Elizabeth Beisel - Block Island Sound
Matunuck RI to Block Island
16.1 km (10.0 miles)
5 hours, 18 minutes on 25 September 2021
Observed and documented by Elaine Kornbau Howley
- Support Personnel
- Swim Parameters
- Swim Data & GPS
- Observer Log
- Appendix A: Safety Plan
- Appendix B: James Bayles 2005 swim report
- Appendix C: Press Release
- Name: Elizabeth Beisel
- Gender: female
- Age on swim date: 29
- Nationality: United States
- Resides: North Kingstown, Rhode Island
Official observer on:
- Courtney Paulk - Cross Cape Cod Bay
- Sarah Thomas – Lake Champlain
- Caroline Block – Double Lake George
MOWSA leadership, race direction of Boston Light Swim, Triple Crown swimmer, Core Group MSF
- Category: Solo, nonstop, unassisted.
- Rules: MSF Rules of Marathon Swimming, without exception or modification.
- Equipment used: Textile swimsuit (Speedo Women’s Turnz Tie Back One Piece Swimsuit), silicone cap, goggles, sunblock.
- Body of Water: Block Island Sound, North Atlantic Ocean
- Route Type: one-way channel swim
- Start Location: Matunuck Beach (Ocean Mist Restaurant) (41.3733405, -71.5449938)
- Finish Location: North Point, Block Island (41.230858, -71.576789)
- Minimum Route Distance: 16.1 km (10.0 miles) (map)
The earliest mention I’ve come across of anyone swimming to or from Block Island dates back to [1898 ]when Prof. John W. Glenister reportedly abandoned a swim from BI to Newport. The following year, he apparently helped arrange a Newport to BI attempt by [Peter McNally], an L Street Brownie, but I have not yet found record of whether the swim ever actually took place.
In April 1927, the [Rutland Evening
reported that the Block Island Chamber of Commerce was planning to host
an ocean marathon swim from the Beaver Tail Lighthouse to the new
bathing beach at Block Island, reportedly a 25-mile distance.
“Exceptionally strong tides between the two points, it is said, would
make the swim a real struggle for any contestant. Effort is to be made
to enroll some of the internationally famous swimmers to take part in
the event.” No additional reports have surfaced.
A pro race staged on July 1, 1950 drew 32 swimmers to enter the event. It was billed as a 13.7-mile swim, but used almost exactly the same course as Beisel’s swim this year, which was just 10.4 miles. The swimmers launched from Matunuck Beach at 4 am and aimed for the North Point Lighthouse at the north end of Block Island. The swim was halted early because of fog and heavy chop and no swimmers finished officially.
Order of finish as reported by the [United Press]:
Tom Park, 26 of Hamilton, Ontario was awarded first prize, but did not make landfall. He was taken 2 miles from finish. The swim was halted because of fog and heavy chop. Park’s time was listed as 7 hours 9 minutes and he won $1000 and flew home that afternoon to meet his baby daughter Irene who’d been born the night before the swim.
Charles Grover, 30, of Boston, $250 +$50 lap prize for leading at the 11-mile mark.
Matt Chrostowski, 34, of Providence.
Henry Pferr, Brooklyn, NY.
William Sadlo, Brooklyn, NY.
William Wentworth, Boston.
Sal Saccoccia, Cranston, RI.
Althea Mercer, 22 of Tiverton, $500 leading woman swimmer and $100 for 8th place. She was the only “girl lifeguard” in the state of RI, serving on Second Beach. A 28 July 1950 article says she was the “only female finisher of the event the year before and that “Miss Mercer covered the 20 miles to Block Island in seven hours and a half, and last year swam from Coney Island to the Battery in New York, a distance of 10 miles.” She was hoping to swim the English Channel the following summer. [https://www.newspapers.com/clip/86147190/althea-mercer-1950/]
John Mercer Jr., 18, of Tiverton, $75.
Other participants included:
John Mercer, Sr, (aged 52, 54, or 58 depending on the source) of Tiverton, oldest entrant.
Faith Mercer, 12, Tiverton.
Hope Mercer, 12 (twin of Faith).
Robert Mercer , 14, Tiverton.
Lois Mercer, 28.
Betty Cohn, 50, of Brooklyn was the oldest woman entrant. [https://www.newspapers.com/clip/78474998/betty-cohn-block-island/]
Rosemary Blaine, 21, and a waitress at a Block island hotel got some pre-event press coverage. She wanted to win the $1,000 prize to help pay for college. [https://www.newspapers.com/clip/78492339/rosemary-blaine-bi-swim-1950/]
Steven Wozniack of Buffalo NY, who’d won a 10-mile swim in Toronto the summer before.
In total, 7 women had entered and a special $500 prize was earmarked for the first female finisher. In some reports, Althea Mercer is listed as “the only female finisher” but she did not make landfall.
The swim was sponsored by the Hanley Brewing Company, which donated
$3500 in prize money.
The swimming Mercer family of Tiverton included John senior and a reported 7 children ranging in age from 12 to 28 all participating in the race.
