Courtney Moates Paulk - Chesapeake Bay
Kiptopeke to Grandview Island
28 km (17.4 miles)
10 hours, 39 minutes on 27 May 2021
Observed and documented by Heather Fairbanks
First of this route
- Name: Courtney Moates Paulk
- Gender: female
- Age on swim date: 51
- Nationality: United States
- Resides: Richmond, Virginia
- Matt Paulk - crew chief
- Amy Frick - crew, backup kayaker
- Lauren Hasselquist - crew
- Arne Hasselquist - kayaker
- Heather Fairbanks - observer
|Smokin’ Gun II||2008 custom-built 40’ Evans||Hampton, VA|
- Category: Solo, nonstop, unassisted.
- Rules: MSF Rules of Marathon Swimming, without exception or modification.
- Equipment used: textile swimsuit (TYR Durafest Elite Diamondback), latex cap, goggles, adventure lights
- Body of Water: Chesapeake Bay
- Route Type: one-way
- Start Location: Near the end of Pickett’s Harbor Drive north of Kiptopeke, VA. (37.188029, -75.998171)
- Finish Location: Beach south of Grandview Island Grill (terminus of Riley Way), Hampton, VA. (37.073744, -76.278181)
- Minimum Route Distance: 28 km (17.4 miles) (map)
While I believe there have been some attempts (successful and unsuccessful) across the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay where it meets the Atlantic Ocean, I have found no known attempts across the Chesapeake Bay from the Eastern Shore of Virginia to Virginia’s “mainland”. In the History of Open Water Marathon Swimming by Capt. Tim Johnson, it is reported as follows:
The late summer of 1916 provided quite a few distance swims. Charles Durborow next swim put him in the record books alongside Robert Dowling, with a swim across the entrance to the Chesapeake Bay. His course took him on the ocean side of the present day Chesapeake Bridge/Tunnel, itself a course for a swim organized in the early 1980s by Fletcher Hanks).
On June 23, 1916, at 9:25 pm, Charles left from Fisherman’s Island on the southern shore of Maryland’s Eastern Shore and began a nighttime swim to the Virginia Coast some 13 mile distance. He had tried this swim the previous summer but gave up after 12 hours. This year’s swim went much easier. He landed at his planned location the Cape Henry Lifesaving Station at 6:08 am on June 24, 1916. The elapsed time was 8:43 and the distance between the start and finish is 18 miles. Charles used the trudgeon stroke for the entire swim, not taking any food or drink for the swim. A small party of residents greeted him upon his arrival. This is the first recorded crossing of the Chesapeake Bay entrance and as far as I can tell the only night swim.
I also understand that Anders Jakobsson has said that he swam across the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay – but I do not believe he submitted any information to have the swim ratified. However, it is reported that Anders swam from Fisherman’s Island (as did Charles Durborow) to Chic’s Beach in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
As mentioned previously, The History of Open Water Marathon Swimming also reports that Fletcher Hanks completed a swim across the entrance/mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. In 1993, the 13 mile swim across the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay merged with The Great Chesapeake Bay Swim. I have been unable to find any additional information about the swim completed/sponsored by Fletcher Hanks across the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. The Great Chesapeake Bay Swim website also is ambiguous about the history of the swim in the lower Chesapeake Bay.
There is, of course, the Great Chesapeake Bay Swim in Maryland – a 4.4 mile swim using the Route 50 bridges across the Bay as a guide. Thousands of people have completed the Great Chesapeake Bays swim. There may be other swims that have been completed in the upper Chesapeake Bay rather than the lower Chesapeake Bay.
I have been unable to find any reported swims from the Eastern Shore of Virginia to Hampton, Virginia – in the area of the lower Chesapeake Bay above the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel.
- Start: 27 May 2021, 09:21:18 (Eastern Daylight, America/New_York, UTC-7).
- Finish: 27 May 2021, 20:00:42
- Elapsed: 10 hours, 39 minutes, 24 seconds.
