Mike Mayrand got up early on the morning of Sept. 2, and from his house in Gay Head he looked out over Vineyard Sound, and didn’t like what he saw. He called Bud Raymond in Vineyard Haven and said, “I don’t know, Bud, I’m seeing a lot of whitecaps out there.”
This was the day that Bud had planned to swim across Vineyard Sound, and Mike was going to take him over to Job’s Neck on the eastern end of Naushon in his 20-foot fishing boat, Plumber’s Helper, and then accompany him back to Norton Point on Makonikey in West Tisbury.
When Bud heard about the whitecaps, according to his girlfriend, Rhoda Needleman, he threw on his bathrobe and shot out of his house to go down to West Chop and look at the Sound for himself. Much to his relief, Bud thought it would be just fine for a swim. He’d waited long enough, and he thought if he didn’t do it now, he probably never would.
Bud has always enjoyed swimming, and one of the things on his bucket list was a long-distance swim. Bud is 66 years old, and since retiring last year after 31 years as general manager of the Mansion House in Vineyard Haven, he found himself with plenty of time to train. Bud would swim for a mile or so every day along Vineyard Haven Harbor or State Beach. He would take most of the winter off because he didn’t like swimming in pools, although Rhoda said that they would try to schedule a trip each winter to someplace tropical like Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, or Mexico, built around getting as much swim time in as possible. But Bud always had his sights set on a swim across Vineyard Sound, and he decided this would be the year.
Fred Rundlet from Vineyard Haven volunteered to be Bud’s lookout. He would be onboard Mike Mayrand’s boat and keep his eye out for boat traffic. Bud said to Mike, “I’m thinking of doing my swim over Labor Day weekend.” And with his usual droll sense of humor, Bud added, “I was trying to find a busier weekend, but I couldn’t.”
Bud, Fred, and Mike left on Plumber’s Helper from Lake Tashmoo at 8 am on Sept. 2, and headed for Naushon. Bud had borrowed some charts from his friends Jim and Kim O’Conner, who would sail alongside Bud for part of his swim in their catboat Glimmer. Bud charted the most direct course across the Sound, 4.1 miles from Job’s Neck to Norton Point. He then checked the tides to make sure he wouldn’t be fighting a foul current — the tides in Vineyard Sound can be notoriously swift. The window Bud had given himself for his swim would be either an ebbing tide, which would push him up the Sound toward Gay Head, or a slack tide, which had no current.
When the O’Conners met up with Bud about two-thirds of the way across the Sound, they consulted their GPS and realized he hadn’t compensated enough for the tides. “They told me if I kept on that course, I’d end up in Menemsha,” said Bud.
According to Fred Rundlet, “Buddy hit the water and didn’t skip a beat. I thought he’d rest a bit and tread water or swim on his back, but he just kept up a steady stroke until he got to the other side.”
As Bud’s lookout, Fred had to be on alert for everything from fast ferries to a parade of recreational craft headed down the Sound. They would try to keep Bud about 30 or 40 yards from their boat, and when they were joined by Glimmer, Bud swam between the two boats, about 50 feet away.
The closest encounter they had was when a 75-foot yacht bore down on Bud. “He just kept coming at us,” said Fred, “until finally I saw someone on deck with a pair of binoculars. They must have spotted Buddy, and with about 75 yards to spare, they veered off.”
I asked Bud what was the hardest part about the swim. “The logistics, really,” he said. “I had trained well, so physically it wasn’t really a problem. The hardest part was coordinating the tides and the currents.”
Were you worried about sharks? I asked, given the prevalence of great whites in our waters of late. “Sharks never crossed my mind,” said Bud. “I was actually more concerned with jellyfish — Portuguese man-of-wars.” Bud wore a short-sleeved wetsuit, which presumably would reduce the risk of being stung.
Three hours and 15 minutes after leaving Naushon, Bud swam up to Cedar Tree Neck, a few miles southwest of Norton Point — but close enough. Bud said he was greeted by several little kids who were amazed that he just came from across the Sound. And a staff member of Cedar Tree Neck Sanctuary, who approached him because, technically, swimming from the beach at the sanctuary is not allowed. Imagine the staff member’s surprise when Bud told him the only beach he had used was over five miles away.