Strait ahead: NMU swimmers cross Mackinac

MARQUETTE – Three members of the Northern Michigan University Swim and Dive Team swam the Straits Of Mackinac Sunday, braving cold waters and plenty of ship traffic to complete the five-mile trek.

Juniors Tara Dowling of Marquette, Megan Crowder of Mikado and Madisen Sechena of Great Falls, Mont., began their swim from the Straits State Park beach in St. Ignace at 8 a.m. Sunday, swimming south to the Old Mission Lighthouse Beach, located across the water in the Lower Peninsula.

Dowling finished the swim first, clocking in at 1 hour and 53 minutes. Crowder and Sechena finished together just two minutes later, at 1 hour and 55 minutes.

The swimmers were escorted by their coach, Heidi Voigt, via kayak, along with two other kayakers and a support power boat.

According to a press release, the conditions were good for the swimmers, with temperatures in the 70s and calm waters during the crossing at temperatures in the mid to lower 60s.

“It was definitely an experience,” Dowling said this morning. “The water was warm at first, then it got really cold in the middle. It was interesting to view the bridge. You drive over it all the time and it looks so big, but when you’re down under it, looking up at it, it’s crazy.”

The swimmers encountered a number of boats while at the shipping channel at the center of the straits, including three Great Lakes freighters: a Canadian Lakes steamship, the Arthur M. Anderson and the 1,000-foot Mesabi Miner.

According to the release, the swimmers did face a few challenges along the way.

The 650-foot Anderson forced Dowling to reverse course several hundred yards into the shipping channel and caused the swimmers to pause for 12 minutes before resuming their journey.

“That was insane,” Dowling said. “You don’t realize how big those boats are until they’re right in front of you. They move so fast … the wake, the waves they kick up were huge.”

Sechena was forced to remove her wetsuit roughly one third of the way through the swim, as it was causing too much drag, and she finished the remainder of the swim in a pool competition suit.

The swimmers were greeted by family members and friends as well as cheering vacationers at the Old Mission Beach upon completion of the swim.

Assisting the group was the United States Coast Guard who provided marine safety broadcasts to ships and other marine vessels in the area during the event.

The swimmers, along with a number of other local residents, first attempted to swim the straits in August but had to postpone due to poor weather conditions. Only two from the original group – Suzanne Williams and Karl Zueger, both of Marquette – were able to complete the swim one day later than originally planned.

“I would definitely come back next year and try again, try to beat my time. It was really fun,” Dowling said. “We all did it under two hours. That was really impressive.”

Dowling also said it was special to be able to complete the swim with her teammates and coach.

Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.