April 13, 2016
ANDOVER — A local woman who holds the American record for English Channel crossings and who last year swam Loch Ness in Scotland turned to warmer waters for her latest feat.
Marcy MacDonald of Andover and Elizabeth Fry of Fairfield last weekend became the 36th and 37th people to finish the 34-mile trek across the Ka’iwi Channel in Hawaii, between the islands of Moloka’i and Oahu.
The friends started their first voyage together Saturday at 9 p.m. and swam for 17 hours and 27 minutes before finishing at Maunalua Bay Beach Park on the eastern shores of Honolulu.
MacDonald, a 20-year resident of Andover, grew up in Manchester and now heads a private podiatrist clinic in her hometown.
The 1994 inductee of the Manchester Sports Hall of Fame became the first American to swim the 23-mile Loch Ness in Scotland in 2015 and in 2014 set the American record for English Channel crossings at 15.
She’s completed around 30 long-distance, open-water swims, but MacDonald’s second time swimming in Hawaii proved to be one of the most challenging with irregular currents, she said Tuesday.
“We had some very good rollers — but nothing crashing on us,” MacDonald said, referring to the waves.
In Hawaiian, the word Ka’iwi translates to bones, and any race across the Channel of Bones is “regarded worldwide as the crowning achievement of the sport,” according to Molokai 2 Oahu’s website.
MacDonald, 51, said the ocean is far less predictable compared to swims she has done in England. The Pacific Ocean fluctuates more with the deepest channels dropping 2,500 feet.
“They have certain areas they are happy we reached before it really got rough,” she said.
A challenging part of this swim, MacDonald said, was swimming in darkness for 9 hours before the Hawaii sun started to appear at 6 a.m.
“You just have to trust the pilot and the crew,” she said. “It’s a big team effort. Nobody is going to do this without a team.”
With fickle sea conditions, MacDonald and Fry spent most of their swim unaware of their final destination.
A lighthouse in the general area of their target off in the distance became the Connecticut natives’ finish line.
“It was difficult in the sense that we didn’t know how long it was going to take,” she said. “We didn’t know if we would be able to land on the beach.”
Temperatures in the 70s that afford a comfortable swim gave way to beating sunburn on the swimmers’ backs.
The longtime friends made a pact heading into the water that they would swim at the same pace.
Crew members supplied the swimmers with water, food,
and encouragement every 45 minutes.
While there was no visible entertainment in the form of dolphins, fish, or whales during their jaunt, MacDonald reveled in the illumination of the Pacific.
“The water is amazingly blue,” she said. “When the light was shining and you look down, all you see is this gorgeous turquoise blue.”
Friends since 2002, the tandem met at St. Vincent’s SWIM Across the Sound, a program Fry leads that raises funds for cancer education, free screening, and prevention programs.
Along with the July swim from Port Jefferson, Long Island, N.Y., to Bridgeport, MacDonald plans to swim a 17-mile relay with her twin sister this summer.
She also expects to make a push to attempt the Cook Strait swim in New Zealand.
MacDonald’s open-water swim career follows a successful run playing softball for American International College and then competing in triathlons.
She said she always found her way back to the sport her Manchester swim coach recommended she begin at 12 years old.
While MacDonald said this was her final Hawaiian swim, she will continue cutting away at her bucket list one item at a time, as long she is healthy.
She said she found an expensive “difficult little niche,” that isn’t always enjoyable.
But perhaps what gives her the most pleasure from her willing struggles is that the journey becomes more important than the destination.
That enjoyment drives MacDonald.
“I try to do something every summer,” she said. “If I’m not injured, I will do something.”