BAR HARBOR — Out-of-state visitors to Hadley Point on Tuesday night got to see more than just a great sunset.
Members of the community gathered to cheer on Puranjot Kaur as she began her second attempt at swimming the nearly 44 miles around Mount Desert Island in a 24-hour timeframe.
Music was pumping from a speaker with Gary Allen of Black Crow Athletics, a veteran of marathon feats, as DJ in one of several support vessels. Families of the MDI YMCA swim teams Kaur has helped coach and women from the cold water swim group she bonded with through the last winter all were on the shore cheering, filming and standing in awe as she swam away from the sunset.
After stopping a little less than halfway through her first attempt to swim around Mount Desert Island last August, Kaur and her support team employed a few new strategies this time.
“There’s some definite differences for sure,” said Kaur in a conversation with the Islander on Sunday. “I bumped the entire swim up by almost a month – three weeks at least.”
Water temperature was the main reason for that change, but “we just had a July that was the coldest July on record since 2006,” she added.
Even though the water temperature was above 55 degrees when Kaur left Hadley Point on Tuesday, it dipped low enough through the night hours that she was taken from the water around 6 a.m. after swimming for 12 hours and 22 miles. Despite falling short of her goal for the second time, there was no lack of encouragement and love on the Open Table MDI Facebook page.
“Swimming all night long in the ocean! Unbelievable!” wrote Tammi Chessa.
“Puranjot Kaur, to say you are an inspiration to many is an understatement! Sending so much love.”
One fan pointed out the distance she swam was the same as the English Channel, “no small feat,” he wrote.
A week before she took off from Hadley Point at 7:30 a.m. on Aug. 28, 2020, the temperature in the ocean dropped, according to Kaur. Cold water temperature that led to hypothermia was one of several contributing factors to why she and her team decided to end the first Round the Rock swim after 17 miles. It was the same reason the swim ended around the halfway point this year as well.
Wind was another reason her first consecutive swimming attempt was thwarted. When she rounded Otter Point last year on her way to Sutton Island, Kaur met with a pretty consistent southwesterly wind that was blowing toward her. It seemed no matter how hard she paddled, it was extremely difficult to make any headway in that section of the swim and so it was eventually stopped. Determined to reach her goal, Kaur finished the nearly 44-mile swim in segments once her body was ready to do so last fall.
This year, to avoid fighting that southwesterly gust, Kaur planned her launch from Hadley Point on Tuesday, the evening of Aug. 3, at 7:27 p.m., with the intent of hitting that same stretch in the early morning hours.
“Hopefully the water will be calm at that hour of the morning,” she said before she departed, explaining in that case she would be closer to Bass Harbor when it picks up. “So if there is a southern wind at that point, it will be pushing me along rather than me fighting against it.”
That strategy paid off and she was able to get through the same area without the wind. Even though the water temperature climbed above 60 as dawn broke a bit after 4 a.m., Kaur’s time in 54-degree water was too much and her team decided to pull her from the water. “To say she’s devastated would be an understatement,” it said on the organization’s page.
As with last year, this year’s swim is a fundraiser for Open Table MDI, a nonprofit organization started by Kaur and her husband Mahandeva Singh with a goal of addressing food insecurity on MDI. In the spring, the couple signed a lease for a new space on Cottage Street after operating their food service out of the Bar Harbor Congregational Church since 2018.
“Initially we hoped we’d be in by summer,” said Kaur. “It is a very old building that has been in disrepair for a long time. There have been delays and hiccups along the way.”
In the new space, Open Table MDI will have about the same area for community meals but the kitchen space is increasing, which will allow them to better address their food access program. Currently, that program serves 82 boxes, which equates to about 150 people, each week.
“That’s our sweet spot in that space,” said Kaur. “Once we get into that space, we’ll be able to expand that.”
During the pandemic over the last year and a half, the organization has been serving a higher number of people.
“Our numbers are down slightly but still well above the numbers we were seeing before COVID,” said Kaur. “We were doing over 400 people every Tuesday night through the spring.”
This year there has been no specific goal set for the fundraising campaign that began on Aug. 1. Last year’s swim raised $50,000.
“I’m not sure in the end how things will shake out,” said Kaur on Sunday.
One way things have shaken out on both attempts is the elicitation of an amazing amount of respect and awe from those who could only imagine taking on such a goal.
Hopefully those visiting from out of state on the shores of Hadley Point Tuesday night can take away one thing from their trip to Bar Harbor: When you pour your heart into your community through your everyday efforts, that community holds you in their hearts and stands around you no matter the outcome. Well done, Puranjot!
To donate or to learn more, visit www.opentablemdi.org.