Summary of Conditions
|Water Temp (F)||67.6||73.5|
|Air Temp (F)||73.7||80.9|
Trackpoint frequency: 20 minutes. Download raw data (CSV).
Nutrition: CarboPro, Tailwind, Endurolytes, applesauce, egg salad on bun.
by Courtney Moates Paulk
When the pools and public beaches shut down in March 2020, in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, I began looking for looking for places to swim (and people to swim with). I had a 2-way English Channel attempt booked for 2020, and, of course, I remained optimistic we would make it to England that summer. In my efforts, I reached out to a friend on Facebook who lives about an hour and half away from me to see if she knew of some private water access. Her name is Monica, and she has never met a stranger. In early April, Monica invited me to swim with a group off of a private beach in Hampton, Virginia in the Chesapeake Bay. I was thrilled and excited to find some like-minded swimmers braving the relatively chilly Bay in early April.
I arrived for the swim in a place called Grandview Island. My mother lived in Hampton for many years – and even worked for the Hampton Convention and Visitors Bureau – but, somehow, I had never learned of this amazing place called Grandview. Monica had said we were meeting at 5:00 p.m., but as I pulled up at the appointed house, everyone was dressed and ready to go. Apparently, I misunderstood that it was to be toes in at 5:00 and not arrive at 5:00. So, I hopped out of the car and began to scramble to get my act together. Not a great introduction!
As I was scrambling, I saw a little whispering going on and I received what I now jokingly refer to as a “chilly reception” from several members of the group. Not quite understanding what that was about – I just fell-in with the group as we walked to the beach. Monica came up next to me on the way to the beach and said “so….I actually wasn’t supposed to invite you . . .so, if you get a chilly reception, that’s probably why….but it will be fine, they will love you.” Of course, in the early days of the pandemic, people were hesitant to be around too many people. And, given that Grandview is a private beach community, the locals were concerned about how the neighborhood would react to a bunch of outsiders coming to access the beach. Despite being a little uncomfortable, and feeling like I had a crashed a party, I thought, well – I’m here now, so I guess let’s go swim.
The water was rough and cold – perfect. To make matters worse, I was one of only a few people not wearing a wetsuit. The water was in the low 50s and while I didn’t see any eye-rolls, I could definitely feel them. Lauren, the local homeowner, was keeping her distance and giving me side-eyes (we are now super close friends – and we have laughed about this many times). Lauren said “you’ve swum the English Channel – right?” In response, I said that I actually had swum it 3 times. . . and I immediately thought, crap, that sounded boastful. . . but I just blurted out of my mouth. She said “huh, interesting…”
We swam a “Grandview lap” which is a little over a mile and a half – and then everyone was getting out of the water. While I wanted to swim more – I wouldn’t dare given that I felt I was on a bit of thin ice. A Grandview lap is down and back – and everyone regroups at the turn. While we were at the turn, I was able to strike-up some more conversations and I got to meet a few more swimmers. Lauren, and her kayaker husband, Arne, asked me a few questions and then we headed back to where we started.
After we finished the swim, Lauren asked me how I pee/poop during a swim. I answered. And, as we were walking back to Lauren’s and Arne’s house – Lauren said “I’ve decided I’m only going to ask you one question each time I see you….” And, I thought, OMG – does this mean that I’m going to get invited back! Yay!!! I told Lauren she could ask me as many questions as she wanted and I would be happy to answer.
When we got back to the house, there was discussion about scheduling the next swim and, as I had hoped, I got the nod to come back. And, so began the start of amazing friendships and adventures. So much so, that we now own a house on Grandview Island. It is a special place. We have fallen in love with it.
I trained throughout the pandemic with the Grandview group – which we have named the GILLS. We never really decided on a final name – other than GILLS. Ideas were – Grandview Island Lucky Lapper Swimmers. Or, Grandview Island Looney Lapper Swimmers. And, I’m sure there were others – but, now we are just GILLS.