August 28, 1968, John E. Fogarty memorial swim race, billed as a
15-mile swim, from Sand Hill Cove State beach in Narragansett to Block
Island’s New Harbor featured some of the top marathon swimmers of the
day. 17 competitors from 7 countries started the event.
Horacio Iglesias of Argentina and Abdel-Latif Abou-Heif of Egypt crossed the finish line together in 8 hours 11 minutes. The Providence Journal (as reported by the [Block Island Times]) reported on August 25, 1968 that “a yard from the float that served as the finish line, the two clasped hands and touched the line together while a small band blared, skippers of crafts in the [New] harbor honked their horns and a crowd of 1,000 persons applauded." \
Download Block Island Times article (PDF).
Reporter Harold Rich added: "There may be a harder way to make a buck, but one doesn't come to mind."
The pair shared the first and second prizes: $2,000 for first place, and $1,500 for second. According to the Journal, "The result left Abou-Heif the 1964-65 world champion, and Iglesias, the defending champion, one-two in the federation point standings this year." The conditions were not stellar that day: 62-degree water and winds of 10 to 15 knots. And all the swimmers reportedly complained of the extreme cold of the currents. Not to mention sharks.
Two other finishers that day included:
Antonio Scamardella of Italy
Regent Lacoursiere of Canada
They also finished simultaneously, but didn’t qualify for the 3rd and
4th place prizes because they arrived 2 hours and 17 minutes behind the
first arrivals. The rules stated finishers had to be within 2 hours of
the winner to receive a prize. But, the Block Island committee, a prize
donor, decided to give each man $875 anyway.
Other entrants included:
Ex-University of Michigan swimmer Tom Bucy, who’d led the race from the beginning but was the first to drop out, after about 2 hours.
Australian Linda McGill was the only woman entered. She lasted 10 hours, and was the last fished out by the Coast Guard. She got stuck in a current near Sandy Point and couldn’t swim out of it. She reportedly swam the event naked.
Bill Lafferty, an Air Force sergeant from Providence gave up after 4 hours 40 minutes.
Harold Weymouth, a lifeguard and swimming instructor at Sandy Point Beach in Newport, and winner of the 1967 King Neptune Race at Newport Beach, was entered. “He performed all three parts of the medley relay, which other contestant did in teams. He won a trophy for the Sandy Point cross-river swim race when he was a boy,” the Newport (Rhode Island) Daily News reported on 20 August 1968. He was a senior at Eastern Connecticut State College and spent 6 hours and 45 minutes in the water. [https://www.newspapers.com/clip/78491349/harold-weymouth-bi-swim-1968/]
July 23, 2005 Jim Bayles, then 53, of Newtown, Connecticut, swam 10.25 miles from a beach 1.5 miles west of the Point Judith Lighthouse to the North Point Lighthouse in 5 hours, 4 minutes. Initially, Bayles thought he was the first person to complete the crossing, but after local press reported his swim as such, several locals came forward to say they knew someone or had been involved with two pro races in 1950 and 1968. His swim is detailed in the Block Island Times piece linked above.)
September 8, 2012, Trent Theroux swam from Point Judith to Block Island using backstroke. Swim was billed as a 14-miler (It’s actually measured at 10.25, as he followed the same course as Jim) and was a fundraiser for the RISE Above Paralysis organization (Theroux had nearly been killed in a freak boat/kayak accident off Block Island almost 10 years to the day before his swim.) Mike Sever, Trent’s coach, entered the water an hour and a half into the swim and swam alongside Trent the rest of the way to shore. A few articles related to that swim: [https://s3.amazonaws.com/external_clips/3052646/TrentTheroux.pdf?1556141539] https://www.blockislandtimes.com/article/10-years-after-almost-dying-hell-swim-backstroke-block-island/31327 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RGv4A7mMSvw
August 1, 2021, Ben Tuff completed a 19-mile swim from Block Island to Jamestown, though it’s unclear whether he followed MSF rules, and he was going the other way, so he’s sort of in a separate bucket right now.
List of finishers of Mainland to Block Island Swims:
1. Horacio Iglesias of Argentina tied with
1. Abdel-Latif Abou-Heif of Egypt in 8:11, Sand Hill Cove State Beach in Narragansett to New Harbor in Block Island. (Billed at 15 miles) August 28, 1968.
3. Antonio Scamardella of Italy 10:28 August 28, 1968 also tied with
3. Regent Lacoursiere of Canada 10:28 August 28, 1968.
5. Jim Bayles, of Newtown, Connecticut, Point Judith to North Light, BI, 5:04, July 23, 2005.
6. Trent Theroux, Point Judith to North Light, BI, backstroke, time needs to be verified. September 8, 2012.
7. Elizabeth Beisel, Matunuck to North Light, BI, 5:18:52 (first woman and first following MSF rules). September 25, 2021.
- Start: 25 September 2021, 08:06 (Eastern Daylight Time, America/New_York, UTC-7).
- Finish: 25 September 2021, 13:24
- Elapsed: 5 hours, 18 minutes, 52 seconds.
Summary of Conditions
|Water Temp (F)||69.8||70.5|
|Air Temp (F)||65.8||77.9|
Trackpoint frequency: 15 minutes. Download raw data (CSV).
Click to enlarge.