Doug McConnell entered the water off Eel Point in Nantucket at 7:17 Wednesday morning. He waded in waist deep, began with three large butterfly strokes before he launched into a front crawl and set off towards the Edgartown Lighthouse — 18 miles away.
But on the 35th stroke, Mr. McConnell was stung by a lion’s mane jellyfish. And though he would push on for another seven hours amid blustering winds, rip tides and a nearly 100 more jellyfish stings, he was unable to make it to the shore of Martha’s Vineyard, coming close enough to see people fishing on Wasque about 150 yards away.
Mr. McConnell's team made the decision to pick him up out of the water due to extreme riptide currents. — Mark Lovewell
“We had to call the swim off,” said Mr. McConnell’s wife Susan, who made the decision collectively with the two boat captains guiding the swim. “Those currents were as strong as it gets.”
And for the record, Mr. McConnell is allergic to jellyfish.
The projected course was planned to start at Eel Point in Nantucket and push northwest along Muskeget Island, setting a trajectory for rounding the Cape Pogue Lighthouse and dipping down into the Edgartown Harbor before finally landing at the foot of the Edgartown Lighthouse.
Greeting supporters at the Harbor View Hotel. — Jeanna Shepard
Red clouds spilled over the sky in the early morning hours of the swim as Mr. McConnell glided across a calm sea for the first leg of his journey. But as the saying goes: red sky in the morning, sailors (and swimmers) take warning.
Once Mr. McConnell passed the northern bank of Muskeget, and the expansive East Beach bluffs began to appear on the horizon, a southeast current of three knots pushed him four miles off course to the southern top of East Beach at Wasque Point. Winds increased to howling speeds and large waves collided against each other as Mr. McConnell continued to battle against the current.
“We knew it was going to happen. We just didn’t expect how strong it would be,” said Eamonn Solway, captain of one of the boats that guided the swim. “Think of the tide as him being on a conveyor belt.  .  . As he is trying to go in, it is trying to push out. The conveyor belt just beat him.”
“It really was a safety issue,” said navigator Dana Gaines. “He wanted to go right into the Wasque rip. But the boat wouldn’t have been able to get him out.”
“We really wanted to land the swim,” said Mr. McConnell, wrapped in a towel as he stepped off the guide boat on the Harbor View Hotel landing dock, his eyes puffy from the saltwater and his forehead pockmarked with jellyfish stings. “But we do have a bigger priority,” he continued.
Mr. McConnell’s main objective for the swim was to fundraise for ALS research and to spread awareness of the neurological disorder. Throughout the swim, donations for Mr. McConnell’s organization, A Long Swim, a nonprofit that both borrows the ALS acronym and is dedicated to raising funds for collaborative ALS research, came pouring in from those who were tracking his progress.
Through their fundraising efforts over the years, Mr. McConnell and his family have been able to raise over $600,000 for ALS research through long swims, $80,000 of which was raised for this swim.
“It’s hard to say the swim wasn’t successful,” said Mr. McConnell’s son Mack, an integral member of the team. “It’s about more than just the swim. It’s about the team, all that we put into it, and the money we raised for ALS research.”
As Mr. McConnell and the A Long Swim team unloaded their gear from the dock and stumbled in the rain towards the Harbor View Hotel, they were greeted by a throng of supporters who had been tracking the swim from the start.
Carried away in the moment, Mr. McConnell tried to apologize for not completing the swim. But his supporters wouldn’t hear of it, drowning out his apology with cheers of appreciation.
At the ceremony afterwards, Mr. McConnell was peppered with questions ranging from whether he was ever scared (he was not), to what he did to combat boredom (count every single stroke in his head), to how someone else could prepare for a long swim (train and know your limits).
At one point, Bernard Chiu, the new owner of the Harbor View Hotel, took the microphone to thank Mr. McConnell for his bravery and dedication to finding a cure for ALS. Mr. Chiu then announced a $10,000 donation to the cause.
To make a donation to ALS research visit