More than 300 people braved the Straits of Mackinac Sunday for the 13th annual Mighty Mac Swim.
Interlochen Public Radio’s Kaye LaFond rode along on a security boat and got a first-hand look at what goes into herding swimmers across four miles of the straits.
The day started with a beautiful sunrise at 6:34 a.m. Shortly after, about 340 swimmers were in the water attached to big orange buoys for visibility.
An announcement came over the radio on the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa’s fisheries enforcement boat: “As you can see, the swimmers are underway.”
Their boat was one of 12 law enforcement vessels on the water that day, representing the DNR, four tribes, the U.S. Coast Guard, and others. There were also more than a dozen civilian support boats.
The straits are closed to general boat traffic during the four-hour swim, so part of the enforcement boat’s job was to make sure nobody else got too close to the race area.
Enforcement boats were also on the lookout for swimmers who needed to be pulled from the water due to exhaustion or other concerns. The first person ran out of steam within the first 30 minutes.
“Swimmer is tired,” announced a support boat after extracting them from the water. “Swimmer is ok. I’ll be transporting to the ferry.”
The water started calm, but got progressively choppier. Swimmers had to make checkpoints within a certain timeframe. They also had to stay within a certain distance of the bridge.
Grand Traverse Band Conservation Officer La’Kota Raphael honked his horn and called out to a swimmer that had gone off course.
“Sir, you gotta move over! You gotta get back in the lane.”
As the swimmers got closer to St. Ignace, many started to drift too far east due to the currents and had to get pulled out of the water. Some of them didn’t go willingly, and support boats asked for advice on how to proceed.
“If they don’t wanna do it for themselves, please tell them they are putting others in danger,” security responded over the radio. “They need to get on that boat.”
Chris Gates of Grand Rapids said a lot of people had trouble staying on course.
“If you weren’t swimming kind of at a 45 degree angle, you’d actually kind of get sucked out because of the current. So if you just swam straight you’d be, you know, kicked way out east,” Gates said.
At the end of the day, nearly 300 of the 340 or so swimmers were able to finish it, the fastest in an impressive hour and 30 minutes.