Arne is an amazing kayaker and somewhere along the way we started talking about whether we should do a swim and kayak across the lower Chesapeake Bay. By the fall of 2020, we were talking about it in earnest. Arne had always wanted to kayak across and I am always up for a swim adventure.
In early 2021, I reached out to a local boat captain to see if he would pilot the swim. While we have access to boats – we decided it would be best to have someone very familiar with this area of the Chesapeake Bay. I found Chandler Hogg with the Smokin’ Gun II and gave him a call. He answered and I started to tell him what we wanted to do – and he very quickly said “I’m in, let’s do it!” His wife is a triathlete and he thought it would be awesome.
I also reached out to the local Coastguard to talk about the currents and they were very helpful with resources. And, while I didn’t need a permit, they did ask me to provide information regarding the swim so they would know I was out there.
Chandler has a busy fishing charter business, so it was a little tricky finding a day that would work with the currents. We ultimately landed on May 27, 2021. The plan would be to swim from the Eastern Shore of Virginia back to Grandview Island. There is an old tree on the beach at Grandview – and I really wanted to land at the tree. Arne spent the spring working on his kayaking (and his butt stamina) because he wanted to kayak the whole way across.
I found a public access area at a beach north of Kiptopeke, Virginia – at the end of Picketts Harbor Drive – just in case we decided we needed to start the swim from land, rather than from the boat. Chandler was concerned that the water would be super shallow near the start and that he wouldn’t be able to get close enough to shore. We did a little recognizance the week before and learned that we could get close enough to shore by boat and we would only have a short swim into the beach. So – no public access needed.
I looped-in friends Amy Frick and Heather Fairbanks to crew and observe, respectively. Lauren and my husband, Matt, also were crew. And, Arne would be in the kayak. Amy and Heather headed to Grandview from Richmond the night before the swim. We ate a lot, and laughed a lot, and planned for the swim.
We arrived at the Smokin’ Gun II the morning of the swim and loaded up and headed out across the Bay. It took about an hour and a half to get a across – much quicker than the trip back would be. It was a beautiful day. The sun was out, there was a mild breeze – just a perfect day for a swim.
We arrived on the Eastern Shore about 9:00 a.m.. The water temp was a balmy 67ish. We put the kayak and Arne in the water. I greased up. We took some pictures and I jumped off of another perfectly good boat into the water for a swim.
Just as Arne and I were sorting out our path to shore – another fishing boat came along and kicked up a terrible wake and nearly toppled Arne. He got wet – and he cursed the fishing boat. He was hoping to start (and stay) dry for the entirety of the swim. Best laid plans…
Arne and I made our way to shore. One of my work colleagues, Chris, was camping on the Eastern Shore and he and one of his daughters came to see us off. It was fun to see a smiling face on a deserted shore at the start of a swim.
We said our goodbyes and off we went to cross the Bay. From the start to the Grandview tree is about 17ish miles. To account for the currents, we decided to head relatively straight across the Bay with the hope that the current would carry us down the Bay during the second half of the swim. But, Chandler was in control of navigation and we would trust where he took us.
There are coal ships that anchor near the start of the swim while they wait to load/unload their coal in nearby Newport News. As we started the swim, we had a number of coal ships anchored to our right, and those made for good interim goals as we passed ship and after ship.
The weather remained beautiful and relatively calm for the first several hours and we were trucking along as planned. At some point, Arne saw a curious cobia following me for about 20 minutes. And, apparently, there were lots of dolphins (although I never saw them). At one point, Matt was taking some photos and realized after the fact that he got a dolphin jumping out of the water behind me. He told everyone on the boat that he “got the money shot.” Apparently, everyone on the boat had lots of fun and ate lots of food. Arne also consumed a massive amount of beef jerky in the kayak – in addition to kayaking, he chewed his way across the Bay!
