Swimming in her grandmother’s wake

Joan Archard of Patchogue holds up her wetsuit Tuesday near Great South Bay, where she's been practicing for this weekend's swim from Greenport to Shelter Island (and maybe back). (Credit: Courtesy photo)
Joan Archard of Patchogue holds up her wetsuit Tuesday near Great South Bay, where she’s been practicing for this weekend’s swim from Greenport to Shelter Island (and maybe back). (Credit: Courtesy photo)

The matriarch of the family — good old granny — always leaves a certain legacy behind. Whether it’s her perfect chocolate-chip cookie recipe or the slightly off-kilter jokes she made, grandmas are known to pass down fond memories.

This summer, Joan Archard of Patchogue is paying homage to her own grandmother’s less conventional achievements through a feat of athleticism to be attempted in Greenport.

Well, off Greenport. 

About 80 years ago, Ms. Archard’s grandmother, Margaret (Gilbride) O’Donnell, swam from her Shelter Island home to Greenport, about 0.56 miles. This weekend, Ms. Archard plans to do the same thing, though she’ll start on the Greenport side.

“I remember growing up and my father and my uncle used to always say, ‘Your grandmother swam from Shelter Island to Long Island,’ and before I turned 50 I thought, why not put that on my bucket list?” Ms. Archard said.

She’ll make her journey either Saturday, July 19, or Sunday, July 20, depending on water conditions. She said a North Ferry captain familiar with the Greenport-to-Shelter Island route told her to make the swim between the full and new moons, when the currents would be more favorable, and this weekend fit the description.

“I was meant to be a fish I think,” she said. “I love to be in the water, under the water … it’s a very peaceful feeling to me and I could swim forever.”

Ms. Archard can recall her grandmother feeling the same way.

“My grandmother was always a swimmer,” she said. “I remember when I would bring her down to the water — she lived a block or two away — and as soon as we made that turn to the bay she would inhale and say, ‘You smell that water? That can cure anything.’

“She believed if you had a cut and you went in the water it would heal right away,” she said. 

For safety reasons, a friend will ride alongside Ms. Archard in a kayak; another friend will be in a motorboat, making sure the way is clear. She will also wear a wetsuit and panty hose on her hands and feet to avoid jellyfish stings.

Her intention is to swim there and back — her grandmother is said to have done only one a one-way swim — but she’ll have to make the decision that day, depending on the currents and how crowded the water is.

She plans to depart from Sage Boulevard in Greenport “mid-morning,” she said, depending on water conditions.

“She won’t be swimming near the ferry, so I’m not too concerned in that sense,” said North Ferry manager Bridge Hunt. “I’ve known people who have swum across before. I can’t name names but it’s not the first time.”

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