Jellyfish aside, annual swim to Connecticut a lot of fun

Swimmers switched in the relay by giving one another a mandatory high-five. (Credit: Courtesy)
Swimmers switched in the relay by giving one another a mandatory high-five. (Credit: Courtesy)

While many opt to celebrate their birthday on the water, no one does it quite like Laurie Olinder of Riverhead.

For the past five years around her birthday, she and husband Bill Morrison have joined family members taking turns to swim the more than 20-mile distance from Mattituck Inlet to Hammonasset Beach State Park in Connecticut.

It is not until they successfully reach the Connecticut side of the Long Island Sound that they can pop open their celebratory bottle of champagne, Ms. Olinder explained Monday.

This year the couple and four other family members completed the 13-hour trek on July 26, leaving Mattituck’s shoreline at exactly 6:10 a.m., Mr. Morrison said. His wife’s birthday is July 29.

With a boat following nearby, team members took turns swimming, switching every half-hour. A ceremonial high five started the next swimmer’s clock, he said.

And while every year presents different challenges, including rain and mechanical failure onboard the boat — this year proved to be the most challenging yet — as the swimmers were unexpectedly met by a pack of lion’s mane jellyfish, the most common jellyfish species in Long Island Sound waters.

“None of us, not even the captain had seen a proliferation of jellyfish like this. It was pretty rough swimming,” Mr. Morrison said. “Everyone was stung multiple times.”

The stings force the swimmers to take a 20-minute break about eight miles into their journey for a “crisis management meeting.”

Ms. Olinder said her team decided to swim on, taking 15-minute relays until the worst was over. She said her and her husband were each stung about a dozen times.

Despite the difficulties, Ms. Olinder said the event is something everyone looks forward to, as some teammates fly from as far as California to participate in the swim.

Mr. Morrison said he and his wife both come from families with great swimmers, though some of their family members train specifically for the event. Each year they invite a new or different family member to take part with swimmers ranging in age from 30 to 65 years old, Ms. Olinder said.

“We all enjoy being on the boat together and there’s quite a bit of camaraderie that takes place,” she said. “You welcome someone when they come back on [the boat], we take lots of pictures and it’s just a nice thing to do together.”

Laurie Olinder (wearing hat) and the rest of her six person swim team.
(With cap) Bill Morrison, 48, Robinson Clark, 44, Laurie Olinder, 55, Ann Morrison, Chelsea Thaxter, Bill Rogers, 54.