Aquinnah to Cuttyhunk, stroke by stroke across Vineyard Sound

Don Margolis swam off Gay Head as he made his way towards Cuttyhunk Island across Vineyard Sound. — Photo courtesy of Don Margolis

There was no rhyme or reason for the swim from Martha’s Vineyard to Cuttyhunk, other than the fact that Don Margolis just decided that he wanted to swim across Vineyard Sound. So that’s what the 57-year-old Oakland, California, native did.

At 11:16 am, on Wednesday July 31, he set off from Gay Head in Aquinnah wearing nothing but a blue bathing cap, thermal cap and speedo. He arrived on Cuttyhunk 3 hours and 16 minutes later.

“I knew I could do it, it was just a matter of timing it and being consistent with the current,” he said.

Mr. Margolis and his wife, Anne Steinberg, have been visiting the Vineyard, which he describes as “paradise on earth,” since 1979. This year he wanted to take his vacation to new heights.

He consulted time and current information for the days leading up to the swim. He also enlisted the help of friend and neighbor Joel Leonard to drive a small safety boat that would keep pace alongside for the duration of the swim. “I have to give kudos to Joel for keeping pace and staying on course,” Mr. Margolis said. “Imagine spending three hours parallel parking your car, that’s basically what he did on water.”

Vineyard Sound separates the Elizabeth Island chain from Martha’s Vineyard. The water was just shy of 72 degrees on the day of the swim.

Cuttyhunk, the westernmost island in the Elizabeths lies roughly 12 miles south of New Bedford and eight miles northwest of Gay Head. “I just took one stroke after the other and made a straight line for Cuttyhunk,” Mr. Margolis said.

His wife, Anne, fed him water and Gu energy gels at the 60-minute mark and every 30 minutes afterwards. “My favorite was the chocolate flavor,” Mr. Margolis said.

While some might consider a swim of that distance to be an onerous undertaking, Mr. Margolis said he enjoyed every minute of it. “This is such a blissful place to swim, I didn’t have a single unpleasant moment,” Mr. Margolis said.

A city attorney in San Francisco, Mr. Margolis said he grew up swimming in Santa Monica as a kid. Now, he’s a devoted masters swimmer — a national nonprofit organization that promotes recreational and competitive swimming for adults — and a proud member of the South End Rowing Club. Swimming has become a passion, almost a way of life.

“I’m part of that group of people who does all those crazy swims,” Mr. Margolis said. In addition to sunrise swims in San Francisco Bay, every September the Club holds a 1.25-mile open water swim from Alcatraz Island back to the South End Rowing Club at the foot of the Hyde Street Pier.

The last 100 meters to Cuttyhunk, Mr. Margolis did a victory “butterfly” swim.

“This isn’t going to make me sound modest, but I could have swum another couple of miles,” Mr. Margolis said. “It was one of the most fun swims I’ve ever had. The only thing that was missing was my fellow South Enders.”