60 swimmers and stand-up paddle boarders who competed in the Virgin Islands Search and Rescue’s Swim and SUP the Sound annual fundraiser.
Ball, who completed the two-mile swim in full VISAR rescue gear, which includes a helmet, boots, a life jacket and foul weather gear, said it was the second time he had done the event in full gear.
“I am just trying to keep a tradition alive,” he said. “I have three members already signed up for next year to do it in full gear.”
Ball, who has been a VISAR member since 2013, was happy with his time and said it was easier because he had quit smoking.
All told, the event raised about $11,000, which is used to offset VISAR’s annual operating budget of about $200,000. The money is used for training, medical supplies, equipment and maintaining the rescue boats: Spirit and Gorda Peak.
On average, VISAR receives about 200 calls a year. Of those calls, the agency responds to about 100 incidents by boat.
The swimmers had two courses to choose from: two or three miles. The SUP competitors did a three-mile course.
In the men’s three-mile race, Jeff Miller, of St. John, took first place in a sprint finish with Martin Trott of the BVI.
“It was close the whole way,” said Miller, who has now won the event twice.
Miller said he enjoys the competition, but is happy to support a worthy cause.
“I work for the park service in St. John and we do work in The Narrows between St. John and Tortola, if I needed help I would call out to VISAR in areas were I might have drifted across,” he said. “We are neighbors, so we help each other out. It takes a lot of people to keep everybody safe out there on the water. It is a difficult job and an expensive job. So, we are happy to help out with the fundraiser.”
In the women’s three-mile race, Natasha Ruscheinski took first place.
“It felt tougher this year with all the waves and currents,” she said.
Once all the competitors reached Leverick Bay Resort and Marina, they were treated to a barbecue buffet and games on the beach.
Linda Giersing, a ten-year VISAR member, competed in the Swim the Sound for the first time. She was a little intimidated at the start of the two-mile race.
“I have been doing a little bit of swimming and thought why not,” Giersing said. “I thought it would have been scary out there, but it was nice to see all the kayakers around. Once you get going it doesn’t matter so much what is beneath you. I wasn’t the first one in and I wasn’t the last, but I did it.”
She added, “I think I might do it again next year.”
The course is lined with large buoys and volunteer kayakers follow the swimmers as a safety measure.
Giersing said the fundraiser is a perfect fit for VISAR.
“I think it is a good way of raising money,” she said. “It is also a good way of making people aware of the water and safety.”
1. Brian Duff, 33m 59s
2. Rodrigo Dos Santos, 34m 23s
3. Andrew Thompson, 36m 34s
1. Kim Takeuchi, 44m 01s
2. Fiona d’Ancona, 45m 16s
3. Saskie Laing, 46m 16s
1. Rayne Duff, 40m 58s
2. Scott Kirk, 52m: 19s
3. Sophia Jara, 1h 03m 19s
1. Jeff Miller, 1h 18m 50s
2. Martin Trott, 1h 18m 51s
3. Jacco Bos, 1h 18m 58s
1. Natasha Ruscheinski, 1h 24m 33s
2. Jayne Schaeffer, 1h 36m 57s
3. Jude Woodcock, 1h 37h 12s
1. Kay Reddy, 1h 31m 20s
1. Clinton Hempel, 55m 47s
2. Elliot Steer, 59m 37s
3. Vincent Fournier, 1h 06m 30s
1. Cathryn Hempel, 55m 46s
2. Emily O’Reilly, 1h 05m 22s
3. Victoria Bezemer, 1h 08m 12s
1. Brendan O’Reilly, 1h 12m 29s
2. Sir Richard Branson, 1h 19m 47s
3. Stephen Davis, 1h 31m 10s
1. Holly Ullah, 1h 06m 56s
2. Anouk Sylvestre, 1h 12m 51s
Todd VanSickle is a journalist living and working in the Virgin Islands.