Chandler and his crew were amazing. The current wasn’t doing exactly what we thought it would do – so he adjusted and ended up taking us on a more direct line than we had planned. Chandler was totally into the swim and we couldn’t have asked for a better team to lead us across.
As we approached the western side of the Bay, there was discussion about whether I wanted to land on the northern part of Grandview Island. I said, if we could make it work, I really wanted to land at the Grandview tree. Chandler said, “If she wants to land at the tree – we are taking her to the tree!”
As the afternoon progressed, the wind picked up – as did the chop. And, the sun began sinking low in the sky. We had thought we would be able to ride the current a little longer – but, it turned to flood earlier than we expected. Chandler was worried about a strong current that runs just off of the island. So we took a bit of a circuitous route to try to avoid it as best we could.
When we came around part of Grandview that juts out into the Bay, I could see a wall of people and golf carts on the beach. The sun was starting to set and tons of Grandview Islanders had come out to see us finish. It was truly amazing. Having done so many swims without anyone at the finish, I was giddy and picked up my pace.
Right before we headed in – I asked Arne to be sure to stay clear of me as I went into the beach. The crew had named Arne “Iron Butt” for his fortitude in kayaking the whole way without a break. I said goodbye to the crew on the boat, thanked Chandler and team, and I headed into the finish – right at the tree. Our friend Carol was on the beach and Matt called her to make sure everyone knew that they couldn’t touch me. Apparently, Carol shouted several times and made everyone line up far enough from the water line so there was NO risk anyone was going to touch me before I cleared the water. I also told the crew on the boat and I would likely just stay on shore and celebrate with everyone, rather than swimming back to the boat.
As I swam up to the Grandview tree, it was an awesome experience. I couldn’t believe we had all of these people there cheering us into the beach. I came up on shore – arms up/arms down to signal I had finished. The smile on my face was ear to ear as I turned around to all of the people on the beach.
I had another colleague from work there as a surprise, Myrna, and her husband Mark. Myrna had thought ahead, as she is known to do, and brought me a towel. Then I was handed a massive goblet of champagne. I turned and toasted our success with Arne (now Iron Butt) and sent word to the crew that I was DEFINITELY staying on shore. Arne and I mingled and had more champagne and beer – while the crew took the boat around to the dock and picked up dinner.
About an hour after we finished, a neighbor drove me back to the house in the golf cart. The dog needed to be let out – so I stood in the front yard in my bathing suit and towel wrapped around my waist – champagne goblet still in hand – while the dog did her business. I headed inside and took a lovely shower. The crew and Arne arrived back at the house and we devoured some good Italian food. Mission accomplished!
I’m grateful that my friend Monica took a chance and broke some rules so I could meet Lauren, Arne, Carol, Jorge and all of the GILLS swimmers. We swam (and Arne kayaked) through cold and crappy weather throughout the pandemic so we could keep our fitness and our sanity. And, along the way, we became amazing friends. This swim across the Bay was just one of many adventures we have undertaken in the Bay and beyond since March 2020. I am certain there will be many more.
I am also thankful for long-time friends Heather and Amy who came along for this adventure. Amy has crewed for many of my swims and she has been a rock for both me and Matt over many miles of water. And, Heather was a steadfast observer who took her job very seriously (between snacks).
And, of course, Matty P, as always, kissed me and told me to enjoy the journey before I started this swim. He hasn’t enjoyed every swim I’ve ever done – he tends to stress more than I do. But, I think this one is at the top of his list of favorites. No matter the swim – it keeps my head in the right place to see him standing at the rail of the boat looking down at me.
Huge thanks and congratulations also go to Arne “Iron Butt” for kayaking 17ish miles over nearly 11 hours. He only fussed a few times about some navigational issues (mostly because his mouth was full of beef jerky and because he is a navigational genius ).
I have swum many, many miles along the shoreline of the Chesapeake Bay and, as swimmers do, I found myself regularly looking towards the distant shore, wondering if I could swim across. I’m so glad I did!
Click to enlarge.