Swimming the Lake

It is probably a little early in the year to think about swimming the length of the lake, but not too early to discuss some of the earlier attempts.

On Saturday, July 24, 1934, Ellsworth “Chubby” Greenough, 28 years old and coated in grease, swam the 16-mile length of Skaneateles Lake; it was his fourth attempt and first success. He entered the water at Clift Park at 7:40 a.m. and climbed out at the south end of the lake at 6:45 p.m. He tried to repeat the feat three times in 1950 and 1951, but cramps caused by the cold water defeated his later attempts.

In August of 1952, Carleton Dunn, 19, said he swam the length of the lake but he did it without the benefit of witnesses. Cramps ended an early morning attempt after three miles, but after some time in the hospital, Dunn returned to Glen Haven, dove into the water and began the swim again, over the protests of his friends, without a boat to accompany him. He was feared drowned until he appeared at his home on Griffin Street at 4:30 a.m., and told his parents he had swum the lake, mostly in the dark. He later told a reporter, “I’ll do it again anytime anyone challenges me and I’ll do it with witnesses,” however, there is no further evidence of an encore.

In August of 1966, Walter “Wally” Duncan, 69, swam the lake in 10 hours, 46 minutes. He was quoted afterwards as saying, “Damn. It was cold.” He also swam the length of Owasco Lake, and swam Cayuga Lake four times.

On July 14, 1984, Cornell co-ed Claire de Boer, 24, swam Skaneateles Lake in 8 hours, 20 minutes, north to south, as part of a tune-up for a swim of the length of Cayuga Lake, a 38-mile, 20-hour, 30-minute swim she completed in August.

In July of 1987, while training for an English Channel swim, Jerry Ferris, 47, swam from the village to the south end of Skaneateles Lake, and turned around to swim back; just two miles from the village he was forced out of the water by a thunderstorm. He did the 30 miles in 12 hours.


Jerry Ferris in 2013

Earlier, Ferris swam the length of Lake George in 1983, and said it was his hardest swim. He swam around the island of Manhattan in 1984. His 1987 try for a round-trip English Channel swim was foiled by strong currents and tides, so he only made the crossing one way, from Dover to the French coast.

On August 16, 2003, the Skaneateles Girls Varsity Swim Team swam the lake in relays of 15 minutes each, and, although stopped by repeated thunderstorms, they made it to Glen Haven. My thanks to swimmer Maddie Halstead for this correction to the earlier account.

If anyone has other accounts, I’d be delighted to hear them.


2 thoughts on “Swimming the Lake

  1. Hi, I was on the team the year we did this and we did actually complete it. We had to pause during the afternoon for thunderstorms, but did complete the relay, ending at the Glen Haven.

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