While boating around St. John might be a doable feat, swimming around the island requires a little more legwork.
Just ask Tory Lane and Sara Stevens, two St. John residents who swam around the entire island in 15 separate legs over the course of two months — and even revised their planned course to dodge tiger sharks spotted off the island’s East End.
“It felt great to finish,” Lane said. “When we started, it didn’t seem impossible but it felt like it would take forever. But it ended up going by really fast.”
Lane and Stevens are no novices to swimming. The two swam for their high school and then went on to swim competitively at different colleges.
“We both enjoy swimming and Sarah came up with the idea and we just wanted to do it,” Lane said. “We did one leg last summer but got busy with other things and never finished. So we decided to really get busy this summer and do it.”
Beginning on June 14 at Salt Pond Bay and traveling clockwise around the island, Lane and Stevens spent every weekend for two solid months donning goggles and fins to swim 15 legs measuring between 2.5 and 3.5 miles each.
“We swam together the whole time,” Lane said. “Each leg took just over an hour — an hour-and-a-half was our longest swim, from Chocolate Hole to Caneel.”
Originally, the two had planned to swim a total of 35 miles around St. John, cutting out approximately nine miles by swimming straight from Privateer Bay to Johns Folly and avoiding the shoreline areas of Brown Bay, Hurricane Hole and Coral Bay.
But a close encounter with a 6-foot tiger shark made Lane change their course.
“My brother and I were scuba diving about a mile off the East End, about 140 feet to the bottom out there,” Lane recalled.
Lane and his brother heard about a sunken boat located in the area and took turns diving to look for it late one afternoon in August.
“Normally, we go two at a time, but that day we decided to go separately because it is too deep to anchor out there and someone had to stay in the dinghy,” he said. “So my brother went first, came back up, and then I went down.”
Once Lane began his ascent, he encountered the shark when he was 100 feet below the surface.
“I looked over to my right, and a six-foot tiger shark swam past me and then did a loop and went down below me and started swimming straight toward me from down below,” Lane said, adding that he did not have a spear gun or a knife with him. “So I just put my fins up to kick him away if needed, and he just would swim up to about a few feet away from me and swim away. And he repeated this four times.”
Kicking his way up the entire time, Lane said the tiger shark followed him all the way to the surface.
“I’ve seen big sharks before, but this one was definitely agitated — he was really trying to check me out,” Lane said. “It definitely was scary, and I didn’t know what was going to happen.”
The shark encounter occurred just before Stevens and Lane were about to swim the leg from Brown Bay so they revised their course by adding three more shoreline legs, bringing the total length they swam around the island to 44 miles.
“I didn’t want to swim in the deep water anymore,” Lane said. “I was a mile off-shore, 100 feet down with that thing. It spooked me.”
Although Lane and Stevens didn’t encounter any more tiger sharks, they did run into a couple of nurse sharks.
“We saw two nurse sharks,” Lane said. “But they are just big catfish, so they are fine.”
He said swimming the island’s north shore — from Leinster all the way to the East End in the areas only accessible by boat — was his favorite part of the swim.
“There are no buildings out there, there is no runoff and the coral was just really healthy and there are a lot of fish,” Lane said. “I liked the health of the reef, and around Rendezvous, we saw a large school of horse-eyed jacks that were swimming all around us, which was pretty fun.”
Lane and Stevens had such a great time on their swimming circumnavigation that they are planning to do it again — this time with their sights set on generating money for local organizations.
“Next time around, next March or April, we are going to try to get some individuals or businesses to sponsor each leg,” Lane said. “We want to give the money to more than one organization, maybe the Love City Pan Dragons or Friends of the Park.
On October 24, St. John Brewers and Woody’s Seafood Saloon are sponsoring a party to celebrate Lane and Stevens’ recent accomplishment at Gibney Beach at noon, and food and drink proceeds will benefit K.A.T.S.